Beautiful Images: GoPro in Ice Caves

Tipped off by a great environmental blog,, I, happened on some spectacular GoPro footage.

From Greenfriar: (If you visit, read the whole post so you get the context; video link is at the bottom).

The Bad News That At Least Comes With The Faintest Silver Lining

Alaska’s glaciers are all melting, but in the process they’re opening up a whole world of ephemeral, short-lived ice caves, so filmmakers from Firefight Films attached a GoPro to a drone and produced this breathtaking footage from inside the caves….


Reasonable Words: Wonderful Diaries

I have been savoring Ronald Blythe‘s The Pleasures of Diaries, a compilation of wonderful excerpts, collected by a fine writer in his own right, and one with a great ear. So many tidbits worth sharing. For example, here’s Blythe’s intro to Samuel Johnson’s diary.

Johnson’s Diary evokes compassion. Here, simply exposed, is the pathology of a virtuous and brilliant man. His Dictionary says that a diary has to be ‘an account of the transactions, accidents, and observations of every day’–which suggests something less profound than what he attempted. Yet no one heeded more the advice he gave to his friends when he urged them to keep diaries in which ‘the great thing to be recorded is the state of your mind.’ His own diary is above all the troubled record of a greatly troubled mind.

Here is an excerpt from the diary itself (Tetty, refers to the middle-aged widow whom Johnson married when he was 27, and was devoted to, somewhat to the mystification of his friends.)

18 September 1760. Resolved D. j. (with God’s aid)

To combat notions of obligation

To apply to Study.

To reclaim imagination.

To consult the resolves on Tetty’s coffin.

To rise early.

To study Religion.

To go to Church.

To drink less strong liquors.

To keep Journal.

To oppose laziness, by doing what is to be done.

To morrow

Rise as early as I can.

Send for books for Hist. of war.

Put books in order.

Scheme life.

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Johnson, Goldsmith and Boswell, scheming life.

Reasonable Words: Twenty Rules for Detective Stories

A great review of some Victorian mystery novels in the LRB (in particular the deliciously convoluted “Notting Hill Mystery“)  tipped me off to this advice from mystery writer S.S. Van Dine.

“The dectective story is a kind of intellectual game. It is more — it is a sporting event. And for the writing of detective stories there are

The Moonstone
T.S. Eliot called it the first and best detective novel–not the first it turns out, but still one of the best. I gobbled it up in high school instead of doing my algebra homework.

very definite laws — unwritten, perhaps, but none the less binding; and every respectable and self-respecting concocter of literary mysteries lives up to them. Herewith, then, is a sort Credo, based partly on the practice of all the great writers of detective stories, and partly on the promptings of the honest author’s inner conscience. To wit:

1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.

2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.

3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.

4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It’s false pretenses.

5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.

6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.

7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader’s trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.

8. The problem of the crime must he solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic se’ances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.

9. There must be but one detective — that is, but one protagonist of deduction — one deus ex machina. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem, is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn’t know who his codeductor is. It’s like making the reader run a race with a relay team.

10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story — that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.

11. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that wouldn’t ordinarily come under suspicion.

12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.

13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance; but it is going too far to grant him a secret society to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds.

14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.

15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.

16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no “atmospheric” preoccupations. such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.

17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.

18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to hoodwink the trusting and kind-hearted reader.

19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction — in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader’s everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.

20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author’s ineptitude and lack of originality. (a) Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. (b) The bogus spiritualistic se’ance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away. (c) Forged fingerprints. (d) The dummy-figure alibi. (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. (f)The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person. (g) The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. (h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in. (i) The word association test for guilt. (j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth.”

These all make so much sense, and yet one of my all time favorite detective books fails on most of them, perhaps because the putative detective is a hapless librarian.

Organized Words: Interviews on Reddit

Reddit, has, among other things, interesting interviews with all kinds of people, but they are threaded and “pretty” is not a word I would use for them. Now there’s a new site, “Interviewly,” which has the clever idea of pulling Reddit’s interviews “organizing them…and making them prettier.” They don’t seem to have snagged one of my favorite Reddit threads, that with book critic Michael Dirda,


Good Words For Bloggers from Getty

Tipped by Neverending Search, am happy to share the news that Getty Images has offered a kosher way to link to images in its vast archives. This means that non-profit bloggers and others using images for non-commercial use, such as teachers, can link legally rather than the old m.o. (“right clickable? must be okie-dokie!”). It’s akin to YouTube–you just grab the embed code and paste it in.


