Monday, September 19, 2022

Thomas Wentworth Higginson and post-Civil War textbooks on American history

In the world of poetry, Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911) is known as the literary critic that Emily Dickinson sent poems to in 1862; he later co-edited her posthumously published poems with Mabel Loomis Todd. He is also well known as an abolitionist who was colonel of the first black regiment in the Union army during the Civil War. But, as I learned today from Eric Foner's "The New York Review Books" review of Donald Yacovone's "Teaching White Supremacy", he was also the author of an American history textbook which, according to Foner, was one of a number of post-Civil War works that "placed slavery at the center of the American story." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 September 2022)

Sunday, September 18, 2022

The framing of the world and the generation of "aesthetic emotion" in W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage"

After hanging up a photograph with a "view of the Cathedral" near his boarding school, Philip Carey in W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage" begins to take "a new interest in" the lawns and trees "he saw from the window of the Fourth Form Room": "It gave him an odd feeling in his heart, and he did not know if it was pain or pleasure. It was the first dawn of the aesthetic emotion." The camera and the photograph made with it frame the image of the Cathedral, the window frames the view of the greenery outside, and such framing generates the uncertain feeling of an aesthetic response to the world. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 September 2022)

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Bleeding Heart Yard, in London and Charles Dickens's "Little Dorrit", and the history of "bleeding hearts"

Bleeding Heart Yard in the London borough of Camden is where the Plornish family lives in Charles Dickens's "Little Dorrit" (1857). Its name is said to come from a Bleeding Heart pub situated there in the sixteenth century; the heart in question was the bleeding heart of the Virgin Mary. Bleeding Heart flowers have been called that since the seventeenth century. The modern sense of a "bleeding heart" as someone too sympathetic to the downtrodden is attested as early as 1951 and attributed without attestation to the anti-New Deal journalist Westbrook Pegler, who was kicked out of the John Birch Society in the 1960s for being too extreme even for them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 September 2022)
An image of Bleeding Heart Yard from Walter Thornbury's Old and New London, 1873–8. (Wikipedia)

Friday, September 16, 2022

An Accident and Two Coincidences: An English poem in heroic couplets about our pediatrician and Roger Federer

In October 2005, I told my friend Andreas about an experience I'd had with our pediatrician. A few weeks later, he told my story to his friend Dani, who was editing a German-language medical magazine and was looking for stories about experiences writers had had. When Dani asked if I could write up my story. I asked if it was okay to write the story in English heroic couplets (rather than in German prose); after checking with the publisher, he said it was fine. And so I wrote my poem "An Accident and Two Coincidences", about our pediatrician and one of his former patients: Roger Federer when he was a child. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 September 2022)


An Accident And Two Coincidences


            Ein Unfall, zwei Zufälle.


I slipped from the ladder of Miles's bunk bed

and landed on my ankle, not my head.

He'd had a nightmare just before midnight,

and I had dozed for minutes at his side

until I'd heard his breathing settle down.

I'd wanted to get up without a sound,

and for a second after hitting the floor,

I thought I'd try out crawling to the door,

but then I knew I couldn't, so I shouted

quite loudly to my wife, although I doubted

Miles would sleep through that. He did sit up

to ask me in a daze, "Daddy, what's up?"

Andrea came to help me to my bed

then went back to check on Miles, who said

nothing more. "He's gone right back to dreamland,"

Andrea said, "snoring to beat the band."

Then she got me aspirin and ice.

And while I lay there, I thought it would be nice

to tell our pediatrician I was the one

who'd fallen from the bunk bed, not my son.

He would appreciate the irony;

Miles had often heard his warning: "I see

so many cases where my patients fell

out of their bunk beds, even though I tell

them to take care!"

                               You don't believe that I

was thinking that while lying there that night?

But surely you'll believe me when I say

I did remember it when the X-ray

showed in the morning that nothing was broken

(torn ligaments).

                            I'd have liked to have spoken

to Dr. Kaufmann sooner, but happily

my son and daughter lived quite healthily

for two months, until Luisa had

to go in for a check-up with her Dad.

And everything was fine, and then we spoke

about some vaccination dates and joked

about the funny things my daughter does.

And since the afternoon was slow, I was

able to tell the story of my slip.

And when it ended, I added one more quip,

a lovely bit of Basel irony:

that very week, that very injury

had struck down Roger Federer—I wondered

as I made the joke if I had blundered,

but Dr. Kaufmann answered with a grin:

"I was Roger Federer's pediatrician

until he was fourteen and moved away

to go to tennis school where he could play

more seriously. He was very shy

when I knew him." I told the doctor I

had been a Roger fan for quite a while.

