Thursday, September 23, 2021

Covid certificates at the University of Basel

On 1 November, the University of Basel will introduce a Covid-certificate requirement for in-person courses. This is a delayed response to the Swiss Federal Council's ruling that, starting on 13 September, people must have a certificate showing vaccination, recovery, or a recent negative test in order to attend indoor events (such as concerts, restaurants, movies, and lectures). However, registered students who don't have the certificate can ask to be offered alternatives to in-person classroom instruction. I'm all for giving such options to those who cannot be vaccinated (because of autoimmune disorders, say), but instructors should not have to make extra arrangements for those who refuse to get vaccinated or even tested. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 September 2021)

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Behind "Parkinson's Law" is a formula

Over the course of the summer, as I planned my classes for this semester, I thought that I would finish earlier than usual, but here I am still preparing the syllabus for a class that first meets on Friday. "The work expands to fill the time allotted" – that's the phrase that keeps coming back to me. I wondered where the idea comes from: it's "Parkinson's Law", formulated in 1955 by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, who went on to publish a 1957 book about it. Parkinson was referring to the growth of bureaucracy over time – and he even formulated it as an equation involving how much staff growth can be expected every year. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 September 2021)


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

George Mraz (1944-2021)

One summer in the 1980s at the Stanford Coffee House, I served beer late every afternoon to the bassist George Mraz (1944-2021), who was teaching at the Stanford Jazz Workshop. I knew and loved his playing, most of all on the John Abercrombie Quartet albums he did with Richie Beirach and Peter Donald. He was worried about his career that summer because he had tendinitis in his wrist and was supposed to not be playing at all. Around twenty years later, I heard him with Joe Lovano in Basel (with Hank Jones and Victor Lewis) and was glad to see that he no longer had to play with a wrist brace. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 September 2021)


John Abercrombie (top); Richie Beirach, George Mraz, Peter Donald

Monday, September 20, 2021

Back to teaching in person at the University of Basel

Although I was looking forward to it, I wasn't sure how I'd respond to teaching classes in person again when I arrived at the University today for the first day of the semester. I made sure to go in early enough to print handouts and go to my first classroom well in advance (one I'd never previously taught in). But then the computer in my office wouldn't start (it was installing an update), the classroom was locked, and my key didn't work. I called someone, who came to open it, but when class started, I didn't even think about how we were all in a room together rather than on Zoom. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 September 2021)

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Hearing melody and meter in what my children say

My children have always been struck by how I take things they say and start to sing them or repeat them. Often they use phrases that have been used in songs, such as "a long time ago", which my mind immediately turns into "a long, long time ago" from "American Pie". Or they'll use phrases with a noticeable rhythm, as just happened while Luisa was driving a few minutes ago: "I thought I knew the person on the bike." I heard the iambic pentameter, repeated the sentence, and added a next line: "And so I didn't see the light turn green." Luckily, no one was behind us to honk at her. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 September 2021)


How to turn a traffic light green | Morning Bulletin

Saturday, September 18, 2021

"The club is temporarily closed due to a legal order": The Bird's Eye Jazz Club in Basel

Since I bought my one-year pass to Basel's Bird's Eye Jazz Club in July, I've attended twelve concerts there: three each by the Hans Feigenwinter Trio and a Chico Freeman band, plus single shows led by Slawek Plizga, Joe Haider, Fabio Gouvêa, Arismar do Espirito Santo, and Guillermo Klein (with the Swiss Jazz Orchestra), as well as the band Katom. I'd made a reservation for saxophonist Linda Sikhakhane last night, but the club called me to say they wouldn't be open; as their website says: "The club is temporarily closed due to a legal order." After they didn't implement the covid certificate, their alternative approach was rejected by the local government. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 September 2021)


Friday, September 17, 2021

"Die Sonne geht in meinem Staat nicht unter": The extent of the sixteenth-century Spanish Empire and Friedrich Schiller's "Don Karlos"

In Friedrich Schiller's "Don Karlos", King Philip II of Spain (the title character's father) describes his kingdom with a phrase now primarily associated with Britain: "Die Sonne geht in meinem Staat nicht unter" ("The sun does not set in my state"). Schiller's play was first performed in 1787; its action takes place in 1568 (at the beginning of the Eighty Years' War of Dutch independence from Spain). Before it was used with reference to the British Empire, then, the phrase about "the sun never setting" was applied to the sixteenth-century Spanish Empire, beginning with the reign of Philip II's father Charles I (of Spain, Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire).  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 September 2021)

Dom Carlos 1787.jpg

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The "pureblood" marketing opportunity

