Thursday, December 13, 2007

Returns to normalcy

Tuesday, July 22. Mr. Foulon...was hanged by the people from a lantern...his head was cut off and his body was paraded and dragged through the streets.

Wednesday, July 23. Opera closed.

Thursday, July 24. Alceste.

---From the theater log of Louis-Joseph Francoeur, assistant director of the Paris Opera, 1789

It starts with a beheading, but it ends with Alceste--an opera about love, and substitution for one condemned to die. I wonder if this performance was widely known--or is it just coincidence that The Tale of Two Cities brings the Alcestis story into the context of the French Revolution?

In terms of plot, what better way to translate 'fate' or 'the will of the gods' into modern (even early modern) terms than 'an unstoppable social force'--war, or revolution? Theologically, well, theologically it makes sense in terms of the turn from pre-modern to modern, whether one agrees with it or not.

And maybe this is another aspect of Shakespeare's greatness: his ability to work in either medium. The gods of Cymbelline, the politics of Richard II, the churning mix of the two in Macbeth.

(Credit for the quote is due to a forthcoming book by Victoria Johnson entitled Backstage at the Revolution: How the Paris Opera Survived the End of the Old Regime. More from this, to be sure, later; it's fascinating stuff.)

Smugness and Safety

So I've taken to obeying traffic laws on my bike, as sort of a hobby. I'm coming to a dead stop at every stop sign, stopping and waiting for red lights, even if there's no crossing traffic, those are the particular ones I'm thinking of. And it's had some salutary effects, I think. I'm trying not to piss off drivers ("those %$#@*ing bikers, always breaking the law") and ride more predictably, i.e., more safely, and I'm also trying to slow down a bit. Part of the pleasure of riding is the slowness of it--you have a little time to think, or not think, and you force yourself to take a break from hurryhurryhurry of work, etc.

However, there are downsides to obeying all the rules. First off, I've become less tolerant of others' (e.g. automobile drivers') rolling through stop signs, and hurtling through lights after they've turned red. Bike Snob NYC hits the nail on the head (as crudely and intelligently as ever) in his Holiday Gift Guide. "Commuting by bicycle is all about two things: smugness and safety." The two things are tied together pretty tightly. Unless you're willing to adopt an "all the cagers [people in iron cages, i.e. cars] are evil petrocrats out to destroy the earth, starting with me" outlook, and the concomitant defensive war policy (they have no concern for anything, I have no need to obey any rules in my interaction with them), the alternatives are either "Oh, I'll just stay out of their way, and maybe they won't hurt me" or, "Alrighty, people, we're all on the road together. I'm going to take my share of the road, we'll all obey the rules, and nobody gets hurt."

All this means that offenses against the commonweal can be taken very personally; that might be a good thing. There's too rarely a cop present when someone screams through a red light and my helpful reminders of the illegality of such practices remind drivers that someone, at least, is standing up for the rule of law. But, aside from shading into vigilantism, it may just piss people off to have someone ostentatiously stopping at the stop signs, and taking my turn like any other vehicle--especially when I'd clear the intersection quicker by rolling through at speed! (Not to mention that my idea of predictability is to obey the law, and since that's pretty uncommon, it might in fact be the unexpected behavior!)

Aside from the social effects of this habit, I also wonder about the habits of thought it is inculcating in myself: Am I outsourcing my safety to the rules of the road (which are poorly known and even less respected?)? Should I not ride aggressively, saying to myself, "No one is responsible for me, but me!"?

On balance, taking responsibility for my polity (to borrow, with alteration, the title of a current book) encompasses responsibility for my person. As the Cub Scouts taught, "God, Country, Family, Self."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Irish Ancestry

Via Crooked Timber

  • Anyone who has recent-ish Irish ancestry may be interested to know that Ireland’s National Archives are putting up the data from the 1911 Irish census. At the moment, only data from Dublin are available.
For those who have more time.

Physics at home

You know the toy with the three or four stacked bouncy balls (with a rod through their centers, to keep them in line)? You drop it, and all the energy of the collision(s) goes back into the top bouncy ball, and it rebounds WAY high in the air, leaving the others on the ground.

