The impact of the Middle Ages on our human psyche cannot be overestimated. It's no coincidence that our most beloved epic dramas, from The Lord of the Rings to Star Wars, from The Chronicles of Narnia to The Green Ember, feature knights and swords, chivalry and heroism, glory, honor, and worship.
Facebook thought I would enjoy this paean to medieval times, and for once they were right. (5.5 minutes)
So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport (Business Plus, 2012)
I can't resist a Cal Newport book. My first was How to Be a High School Superstar (published 2010), then Digital Minimalism (2019) then Deep Work (2016). If the advice in any of them is out of date, I haven't noticed anything major.
So Good They Can't Ignore You is—like the others—both strong and weak but filled with interesting ideas that are contrary to much conventional wisdom. This time Newport tackles the "follow your passion" philosophy of choosing a career that was popular when the book was written. I don't think the appeal of that idea has lessened, despite the great number of college graduates who thought they were doing just that but ended up with unmanageable debt and a job at Starbuck's.
Much of his thesis is just what used to be called common sense: The work you choose doesn't matter nearly as much as how you approach it; focus on what you can offer the world rather than what the world can offer you; work hard; cultivate excellence. If that sounds boring and Puritanical, read the book to find out how it turns out to be the secret to having a career that's enjoyable and personally fulfilling. Newport fleshes out the ideas nicely, if sometimes a bit too repetitively, with explanation, analysis, and real-world examples.
As with Newport's other books, this one is business-oriented, making it hard to apply directly to non-business careers like homemaking and rearing a family. In fact, part of me wonders if it's possible to do what's necessary to achieve the skills he expects without neglecting other important parts of life. However, it must be noted that the really intense effort he recommends works best when one is young, and leads to far more autonomy and flexibility than standard career paths. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth.
At present, the Kindle version of So Good They Can't Ignore You is currently on sale for $3.99. It's well worth the investment of your time and money, or a visit to your local library.
Not a meme, but part of an actual conversation a couple of decades ago. The second speaker was Porter, the first one of his co-workers.
I'm giving my computer files a much-needed spring summer cleaning, and came upon this, which I post here for my own future reference as much as anything. Unfortunately, I don't remember where it came from. The odds are it was from someone on Facebook, but that's the best I can do for now.
It's a clear, concise, visual guide to the seasons of the Church Year, as celebrated in the Episcopal Church and many other churches. The latter may differ in small details; I'm not familiar enough with them to say. But when I refer to the Church Year, this is what I'm talking about.
It's 88 degrees outside at the moment, which is actually quite moderate for mid-day, mid-July in Florida. Still, it's ten degrees cooler inside, and that makes all the difference between enjoying my work and wanting to spend the day by (or in) the pool, drinking iced tea.
That increase in productivity I owe in large measure to one of America's great entrepreneurs, Willis Carrier, the "Father of Air Conditioning."
That this post appears today was prompted less by the temperature than by a new article by Eric Schultz' at The Occasional CEO (link is to the article), including an excerpt from his book, Innovation on Tap: Stories of Entrepreneurship from The Cotton Gin to Broadway's "Hamilton" (link is to my review of the book).
Successful entrepreneurship requires (among other traits) knowledge, skill, grit, determination, inventiveness, connection—and being in the right place at the right time. Lucky for us, Willis Carrier had them all, including the last, as you will see if you read the short story of how the Carrier Engineering Corporation opened for business at what looked for all the world like the worst possible time—and stepped into a golden opportunity that would have been impossible even a month later.
Liberty is meaningless when the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power. — Frederick Douglass, 1860
When I was in school, my history classes went mostly in one ear and out the other without pausing to impact my brain along the way. I'm not sure how all my teachers but one managed to make such a fascinating subject dull, but they did. At least to me; it may be that those who were already interested in the subject managed to thrive. Don't get the wrong impression: I never received a grade lower than an "A" in any of those courses—I just didn't remember much of anything past the final exam.
Therefore I can't necessarily say that I knew nothing about Frederick Douglass until I went to the University of Rochester, where I encountered him every day. Sort of. Our dining hall was in the Frederick Douglass Building. That alone was enough to make what I've learned about the man since then stay with me. The learning process is a strange thing.
I'm still learning more. I ran into the above quotation just this morning. Since it was a Facebook meme, I did some research to make sure that both the quote and the attribution were correct. They are. Douglass was speaking in response to an incident in Boston, when a mob, supported by the governing authorities, shut down an abolitionist meeting. The speech, along with a good explanation of the context, can be found here: Frederick Douglass's "Plea for Freedom of Speech in Boston". It's not long, and I strongly recommending reading it.