And just to test it, here is a photo of one of my favorite concert pianists:

Embed from Getty Images

The branding is a little more noticeable than YouTube’s (although do we even ever think about YouTube’s brand any more, it’s just the infrastructure of the web?) It includes the photographer’s name, which is long overdue.

Here’s Uchida performing Schumann (via an embedded YouTube clip).

Critical Words: Reviews from the Archives

A nice blast from the past courtesy of Robert Paul Wolff’s blog, The Philosopher’s Stone.

Here is, as he puts it, “a bauble from his files” in the form of a hilarious and apt review of Alan Bloom’s “Closing of the American Mind” one of many late 80s petulant squibs from cranky humanities types bemoaning–as I vaguely recall–things like the fact that his undergraduates listened to Tracy Chapman and read Kate Chopin (presumably, instead of reading Chapman’s Homer and listening to Poland’s Chopin).

The beginning of the review from

Aficionados of the modern American novel have learned to look to Philip Roth for complex literary constructions that play wittily with narrative voice and frame. One thinks of such Roth works as My Life as a Man and The Counter Life, Now Saul Bellow has demonstrated that among his other well-recognized literary gifts is an unsuspected bent for daring satire. What Bellow has done, quite simply, is to write an entire coruscating funny novel in the form of a pettish, bookish, grumpy, reactionary complaint against the last two decades. The “author” of this tirade, one of Bellow’s most fully realized literary creations, is a mid-fiftyish professor at the University of Chicago, to whom Bellow gives the evocative name, “Bloom.”…

Bellow's novel about Bloom.
Bellow’s novel about Bloom.

And of course, Bellow, perhaps inspired by Wolff?, did go on to write a novel about Bloom, who turned out to be–and I say this in the nicest way possible, someday hoping to be be one myself–an effete homosexual.

The whole review is worth a read, and Brian Leiter, whose great blog tipped me off to Wolff’s piece, points out that the Nietzsche scholarship in “The Closing of the American Mind” is inept. So is the argument about foreign language study, not enough of it for Bloom and the cause of many ills–missing the point that this is a long-running battle in higher ed, not something that the 60s foisted on us. Whether to teach languages, which languages to teach, and to what end is a continuing friction point in the curriculum. Nineteenth century academics were as outraged as Bloom that “modern” languages like French and German, and contemporary texts in those languages, were replacing Latin and Greek as core curriculum. That battle has more to do with what languages we offer now that those baleful hippies and feminists of the 60s that so vex B.

But Bloom was an appealing scold for the time: he was an intellectual whom anti-intellectuals could love. And in a somewhat paradoxical way  his popularity came from the reassurance that it turned out you didn’t have to feel guilty for blowing off your reading in college (particularly that Nietzsche course!) nor should you regret it if you missed out on college. Not a problem because all those things people were teaching, listening to and doing in college were the WRONG things, and bad, so very, very bad. Whereas, reading his book was doing “the right thing” and best of all was having a high-minded argument about it after a quick skim, and in between filling out your MBA applications.


Image from the 1820 edition of "The American first class book, or, Exercises in reading and recitation: selected principally from modern authors of Great Britain and America, and designed for the use of the highest class in public and private schools." From the 19th Century Schoolbook Collection at the University of Pittsburgh.
Image from the 1820 edition of “The American first class book, or, Exercises in reading and recitation: selected principally from modern authors of Great Britain and America, and designed for the use of the highest class in public and private schools.” From the 19th Century Schoolbook Collection at the University of Pittsburgh.

Bayesian Approaches to Plane Mystery

Al Jazeera America reports that Bayseian statistical approaches might help resolve the disturbing, engrossing mystery of the disappearance of MH370.

Math equation could help find missing Malaysian plane

“It’s a very short, simple equation that says you can start out with hypothesis about something — and it doesn’t matter how good the hypothesis is,” said Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, author of “The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy.”

That’s because the hypothesis can keep changing and improve, and still be used with the theorem, McGrayne told Al Jazeera.

“You are committed to modify that hypothesis every time a new piece of information arises,” McGrayne said…..


Beautiful Music: Borodin

Not much posting recently, sorry. Busy trying to learn enough WordPress to do a site for real. (And not as easy as it looks!)  Also, sort of bingeing on Borodin after the Met’s Prince Igor b’cast a couple of weeks ago. What an opulent score!

Here’s another bit of Borodin to share: Dmitri Hvorostovsky singing “For the shores of your far homeland” in recital.


The text is Pushkin,

 For the shores of your far homeland
 You left this strange land;
 Within this unforgettable hour, this hour of sadness,
 I wept lingeringly before you.....

Nothing matches hearing him in person, but this gives a sense of his extraordinary sound and presence.

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