Thursday, October 08, 2015

“We couldn’t. It was too hard.”

In an interview with music magazine Mojo Bernard Sumner, guitarist for Joy Division and lead singer for New Order, is asked about his recently released autobiography and how Sumner felt about “revisiting your memories of Joy Division and Ian [Curtis, JD lead singer]?”

What was different about us was that we really didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know how to write songs, therefore we wrote songs in different ways. Most bands learned by copying other bands’ records. We couldn’t. It was too hard. So we learned to play by not being able to play.

A common bit of advice for novice artists (painters, musicians, poets, etc.) is how you’re first to get down the received forms, copy the masters, right? Once you can make a competent sonnet or can produce a life-like drawing, you are free to (allowed to?) go off in experimental, strange, abstract, incompetent-seeming directions. But first you need that base in the conventional.

The Sumner quote reminds me of something similar I read about Gertrude Stein. Supposedly Stein tried to write conventionally, failed at it, then went off in those strange, abstract, incompetent-seeming directions for which she became famous, and sometimes even read.

There are a lot of ways to go about it, really. The Bad Thing is to prescribe the One Right Way and believe what you’re saying is Good.

source: Mojo issue 262, September 2015

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

phrase of the day: Zee helft ihm vee a toyten bahnkess

In Bernard Cooper’s novel, A Year of Rhymes, the young narrator has an aunt who occasionally lets out a Yiddish word or phrase. I am familiar with Yiddish only in the most banal sort of way — oy vey, say, or mensch.

When I came across Zee helft ihm vee a toyten bahnkess I didn’t know what to do with it.

Here’s the context: The young teen narrator has a brother almost ten years his elder and this brother is dating a young woman of whom the family doesn’t quite approve. Marion and Bob step out to the patio thinking they are having a private argument but, of course, everybody in the house overhears. Aunt Ida, disgusted by the scene, prods the younger brother to retreat to his bedroom:

”Say good night,” she commanded.


“Because,” said Ida, “the sun has sunk.” … Ida stomped through the dining room, dragging me behind her. … All the way down the hall, Ida spat Yiddish invective. She shut the door to my bedroom behind us, leaned against it, and glared toward God. “Zee helft ihm vee a toyten bahnkess.

This is Yiddish invective? I tried Googling the whole phrase but got nothing. I tried Google Translate and got — nothing. I approached my husband for ideas. He suggested trying just the phrase “toyten bahkess, as he thought it might be the most important part.

I did get something then. Maybe my lack of result earlier had to do with Cooper’s nonstandard spelling — if there is a standard. The best explanation I found for the phrase spells it rather differently: ES VET HELFN VI A TOYTN BANKES. That’s so close to Cooper’s phrase that I figure it must be the same thing. Right?

Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe translates it: "It will help like blood-cupping a corpse; it's absolutely hopeless; wasted effort; useless.”

Blood-cupping. This is what Wikipedia says about that, “Cupping therapy is an ancient form of alternative medicine in which a local suction is created on the skin; practitioners believe this mobilizes blood flow in order to promote healing. Suction is created using heat (fire) or mechanical devices (hand or electrical pumps).” The suction is used to affix cup or small bowl to the skin, presumably to help draw illness out of the body.

Since cupping is a treatment for sickness I suppose, like any treatment for sickness, cupping would be pointless when used on a corpse.

Before the internet developed its many useful and easy tools I wouldn’t have done more than shrug at this bit of language. What could I have done to make it accessible? Get out the phone book and find a Yiddish language expert? Write a letter to the author? It’s common in literature to encounter bits of other languages plopped untranslated into English. Typically it’s Latin or, even worse, Greek. But I’ve stumbled (or skipped blithely) over French and German, too. When reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer I put in placemarks wherever I came across untranslated French. Later I typed up all the bits and made them a DIR post. A less-than-useful post, I’m sure, as I didn’t know how to include the curlies and hooks on the letters to make them authentically French.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Notes toward an autobiography by others (Liz Prince edition)

Yes, I blamed the cat, too. Of course, he’s usually at fault as he snores.

read this in Alone Forever: the singles collection by Liz Prince
2014. Top Shelf Productions, Marietta GA

where I took the image from: Liz Prince’s Live Journal

Monday, September 28, 2015

word of the day: fungate

[There was] a mass in her pelvis the size of a child’s fist. In the operating room, it proved to be an ovarian cancer, and it had spread throughout her abdomen. Soft, fungating tumor deposits studded her uterus, her bladder, her colon, and the lining of her abdomen.

