Thursday, December 31, 2020

"Wear masks when going out": The first public statement about the "novel coronavirus"

The first public statement about what would later be identified as a "novel coronavirus" was made on 31 December 2019 by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission. The text is in Chinese; here's a Google translation: "Recently, some medical institutions found that multiple cases of pneumonia received were related to South China Seafood City." The suggested measures for the public to take are striking: "The disease is preventable and controllable, keep indoor air circulation for prevention, avoid closed public places and crowded places with poor air circulation, and wear masks when going out." Right from the beginning, then, wearing masks was proposed as a way to combat the spread of the virus. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 December)


The full translation:


Notification of Wuhan Municipal Health Commission on the current situation of pneumonia in our city

Issuing agency: Wuhan Municipal Health Commission | Release time: 2019-12-31 13:38:05


Recently, some medical institutions found that multiple cases of pneumonia received were related to South China Seafood City. After receiving the report, the Municipal Health Commission immediately carried out case searches and retrospective investigations related to South China Seafood City in the city’s medical and health institutions. Twenty-seven cases have been found, of which 7 are in serious condition, the remaining cases are stable and controllable, and 2 cases have improved and are scheduled to be discharged in the near future. The clinical manifestations of the cases were mainly fever, a few patients had difficulty breathing, and chest radiographs showed infiltrating foci of both lungs. At present, all cases have been treated in isolation, follow-up investigation and medical observation of close contacts are underway, and hygienic investigation and environmental sanitation treatment of South China Seafood City are underway.


Wuhan City organizes consultations with clinical medicine, epidemiology, and virology experts from Tongji Hospital, Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan Infectious Disease Hospital, and Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The experts return from illness and treatment. , Epidemiological investigations, preliminary laboratory tests and other aspects of the analysis believe that the above cases are viral pneumonia. The investigation so far has not found obvious human-to-human transmission, and no medical staff infection has been found. At present, the detection of the pathogen and the investigation of the cause of infection are underway.


Viral pneumonia is more common in winter and spring, and can be sporadic or outbreak. The main clinical manifestations are fever, body aches, a small number of breathing difficulties, and lung infiltration. Viral pneumonia is related to the virulence of the virus, the route of infection, and the age and immune status of the host. Viruses that cause viral pneumonia are influenza viruses. The others are parainfluenza viruses, cytomegaloviruses, adenoviruses, rhinoviruses, and coronaviruses. The diagnosis depends on pathogenic tests, including virus isolation, serological tests, and virus antigen and nucleic acid tests. The disease is preventable and controllable, keep indoor air circulation for prevention, avoid closed public places and crowded places with poor air circulation, and wear masks when going out. Clinically, symptomatic treatment is the mainstay, and bed rest is required. If you have the above symptoms, especially if the fever persists, you should go to a medical institution in time.


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

On mondegreens and eggcorns, and how people talk about them

Misunderstood phrases in songs ("kiss this guy" for "kiss the sky" in Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze") are "mondegreens", which comes from "laid him on the green" for "Lady Mondegreen". Whenever they come up, mondegreens are always treated as humorous. Some misunderstood phrases in speech get written down later ("lame man's terms" for "layman's terms") and are then called "eggcorns" (as a replacement for "acorn"). But whenever they come up, eggcorns are always treated as ridiculous. The mechanism is the same (misunderstanding a phrase and trying to make sense of it, often unconsciously), but the two cases are treated completely differently, even though they are equally creative responses to difficulties in comprehension. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 December)

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Treating science as if it were magic in the pandemic and in the climate catastrophe

It's easy to call politicians hypocrites for getting the coronavirus vaccination after having called the pandemic a hoax or dismissed the concerns of epidemiologists and other public-health professionals throughout the year. Such people have complained about measures that force people to change their behavior, such as lockdowns and the wearing of masks, but they are happy to take a step that requires only two shots. These people often also object to any climate-catastrophe measures that would change people's everyday lives, while also appealing to grand technological solutions like carbon capture that would make a transformation of the petroleum-based economic system unnecessary. Ultimately, even when they appeal to science, they expect magic. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 December)

Monday, December 28, 2020

The need for self-censorship in Jane Austen's "Emma"

When Emma Woodhouse in Jane Austen's "Emma" reflects on the departure of her governess Miss Taylor when she marries and becomes Mrs. Weston, she reflects on her virtues, many of which turn out to be about Emma herself: Miss Taylor was "one to whom she could speak every thought as it arose, and who had such an affection for her as could never find fault." The opportunity to speak without self-censorship combines here with the certainty that she will not be punished for whatever she says, even if it is actually blameworthy. Without such a companion, then, Emma must censor herself with others or risk having them find fault with her. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 December)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

