Wednesday, September 28, 2011


In class last night, I mentioned the type of animals classified as "sirenia" or "sirenians". For those unfamiliar with them, an example is the lovely manatee, an aquatic mammal that can be found in coastal Florida. Their range extends north into Georgia and south to Brazil, and they can be found elsewhere in the Caribbean to the entire eastern coast of Mexico. In 2006, there was a report of a manatee seen in New York City and Rhode Island. Here is a video of manatees:

These are wonderful creatures, and good to know about. The other type of sirenian still in existence is the dugong, whose range is from the Red Sea and East Africa to Melanesia and from Hainan to Australia.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

First Trip to the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City in Queens

On Saturday, September 17, 2011, several of us from the class went to the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City in Queens. Here are some photos from that trip:

Thank you to Vladimir Shilov for this photograph.

Thank you to Vladimir Shilov for this photograph.

Thank you to Vladimir Shilov for this photograph.

Thank you to Vladimir Shilov for this photograph.

Thank you to Vladimir Shilov for this photograph.

Thank you to Vladimir Shilov for this photograph.

Thank you to Vladimir Shilov for this photograph.

Thank you to Vladimir Shilov for this photograph.

Thank you to Vladimir Shilov for this photograph.

Thank you to Yevgeni Kralkin for this photograph.

Thank you to Yevgeni Kralkin for this photograph.

Thank you to Yevgeni Kralkin for this photograph.

Thank you to Yevgeni Kralkin for this photograph.

Thank you to Yevgeni Kralkin for this photograph.

Thank you to Yevgeni Kralkin for this photograph.

Thank you to Yevgeni Kralkin for this photograph.

Thank you to Yevgeni Kralkin for this photograph.

Thank you to Yevgeni Kralkin for this photograph.

This remarkable sculpture is entitled "Other Lands".
Thank you to Yevgeni Kralkin for this photograph.)

Thank you to Yevgeni Kralkin for this photograph.

Sunset over Manhattan and the north point of Roosevelt Island.
(Thank you to Yevgeni Kralkin for this photograph.)

Let the Great World Spin, Chapter 1, Last Paragraph

This is me reading the last paragraph of the first chapter ("All Respects to Heaven, I Like It Here") of Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Freeman Dyson, free Astronomy Lecture

Freeman J. Dyson (b. 1923)

On Friday, October 21, 2011, the Amateur Astronomer Association of New York City will present the first in the lecture series they sponsor every year. This is a superb lecture series, and is free.

The lectures are held at the American Museum of Natural History, in the Kaufmann Theatre. The best way to get to the Kaufmann Theatre for these lectures is to go to the middle of the block on 77th Street. There is an arching stone stairway; the entrance is underneath that arching stairway. There your bags will be checked, and you can enter the museum. Ahead you will see a giant dug-out canoe, made by the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. Turn left. You will be heading toward the "Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins", and you will see three skeletons in front of you: a chimpanzee, a Neanderthal human, and a modern human. Before you enter that exhibit hall, you will see a cafeteria to your left and a hall to your right with display cases of wonderful shells. Go up that hallway. Shortly, you will see another hallway to your left, and the theater entrance at the end of it. That is it!

The lecture inaugurating the 2011-2012 series will by by Freeman J. Dyson. Freeman Dyson is a legendary figure in science. He is one of the great figured of Twentieth-Century science, a colleague and friend of Richard Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann, John Wheeler, Kurt Goedel, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, John von Neumann, Kip Thorne, Carl Sagan, Oliver Sachs, etc.

The subject of Freeman Dyson's lecture is "Other Ways of Looking for Life in the Sky".

Freeman Dyson is 87 years old. The probability of having another opportunity to attend a free lecture by him is rapidly diminishing. Even if you are shy about attending lectures in English, and in particular lectures on a technical subject, such as science, I would strongly suggest taking the opportunity to attend the lecture. This is New York City! If you are not going to make use of the unique opportunities here, you might as well be somewhere else. And this lecture is something you can tell your children and grandchildren about some day, if they are interested in science or history, and for those of you that are interested in science already, this will be a very interesting event indeed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

Picasso: "The Charnel House"

The Charnel House (painted 1944-1945)

[OK, I mis-remembered--she is under the table, not on it....]