Before I get to the definition I have to say that if I saw the word “fungate” without context I would concentrate on the first syllable, which, after all, is a word with a lot of nice connotations. If told “fungate” was a verb I might guess it had something to do with fungus. Given the context we find it in, I have to grant there’s nothing pleasant that comes to mind.

definition (courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary): To grow up with a fungous form or appearance; to grow rapidly like a fungus

source: Being Mortal: medicine and what matters in the end by Atul Gawande
2014. Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt & Co., NY

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

word of the day: frumenty

So that night all was feasting, and if Ann and Roger and Eliza found the taste of roast venison disappointing (maybe because of the deer they had seen all alive and beautiful in the forest), at least they were too well brought up to say so. And dessert, which was wild strawberry junket and frumenty, was dandy.

definition: A dish made of hulled wheat boiled in milk, and seasoned with cinnamon, sugar, etc.

definition source: The Oxford English Dictionary

I didn’t know “junket” in this context either. According to the OED it is, “Any dainty sweetmeat, cake, or confection; a sweet dish; a delicacy; a kickshaw.”

A kickshaw?

A junket could also be more specifically a dessert made with sweetened curds and cream. There’s not enough context to say. Frumenty seems to have been chosen by Eager for its medieval flavor. Perhaps “junket” had a suggestion of old-timey-ness, too.

Ann and Roger are adventuring with Robin Hood in a magical version of Sherwood Forest.

quote source: Knight’s Castle by Edward Eager.
Illustrated by N. M. Bodecker
1956 / 1984. Odyssey / Harcourt Brace & Co., New York

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

word of the day: charabanc

… their places are taken by another population, with views about nature,
Brought in charabanc and saloon along arterial roads;
Tourists to whom the Tudor cafes
Offer Bovril and buns upon Breton ware
With leather-work as a sideline: Filling stations
Supplying petrol from rustic pumps.

W. H. Auden didn’t title his poems early in his career. The lines above are, according to editor Edward Mendelson, “from ‘The Dog Beneath the Skin’: 1932, ? 1934”.

definition: A kind of long and light vehicle with transverse seats looking forward. Also, a motor-coach.

What Americans would call a tour bus?

definition source: The Oxford English Dictionary

Auden uses “saloon” in a way unfamiliar to me. According to the OED, a saloon isn’t just another word for a drinking establishment but also “A type of motor car with a closed body for four or more passengers.” Among the exemplary quotes is the very line above.

I didn’t know “Bovril.” It’s “The proprietary name of a concentrated essence of beef, invented in 1889 by J. Lawson Johnston,” according to the OED. And, yes, the OED quotes the “Bovril and buns” line as an example of usage.

I’m following in the footsteps of the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary!

source for Auden lines: Selected Poems W. H. Auden, edited by Edward Mendelson
1979. Vintage Books / Random House, NY

Monday, August 31, 2015

pride is no longer a thrill for the super-rich

”What would make him insist on having the company buy his postage stamps?” … “Well, when you have all that money, the only thing you can’t buy is something free. Whereas less extravagantly compensated people often take pride in being able to make purchases from their earnings,” she said, “If you are super-rich the thrill is gone.”