A morning of mourning: The marriage of Miss Taylor in Jane Austen's "Emma"

At the beginning of Jane Austen's "Emma", the marriage of Emma Woodhouse's governess is the equivalent of death for Emma and her father: "Miss Taylor married. It was Miss Taylor's loss which first brought grief. It was on the wedding-day of this beloved friend that Emma first sat in mournful thought of any continuance." Her friend's marriage brings "grief" and "mournful thought", and the wedding itself "was a black morning's work for her" – a morning, then, of mourning. With her marriage, Miss Taylor may not die, but she does cease to exist not only as Emma's daily companion but also as "Miss Taylor" at the moment when she becomes Mrs. Weston. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 December)

Saturday, December 26, 2020

"Would quit Kellnych Hall": From the conditional to the indicative in "Persuasion"

In Jane Austen's "Persuasion", Sir Walter Elliot reads Lady Russell's suggestions to "retrench" to pay off his debts – and dismisses them: "He would sooner quit Kellynch Hall at once, than remain in it on such disgraceful terms." But Sir Walter's agent, Mr. Shepherd, interprets this  refusal as a possibility, and shortly thereafter the "quitting" is no longer conditional: "Sir Walter would quit Kellynch Hall". The first "would quit" is the conditional form in present-tense dialogue; the second is the past tense of "will" in the narrative, and  what "would" be denied becomes what "will" be done. The conditional, that is, creates an opportunity for interpretation – both in and of the novel. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 December)

Friday, December 25, 2020

First hangovers at 14

Sara asked if I'd written my 111 words for today, so I asked her what I should write about, and she said I should write about her first hangover. She had several glasses of pineapple juice with champagne last night, and when she came downstairs this morning, she asked what a hangover is like: she had a headache and found all sounds too loud and light too bright. It reminded me of my first hangover at the same age (14): seven glasses of champagne at a New Year's Eve party in 1978. So on New Year's Day 1979, I went for a run in ice-cold weather to fight off the hangover. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 December)

Thursday, December 24, 2020

What day was Jesus born? Depends what country you're from

In my bicultural relationship with Andrea, we joke about something every Christmas season: if we take the story of Jesus's birth at this time of year seriously, what day was he actually born on? In Germany and Switzerland, the Christkind was born on Heiligabend, the "holy evening" of Christmas Eve, while in the UK and the US, the baby Jesus was born on Christmas Day (as "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" explicitly says). The historicist atheist in me says the holiday is celebrated now because of early Christian competition with the post-Solstice celebration of Saturnalia in ancient Rome, but the American in me insists that JC was born on the 25th! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 December)

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

"Read Kleist in November": John Ashbery and Heinrich von Kleist

In "The Spacious Firmament", John Ashbery refers to Heinrich von Kleist: "I stand holding a bunch of keys, / burn up my motto, read Kleist in November." In the Northern Hemisphere, November  can be a figure of melancholy, but the connection with Kleist is dark: on 21 November 1811, Kleist and his friend Henriette Vogel (who was dying of cancer) went to the Wannsee in Berlin, where Kleist first shot her and then himself. Ashbery's next lines wonder whether "I cannibalize others' lives, / the lives of others' words": the key to not "cannibalizing" Kleist's life and words, then, is to not make them a motto that one has to burn. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 December)


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Hearing the voices of actors from the other room

Andrea decided to watch an old favorite this evening: Ang Lee's 1995 adaptation of "Sense and Sensibility", with Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood, with Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon. From the other room, Miles heard Rickman's voice and recognized it as the voice of Severus Snape from the "Harry Potter" films. – It reminded me of a similar moment years ago, when we were watching Jim O'Hanlon's 2009 miniseries of "Emma", with Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller, and Michael Gambon – and Miles also identified him by his voice as the second Professor Dumbledore (and around the same time, as Bean in Wes Anderson's 2009 "Fantastic Mr. Fox"). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 December)

Monday, December 21, 2020

Happy Winter Solstice 2020

It's the shortest day and longest night of the year: Winter Solstice. In my mid-teens, I made a point of not saying "Merry Christmas" but rather "Happy Winter Solstice" when the holidays began – as the principled thing for an atheist to do. My sister-in-law improvised Winter Solstice songs for me, and everybody found it amusing. Now I'm still an atheist, but I recognize other reasons to celebrate particular days besides the astronomical moments of equinoxes and solstices – private occasions like birthdays and wedding anniversaries, public anniversaries of historical events, or celebrations with long traditions, like Christmas. Yet I still love Winter Solstice most, with its promise of longer days to come. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 December)

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Celan composing poems and dictating them from a phone booth

In her review of Pierre Joris's translation of Paul Celan's first four books of poems, "Memory Rose Into Threshold Speech", Ruth Franklin notes that Celan "would sometimes compose poems while walking and dictate them to his wife from a public phone booth." In the absence of a notebook in his pocket, Celan would take a coin out of his wallet and turn to a more recent technology than writing to preserve what he'd written. These days, of course, poets who compose while walking can still turn to a phone, but it will be in their pocket, counting their steps as they count the rhythm of their verses and dictate their lines. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 December)


Saturday, December 19, 2020

How much damage can an impeached, lame-duck President do?

