Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Skills Every Man Should Master

Robert A. Heinlein wrote: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

There has been text written in the last year or so lamenting the loss of skills that were common just a generation ago. These laments range from the I Can't Do One-Quarter of the Things My Father Can, to Popular Mechanics 25 Skills Every Man Should Know.

Now Esquire Magazine publishes its list, The 75 Skills Every Man Should Master. I wonder at the purpose of some of the entries on the list, perhaps they were included just so everyone who reads it would have something to check off and say, "Got that one!"

5. Name a book that matters. The Catcher in the Rye does not matter. Not really. You gotta read.

[Yep. Got that one.]

13. Throw a punch. Close enough, but not too close. Swing with your shoulders, not your arm. Long punches rarely land squarely. So forget the roundhouse. You don't have a haymaker. Follow through; don't pop and pull back. The length you give the punch should come in the form of extension after the point of contact. Just remember, the bones in your hand are small and easy to break. You're better off striking hard with the heel of your palm. Or you could buy the guy a beer and talk it out.

[Nope. Years of Aikido to learn how to NOT throw a punch.]

16. Tie a bow tie.

[Nope. Don't own one. Afraid if I wore it I might look like George Will.]

29. Understand quantum physics well enough that he can accept that a quarter might, at some point, pass straight through the table when dropped. Sometimes the laws of physics aren't laws at all. Read The Quantum World: Quantum Physics for Everyone, by Kenneth W. Ford.

[Nope. "Nobody understands quantum physics." - Richard Feynman]

47. Recite one poem from memory. Here you go:


When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

—William Butler Yeats

[Yes. When my youngest daughter was in elementary school she wrote a poem about apple blossoms. It so enchanted me, that it has stayed forever in my memory. Years later I recited it to a professor of English, who also was charmed. The professor said that it reminded her of A.E Housman's "Loveliest of Trees." Those two poems are now forever entwined in my rememberance.

Loveliest of Trees

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

—A.E. Housman

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