Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Golf Links -- Sarah N. Cleghorn (1916)

Hey! Looks like there's a new iPhone coming out!

The golf links lie so near the mill
    That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
     And see the men at play.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"I am not Herbert"

[Transporter room]
ALL: No go, no go, no go.
KIRK: Which one of you is Tongo Rad?
(A purple haired lad with shaggy eyebrows stands up)
KIRK: You can thank your father's influence for the fact you're not under arrest. In addition to piracy, you've left yourself open to charges of violating flight regulations, entering hostile space and endangering the lives of others as well as your own.
RAD: I'm bleeding.
KIRK: In addition you've caused an interstellar incident which may have destroyed everything that's been negotiated between your planet and the Federation.
RAD: You've got a hard lip, Herbert.
KIRK: If you have an explanation, I am prepared to hear it.
(Rad sits down again)
KIRK: Mister Spock, take them to Sickbay for a medical check. There may have been radiation from the explosion.
SPOCK: Captain, with your permission
KIRK: By all means.
(Spock steps forward and makes a triangular sign with his hands)
SEVRIN: (An older male with alien ears. Obviously the leader) We are One.
SPOCK: One is the beginning.
ADAM: (A red-headed youth) Are you One, Herbert?
SPOCK: I am not Herbert.
ADAM: He is not Herbert. We reach.
SPOCK: If you will state your purpose and your objectives, perhaps we can arrive at a mutual understanding.
SEVRIN: If you understand One, you know our purpose.
SPOCK: I would prefer that you state it.
SEVRIN: We turn our backs on confusion and seek the beginning.
SPOCK: What is your destination?
SEVRIN: The planet Eden.
KIRK: That planet it is a myth.
SEVRIN: And we protest against being harassed, pursued, attacked, seized and transported here against our wishes.
ADAM: Right, brother.
SEVRIN: We do not recognize Federation regulations nor the existence of hostilities. We recognize no authority save that within ourselves.
KIRK: Well, whether you recognize authority or not, I am it on this ship. I am under orders to transport you back to Starbase peaceably. From there you'll be ferried to your various planets. Because of my orders, you are not prisoners, but my guests. I expect you to behave as such.
ADAM: Oh, Herbert, you are stiff!
KIRK: Mister Spock, you seem to understand these people. You will deal with them.
SEVRIN: We respectfully request that you take us to Eden.
KIRK: And after they are finished in Sickbay, see to it that they're escorted back to their proper quarters and given whatever care they need.
SPOCK: Yes, Captain.
SEVRIN: We respectfully request that you take us to Eden.
KIRK: I have orders to the contrary. This is not a passenger ship.
ADAM: Herbert, Herbert, Herbert.
ALL: Herbert, Herbert, Herbert. Herbert, Herbert, Herbert.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The 10,000 Hour Rule: Wait, talent matters more than practice

Smithsonian Magazine
The 10,000 hour rule—first proposed by a Swedish psychologist and later made famous in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliersstates that exceptional expertise requires at least 10,000 hours of practice. The best of the best (the Beatles, Bill Gates) all amassed more than 10,000 hours of practice before rising to the top, Gladwell argued. So greatness is within virtually any person's grasp, so long as they can put in the time to master their skill of choice.
A new meta-analysis, however, indicates that the 10,000 hour rule simply does not exist. As Brain's Idea reports, authors of the new study undertook the largest literature survey on this subject to date, compiling the results of 88 scientific articles representing data from some 11,000 research participants. Practice, they found, on average explains just 12 percent of skill mastery and subsequent success. "In other words the 10,000-Hour rule is nonsense," Brain's Idea writes. "Stop believing in it. Sure, practice is important. But other factors (age? intelligence? talent?) appear to play a bigger role."  

In other words, practice matters, but only if the talent is there to begin with. Gladwell's idea -- that the ordinary can succeed if only they work hard enough -- is very American, but also, sadly, very wrong. Talent, intelligence, and other gifts are distributed unevenly throughout the population: some get more, some get less. Hard work does not even the playing field.

