Friday, June 30, 2023

Eliminating Affirmative Action in the United States as a restriction on membership in the country’s elite class

As James Fallows of The Atlantic pointed out yesterday, with reference to date from the website College Transitions, the number of college and university applicants influenced by the United States Supreme Court decisions in the Students for Fair Admissions cases is actually quite small: the highly competitive schools that accept under 20% of their applicants or less account for around 4% of students enrolled in the entire country. In other words, the resistance to affirmative action does not prevent minority students such as W. E. B. DuBois's "Talented Tenth" from getting higher education at all; it just makes it that much harder for them to become part of the country's elite. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 June 2023)


See also this study

Thursday, June 29, 2023

William James and the “harlot” of the “multiverse” in 1895

In his 1895 lecture "Is Life Worth Living?", William James coined the term "multiverse", but he did not mean it in our sense of many universes. Rather, he meant that the universe does not offer humanity a singular morality: "Visible nature is all plasticity and indifference, a moral multiverse, as one might call it, and not a moral universe. To such a harlot we owe no allegiance; with her as a whole we can establish no moral communion [...]." The figure of the "harlot" that James uses to characterize this actually amoral multiverse must have been the most striking one he could imagine for a talk given at the Harvard YMCA. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 June 2023)


Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The “dgiaour” in James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” (1939) and Lord Byron’s “Giaour” in Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” (1817)

As my fellow readers pointed out at this evening's "Finnegans Wake" reading group, the "dgiaour" in "dug of a dog of a dgiaour" (68.18) is a "giaour", a Turkish word for non-Muslims. I only knew the word before because it is mentioned in Jane Austen's "Persuasion" (1817) as one of the works discussed by Anne Elliot and her new acquaintance Captain Benwick during Anne's visit to the seaside town of Lyme: they first consider "whether 'Marmion' or 'The Lady of the Lake' were to be preferred", works by Sir Walter Scott from 1808 and 1810, respectively. Then they compare "the 'Giaour' and 'The Bride of Abydos'", 1813 works by Lord Byron. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 June 2023)

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

The day when Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” takes place

Today is the day when Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" (1948) takes place, with its bucolic opening sentence: "The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green." The story was first published in the New Yorker on 26 June 1948, to the shock of many readers; as I have learned in classes, it still triggers discussion today. Although I hope that this day starts as beautifully for you as it has for me this morning in Basel, let's hope that it doesn't end for us as it does in the story. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 June 2023)

Monday, June 26, 2023

“Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” trailers and their links to “Asteroid City"

One trailer at last night's showing of Wes Anderson's "Asteroid City" at the Kult Kino Atelier in Basel was for Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer", with Cillian Murphy as the J. Robert Oppenheimer. Another was for Greta Gerwig's "Barbie", with Margot Robbie in the title role. The "Barbie" trailer began with a parody of the opening scene of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), complete with Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra", in which girls in an ancient landscape smashed their dolls after seeing a Barbie doll. The atomic bomb then came up in "Asteroid City", as did sassy girls (the triplets I mentioned yesterday) – and even Margot Robbie in a brief role. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 June 2023)

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Ella, Gracie, and Willan Faris in Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” (2023)

Wes Anderson's "Asteroid City" (2023) features not only actors from his usual ensemble (such as Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, and William Dafoe) but also Scarlet Johansson for her first live-action Anderson film (after her voice work in his 2018 "Isle of Dogs") and Tom Hanks in his first work with Anderson. But the stars of the movie are the triplets who play Schwartzman's character's young daughters Andromeda (Ella Faris), Pandora (Gracie Faris), and Cassiopeia (Willian Faris), who respond to a waitress who calls them "princesses" with the announcement that they are a vampire, a mummy, and a fairy, respectively. And they just get better from then on. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 June 2023)

