It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. MARK TWAIN 1835-1910.

July 19, 2007

New Yorker
Jean Sibelius [1865 - 1957]

friend recently recommended that I read a New Yorker (issue of July 9) essay about the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. The first paragraph of the essay by Alex Ross ends as follows:

Hans Pfitzner dramatized that moment [between the time a musical composition is created and its first performance] of panic and doubt in “Palestrina,” his 1917 “musical legend” about the life of the Italian Renaissance master. The character of Palestrina speaks for colleagues across the centuries when he stops his work to cry, “What is the point of all this? Ach, what is it for?”
Which reminded me of a quotation from Woody Allen's book Getting Even (1971) which I read in the NY Times:
A man asks his uncle: “Could it not be simply that we are alone and aimless, doomed to wander in an indifferent universe, with no hope of salvation, nor any prospect except misery, death, and the empty reality of eternal nothing?”

The uncle replies, “You wonder why you’re not invited to more parties.”

As I began reading the Sibelius essay, I was distracted by a cute little animated gif in the left-hand column. It consisted of 9 frames which showed, in sequence, the actions of a conscientious handyman:

  1. he sees a speck on a large window
  2. he sprays it with window cleaning solution
  3. he wipes it off
  4. it doesn't go away
  5. it grows larger
  6. he steps back in alarm as the speck becomes a bicyclist
  7. he tries to wave off the bicyclist
  8. the cyclist crashes through the window
  9. the man picks himself off the floor amidst shards of broken glass

I decided to elaborate on the theme by using it to illustrate two types of learning curves.

Here it is: