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When Genius Bombs

[In honor of Norman Mailer. And in response to boodle discussion. From The Post, April 16, 1995]

When Genius Bombs

By J.A.

Scene IV. Another part of the forest.

Enter DEMETRIUS and CHIRON, with LAVINIA, ravished; her hands cut off, and her tongue cut out.

Dem. So, now go tell, an if thy tongue can speak,

Who 'twas that cut thy tongue and revish'd thee.

Chi. Write down thy mind, bewray thy meaning so,

An if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe.
Dem. See, how with signs and tokens she can scrowl.

Chi. Go home, call for sweet water, wash thy hands.

Dem. She hath no tongue to call, nor hands to wash;

And so let's leave her to her silent walks . . . That's "Titus Andronicus." It's by Shakespeare, early in his career, in his "Pulp Fiction" phase.

The basic plot is, everyone stabs and rapes and mutilates everyone else while speaking in verse, and then they all die. Lavinia's may be the worst speaking role in the history of the stage. Character development is not the play's strength. At the beginning of the play Titus Andronicus is a cruel warmonger; by the end, he's exactly the same, a cruel warmonger.

Die, die Lavinia, and thy shame with thee;

[Kills Lavinia].

And, with thy shame, thy father's sorrow die!

For centuries, Shakespearean scholars have been stumped by the play. It's so . . . awful. Mention "Titus Andronicus" to Harold Bloom, English professor at Yale and policeman of the Western canon, and he immediately says, "Boy, is that bad. It's just a bloodbath. There's not a memorable line in it."

The Bard, bad? How's that possible? Isn't Shakespeare the greatest writer in the history of the English language, pulling away from the pack like Secretariat at the Belmont? How could the same guy write "King Lear" and this crappy thing?

Here's the best explanation: Geniuses mess up too. This is a phenomenon that permeates the creative world.

There is bad Beethoven. There are failed Picassos. There are incorrect theories by Albert Einstein. Duke Ellington would be the first to say that some riffs worked better than others. In the 1940s Orson Welles made both the instant classic "Citizen Kane" and the instant trivia answer "The Lady From Shanghai."

Just because you are a great composer named Wagner doesn't mean that everything you do will be Wagnerian. Leon Botstein, a composer and president of Bard College, says of Richard Wagner's "Centennial March," "It's a dog. He did it for the money."

The Beatles: geniuses, right? Explain, then, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." Explain "Run for Your Life."

You'd better run for your life if you can, little girl.

Hide your head in the sand, little girl.

If I catch you with another man, that's the end-ah, little girl.

"Even outstanding people have phenomenal failures. That's why so many people don't achieve success, because the first time they fail they think they can't be successful," says Dean Keith Simonton, a psychologist at the University of California at Davis and author of "Greatness: Who Makes History and Why." In his book he writes, "Creative geniuses stumble; they trip; they make horrible mistakes. Their highest and most acclaimed successes are constructed on the low rubble of humiliating failures."

Genius is a romanticized form of intelligence and talent. We like to imagine that genius emerges from the artist like perspiration, dripping all over the place. When the reputation of a creative genius reaches a certain point -- the super-genius status of a Leonardo or a Shakespeare or a Beethoven -- there is a natural tendency among scholars to save every sketch, note, letter, scribble, coffee stain and discarded hankie from the hand of the Great One. John Lennon wrote some short stories; they were promptly labeled "Joycean" by admiring critics.

Over time the master artist takes on the character of a superbeing, a cartoon genius. A piano is to Lizst as a hammer is to Thor, God of Thunder. We can imagine Beethoven composing by day and solving baffling murders by night.

The problem here is not that geniuses are overrated. If anything, the intellectual fashion is anti-genius, anti-masterpiece. There are academic circles in which it is considered daft to believe that some individuals are smarter and better and more talented than others. Suggest such a thing and people will look at you like you're an imbecile.

The problem with "genius" is that it doesn't give the great talents their due for working hard and plodding through difficult problems and taking chances and knowing which ideas to dump and which to deliver. Geniuses create the same way total ding-dongs create. Geniuses still have to put on their paint one stroke at a time.

Picasso would paint something, look at it -- at this point it would fetch a staggering price simply because it was a Picasso -- and then just paint over it, start again, because it wasn't good enough.

W.H. Auden once said, "The chances are that, in the course of his lifetime, the major poet will write more bad poems than the minor."

Herein lies the lesson for everyone, the pros, the amateurs, the dumb-dumbs, anyone who has ever tried to think creatively. Humans are by nature a creative species, but we have to learn to manage our creativity, feed it, weed it, prune it, whack it back if necessary. We have to forgive our mistakes. No one is always brilliant.

Children instinctively know this. It is only as they grow up that society drums into their little noggins the fact that they're without real talent and ought to put down the crayons and the finger paint and learn to watch television like everyone else.

But if geniuses can fail, then perhaps there is hope that the converse is true: That the mediocre minds of the world, due to luck, courage, or the random distribution of quality, are not immune to spasms of greatness.

Picasso's 'Fakes'

There's an anecdote about Picasso, possibly apocryphal, that illustrates the phenomenon. An art dealer was trying to sell a painting by Picasso to a potential buyer. The buyer said he wasn't sure of its authenticity, and wanted the artist himself to vouch for it. Picasso was summoned. He looked at the painting and said it was a fake. The buyer left. The dealer was perplexed. He turned to Picasso and said, "Didn't you tell me yourself that you painted it?" "I did," said Picasso. "I often paint fakes."

That's the standard response of many scholars when faced with something lousy by a great master. Can't be real, they say. Gotta be by someone else. Often the only reason to doubt the authenticity of the work is simply that it's not so hot. It's just unacceptably mediocre.

For example, desperate scholars have occasionally argued that Shakespeare didn't write "Titus Andronicus," or that he had a collaborator. Shakespeare himself never put his name on any published version -- he surely knew it was dreck. His contemporaries gave him authorial credit, but that did not squelch the theory that it was, at the very least, a collaboration, and the "bad parts" have been blamed on some knucklehead named George Peele. But in 1943 the scholar Hereward T. Price, after poring over all the evidence and theories, wrote, "We must conclude, however regretfully, that Shakespeare was the author of 'Titus Andronicus.' "

Mistakes and errors are integral to the process of creation. As the poet James Fenton said in a recent lecture at Oxford, the text of which was reprinted in the New York Review of Books, "For a productive life, and a happy one, each failure must be felt and worked through. It must form part of the dynamic of your creativity."

George Bernard Shaw talked about the "field theory" of creativity, borrowing a term from physics. Good ideas do not exist alone but in a larger field of imagination. As a young man Shaw wrote five novels. Can you name one? Shaw had to work through his novelist phase before he could arrive, in his late thirties, as a playwright.

Shaw believed in productivity -- just keep writing, was his advice to everyone. Norma Jenckes, a Shaw scholar at the University of Cincinnati, says Shaw's attitude was that "you had to write yourself through all sorts of things, and then something might become your masterpiece."

[It's a long story...howzabout I post part 2 later in the week]


The long-term medical costs of the Iraq war may be greater than the direct costs of the war itself, according to a new report from Physicians for Social Responsibility. Check it out.

By Joel Achenbach  |  November 12, 2007; 5:11 PM ET
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Next: When Genius Bombs, Part 2



Posted by: Scottynuke | November 12, 2007 5:21 PM | Report abuse

A belated congratulations to Scotty and Spouse. Great pictures. You both look very happy, especially you Scotty! Having met you both I can say that she is terrific and you are lucky. My very best wishes to both of you.

