Tuesday, December 14, 2010

egg on your face

Feb ’09 I was writing about Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia, and noted with contempt the writer’s notion that only human beings have a sense of rhythm. As I said at the time, “all it takes is one ‘single report’ and you got egg on your face.”

That spring I came across
an NPR story
about animals groovin’. As I speculated in my February post, if any animal should have a sense of rhythm wouldn’t it be one that sings, maybe a bird? And now I see that researchers have found birds who dance. 14 species of parrots, at least. And, contra the expert Sacks quotes in his book, some elephants. They found these dancers, how? Through watching youtube videos!

Interestingly , Aniruddh Patel, the very scientist Sacks quotes categorically denying any animal the ability to shimmy to the beat, is quoted in the NPR story. “’ This is potentially scientifically very important,’” Patel says.

Follow the link and watch some birds shakin’ tail. It’s cute. And less than three minutes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

you can have an opinion on a topic, without having much information about it

Studies of political literacy among children “upholds the basic conclusion that kids tend to have little genuine awareness of political figures, political parties, or the political process.

“But how much more ignorant are kids than the general population? Not much, it turns out. … ‘[T]here is no evidence to suggest that an enfranchised adult population actually knows more than … teenager[s] …’ National political moods, it seems, happen without national political awareness.” Just because people don’t know the details about a subject, Ryan Grim says, it doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion about it.

source: This Is Your Country on Drugs: the secret history of getting high in America by Ryan Grim

Sunday, December 12, 2010

treatment over incarceration

“In 2000, California voters approved a program to provide drug treatment, rather than prison time, for nonviolent drug-possession offenders. A study of the law found that it saved the state $1.3 billion over its first six years, and that for every tax dollar invested, California saved $7 thanks to reductions in crime and health-care costs.”

I remember voting for that proposition. I’ve wondered how it’s worked out.

source: This Is Your Country on Drugs: the secret history of getting high in America by Ryan Grim

Saturday, December 11, 2010

out of the bars, into the dens

“In 1827, the first year the federal government began tabulating opium imports, almost none was brought into the United States. Five years later, the number had climbed to around fifty thousand pounds. In several years during the 1830s and early 1840s, importation peaked at more than seventy thousand pounds. If a dose is less than half a gram – and it can often be much less – then seventy thousand pounds would be enough for more than thirty million opium highs in a nation with an 1840 population of roughly seventeen million. Importation statistics suggest that use continued to rise throughout the 1840s and 1850s.”

Ryan Grim notes that opium use tracked the success of the temperance movement – as people drank less they turned to another high to fill the need. But the bit about 30 million highs in a nation of 17 million seemed kind of, well, high. Looking at it again, two(ish) highs a year per person doesn’t seem all that dramatic. This is not a nation of junkies. Still, it’s quite a bump from “almost none.” A relatively small number of heavy users could account for a large fraction of that 30 million. That’s typically the case, isn’t it?

source: This Is Your Country on Drugs: the secret history of getting high in America by Ryan Grim

Friday, December 10, 2010

Vengeful Cruelty

“A striking feature of eliminationist assaults is that the perpetrators and the social groups they come from, represent, and in whose name they act regularly conceive themselves as reacting rather than acting. Believing that the victims have already perpetrated or intend to perpetrate great injury upon them, they understand their assault as essentially defensive, necessary to forestall further harm, rather than as offensive against an unthreatening party. Perpetrators’ and their supporters’ ease in convincing themselves they are justly giving the victims what the victims had inflicted or would inflict upon them, when it is overwhelmingly evident that this is wrong, demonstrates human beings’ great vulnerability to prejudices and ideologies positing that a disparaged, hated, or alien group poses a dire threat. This sense of victimhood, the rage it induces and the perpetrators’ self-righteousness in administering hard justice combine to produce an appetite for vengeance and pleasure in meting it out …”

The passage continues with examples from the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, and the Soviets in their push against the retreating Germans in World War II (where vengeance rape against German women was an approved tactic).