The Basel boy who'd made it made us smile,

and then we said goodbye. We had to hurry,

Luisa and I, or our friends would worry,

whom we were going to meet beside the Rhine.

But we were hungry, and we just had time

to stop at Starbucks to pick up a snack.

While I was ordering, behind my back

I heard a voice I'd heard somewhere before,

and I thought in half a second (no more):

"Someone's talking English on his cell,

someone that I think I know quite well

but cannot place. Which expat could it be?"

I took my muffins, turned around to see

Roger sitting there, his foot in a cast,

crutches on the floor. He had the glassed-

over eyes of someone on the phone.

Coincidences—I'd have liked to wait

to share this tale with him, but we were late,

and he kept talking, so I left him alone.

            (But maybe he will see these lines sometime

            and enjoy my anecdote in rhyme.)


            — November 2005


Originally published in Primary Care 51-52, 2005

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Remembering Roger Federer on his retirement from tennis

I'd begun to notice Roger Federer as a promising tennis player from Basel before I first saw him here in the Davis Cup between Switzerland and the United States in February 2001. He won both his singles matches and the doubles match to put Switzerland ahead 3-1. Later that year, I watched his five-set Wimbledon win against Pete Sampras on television, and I've followed him ever since. My single favorite moment in his career was not a Grand Slam victory, though, but one inside-out forehand on break point against Tommy Haas at the 2009 French Open in 2009, which turned that match around and made his only Roland Garros title possible. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 September 2022)


On that shot at the time:

On that shot a year later:

All mentions of Federer on my blog:


Lego Roger:

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Imagine" as conceptual art (according to Louis Menand)

In "The Grapefruit Artist", his profile of Yoko Ono in the 20 June 2022 issue of "The New Yorker", Louis Menand concludes with a discussion of John Lennon's song "Imagine": "Lennon said that it was sexist of him not to have listed Ono as a co-writer" of the song, but Ono finally received official credit for it in 2017. Further, many of Ono's works that Menand discusses in the article, such as "Grapefruit", consist of instructions in the imperative form, in which she tells the works' audiences what to do. Hence, Menand argues that while 'Imagine' may be utopian, "it is also a work of conceptual art. It's an instruction piece." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 September 2022)


Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Email from Intakt Records and an album with the late Fredy Studer

I have a subscription with Zurich jazz label Intakt Records, so every few months I get an email with music to download. The last one came on 12 August, but I only downloaded the two albums today: a solo-piano recording by Katharina Weber, "In Márta's Garden" (with music by and for György and Márta Kurtág), and "50" by the Swiss quartet OM. Since Intakt sent me the email, OM's drummer Fredy Studer died on 22 August, so the album suddenly sounds quite melancholy. I never saw OM, but I did see Studer several times over the years in explosive concerts by the "Hardcore Chambermusic" trio with Hans Koch and Martin Schütz. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 September 2022)

Monday, September 12, 2022

Reading an old article in Republik and coming across Plato and Claude Shannon

The Swiss online magazine Republik publishes two or three long articles every day. I try to read one a day, but I don't always manage it, so I save them for later reading, and a backlog of unread texts piles up. So today I read the oldest article I had saved, "Weshalb diese Medien-Paranoia?" ("Why this media paranoia?"), by Daniel Strassberg. And I was pleased by references to two of my favorite texts: Plato's "Phaedrus" and the wonderful passage about the invention of writing, and Claude Shannon's "A Mathematical Theory of Communication", which I don't really understand the mathematics of but which was central to my father's studies in information theory. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 September 2022)


Sunday, September 11, 2022

Martina Navratilova was the only WTA player to simultaneously win her first Grand Slam and become number one for the first time

I found one case in WTA history where a player simultaneously won her first Grand Slam title and became number one for the first time: at Wimbledon in 1978, second-ranked Martina Navratilova did so, defeating top-ranked Chris Evert to  claim the number-one ranking. At Wimbledon in 2002, second-ranked Serena Williams defeated top-ranked Venus Williams to become number one for the first time – but that was already her third Grand Slam title. And in a third case, which the Australian Open tweeted about, second-ranked Caroline Wozniacki defeated top-ranked Simona Halep there in 2018 in a battle for number one and a first Grand Slam title – but both had been number one before. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 September 2022)

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Two players in their first Grand Slam final playing to be number one for the first time: apparently a first-time scenario

In tomorrow's men's singles final at the US Open, nineteen-year-old Carlos Alcaraz of Spain (currently ranked fourth) faces twenty-three-year-old Casper Ruud of Norway (currently ranked seventh). As has been frequently pointed out, the two are each playing for their first Grand Slam title, and the winner will be number one. But I haven't seen it mentioned that this is apparently a first-time scenario: I've found only one other case where a man became number one for the first time by winning a Grand Slam, and then it involved number two Mats Wilander (who had already won six Grand Slam titles) defeating number one Ivan Lendl at the US Open in 1988. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 September 2022)

Friday, September 09, 2022

Making a man queen – "Can a man be Chancellor?"

