Hacking Darwin

“For billions of years, life on Earth evolved through the process of Darwinian evolution via natural selection: Small errors during reproduction propagate from parents to offspring, occasionally offering some a survival advantage to find food or fight enemies. Had reproduction been perfect, the only living creatures on Earth would be single-celled organisms, our 3.5 billion-year-old ancestors.”

The above quote by Marcelo Gleiser, professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth, is stunning, but it’s only a small part of Professor Gleiser’s review of Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity by Jamie Metzel.  What Gleiser, in this article, and Metzel, in his book, are talking about is not science fiction.  They’re writing about what’s happening in genetics today or about things that will be possible in the next 10 years or so.  Will we use genetic advances solely to cure diseases or will we use them to change the very nature of what we humans are?  Nobody knows, but both are real possibilities.

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You probably started reading Shakespeare’s plays in high school, but do you know where he got the marvelous ideas for them?  Five Books, a wonderful resource for information on authors and their works offers us some background on where the most influential writer in the English language got the ideas for his 38 plays.  Prepare to be surprised.

In “Shakespeare’s Sources” Robert S. Miola, professor of English and classics at Loyola University Maryland is interviewed by Charles J. Styles.  The conversation begins like this:

Styles: How many of Shakespeare’s plays can we say are wholly original to him and not based on a pre-existing work?

Miola: Two, I think.

Stunning, isn’t it?  Only two . . . perhaps.

Actually, Professor Miola offers six sources for Shakespeare’s plays.  So, the follow up questions to the six sources presented are how in the world did William Shakespeare have access to them, and how did he find time to glean the information – and occasional quotes or near-quotes – he used from them?  Unfortunately, that’s something we’ll never know.

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Suzy Taylor

The Living Garden by Suzy Taylor

Suzy Taylor is a “book sculptor” who lives and works in the U.K.  She takes old, discarded books and turns them into works of art.  Colossal offers us a peek at some of her creations.  Keep in mind that all of them are made solely from paper, and glue – with an assist from her impressive imagination.

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Of course you know who Bill Gates is, but you probably don’t know much about his wife, Melinda.  She recently published a book, The Moment of Life: How Empowering Women Changes the World, despite the fact that she highly prizes her privacy.  She was recently interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, and if you listen to the interview, you’ll quickly learn that she is a very dynamic, intelligent and forceful woman – forceful enough to convince Bill to drive the kids to school in the morning.  The result of seeing Bill Gates drive his children to school had quite an impact on the other parents.  And that example is central to the main point of Melinda Gates’ book: empowering women, who too often do all of the driving, washing, house cleaning, etc., lifts the entire society.  You can read or listen to the interview, but you should listen to get a full sense of Melinda’s passion.

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Sunday morning from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. CT I’ll once again be the host of Music on the Sunny Side on WBRH public radio (90.3 FM in the Baton Rouge, LA area and at on the internet).  Highlights will include a set titled “Sue and Johnny Cash: A Love Story;” Ted Weems and his band with a young vocalist named Perry Como, and an “instrumentalist” named Elmo Tanner; and a musical quiz called “What Is That From?”

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In Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey women play marginal roles.  The same can be said of Mr. Rochester’s mad wife in the attic in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.  However, women authors have written novels and novellas that tell the stories of the marginalized women in the works mentioned above from their points of view.  Chelsea Leu discusses the subject and some of the books in a very interesting Electric Lit article.

In an article on the Oxford University Press blog, Lilah Grace Canevaro writes about recent translations of Homer’s works by women and more.

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Ever heard of the wise-cracking Dorothy Parker?  Regardless of whether you answered “yes” or “no,” you should read a delightful Literary Hub article about this “political activist, melancholic, bootleg Scotch-drinking” woman.  It includes some of her wittiest quotes.