— Nell Minow on the compensation package of Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric.

source: “The Pay Problem” by David Owen The New Yorker “The Money Issue” Oct 12, 2009, v. 85 no. 32

Sunday, August 30, 2015

word of the day: hermeneutics

As for the hermeneutics of suspicion, I begin with Steven Weinberg’s report of an elderly friend of his who (at the prospect of his impending death) says he draws some consolation from the fact that when that event arrives he will never have to rush to his dictionary to look up what the word hermeneutics means. It means interpretation, but hermeneutics sounds more imposing. [italics in original]

The hermeneutics of suspicion is an interpretive device that attacks theses not head-on but indirectly, by innuendo. … In everyday examples, the claimant is accused of wanting to make a name for himself, or to be a provocateur.

definition (from the Oxford English Dictionary): The study or analysis of how texts, utterances, or actions are interpreted. Also: a particular system of interpretation or scheme of analysis for language or actions.

I marked the above passage in Huston Smith’s Why Religion Matters because, like Weinberg’s “elderly friend” I always forget what “hermeneutics” means.

Once I started copying it out I went on and copied out the bit about the “hermeneutics of suspicion” because, why not? I doubt I will ever pop the term into conversation (or an essay), but, as with the naming of fallacies, it’s not a bad idea to know that an abusive rhetorical strategy has been pointed out for shaming by somebody clever enough to do so. Unless its inventor did it cuz she couldn’t get laid.

source: Why Religion Matters: the fate of the human spirit in an age of disbelief by Huston Smith
2001. HarperCollins, New York

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

pile of reading

Why Religion Matters: the fate of the human spirit in an age of disbelief by Huston Smith
I’m reading Why Religion Matters on my breaks at work. I agree with Huston Smith somewhat, he seems a nice enough fellow, but he has yet to lead me to a place where the evils of religion are clearly outweighed by true goodness. It’s not that I’m totally convinced religion is worthless or necessarily monstrous, rather I’m agnostic on the matter. I know there are good and gentle (and fierce) people who are inspired by religious beliefs to do extraordinary and good things. Yet there are so many who seem inspired by their religious beliefs to hack at people with machetes or blow themselves up in crowded marketplaces. As a gay man I pay attention to the role conservative religious beliefs continue to play in forcing people to live inauthentic, stunted, and tragic lives. How mean-spirited many religious seem to be. Still, while genial folks like Smith insist there’s something to it, I will keep open an ear.

In Other Lands Than Ours by Maud Gage Baum
L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, went with his wife Maud to Europe and Egypt in 1906. Maud wrote letters home. The letters were lively and evocative so they were collected and published (privately, I believe). I downloaded the Pumpernickel Pickle e-book version from and am reading the book on my iPad.

Gaysia: adventures in the queer east by Benjamin Law
Law is an ethnically Chinese Australian. He devotes a chapter each to Indonesia (although Law doesn’t explore beyond Bali), Thailand, China, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, and India. I hadn’t heard before that Bali was a gay destination. That seems to be a new thing. But the locals are more friendly to it than you might expect. I am now reading about Thai ladyboys (the term is not an insult, Law is told).

The Bedside Guide to the No Tell Motel: second floor edited by Reb Livingston and Molly Arden
An anthology of poetry themed (but not terribly strictly) to the sensual and interpersonal. No Tell Motel was an ezine that I visited for a while.

A Byzantine Journey by John Ash
John Ash was a visiting poet-teacher at UC Berkeley one of my years there. I took his workshop. Lately I’ve been catching up on what he’s written in the 20 years since. Ash long had a fascination for Byzantium, what’s often called the Holy Roman Empire. Rome didn’t fall, as far as the Byzantines were concerned; it just contracted a little. I’ve read Ash’s poetry books. A Byzantine Journey is prose, travel literature, the kind of thing I’ve gotten a taste for recently. The writer moves about taking down impressions, complaining about food or transportation, limning the locals and the ruins, and weaving in library research.

Eating Fire: my life as a Lesbian Avenger by Kelly Cogswell
The Lesbian Avengers formed in the wake of AIDS activist group ACT UP, eager to put a strong feminist voice on the streets again. For one action Kelly Cogswell teaches herself to spew fire like a circus performer. She and her colleagues make TIME Magazine flaming up in front of the White House.

