Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Remembering the Roxy CD store and the Bergli bookstore at Rümelinsplatz in Basel

This afternoon, I walked across Basel from Barfüsserplatz to Nadelberg (where I work at the English Department of the University of Basel). As I got to Rümelinsplatz, I remembered the two great stores that used to be there many years ago: the Roxy CD shop (with its wonderful jazz section upstairs) and the Bergli bookstore with English-language books. Hardly a week went by when I did not buy a CD from Roxy or a book from Bergli. The Roxy closed because CD sales declined, but despite being a successful business, the Bergli bookstore closed because the owner could not find a good successor to take over when she wanted to retire. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 May 2023)

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The “Four Freedoms” of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941 and the “Four Freedoms” of U. S. Republicans in 2023

On 19 May 2023, Jamelle Bouie published an opinion piece on "The Four Freedoms, According to Republicans": 1) The "freedom to control"; 2) The "freedom to exploit"; 3) The "freedom to censor"; and 4) The "freedom to menace". Bouie explicitly recalled the "Four Freedoms" of United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's State of the Union Address on 6 January 1941: 1) The “freedom of speech and expression”; 2) the “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way”; 3) the “freedom from want”;  and 4) The “freedom from fear.” Bouie's summary of visions of "freedom" offers an interpretive tool for understanding national and international politics in 2023 and beyond. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 May 2023)

Monday, May 29, 2023

FC Basel fans wearing jerseys with the names of player who have left the club

At this afternoon's FC Basel match at St. Jakob Park in Basel , many fans wore jerseys with the names of players no longer with the club, including Silvan Widmer (left in 2021, now with Mainz 05), Albian Ajeti (2019, Sturm Graz), Mohamed Elyounoussi (2018, Southampton), Jean-Paul Boëtius (2017, Hertha BSC), Breel Embolo (2016, AS Monaco), and Marcelo Díaz (2015, Audax Italiano). I also saw jerseys of now retired players: Walter Samuel (retired in 2016), Marco Streller (2015), and Alex Frei (2013; the club's head coach until February). There was even a mint-condition Ivan Ergić jersey — the Serbian footballer and poet left Basel in 2009 and retired from football in 2011. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 May 2023)

Sunday, May 28, 2023

A rapid flow of images in a sequence of “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (2022)

In a sequence in the Daniels' "Everything Everywhere All At Once" (2022), Michelle Yeoh's face is in the center of the screen with rapidly changing lighting while the background changes faster than the eye can take in. I was in the cinema with my daughter Sara, who turned to me when the sequence ended and said she hoped the movie came with a seizure warning. I agreed with her, but had thought something else: each of those background images that flickers past is a complete image someone filled up with numerous details, even though none of those details can be perceived when the film is shown at 24 frames per second. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 May 2023)

Saturday, May 27, 2023

“Far and few between” in Gemma Files’s “The Kindly Ones"

A student chose "The Worm in Every Heart", a 2004 collection of short stories by Gemma Files, for an oral exam next week. While reading the book, I came across a variation on a familiar expression in "The Kindly Ones", as a mother recalls her rare contacts with her runaway daughter: "The postcards, far and few between as they were, retained an ever more strained optimism." I wondered if this was a one-off slip from "few and far between", or perhaps an occasional recent variation, but "far and few between" turns out to have been found in print as early as 1843 (while "few and far between" goes back to 1668. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 May 2023)

Note: The information in the last sentence comes from this blog post.

Friday, May 26, 2023

My last math class in college: Modern Algebra

After deciding not to major in math, I still took one last math class in the Fall of 1985: Modern Algebra. In the first session, Professor Gregory Brumfiel said that Rubik's Cube could be used to help us learn about group theory, but he had found that few students actually learned it well that way. Halfway through the term, he then mentioned that we had reached the point where the Cube would be useful, so if anyone wanted to come to his office hour, he'd show them how it represented groups. In a lost opportunity, I didn't go, and nobody from my study group did, either, as far as I remember. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 May 2023)

Thursday, May 25, 2023

From physics to math to German to English: the course of my studies

I went to college to study physics, but Freshman Physics was all equations, so I thought I might as well study math. Late in my freshman year I read Nietzsche and began to consider German, too. In my sophomore year, I studied the German language all year and took courses on German thought from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, along with math courses. But when I had to declare a major after a year off, I chose English instead. Over the years, I had taken so many math courses that I do wonder if I might have also been able to finish a math major in my last two years. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 May 2023)

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Telephones and technological ambivalence in three songs by Greg Brown from 1988 to 2006

In the title track of Greg Brown's 1988 album "One More Goodnight Kiss", one annoyance to overcome is a new telephone: "I'm gonna unplug that sucker." With "Think About You" from Brown's "Further In" (1996), the telephone, though still a landline, is joined by other technology to be turned off: "Gonna turn off the radio, control nothing remotely. / Ain't gonna rent me no video, disconnect the telephone." In "Eugene", from "The Evening Call" (2006), the technology to avoid becomes a cellphone: "You can try me on the cell, but most places I wanna be it Greg Brown's work." In Brown's songs, the devices develop, but this ambivalence about technology persists. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 May 2023)


Tuesday, May 23, 2023

On a swingset in an empty playground in Kharkiv, Ukraine

He leans his bike against the post on the corner of the playground. With nobody else around, he doesn't bother to lock it. With the swingset to himself, he sits down on one of the two swings and rocks back and forth for a moment. Looking up into the sky, he decides to fly there, so he begins swinging – legs stretched while going forward, tucked in while going back, a little higher each time. At the highest points, he looks up into the sky again and again, imagining that it's always been empty except for clouds, rain, and birds. He never looks to his left at what's left of the school. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 May 2023)


This is based on this photograph taken in Kharkiv, Ukraine, in April 2023 by Armin Smailovic. I saw it in this article in the Swiss online magazine Republik. 

Monday, May 22, 2023

An only partly apocryphal story about Xerox’s early work on personal computers

The story I heard in Palo Alto in the mid-1980s went like this: The designers from Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center went to Xerox HQ with prototype personal computers to show to the higher-ups. The higher-ups were unimpressed, but the wives of some of them were there, and as former secretaries, they were very impressed. So the higher-ups thought the thing was just a glorified typewriter. — I posted this story to a Language Log post today as a comment, and commenter Gregory Kusnick confirmed that the story I heard is not entirely apocryphal (the key difference being that it wasn't the wives but the current secretaries who liked the new devices). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 May 2023)


Sunday, May 21, 2023

“Negatived” in Charles Dicken’s “Little Dorrit” (1857) and “Our Mutual Friend” (1865)

In Charles Dicken's "Our Mutual Friend" (1865), when Mr. and Mrs. Boffin discuss how to find an orphan to adopt, one of Mrs. Boffins's suggestions is "negatived" by her husband. The verb form of "negative" surprised me, as I would have thought it was more recent than that (which is an example of the "recency illusion"). But the verb form of the adjective "negative" goes back to the early eighteenth century, and it also appears in Dickens's "Little Dorrit" (1857). Again, it involves a rejection of alternatives, now proposed by Jeremiah Flintwich to explain the mysterious sounds his wife is hearing: "Mistress Affery negatived each with a shake of her head." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 May 2023) 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Lost dog in Basel-Stadt: Not much help from the supposedly responsible authorities

Yesterday, Andrea found a lost dog with no collar. I checked online and saw that in Basel-Stadt, she should call the Tierfundstelle (lost animal office) or the Veterinäramt (veterinary office) – which is also what a police officer Andrea talked to said. The Tierfundstelle then said they could read the dog's chip if we could get the dog there, and the Veterinäramt said the same (after first asking, "What do you want from us?"). As we set out on foot to the Veterinäramt, a man across the street shouted that it was his dog. He'd heard from the Veterinäramt where his dog had been found and was driving around looking for him. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 May 2023)

