What I learned this week, November 11, 2011

Looking around the shelves at a used book store I came across a copy of 500 Essential Cult Books. I’m casting around for something to read right at this moment.

I didn’t buy the book, but I did sit down with it, some index cards, and a Parker 21 that I carry, and sat down at a table to go through most of the 500.

My first impression is that I was shocked at how many of the books I had already read… somewhere around half. The books were divided into categories and some I had read almost all of the selection.

At any rate, I filled a couple cards with books that I had not read and that looked interesting. Some I already have in my library or Kindle, most I do not. Here’s the list, in no particular order:

  • Generation X – Douglas Coupland
  • Nausea – Jean Paul Sartre
  • Been Down so Long it Looks Like Up to Me – Richard Farina
  • Cathedral – Raymond Chandler
  • A Feast of Snakes – Harry Crews
  • Perfume – Patrick Suskind
  • The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles
  • VOX – Nicholson Baker
  • The Wasp Factory – Ian Banks
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
  • Almost Transparent Blue – Ryu Murakami
  • Bad Behavior – Mary Gaitskill
  • Cocaine Nights – J. G. Ballard
  • The Ginger Man – J. P. Donleavy
  • Atomised – Hichael Houellebecq
  • Young Adam – Alexander Trocchi
  • Wonderland Avenue – Danny Sugarman
  • A Hero of Our Time – Mikhail Lemontov
  • How Late it Was, How Late – James Kelman
  • Of Love and Hunger – Julian Maclaren-Ross
  • D. B. C. Pierre – Vernon God Little
  • Nelson Algren – A Walk on the Wild Side

I’ve been reading a lot about the “Bubble in Higher Education.” One of the interesting articles in that vein is called, Where Have All the Chemists Gone?   It links to a New York Times article – Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)

You can read both of these articles and decide what you think about it on your own, but it does bring back an experience of my own, one I’ve talked about ad nauseum – but still…. I think I’ll write it down here. This is something that happened almost forty years ago… so maybe the trends identified in the articles aren’t so new after all.

I remember my first freshman chemistry class at the generic big Midwestern public university. It was held in a large old gothic auditorium (since burned down) where they played the basketball games back in the twenties and thirties. The professor walked out on the first day and said, “This is Chemistry 301, Introduction to Chemistry for Chemistry Majors. You should only take this class if you are going to get a major in Chemistry. There are three hundred and fifty students in this class. We graduate about forty chemists a semester. You need to do the math. If you don’t think you can make it through this class, drop as soon as you can to minimize the damage to your academic career.”

I was stunned when about a dozen kids walked out at that point. How low must their self-esteem be to give up at that point (or maybe they realized they were in the wrong classroom). The first exam took over half the class. The mid-term dropped half of those that were still left. At the end of the semester the class was well under a hundred. The really bad thing was that, three years later, Physical Chemistry took a third of those that had made it that far (I still believe that P-Chem is one of the absolute evils in the world – I know if any other chemists are reading this – I just gave you a nightmare).

A few years ago I was at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Arlington (I remember there were three Nobel Prize Winners at the dinner) and the the topic was improving chemistry education. I was talking to a professor afterward about how to increase the enrolment of chemists and he said, “Actually, in my experience, most of the student that can be chemists, are chemists… what we need is to increase the understanding of some of the basic tenets in the non-chemist population.” This was a guy that should know what he was talking about.

Oh, and the article talks about how grades are lower in STEM classes than in, say, business or liberal arts. No shit. My goal in chemistry was to graduate, that was it (I consider my bare C- in P-Chem I and II to be one of the greatest accomplishments in my life. I managed to pass two semesters in a subject where I had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on at all). In the decades since, I don’t think I have ever had anyone ask me my GPA. I have hired a few chemists in my day and if I ever had a job applicant with a 4.0 and a major in chemistry (In reality I never have seen or heard of such a thing) I would not hire them. To get a 4.0 in a chemistry curriculum you would either have to be too smart to be in the same world as I am, or some sort of mutant that could not relate to ordinary human beings in any meaningful way.


Another list of “Must Eat At” places in New Orleans.

New Orleans – A Foodie’s Paradise

  • Gumbo at the Gumbo Shop
  • Crawfish Etouffee at Chartres House Café
  • Jambalaya at Coop’s Place
  • Red Beans and Rice at Joey K.’s
  • Muffulettas at Central Grocery Co.
  • Beignets at Café Du Monde
  • Bananas Foster at Brennan’s
  • King Cakes at Sucre
  • Po’ Boys at Parkway Bakery & Tavern

I’ve been to six of the nine… though some were a long time ago. I wrote about Joey K’s the other day. Last year I set out to find the best Shrimp Po-Boy in New Orleans, and Parkway was the best, IMHO.


How to make pancakes from scratch

Wallet Pancakes

Why imitation syrup is better than the real thing

How to make the best diner pancakes in america


a new word for our time
ineptocracy


Man, I would love to snag a 2011 Rangers World Championship Cap. I wonder what impoverished tropical hell hole I’d have to go to so I could buy one of some poor dude’s head.

Where does World Series Runners-Up Gear Go?


A few more Scopitones. Starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel.

I used to Love the Tijuana Brass, back in the day. This song and Scopitone is not why.

Great Hair… terrible rock and roll.

There have been some very good versions of Telstar over the years. This is not one of them. Plus odd and wildly inappropriate footage.

Petula Clark… one of the greats. There was “Downtown”, “I Know a Place”, “My Love”, “Colour My World”, “A Sign of the Times”,  and “Don’t Sleep in the Subway.”

Oh…. and this:

And, last but least… The absolute worst:



4 responses to “What I learned this week, November 11, 2011

  1. I would hope that on next weeks list you will have a note about how much you enjoyed The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks. It is a grim read in a way but really worth the effort. I had a later edition in which the now very well established author includes all the reviews that panned his first novel.

  2. Pingback: Things I learned this week (November 7 – November 13) « Peggy Isaacs

  3. Pingback: The Wasp Factory | Bill Chance

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