A Year of Rhymes by Bernard Cooper
I enjoyed Bernard Cooper’s My Avant-Garde Education, which was billed as memoir. I knew I had a novel on my shelf so I pulled it down.

Two Lines: world writing in translation issue 22
In earlier issues Two Lines featured introductions to the English versions written by the translators who talk about what attracted them to the task, what special challenges were faced, and some biographical info about the non-English-writing author. The intros have been dispensed with, mostly. I miss them.

Variety Photoplays poems by Edward Field
I bought this a long time ago. I even got Edward Field to sign it. But, as much as I like Field’s poetry, I held off reading Variety Photoplays because so many of the poems contained spoilers to old movies. Field basically retells the plots of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and SHE, and I hadn’t seen them! I still haven’t seen SHE — and now I don’t have to! I had a hankering to read Edward Field’s newest book, After the Fall: poems old and new, but when I opened it I remembered that I hadn’t yet read Variety Photoplays. So I’m reading Variety Photoplays.

Selected Poems by W. H. Auden, edited by Edward Mendelson
I’ve said before that I won’t read a selected when I can read a complete. I have the feeling I’m going to renege on that commitment more often than I’m going to comply. I’m reading Auden rather the way I read Emily Dickinson. I read at least two pages at a sitting. I read at least two pages so I can physically turn a page and know when next I open the book I will be reading a poem new to me. I was doing that thing where I open to the placemark and find myself rereading the poem I read last time then stopping because one poem was all I could handle. One does need to move along.

The Flayed God: the mythology of Mesoamerica by Roberta H. Markman and Peter Markman
I’ve returned to The Flayed God after a long pause.The worldview of the Mesoamerican empires can be, well, unsettling. The Aztecs are known for human sacrifice, but did you know they would strip the skin off a victim and wear the skin around for a month? I know there are intense, world-preserving mystical justifications for this, but — shudder — it still looks like butchery, doesn’t it?

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon translated and edited by Ivan Morris
Sei Shonagon was a contemporary of Murasaki, the woman famous for writing what may be the first novel, The Tale of Genji. In her Pillow Book Sei Shonagon records anecdotes, impressions, and likes and dislikes. For instance, in a list titled “Depressing Things,” she mentions, “A dog howling in the daytime. … A cold, empty brazier. An ox-driver who hates his oxen.”

From the Other Side of the Century: a new American poetry 1960-1990 edited by Douglas Messerli
An 1100 page anthology. I’m going to be at this one for quite some time. Messerli’s project focuses on the experimental, the innovative. Lyn Hejinian, yes; Robert Hass, no. Allen Ginsberg, yes; Robert Lowell, no. Rae Armentrout, yes; Louis Gluck, no.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

the ragged strip that was left

Once I was sure the librarian [of the junior high school library] was distracted in the stacks, I quietly tore out the article in Life and folded it into my shirt pocket. I hadn’t so much as stolen a candy bar before that day. I’d been taught never to write in the pages of a book from the library or to tear out the pages from a magazine in a waiting room. My mother demonstrated the concept of respect for others’ property one day in the dentist’s office when she found a recipe she wanted to tear out of Good Housekeeping had already been torn out. “Don’t do this,” she said, showing me the ragged strip that was left. Despite the admonition, I kept the stolen pages of Life in the nightstand next to my bed and furtively eyed the article every night, the saturated color raising my pulse, the effect of Pop art nearly pornographic.

source: My Avant-Garde Education: a memoir by Bernard Cooper

At the Claremont Branch of the Berkeley Public Library the newest issue of Scientific American would be short of articles soon after it arrived. Someone was neatly and precisely snipping out pages because, I don’t know, he found the science “nearly pornographic” and couldn’t live without secreting the formulas in the “nightstand next to [the] bed”?

We put that magazine (and Consumer Reports and The New York Review of Books) on a shelf behind the Information Desk and only handed them over if presented with a library card, which we held onto until the magazine was returned and its contents reviewed.

I’m pretty sure I was the one who ID’d the culprit, although I made the mistake of handing him his library card before I flipped through the magazine. When I discovered that pages were missing I went up to the mild-mannered retiree, who did not look familiar to me, and asked him if he had noticed that articles had been removed. “Oh no, really?” he said.