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The next edition of the live author interview program In-Depth on Book TV (C-SPAN2) will air Sunday, May 5, 2019 from noon to 3:00 p.m. ET.  The featured guest will be professor and author Kathleen Hall Jamieson.  Her books include Packaging the Presidency and Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President.  Book TV airs each weekend from 8:00 a.m. ET Saturday morning until 8:00 a.m. ET Monday morning.  You can find the entire schedule here.  Over 18,000 past presentations can be accessed at the Book TV Archive website.

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Telephone Exchanges and Pop Culture

BUtterfield 8

In the early days of the telephone age few people had service, so telephone numbers were short.  As the use of this marvelous invention increased, especially in large cities, longer and longer telephone numbers were required – up to seven digits finally.  Of course a long string of numbers is harder to remember than a short one so the folks at Bell Telephone came up with the bright idea of telephone exchanges in which the first two digits would be the first two letters of words.  For instance here in Baton Rouge we had three telephone exchanges: ELgin, DIckens, and WAlnut.  So instead of having to remember seven digits, we only had to remember the name of one of the three exchanges and the remaining five digits.  Thus 351-2345 became ELgin 1-2345.  Much easier to remember, right?

Of course the use of telephone numbers that included the names of exchanges seeped into popular culture.  For instance, a well-known 1935 novel by John O’Hara about a promiscuous woman named Gloria Wandrous was titled BUtterfieeld 8 after part of Gloria’s home phone number on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  Notice that both the B and U in BUtterfield are capitalized in the title of the book.

The novel, by the way, contained lost of sex, drugs, and violence for its time.  When my Reading the Classics Book Club read and discussed it a few years ago, many of us were surprised that the book was even published back then.  The novel was made into a movie in 1960 starring Elizabeth Taylor and she won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Gloria Wandrous.

A few songs have also had telephone exchanges in their titles.  The most famous was undoubtedly Glenn Miller’s 1940 hit “Pennsylvania 6-5000” (“PENNSYLVANIA SIX-FIVE THOUSAND” on the Bluebird record label).  The telephone number was – and still is – that of the Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan.

Another song with a telephone exchange title is country music singer Hawkshaw Hawkins’ 1963 hit “Lonesome 7-7203.”  Hawkins, Cowboy Copas, and Patsy Cline were killed when the Piper Comanche they were flying in crashed on March 5, 1963.  “Lonesome 7-7203” was released three days before Hawkins’ death,  and his wife, country music singer Jean Shepard, gave birth to their third child, a son, a month after Hawkins’ death.

Artie Shaw didn’t record a song with a telephone exchange in its title, but he recorded records for a short time with what was called Artie Shaw and His Gramercy 5.  GRamercy was the exchange where Shaw’s home was located in Greenwich Village.  Their biggest hit was probably “Summit Ridge Drive.”

The history of telephone exchanges in the United States and in other countries is quite interesting, and I highly recommend the Wikipedia article about them to you.  The article also includes numerous references to telephone exchanges in pop culture including a Bugs Bunny cartoon entitled Transylvania 6-5000.  You might also enjoy a Smithsonian article about the first telephone directory and some other information about the early days of the telephone era.

Remind me to tell you about telephone “party lines” sometime.  Hint: being on a party line was anything but a party.

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Talking About Books . . .

The BBC has an article that may interest you if you’ve ever watched Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho.  The article is about five books that are in varying degrees based on actual murders.

Another BBC article that you might enjoy concerns (mostly but not solely) writers (both male and female) and their muses (both male and female).  The pairings range from Dante and his beloved Beatrice, to D. H. Lawrence and his lover and wife, Frieda von Richthofen, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Both well-written articles are by Hepfzibah Anderson.