Posted by: Bad Sneakers | November 12, 2007 5:23 PM | Report abuse

From Scottynuke:

So yes, NukeSpouse and I have taken the plunge. Thank you all very much for your kind wishes! *blushing* :-)

No, we didn't widely advertise things ahead of time. Several factors led us to decide on a short engagement, and it was more than enough fun handling the logistics to get family members here. We're very indebted to the Boodlers who were able to make it.

I sweated over the forecast last week, but Sunday afternoon couldn't have been any better. At least I thought so, but I was the only one not wearing a jacket, so my perception's probably skewed.

Anyway, the sky was clear, the sun was bright (you'll probably notice more than a little squinting in the pics), and Great Falls was its usual stunning self. Or perhaps a little more stunning than usual, as a helicopter showed up JUST as we were getting started. At first we thought RDP was making a late appearance, but in fact a couple of foolhardy kayakers were actually going THROUGH the falls! I noticed several park rangers on the banks before we got going again.

It was all a bit of a blur, but we've got rings on our fingers and papers showing we said all the proper things, so it seems to have worked out properly, despite our excellent celebrant referring to a "Susan" at one point. The celebrant had a full schedule, so perhaps it was a bit of wedding crosstalk.

My family, NukeSpouse's friends and the redoubtable Boodlers then headed over to, where else, M&S and took over the usual BPH spot for a few hours. The food and spirits were delightful, but no match for the company and good times. And yes, we pondered how perfect it would have been to get married in Mianus, CT.

Thank you all again!!! :-)

Posted by: Achenbach | November 12, 2007 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for a very brilliant and funny part 1, Joel.

I'm still laughing. As Weird Al Yankovic wrote, "Dare to be Stupid."

(Dang, we should get that yellow outfit for S'nuke.)

(Lyrics: )

That's what a genius must do-- dare to be stupid, if he wants to seek brilliance. Because you know, if it was easy to find, everybody would already have found it.

It is true that Babe Ruth had the world record for the most homeruns... and the most strike-outs. In honor, here's a song parody:

"When ideas hit your eye like a big pizza pie, That's genius
When your face seems to shine like you've had too much wine
That's Genius
Critics will razzle-ling-a-ling, razzle-ling-a-ling
And you'll wail "I tried, fella"
Heads will shake tsky-tippy-tay, tsky-tippy-tay
Like a gay tarantella

When feedback makes you feel foolish just like back in school
That's genius
When you schlep down the street with a cloud in your head
You're inspir'd
When you walk in a dream but you know you're not
crazy signore
Scuzza me, but you see, with some hard toil or luck
That's genius...."

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 12, 2007 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Great pictures, Scotty.

Nice JA, very nice.

Posted by: dr | November 12, 2007 6:03 PM | Report abuse

S'nuke, congratulations on a low-key wedding next to a waterfall. You're lucky, man. You could have been in a suit, if not a tux.

Don't forget those important words:

"Mawwage, that bwessed awwangement. That dweam wivin a dweam. so tweasurw your wuv."

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 12, 2007 6:04 PM | Report abuse

In a pseudo-repost, I guess I am having a problem with nomenclature. We are expecting too much from the word Genius. It cannot mean both talent coupled with hard work *and* transcendent effortless ability.

I like the Edison quote,"Genius is 1% Inspiration and 99% Perspiration" because it recognizes this contradiction. Edison is making an ironic little joke. He is saying, hey, what I do may look like the work of a genius, but it is actually just the result of a hard-working man.

This is an attractive philosophy because it is humble, it is enabling since it offers hope of greatness to all willing to work, and it suggests that the speaker is worthy of being considered virtuous because of his sweat.

The remaining question, though, is if we accept the term Genius to mean the former definition of talent and hard work, what, dare I ask, do we call the latter?

I keep thinking that "Genius" is far too grand a word for workaday brilliance.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 12, 2007 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Harold Bloom may be a genius. I adore his writing about writing.

Nice person sidebar: John Mather is very smart but I don't think he is a genius, nor would he claim to be one. However, he is brilliant and accomplished and one heck of a nice guy.

Gertrude Jekyll might be a genius.

Teilhard de Chardin might be.

Darwin might.

Gandhi, possibly.

Einstein likely.

St. Francis, again, likely.

I believe that Shakespeare is.

Perhaps time helps us assess this quicksilver of a trait. Innovation might be one way to consider this. Were tables turned? Are we not the same, for that person having lived?

Posted by: College Parkian | November 12, 2007 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Oh thank goodness scotty has posted the photos and whatnot, and the embargo has been broken. I've been wanted to talk about the wedding since last evening when we got home, but didn't want to say anything if scotty wanted to maintain his low profile.

First, it was a terrific setting there at Great Falls Park, and the celebrant was terrific (even despite her minor faux pas at calling Nukespouse "Susan" instead of her real name). And it was fun meeting Nukespawn, who did double duty dispensing not one but two rings, and being maid of honor/best person.

But I think the most enjoyable part for Mrs. Curmudgeon and me was meeting a large part of scotty's family, his parents and two brothers and their sig. others/spouses. (I told scotty in an e-mail this morning that I have a crush on his sister-in-law. I figure I'm safe as long as he doesn't tell his brother...or my wife.)

Scotty's brothers are really cool guys. And one thing was especially cool (but not surprising): if you closed your eyes and listened to, say, 50 men talking, you could pick scotty's brothers out of the audio lineup, because they have exactly the same speech patterns. And at one point his older brother, whom I was sitting next to, laughed at something, and he has exactly the same laugh as scotty (who was sitting on my right, so wqhen there was a joke--and there were many, many last night -- it was kinda like stereo.)

Also, scotty and his entire family have very strong backgrounds and interests in theater -- both professionally and on a quasi-amateur level as actors, directors, etc. In fact, his younger brother met his future wife (the one of whom I am enamored) by joining the theater crew on a production of which she was the stage manager. The old "Gee, can I help you with the props and lighting" ploy, that sly devil, and she fell for it. He's currently directing a play right now himself, though I didn't get the details. But all the theater shop talk among the sons and their parents was really impressive.

The Boodle and BPHers will be happy to know that the honor of the Achenblog and the Boodle were upheld by the Shop Steward, who, acting in that official capacity, delivered the first toast to "Scotty and Suddenly Susan."

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 12, 2007 6:14 PM | Report abuse

I am late to the party, or the discussion of the party, but much happiness to Mr. and Mrs. Scotty Nuke!

Posted by: nellie | November 12, 2007 6:24 PM | Report abuse

This [laugh out loud and share parts with the family] kit is a great complement to the previous bit about the crime profilers.

Posted by: TBG | November 12, 2007 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Best wishes to Scottynuke and his bride. That's the way to do it....short and sweet. Hope you get a nice honeymoon.

Joel, loved the kit. There is hope for all who travail. Even the ding-dongs.

Posted by: birdie | November 12, 2007 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for a splendid Part I, Joel. I'm with RD on the nomenclature issue, though.

I'll point out that Titus isn't genius by a long shot but it has its charms. For one thing, it is fun to perform. Titus himself is a real part to tear a cat in, and he's not the only one. Our Shakespeare company here did Titus last year and had a lot of laughs. No, really. Also, let me point out that Lavinia does in fact manage to tell who attacked her - she holds a stick with her wrist stubs and writes in the sand. So there.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 12, 2007 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Holding a stick with your wrist stubs... now THAT's genius!

Posted by: TBG | November 12, 2007 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Well, I'm back from two glorious weeks in the west of Ireland. We spent a few days in Donegal and the rest of the time in Co. Clare.

If you haven't been there, the Burren in Co. Clare is the most amazing geology on the planet. I think it must look like the moon or Arizona, two places I haven't been. Limestone galore.

We spent the week in a cottage across the road from Galway Bay, where, yes, we watched the sun go down. The weather was fantastic. Rolling clouds giving way to brilliant sunlight highlighting the 30,000 shades of green in the fields. Cows mooing and taking over the roads. Sheeps spattered from paint ball battles, I suppose, to identify them when the time comes. And the people, short tall, red-blond-black-brown beauties, all of them. Sparkling blue and brown eyes, many winking, and all smiling.

We visited the now-abandoned fancy house where my great grandmother was in service. We immediately spun a pipe dream to purchase and renovate it. We also drove past the house where my grandfather was born and brought up. Not abandoned, but no one home either.

We didn't see Yoki as she was in Dublin, but wouldn't that have been just so cool!

Yay, ScottyNuke! May you live happily ever after!

Posted by: Maggie O'D | November 12, 2007 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Here's a song my father used to sing to me....

Galway Bay

If you ever go across the sea to Ireland
Be it only at the closing of your day
You can sit and watch the moon rise over Cladagh
And see the sun go down on Galway Bay

Just to see again the ripple on the trout stream
The women in the meadow making hay
Or to sit beside a turf fire in a cabin
And watch the barefoot gasuns at their play

For the breezes blowing o'er the sea from Ireland
Are perfumed by the heather as they blow
And the women in the highlands diggin' pratties
Speak a language that the strangers do not know


And the strangers came and tried to teach us their ways
And scorned us for being what we are
But they might as well go chasing after moonbeams
Or light a penny candle on a star

And if there's going to be a life hereafter
And somehow I feel sure there's going to be
I will ask my god to let me spend my heaven
In that dear isle across the Irish Sea

Posted by: Maggie O'D | November 12, 2007 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Maybe it's an older-folk type thing, but most people around my age really like Titus Andronicus (I'm 26). Well people around my age that know what it is anyways.

To me it's a powerful story like Hamlet, but on a more primal level. Hamlet implicates our senses as we experience it but Titus implicates our sensibilities as we are carried toward the selfish and blood-soaked conclusion.

I've neer thought people gave it credit for how groundbreaking it was and kinda is today. I think this play invented "ultra-violence" hundreds of years before this country became obsessed sex and violence in our entertainment. And it has sexualized violence as well, which has never been an easy topic to work with successfully.

I can't think of any other reason other than the age-culture barrier as to why so many people I've met count it as one of their favorites of the Bard's while conventional wisdom describes it as a failure.

The book in which I first read it went as far as a whole diatribe about how Titus wasn't really a work of Shakespeare, but just a piece that unfairly became attributed to him over time. I've always thought that writer was just bitter that Shakespeare dared to write something that appeared vulgar instead of another high society romp.

Posted by: pwemail21 | November 12, 2007 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Very interesting, pwemail21. In fact Titus does seem accessible to today's popular culture in ways that some of the Bard's other plays are not. Selfish, blood-soaked and ultraviolent are all good descriptions. However, there are flashes of recognizable Shakespeare in there, and some good speeches. The thing is really about honor and loyalty in a culture which values neither, and what happens when an honorable man is insulted and injured past endurance.

The Boy notes that Midsummer Night's Dream (in which he has appeared now thrice) is a really good show, but at some points in it Shakespeare got off into a whole other thing, going into completely random subjects. He suggests these are often cut in performance. He also says Titus has a lot of action.

Julie Traymore did a killer movie of Titus, with Anthony Hopkins. I look forward to the day when the Boy is old enough to watch it. The hold-up is the menace and violence -- he's already heard the language.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 12, 2007 7:52 PM | Report abuse

College Parkian, let me differ with you on one point in your list of possible genii, in which I know a thing or two.

To me, there is absolutely no question that Albert Einstein was a true genius. No "likely" about it. I will not admit a hint of doubt in this category. The man was a highly capable mathematician, but his greatest and most far-reaching triumphs employed mathematics at the high school level -- Special Relativity, radiative equilibrium, and the photo-electric effect. There is nothing in the basics of these theories that requires calculus, it's all simple algebra. The sign of his genius is in stating a simple axiom of enormous power, previously unrecognized, and following that concept to its inevitable conclusion. Never in a million years could I, nor anyone I know, have seized on those axioms (speed of light is a constant, light is a photon (particle) whose energy and frequency are inextricably linked in all cases (not just Planck's special case), and matter binds its electrons with a specific "surface pressure" that can be overcome by absorbing photons of light), contrary to all prior thought, and carried them to the point of explaining that which experiment had found but which had been inexplicable and written off as experimental errors. Insight, confidence, and unblinking professional honesty. That there -- that's genius.

I've never been so enamored of Edison's 1%/99% dictum, even though I think it is not far from the technical truth. Far from a statement of modesty, however, it was a statement of smugness, a self-righteous attitude of arrogance that made every success a self-made success and ignored the labors of Edison's many assistants, technicians, competitors, and predecessors. Edison recognized hard work as the ultimate virtue, and he judged himself the ultimate avatar of that virtue. Edison called his sleeping 4 hours a night a virtue, rather than insomnia, and claimed that he thus mustered more waking working hours than lazy competitors and underlings; conveniently ignoring his many catnaps throughout the day, necessitated by his poor night-time sleep. His patented inventions were his work alone, rather than the efforts of talented employees who were required to sign work-for-hire agreements and sign over all patent rights to the president of the company. Brilliant and hard-working, yes; but also a jerk and intellectual highwayman.

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 12, 2007 8:25 PM | Report abuse

RD, when you learn something easily, with little effort, I would call it a gift or a talent, to distinguish it from other forms of genius under discussion.

The latin word is /indoles/ for genius, talent. It means "no pain/painless" (Hence our word "indolent", meaning at ease, lazy, slow, painless.) The term for "of great promise"= /bonae indolis/

Genius nowadays normally refers to somebody who has an IQ score of 135, 140 or 180 or higher. It's an artificial term. By extension, the appellation "genius" may be given to a polymath (somebody who has learned many different fields), because of course they must be pretty smart to learn all that, even if they've never had an IQ test.

But not all geniuses, whether by IQ or achivement, are polymaths.

The artistic "genius" is somebody who has achieved such a notable cultural splash that he could in fact be called a "genius temporis" (the essence of his age), akin to "genius loci" (the spirit or essence of a place). This hearks back to the original meaning of the word.

In latin, genius is from "gens" (tribe/clan/kindred). Grammatically, it indicates "A thing belonging to a clan". Genius is the essence or guardian spirit of that clan. The meaning generalized to genius locii (A guardian spirit of a house).

If you want to say a genius is somebody who is completely unique, then the classical term is:
/sus generis/ ("one of a kind"), which most people who we deem cultural geniuses indeed are.

Confused yet? The article saying "Genius" derived from the Greek is not quite right. Genesis IS a related word, but it is not the direct ancestor.

We have to go all the way to the indigenous Indo-European root to find the genesis of the kingly genius that engendered such endless cognates.

Is it so surprising that "genius" has multiple meanings?

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 12, 2007 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Edison was also a school dropout who was deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other. It is unusual to find an inventor who is a good businessman and works on producing his inventions. But he learned the hard way that he had to have a demand for his inventions.

I also want to mention if Edison was a prick, Alexander Graham Bell must have been an even bigger prick. He couldn't build his telephone he designed; he had Watson help build it. Watson did get a share of the royalties.

However, Bell's original receiver was not well designed and he finally had to use a better receiver designed by Edision.

Even if you see him as "merely" somebody who exploited others' genius (doubtful), I've never heard of any other business generating so many inventions and patents in such diverse fields without being significantly bigger (like IBM).

It is true he made nearly no contribution to pure science. He was not a scientist.

However he has made an immeasurable difference to building the foundation of modern communications and electronics; mass producing, making technology affordable, and establishing intellectual property rights.

He wouldn't have done that if he hadn't learned that an invention needs to be marketable to be useful.

Bill Gates is the nearest comparsion to Edison in that regard.

Nikola Tesla is possibly a greater genius as he did both theoretical and practical applications in electronics and was fluent in 7 languages, but he was also eccentric and died poor. And he could be mean, too, especially about women.

Everybody has their flaws. And Tesla was Edison's biggest detractor; he had been an employee of Edison once.

I don't think there's much doubt Einstein is the /Genius/ of modern physics.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 12, 2007 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Maggie... so glad you had a wonderful time in the Old Country. It's amazing to realize you're standing where your grandparents stood as young people. Does something to your soul no matter where it is.

Posted by: TBG | November 12, 2007 9:12 PM | Report abuse

Joel's point that great achievement comes from brilliant people who work like hell is obviously true. As his his observation that even the most gifted can massively mess up. (Spielberg. 1942. What *was* he thinking?)

I just would never call such people geniuses. For this is a special term.

Perhaps I feel this way because from the age of 18 onwards I have been surrounded by many fantastically brilliant people who have done amazing things. Yet none of these would I ever call a genius, nor would few refer to themselves that way, because the connotations of the term are so extreme.

Although I hear they have some in Japan.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 12, 2007 10:03 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I can agree with you on the reluctance to label people geniuses.

Geniuses aren't supposed to be people you ask if they could please pass the salt. Yet somebody has to pass the salt. Why not them?
What, did God give them brains and short them on hands?

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 12, 2007 10:24 PM | Report abuse

Having been a member of Mensa, which for membership requires a score in the top 2 percent in at least one *intelligence* test, I can confidently assert that good testing skills do not geniuses make. Nor does high intelligence make a person a superachiever, on the level of Shakespeare, Einstein, Picasso, or Beethoven, to name a few. I agree with Cassandra, it's a gift, but Joel is right about the work. That's why I would never be a superachiever, I'm not driven to work that hard. I am basically lazy.

Posted by: Slyness | November 12, 2007 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Yes, again, the terms get mixed up way too much.

There are few people who are going to be unilaterally considered a Genius of a specific field or movement within a field of art.
The best you can hope to achieve is to be in the top of your field, and then see if history makes you a Genius or not.

Yet being at the "top" doesn't always mean you are doing the best work out there.

Van Gogh wasn't really considered a major artist until after his death. Maybe in person, he was so hard to deal with socially that nobody could look past HIM to his artwork, who knows?

Likewise, a lot of poets praised in their time seem hopelessly trite or artifical today.

So the wisest decision is to do the best you can do, in what captures your interest the most and by your own standards, and hope that someday people will agree with you.

And to always pass the salt when asked.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 12, 2007 10:35 PM | Report abuse

A bad work by a genius: Slapstick, Or Lonesome No More.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 12, 2007 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Just wanted to check in and let everyone know I'm back home. Got in a bit late because of a "communication repair" that had to be done on the plane for the last leg of my trip. But Mr Lurking told me that would be good, because he was still working on the bathroom remodel (90% done - too bad the last 10% includes water and heat - and we have water now - yay!).

Had a fabulous time with kbertocci. I took some pictures, but also did my usual trick of leaving the camera in the wrong bag, or not being quick enough. The Miami Book Fair was great. We saw Cal Thomas on his way to talk - could have shaken his hand if we had wanted to (we did not). We chatted with Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson and got a picture with them. (Dave asked us if Joel was at the book fair, to which I said, "Wouldn't *you* know if Joel was here?") Anyway, more on all that later - I am way tired.

Scottynuke, congratulations! Lovely spot for a wedding.

Posted by: mostlylurking | November 12, 2007 10:45 PM | Report abuse

Yellojkt! Even such a devout Vonnegut fan as yourself can point out when the emperor has no clothes. Good of you.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 12, 2007 10:51 PM | Report abuse

mostlylurking, glad to hear you made it home safely. Thanks for coming! I had a lot more fun because you were here than I would have on my own.

I have put up the first installment of the adventure on my blog. Please don't expect high quality literary content, as I say at the beginning of the blog, I'm still recovering from the experience.

Off to bed now. Best to all--

Posted by: kbertocci | November 12, 2007 10:56 PM | Report abuse

I was all ready to get all umbragy:

Slapshot a bad work? What! Oh, sorry.

My credentials in the "not genius" category were assured by not having even (i) heard (/i) of Gertrude Jekyll. I won't add fuel to the fire by stating the thoughts that came to mind.

Although, I was heartened by reading the WaPo piece on genius and seeing that Picasso did 400 drawings for his Desmoiselles work.

Posted by: SonofCarl | November 12, 2007 11:07 PM | Report abuse

I missed the Mensa cutoff.

Nice Achenscavengers. Good to see the Potomac has some water in it. I discovered the Great Falls while on a family outing when I was in high school. Seemed cooler than the stuff downtown.

Now that Beethoven's symphonies are being played at something resembling the fast tempos that he evidently intended (by conductors like Baltimore's Marin Alsop, who did a terrific 5th down here a couple of years ago), their complex not-quite-repetitions and sudden changes in direction seem all the more strange and demanding. I wonder how the poor musicians coped with some of these works, the first time around.

Then there's Antonín Dvořák. He got better and better. Same with Béla Bartók, who went out in a fit of creativity.

This guy has an awesome output. So why haven't I read anything by him?

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 13, 2007 12:09 AM | Report abuse

Cheap Hydrogen! Buy your Mr. Fusion generators now!

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 13, 2007 12:51 AM | Report abuse

Scotty, congratulations to you and your Mrs. Wishing you both a life fill with happiness.

RD, hope you had a memorable day celebrating your anniversary. Painting a guest bedroom can be memorable, can't it?

Posted by: rainforest | November 13, 2007 4:47 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the repost, Joel, and thank you, thank you, thank you once again to everyone for their kind wishes!! :-)

A particular thanks to 'Mudge for his observations, which are on the mark as always. NukeSibling the Younger's Wife is a doll for sure, and your secret's safe with me. ;-)

*back-to-the-daily-grind-but-with-an-extra-spring-in-my-step Grover waves*

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 13, 2007 5:09 AM | Report abuse

'Morning, Boodle.

Eugene Robinson has an excellent column on "socialized medicine" this morning with some eye-opening stats, which most people will proceed to ignore, unfortunately. Richard Cohen has some delusion that Michael Bloomberg would make a great president (and might even be running, who knows?). And Michael Shear has an excellent piece that explains -- without ever remotely going close to the topic -- why Fred Thompson will not only never be president, nor ever be a good president, but won't even win the nomination. (The brilliance of the piece is it doesn't say anything like that. But there it all is. A nice piece of work.)

Ya know, I'm beginning to think three-day holidays are he11. Here it is Tuesday morning, my butt is already dragging, every bone in my body aches-- and the week hasn't even started yet.


*faxing myself some Geritol and chicken soup it couldn't hurt*

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 13, 2007 6:21 AM | Report abuse

*faxin' 'Mudge a little of the extra spring in my step*


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 13, 2007 7:30 AM | Report abuse

SciTim's excellent defense of Einstein's genius makes me think that genius might be field-specific. I had not known that the math behind his innovative thinking was so simple. Wow. I yield to the excellent ScTim.

SoC: Gertrude J. changed gardening single-handedly, against an entrenched Victorian/Edwardian definition of annuals stacked geometrically in circumscribed plots. She managed to remind -- revolutionarily -- about both the natural pairings of plants and the "lost" cottage instinct for flowers. She would have been a painter but her eyesight was mole-like. Frosti may chime in here.

I think the notion of revolution or turning a field on its head is part of genius. Genius peepls are able to "see" what is right in front of us. I think that Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank may also be genius.

RD is right to remind us that brilliance is not genius.

Posted by: College Parkian | November 13, 2007 8:15 AM | Report abuse

peeps or people


Weebles wobble but they don't fall down. (This 1970s retro advertising moment brought to you by TVLand)

Weebles are not, repeat not, the Fisher-Price Little People of the sixties.

Posted by: College Parkian | November 13, 2007 8:26 AM | Report abuse

When I read Joel's line, "We can imagine Beethoven composing by day and solving baffling murders by night," my first thought was that it's a shame the tv writers are on strike.

Christopher Lloyd would (of course) play the great composer-detective. He'd shout a lot and miss obvious clues in witness statements because of his deafness. But he'd have a sidekick - perhaps an attractive young woman named Elise - to help him (and provide simmering sexual tension, à la early "Moonlighting", and of course a catchphrase (maybe something like, "This note's for you").

And when the culprit was unmasked, those epic four notes from the composer's Fifth would sound: "I submit, Herr von Richthofen, that it was *you* who murdered the Abbot!" [Duh-duh-duh-DAHHHH.]

Posted by: byoolin | November 13, 2007 8:45 AM | Report abuse

While not quite in the genius category, Maureen Dowd made an allusion to John Irving's Ellen James Society the other day. Ellen James was fictional twelve year old rape victim in *The World According To Garp* who inspired a fictional group of radical feminists and a real life rock band. The Titus Andronicus quote made me wonder if that is where Irving got his idea.

Posted by: Mo MoDo | November 13, 2007 8:45 AM | Report abuse

SCC: close bracket after the word "Moonlighting".

Posted by: byoolin | November 13, 2007 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Rainforest - Indeed, after we finished painting the guest bedroom a warm color termed "Blush Beige" (who comes up with these names?) the Mrs. and I shared a nice dinner of high quality Chinese takeout and a bottle of moderately priced domestic champagne. Can we party or what?

So between ScottyNuke's nuptials and the Padouk Anniversary Extravaganza it was a good weekend indeed.

Although I clearly can't handle my champagne the way I once could. Unless, of course, it was the paint fumes.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 13, 2007 9:19 AM | Report abuse

RD, your 10:30 of last evening made me laugh out loud.

Slyness says earlier that she is basically lazy. I think that this is the real crux of the matter. For too long laziness has been a symbol of sloth and detritus.

Lazy means you find the most efficient way of doing any particular thing because why would you do 10 steps when you can do 2. Behind every genius there is a lazy person figuring out how to use the genius.

The assembly line is basically a lazy man's invention, the dishwasher, lazy man, washing machine? You got it, lazy man. (Insert person, perhaps)

Lazy people may be derided for a hundred different things, but lazy people of the world unite. Lazy people secretly rule the

This has always been my defense.

Posted by: dr | November 13, 2007 9:23 AM | Report abuse

dr - never underestimate the creative abilities that can be stimulated by sloth.

For one of the reasons why I boodle a lot is that I have cleverly programmed several real big 'puters to do analyses that otherwise would require more extensive human intervention. So I have long chunks of time when I simply have to monitor the system to make sure it doesn't crash.

This is the power of positive laziness.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 13, 2007 9:29 AM | Report abuse


Heinlein had it pegged: Yesterday's lazy man is today's "efficiency engineer."


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 13, 2007 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Career NCO that he was, Frostdaddy has an on-boodle theory of reinstating the draft. For years he has maintained that smart, lazy folks make good soldiers-they find the most efficient way to get things done, and often get too bored to sit doing nothing so they pick up some other problem to solve. On the other hand, he fears lowered standards let a lot of highly motivated dullards into the force. Nothing worse than someone working super diligently, in the wrong direction. (It should be noted "highly motivated dullard" is how Frostdaddy described the prez before he involved us in the current debacle.)

Posted by: frostbitten | November 13, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

are you reincarnated royalty:


I question question three. I knew the answer to half this question but got it wrong because I am apparently not a very good celebritologist.

Also got 7 and 8 wrong

Posted by: Anonymous | November 13, 2007 9:38 AM | Report abuse

dr, I completely agree with your statements, I consider my lazy nature a gift to over achievers, if it were not for people like me who would notice that they are over achievers. :-)

Posted by: dmd | November 13, 2007 9:39 AM | Report abuse

7/10 on the quiz. I invoke my right to appeal at a later date.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 13, 2007 9:46 AM | Report abuse

I'm 9:38 AM

Posted by: omni | November 13, 2007 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Byoolin, "Duh-duh-duh-DAHHHH" has been de-monumentalized by the likes of conductor Marin Alsop. She went to the podium and quickly, skipping the usual 20-second wait to setttle the audience, launched right into "da-da-da-DAH-da. . . ", scurrying right along. C'mon, audience, we're moving on. No time to look back!

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 13, 2007 9:48 AM | Report abuse

dmd, your comment reminded me of a recent storyline in "Zits" - Jeremy dates an overachiever. This one made me laugh:

Posted by: kbertocci | November 13, 2007 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Yup that cartoon suit me, "What goes with Ice Cream" - my answer would be carmel sauce.

6/10 on the quiz - pure luck as I guessed on all but one.

Posted by: dmd | November 13, 2007 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Dave, your description of "the usual 20-second wait to setttle the audience" reminded me of George Harrison's Concerts for Bangladesh.

Ravi Shankar and his band were on stage tuning their instruments and when they had everything ready to go, stopped to wait for Ravi to count them in. The crowd didn't know from Indian music, so they assumed the silence was the end of a tune and began to applaud.

After the applause died down, Ravi said, "Friends, if you have enjoyed the tuning so much, perhaps you will enjoy the playing as well."

Posted by: byoolin | November 13, 2007 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Congrats, Scotty, on a beautifully simple wedding.

Welcome back, Maggie!

dr, dmd, RDP, Slyness, you may have stumbled onto the common denominator of the boodlers--laziness. You have described my work habits perfectly.

Posted by: Raysmom | November 13, 2007 10:09 AM | Report abuse

I love you people. It's a good day when you can make laziness into a virtue.

Dave, I meant to say earlier than you didn't miss much by not making it into Mensa. My SAT score didn't qualify me, but my Miller Analogies score did. It's been so long I forgotten what the tests were, but I took two to qualify, made the grade on one but not the other.

Posted by: Slyness | November 13, 2007 10:17 AM | Report abuse

That same thing happened when my high school's orchestra played at my church. The tuning was nearly better than the real pieces.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 13, 2007 10:19 AM | Report abuse

6/10. I am self-satisfied in that the ones I missed were the stupid gossipy ones, like the one about Diana's wedding and J-Lo's marriages.

Posted by: ScienceTim | November 13, 2007 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I have always believed that laziness is the true mother of invention.

For example, I will spend 3 hours on the front end of a project to devise a system to save me, say, 12 hours later.