A trend on TikTok is also a marketing opportunity, so now you can buy T-shirts with the new slogan that "I will no longer be referred to as unvaccinated. I am now going by the name 'pureblood.'" It's all too easy to comment on how revealing this is: the "purebloods" in the Harry Potter series were the bad guys, the "wizard supremacists", as it were, who hated all wizards with one or two "muggle" parents. And of course the "one drop" rule in American history made everyone with any "colored" ancestry into a "colored" person. But perhaps the whole "pureblood" thing is just trolling to trigger all the vaccinated libtard snowflakes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 September 2021)

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

What Facebook is good for

Facebook is stereotypically only good for cat videos and conspiracy theories. But the way people use it makes it even better at birthdays and, especially, deaths. Again and again, people (including me) post their thanks for the overwhelming flood of birthday greetings they get every year. And as I experienced when my father died five years ago today, it is a great comfort to receive comments, post reactions, and messages from Facebook Friends: counting my responses, my post about him had 398 comments and 154 reactions. Since then, whenever I see a post about a death, I've tried to make a point of responding, even just with a formula: "My condolences." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 September 2021)

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The "Mondenkind" that "they left behind": Michael Collins in music by Michael Wollny and Pink Pedrazzi

One of the two long pieces Michael Wollny played at his solo-piano concert in Basel last week was "Mondenkind", which he had written with Michael Collins in mind: the astronaut who stayed in lunar orbit while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. Wollny was particularly struck by how Collins lost "visual and radio contact with the earth for 46:38 minutes of each orbit." Then, on Saturday, in an "insignificant but touching" coincidence, I heard Pink Pedrazzi play a song he wrote while thinking about how Collins got so close to the moon but didn't land, "Almost the Moon", with its haunting refrain: "I'm the man they left behind." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 September 2021)


Pink Pedrazzi, Théâtre de la Fabrik, Hégenheim, 11 September 2021


Monday, September 13, 2021

"Inclined to reserve all judgments": Nick Carraway as novelist in "The Great Gatsby"

At the beginning of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" (1925), the narrator Nick Carraway reports advice his father gave him: "Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, [...] just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had." Carraway claims that this has had an effect on his character: "I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me [...]" In "reserving judgment", Carraway takes up the position of a novelist, whose suspension of judgment makes the exploration of both "curious" and conventional "natures" possible – and both those with "advantages" and those, like Jay Gatsby, without them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 September 2021)


Original cover by Francis Cugat

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Calling Time to find out what time it was

James Gleick's "The Toll of the Clock", a review of David Rooney's "About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks" in the 23 September 2021 issue of the "New York Review of Books", reminded me of something that I hadn't thought of in ages: when I was child, I could "call time" by dialing a telephone number whose only purpose was to say what time it was. As I took this for granted as just something that one could do, I never considered that, as Gleick recounts, it had a history: "In the early days of telephones, operators discovered that people were phoning them up just to ask the time." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 September 2021)


Yes, you can still call for the time and temperature ...

Saturday, September 11, 2021

The juxtaposition of two Bundestag election-campaign posters on a streetlight pole in Grenzach-Wyhlen, Germany

Germany is in the final weeks of the campaign for the election of the Bundestag on 26 September, and streetlight poles are full of posters for parties and candidates. Today, I saw a poster for the far-right Alternative for Germany [AfD] claiming that "a border is there to be protected" above a poster for the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany calling "for the right to flight [Flucht]" (that is, the right to become a refugee [Flüchtling]). Mostly, it's the juxtaposition of the two that I want to note, but as is so often the case, the AfD's claim is patently absurd: the border between Bavaria and Saxony is not protected, after all. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 September 2021)

Grenzach-Wyhlen, Germany

Friday, September 10, 2021

Jacobson v. Massachusetts and John Marshall Harlan

I read a post today about the 1905 US Supreme Court case Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which ruled that Massachusetts could fine Henning Jacobson for refusing to be vaccinated for smallpox: "[...] the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States [...] does not import an absolute right in each person to be [...] wholly freed from restraint." Yet the post identified the author of the opinion as John Marshall, who was Chief Justice from 1801-1835. But that turned out to be close: it was written by Justice John Marshall Harlan – who was also the lone dissenting voice in the infamous "separate but equal" decision in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1895.  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 September 2021)
John Marshall Harlan

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Responding to political violence with "criminalization and strictly civilian law enforcement"