Friday, May 19, 2023

Medical Emergencies at a football match and a movie showing

A few minutes into the second fifteen-minute half of overtime in last night's second leg of the UEFA Europa Conference League semifinal between FC Basel and AC Fiorentina, play was interrupted for over ten minutes because of a medical emergency in the guest sector where the Fiorentina fans were sitting. (Deep in the resulting stoppage time, Fiorentina scored to win the semifinal.) I was reminded of an earlier experience in March 2007 with a medical emergency during a very intense moment near the end of a showing of Kevin McDonald's "The Last King of Scotland": a team of paramedics came in to take a member of the audience to the hospital. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 May 2023)


2007 post on Forest Whitaker and "The Last King of Scotland”.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Playing Settlers of Catan on my phone

I like to play Settlers of Catan on my phone – specifically, the variation called Greater Catan, which includes the Seefarers and the Cities and Knights extensions, along with the gradual loss of resources on a large main island as the small neighboring islands are settled. When I play the regular game, I win about 80-90% of the time, but when I play Greater Catan, I win almost all the time. As with two related board games, Risk and Monopoly, this comes down to one simple thing: whoever takes a lead and controls resources tends to end up winning. In this scene, these militaristic, capitalistic, and colonialistic games are all very realistic. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 May 2023)

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The "martiallawsey marses” and “Pompery” in James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” (1939)

In James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" (1939), a man is woken by loud sounds that remind him "of the martiallawsey marses of foreign musikants' instrumongs or the overthrewer to the third last days of Pompery" (64.13-15). The layers of meaning in "martiallawsey marses" include "martial law", "La Marseillaise" as a march,  and the Roman god of war (and planet), "Mars" — which are all perhaps "lousy", too. The equally layered "Pompery" also turns to ancient Rome with the destruction of Pompeii in 79 AD — but it also includes not only "Popery" and "Pomp and Circumstance", but the French "pomper", "to pump", whose slang meanings include "getting very drunk" and "giving a blow job". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 May 2023)

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

“The war in Iraq” and the triumph of sarcasm: Toni Morrison’s “God Help the Child” in the mid-oughts in the United States

In Toni Morrison's "God Help the Child" (2015), Booker Starbern goes to college in a specific historical moment: "Student agitation about the war in Iraq that once roiled the campus had quieted. Now sarcasm fluttered its triumphant flag and giggles became its oath; now the docile manipulation of professors became routine." There may have been two "wars in Iraq" in the recent history of the United States, but as Morrison's characters use cellphones, this must refer to the 2003 war. Further, sarcasm is acerbic irony, and the mid-to-late oughts in the United States saw numerous discussions of how young people were all ironic about everything and didn't actually believe in anything. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 May 2023)

Monday, May 15, 2023

Anecdotes about “cancel culture” in the form of jokes

During his talk this afternoon at the University of Basel on his book "Cancel Culture Transfer: Wie eine moralische Panik die Welt erfasst" (Suhrkamp 2022), Adrian Daub, Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University, argued that the anecdote that is at the heart of journalism about "cancel culture" takes the form of a joke: "Have you heard the one about ...?" Any context that doesn't build toward the right punch line – or even any context at all – can and probably must be left out for the joke to be effective. Ideally, the person who is "cancelled" is in a socially prestigious position, while the cancellers are anonymous abstracctions, like "Twitter users". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 May 2023)

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Two cases in football when the video assistant referee can intervene, and one similar case where they cannot

When a football player commits a foul in open play that isn't called by the referee, and their team's ensuing sequence leads to a goal, the video assistant referee (VAR) can intervene to ask the on-field referee to annul the goal. Or when the referee mistakenly calls a foul that leads to a penalty, the VAR can also intervene to have the call overturned. But there's a bug in the system: When the referee mistakenly calls a foul that leads to a free kick (no contact, or the attacker fouled the defender, not vice versa), the VAR isn't allowed to intervene — even when the free kick leads directly to a goal. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 May 2023)

Saturday, May 13, 2023

The wedding cake ordered by Angelina Grimke and Theodore Dwight Weld for their wedding in May 1838