Yesterday, Heather Cox Richardson quoted Adam Schiff's remarks at the passage of the articles of impeachment last year: “How much damage can Donald Trump do between now and the next election?” Of course, the mishandling of the pandemic wasn't something Schiff could have anticipated, but given his public-health policies as Indiana's governor, it's hard to imagine a President Mike Pence doing many things differently than President Trump has. But what Schiff also did not predict is how much damage a President who is unwilling to admit defeat and is determined to challenge the results no matter how often his attempts fail can do between a lost election and his opponent's inauguration. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 December)

Friday, December 18, 2020

"This course is an experiment": On learning when not to say that

The description of "111 Words a Day: A Writing Project" last spring began, "This course is an experiment." So everyone knew what they were getting into. When "Academic Writing in English I" started three weeks late this fall after my sick leave, I told the students about a new experiment: instead of working step by step toward an essay in week 5, I gave them worksheets, and they wrote the essays in one week – with opportunities to revise essays with poor grades. In the course evaluations, a student commented: "I'm not an experiment!" In retrospect, I regret using that term for a required course with no warning in the course description. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 December)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The provenance of Kandinsky's "Improvisation 10"

Wassily Kandinsky's 1910 painting "Improvisation 10" is in the collection at the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen.  In 1951, Ernst Beyeler purchased the painting from Ferdinand Möller in Köln, who was asked by the German government to sell the painting abroad during World War II – instead, he buried it in his Potsdam garden. In 1937, the German government had confiscated the painting from a museum in Hannover where it was on permanent loan from a German exile living in Moscow: Sophie Küppers, the wife of El Lissitzky, who'd owned the painting since 1919. In the late 1990s, one of Küppers' heirs sued Beyeler, but it was ruled he hadn't acquired it illegally. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 December)



Wednesday, December 16, 2020

High on espresso, Expressionism, and Kandinsky

When I visited Munich in December 1984, I discovered several painters at Lenbachhaus whose work astonished me: Franz Marc, Alexej von Jawlensky, Gabriele Münter, and above all Wassily Kandinsky (born on this day in 1866). A few weeks later in my travels, I learned about a comprehensive retrospective of Kandinsky's entire career that was at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, so I headed there right away and spent two afternoons at the exhibition, high on espresso and Expressionism. After my second visit, I walked for a long time through the winter dark of Paris and everything looked like abstractions, most especially the balcony railings glimmering in the light from the streets. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 December)

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

"Real people" in Philadephia and Lagos: A figure in Ibram X. Kendi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In "How To Be an Anti-Racist", Ibram X. Kendi writes that in 2005, when he went to graduate school, he moved to Hunting Park – one "of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Philadelphia." He then "considered poor Blacks to be the truest and most authentic representatives of Black people." This same association of poverty with "real people" appears in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "The Thing around Your Neck": the twenty-something white boyfriend of Akunna, the Nigerian immigrant who is the story's narrator, wants "to visit Lagos, to see how real people [live], like in the shantytowns." As Akunna later says, her boyfriend must not be a "real American" himself, since he isn't poor. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 December)

Monday, December 14, 2020

Driving conventions, the stories we tell ourselves, and the pandemic

Driving is full of conventions that keep everyone safe on the road: from turn signals to stop signs, from lane markings to what side of the road we drive on, from roundabouts to "the red light means stop, the green light means go". As that stoplight verse shows, we begin learning these rules long before we take driving lessons; by the time we're old enough for them, they're part of the stories we tell ourselves all the time. Pandemic-control measures are also for public safety, but they are all new, and like so much about the pandemic, they break the continuity of our stories, which makes it hard to accept them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 December)

Sunday, December 13, 2020

On MDs and PhDs and Professors

In the 1950s, my father received a PhD in Mathematics, and his brother went to medical school and got an MD. Later, their mother was often heard to say that two of her children were doctors, but only one was a real doctor (and she meant my uncle, not my father). My variation on the issue of titles involves "professor": as I have never actually held an appointment with that title, so when people call me "Professor Shields", I tell them that if they want want to use a title in speaking or writing to me, they can call me Dr. Shields, because I do have a PhD in Comparative Literature. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 December)