In "How Can We Neutralize the Militias?", in the 19 August 2021 issue of "The New York Review of Books", Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson argue that "[i]t is imperative that the US government resist the impulse to respond militarily to the threat of right-wing violence and that it sustain a law enforcement approach." They conclude that "[t]he overarching lesson for America is to stick to criminalization and strictly civilian law enforcement, both to preserve civil liberties and to avoid provoking even more extreme reactions." Would that the US government had responded to 9/11 with law enforcement and criminal trials rather than militarization, torture, and the debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 September 2021)

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Arismar do Espirito Santo, Glauco Solter, and Mauro Martins at the Bird's Eye in Basel

Last Wednesday, I went to a wonderful concert at the Bird's Eye with a band led by guitarist Fabio Gouvêa. When I saw that drummer Mauro Martins was playing at the Bird's Eye again this evening, I changed my plans and went to hear him again, in Arismar do Espirito Santo's trio with Glauco Solter on electric bass. Arismar turns out to be one of the greatest musicians I've ever seen live: on seven-string nylon guitar, piano, and vocals, he plays with unbounded freedom, passion, and expression, with Solter and Martins tracking his every twist and turn with equally infectious enthusiasm, and with the audience singing along to close both sets. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 September 2021)


Arismar do Espirito Santo


Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Spotlights at Michael Wollny's concert in the Basel Volkshaus

During Michael Wollny’s solo-piano performance this evening at the Volkshaus in Basel, I could not see the piano keys from my seat, so mostly I closed my eyes and let his long, multifaceted pieces carry me away. At one point, though, I looked up and saw what looked like a spark under a spotlight; I realized it was an insect, but then it disappeared, leaving dust motes drifting in its place. Then I saw a blurred line of bluish light on the ceiling: a blue stage spotlight was reflecting from the piano keys, and I could see the shadows of Wollny’s hands moving back and forth across that strip of light.  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 September 2021)

Monday, September 06, 2021

Men's and women's clothing in tennis – and the ball for second serves

In professional tennis, the men wear shirts and shorts, while the women dresses, or shirts and skirts. While serving, the men put a ball in the pocket of their shorts in case they fault on the first serve, and the women tuck a ball under their skirts or dresses (except for Serena Williams, who doesn't take a second ball until after her first serve, as Pete Sampras also did). In the 1990s, Spanish player Arantxa Sánchez Vicario had a ball holder attached to her skirt instead. But for women who don't like to tuck the ball under their skirt or dress, the solution is actually obvious: have pockets sewn into them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 September 2021)


Arantxa Sanchez Vicario player with a ball clip for much of her career. Photo: Getty Images

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Traces of the pandemic at the Switzerland-Italy match in Basel this evening

The coronavirus pandemic was not very present at this evening's World Cup qualifying match between Switzerland and Italy at the St. Jakob stadium in Basel. To enter the stadium, spectators did have to have a coronavirus certificate certifying their vaccination, recovery, or recent negative test, and the staff checking the certificates, bags, and tickets were wearing masks, as were all the servers at the concession stands. But once I'd gotten to my seat, I only noticed one effect of the pandemic: the teams could still use the five substitutions that were introduced when matches began to be played again in late spring 2020. It's a rule that I hope becomes permanent. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 September 2021)

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Antenna, Max, and Best at the Bibliothek der Gestaltung, Oslo Night, Basel

Three musicians set up their instruments in front of a wall of books in a library, one of which says WALL, while another features David Bowie, ready to listen to what they have to offer. There’s a drummer with a tiny set (hi-hat, snare, bass drum, cymbal, and sometimes a tambourine), an electric guitarist who only uses his microphone for backing vocals on one song, and a singer who plays jew’s harp through an effects board, as well as some harmonica. Antenna, Max, and Best play what they want to play, a kind of raucous outsider folk blues, and you can be like Bowie and listen as much as you like. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 September 2021)



Friday, September 03, 2021

The rumor that Christian Eriksen's heart attack came after he had received a coronavirus vaccination

I learned today that, immediately after Danish footballer Christian Eriksen collapsed during a match at the European Championship in June, a rumor started that he'd just received a coronavirus vaccination which had given him a heart attack. By the time it was debunked when Eriksen’s club, Inter Milan, said that he hadn't actually been vaccinated, it had already spread far enough that it still persists today, combined with the claims that the vaccines cause heart problems and even that Eriksen died. An incident occurs, a rumor starts and spreads, it is debunked, but it lives on and is even pushed further and further because it says something believers want to hear. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 September 2021)

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Zinedine Zidane as Achilles in Roy McFarlane's "New Millennium Journal"

