Friday, December 14, 2012

Must-Read Obit

An exceptional, must-read obituary from The Telegraph.  Maybe the best thing, pound for pound, you'll read all year.  Unbelievable.  I can't do justice to how impressive it is.  A single solitary incident from this man's life would make most people proud forever.

How many prisons did the man escape from??

Perhaps my favorite part is how--as an aside!!-- it's related that he became the UK hang-gliding champion for, like, 8 years, during the 60s.  The mentioning of it is so casual.  The war was over, he didn't have much else to do, so he went ahead and decided to master hang-gliding.  And that is maybe the TENTH MOST AMAZING THING the man did.


A sample (takes place during WWII, obviously):

...In the darkness Deane-Drummond fell into a slit trench on top of a German soldier. He and his comrades were taken prisoner and moved to a house on the outskirts of Arnhem, a temporary PoW “cage” holding about 500 all ranks and guarded by an under-strength company. Deane-Drummond found a wall cupboard about four feet wide and 12 inches deep with a flush-fitting concealed door. He unscrewed the lock, turned it back to front, pasted over the outside keyhole and locked himself in. For the next 13 days and nights, he remained there.
The room beyond his door was used by the Germans as an interrogation centre. He had only a one-pound tin of lard, half a small loaf of bread and his water bottle to keep him going. A gap in a corner of the floor surrounded by pipes served as a makeshift urinal.
On the 14th night, the Germans left the room empty and held a party upstairs. Deane-Drummond slipped out of his cupboard, climbed out of a window, dropped into the shrubbery, dodged the guards outside and got away.
A Dutch family concealed him in a shed next to their house. When the Germans searched it, Deane-Drummond, hidden under a pile of sacks, remained undiscovered.
He was passed from one “safe house” to another. On one occasion Baroness Ella van Heemstra, the mother of Audrey Hepburn, arrived with a bottle of champagne.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On Making A Piece of Furniture

There are, let's say, fifteen screws.  They all need to be fully screwed in; only then will the piece of furniture be finished.  To turn one screw one-half a rotation takes about four hours.

The temptation is to want to take a single screw and turn it in all the way.   The more unscrewed something is, the more painful is to look at it.  It's messy, it's ugly, and it reflects badly on you, the maker of the furniture.  But as long as some of the screws are more than, say, halfway unscrewed turning one in all the way is a fool's errand.  When one is too tight, the other screws can't go in.  That means the screw you've done in all the way will have to be unscrewed.  That's time lost (not to mention that it hurts to wreck what has already seemingly been well-done).

You have to come to believe that, insofar as it's possible, your great, abiding goal must be to be maintain as low "a delta" as possible.  (Delta: the gap in height between the most and least 'screwed-in' of your various screws.  So, if your most 'finished' screw is 80% in, and your least 'finished' screw is in 20%, your delta is 60.)

What this all seems to call for is a process by which the 'maker' goes from the first screw to the second, from the second screw to the third, and turns them each, in turn, one half a rotation.

However, that doesn't necessarily work.

Why not?

The final three screws (THE END) can never be more screwed in than any other screw.  They must always lag the others.  More importantly--the final screws are frequently IMPOSSIBLE TO TURN.  No matter how much you work at them they will not penetrate any deeper into the wood.

When this happens--when the end won't coalesce (and in a sense the entire problem of MAKING the furniture is a problem of the final three screws)--there is no neccessary obvious solution.  Maybe the END screws need to come out all the way, and be put somewhere else?  Maybe if some of the 'earlier' beginning screws are worked on more, are pushed in deeper, the END screws will start to penetrate.  On the other hand, working too much on 'beginning' screws will increase your overall DELTA.  And that is not to the good.

Sometimes the ugliness of the entire thing becomes so overwhelming, so deleterious to your own confidence in your ability to make a piece of furniture that, purely in order to maintain your own sanity you decide to take one screw and work it in as far and as deep as it can possibly go.  Although this...surrender does mess up the delta, it also can renew your confidence.  So maybe it's not so bad?

Also--there is no 100%.  No screw is ever actually 'in' all the way--it will never stop turning in its hole.   The challenge, then, is to determine whether or not, when it turns in its hole, it's helping to knit the wood together, or splintering it from the inside.  And that can't be known--only guessed at.

Vodka is useful, sometimes, during all of this.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's Time to Post Again

Sorry for not posting very much. All I do is write on the play right now (which really--really--is nearing completion). Every time I consider writing on the blog I tell myself the work should go into the play. It devours all my time, energy, joy, and hope.  I love and revile it.  Writing is terrible.  Don't do it.

Other than that...let's see. I started Martin Chuzzlewit. The Kindle makes ordering massive amounts of never-to-be-read literature simple and cheap.   I now have the Complete Dickens, the Complete Austen, the Complete Shakespeare, the Complete Chekhov, the Complete Buckminster Fuller... whoever.  Anyone who has some 'complete' omnibus edition available for a buck--I've got 'em.  I hadn't read Martin Chuzzlewit yet so I started just to see what I thought of it, and I got swept in.  Its most famous character, Pecksniff, occupies the first thirty pages almost all to himself.  That makes the book seem way better than I now fear it's going to turn out.  Its energy has begun to abate now that Pecksniff has receded and its eponymous hero has arrived in the United States, but I've given myself permission to skim (never skim, being one of my usual reading commandments) some of the many, many gratuitous set pieces Dickens rams in to expose (YAWN) the venality, greed, and hypocrisy of ...uhm...all Americans.  (He didn't much like us, did Dickens.  The weasel.)

We saw Looper last week.  Worth a view (and I hate all movies)--entertaining, well acted, well (enough) written.  A good afternoon out.  Like any time travel movie, it all falls apart as soon as you think about it closely, but at least that doesn't happen until you leave the theater.

I had been intending to post about the election but really, at this point, it's all been said. My friend Dez had a good post on his blog, which said pretty much all I think about it too.  I watched the election returns on Fox News, that night; that was big fun.  It got me intrigued by what I'll call the far right, and as a result, in the last few weeks I've started listening to AM Talk radio.  At first it was to savor the despair of all the right-wing provocateurs.  Now I'm just ensnared.  Don't get me wrong--the shows are terrible.  Bizarre conspiracy theories linking Petraeus's resignation, the attack on our embassy and Benghazi, and, I don't know, the need to go back to a gold standard; ominous forecastings about what Obama "really" plans to do to America (apparently Medicare is about to be extended to ALL CITIZENS, everywhere!) and lots of lots of good, old-fashioned ranting.  Now that it's Christmas they've started in on the 'War On Christmas" meme, which never fails to entertain.  A nudist commune in the hills of Berkeley asks to have a giant Santa Claus taken down from a state park, and suddenly CHRISTIANITY ITSELF IS UNDER ATTACK.  It's compelling stuff.

I'm going to post soon about my football predictions from the start of the season, and put down some picks for the playoffs.

I'll also say, right now, as a prediction for next season: if RGIII doesn't get hurt between now and next December, the Redskins will make the playoffs next year.  If they can draft some defensive linemen and maybe a cornerback or two, they might make the NFC Championship.  That guy is _for real_.  Also, seems like a really decent person.  The kind of guy I like to root for.