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“Talking Classics” is the name of a series of audio novels that I recently found on Spotify.  All are public domain novels that are condensed into audios that are slightly less than three hours long.  And each is of high quality with excellent narrators.  The entire list is shown below:

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • A Christmas Carol
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Adam Bede
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Anna Karenina
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Barchester Towers
  • Billy Budd
  • Call of the Wild
  • Crime and Punishment
  • David Copperfield
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Dracula
  • Emma
  • Far from the Madding Crowd
  • Frankenstein
  • Great Expectations
  • Jane Eyre
  • Les Miserables
  • Little Women
  • Lorna Doone
  • Madame Bovary
  • Mary Barton
  • Middlemarch
  • Moby Dick
  • Northanger Abbey
  • Oliver Twist
  • Persuasion
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Rob Roy
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • Scarlet & Black (The Red and the Black)
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • She
  • Silas Marner
  • Sons and Lovers
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  • The Bostonians
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • The Forsythe Saga
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • The Last of the Mohicans
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge
  • The Mill on the Floss
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  • The Thirty Nine Steps
  • The Three Musketeers
  • The Turn of the Screw
  • Three Men in a Boat
  • Tom Jones
  • Treasure Island
  • Vanity Fair
  • Villette
  • War and Peace
  • Women in Love
  • Wuthering Heights

To listen to them, go to Spotify and search for “Talking Classics.”  From the list that you get, choose “Talking Classics Audio Books” which is a playlist created by Andy Pianoman.

If you search “DBS audiobooks” at Spotify and you’ll find the following audiobooks plus many more:

  • Pride and Prejudice
  • The Secret Garden
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • The Jungle Book
  • The Art of War
  • The Red House Mystery
  • The Children of Odin
  • The Bells of San Juan
  • Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
  • The Last Trail

I suspect that all of these “DBS Classics” are Librivox recordings of the unabridged books, but I haven’t checked out all of them.  The narrators seem to be quite adequate, but all mention of the narrator’s names and of Librivox seem to have been removed.

Speaking of Librivox, Mil Nicholson, an actress and professional narrator, is superb.  She has narrated many of Charles Dickens’ novels for Librivox and has said that she intends to narrate all of his novels eventually.  She has also narrated a few works by other authors as well.  The list of her Librivox narrations includes Barnaby Rudge (version 2), Bleak House (version 3), Dombey and Son, Great Expectations (version 3), The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (version 2), Little Dorrit (version 2), The Old Curiosity Shop (version 2), Oliver Twist (version 6), and Our Mutual Friend (version 3).  Additionally she has narrated Can You Forgive Her?, The Eustace Diamonds, and Phineas Finn the Irish Member by Anthony Trollope; Mr. H. by Charles Lamb; and Pride and Prejudice (version 6, dramatic reading) by Jane Austin.  Check out Nicholson’s works before buying any of the above audiobooks.

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One Hundred Years of Solitude

The Annenberg Foundation has been responsible for some wonderful TV series that just happen to be educational.  They include programs about literature, foreign languages, statistics, physics, chemistry, psychology, math, and many more topics.  Some of the series are designed for students while others are designed for teachers. You can see the entire list of programs here.

I want to spotlight one particular literature course that I find extremely interesting: Invitation to World Literature.  The description of the course gives you an idea of the make-up and breadth of many of the courses.

“See beneath the surface of 13 great works of world literature that have traveled the globe with this course resource for teachers, students, and lovers of literature.”

The 13 great works include The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, The Bhagavad Gita, The Tale of Gingi, Things Fall Apart, and The God of Small Things.  As an example of how the 13 part series is structured, watch program 11 which is about the wonderful novel One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez – one of the greatest authors in the genre called “magical realism.”  The program is not a dry lecture by a professor standing at a lectern, but rather a series of comments by a diverse group of commentators – some latinos, some not – who give us a feel for the novel and the historical background that influenced Márquez’s writing.  Regardless of your opinions of the novel and about “magical realism,” you’ll be impressed by what you see.


The other series I want to highlight is the 52 part program Destinos: An Introduction to Spanish.  I watched the entire series on public TV many years ago, and I assure you that it is a unique and wonderful way to learn Spanish.  Destinos is anything but a dry recitation of vocabulary and verb conjugations.  Instead it is the story of an elderly, dying man who receives a mysterious letter that reveals a secret from his past.  He hires an attorney, Raquel Rodriguez, to look into the matter, and she travels to a number of Spanish-speaking countries to solve the mystery that the letter alludes to.  It is essentially a telenovela, a Spanish soap opera, that is extremely well done.