I would wish for two things: 1) We stop admiring professional athletes for their supposed virtues. After all, they merely exhibit gifts that they were born with. (We don't talk of a thoroughbred race horse's "work ethic.") 2) Smart people stop admiring themselves. You didn't get into Stanford because you worked hard, but rather because you were born smart, not impulsive, healthy (and rich). You already won the lottery. Rather than think about what you will buy with the prize money, think about how you can help others with your unearned bounty.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Oprah Winfrey's "The Help" Ignited American Jihadi's Violent Fervor

"It's spelled, M-A-C-A-R-T-H-U-R."
Washington Post

Well, maybe the movie had a little bit to do with setting this fellow off. His empty and meaningless life was probably a lot more of a factor. And I can't understand how someone could write an article on this guy and fail to comment on his ridiculous name.

Douglas McAuthur McCain, tattooed and thin, never stayed in one place long. Born on Jan. 29, 1981, in Illinois, he would spend 33 years hopping from school to school, from business to business, continent to continent — until, finally, he landed in Syria, where he became the first American reported to die fighting for the Islamic State.
Much of the Douglas McAuthur McCain story remains unclear. It’s unclear how he died in a recent Islamic State battle, into which he carried his American passport and $800. It’s unexplained what led him down a path to Islamist radicalization and violence. And it’s unknown whether he traveled alone.
It was around that time [i.e., after failing to finish high school] that McCain started getting in trouble. Over the next eight years, he amassed nine misdemeanor convictions, according to Minnesota state court records. Problems began with a 2000 conviction for disorderly conduct. Then, in 2001, he was busted for misdemeanor theft. Two years later came a misdemeanor conviction for marijuana possession — his first of two minor busts for that offense. His driver’s license was eventually revoked, but McCain kept driving and got caught for that, too.
But his social media soon suggested [that he was not a "regular American kid"]. His tenure on Twitter began innocuously [sic] with a late 2012 dispatch: “I’m not feelin this Twitter sh– … wallahi I wants fried chicken. … Watching the Help starting to make me hate white people. … Ok its official f— white people.” He spoke of smoking hookah, watching National Geographic, his Somali friends and his growing religious zeal.
But on Facebook, his imprint was substantially darker. In 2010, McCain, who later traveled to Sweden and Canada, uploaded several images of the black Islamist militant flag. His photo spread became a confounding mixture of family life beside militants clutching swords and images of gold-plated firearms. Then there was this message: The “soldiers of Allah” are “coming back.”

"Watching the Help starting to make me hate white people. … Ok its official f— white people.” -- Douglas McAuthur McCain, former jihadi.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hard to believe we lost the War on Drugs


U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani, center, Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, right, and Benjamin Baer, chairman of the U.S Parole Commission, pose in undercover clothes in this July 9, 1986 file photo, after D’Amato bought what he later told a news conference were vials of crack on a New York City street.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

I actually wouldn't know, but don't those look like ENORMOUS pieces of crack? (Here's the clip.)
Isn't this more typical?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Peggy Noonan on ISIS and crying wolf

One of my fears in the early years of the Iraq war was that if it proved to be the wrong war—if no weapons of mass destruction were found, if sustained unrest showed Saddam Hussein was the garbage-pail lid who kept the garbage of his nation from spilling out—it would mean that at some time in the future when America really needed to fight and had to fight, she would not. I feared the war's supporters would be seen to have cried wolf, and someday there would be a wolf and no one would listen. Now there is a wolf.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Gilbert Highet on reading


"The mind which is exercised on books is not being strained and stretched. It is being used for its proper purpose. To smother it with newspaper pulp, shiny clay magazines, and gossip, so as to keep it from bursting, is like keeping the eyes shut all day to rest them."

The Art of Teaching, Gilbert Highet, 1950

Sunday, August 24, 2014

On a Fly Drinking Out of His Cup -- William Oldys

BUSY, curious, thirsty fly! 
Drink with me and drink as I: 
Freely welcome to my cup, 
Couldst thou sip and sip it up: 
Make the most of life you may,         5
Life is short and wears away. 
Both alike are mine and thine 
Hastening quick to their decline: 
Thine 's a summer, mine 's no more, 
Though repeated to threescore.  10
Threescore summers, when they're gone, 
Will appear as short as one!


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Baby I'm Yours -- Barbara Lewis (1965)

Pretty impossible to listen to this song and not think of W.H. Auden's lines:
'I'll love you, dear, I'll love you   
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain   
And the salmon sing in the street,
'I'll love you till the ocean   
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking   
Like geese about the sky.

