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The local classickal musick station is featuring “Mahler Month” – I suppose because Mahler died in May, 1911.

I’ve an idea I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I really do not think a whole month’s worth of Mahler is strictly necessary.

Just saying.

I am reminded via my quote-of-the-day email source that today is the anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx in 1818.

My favorite observation about Marx was made by my college econ professor, who said that Marx beheld the birth-pains of modern capitalism and mistook them for its death-rattle.

And this was at the People’s Glorious Soviet of Middletown, mind you.  It’s a wonder the fellah wasn’t lynched.

One day there, I found myself standing in line at the dining hall dessert bar behind a, shall we say, earnest young thing.  Fully aware of my Young George Will-like presence and I suppose by way of showing off her political creds, she kept saying loudly, “I’m a capitalist! I’m going to take all the ice cream!”  Finally weary of her hamfistedness, I smiled thinly and said softly, “I’m a communist.  The People will decide how hungry you are, comrade.”

Oddly enough, she didn’t think it was s’damn funny.  I’ll bet Marx never laughed, either.

Which brings me back to my econ prof.  (Full disclosure: I only took one semester of gut macro, and that was only to placate the Old Gentleman and because I’d already run the boards on English credits.)   He had a Polish name and an English accent, and he was very fond of using ice cream to illustrate various economic theories, perhaps with the idea of keeping us young louts more engaged.  Except that he had a habit of speaking of it in units, so that he would speak of one ice cream but two or more ice creams.  For reasons that probably only made sense to the undergrad mind, my roommate and I, who took the class together, found this to be quite amusing.  And as the semester went on, it only became funnier, to the point where we simply could not make eye contact at the sound of Oxbridge-flavored “ice creams” without getting nearly hysterical.

A wonder Prof. Whateveritwasowitz never lynched us.

I coincidentally thought of my roommate again the other day because I noticed it was Jack Klugman’s birthday. (Yes, he is still alive.  Klugman, I mean.  Haven’t the faintest re the roommate.).  Huh?  Well you see, my roommate and I were addicted to watching “Quincy, M.D.” reruns in the afternoons.  After a while, we couldn’t help noticing what an awful lot of times Klugman’s character would say, “What kind of a crummy doctor would let this happen?”  Again in the vein of undergrad humor, we quickly adopted the expression ourselves.  Indeed, it became a kind of game to modify it to a given situation, as (for example) while studying for our final in said gut macro: “What kind of a crummy econ professor would let this happen?”

Don’t remember what I got in the course (but nothing bad, I believe).  Indeed, all I do remember are that line about Marx and the ice creams.

(Yes, Mothe, I’m afraid that was your college tuition money at work.)

A scientist seems to have hit on the brilliant idea that all the world needs to do in order to abolish evil is to give itself a big ol’ group hug.

I wouldn’t bother linking to the article, as it’s mostly bunkum, except that it contains a linguistic pet peeve of mine.  Says said scientist:

Baron-Cohen defines empathy in two parts — as the drive to identify another person’s thoughts and feelings, and the drive to respond appropriately to those thoughts and feelings.

It is also, he says, one of the most valuable resources in our world — one which is currently woefully underused.

Well, yes, it may be.  In fact, it certainly is.  Except this isn’t empathy, dammit, it’s sympathyEmpathy is having the same thoughts and feelings as the other fellah.

Thus,  I sympathize with, say, Japanese earthquake victims.   But I empathize with the loathing that most other National League East fans have for the Phillies.

UPDATE:  Señor Puppy-Blender makes a good point about what happens when scientists try to eradicate evil.

Now that Lent is behind us, I have broken my almost pure diet of Apologetics and begun to get back  into reading for pure pleasure.

On the one hand, perhaps because I just finished off Josephus’ Jewish War, I was suddenly seized with the urge to reread my Tacitus right the way through.  At the moment, I’m deep in his Histories, and Vitellius and Otho (two of the four emperors to come and go in 69 A.D. following Nero’s suicide) are shaping up against each other to dispute the Empire.   With all the scheming, persecution, mutiny, civil war and murder going on, one often really wonders how on earth anyone was left alive in Rome between the death of Augustus and the ascension of Vespasian.  As long as this jag continues, I think I’m going to go back to my Herodotus and Thucydides, too.  I’d also throw Livy into the mix, except that I read him last summah.

On the other hand, I am indulging myself again with George MacDonald Fraser’s McAuslan series: The General Danced At Dawn, McAuslan In The Rough and The Sheikh and the Dustbin, all of them featuring the adventures of Private McAuslan, J., the Dirtiest Soldier in the World (alias the Tartan Caliban, or the Highland Division’s answer to the Pekin Man).   There are some amongst my fellow port-swillers who are put off by Fraser’s other great creation, Harry Flashman, because of his barbaric treatment of women and other character flaws.  One will find nothing of that sort to cavil at here.  The stories are loosely autobiographical, and recall with fondness Fraser’s days as a subaltern in the Gordon Highlanders at the end of WWII.  They are at once quirky, endearing and excruciatingly funny, and the only objection to reading them in publick (say, on the metro) is that one laughs so hard that people begin to suspect that one is having a fit of some kind.

Oh, and this reminds me again of a curious phenomenon, namely that of people who cannot comprehend the idea of reading a book more than once.   I’ve met such people from time to time, and to this day I simply cannot fathom them.  Surely, one would not listen to a good piece of musick only once.  So why should it be any different with a good piece of writing?


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May 2011