In the sequence "New Millennium Journal" in "The Healing Next Time" (Nine Arches 2018), Roy McFarlane twice figures Zinedine Zidane as Achilles, first in "2002: What we do when things fall apart" as "Achilles gloriously designed, unperturbed, untouchable" when Real Madrid played Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League Final, a player "carrying the duality of the colonised and the colonialist", and then in "2006: New wine in broken vessels" as "Achilles exposed" with France against Italy in the World Cup Final, "provoked by his nemesis" to the headbutt that earned him a red card and expressed an "anger" and "rage" familiar to McFarlane: "We Black knew the point of no return." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 September 2021)


Anatomy of a Goal: Zinedine Zidane 2002 Champions Final
Zidane scoring what McFarlane calls "the greatest goal ever" in the 2002 CL Final

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Reading one book of poetry every day for the month of August: The Sealey Challenge

Although I didn't use the hashtag, in August I participated in #TheSealeyChallenge to read one poetry book every day. Occasionally, I read them in one go, but mostly, I read them bit by bit over the course of the day. So I had the poets' voices hovering in my mind even when I wasn't reading, especially with books that focused on particular themes. One theme that came up several times was quite moving to me: caring for aging parents suffering from dementia. That theme bracketed the month, as both the first and last books I read touched on it: Jeffrey Harrison's "Between Lakes" to start and Seni Seneviratne's "Unknown Soldier" yesterday. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 September 2021)


My list:

20210831 Seni Seneviratne, Unknown Soldier

20210830 Matthew Paul, The Evening Entertainment

20210829 Ali Cobby Eckermann, Love dreaming & other poems

20210828 Vidyan Ravinthiran, The Million-petalled Flower of Being Here

20210827 Nuzhat Bukhari, Brilliant Corners

20210826 Sherko Bekas, tr. Choman Hardi, Butterfly Valley

20210825 Dunya Mikhail, In Her Feminine Sign

20210824 Nina Mingya Powles, Magnolia, 木蘭

20210823 Mary Jean Chen, Flèche

20210822 Roy McFarlane, The Healing Next Time

20210821 Osip Mandelstam, tr. Alistair Noon, Concert at a Railway Station

20210820 Simon Armitage, The Unaccompanied

20210819 Glyn Maxwell, How the Hell Are You

20210818 Alice Notley, Certain Magical Acts

20210817 Nina Bogin, Thousandfold

20210816 Mike Puican, Central Air

20210815 Claire Crowther, Solar Cruise

20210814 Alice Miller, Nowhere Nearer

20210813 Kayo Chingonyi, A Blood Condition

20210812 Natasha Trethewey, Thrall

20210811 Roger Robinson, A Portable Paradise

20210810 Aracelis Grimay, The Black Maria

20210809 Jack Gilbert, Refusing Heaven

20210808 Gerður Kristný, tr. Rory McTurk, Reykjavík Requiem

20210807 Giovanni Pascoli, tr. Geoffrey Brock, Last Dream

20210806 Joyelle McSweeney, Toxicon and Anarche

20210805 Michael Longley, The Candlelight Master

20210804 Sumita Chakraborty, Arrow

20210803 Bill Manhire, Wow

20210802 Cathy Park Hong, Engine Empire

20210801 Jeffrey Harrison, Between Lakes

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

"Combating terrorism through financial sanctions, bombing, and drone strikes": Heather Cox Richardson, Biden's anti-terror policy, and American violence

While I read Heather Cox Richardson's "Letters from an American" every day, her letter of 30 August 2021 doesn't offer her usual comprehensive overview on the drone strike "against ISIS-K for the attack on the Kabul airport [...] last Friday", which is part of the Biden administration's approach to "combating terrorism through financial sanctions, bombing, and drone strikes". But according to reports summarized by Murtaza Hussain, that drone strike, like so many others over the years, "killed 10 civilians from one family, including several children". Elsewhere in that letter, Richardson raises justifiable concerns about the violent rhetoric of Republican politicians, but she fails to connect that violence to American violence abroad. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 August 2021)



Monday, August 30, 2021

"A man walks out of a shop, notice he doesn't die": Roy McFarlane's "Rashan Charles, 2017" and Oscar Grant in "Fruitvale Station"

In "Rashan Charles, 2017", the last poem in the sequence "... they killed them" in Roy McFarlane's "The Healing Next Time", almost every prose stanza begins with the phrase "A man walks into a shop [...]". But the final section shifts: "A man walks out of a shop, notice he doesn't die" – followed by ordinary things Charles would have done if he hadn't died during an encounter with the police. I'm reminded of what I thought when Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" was released with Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger: I wished Oscar Grant, the police-shooting victim Jordan played in Coogler's "Fruitvale Station", had survived to take his daughter to the movie. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 August 2021)

Michael B. Jordan and Ariana Neal as Oscar and Tatiana Grant in "Fruitvale Station".