Baby I'm yours
And I'll be yours until the stars fall from the sky
Yours until the rivers all run dry
In other words, until I die

 Baby I'm yours
And I'll be yours until the sun no longer shines
Yours until the poets run out of rhyme
In other words, until the end of time

 I'm gonna stay right here by your side
Do my best to keep you satisfied
Nothing in this world can drive me away
'Cause every day you'll hear me say

 Baby I'm yours
And I'll be yours until two and two is three
Yours until the mountain crumbles to the sea
In other words, until eternity

 Baby I'm yours
Till the stars fall from the sky

 Baby I'm yours
Till the rivers all run dry

 Baby I'm yours
Till the poets run out of rhyme

 Baby I'm yours


Friday, August 22, 2014

Dickie Attenborough, RIP

"It was not until he appeared with his friend Steve McQueen and a sterling ensemble cast in the 1963 war film “The Great Escape,” his first Hollywood feature, that he found a trans-Atlantic audience. His role, as a British officer masterminding an escape plan from a German prisoner-of-war camp, was integral to one of the most revered and enjoyable of all World War II films."


Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Excellent Sheep" by William Deresiewicz


He speaks directly to students, giving this advice, for example, about cracking the mold while at college: “Don’t talk to your parents more than once a week, or even better, once a month. Don’t tell them about your grades on papers or tests, or anything else about how you’re doing during the term.” He concludes this litany this way: “Make it clear to them that this is your experience, not theirs.”
(Note to my children: This is excellent advice. If you take it, I will kill you.)

This excerpt is from a review of "Excellent Sheep" by William Deresiewicz which appeared in the New York Times.

The parenthetical statement was made by the reviewer, Dwight Garner, in the middle of the review. I find that comment strange and somewhat disturbing, and not just because the fellow just threatened to murder his children.

Thanksgiving chez Garner might be a bit awkward this year.
One of the points of college is for young adults to separate from their families of origin, i.e., to gradually demonstrate that they no longer need their parents. To do that, they need time and space away from their parents, and a minimum level of parental interference in their lives. Parents who attempt to micromanage their kids' college years usually claim that they are protecting their educational investment or helping the kid do what he cannot do himself. What they are actually doing is ensuring that the kid delays maturity for as long as possible. Why? So they (the parents) don't have to move into the next stage of their development -- the no longer necessary parents of adult offspring.

Mr. Garner is moved to homicidal madness by the threat that he will no longer be a central figure in his childrens' lives. This is the height of narcissism.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Moby Dick: "[T]his whole universe [is] a vast practical joke."


THERE are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own. However, nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. And as for small difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of life and limb; all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly, good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker. That odd sort of wayward mood I am speaking of, comes over a man only in some time of extreme tribulation; it comes in the very midst of his earnestness, so that what just before might have seemed to him a thing most momentous, now seems but a part of the general joke. There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free-and-easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy; and with it I now regarded this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its object.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter XLIX, The Hyena

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Leo Strauss on teaching


“Always assume that there is one silent student in your class who is by far superior to you in head and in heart.” This is the counsel Leo Strauss, among the most consequential teachers and scholars of political philosophy in the 20th century, offered an advanced graduate student who had asked for a general rule about teaching.
In a short essay published in the early 1960s, “Liberal Education and Responsibility” (based on a public lecture he gave), Strauss elaborated on his exquisite advice. “Do not have too high an opinion of your importance,” he said, “and have the highest opinion of your duty, your responsibility.” 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Peggy Noonan: "Because something's wrong with us."

"As you read of the [First World War] and its aftermath, you are always stopped by this fact: There is no recorded instance of masses of people gathering together to weep the day it was declared. They should have. The beautiful world they were day by day constructing was in jeopardy and ultimately would be consumed. Yet when people heard the news they threw their hats in the air, parading and waving flags in every capital. In Berlin “crowds thronged the streets shouting, cheering, singing patriotic songs.” In London the same. In St. Petersburg thousands waved banners and icons. In Paris, as the city’s regiments pushed off, “an immense clamour arose as the Marseillaise burst from a thousand throats.”

Western Europe hadn’t had a big and costly ground war since 1871. Maybe they forgot what war was. Surely some would have liked the drama and excitement—the interruption in normality, the break in the boring dailiness of life. Or the air of possibility war brings—of valor, for instance, and shown courage. Camaraderie, too, and a sense of romantic engagement with history. A sense of something to live for—victory.