Each  unit in the series is broken down into two parts: The story itself, and a review of the story by Raquel. You are explicitly told to try to get the meaning of the story by using the visual cues, and not to worry about understanding each and every word.  The series is so well designed that you will be able to follow the action quite easily.  If you wish to see what is being said, you can enable closed captioning to view the Spanish that is being spoken.

Best of all, there is a textbook – also titled Destinos: An Introduction to Spanish – that follows the outline of the video series, but provides what you would expect in a Spanish textbook.  You can buy a copy of the used textbook through Amazon for a reasonable price.

Destinos is a wonderful introduction to Spanish.  But it is only one of many series that exist only because of the generosity of The Annenberg Foundation.

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Reading a bedtime story to your children is an excellent way to bond,  but could it be doing more than just that?  According to Jessica Logan, an assistant professor at The Ohio State University, a recent study that she completed indicates that it makes a huge difference in preparing children for learning to read.  The Mental Floss article that reports Logan’s findings also claims that a recent study found that children who grow up in a home with many books “tend to have higher reading comprehension rates and better mathematical and digital communication skills” than children who grow up in homes with few or no books.

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When you think of romance novels you probably envision mass-market paperback novels with covers that feature a shirtless hunk with a gorgeous, adoring woman clinging to him.  However, there’s a lot more to romance novels than that, and you’ve probably read some of the best of them. No?  Well, according to the article “A Brief History of the Romance Novel” from the New York Public Library, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and even Gone with the Wind are examples of romance novels.  Still want to deny that you’ve read romance novels?

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Open Culture features a brief introduction to the life and thought of Friedrich Nietzsche.  The information in the animation comes compliments of author and philosopher Alain de Botton.  At the end of the animation you’ll see links to similar animations of other philosophers.

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The Designer's Dictionary of Type

We read all the time, but we seldom pay attention to the various typefaces that are used in what we read.  Who chooses the typefaces for our books, magazines, and advertisements, and why?  In The Designer’s Dictionary of Type it’s author, Sean Adams, sets out to educate us about the history and characteristics of 48 classic typefaces as well as when and why they should (or shouldn’t) be used.  His descriptions of five typefaces in a Fast Company article reminds me of a wine connoisseur describing the attributes of a bottle of wine.  But Adams has some valid points as well as some very interesting facts about the typefaces and their often forgotten inventors.

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Flashman 2

Do you assume that the narrators in books are good people?  Don’t. Many are evil – very evil. A Guardian article features the top 10 evil narrators in books according to journalist and novelist Leo Benedictus.  My favorite, by far, is the poltroon Harry Flashman.

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Did you ever see a movie in which one of the characters is reading a book?  Did you do your best to determine the name of the book?  Literary Hub has assembled 50 literary cameos from 1990s movies.

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Music Notes

P.D.Q. Bach

According to “Professor” Peter Schickele of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, P.D.Q. Bach was the 21st of Johann Sebastian Bach’s 20 children. He claims that he discovered the existence of P.D.Q. Bach many years ago, and has been discovering various works by the great (?) composer ever since.  Compositions which have been found so far include The Ill-Tempered Clavier, The 1712 Overture, Concerto for Piano vs. Orchestra, The Erotica Variations, and Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice.

Of course this delightfully daffy music is the brain-child of Schickele’s very weird imagination.  Schickele related the story of P.D.Q. Bach during a concert of The Boston Pops Orchestra conducted by John Williams, with special guest Itzhak Perlman, way back in 1995 and it is quite entertaining.  There are numerous sight-gags in the works of P.D.Q. Bach, so the best way to enjoy his creations is by watching and listening to them at the same time if you can.  Fortunately, many of his works are available on YouTube.

Schickele has also composed numerous “serious” works, including the music for the 1972 movie Silent Running, but he will surely be remembered primarily for the zany and ingenious works of P.D.Q. Bach.  That he has given so much pleasure to people around the world is a legacy he should be proud of.