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The clichéd Casaubons in "The Chair"

Because enrollment in the English Department in the Netflix series "The Chair" is dropping, the Dean wants high-salaried older professors to take early retirement. The series takes place in the present, so these professors must be in their early sixites. They would have been in high school and college in the seventies, growing up on punk rock and new wave, and in their careers, they would have been engaged in the academic culture wars that began in the 1990s. Yet they are depicted as absent-minded, out-of-touch Casaubons whose scholarship is old-fashioned and whose courses are boring. Such cliches undermine the show's earnest attempts to address the problems of contemporary higher education. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 August 2021)


Netflix's 'The Chair' Review: Sandra Oh Rules in a Quick ...

Saturday, August 28, 2021

The oldest musicians I've heard live: Hank Jones, Joe Haider, and Heinz von Herrmann

Last night at the Bird's Eye in Basel, pianist Joe Haider mentioned several times that he's 85. That makes him the second-oldest musician I've ever heard live – Hank Jones was 86 when I heard him with Joe Lovano in Basel in April 2005. And Heinz von Herrmann, the tenor saxophonist and flautist in Haider's sextet, comes in third at 84. In 2005, Jones played "Body and Soul" with a sense of joy and discovery all the more wonderful given that he'd presumably been playing it practically since its publication in 1930. And last night, Haider and von Herrmann gave Cole Porter's 1944 song "Every Time We Say Goodbye" the same freshness. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 August 2021)

Friday, August 27, 2021

The rhetoric of "tribes" in President Biden's speech on the Kabul airport bombings

In his speech after yesterday's Kabul airport bombings, President Joe Biden claimed that Afghanistan is "a country that has never once in its entire history been a united country, and is made up — and I don’t mean this in a derogatory — made up of different tribes who have never, ever, ever gotten along with one another." I'll leave Afghanistan's history to the country's historians, but when a European-American (especially a President) speaks of "tribes", that terminology draws on the history of the colonization, displacement, and genocide of Native Americans, as well as the erasure of their history and even the enslavement of Africans – and Biden's "not derogatory" disclaimer doesn't help. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 August 2021)


Note: Credit to this tweet by İyad el-Baghdadi for drawing my attention to that part of Biden's speech.

The Durrani Empire at its maximum extent under Ahmad Shah Durrani, late 1750s
"The Durrani Empire at its maximum extent under Ahmad Shah Durrani, late 1750s" (Wikipedia)

Thursday, August 26, 2021

"But close, the painting knows him" (Roy McFarlane); "step inside a Rothko painting" (Nina Mingya Powles)

Last week, I wrote about how we can know works of art without experiencing them directly. Since then, I read a poem by Roy McFarlane, "No woman, no cry", which is "after the painting by Chris Ofili" and complicates my point by reversing it: "He knows the painting from articles and downloads, he knows the painting from a distance but close, the painting knows him [...]". The work can only "know" us when we experience it – a point also made more obliquely in a poem by Nina Mingya Powles, "Colour fragments", who wants to "step inside a Rothko painting", because "[i]f you stare long enough it seems to get bigger [...]." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 August 2021)


Chris Ofili, "No Woman, No Cry"

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Listening to The Rolling Stones as a child and a teen in the 60s and 70s

In the late 1960s, my parents listened to now-classic singers and bands, including The Rolling Stones. By the late 1970s, though, baroque music was my parents' favorite; one composer whose name I heard often was Georg Telemann. So the first Rolling Stones music I discovered by myself was "Some Girls" in 1978, especially the "Miss You" single. Today I put on a few songs from it and paid attention to Charlie Watts on drums. He's quoted on the "Miss You" page on Wikipedia: "A lot of those songs [...] were heavily influenced by going to the discos. You can hear it in a lot of those four-to-the-floor and the Philadelphia-style drumming." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 August 2021)

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The restraint of Filippo Meneghetti's "Deux" – and the eyes and face of Martine Chevallier

Filippo Meneghetti's "Deux" (2019) does without so much, and that makes it a strong movie. There's no voice over to explain things; the back story of the characters is only hinted at rather than filled in; the film does not end with the story's problems resolving. But it does end with the smile of Madeleine (Martine Chevallier), who suffers from aphasia after a stroke, which leaves her long-term but secret lover Nina (Barbara Sukowa) cut off from contact with her. These are issues that push my emotional buttons, but they are handled with the restraint by Meneghetti and the actors – above all Chevallier with her expressive face and her extraordinary eyes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 August 2021)


Deux filmstill
Léa Drucker and Martine Chevallier in "Deux"