The description of what author Daniel Goldhagen calls “Vengeful Cruelty” sounds to me an awful lot like the rhetoric of the contemporary Christian right wing in this country. The Christians bleat that they are victims. Victims! Beleagered and on the run in their own country – and threatened around the world – a vision of the world so at odds with the reality as to be truly frightening. If someone can believe something so clearly absurd, what monstrous acts do they think will be justified, will be necessary, now, while they have weapons and numbers to their advantage?

source: Worse Than War: genocide, eliminationism, and the ongoing assault on humanity by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

Thursday, December 09, 2010

“cosmological principle”

“If a person innocently surveyed the Germans’ treatment of Jews … he might … conclude … that the Germans kept the Jews alive … to satisfy some unknown cosmological principle requiring Jews’ suffering akin to the Aztecs’ belief that daily human sacrifice was necessary to make the sun rise.”

source: Worse Than War: genocide, eliminationism, and the ongoing assault on humanity by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Victory Cabbage

I remember the pique over the French government’s resistance to the U.S. invasion of Iraq led a member of Congress to propose renaming French Fries – Freedom Fries.

Back in World War One “sauerkraut was renamed Victory Cabbage.”

The guy for tweaking the French (like they cared?) musta knowed his histry.

source: This Is Your Country on Drugs: the secret history of getting high in America by Ryan Grim

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

scattering the ashes, part 2

Having posted one account of scattering ashes, I thought I’d follow up with another. Lynn Schooler is scattering the ashes of his father in an Alaskan stream:

“The ashes hissed as they entered the water, the heavier bits sinking immediately to the bottom beneath the salmon, settling into the gravel amid clusters of freshly spawned eggs; the lighter, powdery material clung to the surface, drifting in ribbons and patches through rafts of golden leaves. A trace of fine dust rose from the empty bag like smoke, twisted on the breeze, and dispersed.”

source: The Blue Bear by Lynn Schooler

Monday, December 06, 2010

“cause of death”

When I came upon Lynn Schooler’s description of the internment camp for Aleuts in Funter Bay, I was surprised, not remembering having heard of it before.

“On June 7, 1942, a special task force of the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Kiska Island, one of the westernmost islands in the Aleutian chain. … [I]n the turmoil that followed, U.S. troops evacuated more than 880 Aleuts from their treeless, windswept home and forced them into internment camps a thousand miles away in Funter Bay. While German POWs housed in well-built bunkhouses twenty miles west in Excusion Inlet organized orchestras and tried on warm woolen coats (courtesy of the Red Cross), the Aleut Americans were huddling in the dank, leaky remains of the abandoned cannery, dying of depression and medical neglect while trying to subsist on a meager diet of rice. The records of the sole harried doctor assigned to care for the declining Aleuts sometimes listed the cause of death as simply ‘pain.’ …

“During the summer of 1943, in spite of the fact that they had ostensibly been evacuated to protect them from the invading Japanese, most of the able-bodied men interned at Funter Bay were transported back to the Pribilof Islands to conduct an annual harvest of fur seals under the auspices of the federal government, leaving the women and children to fend for themselves. … When some … men expressed their dissatisfaction, they were labeled as mutineers, and the cook received orders not to feed them. … [E]pidemics of disease ravaged the [Funter Bay] camps … dystentery, influenza … measles …”

Ah, the Good War. The Greatest Generation. The golden days of yore.

source: The Blue Bear by Lynn Schooler

Sunday, December 05, 2010

“crackles and snaps”

When you’re sitting on top of the water far from the surf and the air is calm the ocean seems to be a quiet place. If you were to dip your ear into the water, as Lynn Schooler does with a hydrophone off the Alaskan coast, hoping to locate the schools of herring that draw the hungry humpbacks to feed, you would hear a lot:

“I listened for the light, hissing static that can signal the presence of herring. The clicks and pops emitted by millions of tiny gills create a distinct underwater ‘signature’ that can sometimes be heard for miles and – if we were lucky – might be accompanied by the baritone rumbles and high-pitched squeals of hunting whales.

“The hydrophone chortled and whispered in the myriad voices of the ocean: a ratcheting whir – the voice of a porpoise using echo-location to feel its way through the depths; the hiss of strong currents stirring sand along the bottom; the innumerable tiny crackles and snaps that rise from hordes of crab, shrimp, bivalves, and unnameable bottom-crawling creatures; odd, indecipherable sounds that added to the depth of mystery in the black world beneath the Swift’s keel.”

source: The Blue Bear by Lynn Schooler

Monday, November 22, 2010

word of the day: hootch

“’Hootchenoo’ was as close as the first whites in Alaska could come to a proper pronunciation of Hutsnuwu – a village famous for its home brew and stills. Corrupted, the name of the village was shortened to ‘Hootch,’ and a new word signaling powerful, poor-quality liquor was introduced into American slang by traders and sailors returning home from the Inside Passage.”

source: The Blue Bear by Lynn Schooler

Sunday, November 21, 2010

obey freely

After railing at the notion that ordinary killers in a genocide are forced into it, that they act against their will, it being inconceivable that your average person would so easily throw aside the belief that murder was wrong and grab a machete, Daniel Goldhagen quotes one of the Rwandan Hutu who did just that. Goldhagen says, these are “words that could serve as a motto for our age’s willing executioners, whether ordinary Germans, ordinary Serbs, or ordinary Hutu, ‘you obey freely.’”

Whole societies buy into the idea that some class of persons needs to be eliminated in order to avoid disaster (or to make way for some wondrous transformation). In societies that have perpetrated mass slaughter it is not difficult to find people who have killed their neighbors, even the children of their neighbors, and taunted and tortured them while doing it. These killers are often protected from legal retribution (if such becomes likely) because even those who did not actively wield a murder weapon agree something had to be done, something permanent, because things just couldn’t go on the way they were.

Is it easy to create the kind of animosity that explodes, when the circumstances are right, into an orgy of bloodletting? Probably not. It probably takes years of effort and persuasion, peer pressure, repetition. But that sort of effort and persuasion, that sort of mindnumbing repetition of irrational blaming, is not hard to find, even today, and probably in your neighborhood.

source: Worse Than War: genocide, eliminationism, and the ongoing assault on humanity by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen

Saturday, November 20, 2010

scattering the ashes

“The sun was shining and the sky was blue with a few white clouds as I paddled closer toward the center of the lake. … Suddenly, out of nowhere, the sky got dark and big gusts of wind were blowing. … What I thought would be a touching ceremony between me and my mother turned into a hurried, workmanlike task as I pulled the plastic bag out of the box, opened it, and poured the contents into the lake, the wind blowing much of the ashes back in my face.”

Mark Oliver Everett was scattering his mother’s ashes in a lake that held fond memories of family outings. I’ve read a number of accounts of the scattering of ashes; when the ashes are spread upon the waters there often seem to be mischievous breezes lurking nearby. Everett’s is only the latest I’ve read in which a wind pops up and hurls the cremains irreverently back into mourners’ faces.

Should I find myself tasked with scattering I will know what to expect.

source: Things the Grandchildren Should Know by Mark Oliver Everett

Friday, November 19, 2010

you should pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, darn it!

“I was getting used to just pulling up my bootstraps (whatever that means) and taking care of the task at hand …”

A friend at work asked me about idioms. It reminded me of the other workmate who asked me what slang was. In neither case was I able to offer a great definition. For idiom I like this from Wikipedia, “an expression, word, or phrase whose sense means something different from what the words literally imply.” Although I would change that “imply” to “describe.” The point of saying you should “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” isn’t to say anything about boots or literally getting up off the floor by tugging on them but (as phrases.org has it) “to exemplify the achievement in getting out of a difficult situation by [your] own efforts.” Nobody needed to give me a hand up, I was able to get off the floor completely through my own efforts!

Is it possible to get yourself up off the floor by pulling at your bootstraps, shoelaces, nose, penis, or hair? Well. Maybe. One of the origins of the metaphor, I suspect, was the respect it gave to the inherent difficulty. If you could do it, you were due a lot of credit. But metaphors are pernicious. Unlike pulling yourself up by bootstraps metaphors are easy. You can throw them at people, cover up reasoned arguments with them, and create seductive irrelevancies. Too often we argue about the metaphor rather than the problem. This redounds to the benefit of the dishonest debater.

The quote that heads my post is ripped from Mark Oliver Everett’s memoir Things the Grandchildren Should Know. Everett is the creative force behind EELS, a rock band. He’s no dummy but it’s weird he doesn’t even get the idiom right. In this age of easy internet research – I googled “bootstraps” and found the phrases.org explanation in under five seconds – getting shit wrong should be harder.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

what passes for reason

In 2006 the New York State Court of Appeals “rejected the view that the ban against same-sex marriage [in that state] was irrational and arbitrary and therefore unconstitutional.”

The Court, desperately trying to cobble together a rationale that wasn’t purely arbitrary, came up with this drug fantasy: “The court reasoned that … same-sex couples can only have children … through careful planning. In contrast … [because] different-sex couples can ‘become parents [by] accident’ … heterosexual couples … are more likely to be unstable … [T]he court concluded that it was rational for the legislature to provide protection to the more unstable … relationships while denying protection to the more stable …” In other words, heterosexual relationships are likelier to be more “’casual and temporary’” than gay ones.

How excluding same-sex couples from protection was supportive to the casual and temporary straights was left unexplained. Legal protections destabilize the steady at the same time they help out the casual? I guess allowing people to marry who are less likely to divorce would put divorce court judges out of work!

That’s what passes for reason in homophobic judges!

We can have a cynical laugh, I suppose, at the turning on its head of one of the most deeply held traditional prejudices against gay relationships -- if such laughter doesn’t hurt your gut more than just drinking.

source: From the Closet to the Courtroom: five LGBT rights lawsuits that have changed our nation by Carlos A. Ball

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

stuff I got at the SF Zine Fest

Labor Day Weekend saw another SF Zine Fest.

What I got:

John Porcellino’s King-Cat Comics & Stories #71 – and a King-Cat Tshirt!

into the grid a tiny zine about being a librarian

We’ll Never Have Paris Spring 2010 – a zine on the theme “things never meant to be” – when I saw the come-on on the cover “NOW WITH POETRY!” I asked the editor if that had killed sales. She said, “I didn’t use to publish poetry.”

Cliterally Speaking mini-comics by April Thompson and Quintessa Malranga, mostly

Notes on Conflict mini-comics by Susie Cagle – a trip to Israel

The Frog Prince a full-size comic by Lauren Skinner

Kent bought some stuff, too.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

“Ease awes.”

“Ease awes,” says Ron Silliman in his essay “Of Theory, To Practice.”

What the hell is he talking about?*

Here’s the context: “Once reading strategies catch up to those of writing, a lot of complexity is going to dissolve. Ease awes. For good reason.”

He’s been talking about the “difficult or obscure” nature of much modern poetry and says once readers “catch up to” the writers that difficulty will “dissolve” into “ease.” Ease? And ease awes! It does? I mean, when someone says, “You make it look easy,” they’re typically talking to a person doing something the speaker has already discovered is NOT easy. So there’s awe in that, awe in appreciating a performance of a difficult act in a manner that makes it look easy.

But once one has achieved a facility in something such that it feels easy, one ceases to be awed by it. It becomes matter-of-fact, just something you can do. So is Ron talking about others who haven’t yet got it? Readers who haven’t yet achieved an ease with the (only apparently) obscure will be awed by readers who have? That sounds unlikely, both as a reading of what Ron means to say, and as something that might happen.


I didn’t quote the sentence to hassle Ron about it. I quote the sentence because it is just so gawdam fun.

“Ease awes.”

Ease awes!

Say it eight times fast. Ease-awes-ease-awes-ease-awes-eez-oz-ee-zaws-ees-ahs-



‘E’s Oz!

source: Postmodern American Poetry, edited by Paul Hoover

Friday, September 03, 2010

from John Cage’s "Themes & Variations"

Activity, not communication.

Process instead of object.

Boredom plus attention = becoming interested.

Music is permanent; only listening is intermittent (Thoreau).

source: Postmodern American Poetry, edited by Paul Hoover

Thursday, September 02, 2010

“Mountain Mountain Mountain”

In the comentario under the poem “Palabra de Mujer” in his book Caminante John Oliver Simon notes that “Cerro Huitztepec,” a place name in Chiapas, Mexico, “means Mountain Mountain Mountain in Spanish, Mayan, and Nahuatl respectively.”

Puts me in mind of my British Life & Culture teacher 22 years ago in London. He said the River Avon (Shakespeare’s brook!) essentially means River River in English and Celtic. This is probably true of more place names than we realize. When a people comes to a land new to them they ask the present natives what things there are called. If “Avon” doesn’t mean anything to you, it sounds like a proper name, so you have to add a clarifying noun. River Avon doesn’t mean River River to an English speaker because Avon doesn’t mean anything to an English speaker.

“Adam”, I once read, means “Man” so any man named Adam is named redundantly. The Dine people (Dine being what the Navajo call themselves) translates as The People people.

I think this is called semantic opacity. Something “semantically opaque … passe[s] through a system without its contents being inspected or manipulated as if it was a black box.” A “black box” being a box no one thinks to open?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

John Oliver Simon on Ron Silliman

In Caminante, John Oliver Simon’s sequence of poems written during a several-month travel through Latin America, Simon includes “comentarios” in prose after each poem. The comentario gives the poem context (where it was written, who was around) and explains obscurities and culturally specific references. Under the poem “Not Language”, Simon takes on Ron Silliman:

“’the lie of closure,’ writes l*a*n*g*u*a*g*e poet Ron Silliman, lying to us and to himself on every possible level. Our raw material as poets is not words but things, not syntax but lives. Mortal, we work toward an ending.”

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


context: “Sadir laughed and hoisted me up by my arm. He was a strapling of a man, as strong and ropy as a marathoner. I figured him for a rock climber. The mountains had made him ageless – he could have been twenty-five or forty.”

source of quote: Chasing the Sea: lost among the ghosts of empire in Central Asia, by Tom Bissell

Consider this a sequel to my May 26 post. In his book on the great apes Paul Raffaele described a gorilla nest in which the animal had “snapped and bent some striplings together …” In my May 26 post I noted that I was unable to find a definition of stripling that matched Raffaele’s use of the word. A stripling is not a form of plant growth. A stripling is a young man.

Similarly, I was unable to locate a definition of “strapling” that matched Tom Bissell’s use of the word. The urban dictionary offers, “incredibly good at sex,” and gives this sentence for context, “The strapling young lad pleasured her all night long.”

I don’t think the urban dictionary’s definition is the one Bissell had in mind. “Strapling” does not occur at Dictionary.com or in the Microsoft Word dictionary. Perhaps Bissell confused the words “strapping” (“tall and powerfully built,” according to the MS Word dictionary) and “stripling.”

I remember the strange “strapping” from my childhood. It always seemed to occur in a phrase like, “He was a strapping young man.” Thus I assumed it meant “healthy” or maybe good-natured. When I finally cracked a dictionary to see what it said I learned “strapping” was supposed to mean “muscular.” Tom Bissell’s new friend was certainly muscular – and powerful. If Sadir could have been 25, he must have seemed youthful (whatever “ageless” quite means), so “stripling” must have echoed in Bissell’s brain.

Strapling – it’s not a bad coinage. I rather doubt, though, that “stripling” and “strapping” remain familiar enough for their “strapling” offspring to achieve a long life.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

word of the day: climacteric

context: “In the fall of 1996, while my fellow volunteers and I underwent our Peace Corps training, Uzbekistan was suffering its largest agricultural shortfall in history. I knew nothing of this. Nor did I know about the potentially climacteric deals with Western companies such as McDonald’s melting into air because of the Uzbek government’s devotion to nativistic, strong-arm economics.”

Tom Bissell is saying that, even if you were inside Uzbekistan, it was hard to know much about it.

definition: “any critical period”
source: dictionary.com

So those “climacteric deals with … McDonald’s” were crititcally timed deals? The opportunity not grasped at once was lost? … McDonald’s? Yeah. Won’t see its like again.

The “critical period” definition seemed most apropos. However, the main definition seems to be: menopause …

source of quote: Chasing the Sea: lost among the ghosts of empire in Central Asia, by Tom Bissell

Sunday, August 01, 2010

pile of reading

The New Yorker, Dec. 10, 2007
Yes, I’m reading 2 1/2 year old New Yorkers. Hendrik Hertzberg starts “The Talk of the Town” column by castigating “the Bush Administration [over its] Mesopotamian misadventure.” There’s an essay on medicine by Atul Gawande. I recently read a collection of Gawande’s called Complications, a mix of journalism and memoir that reminded me of Lewis Thomas.

Caminante, poems by John Oliver Simon
I’ve met John Oliver Simon and we have friends & acquaintances in common. I’ve never cottoned to his poetry, but I wondered if I’d never given it enough of a chance. I’m enjoying this, a sort of Latin American haibun, in which Simon offers the poem first (always 8 lines) then follows with a prose piece placing the poem in the context of the journey through Latin America that he was taking in 1995-96; the prose also offers English translations of Spanish words in the poem and other helpful exposition. “Slide this chip under your tongue. / This stone is made of water. / Two-headed hurricane eagle crying.” In the following note Simon explains, “The two-headed golden eagle was traded out of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia …”

The Garden Thrives: Twentieth-Century African-American Poetry, edited with an introduction by Clarence Major.
I found this on the clearance shelf at Half Price Books so it was really cheap. For some reason it jumped the line; I mean, I’ve got stacks of books that I’ve been looking forward to reading yet this relative newbie was the one I picked up.

Captains of the Sands, by Jorge Amado
Continuing to work my way through the many novels of Jorge Amado. When readers come to the Information Desk at the library looking for a new author to fall in love with, I have to admit I repeatedly recommend Amado. I started this then got distracted by life.

The Golden Ass: the transformations of Lucius by Apuleius, translated by Robert Graves
Haven’t gotten far in this either. Each time I read a few paragraphs I like it but I haven’t yet read more than a few paragraphs at a sitting.

Postmodern American Poetry, edited by Paul Hoover
About two-thirds of the way through and I’m discovering poets I like and rediscovering some I’d forgotten about. Michael Palmer: “You would like to live somewhere else // away from the exaggerated music / in a new, exaggerated shirt”

The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius
I don’t know if I’m really tackling this but when I picked it up last night I read this: “Caesar also put on a gladiatorial show, but had collected so immense a troop of combatants that his terrified political opponents rushed a bill through the House, limiting the number of gladiators that anyone might keep in Rome; consequently far fewer pairs fought than had been advertised.” Julius Caesar was just an up-and-comer at the time, not yet dictator, so he had to follow the law, which meant he had reduce the number of shows, which meant he opened himself up to the charge of false advertising. I mean, I’m totally charmed by Suetonius explaining why Caesar’s disappointment of a gladiatorial show wasn’t Caesar over-promising and under-delivering. No, he had to follow the law!

Worse Than War: genocide, eliminationism, and the ongoing assault on humanity, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
The prose is a bit leaden and repetitive and the subject deeply depressing, so I read only two or three pages at a time and wondered if I was going to make it through the book’s 600 pages. But then after describing how easy it is to kill many many people – and Goldhagen wasn’t talking about bombs, he was talking about clubs and small arms and machetes – he asks, “Why do the killers kill?” Do they approve of killing? When 40% of the population actively participates in the killing, and another 20% or more seems to approve, how did they get this far in their lives without whacking people over a place in line?

Chasing the Sea: lost among the ghosts of empire in Central Asia, by Tom Bissell
A mix of travel-writing, memoir, and history. Bissell returns to Uzbekistan years after having failed at a Peace Corps gig there. This time he’s on assignment. What happened to the Aral Sea?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

pile of reading

A Single Hurt Color poems by Andrew Demcak
Goss 183 Casa Menendez Press, Bloomington IL
This is Andrew’s third book of poems. I bought it from him where he works as a children’s librarian at the Piedmont Branch of the Oakland Public Library. A few blocks away is the Kaiser Hospital where Kent was having surgery. I’d gotten an Oakland library card when Kent had his first surgery back in March. But I didn’t check anything out at the time. So this second time I was stuck in the neighborhood I made sure to check something out. Oakland library puts you on probation, see. When you first use your card you can only check out one item. Only once you’ve returned the item can you check out more and then up to whatever the limit is, which I forget. I checked out Assembly Required: notes from a deaf gay life, a collection of essays by Raymond Luczak, which I sat at a table to read. When I looked up I saw Andrew was at his desk, so I went over to talk with him. We met when he worked for the Berkeley library a few years ago. Having read his first book already I wondered if Andrew had a copy of his second book with him – I’d buy it! Andrew dithered a moment then went to look in the back room, emerging a moment later with A Single Hurt Color. “You can have it,” he said. “You don’t have to pay anything.” I gave him a ten dollar bill. Andrew wanted to give it back to me. I said, “Buy a drink or something.”

The Golden Ass: the transformations of Lucius translated by Robert Graves from Apuleius
Farrar Straus & Giroux, NY
I’ve barely started this.

Postmodern American Poetry edited by Paul Hoover
W.W. Norton, NY
I’m a bit past half way. Have been reading this anthology off & on for months.

American Hunks by David L. Chapman & Brett Josef Grubisic
Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver
Can’t say as I’m a huge muscle fan, but there’s a charming retro quality to this exhibition of Chapman’s collection of male hunk photos and drawings. It’s interesting watching the evolution of the depiction of the crafted male body over the 19th and 20th centuries. Chapman says he has no taste for the body builder form from the 70s to the present as those bodies display the unnatural effects of chemicals like steroids. Indeed, none of the photos in the book show off the hugely distorted bodies we’ve come to expect in contemporary body builder competitions.

Almost Human: a journey into the world of baboons by Shirley C. Strum
Random House, NY
I like reading naturalists’ accounts of animal watching. There are always such good stories among the nonhuman. At the point in the book I’m reading Strum is having to deal with human encroachment on the baboon troops. Though the land is marginal for agriculture the Kenyan government begins to settle farmers there. The baboons ignore the farms at first but when drought makes wild food scarce they notice the crops.

Worse Than War: genocide, eliminationism, and the ongoing assault on humanity by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Public Affairs, NY
Can’t read much of this book at a sitting, mainly because it’s depressing to read accounts of atrocities. Plus, it’s long.

A Garden of Peonies translations of Chinese oems into English verse, by Henry H. Hart
Stanford University Press, Stanford CA
Good quality translations from 1938. “The yellow leaves / Fall to the earth, / And the green moss / Is wet with dew.”

NEWAVE! the underground mini comix of the 1980s edited by Michael Dowers
Fantagraphics Books, Seattle WA
My brother David produced a number of mini comics back in the 80s. I even wrote scripts for some of ‘em. None, unfortunately, appears in this anthology. (Though David is mentioned.) Though I tried to keep an eye out for mini comics most of these are unfamiliar. The subtitle declares “of the 1980s” but the anthology starts in the 70s so it may be that much of the work in it originally appeared before I was even aware of mini comics.

Monday, June 21, 2010

proper study

In his Worse Than War: genocide, eliminationism, and the ongoing assault on humanity Daniel Jonah Goldhagen says, “In our time virtually all manner of peoples have perpetrated mass murder against virtually all kinds of victims.”

It’s a statement surrounded by examples, of course. And “our time” seems to reach back to Genghis Khan and the Bible. I feel an unlikely optimism when horrors of such intractable and overwhelming nature are approached with reason, scholarship and compassion. Goldhagen, author also of Hitler’s Willing Executioners, a study of the ordinary Germans who joined in the extermination of the Jews, seems to think if we study mass murder, figuring out not only what sets it in motion (& who) but what keeps it in motion and what ends it, we will be better able to prevent it. It’s that attitude that gives me that little lift even when reading the horrific details of killing, hate, and indifference to suffering. I then shake my head. Really? We can get a handle on this evil? We haven’t up to now because nobody’s properly studied it?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

word of the day: cinereous

context: In the middle of winter Katherine is leaving the midwest for California. Her mother is giving her a ride to the train station. “Cinereous snow lay in half-melted heaps, and a feeble light penetrated the taut canopy of clouds. I kicked a chunk of gritty snow off the car’s wheel well and climbed into the back seat.”

definition: resembling ashes

definition source: dictionary.com

quotation source: Blood Strangers: a memoir by Katherine A. Briccetti

Monday, May 31, 2010

word of the day: diuturnity

context: The Director is in communication with angels (or eldila, as author C.S. Lewis terms them in his space trilogy), and they are helping him head off the final conquest of Earth by the fallen angels. Should the bad angels succeed, “Bad men, while still in the body, still crawling on this little globe, would enter that state, which, heretofore, they had entered only after death [i.e., Hell], would have the diuturnity and power of evil spirits.”

definition: Long duration; lastingness.

definition source: dictionary.com

quotation source: That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

Sunday, May 30, 2010

word of the day: slatch

context: Katherine is looking back on her childhood. Katherine’s parents have divorced and her mother, who has custody of her and her younger brother, is marrying anew. The adult Katherine contemplates a photograph from the wedding: “[I]nstead of recording untainted happiness, it captures me with a hazy stare and half-smile. … I see myself as I must have been: waiting. Waiting during the lull, the slatch between my past and my future, between one father and the other.”

definition: “a relatively smooth interval between heavy seas.”

definition source: dictionary.com

quotation source: Blood Strangers: a memoir by Katherine A. Briccetti

Saturday, May 29, 2010

word of the day: lamellation

context: Ruth’s father has died. Both Ruth’s parents were Deaf; though Ruth and her brother were born hearing their first language was American Sign Language. “I heard his voice as it was in life. And I saw the gentle lamellation of his signs.”

definition: “an arrangement or structure in which there are thin layers, plates, or scales.”

definition source: dictionary.com

quote source: In Silence: Growing Up Hearing in a Deaf World by Ruth Sidransky

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Now, this is the sort of thing that’s so minor, even charming, that making any kind of deal out of it seems silly, especially since the topic of the book in which this thing appears is a totally serious (in fact, awfully depressing) topic. Among the Great Apes is Paul Raffaele’s account of visiting the regions where the remnant great ape populations are barely holding out – war-torn Africa mainly, where the chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas scrape by, but also the aggressively exploited forests of Borneo where the orangutans are running out of trees.

When I came across the word “stripling” in Raffaele’s book I recognized it as one of the age categories James Davidson discusses in his The Greeks and Greek Love, a book I’d recently worked my way through (it’s long!). A stripling is a youth, a teenager. Age categories were very important to the Greeks.

Raffaele, however, uses “stripling” to mean something entirely different. Sapling, maybe. Slender branch? At first I thought it was just an accidental misspelling of “sapling.” But then he did it again. And in this passage Raffaele does it twice:

“The silverback’s nest resembles an oval throne, fashioned from branches he has snapped to form the foundation, and with a layer of vegetation woven with striplings and leaves to make it soft and springy as a cushion.” A silverback gorilla is the leader of the gorilla family, the patriarch. Nearby are the nests of the females and youngsters. “The two-year old is still practicing nest building and has snapped and bent some striplings together and added a few leaves for comfort.”

By context you know no gorilla is snapping or bending or weaving together youthful human males. But I wasn’t able to find any other definition of “stripling” in a dictionary. Raffaele, by the way, does also know the word "sapling" and uses it elsewhere.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Christianity in space

“[T]he vast astronomical distances … are God’s quarantine regulations …”

So says the narrator in C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra.

I’m really bogging down in this book. While the previous novel in Lewis’ space trilogy was a decent adventure story this one is turning into a theo-psychological argument. Not exactly boring because Lewis writes well. But I am wondering why I’m bothering. Oh yeah. Because for years as a teen I shopped at a comic store called Perelandra and I’m still curious what that was all about. I’m not convinced I’ll really have an answer when I get to the last page. It’s just Christianity in space?

I remember one of Perelandra’s owners had the last name: Christ. He insisted Christ rhymed with ‘wrist’ – rather than ‘priced’, say.

“He knew now why the old philosophers had said there is no such thing as chance,” says the Perelandra narrator referring to the main character’s name – Ransom. Christ was a ransom, too?

Monday, April 12, 2010

“It’s awful to read his complete works.”

“Yes, the poet can say only a little and says one and the same thing all the time. It’s awful to read his complete works. It’s awful, you think, how much can one go on about one and the same thing!”

-- Evgeny Kharitonov, from “Tears on Flowers"

source: Crossing Centuries: the new generation in Russian poetry, edited by John High, et al.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

“a splended time for poetry”

Evgeny Bunimovich on the change in fortune for poets in Russia after the fall of the Soviet government:

“I think this is a splendid time for poetry. The prestige which writers formerly enjoyed has largely disappeared, and the prestige of poets most of all. As a result, only those who truly need to write poetry still do so. Today you can’t build a career as a poet, or gratify your ego, or make a political statement. You produce a text, and that’s it.”

Yup, no more poets filling stadiums or being celebrated for standing up to the propaganda. Just you & your poem. Kinda like here.

source: Crossing Centuries: the new generation in Russian poetry, edited by John High, et al.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

what an autograph is worth

In a profile in The New Yorker by John Lahr, the actor Ian McKellan proudly recalls helping found the UK gay rights group, Stonewall, after his public coming out in 1988. (Hey, that’s the same year I spent a semester in London.) The struggle of the time (besides AIDS, of course) was against “legislation that aimed to prohibit local authorities from publishing material condoning homosexuality or from referring to it in state schools as an acceptable lifestyle.” The proposed law was dubbed Clause 28.

Lobbying against Clause 28, McKellen used his connections to buttonhole politicians, including one of Britain’s most fervid anti-gay spokesmen, Michael Howard, who was later to become the Conservative Party leader. After a fruitless meeting, Howard requested an autograph for his children. McKellen obliged. “Fuck off! I’m gay,” he wrote.

source: The New Yorker, August 27, 2007

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

“with dignity and respect, proud and free”

I've been reading The Trouble with Harry Hay: founder of the modern gay movement, a biography by Stuart Timmons. One of the first gay rights groups was the Mattachine Society, which Hay helped found in the early 50s during a time in which it was illegal to be gay in most of the country - and I don't just mean sodomy, I mean just being alive.

Here's a pledge they recited as they held hands:

Our interlocking, sustaining and protecting hands guarantee a reborn social force of immense and simple purpose. We are resolved that our people shall find equality of security and production in tomorrow's world. We are sworn that no boy or girl, approaching the maelstrom of deviation, need make that crossing alone, afraid and in the dark, ever again. In these moments we dedicate ourselves once again to each other in the immense significance of such allegiance, with dignity and respect, proud and free.