Orange County triplets Gracie, Ella and Willan, left to right, were 6 years old and just out of kindergarten in 2021 when they spent two months in Spain on director Wes Anderson’s new film, “Asteroid City.” The film opens Friday, June 23, 2023 just a few weeks after the girls turned 8 and finished second grade. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
Gracie, Ella, and Willan Faris in Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” (2023)

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Dave Garbutt and the Thin Raft workshopping method for creative writing

I met my friend Dave Garbutt in 1996; the first thing I remember doing with him was attending a Neil Young and Crazy Horse concert in Zurich that June. Later that year, we began to organize the Thin Raft writing group that began meeting in early 1997 at the English Department of the University of Basel where I had started working in October 1995. Although I stopped attending around 2010 or so, the group is still running, as far as I know. Dave has just written a Medium post summarizing the procedures for Thin Raft meetings, which are very effective and which I still use in my poetry and songwriting classes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 June 2023)


Friday, June 23, 2023

The Summer Solstice, the latest sunset, and the earliest sunrise

The other day, on the Summer Solstice, I came across a surprising astronomical fact: while the Solstice is the longest day of the year, the sun does not immediately begin to set earlier. On the contrary, even though the days do begin to get shorter right after the Solstice, the latest sunset of the summer is a few days later (on 27 June this year). And the earliest sunrise correspondingly occurs a week or so earlier than the Solstice (on 15 June this year). As the original post I read about this pointed out (which I cannot find, but which several sites confirm), this is caused by the Earth's elliptical orbit. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 June 2023)

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Reading the FAZ and then the taz in summer 1991 in Weimar

In August 1991, my girlfriend Carolyn and I went to the Eurocentre German language school in Weimar, Germany, for three weeks (she took beginning German; I took advanced German). Every morning, there were several newspapers available to read, and I began reading the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. After a couple of days, I spoke to my teacher Mathias Hahn and confirmed my impression  that the FAZ, as it is called for short, was a relatively right-wing newspaper. The next morning Mathias showed up with Die Tageszeitung (or taz) from Berlin, which was founded in 1978 as a left-wing alternative to the mainstream German press (including the FAZ) and is still published today. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 June 2023) 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Things I learned about Williams Carlos Williams from John Felstiner, plus one correction

In the chapters on William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) in John Felstiner's "Can Poetry Save the Earth? A Field Guide to Nature Poems" (2009), I have learned several things about Williams: he attended school in Switzerland in his mid-teens; his mother was from Puerto Rico), while his father, though born in England, grew up in the Dominican Republic; "during the flu epidemic of 1918 he made sixty house calls a day"; he called Emily Dickinson "my patron saint"; and his mother Raquel Hélène Hoheb Williams lived to be 102. But this last point is apparently wrong: according to her gravestone, Raquel Williams was born in 1856 and died in 1949 at 92. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 June 2023)

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Spanish with Anki, García Márquez, Borges, Agathe Cortes, and Duolingo

When I began learning Spanish since November 2020, my sister introduced me to the Anki flashcard system, which I use for vocabulary and verb conjugations. In early 2021, I began slowly reading books by two of my favorite authors, Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges (and raiding them for more vocabulary). In early 2022, I added a novel by our friend Agathe Cortes. Now that I'm planning to co-teach a course on Puerto Rican poetry in the fall, I've begun using Duolingo to work on listening comprehension, and I'll be taking a course in Valencia next month, as well as another course in Basel just before the fall semester starts. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 June 2023) 

Monday, June 19, 2023

The absurdity of arguing that someone was “just a man of his time"

Among the papers of Mark Hatfield, Governor of Oregon (1959-1967) and then a Senator (1967-1997), historian Seth Cotlar recently found letters from right-wing constituents about Hatfield's participation in a 1961 event in Portland with Martin Luther King, Jr. These letters used talking points provided by neo-Nazi Walter Huss. But Cotlar also comments on a compelling pro-King letter from a white school janitor from Eugene, Ezra C. Baker: "So we’ll have none of this 'Walter Huss was just a man of his time' nonsense, because Mr. Baker was also 'a man of his time' [...]." The "man of his time" argument is always undermined by contemporaries who were critical of such men. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 June 2023)


