The Best Of…

–Andrew Wasson

I was finally able to reach Takery on a secure fax line.   When Takery picked up faxes from his fax room, he wore a special set of gold-rimmed glasses and a visor.  More likely than not, this was the reason why he insisted on fax communication.   I was convinced that Takery’s input was essential for the completion of my article.  Believe it or not, Takery had garnered a considerable amount of respect in certain corporate circles for his best of the year list consulting.   He was holed up at his upstate chalet working on his best 1000 plants of the year.   He had been working since June.   “I’m a little tied up right now.   I’ve had a difficult time choosing the 632nd slot.”   Takery personally invited four truckloads of cut lilies up to the cabin to get to know them better before making a choice.   While he showed some sympathy to my problem, he was not that interested in helping.

When I finally convinced him to let me visit, I found him in his study surrounded by burlap sacks full of lilies, chomping on a carrot, the smell of burnt fireplace ski chalet mixed in with the fetid botanical smell of a pond.   It was overpowering. [1] He was joined by three businessmen with gray hair.   Two wore pink shirts and green silk ties.  On course, one wore bowtie and a monocle.   Takery, always the rabbit, offered me a fresh carrot, which I accepted and pretended to eat but didn’t, taking pretend bites and making fake chewing noises.   Takery did not notice.   It appeared that the other executives were doing much the same, as evidenced by the scraps of carrot on the floor.

“These chaps came by today to get my opinion on the age-old question: lily versus the crocus,” Takery said, chewing thoughtfully.

“Actually, we wanted to get Takery’s opinion on our end of the year strategy for our all-in one internet portal.”

“Oh yes,” said Takery putting on his gold-rim glasses, “I remember.”   He seemed distracted and looked like he was deciding whether or not to take a fax break.   He was clearly looking for his visor.   I saw it camouflaged in a burlap sack and decided not to volunteer its location.

A businessman continued.   “We want Takery to help focus the public consciousness on what was really important from last year.   This is important because it will solidify how this year will be viewed in the history books.   It will influence countless theme parties and dances for years to come.   But even more importantly, it will set the stage for next year’s sales.”   I couldn’t figure out who made this speech.   It wasn’t Monocle.

“So, Takery, you help decide what was best?” I ventured.

A small silence but then Takery erupted in laughter followed a half second later by the businessmen, Takery’s rabbit ears flopping, green ties slapping their knees, and Monocle surreptitiously stashing more carrot behind his chair.

“No no.   I never pass on the substance.   I mean, other than as a hobby.   No, no – I consult on the parameters.”

“The parameters?”

“Oh yes, let’s retire to my home movie theatre so I can illustrate.”   We moved from the cozy confines of the study to the more spacious accommodations of Takery’s garage.   It had a projector pointed at the closed garage door.

“Gentlemen, I prepared this video especially for your visit.   There will be a question and answer session following the movie with the director.”

The movie covered Takery’s early life in great detail, his time spent with the wolves, the forest of Ardennes, the wolves’ agonizing decision to send Takery to boarding school, and Takery’s arduous voyage across the channel.   The lights come up.   Takery did a somersault.   “Any questions?”

Green tie 1 raised his hand: “Takery, can you speak to how you felt when you were crossing the channel?”

“That’s an excellent question.   The crossing was arduous…”

I saw my chance slipping away.   I needed to act fast.   One time I had been invited to Takery’s seaside cottage to ask him about his artwork for the Club retrospective, and instead of talking about Takery’s ability to conceptualize abstract forms, we spent two whole days discussing Takery’s lupine benefactors and how wolves can be nice and how the wolves that raised Takery WERE nice.   I would not let this happen again.

“But, Takery, we started talking about your consulting work and the parameters of best of lists.”

“Right, we’ll pick up our discussion of the voyage at lunch.   Chef Ardennes has prepared lily stew.   C’est manifique!”   A power point presentation appeared on the screen, but since it was projected on the garage door, key parts were missing at the gaps for the garage windows.   Again, there was an extensive regurgitation of Takery’s past, the forest, the wolves, the voyage, boarding school, and now a new one, Takery’s start in the junkyard business.   But finally, Takery got to the substance of the presentation: the parameters of best of lists.

