Bird-Eating Tarantula and Giant Centipede Are Friends

With apologies to Arnold Lobel

Bird-Eating Tarantula was walking through the forest, looking for birds to eat. Lurking on the damp underside of a rock, reading a book, he found his friend, Giant Centipede.

Tarantula 2“Hello, Bird-Eating Tarantula” said Giant Centipede, “What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to find something to eat,” said Bird-Eating Tarantula, “but this forest doesn’t seem to have any food in it.”

Giant Centipede put down his book and scuttled out from under the rock. “What about the guinea fowl chicks that I saw just behind those fallen trees?”

Bird-Eating Tarantula sighed. “Their mother is too big and strong. She pecks at me.”

Giant Centipede 1They walked along for a while until they came to the edge of a reedy marsh. “Look, Bird-Eating Tarantula,” said Giant Centipede, “There are some eggs lying in a nest of mud!”

Bird-Eating Tarantula nearly tripped over his eight long, hairy legs as he ran to look, but then he came back, crestfallen. “Those are the Caiman’s eggs,” he moaned. “Their leathery shells are far too tough for my fangs. And their mother is even bigger and fiercer than the guinea fowl!”

Just then a small green frog hopped out of the reeds, and Giant Centipede killed it with venom. “Would you like to share this frog with me?” he asked Bird-Eating Tarantula politely.

“What, a frog?” said Bird-Eating Tarantula with surprise. “Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly eat that — amphibians don’t agree with me at all!”

“Well then,” said Giant Centipede, after rapidly digesting the frog, “we will find something you will like.”

They walked through the forest, but everywhere they turned, the creatures were either too large, like the capybara, or else too chitinous, like the giant locusts, for Bird-Eating Tarantula. “What about these enormous, blind earthworms?” said Giant Centipede. “They are too soft to put up a fight and they are very tasty, like a nice pudding!”

Tarantula 1But Bird-Eating Tarantula only turned away with a shudder. “That’s…sorry, Giant Centipede, but worms are disgusting.  I mean, basically they’re just one big long intestine.”    So Giant Centipede ate all the worms himself.

Soon they arrived back at the rock, and now Bird-Eating Tarantula saw his friend’s unfinished book. “I’m sorry, Giant Centipede,” said Bird-Eating Tarantula. “You have been trying to help me but nothing in this forest seems to do. I am a bad Tarantula and a bad friend.” He wiped away tears with the spiny, weaponized hairs on his forelegs, which made him feel worse.

Giant Centipede thought for a moment. “Bird-Eating Tarantula, maybe there’s a way that you can help me.”

Bird-Eating Tarantula moaned, “How? You’ve already found many good things to eat!”

“Yes,” said Giant Centipede, “but I am so full of frogs and earthworms and locusts and that baby capybara I ate that I feel sluggish. I need some exercise.”

“What kind of exercise?” asked Bird-Eating Tarantula.

Giant Centipede 2“I was thinking,” said Giant Centipede, “That if I threaten the guinea fowl’s chicks, she will chase me and I will have to run oh so fast to get back under my rock. But she might catch me. Unless…”

“…Unless she has to run back because I am eating all of her babies?”

“Yes, Bird-Eating Tarantula. Because you will be eating all of her babies. And then you will come back to my rock and I will read to you from my book.”

And that is just what they did.

[Ed. Note: Please imagine here that I have drawn a lovely picture, in the manner of Arnold Lobel, of Giant Centipede and Bird-Eating Tarantula reading together.]



I Have Been Away from Here

If you are a bot and run across this lonely and neglected corner of the Internet, please know that housekeeping has been alerted about its sad state.


Strangers and Brothers

'Strangers and Brothers,' later retitled 'George Passant.'

‘Strangers and Brothers,’ later retitled ‘George Passant.’

I’m currently reading the first entry in C.P. Snow’s series Strangers and Brothers, which he published between 1940 and 1970 — a series of books about (in no particular order) friendship, power, ethics, and (more I think than anything else) a sort of vanishing-but-not-yet-gone kind of English masculinity. A single character — the authorial stand-in Lewis Eliot — narrates each of the eleven volumes, in which he is usually at a Nick Carraway-ish distance from the action, and the series itself moves with him from poor-young-striver to placid establishmentarian oldbody.

The Masters.

The Masters.