Saturday, December 12, 2020

"As long as ... the election result is disputed"

On Thursday, before the Supreme Court's Friday dismissal of the Texas Attorney General's lawsuit to overturn the presidential-election results, Texas Senator Ted Cruz responded to the efforts by President Trump and his Republican groupies with a comment about President-Elect Biden's Cabinet nominations: "As long as there's litigation ongoing, and the election result is disputed, I do not think you will see the Senate act to confirm any nominee." This may sound like a time could come when the Senate might start the confirmation process, but Cruz's principle makes it possible to never start the process at all – all Republicans have to do is continue to invent ways to "dispute" the result. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 December)


Friday, December 11, 2020

On not finishing "Der Zauberberg", by Thomas Mann

When I was a Comparative Literature graduate student at Penn, I took a seminar on Thomas Mann with Horst Daemmrich. After reading "Tonio Kröger" and "Tod in Venedig", I had an idea for a paper, so I met with him to discuss it. On hearing my idea, he asked me if I was reading "Der Zauberberg", the next text on the syllabus. I said I was – and surprisingly, he said I should put it aside and concentrate on "Doktor Faustus", which would be perfect for developing my ideas. It was indeed perfect for my paper on "The Dance of Distance" – but thirty years on, I still have never finished "Der Zauberberg." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 December)

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Another easily debunked claim by President Trump (and one that's irrelevant anyway)

Yesterday, President Trump tweeted an easily debunked claim about presidential elections in the United States: "No candidate has ever won both Florida and Ohio and lost." If this were true, that would make him the first candidate to lose despite winning those states, but as many people quickly pointed out, Vice President Richard Nixon won Florida and Ohio in 1960 but still lost to Senator John F. Kennedy. Curious about the history of the Florida-Ohio connection, I paged through electoral maps on Wikipedia and confirmed that the Kennedy-Nixon election is a precedent for this year's election. For a parody of claims like Trump's, see Randall Munroe's xkcd comic "Electoral Precedent 2020." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 December)


Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Poems that "try to praise" the world

Today's poem in my collection of 366 poems for 2020 (#366poems2020) is Thomas Lux's "Ode to the Unbroken World, Which Is Coming." Even before I went to check the list and post the poem just now, I had been thinking about poems like Lux's that offer an apology not for poetry but for the world, such as Jack Gilbert's "A Brief for the Defense", Adam Zagajewski's "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" (which I know in the English translation by Clare Cavanagh), and Maggie Smith's "Good Bones." These poems all "try to praise" the "shithole" of the world in which "there's always a punchbowl" and "there will be music despite everything". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 December)

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Poetry, guitar, literature, jazz DJ

After I graduated from college with a BA in English in 1987, I thought about how I loved doing four things: writing poetry, playing guitar, studying literature, and working as a jazz DJ. Of the four, it seemed to me there was one I would only do if I made it a career: studying literature. If it weren't my profession, I'd stop doing it, and I was sure I'd miss it, while the others could all be hobbies. Today, I do study and teach literature as a profession, while writing poetry and playing music on the side, but sadly, I'm no longer a jazz DJ, and I do miss it sometimes.  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 December)

Monday, December 07, 2020

Willy Brandt straightens out the ribbons before kneeling in Warsaw, 7 December 1970

On 7 December 1970, German Chancellor Willy Brandt was in Warsaw to sign the Treaty of Warsaw, in which Germany officially recognized the Oder-Neisse Line of 1945 as the German-Polish border. But the date is remembered more for what happened before the signing: Brandt went to the memorial for the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and, without a word, knelt at the foot of the material. Even before this humble gesture, though, this video reveals a moving detail: after the wreath was laid down, Brandt reached down and straightened out the two ribbons. It's a small thing compared to the kneeling, but the care and respect it demonstrates prepares the humility that follows. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 December)


English version of the video here.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Who "we" are in "Little Owl", by A. E. Stallings

A. E. Stallings's "Little Owl" begins with a "we" that seems to refer to all humans in general yet also to each individual human: "we" become "who we are" – our individual selves – because of "what sees us". But by the time "we" appears again, it refers to a particular experience that two people (most likely a couple) shared: seeing a Little Owl in an olive tree on the Greek island of Spetses. If the owl's gaze makes the couple "who we are", then it is the shared experience and the memory of it that constitute them as a couple, in an exclusive "we", rather than as individuals or humans in general. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 December)


[Previous post on this poem here]


Little Owl

A. E. Stallings, Like, 57


            (Athena noctua)


It’s not what we see, but what sees us

Makes us who we are.

