From “Animal House” to “Zulu”?

As with so many great moments in life, I have no idea how the conversation started. Several of the grad students, including your humble narrator, had gathered at the grad student and faculty watering hole (which served craft beer and real food). Dr. McD, a Canadian who specialized in British military and diplomatic history, and Dr. T, one of the Asianists, were talking with some of the guy students about being a guy, and what happens in times and places without women when you don’t have military discipline to keep the chaos somewhat in check. One of the guys, who came from a family of four large Midwestern farm boys, grinned and said, “The movie Dumb and Dumber? Yeah, that was us when our parents were out-of-town. We totally tried some stunts as crazy as those.” Continue reading


When Nerds Travel

  1. You’ve read all the books on the recommended book list, plus four more.
  2. You have a list of the museums you are going to see on the tour, including temporary exhibitions, and a second list of museums to see if the guide turns his back on you long enough for you to sneak away.
  3. You really wish you’d been able to duck out of the gourmet French lunch to go to the museum of prehistoric man down the road and up in the cliff (true story.)
  4. Old days: most of your luggage weight going out is books and maps, even though you are not the guide and are not driving.
  5. Modern: your e-reader is loaded with local and regional history. Coming back, your luggage is full of books and maps even though . . .
  6. You plan your family trips on a theme, such as the Oregon Trail this year, then the fur trapper rendezvous, then the Mormon Trail, then Civil War battlefields, then US colonial history, and so on.
  7. You print out [search engine]maps with English-language bookstores for when you travel.
  8. You print out [search engine] maps with great chocolate stores for when you travel. (MomRed in Belgium)
  9. You buy books in languages you don’t read because the pictures are so great and you can puzzle out bits of the captions with the dictionary you got.
  10. Someone asks you where you got that lovely silk scarf and you say, “The gift shop at the Prado. It was part of an exhibition on pre-Reconquista art and it is based on a pattern from the third main room of the Alhambra.” (True story but not me)
  11. You hit the museum book-n-stuff shop first, then go to the museum.
  12. You tell the guide that you’d prefer to see Romanesque and earlier churches and castles, no Gothic this time. (True story, not me)
  13. You plan your vacation around museums and zoos and planetaria* and botanical gardens.
  14. You’re been known to dress to match the hotel’s history.
  15. You’re been mistaken for a) a Park Ranger, b) a docent, c) a tour guide, d) the tour guide, e) faculty, f) an official interpreter. And you have not corrected the person, but provided the information/answered the question/guided them to the proper person (“I’m sorry, but I’m a geology specialist, ma’am. If you’ll come with me to the main desk, you can ask the critter ranger.” The real National Park staff were amused, and played along because the lady was in her 80s, and I was wearing olive-green brush slacks, a khaki shirt, and a brown hat, and hiking boots.)

*Am I the only one who thinks it really should be planetarii, based on 2nd declension -um ending in the singular? Apparently planetarium is 3rd declension neuter, so the endings are -um, -i,-o,-um,-o; -a, -orum, -is, -a, -is.  And yes, I am one of those who gets into polite arguments over which declension Prius (TM) is.

Happy Child-hoods: Or Why Alma is a little Strange, part ???

Did you have a family member sing you lullabys when you were young? A babysitter perhaps, or an aunt or grandmother? I grew up hearing “All the Pretty Little Horses” and “All My Sorrows (Soon be Over)”. And “Hush Little Baby” and “Scarborough Fair,” among others. Among the others were “Greenwood Sidie-O” and “The Great Silkie,” both of which are also found in the Child Ballad collection, one of the earliest indexed, cross-referenced and annotated collections of folk ballads and narratives. And neither are really what you might call children’s music. Not that that stopped my parents from playing or singing them, but it might help explain why I grew up a little bit Odd. Continue reading

You Can’t Write That!

Originally, it was: You can’t write That! the topic was taboo, horrible, subversive, or all of the above. Today it seems to have shifted into: You can’t write that! You are too male, or too female, too straight, too pale, too European, not a member, too biased as a former member . . . What a mess. Fiction writers have learned what historians and anthropologists collided with twenty years ago and more: the Powers That Be* have no sense of imagination or moderation. Why can’t I write that? If I can’t, who can? Continue reading

A Round Mound of Meow

Cats seem to come in three basic shapes: long and narrow, square, and round.img_0250


My first encounter with a square cat was Lilu M. Lilu is a mixed-breed shorthair. She reminds me of a fur-covered cinderblock – rectangular and firm. She has a relatively short tail that is quite muscular. You know when she’s tapped you with her tail, because it leaves a mark.

The Siamese cats seem to all be long and narrow. Siamese, Burmese, and their various descendants all share the “lean and hungry” look.

Continue reading

Vanished Rivers

One of the truisms in geology or environmental history or physical geography is that the river is going to win. Water will win. Erosion wears away mountains faster than they can rise (with a few notable exceptions at least in the current moment). But rivers can and do disappear from time to time, sometimes with a little help from humans, sometimes all on their own. Why is often intriguing. Continue reading

The Orchestra Will Win

No matter how hard the choir may try, the orchestra will win. The trick is to outwit it, not out-scream it. Even if you are doing, oh, Beethoven’s Choral Symphony (9th Symphony) or Carmina Burana.

  1. Orchestras have strength in numbers. A 50 voice adult choir can cover up a single violin or bassoon if we try hard enough. Two trumpets? Probably not. A 60-piece symphony orchestra? Not going to happen. The orchestra will win.
  2. Orchestras do not breathe. Yes, woodwind and brass players have to release notes in order to inhale, but as a collective whole, orchestras do not pause for breath unless it is written into the score for some reason. Choirs have to breathe. If we take too long, the orchestra gets to the next note before we do and they win the race. The race is supposed to end in a tie, not a win. And it is almost always the choir’s fault, because . . .
  3. The orchestra knows how to read the conductor. He’s their conductor, they work with him all the time. The choir is new and has to learn. For example, I sang with a director who brought his hand down on the downbeat and lifted it on the up beat. Then I encountered a symphony conductor who lifted his hand on the downbeat and lowered it on the up beat. Even after being warned, the first run-through was Not Pretty. For reasons known only to instrumentalists, all orchestra conductors move more like each other than they do like choral conductors, and vice versa.
  4. When a choral conductor directs and orchestra, she focuses on the orchestra and trusts her choir. This often Ends Poorly, as the Grail Knight so eloquently put it. The most recent case was last year, when the choir encountered an orchestra score, a time-signature change, and singing off a choral reduction simultaneously. We never came in. The conductor never noticed. Only on the third run-through was our absence, ahem, noted.

With perhaps the exception of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which is a Super Choir with a orchestras that support them on occasion, the choir is there to augment the orchestra. All we singers can hope for is to be fast on our feet, watch, come in on time, stop on time, and remember not to try to overpower the instrumentalists. Because the orchestra is going to win.

What is Insurance?

Edited to Add: Welcome Instapundit Readers! I apologize if I am slow approving comments today, but I’m glad you stopped by.

I paid two bills this past week, one for car and rental insurance, and one for health insurance. They are both called “insurance” but how they are seen in popular thinking and on the news differs considerably. In both cases I get the sense that for 90% of the people I work with and talk to, or hear through the various media, exactly how insurance started and what it was supposed to accomplish are complete unknowns. Which is a little disappointing, because the history of managing risk can be fascinating in the right hands. Continue reading