We were trying to catch the person who’d been doing it, so if you could let us know when an article is missing, I said to him, we would appreciate it, as though I were earnestly enlisting his support in the project. It’s been several months now since an article has been snipped from Scientific American. Nor have I seen the fellow around. But would I recognize him anyway?

This is my third DIR post about authors confessing in memoirs to filching from libraries. See also Ode to Joy and another memoir, another library thief.

Monday, August 03, 2015

“I don’t want to watch boys masturbating.”

Excerpt from a Berkeley Poetry Review interview with Steve Lance and Lyn Hejinian:

How does that unpredictability and surprise relate to what you were describing earlier about how we are over-inundated with newness and we can’t place as much value in encountering new things anymore?

Steve Lance:
Well novelty is weird now. Novelty itself is commonplace. I don’t just mean in a sense of aesthetics, but do you guys know about Chatroulette? You go to a website and click “connect me” and you have your video going on, and it connects you with a random stranger. And about a third of the time it’s a guy masturbating. There are a lot of penises in this. But almost every single time it’s just people who say “hey” and that’s it. And they’re just looking to be amused by this crazy new thing. It’s totally wild, totally insane but totally boring. It’s just boring. It’s either boring or a guy masturbating.

That’s funny because I was about to say that novelty is so pornographic now. It’s just the speed of amusement, and complete commitment of your desire to that quick amusement.

Steve Lance:
Well, we should go on Chatroulette right now.

Lyn Hejinian
I don’t want to watch boys masturbating.

I’d never heard of Chat Roulette. (Probably more accurately I should say, if I ever had heard of Chat Roulette everything about it has slipped from memory.)

So I looked for more information and found a couple Hot New Thing articles about Chat Roulette. It was the Hot New Thing in 2010! Sam Anderson’s article at New York Magazine describes his experience:

I entered the fray on a bright Wednesday afternoon, with an open mind and an eager soul, ready to sound my barbaric yawp through the webcams of the world. I left absolutely crushed. It turns out that ChatRoulette, in practice, is brutal. The first eighteen people who saw me disconnected immediately. They appeared, one by one, in a box at the top of my screen—a young Asian man, a high-school-age girl, a guy lying on his side in bed—and, every time, I’d feel a little flare of excitement. Every time, they’d leave without saying a word. Sometimes I could even watch them reach down, in horrifying real-time, and click “next.” It was devastating. My first even semi-successful interaction was with a guy with a blanket draped over his lap who asked if I wanted to “jack of” with him. I declined; he disconnected. Over the course of an hour, I was rejected by what felt like a cast of thousands: a teenage girl talking on her cell phone, a close-up of an eyeball. It started to feel like a social-anxiety nightmare. One guy just stared into the camera and flipped me off. Another stood in front of his computer making wave motions with his hands, refusing to respond to anything I typed. One person had the courtesy to give me, before disconnecting, a little advice: “too old.” (I’m 32.)

Anderson pushes on, bringing in a male friend, asking his wife to participate, and he has some fun after all:

The default interaction on ChatRoulette is roughly three seconds long: assessment, micro-interaction, "next." This might seem like yet another outrage of the Internet era—the Twitter-fication of face-to-face interaction. But I was surprised (as I was with Twitter) by how much pleasant communication—joy, interest, empathy—can occur in these tiny chunks. The quest to connect becomes lightning-quick. A few seconds is plenty of time to wave, or give a thumbs-up, or type “EMO HAIR,” or elaborately mime the process of smoking marijuana, or jovially flip somebody off. (Middle fingers are extremely popular on ChatRoulette, and somehow seem affectionate.)
Eventually, I realized that clicking “next” was not so much a rejection as it was pure curiosity, like riding a train past an apartment building at night, looking briefly into as many lit windows as possible.