I'd rather end this post here. But, sadly, I feel the need to include a reminder that Douglass was also an advocate for women's rights. Too many people have now (sometimes deliberately) forgotten the days when "man" was the general term for human beings of either sex, much as "duck" is the general term for a particular type of waterfowl, both ducks (female) and drakes (male). I don't want anyone feeling negative about this excellent and important speech because of an unwarranted reaction to Douglass's final sentence: "A man’s right to speak does not depend upon where he was born or upon his color. The simple quality of manhood is the solid basis of the right—and there let it rest forever."
I love cooking shows. Most of them are on cable television, which we have never had and I hope will never feel the need to have, but they're a favorite of mine when available on long overseas flights. And then there's YouTube.
Ann Reardon's How to Cook That channel first caught my eye because of her "debunking" videos, in which she tries out and exposes too-good-to-be-true internet "hacks," mostly related to her specialty, food. Here's one (16 minutes).
And here's one for our daughter who has always loved miniatures (6.5 minutes). So has Ann, and in her "Teeny-Weeny Challenges" actually bakes in her miniature kitchen.
These are just some of the sidelights of her channel, however. Mostly she focusses on amazing desserts, and has recently published a cookbook called Crazy Sweet Creations. Here's a basic video on working with chocolate (13.5 minutes).
Are you hungry yet?
Most of Ann's creations are too complex to interest me in attempting them, but they are fun to watch, and I can pick up some interesting tips and tricks along the way.
I've never claimed to be a prophet (those guys are supposed to get it all right), but every once in a while I surprise myself. Looking back through old posts, I found this, which I had posted on January 1, 2020:
Maybe you never wanted to be a rock star. Maybe you don't care much for that music and the genres it spawned. Maybe you aren't interested in a career in the music world at all.
No matter: In the first 22 minutes of this video, Rick Beato has a story to tell you, and some good advice for us all. More of his interesting personal story is told in other videos on his Everything Music channel, but this summarizes his journey and how he faced the obstacles he encountered, including being rejected twice when he applied to music school. He rambles a bit, but it's a good story.
I've posted quite a bit already about and by David Freiheit and his YouTube channel Viva Frei. But he certainly deserves a part in this series, so here it is, along with some new (to here) videos.
David Freiheit is a Canadian lawyer in Montreal, who, worked several years with a big law firm, then started his own commercial litigation practice. During this time his YouTube presence grew, and in 2018 he gave up his practice and took his YouTube channel fulltime. He calls his vlog (video blog) a VLAWG, because his video commentary on current issues from a legal standpoint is what really took off for him. I love seeing American politics from a Canadian point of view, and learning more about life in Canada, especially in Quebec. Occasionally one gets a chance to practice French, but the vlog is in English and Freiheit is good at providing translations.
His style is a little on the crazy side, but he makes legal issues and legal documents interesting, which qualifies him as a miracle worker as far as I'm concerned.
Although Freiheit pulls no punches he is also generally happy, positive, and willing to see more than one side of a situation. He retains his lawyer's caution and willingness to go beyond the surface of a story. Sadly, the pandemic—or more precisely, governmental reaction to the pandemic—is taking its toll on his optimism, but as with much these days, we live in hope that "this too shall pass."
Note: This is a caveat appropriate for all YouTube videos, but especially ones that touch on politics: you may want to avoid the comments. Freiheit is a reasonable and generally even-handed commentator, but not all his followers are so polite.
Another note: You may notice that he uses his own euphemisms for certain words. I don't mean for profanities—he's quite good a keeping his vlog clean without that—but for otherwise normal words that tend to upset the YouTube algorithm and lead to the demonetization or even taking down of videos. Words like "coronavirus," "COVID," and "fraud," for example, have at one time or another been YouTube no-no's. Sometimes he'll also just leave a legal paper or a tweet or letter up on the screen for the audience to read, since apparently YouTube is more likely to object to the spoken word than an image of words. The things you have to do for freedom of speech these days!
There are several different kinds of videos on Viva Frei, and he films in a few different locations. Many of his vlogs are recorded in his car, a concession to the pandemic reality that there's no quiet place in the house. Some are nonetheless done from his basement, and right now he is being quarantined in a family cabin because someone in one of his childrne's classrooms tested positive for COVID. He also vlogs while ice fishing, which I find both interesting and distracting—I tend to worry because even a New Hampshire native would consider the conditions very cold, and he often has bare hands!
My introduction to Freiheit's work was his legal analysis of current issues; even after all this time, I'm still tickled that he can make legal language and legal proceedings interesting. The following video about a lawsuit against Facebook is a good example of that kind, including a short explanation of class-action lawsuit, and it's less than 10 minutes from start to finish.
Here's another, also from his car, showing not so much legal matters as applying a logical legal mind to reveal the facts behind the news story—or in this case, the tweet. (Just over 10 minutes.)