“First, I am going to talk about what I do NOT do.   I don’t consult on the substance of the list.   We all know about the law of superlatives right?”

Everyone nodded.   Who didn’t know the law of superlatives?

“Well, in the case you don’t, you should refer to John Caruso’s landmark work.   According to Caruso, “as long as the method of measurement has been well defined and agreed upon, a superlative always exists for every question of degree that can be stated.” [2] Thus, we must also accept that we can define and identify the degrees and gradations along the way to the superlative.   Of course, as long as we agree on each degree.   This of course is trivial and uninteresting.”   Takery sank his paw into a burlap sack of lilies next to him and drew up a few, letting some fall back into the bag, and took a quick bite out of the few he retained.

“Number One: Purpose.   The first question to ask is what is the purpose of the list?   A ‘Best of the Year List’ has the goal of determining the Best item in a category.   Other types of lists, however, are also possible.   Best of the year lists are often paired with worst of the year lists. [3] “Most mediocre” lists, while seldom done, are in theory possible.   In fact, they are possibly more difficult to do than best of lists or worst of lists.   When attempted, a most mediocre list runs the risk of devolving into a worst of list. [4]

Monocle raised his hand, “How about a list of Most Green?”

“That definitely is possible.   But it is not a best-of list.”

The other businessman ventured, “But it could be if it was the best most greens.”

“Yes, that is correct.”

“A best most blue?”

“Yes.   But that was before I found my KALEIDOSCOPE!!!!”

Takery pulled on a chain that was connected to Takery’s foghorn.   It bellowed and the garage shook but then he regained his composure and continued.   “Two: Subject Matter.   There must also be a definable subject matter.   Most commonly, the subject is a tangible thing, for example, records, books, movies, or restaurants.   This is the sort of list with which we are most comfortable.   Tangibility is not a necessary condition though.   For instance, Caruso has also ranked the top months of the last year.   This is acceptable (and encouraged), as long as we can agree on the definition of month (ie. a collection of a days, etc).   However, there cannot be a Best of List that has an undefinable subject matter. [5]”

“Three: time limit.   There also must be a time limit that constrains the inquiry.   In a best of the year list, what is the time limit?

I fielded this one, but not without some trepidation, for fearing it was a trick question.   “A year?”

“Yes, a year.   But what is a year?   Conventionally, the year starts at 12.01 on January 1 and extends until 11.59 on December 31.   However, many other years exist.   The Jewish calendar follows the lunar year and starts on Rosh Hashanna which occurs on the first two days of the month of Elul.   However, there are a number of other years too.   Let’s have a spelling quiz.   Let’s go around the room.  How do you spell Julian?

“J-U-L-I-A-N”

“Very good.   A Julian year is 365.25 days long.   Julius Caesar consulted with Sosigenes of Alexandria and Sosigenes made this calendar.   Can anyone spell Sidereal?”

“S-I-D-E-R-E-A-L”

“Very good.   A sidereal year is 365.25636042 days long.   Can someone spell tropical?   As in a tropical year?”

“T-R-O-P-I-C-A-L”

“Excellent, a tropical year is 365.2422 days long.   This is about twenty minutes shorter than the sidereal year.   How about Anomalistic?”

“A-N-A-M-A-L-I-S-T-I-C”

“No, try again.”

“A-N-A-M-A-L-I-S-T-I-C”

“Good.   An anomalistic year is 365.259635864 days.   How about Draconic?”

“D-R-A-C-O-N-I-C”

“Great.   A draconic year is about 346.620075883 days long.   How about Fumocy?

“Isn’t a fumocy like 400 days long?

“Yes.   But that’s nothing compared to the Great Year.   A Great Year is 25,700 days long.   How about Sothic?”

“S-O-T-H-I-C”

“Yes.   A Sothic year is 365.25 days long.”