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Jimmy Durante at the Piano

Sunday morning I’ll once again host Music on the Sunny Side on WBRH (90.3 FM and at on the internet). As usual, I’ll present a variety of music from the Big Band era and beyond.

The highlights will include Jimmy Durante demonstrating his talent as a pianist (he started out as a wise-cracking pianist, not as a singer); a duet featuring Tony Bennett (who has been recording since the ‘50s) and k. d. lang; Aretha Franklin singing “God Bless the Child;” The Bing Crosby Radio Show with his guest Rosemary Clooney (George Clooney’s aunt); a song sung by an actor who, though he was declared dead by a doctor in 1971, officially died last year at the age of 90; and a Glenn Miller hit that was composed by a young mortician.

Music on the Sunny Side can be heard every Sunday morning between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Central Time on WBRH.  I share the honor of hosting the show with my colleagues Dr. Fritz McCameron and Winston Day.  Each of us comes from a different musical background, so each of us has a slightly different take on the music of the past.  Regardless of who hosts the show, you can be sure that the music will be delightful and that there will be fascinating stories mixed in with the musical numbers.

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I don’t know why so many people dislike opera.  After all, it’s filled with sex, drugs, and violence.  One reason in the past might have been the difficulty of gaining exposure to it.  A few people had access to live opera in or near the places where they lived, but for most of us the only way to hear opera was through the Saturday afternoon matinee radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera (the Met) in New York City that began in 1931.

Today there are so many ways to enjoy opera that it’s difficult for me to list them – but I’ll try anyway. The internet has made the biggest change in the availability of this art form.  The broadcasts from the Met can be heard by anyone anywhere by listening to one of many internet-available radio stations around the country.  My station-of-choice is WQXR from New York.  In fact, most stations that carry the Met Broadcasts (December thru May) supplement the Met broadcasts with broadcasts from other opera companies or by playing opera recordings from their libraries when the Met is not on the air.

The Met website offers many ways to listen to opera.  Once you are at the website, click on “MENU” at the top left of the screen, then click on “SEASON.”  Then click on “Cinema” and you’ll get a list of upcoming HD broadcasts that you can see and hear at a local theater.  This is the next best thing to actually being in the audience at the Met.  Even if you’re not an opera fan you should go to one of these performances because opera is great theater and the sets and costumes, for instance, are often stunningly beautiful.

“On Demand” is a Met pay service that allows you to listen to the audio or the audio plus video of 650 Met broadcasts from the past – many of them historic.  It includes access to the HD broadcasts mentioned above.  For $15/month or $150/year you have unlimited access to the operas 24/7.

Clicking on “Radio” gives you lots of choices.  First, you can listen to a free live audio stream of an evening performance once a week during the Met season (September thru May).  A list of upcoming operas, dates and times is available at the site.  “Exclusive Member Content” is a pay service that gives you access to each Saturday matinee broadcast for the entire week following its broadcast.  There is also additional content such as informative talks about opera.  The other “biggie” is access to the Met’s vast library of past performances through your subscription to Sirius XM satellite radio.  To enjoy this feature on Sirius XM, simply tune in to Channel 75 anytime day or night.

Aria Code is a podcast presented by WQXR and the Met with the mission of revealing the magic of opera “one aria at a time.”  This is something that I highly recommend to those who are just learning about opera.  I strongly believe that beginning you association with opera by listening to a complete opera will probably be an overwhelming experience.  I think that exploring the elements of opera, including arias, preludes/overtures, duets, choruses, ballet music, etc.,  is a much better way to start.  Everyone loves the arias, so Aria Code is a good starting point for them.

Spotify, an internet music service that allows you to choose the music you want to hear, has hundreds of complete opera recordings that you can choose from.  Spotify also has albums featuring all the elements of opera that are listed above.  For instance, put in the search term “Bizet Carmen” and you will get a huge list of complete recordings, highlights from the opera (great for beginners), and even a list of recordings of the two popular orchestral suites from Carmen (also great for beginners).  If you put in  the search term “opera without words,” you’ll get a short list of recordings featuring the most beautiful music from operas without the singing (another very good way to begin listening to opera).  Also, try the search term “Carmen without words.”

WQXR has a number of music channels in addition to the classical music channel.  One of the additional channels is “Operavore” which features the elements of opera, but no complete operas.  To listen, go to the WQXR website, choose “All Streams” on the left side, scroll down to “Operavore” and click on “Listen Live.”

There is one more important website for opera that you might enjoy: WETA radio from Washington. Like WQXR, WETA has a music stream in addition to its classical music stream.  That stream is called “Viva La Voce” and it presents acts from various operas, but only one act from any particular opera except that it does, in fact, present one complete opera recording each evening beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time as part of a series called “Opera at Eight.”  From the Viva La Voce website, scroll down to “Listen Live to Viva La Voce,” and click on the headphones or on “Launch the player window.”  There is a playlist, but it only shows what is playing and what has played earlier in the day.  You can obtain a list of upcoming Opera at Eight offerings and the cast of each opera here.

I know that some of you are skeptical of opera, but so was I when I started listening.  Give it a try and you might be surprised at how much you enjoy the experience.

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Quotes of Note

“The young man, they found, was a naturalist, an astronomer, a geographer, a geologist, a botanist, an authority on Indian antiquities, a linguist, an artist—an academy unto himself, as the poet Goethe [one of Humboldt’s friends] would say. He was at home in any subject. He had read every book. He had seen things almost impossible to imagine. ‘We all consider him as a very extraordinary man,’ [Albert] Gallatin told his wife, speaking apparently for [Thomas] Jefferson’s entire official family, ‘and his travels, which he intends publishing on his return to Europe, will, I think, rank above any other productions of the kind.’ He also talked at double the speed of anybody Gallatin had ever met before and would shift suddenly from English, which he spoke superbly, into French or Spanish or German, seemingly unaware of what he was doing, but never hesitating for a word, apparently to the very great confusion of his newfound American friends, Jefferson and the Swiss-born Gallatin not included.

“Gallatin, a man not easily impressed, found the extent of the visitor’s reading and scientific knowledge astonishing. ‘I was delighted,’ he said, ‘and swallowed more information of various kinds in less than two hours than I had for two years past in all I had read and heard.’” – David McCullough describing the polymath  Alexander von Humboldt in Brave Companions: Portraits in History.  Unfortunately, Humboldt is mostly remembered today for the Pacific Ocean current that bears his name – despite the facts that its existence had been known for centuries before he studied it and that he never claimed to have discovered it.

“For centuries, children were part of women’s realm and therefore deemed unworthy of serious scientific interest.  So long as men dominated academia, developmental psychology was inevitably marginalized.  At Berkeley, for example, a number of renowned developmental psychologists worked in research institutes; none of them was ever offered a position in the university proper. (In fact, until 1973 there were no women at all in the Berkeley psychology department.)  the work that did go on often was in the context of practical issues in education and child rearing.  One male colleague discovered in the sixties at Cornell that he had to take a home economics degree in order to study developmental psychology.  The advent of women academics in the university helped, very slowly, to make studying babies and children seem respectable.” – Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Patricia K. Kuhl; The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Brain

 “The library is a whispering post. You don’t need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen. It was that affirmation that always amazed me. Even the oddest, most peculiar book was written with that kind of courage—the writer’s belief that someone would find his or her book important to read. I was struck by how precious and foolish and brave that belief is, and how necessary, and how full of hope it is to collect these books and manuscripts and preserve them. It declares that stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past, and to what is still to come.” – Susan Orlean, The Library Book

“And now, what about a Watson? Are we to have a Watson? We are. Death to an author who keeps his unraveling for the last chapter, making all the other chapters but prologue to a five-minute drama. This is no way to write a story. Let us know from chapter to chapter what the detective is thinking. For this he must Watsonize or soliloquize; the one is merely a dialogue form of the other, and, by that, more readable. A Watson, then, but not of necessity a fool of a Watson. A little slow, let him be, as so many of us are, but friendly, human, likeable . . .” – A. A. Milne, The Red House Mystery

“Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him. It is the moment when his emotions achieve their most powerful sway over him, and afterward when you say to this person ‘the world today’ or ‘life’ or ‘reality’ he will assume that you mean this moment, even if it is fifty years past. The world, through his unleashed emotions, imprinted itself upon him, and he carries the stamp of that passing moment forever.” – John Knowles, A Separate Peace

“I can imagine  my mother’s fear on the night I was born.