Posted by: TBG | November 13, 2007 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Why can't the Post have front pages that look like this:

Posted by: Achenbach | November 13, 2007 10:38 AM | Report abuse

TBG if I look at your last post, and apply what I learned in my Philosphy of Logic course in University (squeaked through), I get Laziness = Invention, Invention = Genius. I AM A GENIUS :-)

Posted by: dmd | November 13, 2007 10:39 AM | Report abuse

"As far as we know, they're not here to do us any harm," he said. "If they're here, they're much more advanced than we are, more intelligent and spiritual and probably living the way we should be.";jsessionid=xjhnH5GPJ3lsyXQ7QF34Y3MDphvxpm0W1H4VXsqYxd1yM1qygvQT!829690086?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=pg_article&r21.pgpath=%2FTRN%2FHome&r21.content=%2FTRN%2FHome%2FTopStoryList_Story_1096185

They sound pretty angelic.

Posted by: Achenbach | November 13, 2007 10:41 AM | Report abuse

"As far as we know, they're not here to do us any harm"?


They're here surveying the path for the latest intergalactic highway.

Posted by: byoolin | November 13, 2007 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Rd -- in Joel's last link is a bunny. Who knew that aliens are in bunny-form.

I love this children's book about a Janet who hails from the Bunny Planet.

And, RD, a book in that series is about tomatoes....Christmas gift solved. Tell your children that you want these books for the holiday.

Posted by: Collage Lapinarian | November 13, 2007 10:47 AM | Report abuse

All I can say is... it's about time.

Posted by: TBG | November 13, 2007 10:50 AM | Report abuse

CP - Oh my. "Voyage to the Bunny Planet." This will go down as one of my favorite phrases of all time.

And the Bunny/UFO link is still not widely known, so let's keep it quiet.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 13, 2007 10:51 AM | Report abuse

I've just received an email from a cousin asking if I know which book, speech, etc. this Sinclair Lewis quote came from...

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross."

Can any of you make me look like a genius?

Posted by: TBG | November 13, 2007 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I really liked "Voyage to the Mushroom Planet" when I was a kid.

Let's face it, any book that includes the words "Voyage" and "Planet" is gotta automatically be considered quality literature.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 13, 2007 10:56 AM | Report abuse

It Can't Happen Here, 1935

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 13, 2007 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Well, maybe there's something to the theory that instead of bringing their extraterrestrial selves here--that would be unlikely to work because what are the chances that their home environment is similar to earth--instead of that they just have a way of doing genetic engineering with the indigenous population, tweak this, try that. If they are more advanced than we are, they would look at Earth and say, if we can stop them from killing each other and destroying their environment this species might have some long-term potential. So they might seed the population with an occasional mutant and even encourage the creature to communicate to everybody the Good News (peace and love, y'all!). Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, Jesus. Maybe Eugene Debs and Martin Luther King, too.

Or maybe it wasn't those guys who were the mutants; maybe it was *their mothers.* Oh, I'm liking this theory more all the time.

Posted by: kbertocci | November 13, 2007 11:00 AM | Report abuse

"The Lady From Shanghai" is really pretty entertaining and the last 10 minutes (the gun duel in the Funhouse) are absolutely brilliant.

Posted by: Lex Pk | November 13, 2007 11:03 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: omni | November 13, 2007 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Hey, the bunnyoid aliens prefer RD's basement to other earth options. Is RD's palatial bunnyplace a cell or column to incubate the overtaking of the world?
Perhaps _Watership Down_ is something we should all read this holiday season.

Off to a downtown meeting for no reason other than to greet old colleagues including a darling and brilliant energy specialist from Bangalore. We are all grayer, I hear, with me no longer so gingery. Going to Nirvana, near M&S, for vegetarian fare made lovingly by Jains.

Posted by: College Parkian | November 13, 2007 11:08 AM | Report abuse

In my haste to be, you know, all show-offy with my googling skills I got it a little wrong. The quote is not from the book, but from a comment Lewis made when challenged to summarize the book.

Posted by: RD Padouk | November 13, 2007 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Joel, I love it that the Trentonian dead tree edition splashed the UFO thing all over the front page... but buried it in the on-line version, and lead with a state senate scandal. (Of course, this was New Jersey, where state senate scandals occur like rainfall.)

I meant to write a book about laziness, but somehow never felt motivated to get started on it. Too much work.

byoolin, I laughed at the Chris Lloyd/Beethoven detective idea. I'd watch it! What about a family series starring Dom Deluise as the wacky, loveable, bumbling J.S. Bach, surrounded by his 20 kids from his first and second wives (the first wife, deceased, is played by Florence Henderson; hilarity ensues when her ghost comes back to interfere in his second marriage, solve family crises, inspire his music, play the clavier, etc.). The name of the show could be "Zwanzig Ist Genug, Nicht War?" or perhaps "Der Bachen Gebunchen." Or maybe "Hier Kommen Johann!" Or "Thuringia 90210." Or maybe "Johann, Put Avay Das Organ Already."

Bunnies from space.... hmm. Kinda like big, fat tribbles with ears. It could make a truly bad sci-fi movie, "Mars Needs Carrots," starring Tommy Kirk. I like it.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 13, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I became suspicious of SATs and intelligence tests while I was a grad student in North Carolina, a state where talking is performance art. Yet the SATs were low. Hmmm.

Over the weekend, we went to see this low-budget locally-made movie.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 13, 2007 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Phillip Roth's "The Plot Against America" also pictured a United States where isolationist fascists in secret alliance with the Nazis took political power. It's an interesting thought experiment in how the Final Solution would be started on our shores.

Posted by: yellojkt | November 13, 2007 11:26 AM | Report abuse


A brief story of a word in the Pakistan story:

"Former Pakistani prime minister, under house arrest, calls on president to resign; appears to scotch any chance of powersharing arrangement."

"Scotch" as a verb meaning "wreck" struck me as in the category with "welching" on bets or being put in the "Paddy wagon". However, my Concise Oxford says its origin is unknown and therefore presumably not related to Scots.

re: laziness. My first Google ad is "Adult ADD Secret Revealed"

Posted by: SonofCarl | November 13, 2007 11:26 AM | Report abuse

My Google ads:

Shakespeare Plays
Conquer Your ShakesFear in VA Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton

Facts about Christ
Evidence from Jesus' life proving it makes sense to believe in him.

Shakespeare Navigators
Searchable texts, summaries, and more for students and teachers.


So...where did that second one come from??

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 13, 2007 11:31 AM | Report abuse

My first google ad is "Do NOT Hire Me." I like it!!

Posted by: Maggie O'D | November 13, 2007 11:31 AM | Report abuse

From genius to "Mars Needs Carrots". I love the Boodle.

My mom always complained that my habit of carrying everything possible in one trip was the "lazy man's load". Now, finally, the Boodle reveals it as a sign of intelligence. It is nice to be able to point to something.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 13, 2007 11:31 AM | Report abuse

So how was the movie, Dave? The cast looks good: Mo Rocca, Fred Willard, Ed Helms, Chris Elliott.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 13, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, all.

The Nuke Wedding was wonderful. I could go on, but I'm still verklempt. Couple of us were gettin' a little misty out there on the overlook, and I'm not talking about the spray from the falls.

Actually, I *like* Titus Andronicus, and not just because of the acronym [speaking of Tarrantino, I think TA is more "Reservoir Dogs" than "Pulp Fiction," but that's just my opinion]

I've always thought of TA as a metaphor for the plight of the common women of the time (and almost all time, when you think about it); their rights to speak and act severely limited, and their subjugation to men nearly limitless.

Granted, it was written when Will was young, but if I had to guess, there was a special woman in his life that inspired him to write - or at least, collaborate on - TA. Perhaps someone he felt strongly about, someone he felt to be unfairly constrained (an intellect wasted, perhaps?) by the culture of the time, and he lashed out as passionate Angry Young Men tend to do...

There's more to TA than meets the eye, IMO.

As far as Einstein being a genius -- well, of course. If *I* can do the math to quantify Special Relativisic effects, it must be genuis.