In "The Remarkable Grimkes", his review of Kerri K. Greenidge's "The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family" in the 9 March 2023 issue of "The New York Review of Books", David S. Reynolds includes a detail about the 1838 wedding of abolitionists Angelina Grimke (1805-1879) and Theodore Dwight Weld (1805-1895): "The wedding cake was made by African American bakers and contained no sugar produced by enslaved labor. The couple’s clothing was purchased from local Black businesses, and the invitations were designed by a Black engraver." Even in 1838, activists like Weld and Grimke (the daughter of enslavers in South Carolina) used their economic choices to make political points. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 May 2023)

Friday, May 12, 2023

FC Basel since August 2002

I began following FC Basel after attending their Champions League qualifying win against Glasgow Celtic in August 2002, when they first qualified for the Champions League. Ever since, they've always finished in the top three in Switzerland while also regularly performing well in European club competions, including qualifying for the Conference League semifinal this year (with a shot at the final in the second leg on Thursday). They've never really tested me with a truly bad season. Even if they finish out of the top three in Switzerland this year, which is still possible, their Conference League run has made it a historic season, whether or not they win the tournament. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 May 2023)

Thursday, May 11, 2023

People with four shadow wings running on the grass in the early evening

In the early evening, people are running around on the grass in the light of four towers at the corners of the meadow. It's as if they all have four wings made of shadows, flapping as they run, but they never lift off into the air. As they move, they form lines across the grass, and their shadow wings blend briefly into each other and form larger patterns, chains of X's moving closer to each other and then farther apart. Sometimes almost everyone runs quickly in one direction, only to turn around and run quickly in the other, chasing and kicking the ball that they mostly avoid touching with their hands. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 May 2023)

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Small change at the cafeteria

Just before class, I went to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. They'd just closed, but the woman cleaning up sold me a coffee capsule. When I asked where the coffee machine was, she said the closest one was three blocks away. I'd already paid for the capsule, so I asked for my money back. She gave me nothing but small change, including stacks of coins worth one and two rappen (which don't exist). When I told her I didn't want all those coins, I realized they'd gotten mixed up with the others, so I had to sort out the small ones. I was still sorting when I woke up. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 May 2023)

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

“Forgive the Aborigines, the Jews, women, and God”: The conclusion of Les Murray’s “Fredy Neptune” (1999)

In Les Murray's "Fredy Neptune" (1999), Fred Boettcher, a German-Australian sailor on a German ship in Trabzon in 1915, witnesses Armenian women being burned to death. Shortly thereafter, he loses all sensation in his skin. Although he occasionally gets some of it back, only at the novel's end does he recover sensation completely. A voice he calls his "inner man" tells him to "forgive": first, "the Aborigines", "for being on our conscience"; then "the Jews" (after which "cities stop[] burning in [his] mind"); then "women" (all women, not just those who were burned); and finally "God". Almost a quarter century later, I still can't get my head around this startling conclusion. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 May 2023)

Monday, May 08, 2023

Toni Morrison’s “God Help the Child” (2015) as "thorny, problematic, and difficult to love”

At the end of "Yes, Pain, But What Else?: Racial Liberalism and Late-Style Morrison" (2023), Melanie Abeygunawardana writes that Toni Morrison's "God Help the Child" (2015) is "thorny, problematic, and difficult to love." Such a judgment seems more like journalistic reviewing than literary scholarship; it offers not an interpretation of the novel but a description of the experience of reading it. In a review, such a claim needs no supporting evidence; it is implicitly the reviewer's experience. Especially as it was not my experience when reading "God Help the Child", I'll ask my students tomorrow, in our first session on the novel, whether their experience of the book was like Abeygunawardana's. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 May 2023)

Sunday, May 07, 2023

The late-season unpredictability of the Swiss Super League in men’s football

The men's football league in Switzerland, the Super League, has ten teams. Each team plays four matches against each other, with two at each club's stadium, for a total of 36 matches per season. Young Boys from Bern already clinched this season's title last week; with four matches remaining, they are nineteen points ahead. The other nine teams are separated by 17 points from second to last place. My local team, FC Basel, is in fifth place, six points from second and eleven from last place. I used an online calculator for the rest of the season and determined that, theoretically, they could still finish anywhere from second to last place. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 May 2023)