Once a few years ago a reporter who had covered wars talked about this with a brilliant, accomplished, famously leftist editor in New York. At the end of a conversation on a recent conflict the reporter said, quizzically: “Why is there so much war? Why do we do that?”

“Because something’s wrong with us,” the editor replied."

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Dover Beach -- Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Beethoven -- 3rd Symphony (Eroica), 2nd Movement "Funeral March"

This fellow "smalin" has done a remarkable job with these computer graphics -- a fascinating way to listen.
This piece, by the way, is what the New York Philharmonic played, in lieu of the scheduled "Overture," during the weekend of the JFK assassination/funeral in 1963.

Friday, August 15, 2014

VMI Summer Reading (Unofficial): Classics (46 to 50)

The Mask of Agamemnon
46. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Scarily predictive of the world we have made. Enjoy your time at the "feelies."

47. Complete Short Stories, Ernest Hemingway

I was going to recommend a shorter collection (In Our Time), but no, you should read them all. The war stories are particularly fine. After that you should read For Whom the Bell Tolls and A Farewell to Arms.

48. Complete Short Stories, Mark Twain

I direct your attention specifically to A Private History of a Campaign that Failed and The Mysterious Stranger.

49. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, unknown (Burton Raffel, trans.)

Surprisingly pleasant to read and with very important things to say about honor, and how even the best of us fall short.

50. Iliad, Homer (Stanley Lombardo or Richard Lattimore translations)

Read the Lombardo translation if this is your first time with the Iliad. Read the Lattimore if you're serious. How can you graduate from a military college without having read the greatest book on war, friendship, and death?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

VMI Summer Reading (Unofficial): Inspirational (41 to 45)

41. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris

After Lincoln, the most interesting person to serve as U.S. President of the United States.

42. Socrates: A Man for Our Times, Paul Johnson

One of our greatest historians, on the greatest philosopher. His mini-biographies of Darwin and Churchill are also excellent.

43. An Education for our Time, Josiah Bunting

A former VMI Superintendent offers a vision for an ideal college for leaders. (Interesting that it doesn't exactly look like VMI!)

44. Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl

Written by a Nazi Death Camp survivor and existential psychiatrist, this book is very often ranked 2nd (after the Bible) on lists of "Books that have changed my life."

45. The World's Religions, Huston Smith

Read the chapters on Hinduism and Buddhism and then you will want to read the whole thing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

VMI Summer Reading (Unofficial): Recreational Non-fiction (36 to 40)

Winston Spencer Churchill, 1895
Five books about adventure and courage. All of them should be heartily enjoyed by most any VMI cadet. 
36. The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe

Must reading. I've read his novel The Bonfire of the Vanities several times as well.

37. The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger

Contains an unforgettable portrayal of a Coast Guard helicopter crew in heroic action. Also, a terrifying explication of what it feels like to die by drowning. His book War reports on his time embedded with frontline troops in Afghanistan.

38. Yeager: An Autobiography, Gen. Chuck Yeager

The Ur-astronaut (who never quite made it into space) and a main figure in The Right Stuff. WWII fighter ace and breaker of the sound barrier.

39. My Early Life, Winston Churchill

More adventure and danger between the ages of 18 and 30 than most people have in a lifetime. And he managed to read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in his spare time. And write a handful of books.

40. Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Intelligence Team, George Jonas

Inspiration for the (not nearly as good) Steven Spielberg movie, Munich. There are doubts about it's authenticity, but that goes with the territory, as it purports to be a firsthand account of an intelligence operation. As I recall, I read it in a single sitting.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

VMI Summer Reading (Unofficial): Recreational Fiction (31 to 35)

Read for the pleasure of reading. Stop watching superhero movies and read a book.
31. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry

“He had known several men who blew their heads off, and he had pondered it much. It seemed to him it was probably because they could not take enough happiness just from the sky and the moon to carry them over the low feelings that came to all men.”  

32. True Grit, Charles Portis

"Who is the best marshal they have?'

The sheriff thought on it for a minute. He said, 'I would have to weigh that proposition. There is near about two hundred of them. I reckon William Waters is the best tracker. He is a half-breed Comanche and it is something to see, watching him cut for sign. The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don't enter into his thinking. He loves to pull a cork. Now L.T. Quinn, he brings his prisoners in alive. He may let one get by now and then but he believes even the worst of men is entitled to a fair shake. Also the court does not pay any fees for dead men. Quinn is a good peace officer and a lay preacher to boot. He will not plant evidence or abuse a prisoner. He is straight as a string. Yes, I will say Quinn is about the best they have.'