Do you remember years ago on Spetses,

Under the evening star,

As the surf rolled and rolled on its glass dowel

We strolled along the sea road

And spied a little owl

Less a bird

Than a small clay jar

Balanced implausibly on an olive branch,

A drab still vessel attuned to whatever stirred,

Near or far:

Hedgehog shuffling among windfall of figs,

Gecko, mouse.

Then she swiveled the orbit of her gaze upon us

Like the Cyclops eye-beam of a lighthouse.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Praising nothing: Jack Gilbert's "Getting It All"

Jack Gilbert's "Getting It All" begins with negation and assertion: "The air this morning is pleasant and praises nothing. / It lies easily on each thing." First, the unpraising air is distanced from everything, but then distance collapses "easily", whose letters echo the "pleasant" air. But unlike this air that's both distanced from and close to the world, we depend on what we "notice": "We see the trees in their early-spring greenness, / but not again until just before winter." Here, we don't "lie easily on each thing", but only connect with the world when its changes give pattern to the new, as in the rhyme of "sees", "trees", and "greenness." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 December)


Getting It All

Jack Gilbert, The Great Fires, 81


The air this morning is pleasant and praises nothing.

It lies easily on each thing. The light has no agency.

In this kind of world, we are on our own: the plain

black shoes of a man sitting in the doorway,

pleats of the tall woman's blue skirt as she hurries

to an office farther on. We will notice maybe

the gold-leaf edges of a book carried by the student

glinting intermittently as she crosses into the bright

sunlight on our side of the street. But usually

we depend on meditation and having things augmented.

We see the trees in their early-spring greenness,

but not again until just before winter. The common

is mostly beyond us. Love after the fervor, the wife

after three thousand nights. It is easy to realize

the horses suddenly running through an empty alley.

But marriage is clear. Like the faint sound of a cello

very late at night somewhere below in the stillness

of an old building on a street named Gernesgade.

Friday, December 04, 2020

"Rolled and rolled": Doubles in "Little Owl", by A. E. Stallings

 A. E. Stallings's "Like" recalls an experience of walking together "years ago on Spetses, / Under the evening star." That star, which is not a star but rather Venus, is doubled, as both the evening star and the morning star. And the poem keeps doubling: the surf that "rolled and rolled" in the next line is then picked up and varied in how the couple "strolled along the sea road"; the little owl that they see in a tree seems like "a small clay jar"; the "olive branch" that the owl is sitting on is a literal branch but also a symbol of peace in the moment that the poem remembers. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 December)


Little Owl

A. E. Stallings, Like, 57


            (Athena noctua)


It’s not what we see, but what sees us

Makes us who we are.

Do you remember years ago on Spetses,

Under the evening star,

As the surf rolled and rolled on its glass dowel

We strolled along the sea road

And spied a little owl

Less a bird

Than a small clay jar

Balanced implausibly on an olive branch,

A drab still vessel attuned to whatever stirred,

Near or far:

Hedgehog shuffling among windfall of figs,

Gecko, mouse.

Then she swiveled the orbit of her gaze upon us

Like the Cyclops eye-beam of a lighthouse.


Second post on the poem here.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

An adultery joke without gender and sexual orientation: Kudos to Stephen Colbert

On 12 November, I discussed male late-night comedians' frequent adultery similes, which are usually heterosexual and gendered. But last night, in discussing President Trump's idea of giving "pre-emptive pardons" to his children and cronies, Stephen Colbert did without gender and sexual orientation: "Honey. I will certainly tell you what I did with the neighbor last night – after you forgive me. Do you forgive me? Good, now I won't tell you because you've already forgiven me. And if I have to tell you, is that really forgiveness?" Here, all listeners can take up both positions in the joke, so nobody is excluded, and the joke is more effective than the narrower version. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 December)



Wednesday, December 02, 2020

The visual magic of "Jingle Jangle" – and Forest Whitaker's smile

"Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey" is a visual extravaganza, from the costumes by Michael Wilkinson and sets by Rob Cameron to the cinematography by Remi Adefarasin and the beautiful puppets throughout the film (but who made them?). That's in keeping with its story about the inventor Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker) and his rejuvenation by his grandaughter Journey (Madalen Mills). But one of the film's most wonderful moments is entirely human: when Jeronicus finally smiles – because Forest Whitaker's smile, like his voice and the way he moves, is as moving here as it is in "Ghost Dog" or "Smoke", just to name two movies that were also graced by his sudden beaming. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 December)