“It was April 3, 1941.  She and two hundred other women, all waiting to give birth, were gathered in the dark, airless basement of a hospital in Kiel, Germany.  Bombs from the Allied forces of World War II thundered around them, sirens screamed, the ground shook with one explosion after another, and she must have felt so alone and so terrified as she lay there praying for the safe delivery of her child.

“I arrived just in time.  A few days later, another swarm of bombs destroyed the hospital where I took my first breath.” – Eric Braeden (Victor Newman of The Young and the Restless), I’ll  Be Damned: How My Young and Restless Life Led Me to America’s #1 Daytime Drama

“I’d have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister–anything a woman can be to a man. The idea of you is part of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I don’t realize it. You really are a part of me.” – Willa Cather, My Ántonia

“He wanted to know how they prayed to God in Eldorado. ‘We do not pray to him at all,’ said the reverend sage. ‘We have nothing to ask of him. He has given us all we want, and we give him thanks continually.’” – Voltaire, Candide

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Talking About Books . . .

steamboat willie

On January 1, 1998 works including music, books, films, and plays, published during or before 1922 were in the public domain.  That meant that they could be reproduced, performed, used or modified without restriction.  Works that were copyrighted in 1923 should have entered the public domain on January 1, 1999, but they didn’t due to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act that added 20 years to copyright protection.

The Sonny Bono mentioned above is, of course, the Sonny Bono of Sonny and Cher fame.  By 1998 the couple had divorced, Sonny had remarried, and had been elected to Congress from California.  One of the bill’s major supporters was Sonny’s wife, Mary Bono, who was elected to Congress shortly after Sonny’s death in a skiing accident on January 5, 1998.  The bill that lengthened copyrights by 20 years was the idea of Walt Disney who wanted to extend the copyright protection of his most famous cartoon character Mickey Mouse who made his official debut in the 1928 film Steamboat Willie.  The bill also meant that nothing more would enter the public domain until 2019.  The 20-year extension has now ended, so works from 1923 went into the public domain on January 1, 2019 and the same process will continue year after year.

Major works that moved into the public domain this year include The Great American Novel by William Carlos Williams, Winston Churchill’s The World Crisis, Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Pigeons, and Edith Wharton’s A Son at the Front.  Two notable silent movies, Charlie Chaplin’s The Pilgrim and Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, are also now in the public domain.  Those works will be followed by Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in 2020, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney in 2021, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in 2022, and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer in 2023.  Steamboat Willie and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence will follow in 2024.

Speaking of copyright issues, a 2014 article from The Economist illustrates the problems of copyright laws that differ from country to country.

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sears catalog

In the Jim Crow south it was difficult for black folks to get the things they wanted and needed.  Most businesses were owned by white people, and those that sold to blacks often required that the black people wait until all the white customers were served before they could get what they needed.  Additionally, white merchants would often sell items to black customers at inflated prices.  However, a book was published in 1888 (and for many years thereafter) that somewhat leveled the playing field.  That book so infuriated merchants that they often burned copies of it on bonfires.

The book was the Sears, Roebuck & Company mail order catalog.  It was the Amazon of its time with just about anything you wanted – from clothing to musical instruments to even a house – but you looked for items in the catalog instead of searching for them on the internet.  When you ordered something, which would be mailed to your home, no one knew if you were black or white.  You got it for the same price and in the same amount of time as everyone else.

