Anything You Can Do

Anything you can do, I can do better.
I can do anything better than you.
– Annie Get Yer Gun

I’ve long since come to terms with the fact that this isn’t so. In our modern, high-tech world, there are many things I can’t do at all, much less “better.” Repair a car. Program a computer. Trouble-shoot an air exchanger.

And that’s OK. No one could do all these things, and I’m sure I have other skills.

Can you bake a pie?
Neither can I.
– Annie Get Yer Gun

Well, OK, my skills are more theoretical than practical, perhaps. But I’m sure if I were dropped into the far distant past, I would shine, what with all my modern knowledge. I mean, think what I could teach them. I’d have to learn how to do some things with more-primitive technology, but that would just be a matter of time.

Or would it? Look at what Samuel Morison has to say about boat-building methods, starting in the Middle Ages and running up until about 1945.

The builder first selects a “slip” at the head of tide, slightly inclined so the vessel will launch easily, and places big oak blocks evenly spaced to support her when built. Some small vessels were doubtless built by eye, but the larger ones were carefully planned with compass and divider, the members “laid down” in a mould loft with chalk or charcoal, and templates of them made with thin pieces of light wood. . . .

Oak is preferred, not only for its strength but because limbs growing from the trunk at different angles make natural crooks for the ribs or frames, the knees, and the curved stem piece. Builders would carry a wagon-load of templates into the oak grove, match them against standing trees, cut down those they wanted, and shape them with ax or adze.
The Great Explorers (emphasis added)

Good grief.

Now the Middle Ages ran from about 500 to 1500 AD (476 – 1453, to be precise but the other numbers are easier to remember). I suppose boat-building know-how improved over that span, but here’s the point. If I were dropped back into any part of that, I would be as useless for building boats as I am for building cars, and I’m not sure *my* know-how would improve appreciably. Primitive technology my foot.

If I have seen further,
it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
– Sir Isaac Newton

I can’t even claim to have seen further, but if I have taken a boat ride, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.

And in case you’d like to enjoy this classic song in full . . .


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8 Responses to Anything You Can Do

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    Did you ever read “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” by Mark Twain? He takes the same approach — how much knowledge even a relatively ordinary person (and you’re not ordinary!) could carry back into an earlier time.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – I don’t think I have read it. Twain is someone I appreciate more in short snappy quotes – whether he ever said it or no. But it’s an interesting question. I know so little of the detail of any discipline I think I’d be useless – if not burned as a witch.

  2. barbara carlson says:

    Isabel – you have found your inner comedian! Very funny.
    I do think the little censor man who sits on everybody’s shoulder and impedes creativity and spontaneity has lost his foothold as this “weird time” sinks in: We have to make our own fun and live lightly, with joy — as we sit (with hopefully some acceptance) in the middle of all this right Now.

    New Day. New Plan — as the signs everywhere at St. Laurent Shopping Mall instruct us. (Read “New Rules” for New Plan.) So Happy to See You Again at every store entrance bar the 14 that have closed. I was there last Friday for an hour to chill out. But came home to non-A/C thinking it was better to be hot and happy than cool and depressed. For it was a sad place, with NO PLACE TO SIT.

    And I had forgotten Newton’s complete quote… “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Thanks.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Ah, yes – coming face-to-face with The Changes. Often tough. Glad you enjoyed it. Every once in a while I read a bit and think – WHAT??!! This was one of those once’s.

  3. barbara carlson says:

    As for the clip — it represents everything wrong with some Americans — but a good tune. Cheap tunes are always potent.

    It reminds be of the glory days of musicals like Oklahoma and Carousel and, and, and… 😀 (My American upbringing is showing… when I say my little sister & I knew the words to every single one and lip-synced endlessly. Still can. But without the competition.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – I saw this movie as a kid – on TV, I guess, since it came out 2 years before I was born. I enjoyed musicals more back then – now I find them too contrived and too slow. I think Sweet Charity was my turning point.

  4. Tom Watson says:

    How are you at plumbing repairs? Judging by the unfortunate run-ins I’ve had with DYI plumbing jobs, I’m sure you’re way better at it than I. You’re hired.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – We could get into a reverse refrain: No I’m not! Yes you are! No I’m not! Yes you are yes you are yes you are! But truly, I’m not . . .

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