Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Beethoven and the importance of perseverance

Today is believed to be the birthday of one of the immortals - Ludwig van Beethoven. I say “believed to be” because he was baptized on Dec. 17, 1770, and there is some confusion as to whether he was born that day or, as is perhaps more likely, the day before.

I’m no expert on classical music, but I do appreciate a great story when I hear one, and there's an anecdote about Beethoven that I've loved ever since I first came across it years ago.

As we all know, Beethoven lost his hearing over time, but he continued to compose. By the time his Ninth Symphony, one of his greatest compositions, premiered in Vienna on May 7, 1824, Beethoven was deaf. Yet he shared the stage with another conductor on that historic occasion.

When the audience gave him a standing ovation, Beethoven was still conducting because he was a bit out of synch with the orchestra. He could not hear the wild acclaim from people who were waving hats and handkerchiefs. Nor could he see what was happening, because he had his back to the crowd.

That's when a singer walked up to Beethoven and turned him around, so he could take in the exuberance of the gesticulating crowd even if he could not hear the thunderous applause.

I’m not sure why I find this anecdote to be so compelling. Perhaps it is because the incident so vividly symbolizes perseverance in the face of adversity.

Or maybe it's just the mental image of one of the greatest composers of all time, locked in a silent world and oblivious to the jubilation of his admirers until someone was kind enough to gently turn him to face the adoring crowd.

And now, a few words from . . . Douglas Adams


If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.

Editorial cartoonists: keeping the legacy of Thomas Nast alive

by Matt Wuerker

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Hen Chronicles: When hens turn into cartoon characters


On April 21, 2012, my wife Liz and I - chicken neophytes - bought three laying hens, who set up shop in a coop in the backyard of our city lot here in Maine. The makeup of our small flock has changed since then, but not our love of chickens. The Hen Chronicles explore life with our tenants.

Ah, the joys of watching a chicken moult.

Nellie, one of our Rhode Island Reds, now has a spotty covering of feathers as she goes through the process of casting off the old and bringing in the new. She’s fully "clothed" in some areas but shabby and balding in others, like someone emerging from a crazed barber's shop sporting the world’s worst haircut.

At dawn yesterday, Nellie pushed past the other hens when I opened the coop door, ran down to the pen and vigorously flapped her wings in what always strikes me as the chicken equivalent of a human's early-morning stretch. This caused a past-its-prime feather to fly off her body as if it had been shot into the air. The long, rust-colored feather floated lazily to the ground.

For that brief moment, Nellie looked quite cartoonish, like a frightened hen in a comic strip, scattering feathers in its wake as it scurries to evade some imaginary predator.

And now, a few words from . . . Ambrose Bierce


The covers of this book are too far apart.

Editorial cartoonists: keeping the legacy of Thomas Nast alive

by Jim Morin