I still have to take my shoes off to count over 11, though.


Posted by: bc | November 13, 2007 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Zwanzig Ist Genug, Nicht War - ha!

I've been floating the idea for a series about hot opera divas in 19th C Germany. Working title: Bay Reuth

Posted by: SonofCarl | November 13, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

On a quick side note, I wonder if the reason Aliens are Visiting is to help us get Earth up to temp for them, they'll move in when the place is warmed up enough.

Of course, they can't live on the Homeworld anymore ever since The Accident.

You know, the one that turned it into a planetary Easy-Bake Oven.


Posted by: bc | November 13, 2007 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I think we might have the beginnings of a tv network here.

We need a vehicle for Mozart - maybe a sitcom?

Posted by: byoolin | November 13, 2007 11:42 AM | Report abuse

'mudge, "I'll Believe You" is a laid-back bit of sci-fi. Mo Rocca was on just briefly. Ed Helms' Loch Ness Monster bit was a marvel. Chris Elliott (Eugene the Gator Guy) is almost worth the entire movie. The gators are uncomfortably close, and they get to chomp lots of chicken.

Two theaters in Melbourne are running the film this week. If you can call DLP "film". I would not be surprised if delay of "The Kite Runner" provided the opportunity.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 13, 2007 11:56 AM | Report abuse

I don't know about Deluise playing the Bach role. I'm not sure he could wear the hair.

Not that there is anything wrong with that (Attribution will be added if I could just remember who to attribute it too - also a sign of laziness. Stealing instead of earnest Achensearches)

Posted by: dr | November 13, 2007 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Book Rage ... in Canada!

Open Book, See Red

Book rage has now been added to the list of neurotic human behaviors. So far confined to Canada, it is characterized by angry outbursts in bookstores and, more specifically, by the hurling of books, The Globe and Mail of Toronto reported. The causes: the declining United States dollar, the rising Canadian dollar and dust jackets imprinted with prices making books more costly for Canadians. For more than 30 years the value of the Canadian dollar has lagged that of its American cousin; five years ago it was worth 62 American cents. As a result, book jackets customarily show a United States price and a higher Canadian price. But last week the Canadian dollar hit $1.10 against the United States dollar; yesterday it stood at $1.03. Thus book rage and widespread reports of unhappiness among buyers expected to pay the higher price. Some Canadian booksellers, including Wal-Mart Canada, have begun to offer their wares at United States prices; others are giving discounts on the Canadian price, rebates or simply marking down the books.
- nyt 11/13/07

Posted by: Maggie O'D | November 13, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I believe the Canadian Book Rage incidents are mostly limited to pairs of people throwing the former Prime Ministers Chretien and Mulroney's respective memoirs at one another.

Posted by: byoolin | November 13, 2007 12:41 PM | Report abuse

It occurs to me that if Lord Black of Crossharbour were able to leave the USA, there might also be a tome-tossing to-do between Himself and Peter C. Newman.

Posted by: byoolin | November 13, 2007 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Here's today'w weird news from Florida: a 16-year-old drilled a hole in an anydrous ammonia pipeline near Tampa.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 13, 2007 12:55 PM | Report abuse

8/10. The test is more one of test-taking skills than of knowledge, and the bulk of the knowledge involved isn't useful anyway. Example: I don't know, or want to know, how many times J-Lo has been married, nor is it pertinent to any activity other than celebrity worship. However, the pairing of her marriages with those of Mary Queen of Scots indicates the tester is the sort of egotist that would not resist noting a "real" parallel between the two.

There is no hope for a civilization in which such questions are given prominence. Worries about the potential for nuclear war, or the perils of global warming, or the possibility of economic collapse, are useless for a culture in which the sublime excellence of Titus Andronicus is panned by a critic raised on Beavis & Butthead and educated at a Florida football school, and the elite of the nation spends its time bragging of their own laziness and taking tests composed of such questions. Rudy* for President! We Shall Overwhelm!**

*But only in the case that Rush is not drafted at the convention.

**I'm Attila the Hun, and I approve of this message.

Posted by: MedallionOfFerret | November 13, 2007 12:58 PM | Report abuse

MedallionofFerret, you sweet talker. "Elite of the nation" indeed! You can sell me a bridge any day.

Dave of the Coonties, the most interesting thing about that ammonia vandalism to me was the claim that the clueless teenagers were looking for money. I'd assume they were looking for an ingredient for methamphetamine manufacture.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 13, 2007 1:04 PM | Report abuse

A related story from the St. Pete Times said the sheriff's department initially supposed the kid was looking to make methamphetamine, but later decided he really thought there was "money" inside the ammonia pipeline.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 13, 2007 1:12 PM | Report abuse

I just donated about 800 grains @, but I'll be doggoned if I could stay at 46 for more than a couple words...

Did I see a Foma in the Weingarten chat, yellojkt?


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 13, 2007 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Byoolin, I concur on the tossing of prime ministerial memoirs, but cannot agree with your comment on Lord Black and Peter C. Newman. I would say if Lord Black were able to leave the US, Canadians would most likely toss Lord Black and both past prime ministers across the harbour.

Masggie, it isn't really Book Rage, its more like a bad case of Book Umbrage. Real book rage, would be, like, un-Canadian.

Posted by: dr | November 13, 2007 1:22 PM | Report abuse

You sure did, s'nuke. I was flirting shamelessly with Chatwoman. Does that count as cheating?

Posted by: yellojkt | November 13, 2007 1:28 PM | Report abuse

"The 16-year-old boy who officials say busted a small hole in an anhydrous ammonia pipeline faces..."

Busted? BUSTED?????

BUSTED? (pretend this was in 72-point type)

Jeez. Those two reporters and the entire copy desk down there should be lined up against a wall and summarily executed.

Along with the idiot kid, of course.

Busted. *grumbling and muttering*

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 13, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

But, gee, Mudge, what if their source said "busted"? Aren't they obligated to report the source's actual words, even though it wasn't in a direct quote and the rest of the sentence appears to be written in English?

Or maybe it was just, you know, all busted. At least it wasn't busted up.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 13, 2007 1:40 PM | Report abuse

So, basically, the kid was busted after he snuck in to bust the pipe?

Posted by: Tangent | November 13, 2007 1:43 PM | Report abuse

What the heck is androgynous ammonia?
How is it done?

Posted by: Corno di Bassetto999 | November 13, 2007 1:50 PM | Report abuse

The ammonia kid was very likely looking for crystal meth ingredients. I hope he got a good puff and experienced a bit of pulmonary oedema, just enough to make him think a little longer next time he's got a brilliant idea.
Tank cars, tank trucks and cylinders of anhydrous ammonia are regularly targeted by amateur chemists in search of NH3. (We need subscript and superscript as well as italics BTW.) They can get the rest of the stuff easy from China but ammonia not so much. Two guys got caught a couple of years ago because they were driving dog-style, their heads sticking out of the side windows. They had to get away from the fumes of ammonia boiling off the plastic gas can they had use to steal ammonia from a tank car. Good for them I say.

Posted by: shrieking denizen | November 13, 2007 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Re. Busted: perhaps the vandal used his head, shoulders, or upper chest to make that hole in the pipe?

Hmm. If he used his head, I guess we could say he "dolted" the pipe...


Posted by: bc | November 13, 2007 1:59 PM | Report abuse

SCC, one guy was driving and the other guy was a passenger of course.

I may have experienced a bit of book rage, but kept it to myself, mostly. The 4£ magazine sold US$10 and Cdn$16 was just a little too much to keep it quiet.