The New Yorker’s Julia Ioffe wrote about Chat Roulette at about the same time:

The point is to introduce you to people you’d never otherwise meet and will never see again—the dancing Korean girls, the leopard-printed Catman, the naked man in Gdansk. More than a million people, most of them from the United States, clog Chatroulette’s servers daily. To “next” someone has become a common transitive verb. Catman is an Internet celebrity, as is Merton the improvising pianist. Brooklyn bars throw Chatroulette parties, an indie band has used the site to d├ębut an album, and the Texas attorney general has warned parents to keep their children far, far away.

Sam Anderson mentions the dancing Korean girls, too.

My Google searches for Chat Roulette aren’t returning much that’s current. Perhaps I should end with a quote from’s “What went viral 5 years ago today: Chatroulette, social media’s short-lived penis empire”:

[B]efore the webcam service was declared officially dead at the tender age of eight months, the website did provide us a fascinating window into human nature in the digital age. And by that, of course, I mean penises.

According to an RJ Metrics survey from March 2010, 89 percent of Chatroulette users were male. Many, many of those men were baring it all on screen, apparently, prompting the site’s Russian teen founder to, at one point, threaten to turn the naked offenders into the cops. The absurd nudity problem quickly became part and parcel of the Chatroulette experience. is still online. You have to register to use it. Maybe you didn’t five years ago. The articles don’t mention that. Back in 2010 there was no age limit. Now there is. And now, officially at least, no dicks:

1. Broadcasting or offering nudity is not allowed.

2. If you are under 18, you can not use the service.

source of interview quote: Berkeley Poetry Review Issue 41
2010. UC Berkeley, California

Friday, July 31, 2015

Let’s stay down under, way, way, way down deep

While researching his book Deep, James Nestor hires a private submarine for a tour of the sea bottom 2500 feet down. Nestor’s description of the sights reminded me of L. Frank Baum’s Sea Fairies wherein the visiting land dwellers are given mermaid tails and gills so they can mosey about comfortably. They see fiddler crabs playing violins, listen to the songs of barnacles, avoid a cross sea pig, and pause before a batch of jellyfish:

[F]loating in the clear water was a group of beautiful shapes that the child thought looked like molds of wine jelly. They were round as a dinner plate, soft and transparent, but tinted in such lovely hues that no artist’s brush has ever been able to imitate them. Some were deep sapphire blue; others rose pink; still others a delicate topaz color. They seemed to have neither heads, eyes nor ears, yet it was easy to see they were alive and able to float in any direction they wished to go. In shape they resembled inverted flowerpots, with the upper edges fluted, and from the center floated what seemed to be bouquets of flowers.

Most of the creatures in Sea Fairies are punnily magical, but in the case of the jellyfish Baum seems to find their natural state magic enough. Sea Fairies was published in 1911 and available views of undersea life at that time were very limited.

Even today the deeper you wish to go the harder it is to get there. Water is heavy and ever so crushingly heavier the more it piles on itself. Light doesn’t get as deep as Nestor does in the little yellow Idabel (captained by its creator Karl Stanley). Yet there is color in the darkness, color generated by the natives:

In the distance, a group of glittering disco balls hangs a few feet above the seafloor. It’s a school of squids, Stanley tells us. Each is wrapped in a Technicolor coat more sparkly and garish than the next. Beside the squids are other animals — jellyfish, I think — that emit bright pink and purple light. It’s like we’ve stumbled into some underwater Studio 54. …

A two-foot glob of flashing color approaches, then hovers a few inches from the window. Along the top of this glob is a blanket of lights, all blinking, one after the other, in perfect synchroncity. First, only blue lights flash, then only red; then purple; then yellow, until every color in the spectrum has appeared. Then all the colors flash at the same time and the spectacle repeats. The hundreds of rows of little lights are evenly spaced around the glob. It looks like a cityscape at night: when the lights are red, they look like the taillights of cars on a freeway; when they’re white, they look like a grid of streetlights as viewed from an airplane thousands of feet above. Between these lights, there is nothing, no visible flesh, no nerves, no bones or body. … Stanley says it’s a comb jellyfish, the biggest he’s ever seen.