One of the most frequently shared tweets about the death of Queen Elizabeth II (at least that I have seen) is from Nat Guest: "Can't believe they are going to make a MAN queen. This woke nonsense has gone too far." This reminded me of a story often told in Germany as Angela Merkel's chancellorship kept getting longer: parents of children who had never known any other chancellor reported their children asking some form of this question: "Kann ein Mann Bundeskanzlerin werden?" ("Can a man be Chancellor?). While "queen" in Guest's tweet has a feminine denotation, "Bundeskanzlerin" in the children's striking question is marked as feminine by the grammatical ending "-in". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 September 2022)

Thursday, September 08, 2022

Remembering a chart of the succession of English and British monarchs from my time in the UK in 1973-74

When I was nine and lived in Leamington Spa in England for nine months in 1973-74, I remember drawing a detailed chart, from King William I to Queen Elizabeth II, of the succession of the Kings and Queens of England and Great Britain from 1066 onwards. I was particularly intrigued by the moments when the succession was not smooth (with Lady Jane Grey after King Edward VI in 1553, say, or with the Civil War in the seventeenth century). That memory from almost fifty years ago helps me realize just how long Queen Elizabeth II's reign was, especially given that she had been Queen for over twenty years by that time. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 September 2022)

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

"It advertised them both": Free creative work in "Of Human Bondage"

Although W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage" (1915) takes place from the late 1880s to the late 1900s, at least one moment could be from the twenty-first century. The main character Philip Carey's painter friend Lawson gets asked to paint portraits not for a money but for the exposure that it will give him: "[...]  he had arrived at that stage of the portrait-painter’s career when he was noticed a good deal by the critics and found a number of aristocratic ladies who were willing to allow him to paint them for nothing (it advertised them both, and gave the great ladies quite an air of patronesses of the arts) [...]." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 September 2022)

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Louisa Gradgrind Bounderby in "Hard Times" as Dickens's first strong woman who does not end tragically

In Charles Dickens's "Dombey and Son" (1848), Edith Skewton Granger marries wealthy businessman Paul Dombey for her mother's comfort and can only escape her loveless marriage by running away with Dombey's manager, Mr. Carker. In "Bleak House" (1852), Lady Dedlock maintains her social position by keeping her pregnancy from before her marriage secret, and when the secret threatens to be revealed, she runs away and ends up freezing to death. In "Hard Times" (1854), though, Louisa Gradgrind marries Josiah Bounderby at her father's suggestion but later leaves him and even leads her father to regret how he raised her. Finally, Dickens writes a strong-willed woman whose life does not end tragically. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 September 2022)

Monday, September 05, 2022

The etymology of "kangaroo court" – nothing to do with Australia

A reference by a supporter of former President Donald Trump to the United States House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol as a "kangaroo court" made me wonder about the etymology of that expression for an ad hoc and thus illegitimate tribunal. I assumed, of course, that it would have something to do with Australia, but the term first appeared in the mid-nineteenth century in the United States. According to a Wikipedia article on the term, the earliest reference is in a newspaper article in 1841; the expression appears in a quotation, and the article concludes, "What is a kangaroo court, neighbor?" (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 September 2022)

Sunday, September 04, 2022

An article about my family and computers in the Palo Alto Weekly on 12 August 1981

My mother gave me an article from the Palo Alto Weekly of 12 August 1981 that interviewed two families (one of them ours) about their use of personal computers. Among other things, the article mentions that I worked at On Line Micro Center, and the journalist, Joseph Hooper, also spoke with my boss Bill Fitzgerald. The shop was at the Palo Alto Square shopping center across the street from Palo Alto High School; I got the job there after spending an afternoon going from store to store asking if anyone had a job for me. I wrote about my job there in one of my daily texts back in June 2021. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 September 2022)

Saturday, September 03, 2022

Watching Serena Williams in 2022 and remembering her first Grand Slam title at the US Open in 1999