Posted by: shrieking denizen | November 13, 2007 2:03 PM | Report abuse

MofF... Joel was educated at the Florida football school's branch in New Jersey.

(On a side note... my husband loves to ask my Yale-educated cousin, "Isn't that in New Jersey?")

Posted by: TBG | November 13, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Hello,friends. Just stopped in for a minute to read this wonderful kit. JA, you've outdone yourself again. You really make writing look so easy.

Again, Scotty, congratulations and the best. The pictures are so nice.

What's all the talk about "busted"?

Move over, Mudge, every bone in my body hurts today too. And of course, the company left a mess. Just returning from the laundry room, and getting the g-girl off the bus.

Still have lots to do. Hello, Slyness, and all. *waving*

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | November 13, 2007 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Clarinet999, androgynous ammonia may the type of ammonia that is part aqueous ammonia and part gaseous ammonia. I don't know how to make it but I'm sure it stinks like the other kinds.

Posted by: shrieking denizen | November 13, 2007 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Androgynous ammonia...wonder if that's in my manual of hazardous materials? I can see the haz mat techs with a case of the giggles about it...

Posted by: Slyness | November 13, 2007 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Does that Free Rice quiz ever end? I donated more than 3000 grains of rice, and some of the words repeated. I got up to 49 before I was busted. I quit.

Posted by: Maggie O'D | November 13, 2007 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, Cassandra. Back in the dimly lit past of the 1950s and 1960s, school teachers used to go positively ballistic if anyone ever used "busted" as a synonym for "break," or "broken"; it's was considered as bad or maybe even worse than "ain't." Its proper form was "burst," of which it is a corruption.

This was back in the days before "busted" also came to refer to police arrests as "busts," drug busts, etc. And even then "going busted" was an acceptable poker term as well as a financial term, going way back to the 49ers: "California or Bust." "Bust" to mean go broke was fine; "bust" as a verb meaning to break was not. (In my house the complaint, "Mom, Jack busted my toy" would get me a cuff on the head.)

Even granting that language has slipped considerably since those dark, dark days, "police say busted a small hole in ...[a] pipeline" still fails my editorial eye. "Broke" works equally well, though I'd prefer to know the actual method, which asppears to be "drilled." "Busted" has the problem of failing to show intentionality; did he "bust" it by accident or on purpose?

In the case at hand, this moron did it deliberately, which could and should have been apparent in the first sentence. "A 16-year-old So-and-so youth was seriously burned by an industrial chemical when he deliberately punctured an anhydrous ammonia pipeline in an apparent effort to find a component to manufacture illegal drugs, police said yesterday" says it fine.

"Anhydrous" means it has no water in it, which means it was pure. "Androgynous" means Jerry Spribnger probably did a two-part show on it.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | November 13, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Busted seems very appropriate today...

Sigh. Just when I was having a good hair day.

Posted by: dr | November 13, 2007 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I thought androgynous ammonia could only be used by Roy, Leon, Priz and Zhora.

And possibly Data...


Posted by: Scottynuke | November 13, 2007 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Good news! The WSJ website will be free at last!

Posted by: dbG | November 13, 2007 3:04 PM | Report abuse

dr, that Sherwood Park, Alberta backyard looks pretty nice. Could that upturned root mass become an interesting garden feature?

I like forests. I've been admiring my baby live oak's explosive growth.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 13, 2007 3:08 PM | Report abuse

This, just in from MSN, is absolutely rife with possibilities... *L*

Report: Paris Hilton tries to help drunk elephants

Posted by: Scottynuke | November 13, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I've been told that the first owner of my house (a Pan Am pilot who'd once been hijacked to Cuba) ruined his lungs while cleaning the bathroom. He supposedly mixed household ammonia and cleanser. Come to think of it, cleanser seens to have sort of disappeared. I remember it as being pretty destructive, even without addititves.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 13, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

First Times Select and now the WSJ.
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Posted by: Mo MoDo | November 13, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Ammonia isn't THAT hard to get. Its transport is strictly regulated because it's so toxic, so it IS easy to track ammonia shipments.

If they really don't want to get caught buying ammonia, those meth heads should just have fish pee into little cups.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 13, 2007 3:20 PM | Report abuse

That freerice site sure is addictive. I've spent a fair amount of time at level 48, though I tend to hover around 46. Clearly evidence of a misspent youth. And middle age.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 13, 2007 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Chlorine-based bleach products and ammonia reacts to release toxic chlorine, Dave, you're right.

Interestingly the DC area uses chloramine, which IS chlorine x ammonia reacting together to purify its drinking water. Since ammonia has a smell like urine, and everybody knows how chlorinated drinking water...

The smell of the water is very difficult to describe but it is strong. It always reminds me of alien sweat. I don't miss showering in the DC area at all, I would come out smelling worse than when I went in.
I don't think anything that is lightweight to be inhaled and have such an odd chemical smell is actually as safe as people claim it is. It disturbs me.

And FBI agents and such should be worried, people might be able to tell they're straight there from the DC metro area by their clothes and such smelling like alien sweat.

Posted by: Wilbrod | November 13, 2007 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Okay, I reached vocabulary level 49 and 1100 grains and now I'm going to stop. Really.

There are two ways to make methamphetamine. Areas with lots of farms see the anhydrous ammonia, but the sulphur cook is more usual elsewhere. You can buy everything for it at Wal-Mart. I don't remember all the ingredients, though, so don't ask.

Posted by: Ivansmom | November 13, 2007 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I got to 50, twice, but couldn't stay there more than one word. Is "going to 51" the new "going to 11?"

Posted by: kbertocci | November 13, 2007 3:38 PM | Report abuse

You bet I will. Under all the dried weedy growth from summer is a number of trunks, roots, and parts of felled trees.

Up at the lake, there was a root mass from a felled tree covered in a small pink flowers growing on every little ledglet the roots formed. Over time, the soil washed off the root, so its flowering days are done. If I was doing this at home, I think I would drill into different sections of the root, to make little pockets to put soil into.

I have a whole winter in which to figure out what to plant. The other benefit to this tree going down is it creates a hole in the canopy. It looks to be in the right direction for the wireless internet connection.

Posted by: dr | November 13, 2007 3:39 PM | Report abuse

the most common chlorine accident is with bleach (Na hypochlorite, a very basic solution) mixed with a strong acid. The classic accident goes like this:
Step one: Guy/Gal buys a a bleach-based declogger and pours the required quantity it in the clogged drain. It doesn't work. So he/she adds the rest of the bottle. It still doesn't work.
Step 2: Guy/Gal goes back to the store and buys another brand, because the firt one well, didn't work. This brand no. 2 is basically 93% sulphuric acid.
Step 3: Guy/Gal pours the whole thing in clogged drain. Great puffs of yellowish/greenish gas boil out of the drain. Evacuation and hilarity ensue.

Posted by: shrieking denizen | November 13, 2007 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Don Harron, you 'Merkin's might recognize him as Charley Farquarson on "Hee Haw" (Canadian invention [so proud}), used to read excerpts of GB Shaw's (aka Corno di Bassetto}'s, music criticism on his radio show. Brilliant stuff. On Fridays he (Harron, not Shaw) read passages from Samuel Pepys "Diary" and described one of his days in the manner of the above mentioned author(Pepys not Shaw).
Now, while this was all very amusing, it's not the point of my post. I cannot find a jot nor tiddle of GBS's criticism on a site that does not demand money for the privelige of perusing the Masters musings.
Can any of the literary mavens out there help me?

Posted by: Boko999 | November 13, 2007 4:18 PM | Report abuse

New Kit (not nukeit)

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | November 13, 2007 4:40 PM | Report abuse

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