I said, 'Where can I find this Rooster?"                            

33. I, Claudius, Robert Graves

"My tutor I have already mentioned, Marcus Porcius Cato who was, in his own estimation at least, a living embodiment of that ancient Roman virtue which his ancestors had one after the other shown. He was always boasting of his ancestors, as stupid people do who are aware that they have done nothing themselves to boast about. He boasted particularly of Cato the Censor, who of all characters in Roman history is to me perhaps the most hateful, as having persistently championed the cause of "ancient virtue" and made it identical in the popular mind with churlishness, pedantry and harshness."

34. Flashman, George MacDonald Fraser

"It’s a great thing, prayer. Nobody answers, but at least it stops you from thinking."

35. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

"Some say the Great American Novel is Huckleberry Finn, some say it's The Jungle, some say it's The Great Gatsby. But my vote goes to the tale with the maximum lust, hypocrisy and obsession — the view of America that could only have come from an outsider — Nabokov's Lolita. ... Those who bought "Lolita" looking for mere prurient kicks must surely have been disappointed. Lolita is dark and twisted all right, but it's also a corruptly beautiful love story of two tragically alike, id-driven souls... What makes Lolita a work of greatness isn't that its title has become ingrained in the vernacular, isn't that was a generation ahead of America in fetishizing young girls. No, it is the writing, the way Nabokov bounces around in words like the English language is a toy trunk, the sly wit, the way it's devastating and cynical and heartbreaking all at once. Poor old Dolly Haze might not have grown up very well, but Lolita forever remains a thing of timeless beauty."

Monday, August 11, 2014

VMI Summer Reading (Unofficial): Spy Novels (26 to 30)


Three novels that revolve around the Kennedy assassination, and two that detail the intricacies of tradecraft.

26. Saving the Queen, William F. Buckley

The first of the Blackford Oakes novels. The series traces the history of the CIA throughout the Cold War. This first novel includes many intriguing details of CIA recruitment and tradecraft. Mr. Buckley was himself a former United States intelligence officer.

27. Libra, Don DeLillo

Go figure, the best book on the Kennedy assassination is a novel by one of our greatest contemporary writers. “There's always more to it. This is what history consists of. It is the sum total of the things they aren't telling us.”  

28. American Tabloid, James Ellroy

The second best book on the Kennedy assassination is also a novel, by our finest crime writer. His L.A. Confidential is also great (as was the movie inspired by the book).

29. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John le Carre

The classic spy novel.

30. The Tears of Autumn, Charles McCarry

Wait, wait, I take it back -- this is the best book on the Kennedy assassination, and it's also a novel, by a former intelligence officer and the author of the greatest series of spy novels ever (sorry, Ian Fleming), the Paul Christopher books.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Village Blacksmith -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)


UNDER a spreading chestnut tree 
  The village smithy stands; 
The smith, a mighty man is he, 
  With large and sinewy hands; 
And the muscles of his brawny arms         5
  Are strong as iron bands. 
His hair is crisp, and black, and long, 
  His face is like the tan; 
His brow is wet with honest sweat, 
  He earns whate'er he can,  10
And looks the whole world in the face, 
  For he owes not any man. 
Week in, week out, from morn till night, 
  You can hear his bellows blow; 
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge  15
  With measured beat and slow, 
Like a sexton ringing the village bell, 
  When the evening sun is low. 
And children coming home from school 
  Look in at the open door;  20
They love to see the flaming forge, 
  And hear the bellows roar, 
And watch the burning sparks that fly 
  Like chaff from a threshing-floor. 
He goes on Sunday to the church,  25
  And sits among his boys; 
He hears the parson pray and preach, 
  He hears his daughter's voice, 
Singing in the village choir, 
  And it makes his heart rejoice.  30
It sounds to him like her mother's voice, 
  Singing in Paradise! 
He needs must think of her once more, 
  How in the grave she lies; 
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes  35
  A tear out of his eyes. 
  Onward through life he goes; 
Each morning sees some task begin, 
  Each evening sees it close;  40
Something attempted, something done, 
  Has earned a night's repose. 
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend, 
  For the lesson thou hast taught! 
Thus at the flaming forge of life  45
  Our fortunes must be wrought; 
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped 
  Each burning deed and thought!