It turns out a cylindrical container of viscous fluid behaves much the same way. Before you even realize you've knocked the yogurt off the table, the top three tablespoons of it are shooting straight up at you like slingshotted pink goo.

The paranoid reading of this incident is that the strawberry yogurt (or is it Bat Jr. ? hmm...) is out to get me, as almost none of the yogurt got on the carpet, instead landing direct hits on
  1. my head (from above)
  2. my mobile phone and
  3. a lovely long streak on both pant legs.
How many shots were fired? Where's Zapruder when you need him?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


One of the great things about studying another language is what you learn about your own. To wit (that is to say, "to know," since this is the only surviving use of "wit" as a verb in English, though wissen remains the ordinary German verb for knowing):


English cognate




nigh+er > near


nigh+est > next

So "near" has lost its comparative sense entirely, though "next" retains that sense.

Friday, November 9, 2007


My sister-in-law and my brother-in-law-in-law were sworn in yesterday as lawyers in the (great) state of Illinois. We attended the swearing-in of the nearly 2,000 new attorneys in this part of the state, and it was an interesting opportunity to observe both their self-presentation and also their behavior. A few things that caught Dr. Fledermaus' and my eyes:
  • One line that came up repeatedly was something like, "You are joining the smartest profession in the world." This was a little jarring to someone used to hanging out with academics, who, of course, assume that they're the smartest guys in the room, but I really do think there's something to this. Doctors and engineers (and airplane pilots, etc. etc.) are smart, and test themselves against physical reality, which is a very stern judge of success or failure, but there is a very definite level of "good enough," beyond which the only incentive to go is internal drive. Lawyers (good lawyers, of course), are motivated by arrogance and fear, and the knowledge that there's a guy making arguments for the other side who might be smarter, might have done more research, and, well, might be right! Sport is the only other arena where people pit them selves against each other so directly.

  • We (Dr. F and I) were joking on the way in about how many lawyers we'd see working furiously on their Crackberries(tm). The answer: 2, +1 guy making notes with a pencil. (Another guy was on his, but he turned out to be a relative/friend of the lawyer) Lawyers are incredibly respectful of authority and, I suppose, ceremony.

  • Never before have I seen so many people dressed exactly the same (but I've never been in the military). The only personal elements allowed to be attached to the dark blue/dark grey/black (and god, not shiny) suit were, for the ladies, shoes and handbags, and for the gents, neckties. I think this ties into the respect for authority. Lawyerin' really is the only job where a judge can say, "Leave this room until you are properly dressed."

I wonder how these habits and social norms tie into the risk-taking necessary for really interesting cases.

Congratulations, L and J!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dining Hall Cookery

Yesterday at lunch, I toasted a bun, and added a slice of provolone cheese, a small heap of cole slaw, and a big spoonful of giardineira to my garden burger. Oh, man was it good.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The news you've all been waiting for...


"No really, really, egregious errors--though you did usually forget the categories of state and definiteness when parsing nouns. Basically it was a very good exam. I'll be putting an A- on it and sending a copy to [departmental admin] if that's the recommended procedure."

Woo hoo!

Und jetzt, Deutsch!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Phrase of the day

The phrase that made me laugh so hard I cried today:
"an octopus made by nailing extra legs onto a dog." Link

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I have been examined.

Hebrew exam yesterday. Interestingly, one of the few words from Hebrew with an Indo-European cognate is baĥan, "test, try, examine." It shows up in Greek as basanos, "touchstone," and the word came into English as "basanite."

The exam, meanwhile, went pretty well: the known passage was Job 1; the unknown Joshua 8. I don't think I had any majr screwups; I do have a small fear that I didn't go fast enough. Is it good or bad (or just a fact) that I got through more of the unknown passage in the allotted time than the known passage?

The grammar questions (about words in the known passage) went well, I think, though I was stumped by one of them.

Results by the end of the week.

Monday, October 15, 2007

In lieu of substance

Too busy for posting (also too busy for nominatives and copulae, it seems), but in the light of some queries from my loyal readers, I've tweaked the colors of links so that they're more visible. Now you can go back and see what the hell I'm talking about. Unvisited links are now purpleish, like this.
In case you're wondering, I am working on substantive posts, editing them into comprehensibility, and will put them up over the next couple of days.