Note that the table is a sketch, but the shadowed area, where the massacred family lie, is filled in; not with color, but a kind of monochrome, like a newspaper/magazine photo, but the table, which had been set for their breakfast while they were still alive is in rough sketch form. The horrific image, what we would see, their cruel deaths, is rendered in fuller detail, while the remnants of their lives, what had been so real to them while alive, just before the soldiers burst in, is a faded reality. Bread, a bowl, a pitcher (of milk?), a tablecloth in disarray--pulled down in the violence....

Note the detail of the mother's hair. Then look at how it falls from her body, to one raised hand of the baby, spilling--like liquid--into the other hand of the baby, then toward the baby's mouth; hair doesn't spill, like a liquid...but blood might....We realize suddenly that it is not hair, but the mother's blood; the baby's last nursing was macabre; it was the milk of Death, not Life. The blood spills from one hand directly down toward the baby's open mouth, ready to nurse--but the baby's other hand is above its mouth, as if to block the fall of blood into its mouth.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Language IS Seeing

Simplistic concepts of human nature and allowing superstition to dominate thinking about human nature (and Nature) leaves us with a black-and-white and impoverished view of ourselves and the universe. This video is profoundly exciting and fascinating:

[The next time I teach the Alice books, I'll include this video in the discussion....]

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Locksley Hall", by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892)

"Locksley Hall" is a poem by the Victorian poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Tennyson was the most famous poet writing in English in his day. No poet writing in English since has been so revered in his own lifetime. His work was adored throughout the Empire, and in the United States, Ireland, and by English-speaking colonials across the globe, as well. To modern ears he might seem a bit stilted now, particularly since the "barbaric yawp" of Whitman changed poetry in English forever and the High Modernists, led by Ezra Pound, threw off the tyranny of the rhymed pentameter ("that was the first heave") and other traditional forms for a less mannered and more natural music. Tennyson uses an unusual line in this poem, an octametric line with the last foot having a missing syllable [catalectic octameter]. It might sound ponderous to a modern ear, but was much admired in his day.

This poem is relevant to the blog here, because the title of Colum McCann's masterpiece of a novel, Let the Great World Spin, is gleaned from "Locksley Hall". You will find it in a fragment of a line toward the end of the poem.

There are also many famous lines in the poem, often misquoted. You might recognize some that you have heard before.

This poem describes a young man's disillusion and heartbreak, and his resolution to set out into the world nursing a deep inner wound; it describes both an excursion from and return to childhood and young heartbreak; in a meditative moment he has a vision of the future in which science and technology bring wonders and unity to Mankind, an expression of the Victorian ideal of Progress and its vision of hope and an Earthly salvation. Home, hearth, and heath are the starting point, but he steps out into the void of an unknown future, a sort of Victorian version of the Byronic hero.

I had to break the reading up into two parts because of YouTube's 15-minute limit. Here is Part 1:

Part 2:

Decades later, an older man, Tennyson composed a response, "Locksley Hall Sixty Years After", in which he looks ironically at his young man's bitter Romanticism, and described a settled, phlegmatic personal history greatly in contrast to the young man's dramatic angst, and a larger history in which the young man's glowing vision of Mankind's future, rooted in new technology and science, has gone awry. But Tennyson recapitulated the rhythmic structure of the original, looking back at youthful passion and folly, and yet in continuing the form also valuing his young idealism, however misplaced, in late-life retrospect.

Let the Great World Spin

Colum McCann, Bloomsday 2010, at Ulysses Folk House
One of the great novelists of our time, the Irish writer, Colum McCann, wrote a masterpiece, Let the Great World Spin, a book that has been mentioned in my class many times.

Here is my reading of the introductory section that precedes the first chapter of Let the Great World Spin:

Here is the first part of the first chapter, "All Respects to Heaven, I Like It Here" (YouTube has a 15-minute limit on the length of YouTube videos, so I have to break chapters up into parts):

I will add other chapters/sections over time....