“Isn’t that the same as a Julian year?”

“Yes, but a Sothic year is equal to the period between heliacal risings of Sirius.”

“What is a heliacal rising?”

“Well, a star can rise and set just like the sun or the moon.   But, during some times of the year the star doesn’t make it over the horizon at all.   So, when it first gets over the horizon, that’s a heliacal rising.   So, it will be over the horizon for a while.   But then it will set and won’t make it over again for a while.   That’s the heliacal setting.   So the period between the heliacal rising and setting of the star Sirius is a year.   Can anyone spell Gaussian?”

“G-A-U-S-S-I-A-N”

“Yes.   A Gaussian year is a sidereal year that is governed by the Gaussian gravitational constant.”

“What is a sidereal year again?”

“A sidereal year is how long it takes a planet to make an orbit, but with reference to a sidus, which is Latin for a fixed point.   We’re almost done with all of the years.   Bessalian?”

“B-E-S-S-E-L-I-A-N”

“Good, a Bessalian year is a tropical year that starts when the sun is at 280 degrees ecliptic longitude.   But its not just any sun.   It’s a fictional sun.”

“What’s a tropical year?”

“Do you know?   I don’t know.   Because I lost my shoelaces yesterday and fried some pancakes but I still don’t know if I put the laces in the cakes or the cakes in the shoes.”

“Wait.   Takery.   I understand the bottom line here…different years…but there have to be more parameters than that.”

“Well, yes.   Items have a lot of dates associated with them, but which date controls?  The critical date for records is usually straightforward – conventially, the release date controls.   Records released before the year time limit will not be considered.   Yet, release dates are only one of the potential dates that can be associated with a record.   It is usually by implicit agreement that the cut off for records is the release date.   Sometimes records are re-released years after their original release date.   Sometimes records go out of print and the new release consists no more than cranking up the presses and putting out the same exact record. [6] More frequently, records are re-released after they are digitally re-mastered. [7] Less frequently, old or unfinished records are updated or finished and then released. [8] Thus, either explicitly or implicitly, some agreement has to be made about which items qualify for consideration.”

This was great material.   Takery had gotten on a roll and when that happens, there is no stopping him.   Usually, the roll is about a certain boarding school or junkyard.   Here, the best strategy was to let him go, even the slightest encouragement might have unintended consequences.

Takery started pacing violently, “The length of the list is also a consideration.   If the list is capped at one, then the only item on the list is the Best.   The list can have other lengths.   Ten is often a convenient number.   However, there is a relationship of the length of the list and the number of items evaluated.   A top 10 list of a group of 10 items is more of a pure ranking rather than any sort of indication that the items on the list are the cream of the crop.   Lists that have more than 10 entries are impressive but at the margins meaning breaks down.   As a rough estimate, these sorts of lists may be meaningful – number 1 is clearly better than number 60.”

Chef Ardennes came in wheeling a cart.   It had on it a silver urn filled with stew.   Takery flourished a silk paisley purple hankerchief.

“Dinner is served, friends!”

FIN


[1] Salty, 1000 lbs, 1000 minutes, Room, no. (on the Bennett Scale).   See D. Bennett, “Top 10 Smells” Dairy River (Winter 2007).

[2] John Caruso, “Law of Superlatives” Dairy River (Fall 2007).

[3] Collectively, these lists are referred to as the “Best and Worst” of a certain year.

[4] “The most mediocre films of 99.”   Even so, the author possibly understood some of the limitations of their task.   There is no ranking — only a group of mediocre films is listed.   The task of ranking things by gradations of mediocrity may be an even more difficult task than trying to find the best.

[5] Now, there is an open question of whether such a thing actually exists. This is the debate caused by the Law of Superlatives.   Is there a set of things that cannot be defined?   The topic for another essay.

[6] See Asian Man Records release of The Riverdales self-titled album.

[7] See Boston’s self-titled album, released as digitally remastered in 2006.

[8] See Brian Wilson’s re-recorded SMiLE record, released in 2005.

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