Friday, October 5, 2007

What I do all day.

In publishing we sometimes say that what we do is reject things, and so if we have a lot of things going on, it's because we're not working enough. Here is a nice summary of rejection. Rejecting isn't as bad as it might seem, Rachel Toor tells her audience of academics. And, by and large, she's right. Were her column more in the genre of bleak humor, she might have mentioned that no one inside a publishing house says "reject"; "kill" is the preferred term. And that the flipside to the "nice kill" is the "short kill." "We cannot express interest in your manuscript," it might say, and, since the topic of killing is close at hand, it's unsigned and unattributed to one editor, lest that act be literalized (or, I supposed, actualized) while it is turned around on the editor.

See also Sturgeon's Law.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Ora et labora

I suppose it is, on some level, always orare to study the Bible; I can guarantee you it is laborare. Job ch. 3 kicked my ass tonight: poetry is always slow going, and Job uses a good deal of LBH (that's late biblical Hebrew) vocabulary which I don't have at the tip of my tongue. And if that wasn't enough, the rewards of three hours of hearing Job curse with impeccable thoroughness the day he was born and the night he was conceived are so far proving elusive. But I'm only halfway through the chapter.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Eliphaz the Temanite

This is not a post about Eliphaz (rich though that subject may be), rather it's about Temanites. "Temanite" is a gentilic, coming from the root YMN: you add some vowels and a t-prefix (that's a fairly common thing in Hebrew), and you wind up with Teyman. Now, "YMN" means, "right hand." YMN also shows up in "Benjamin": it's, etymologically, "Ben-Yamin," "son of my right hand." So the Temanites were some folks who lived in the south (relative, of course, to the Hebrew speakers who dubbed them this), because the directions are given relative to the facing sun.
This right-hand/southpaw duality, of course, explains why Sandy Koufax pitched left and batted right.

And they sat with him on the ground, for seven days and seven nights, and said not a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.

Back on track: Job 1 read & reviewed, Job 2 read. Lots of new vocabulary, which tends to slow one down a bit (note the time stamp on this post).

Edit: That's Jb 2:13 up there in the title of the post.

The Patience of Job

Job didn't have to handle studying in a warm room on 5 hours of sleep. Last night's intention: Vocab cards (will post my vocab card system anon), review Jb 1, which I'd read a month ago, and read Jb 2. But I joined students already studying and they had the study room warm as spit, so I got through the vocab cards and half of ch. 1. But not bad for the first night back to work in a while, and a Monday night at that, which are always difficult.
And I skipped movie night in favor of Hebrew, which betokens some form of virtue.
Tonight, it's my study session: I set the time and the temperature!

Monday, October 1, 2007


I'll be taking my Hebrew exam on Monday, Oct. 29th. (Time TBD) It will consist of "at least one text from this list [below] and at least one not from this list with a range of questions over grammar, interpretation... No less than two hours, no more than three; no aids allowed." The list: Exodus 1-15, Job 1-3, Ruth 1-4.
That makes 22 chapters to be known forwards and backwards (well, it's all backwards--or at least right-to-left) over the next 28 days. So, in addition to hardcore use of the vocabulary cards I'll be going through one 'new' (I've read almost all this material in Hebrew before) chapter every day as well as reviewing the previous day's chapter.
Further updates as events warrant.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


It was Bat Jr.'s babysitter's birthday yesterday (her seven-year-old son greeted Dr. Fledermaus in the afternoon with, "It's my mom's birthday!!! Wha'd'j'ou get 'er?"), so we stopped at one of the bakery/cafes in the neighborhood (Bonjour) this morning to bring her something celebratory, and I made the mistake of getting decaf while we enjoyed our pastries and Bat Jr. yelled at the pigeons. "BIRD!!! BIRD!!!" This teaching social norms thing is difficult. You can't say "Use your inside voice," because you're outside. And people laugh when we say things like, "Use your deli counter voice."

OK, mostly we just say, "A bit quieter, please," and Bat Jr., says "Yes, dear parent, I understand completely the appropriate volume, tone, and projection expectations for this situation." Or, "BIRD!!!!"

To pick up the story, however, when we got to the apartment, I realized I'd forgotten the keys to get into the lobby, so we pushed the buzzer.
"Hello?" came through the speaker.
"Hi! It'"

Yes, I had forgotten my own name.

I need to get more sleep.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Quartino is a small-plate Italian restaurant here in Chicago. You should come here to eat there. If you can't, however, let me tell you about one of their desserts. Sgroppino is citrus deliciousness taken to a whole new level: Limoncello, lemon gelato, and lemon vodka blended up into an adult milkshake bearing a nice punch. I've plans to try to replicate it at home and post a recipe, but for know, feel free to experiment: it should be thick thick thick like a Hoffman's milkshake.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

100 Boxes!

And we finally found the remote control to the television as well. Bat Jr. had stashed it in her closet (she loves things with buttons).
Without the remote, we'd had to watch Blues Brothers on the house lounge television on Monday night, and it really made the benefits of surround sound and subwoofers (which we have in the living room, but not the lounge) obvious. I'm tempted to watch it again; no, listen to it, just for the music.
  • Still missing: one box of scarves.
  • Thrown out: two garbage bags full.
  • To be donated: two garbage bags (so far).
  • To be sold/given away/etc.: one box books (duplicates, textbooks), the old shelves we had our plants and TV on, various unused cookware, a couple of bicycles.
  • Lent: dining room set.
The decraptification of our lives continues.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

98 Boxes (of beer on the wall)

We've unpacked ninety-eight boxes. Fifteen or twenty or so to go. We won't miss some of the dishes that are still packed until Thanksgiving, or even New Year's. And I've successfully eliminated one dresserful of clothes from my life. All of which leads to a question, and a warning.

First, Does anyone want any stuff? We seem to have wound up with more than our share.

Second, beware, there may already be a box with your name on it!

Monday, August 20, 2007

A shortage

As we'll be moving (again) in less than two weeks, we're trying not to purchase more stuff, particularly things we'll have to pack. Like food, and other things from the grocery store. One less thing we have to put in a box over the next ten--sorry, nine--days is a small victory. So we've been nursing our dish detergent, in the hopes that we'll run out on the morning of the move. IT didn't work; we ran out yesterday. As I washed the dishes with bar soap, I had the image in my head of Ralphie, in his peacoat and dark glasses, with his white cane, breaking the news to his distraught parents:
"It 'twas . . . soap poisoning!"
I rinsed thoroughly.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Idiosyncratic pronunciations

Everyone's entitled to a few: I pronounce Norbert Elias's last name the same as Patrik Elias's. Then there's that bicycle part which is acceptably called in English a "derailer" or by its French name "derailleur" (pron. de-rie-ehrr). And I continue to call by the bastardized pronunciation of "dee-ra-lure."

And the sandal companies: Chaco and Teva. They want to rhyme with "taco" and "B-F-4eva" but for god's sakes, they're freaking sandals. Chaco rhymes with Waco, Teva with beaver (show your New Jersey roots!).

I used to think that bedraggled was the condition one was in when one arose from bed, hence "bed-raggled" (a pronunciation I still occasionally use, particularly when I can use that word to describe myself). A case of a false etymology leading to a wrong pronunciation.

Pony up with yours in the comments.

An odd thing explained

Traveling to New York is like going to another country; things are just a little bit different. One thing that struck me on my trip last week was the startling number of pay phones. And behold, here's the explanation: advertising. The ad space on the side of the phone booths provides way more revenue than the calls.

Incidentally, this reminds me of a story from the NYT a few years ago, about a pay-phone buff, the sort of a guy who always answers a ringing pay phone (back when they would take incoming calls, at least). His oddest exchange:

"Hello, is Louise there?"
"No, this is a pay phone"
"I know. Look, when she walks by, could you tell her that Julio called and I'm going to be at Rikers longer than I thought."

Premature Epistolation

n. phrase. The act of inadvertently sending an email while not yet completed or attachments not yet attached. May cause feelings of embarrassment, shame, etc.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

...and overheard.