Sunday, June 18, 2023

Explaining baseball and explaning football (soccer)

My five 111-word texts explaining baseball should help someone not be completely lost at a game (especially if they found themselves next to someone who could answer any questions that arise), but I think that it would take several more just to finish covering the basics. In contrast, an explanation of the basics of football (soccer) would not need nearly as many words, even with an explanation of the offsides rule and some of the subtleties of when a hands violation is called or not. There'd still be a lot to describe in terms of strategies and tactics, but I'm still a long way from such issues in my baseball explanations. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 June 2023)

Saturday, June 17, 2023

The fifth step in explaining baseball: A summary of the most common results of each pitch

So the most common results of each pitch in a baseball game are a ball, a strike, or a foul ball, as well as a flyball out, a groundout, or a hit (a single, double, triple, or homerun). With the last three, the batter is either out or on base, and it's now another batter's turn. With the first three, the batter will face another pitch – unless the pitcher has thrown four "balls", in which case the batter gets a "base on balls" or a "walk", which is yet another way to get to first base. If the pitcher has thrown three strikes, that's a "strikeout", and the batter is out. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 June 2023)

Previous step in the explanation: 

Friday, June 16, 2023

A fourth step in explaining baseball: The outcomes when the batter hits a fair ball on the ground

When the batter hits a fair ball on the ground and runs toward first base, the pitcher's teammates try to get to the ball and throw it to the "first baseman" (who plays near first base) so that the ball gets there before the batter does. If they succeed, the batter is "out". If they fail, the batter is "safe" at first base. This is called a "hit"; if the batter reaches first base, it's a "single". If the pitcher's teammates cannot get the ball to a further base before the batter, the batter might reach second base (a double), third base (a triple), or even home plate (an "inside-the-park homerun"). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 June 2023)

Previous steps in the explanation:

Thursday, June 15, 2023

A third step in explaining baseball: What the teams are trying to do

I've approached explaining baseball with the possible outcomes of each pitch, but before I turn to what can happen when the batter hits the ball into fair territory and it hits the ground, it's worth considering what each team's overall goal is. The team with the pitcher and the catcher, along with their seven teammates on the field, tries to get the batter "out"; after three "outs", the teams switch sides. The team with the batter tries to get players all the way around the four bases for a "run" (first, second, and third base, and then home plate). At the end of the game, the team with more "runs" wins. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 June 2023)

Note: this continues from the first and second steps.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

I write a spontaneous poem; Roli Frei sings a spontaneous song

I went to Viertel Dach early for this evening's Roli Frei concert so I could eat something before the show. When Roli sat down nearby to prepare his set, I him if he would play his lovely version of The Smiths' "There is a light that never goes out", but he said he hadn't played it in too long. While I ate my cheeseburger, I composed a few lines to describe the evening on the roof, so I asked Roli for a piece of paper, wrote my poem down, and gave it to him with the challenge to improvise a song based on it. And late in his set, he did! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 June 2023)

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Dancing to Tinariwen in 2016 and 2023

When I first saw Tinariwen in Basel on 17 November 2016, they performed without their bassist, Eyadou Ag Leche, who was in the hospital. Despite his absence, I was still able to dance cathartically throughout the concert. It helped that the Kaserne was crowded, but not packed. Tinariwen's concert at the Mühle Hunziken in Rubingen last night was packed – at least on the floor, where my son Miles and I were first standing. After a few songs, we headed upstairs, where we couldn't see the band (except on screens), but there was more room to dance. So dance we did! My phone counted almost 6000 steps between 8 and 10 pm. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 June 2023)