I became interested in the series after finding its most famous entry — The Masters — in an edition with a striking Edward Gorey cover. The story, about an election in an unnamed Cambridge college, is an understated drama of academic political maneuvering and shifting personal allegiances that created a kind of quiet, spellbinding air of suspense. But while it’s definitely the best-known of Snow’s otherwise completely neglected work, that’s not saying much, at least in the U.S. (the BBC freshly adapted the series for radio a few years ago). Snow himself was a physical chemist-turned-politician, and whose lecture on the “Two Cultures” (the sciences and the humanities) and the communication gap between them was widely reprinted and anthologized. (Given that it seems almost comically antiquated to worry about that *particular* cultural divide in this post-knowledge era, it’s perhaps less mysterious that few people are reading Snow.)

I’ve thought about The Masters quite a bit since then, and I’ve wanted to re-read it. I’ve read two of the other books in the series, but I thought it was time to go back and start from the beginning, to see if the whole edifice stands up. More posts to come here about the first book: originally published with the title the series eventually took, and then republished as the Victorian-sounding George Passant.


News from the Econo-Genetic Divide

In which it’s revealed that TED, SXSW and suchlike are really all breeding experiments designed to generate a race of Master Hipsters to benevolently rule us all.

“Dan Gould, 35, who has attended Renaissance Weekends, TED, EG (Entertainment Gathering) and a number of other conferences said they are self-selecting for people who have big ideas and want to change the world.

“You’re not going to easily find someone like that on OkCupid or in a bar,” he said. “You have people who have similar values and who care about the same sorts of things.”

Mr. Gould, a founder of the video sharing site, had heard of couples who met at one conference or another, but he never gave it much thought — until he met a woman at TED. They happened to be seated near each other during a talk and, as is common at TED, they continued to bump into each other throughout the four-day conference.”

“As Kathryn Irwin, who first attended SXSW in 1994 and hasn’t missed a year since 2000, put it: “There’s been some babies, there’s been a lot of dating, and a lot of hooking up.” Not necessarily in that order. After splitting with her husband in 2009, she too jumped into the SXSW dating pool. “I was like ‘Oh my gosh, there’s so many beautiful men,’ ” she said.”


Miyazaki Nostalgia

Up on Poppy Hill

Still from Studio Ghibli’s “Up on Poppy Hill”

One thing that Goro Miyazaki’s film Up on Poppy Hill shares with films directed by his father — especially My Neighbor Totoro — is its ability to conjure, for me, an instant sense of longing to spend time in a place I’ve never been in, but which feels immediate, real and vital, even if also idealized and romanticized. Up on Poppy Hill doesn’t make quite the emotional impact of a film like Totoro, nor does it try for the wild imaginative reach of Howl’s Moving Castle. In fact, there’s no supernatural element in the story at all — it’s a small-scale melodrama whose plot is, frankly, a half-done affair, and maybe the least interesting thing about it. But it nevertheless felt immersive — transmitting a kind of sunny melancholy, if that makes any sense.

Most of all, it makes the Yokohama of 1964 about as gorgeously appealing as a town can be. I watched the film at the IFC Children’s Film Festival this morning — thanks to my prescient wife’s attention to the upcoming screening — with our daughters, and our eldest and I agreed it made us want to visit Japan rather keenly. But of course what we were enraptured with was the landscape of someone’s memories, a place we can never otherwise visit. It stung a bit to know that, but it’s also what lent an otherwise slender film real weight.


From the Wayback Machine: Fragments of the Friday Quiz

Way back in the dark backward of time, I ran a website called (with customary lack of inspiration) the Wombat File.

Short explanation for the name: I’ve always liked wombats.

Every Friday on the File, I had a Quiz — no Googling, no asking your crazy-smart 8th-grader. First correct answer in the comments won bragging rights. Even though it’s a Wednesday, it’s a good one — a two part cortex-number from 2005:

The official language of two countries which, taken together, have a population of seventy million people, is also spoken by some of the residents of a number of other countries. For the great majority of these people, though, it is a second language picked up in later life, and only learned as a mother tongue by a small proportion of its speakers, and in no nation is it spoken by all. Interestingly, the name of this language itself is, according to the linguist Nicholas Oster, derived from a word in yet another, far more widely-spoken language, which referred to the geography of the area in which the native speakers of the smaller language live.

What is this language, and what is the more widespread language from which its name derives?

(It might be easier to play this one on Facebook — where I’ll also post it.)


“Entrepreneurs Can’t Wait”

Ready to trust News Corp, Amazon, and a bunch of edu-tech startups with your child’s personal academic history? Then follow the New York Department of Education down the rabbit hole to the wonderland of data mining students.

Best bit:

While inBloom pledges to guard the data tightly, its own privacy policy states that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored … or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”


Science: Iliad Still Really Old

They say the findings here “won’t have classicists in a snit” – but come on. They’ll find a reason. Classicists and their snits!