Then there's his "Viva on the Street" series, in which he vlogs while walking along the streets of Montreal with one or both of his dogs, because walking a dog is one of the very few ways in which it is legal for a Québecois to be out after the "temporary, one-month" curfew was imposed back in mid-January. (Spoiler alert: the curfew is still in place.) Since one of his dogs has paralyzed hind legs, and the other is a puppy going blind, he actually spends more time carrying them than letting them walk, but so far the officials haven't fined him—as they've done to those who have been walking their cats, and the one intrepid woman who had her husband on a leash. Dogs only, please.
But I digress. Here's one of the "Viva on the Street" episodes about the curfew (11 minutes).
He also does live streams with American lawyer Robert Barnes, which are fascinating, but who has time to watch for two hours? I wait for the excerpts that he publishes afterwards. I'd post a sample here, but I'd rather not include more than three videos in an introduction. If you get interested in the channel, you'll find the live streams.
And there's more. All in all, it's a fascinating channel, with more videos than I can keep up with—or even want to. If you'd occasionally like to get out of your American news bubble, or your mainstream media bubble, or to know more of the stories behind the headlines, this is a good place to be.
For less in the way of politics and more on everyday life in Quebec, Freiheit has another channel, Viva Family.
Next up in this series of interesting YouTube channel subscriptions: Everything Music, by Rick Beato. I was going to say that I can't remember what introduced me to to Rick Beato's channel, but a look back at one of my own posts gave me the answer: Google apparently decided I would be interested in it, popping up a suggested video on my phone. For once they were right.
My gateway to Beato's channel was the musical abilities of his young son, Dylan. There are several Dylan videos, but this one is a good 13-minute compilation:
It turns out that the Dylan videos are but a small part of Everything Music. Beato covers so much; I'll let him give the intro (13 minutes).
Music theory, film music, modal scales, tales from his own interesting musical history, and a whole lot of modern music about which I know little and like less.
Remember what I said about Excellence and Enthusiasm?
I'm a child of the 60's, chronologically, but unlike most of my generation, I've never liked rock music, nor any of its relatives and derivatives. Granted, growing up when I did there was no getting away from it, and there were a few specific songs I did enjoy. At one point, I was even a minor fan of Jefferson Airplane, and attended one of their wild, live concerts. That point in my life, while embarrassing, reminds me of this line from C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters: "I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Who knows what trouble I might have gotten into in my college years had I not had a stronger taste for what is loosely called classical music?
What, specifically, don't I like about the rock genre(s)?
- The music is almost invariably played at ear-splitting volume, literally ear-damaging.
- Most of the music comes with lyrics, and with a few exceptions, I find that they range from boring to abominable.
- The heavy emphasis on pounding rhythms drives me crazy; I never have liked playing with a metronome.
- The timbre of the electric guitar, nearly ubiquitous in rock music, is one of a very few that I generally find unpleasant (saxophone is another).
Enter Rick Beato. If his son's abilities are astounding, Rick's aren't all that far behind, and his experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm keep me interested in his analysis even though most of his examples are from music I can't stand. It helps a lot that he uses short excerpts, in which neither lyrics nor pounding beats have a chance to do much harm. Plus, I control the volume.
I especially enjoy Rick's videos on modal music, as that has always interested my ear. It does seem really odd to hear him talk about modes without any reference to church music, in which modal music was once really big. But I had no idea how important modes are in rock music and film scoring, and learning through Rick's videos has been a delight. Hiding underneath all that raucous sound and those objectionable lyrics is a lot of complex and very interesting music. It's not going to make me a rock music fan, but it gives me more appreciation for the skill of the musicians behind it—if not for their sometimes questionable moral compasses. (I know, classical composers were not necessarily saints, either. There's a reason I generally prefer instrumental music.) It has also heightened my awareness of the music that undergirds our movies and television shows, and why it is often so powerful.
Here's an interesting Gustav Holtz/John Williams comparison from one of his movie music videos (16 minutes):
That's enough for an introduction; I'm sure I'll be posting more Everything Music videos in the future.
I'm starting a new series of posts featuring YouTube channels I've found interesting and which I think others might enjoy, too. Some were recommended by friends; some I just happened upon in the almost-random way one does online.
Today? Chateau Love.
The writers (producers? hosts?) are friends of ours, so I would have subscribed in any case. But this is also an example of what I wrote about yesterday, of how excellence and enthusiasm draw me into an appreciation of subjects that I might otherwise give a miss.
Our friends Vivienne and Simon have recently started their own vlog (video blog), featuring life at and around their château in France. Without meaning in any way to diminish Simon's many contributions, I'll focus on Vivienne in this introduction because she's clearly the hostess and narrator of the vlog, and because we've known her longer and better.
Vivienne is an artist. I mean a "real" artist, whose paintings have been exhibited in Paris. Now that sounds really impressive, and it is, but you do have to bear in mind that for a number of years Paris was her home. She's an American, married to a Brit—but they've called France home for a long time. When I say she is an artist, however, I mean much more than her paintings. Vivienne puts beauty and elegance into everything she touches, whether it's a small, temporary apartment, a huge French château, a simple meal, a feast for the neighborhood, or a birthday Easter basket for an enchanted guest. Our tastes differ in many respects: not only am I incapable of the amazing feats of home decor Vivienne achieves, but also I wouldn't want that for our house. It's not my style. That does not stop me from standing in awe of the beauty that looks as if it could be in a museum. What she does with food, now—that's welcome in our house any day.
Watching the Chateau Love videos, you might assume that Vivienne and Simon must be wealthy. I assure you they are ordinary human beings with ordinary human struggles and no trust funds! Vivienne is incredibly talented at finding bargains as well as making something both useful and beautiful out of items the rest of us would casually toss in the trash. (See the "Louis XVI coathooks" in Episode 2.)
Vlogging is a new project for them, a bit of pandemic-and-lockdown-stress relief. I'm also excited to watch the growth of Chateau Love as they gain experience and new equipment. May this be a very long-running show!
Below are the first three episodes. So far they have each been just under 30 minutes long, and published on a once-a-week schedule. As a bonus, you can hear music by Vivienne's talented singer sister, Ashley Locheed. And you can occasionally catch glimpses of Janet & Stephan's flower girl—much grown up.
Episode 1: Romance, DIY, A Dodgy Haircut & Who We Are!
For some reason the second video is not playing here on my blog, though the first and third are. You can see it on YouTube itself by clicking on the title link. I'll leave the embedded video up while I try to find out what's going on.
I enter this new year feeling unsettled and, I must admit, somewhat fearful. The best I can offer you on this day (but it is good!) is one of the most inspiring songs I know for uncertain, difficult times. The inspiration comes as much from knowing the author's situation as from the song itself. "Von guten Mächten" is based on a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written to his family as a Christmas greeting from prison, not long before his execution by the Nazis.
There are several settings of Bonhoeffer's text, as well as a few textual variations and of course differences in translation. Below is a popular version that I find incredibly moving. The first is sung by the composer and is beautiful in its simplicity. Best of all it includes English subtitles, at least if your YouTube settings are correct.
The second has no subtitles, but is an absolutely gorgeous orchestral version.
Enjoy, and take hope. Gott ist mit uns am Abend und am Morgen und ganz gewiß an jedem neuen Tag.
Here is the full German text, followed by what Google Translate has to say about it. Don't miss the additional verses.
Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben,
behütet und getröstet wunderbar,
so will ich diese Tage mit euch leben
und mit euch gehen in ein neues Jahr.
Noch will das alte unsre Herzen quälen,
noch drückt uns böser Tage schwere Last.
Ach Herr, gib unsern aufgeschreckten Seelen
das Heil, für das du uns geschaffen hast.
Und reichst du uns den schweren Kelch, den bittern
des Leids, gefüllt bis an den höchsten Rand,
so nehmen wir ihn dankbar ohne Zittern
aus deiner guten und geliebten Hand.
Doch willst du uns noch einmal Freude schenken
an dieser Welt und ihrer Sonne Glanz,
dann wolln wir des Vergangenen gedenken,
und dann gehört dir unser Leben ganz.
Laß warm und hell die Kerzen heute flammen,
die du in unsre Dunkelheit gebracht,
führ, wenn es sein kann, wieder uns zusammen.
Wir wissen es, dein Licht scheint in der Nacht.
Wenn sich die Stille nun tief um uns breitet,
so laß uns hören jenen vollen Klang
der Welt, die unsichtbar sich um uns weitet,
all deiner Kinder hohen Lobgesang.
Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen,
erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag.
Gott ist bei uns am Abend und am Morgen
und ganz gewiß an jedem neuen Tag.
Faithfully and quietly surrounded by good powers,
wonderfully protected and comforted,
so I want to live with you these days
and go with you into a new year.
The old one still wants to torment our hearts
We are still burdened by bad days.
Oh Lord, give to our frightened souls
the salvation for which you made us.
And you hand us the heavy goblet, which is bitter
of sorrow filled to the top,
so we gratefully accept it without trembling
from your good and beloved hand.
But do you want to give us joy again
in this world and its sunshine,
then we want to remember the past,
and then you own our life entirely.
Let the candles burn warm and bright today,
that you brought into our darkness
bring us together again if you can.
We know that your light shines in the night.
When the silence now spreads deep around us
so let us hear that full sound
the world that invisibly expands around us,
all your children high praise.
By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
we expect confidently what may come.
God is with us in the evening and in the morning
and certainly every new day.