Monday, June 12, 2023

A Tinariwen concert to wrap up four days of oral exams

The Spring Semester at the University of Basel ended on Friday, 2 June, so I began my "Vorlesungsfreie Zeit" ("lecture-free time", as they say in German) with a concert that evening. Starting last week, I participated, as I have for years now, in the final English exams of students at the Gymnasium Bäumlihof in Basel. The first session was on Wednesday, 7 June, and the fourth and last one was this morning. I went to the Bird's Eye in Basel from Wednesday to Saturday for their Hammond-organ week – and tonight I'm going to Mühle Hunziken near Bern to hear one of my favorite bands, Tinariwen (from Mali), for the second time. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 June 2023)

Sunday, June 11, 2023

The second step of explaining baseball: the possible outcomes when the batter hits the pitched ball

When a batter hits the ball, where does it go, and how? If it goes into the air, it could land in the stands and be either a foul ball (explain this) or a homerun (explain this). Or it could fly over the grass where the pitcher's teammates are and be caught by one of them. The batter is then "out". If the ball bounces (or goes into the air but lands before being caught), then it could land in the stands or outside the white lines on the field ("foul territory") and be a foul ball. If it lands between those lines ("fair territory"), there are again several possible outcomes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 June 2023)

Note: This continues from yesterday’s post.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

The first step in explaining baseball: the four possible outcomes of each pitch

On a business trip, my wife Andrea and her Swiss colleagues went to a Detroit Tigers baseball game last night. Since none of them knew baseball, they asked me to explain it. So the pitch is where everything starts: the pitcher throws the ball to the catcher, and the batter might try to hit it. There are four possible outcomes, the easiest of which to understand being when the batter swings and misses for a strike. If the batter doesn't swing, then the pitch could be a strike or ball (explain the strike zone). If the batter hits the ball, then another 111 words are needed to explain the possible outcomes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 June 2023)

Friday, June 09, 2023

My paternal grandmother’s voting history, from 1920 to 1976

My paternal grandmother, Grace Shields, was born in 1895 and thus first voted in the 1920 United States Presidential election, after the Nineteenth Amemdment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote. In 1976, two years after the death of her husband, my grandfather Lewis Shields, she told my father she was glad she could finally vote for the Democratic candidate in the Presidential election. When my father asked why she had never done so before, she said she had always voted for the Republican candidate because her husband wanted her to. She knew it was a secret ballot, but she did not want to have to lie to him. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 June 2023)

Thursday, June 08, 2023

The first two nights of Hammondwoche at the Bird’s Eye in Basel: LaBox and Florian Arbenz’s Truth

Last night at the first night of Hammondwoche at the Bird’s Eye in Basel, LaBox offered classic organ-trio jazz, with Roland Köppel soaring on Hammond, Marco Figini playing funky guitar solos with rich, bright tone, and Michael Wipf laying down tight and wide-ranging grooves. I had anticipated the band’s sound, so I stood by the bar and danced all through the two sets. Tonight, drummer Florian Arbenz’s Truth, with Arno Kryger on Hammond and Percy Pursglove on flugelhorn, offered a stark contrast with their textures of Hammond chords, drums coloring around the pulse, and long, surprising horn lines. It still made me move, but in my seat and in my head. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 June 2023)

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

A powerful Australian movie about schizophrenia whose title I had forgotten: “Angel Baby” (1995)

Occasionally, I remember a powerful Australian movie from a couple decades ago in which two people suffering from schizophrenia fall in love and try to make a life together outside clinics. The woman watches the game show "Wheel of Fortune" every day, and for her, the answers are messages that tell her things about her life. When the two lovers go off their medication, and he's away, the answer is "worst-case scenario" – and all I remember of the plot is that what follows is in fact such a scenario. – A bit of internet sleuthing helped me identify the movie as Michael Rymer's "Angel Baby" (1995), starring John Lynch and Jacqueline MacKenzie. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 June 2023)