The catalog was particularly popular in rural areas, but I remember quite well getting a copy of this huge book at our local Sears store every year.  The catalog and the Christmas-gift “Wish Book” were discontinued many years ago, and it seems that Sears may soon go the way of their wonderful catalog.

By the way, when the old catalog was replaced with a newer copy, the old one took on another important use – at least for poor people with outhouses.

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If you like ideas you might enjoy the BBC Radio 4’s 48 animated videos that explain the history of ideas from Aristotle to Sartre.  The animations are by Cognitive and the scripts are written by British philosopher and author Nigel Warburton.  I find “The Trolley Problem” (video 11) particularly fascinating though I don’t know why most people (including me) would trade one life for five in the first scenario, but not in the second.

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mockingbird on broadway

Aaron Sorkin, creator of NBC’s The West Wing, has adapted Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird for Broadway, and it is breaking records.  But it hasn’t been easy.  Lee’s estate took issue with some of Sorkin’s changes – including having Atticus drink whiskey and curse – and it took a while to work out a settlement.  As a Variety article notes, most records are set by Broadway musicals, not dramas.  Nevertheless, America’s favorite novel seems indomitable in any form.

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the library book

Looking for some good books that were published this past year?  You can find lists all over the internet, but I doubt that any website is more complete than NPR’s Book Concierge.  You can scroll down to see the covers of all 319 books or you can choose categories such as Staff Picks, Book Club Ideas, Funny Stuff, Rather Long, Rather Short, Young Adult, No Biz Like Show Biz, and Let’s Talk About Sex.  Once you’ve chosen a category, click on a book that interests you, and you’ll get some info on the book plus links to NPR segments that have been about the book.  Absolutely awesome!

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old yeller

So you’ve seen the movie Old Yeller based on the book by Fred Gipson, but you can hardly stand to think about what happens to that brave, faithful dog near the end of the story?  Go to the Electric Lit article where the sad stories of noble dogs are rewritten so that they don’t die.  You’ll feel much better.  And you’re welcome.

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The next edition of the live author interview program In-Depth on Book TV (C-SPAN2) will air Sunday, January 6, 2019 from noon to 3:00 p.m. ET.  The featured guest will be author and bureau chief of Mother Jones magazine David Corn.  His books include Blond Ghost, Showdown, and Russian Roulette.

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Popular Music from World War I

Smile and Show Your Dimple

World War I ended on November 11, 1918 when Germany declared an armistice – that is a cessation of fighting prior to the signing of an official peace treaty.  The day that commemorated the end of the conflict was called Armistice Day until 1947 when the name was changed to Veteran’s Day in order to honor all veterans, not solely those who fought in World War I.  The change, by the way, was spearheaded by a World War II veteran from Birmingham, Alabama named Raymond Weeks.

I’ve decided to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I with a three hour retrospective of some of the music that was popular during the years of that conflict.  The war began in Europe in 1914; the United States entered the war in 1917; and it ended in 1918 when Germany was finally defeated.  In case you’re wondering, you won’t be listening to scratchy old recordings that are a century old.  Vocal music is predominant and the vocalists include Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney (George Clooney’s aunt), Doris Day and Nat King Cole.  The program will be broadcast as part of a weekly program called Music on the Sunny Side on WBRH (90.3 FM and at on Sunday morning between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Central Standard Time.

About a month ago one of my listeners suggested that I do a segment on the popular music of “the war to end all wars,” and I was so intrigued when I researched the subject that it changed from a segment into an entire show.  I was surprised at how many songs from that period have remained popular – at least with people of a certain age.  I also found some novelty songs that I fell in love with – songs like “Fido Is a Hot Dog Now” (1914), “Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go with Friday on Saturday Night?” (1916), and “Would You Rather Be a Colonel with an Eagle on Your Shoulder or a Private with a Chicken on Your Knee?” (1918).  Another interesting find was an Irving Berlin song called “Smile and Show Your Dimple” (1917) which he reworked years later into one of his best-known songs of all time.  What did it become?  Tune in Sunday morning and find out.

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