Saturday, May 06, 2023

The butterfly effect and the carbon footprint as vivid everyday images

The concept of the "butterfly effect" — the flap of a butterfly's wings can later cause a faraway torando — comes from chaos theory: Small changes in the initial conditions of a nonlinear system can generate large differences in a later state. The vivid everyday image of the butterfly and the tornado has surely helped popularize the concept, as has the figure's implication that our human decisions might also be like those butterfly wingflaps. The concept of the "carbon footprint" also takes a vivid everyday image — the footprint — and connects it to individual action: we can hope that our small individual decisions will accumulate to lead to signficant change at a later date. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 May 2023)

Friday, May 05, 2023

The Grateful Dead playing “Uncle John’s Band” in May 1991, and a memory of a show the night before

Today, the YouTube Grateful Dead page posted a performance of "Uncle John's Band" from 11 May 1991 at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California. After the death of keyboard player Brent Mydland in July 1990, Vince Welnick, formerly of The Tubes, took over on keyboards, and the band also had Bruce Hornsby on grand piano for many shows at that time. I was at the show the night before, which included a memorable version of "New Speedway Boogie", with my friends Paul, Rainbow, and Carolyn. Two of the musicians on the stage that night (Welnick and guitarist Jerry Garcia) died later in the 1990s; two of those friends have died since. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 May 2023)


Thursday, May 04, 2023

Ron Carter’s 86th birthday and the three times I have seen him live

Today is bassist Ron Carter's 86th birthday (which makes him ten days younger than my mother). He was in the extraordinary mid-sixties Miles Davis Quintet with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, and drummer Tony Williams. Though never with any of those musicians, I've seen him live in three memorably concerts, all in Basel: first with guitarist Russell Malone and the late pianist Mulgrew Miller in March 2007 (when Carter was a spry 69); then in March 2017 with accordionist Richard Galliano; and finally in November 2019 with his quartet with pianist Renee Rosnes, alto saxophonist Jimmy Greene, and drummer Payton Crossley, as well as special guest Franco Ambrosetti on trumpet. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 May 2023)

PS: I wrote this after that first concert in 2007.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

“that that that” and “had had had” in James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” (1939)

In James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" (1939), a man being threatened with a pistol by a "Waylayer" (62.35) responds "that that that was the snaps for him, Midweeks" (63.8). In this evening's reading group, we first tried to parse those three uses of "that" in a row, until we thought of two things: the man is drunk (he's been drinking "snaps" or "Schnaps" on this "Midweeks" or "Mittwoch"), and if he is Humphrey Chimpeden Earwicker, the main character, then he also has a stutter. The first interpretation is confirmed in the next paragraph with "the wretch's statement that, muttering Irish, he had had had o'gloriously a'lot too much [...] to drink" (63.22-24). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 May 2023)

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, by Gordon Lightfoot (1938-2023), and “Ohio”, by Neil Young: Songs responding to public events

On 10 November 1975, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior. Soon after, Gordon Lightfoot (1938-2023) read about the wreck in the 24 November issue of "Newsweek" and wrote "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." He recorded it in December, and it was released in August 1976. That's a fast response to a public event, but Neil Young outdid Lightfoot with "Ohio", his song about the shooting of four students by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University on 4 May 1970. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded "Ohio" on 21 May and released the single in June (with Stephen Stills's "Find the Cost of Freedom" as the B-side). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 May 2023)

Monday, May 01, 2023

August Spies, the eight-hour workday, the Haymarket Affair, and International Workers’ Day

On Saturday, 1 May 1886, a strike calling for an eight-hour workday began in the United States. On the following Monday, August Spies, an immigrant from Germany (who went to school in Kassel, my wife's hometown), gave a speech in Chicago; after that demonstration, violence broke out, and two workers who were not striking died. At a rally where Spies spoke the next day at Haymarket Square, a bomb went off, and Spies and seven others were accused of planting the bomb themselves, with Spies and three others executed on 11 November 1887. International Workers' Day was first celebrated in 1890 to honor the strike that led to the Haymarket Affair. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 May 2023