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

“We learned to play our bloody instruments”: From Warsaw to Joy Division

After recording their EP "An Ideal for Living" in December 1977, only a year-and-a-half after they had begun playing their instruments, the band Warsaw changed their name to Joy Division and began writing further material. When they finally got into the studio again in April 1979, after complications with record companies, they recorded their debut LP "Unknown Pleasures", which was released in June 1979. Here's a story I heard long ago but have not been able to confirm: When a music journalist asked bassist Peter Hook whey Joy Division sounded so different than Warsaw, despite having the same band members, Hook's answer was flip: "We learned to play our bloody instruments." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 June 2023)

Monday, June 05, 2023

Ron DeSantis, Winston Churchill, Leon Trotsky, and Petrarch

On Saturday, 3 June, 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis spoke in Iowa: "We will fight the woke in education. We will fight the woke in the corporations. We will fight the woke in the halls of Congress. We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. We will make woke ideology, leave it to the dustbin of history." While his phrasing here imitates Winston Churchill's speech in 4 June 1940 after Dunkirk, DeSantis's "dustbin of history" pinches Leon Trotksy's November 1917 imitation, as the Bolsheviks seized power, of Petrarch's fourteenth-century phrase "the rubbish heap of history". So DeSantis hovers incoherently between Churchill, Trotsky, and "an Italian poet from the fourteenth century". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 June 2023) 

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Felwine Sarr and Henri-Michel Yeré at the Kunstmuseum Basel

In a multilingual event at the Kunstmuseum Basel today, Felwine Sarr from Senegal presented his novel "Les Lieux qu'habitent mes rêves" in French, with German translations, and had a conversation in English with Henri-Michel Yeré (a Basler from Ivory Coast). The novel is about twin brothers. In the first passage that was read, the one who leaves Senegal tells the story of how he discovered poetry; in the second, the one who stays in Senegal tells a story of religious initation. The discussion also turned to Sarr's 2018 collaboration with Bénédicte Savoy on the restitution of African cultural heritage from French museums, which had been commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 June 2023)

Saturday, June 03, 2023

A concert by Kind Regards as a perfect evening on the last day of the semester

With the semester over yesterday, I came back from taking my daughter Sara to her riding lesson with the plan of just relaxing at home all evening,. But then Facebook reminded me about an event I had said I was interested in: a concert by the Basel band Kind Regards at the Sääli in Zum Goldenen Fass in Kleinbasel. I checked their Facebook page, listened to a few seconds of a video, and thought, "This is the right music for me." And it was: David Schwarz, Pascal Grünenfelder, Gilbert Trefzger, Cyprian Kohut, and Beni Bürgin played folk-rock that was just to my taste, including a gorgeous cover of Wilco's "Jesus Etc." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 June 2023)

Friday, June 02, 2023

The end of the fourth round of "111 Words a Day: A Writing Project"

I first taught "111 Words a Day: A Writing Project" in the Spring Semester of 2020. Today, we finished the fourth round of the course (every Spring Semester). As always, the students love the course's openness, and we all I enjoy the wide range of topics and stories that the others write about. And I love the effect of the course, in which just the act of writing a short text every day jump starts every student's writing over the course of fourteen weeks. And my ongoing daily writing (for almost three-and-a-half years now) has become a good habit that, for now at least, I would not like to do without. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 June 2023)

Thursday, June 01, 2023

My Worcester Red Sox Pride T-shirt

It's the first day of Pride Month in the United States. I didn't think about it, but this morning here in Switzerland, I put on my purple T-shirt that I got after the Worcester Red Sox baseball game I went to  last summer with my sister Sara, my daughter Sara, and our friends Liz, Scott, Mollie, and Burke. It has a stylized "W" with a white outline, inside which are the stripes of a Pride flag: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. I had first found a red one, but purple is my favorite color, so I was overjoyed to find a purple one in another part of the store. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 June 2023)


Note: This is the black version of the T-shirt:

A black shirt with a rainbow letter w

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