Deep: freediving, renegade science, and what the ocean tells us about ourselves by James Nestor
2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York
Sea Fairies by L. Frank Baum
1911. Reilly & Lee, Chicago

[The post title is a couple lines from Tom Tom Club's "Suboceana"]

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Do speakers of Tzeltal never get lost in the woods?

I remember reading about a language that features the cardinal directions in its grammar. The author did not include a description of the method this language’s speakers use to determine whether one is facing east, west, north, or south with such dependable accuracy that they can take it for granted, which is something you have to do if you’re going to be incorporating that information into everyday speech. I remember wondering if speakers were rarely indoors, thus hip to directional cues from the sky, the sun during the day, the stars at night. But I didn’t take it any farther than an idle puzzling.

In a discussion of hidden senses in his book Deep James Nestor says this:

The Guugu Yimithirr, an Australian Aboriginal tribe, had a remarkable sense of direction that they incorporated into their language. Instead of using words meaning ‘right,’ ‘left,’ ‘front,’ and ‘back,’ Guugu Yimithirr used the cardinal directions of north, south, east, and west. If a Guugu Yimithirr tribesman wanted you to make room for him on a bed, he’d ask you to move a few feet west. Guugu Yimithirr didn’t bend backward, they bent northward, or southward, or eastward.

The only way Guugu Yimithirr could communicate was by knowing their exact coordinates at all times … But it was second nature to them, as well as for a host of cultures throughout Indonesia, Mexico, Polynesia, and elsewhere, whose languages were also based on cardinal directions.

In the 1990s, researchers from the … Max Planck Institute … placed a speaker of Tzeltal — a Mayan directional language spoken by about 370,000 people in southern Mexico — in a dark house and spun him around blindfolded. … [A]sked … to point north, south, east, and then west [the Tzeltal speaker] did this successfully, and without hesitation, twenty times in a row.

You’ve heard that birds and sharks use the earth’s magnetic field to navigate, right? Well, maybe that’s how east and south got into grammar. Maybe we can take advantage of magnets in our heads.

“Human magnetoreception [is] distinct from other senses, like vision and smell [in that magnetoreception] is an unconscious, latent sense,” says Nestor. “We don’t know it exists unless we put ourselves in a situation in which we have to use it.”

Like when we’re lost in the woods? Or at sea?

Were the Polynesians relying on their magnetoreceptive sense when they colonized islands thousands of miles apart in the Pacific?

source: Deep: freediving, renegade science, and what the ocean tells us about ourselves by James Nestor
2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York

Sunday, July 19, 2015

word of the day: scanlation

Many of the readers coming to this book [Massive: gay erotic manga and the men who make it] will have found the first crumbs leading to our pie years ago at websites that host scanlations and other forms of pirated manga. The road we as editors took to get here was itself paved in part by the purveyors of these illicit goods — not because we were downloading illegal scanlations, but because the presence of those sites was proof that thousands of manga fans were desperate for legitimation. Across the board(s), we’d see the same rationalizations come up repeatedly in conversations about the unsanctioned translations.

“It doesn’t hurt anyone because it’s out of print.”
“It’s never going to be published in English.”

The problem isn’t just when this isn’t true. It’s the fact that not telling someone you like their stuff enough to sepnd hours translating and publicizing the work is just weird. It’s a little bit stalker-like.

That’s Anne Ishii, one of the editors (and the translator) of the gay manga collection.

I think you get the definition just fine from the context. It’s a new word, clearly. The most thorough version of its meaning is this one at Wikipedia:

definition: the scanning, translation, and editing of comics from a language into another language. Scanlation is done as an amateur work and is nearly always done without express permission from the copyright holder. The word “scanlation" is a portmanteau of the words scan and translation. The term is mainly used for Japanese comics (manga), although it also exists for other national traditions on a lesser scale. Scanlations may be viewed at websites or as sets of image files downloaded via the Internet.

source: Massive: gay erotic manga and the men who make it edited by Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd, and Graham Kolbeins
2014. Fantagraphics Books, Seattle WA