After I heard someone tell the same story to three or four different lucky recipients of phone calls, the person on the other end of the conversation must have squeezed in a word, knowing that the only way to get a response was to ask about our protagonist. The response:"Oh my god, we talked all weekend long...."

Yeah, I thought to myself, I bet you did.

Seen in Newark Airport

White sneakers, white socks wrapped around old-man-skinny ankles, tan pants, white belt, beige shirt covering a bit of a belly, sand-colored bucket hat over a sunburned and wrinkled face. Plastic framed glasses sat on a nose with a couple of funny kinks to it. He was talking into his cell phone, placing his bets for the afternoon's horse racing "Spanish... in the fourth ... that's right ... to win...."

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Small adventures

Saturday Dr. Fledermaus and I took Bat Jr. to her first baseball game; she had a blast (Dingbat was disappointed in John Maine's third-inning performance, but that didn't dampen Jr.'s pleasure at the crowd, the pretzels (or shoul I say, the mustard; Jr.'s focus is the condiments at just about any meals).

But as with so much else (at least when Dr. F and I are involved), the adventure is in the journey. After the game, we strolled down Clark, Wells, and State streets from Wrigley to Quartino for dinner. Which was delightful--Bat Jr. got a mini-nap in, we got to window-shop with absolutely no danger of entering and purchasing--until... Rain. The rain made everything, well, wet. So I suppose that I'd have to say it was wet and delightful.

The reason we open ourselves up to these (mis)aventures is the payoffs--not just the goofy stories, but also things like meeting Griffin, the bassett hound, and his owners, who took shelter under the same awning we did during a moment of fairly intense rain. One of Griffin's owners, it turns out, works (once a week) around the block from where we're living now. This is one of the mild surprises of living in the city, especially one like Chicago where the neighborhoods are so strong, and you might see your neighbors (we did see one of them on the north side, too). We expect that our niehgbors go out, but it's a pleasant surprise that others come into our community, too!

The weekend wouldn't be complete without a bike ride: this morning I biked up to Montrose through the rain: a steady, medium-intensity rain punctuated by bouts of thunderstorm-like intensity (during the actual thunder, I was in a tunnel under Lake Shore Drivee adjusting my cleats).

I relived my running days as a "mudder" for a while. Every time a storm cell passed overhead, the (tail)wind strengthened, so along with the rain came a boost in my speed, tearing through the puddles with the rain dripping off my helmet.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Found Poetry

"As the South Campus engineers were trying to clear a kitchen sink on the 4th floor today, they found plastic utensils as well as coffee grounds in the sink drain.

"Please do not put plastic eating utensils in sink as well as coffee grounds.

"Please watch what we put into the sinks.

"This just makes common sense."

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Wisdom from Dr. Fledermaus: Drip Dry

I'm a fan of--or should I say, "easily captivated by"--the Big Plan. My current Big Plan is to go carless over the next five years or so. We're making fine progress toward that goal, driving rarely enough that the car has started to pick up spider webs from disuse. But this post is about rather a simple, small way to consume less resources.

Drip dry your hands. Dr. F started boycotting hand dryers (the hot-air kind) a long time ago, due to the beastly temperature they create in a bathroom, especially one already packed with people--one shouldn't come away from washing one's hands feeling sweaty everywhere else.

Once you get used to drip-drying instead of hot air, it's a simple matter to drip dry instead of using up paper towels. Bang--if you're washing your hands as often as your mother would like, a half-pound of paper out of the waste stream.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


We're looking for a a trike for Bat Junior. She's 17 1/2 months old, and already so jazzed about biking that she, well, bikejacks any of the older kids who have a two- or three-wheeler. That is, she elbows them off their ride and climbs aboard. She doesn't yet attempt this with adults, but if you leave a bike around, she'll try to climb on, with varyingly humorous or calamitous outcomes.

What's needed is clearly a conveyance of her own. We've now been two four different stores looking for a well-built (mostly steel, definitely not CPS, solid or inflatable rubber tires [not plastic wheels]) trike: 10" wheels and a bent-down main tube so she can reach the pedals. Three big-box stores and one specialty bike store, and no luck yet. We know the thing exists; you can buy it on Amazon, and that may well be what we wind up doing. Or we'll have our LBS order it.