Stony Brook Film Festival
view counter

Editorial & Opinion | Musings

05/24/2011 | | Musings

In his book “Representative Men,” Ralph Waldo Emerson tells a helpful story about Napoleon: He directed his one-time secretary, Bourrienne, to leave all letters unopened for three weeks, and then “observed with satisfaction how large a part of the correspondence had thus disposed of itself, and no longer required an answer.”

As someone who steadily answers e-mails lest the queue become unbearably long, I wonder at the steely self-discipline required to leave that mail unanswered. If Napoleon could manage that, world conquest was probably a trifle.

05/17/2011 | | Musings

A professor, said Bergen Evans, is one who speaks in other people’s sleep. Anyone who has taught knows how difficult it is to keep the attention of students. Perhaps we can take some comfort in the report of the Midrash that Rabbi Akiva once noticed his students were falling asleep in his class. If one can fall asleep on Rabbi Akiva, who are we to complain?

05/10/2011 | | Musings

Great events can arise from small differences. In “Les Miserables,” Victor Hugo writes of the battle of Waterloo: “If it had not rained on the night of the 17th and 18th of June, 1815, the future of Europe would have been changed.”

05/03/2011 | | Musings

No breakthrough in 20th-century medicine was driven more by serendipity than the discovery of penicillin. The first penicillin spore was carried by a random London wind through an open window and landed in one of Alexander Fleming’s petri dishes. Fleming recognized the significance of this breeze-borne visitor, but it has been said that penicillin discovered him rather than the other way around.

04/27/2011 | | Musings

When philosopher Bertrand Russell was imprisoned for pacificism, the prison warden asked him, “What do you do for a living then?” Russell answered. “I think.” “Well then,” asked the warden with some asperity, “do you think you could clean these toilets?”

04/13/2011 | | Musings

Jacob was left alone and a man struggled with him until the dawn.” Who struggled with Jacob? Tradition teaches an angel, but it is not hard to conclude that Jacob struggled with himself.