I was up late last night, so I decided to watch Serena Williams's match against Ajla Tomljanovic (which started at one a.m. in Switzerland). It turned out to be Serena's last match as a professional. During the match, I remembered watching Serena defeat Martina Hingis in the 1999 US Open final, two years after Venus Williams had lost to Hingis in the US Open final. I've always had a vivid memory of the eighteen-year-old Serena stumbling around the court and beaming her always riveting smile after her triumph against the eighteen-year-old Hingis (who had won five Grand Slam singles titles by that time, but won no more in her further career). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 September 2022)

Friday, September 02, 2022

Kettles, and Boris Johnson

Years ago, we had a series of electric kettles that always stopped working pretty soon. So about seven or eight years ago, I spent a bit more on a kettle that worked until a few days ago. So on Wednesday, I bought a new kettle that cost even more, hoping that it will survive even longer than the previous one. Little did I know that I could have followed the wisdom of Boris Johnson and purchased a kettle for £20 that would save me £10 on my electric bill per year. The only problems are that the cheap ones break quickly and that I live in Switzerland, not the United Kingdom. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 September 2022)

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Climate change, covid, and political will

In a Republik article on their campaign to get an Advisory Opinion on climate change from the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Solomon Yeo of Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change argues that, despite decades of political resistance to effective measures to combat climate change, the covid pandemic has shown that where there is political will, anything is possible. But while the initial responses of many governments worldwide may somewhat justify Yeo's hope for movement on an effective political response to climate change, the current situation with the pandemic, in which many governments seem to have given in to the coronavirus for short-term economic reasons, is much less encouraging. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 September 2022)


Wednesday, August 31, 2022

On homophobia in football

In a televison segment on homophobia in football, former Swiss player Kay Voser spoke with Andi Geu of the FARE Network. They argued that Marius Müller (the FC Lucerne player who recently made homophobic statements) should not be treated as an exception, as football is rife with homophobia. The language Müller used ("schwül", a German term for "gay") is common in locker rooms and on the pitch, where it is hardly ever called out. Further, football fans, like society as a whole, often characterize players using homophobic (as well as racist and sexist) language. Finally, they argued that it would be best if a group of homosexual players came out together. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 August 2022)

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The beautiful ending of W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage"

In James Baldwin's "Go Tell It On The Mountain" (1953), John Grimes spends his birthday money and goes to a movie, "Of Human Bondage" (1934), with Bette Davis and Leslie Howard, based on W. Somerset Maugham's 1915 novel. Inspired by Baldwin's love for the film, I finished the novel last night. It ends quite beautifully at the National Gallery in London: “He smiled and took her hand and pressed it. They got up and walked out of the gallery. They stood for a moment at the balustrade and looked at Trafalgar Square. Cabs and omnibuses hurried to and fro, and crowds passed, hastening in every direction, and the sun was shining.” (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 August 2022)

Monday, August 29, 2022

Buying and selling a Datsun 240Z in the early seventies

In about 1972 in Palo Alto, my father bought a Datsun 240Z as a second car (after our family station wagon). I'm sure he had fun driving it, but I actually don't have any memories of riding it. He sold it when we moved to England for a year (1973-1974). The buyers picked it up in the evening and paid my father a couple thousand dollars in cash. My parents were nervous (and made me nervous) that someone (even the buyers themselves) might break into the house to steal the cash, but they found a hiding place for it, and in the morning, my father took the money to the bank. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 August 2022)

Sunday, August 28, 2022

"Ancestors of three continents" in N. K. Jemisin's "Red Dirt Witch"

In N. K. Jemisin's story "Red Dirt Witch" (in her 2018 short-story collection "How Long 'Til Black Future Month"), the main character faces a crisis while her children sleep: "[...] Emmaline burned sage, and she prayed to every ancestor of three continents who might listen [...]." Emmaline's ancesttry includes people from Europe, Africa, and North America, so she appeals to each of her cultural traditions for support in her sitution. But she does not turn to each of them as a separate tradition that she sees as somehow being incompatible with the others; rather, she turns to all three of them together as the unified and consistent foundation of her identity. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 August 2022)

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Two FC Basel matches in three days, with the men's team and then with the women's team

On Thursday evening, I watched the FC Basel men's team play the second leg of their UEFA European Conference League playoff against CSKA Sofia from Bulgaria; the attendance at St. Jakob Park was 18,649. In an exciting match, Basel won 2-0 to make up for their 0-1 loss in Sofia and qualify for the Conference League group phase. This evening, I went to the St. Jakob Track and Field Stadium to see FC Basel women's team play their home opener for this season against the BSC Young Boys. I haven't found an official attendance figure. It was also an exciting match, a 1-1 draw despite Basel's domination of the second half. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 August 2022)

Friday, August 26, 2022

Wat Tyler in Charles Dickens's "Bleak House"

A figure runs through Charles Dickens's "Bleak House" (1853) as Sir Leicester Dedlock's nightmare, "some person in the lower classes" who might "rise up somewhere – like Wat Tyler." Tyler was the leader of the 1381 Peasants' Revolt in England; he led a few thousand rebels to London and confronted King Richard II with his demands. When Tyler was killed, the revolt fell apart and many of the participants were executed. Sir Leicester associates Tyler not with  peasants, though, but with "people in the iron districts", such as the successful ironmaster son of his housekeeper Mrs. Rouncewell. The danger in Dickens's time came not from the peasantry but from the industrial workers. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 August 2022)

Thursday, August 25, 2022

The draw procedures at Grand Slam tennis tournaments make defeating four top-ten players unlikely

At Roland Garros this year, Rafael Nadal achieved the rare event of defeating four top-ten players on his way to the title. Even at the time, it struck me that the rules of the draws make it rare for players to have the opportunity to play four top-ten players in one Grand Slam tournament. Take the US Open's tweet today about defending champion Daniil Medvedev's draw: if the better-seeded players all win, his last four rounds would be against the 16, 6, 4, and 2 seeds. Mostly, only contenders whose round of 16 match could be against the 9 or 10 seeds even have a chance of playing four top-ten players. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 August 2022)

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Peter Falk's "Columbo" and Mr. Bucket in Charles Dickens's "Bleak House"

Although "Columbo" ran throughout my childhood in the 1970s and I watched more than a few episodes, I don't remember anything about them except the personality of Peter Falk's title character – and his trick where he would turn around while he was leaving to ask the suspect "just one more thing." I was surprised to discover the same image in Charles Dickens's "Bleak House" (1853) at the end of a conversation between Sir Leicester Dedlock and the detective Mr. Bucket: "Mr. Bucket makes his three bows and is withdrawing when a forgotten point occurs to him." The difference is that Sir Leicester Dedlock is not the suspect in Mr. Bucket's case. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 August 2022)

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The Swiss Football League's token punishment for Marius Müller's homophobic speech

After a 1-4 loss on Saturday, 14 August 2022, FC Lucerne goalkeeper Marius Müller criticized his teammates with a homophobic slur: "Dieses schwule Weggedrehe geht mir tierisch auf den Sack" (loosely, "this gay turning-away gets on my nerves"). Today, the Swiss Football League reprimanded Müller and fined him 2000 CHF, with no match suspension at all. They justified this token punishment because Müller had expressed his frustration, had not insulted specific people, and had apologized. But this "heat-of-the-moment" argument is ridiculous: Müller actually made his statement not once but twice, in two different interviews. So he liked it enough after saying it once that he consciously thought it was worth repeating. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 August 2022)

Monday, August 22, 2022

On not discussing Alexander Grothendieck with my father

In the 16 May 2022 issue of "The New Yorker", Rivka Galchen writes of the mathematician Alexander Grothendieck (1928-2014), who made major contributions to multiple areas of mathematics in the mid-to-late twentieth century. But he also increasingly left the institutions of mathematics behind from 1970 on and spent the last two decades of his life in seclusion. Earlier in my life, I would have called up my mathematician father Paul Shields (1933-2016) and asked him about Grothendieck, and he would have explained what made him interesting, as he did so often over the years when I had questions about his work or the work of Kurt Gödel, Paul Cohen, and others. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 August 2022)

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Football as figure and sport in Charles Dickens's "Dombey and Son" and "Bleak House"

In Charles Dickens's "Dombey and Son" (1848), Mr. Morfin, the assistant manager of the titular business, tells John and Harriet Carker that their brother James Carker kept "extending his influence, until the business and its owner were his football." This figurative sense of "football" as "a person who or thing which is treated carelessly or capriciously", which dates back to at least 1532 (OED), also appears in "Bleak House" (1853) when the soldier Mr. George says that the world uses him "like a football." But the game itself is mentioned in "Bleak House", too, when Mr. Skimpole tells Richard Carstone "how fond he used to be, in his school-time, of football." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 August 2022)

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Eight or fourteen generations? A correction in the New Yorker

We are as closely (or distantly) related to our seventh cousins as we are to any random person anywhere in the world – or so I once read or heard. In "Ancestor Worship", an article on genealogy in the New Yorker from 9 May 2022, Maya Jasanoff at first seems to offer confirmation: "Owing to the random process of recombination, the chances are vanishingly small that any given person has inherited detectable autosomal DNA from a specific progenitor more than eight generations ago." Yet the online version of the article says "fourteen" instead of "eight", and a correction is included at the end that the article had "misstated the number of generations". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 August 2022)