Friday, February 28, 2014

...and from NPR ...

Is Islam A Religion Of Peace?

...A team of experts argued both sides of the motion "Islam Is a Religion of Peace" in a recent Intelligence Squared U.S. debate. Two argued in favor and two against.
Before the Oxford-style debate at New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, the audience voted 41 percent in favor of the motion and 25 percent against. Thirty-four percent were undecided. After the debate, however, 55 percent disagreed that "Islam Is a Religion of Peace," 36 percent supported the motion and 9 percent were still unsure.

Meanwhile ...

It is somewhat ironic that the loss of Prime from the Liturgy of the Hours—and thus the loss of a daily liturgical reading from the Roman Martyrology—coincided with the greatest century of persecution in the history of the Church. It’s a point well-established but little appreciated within American Catholicism: we have been living, and we’re living now, in the greatest era of persecution in Christian history. More Christians died for the faith in the 20th-century than in the previous 19 centuries of Christian history combined

Forbidden words ... and actions ...

Under the Syariah Penal Code Order, there are 19 words which cannot be used with respect to other religions.
They are azan; baitullah; Al Quran; Allah; fatwa; Firman Allah; hadith; Haji; hukum syara’; ilahi; Ka’bah; kalimah al syahadah; kiblat; masjid; imam; mufti; mu’min; solat; and wali.
For adultery between a married Muslim and a married non-Muslim, both parties can be punished by stoning to death if the offence is proved by confession, or the testimony of four eyewitnesses.

AWP Seattle …

… You Can Haz Brevity Chapbooks | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

How to Make a Fool of Yourself at AWP.

Home and heart …

… James Wood � On Not Going Home � LRB 20 February 2014. (Hat tip, Lee Lowe.)

… there is always the reality of a certain outsider-dom. Take the beautiful American train horn, the crushed klaxon peal you can hear almost anywhere in the States: at the end of my street at night-time, across a New Hampshire valley, in some small Midwestern town – a crumple of notes, blown out on an easy, loitering wail​3. It sounds less like a horn than a sudden prairie wind or an animal’s cry. That big easy loiter is, for me, the sound of America, whatever America is. But it must also be ‘the sound of America’ for thousands, perhaps millions of non-Americans. It’s a shared possession, not a personal one. I’m outside it; I appreciate it, as something slightly distant.

Friday morning Lull Report …

… courtesy of Dave Lull:

… ironically enough, little cause for chagrin: Concerning Developments – Lingua Franca - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education.

… but why privilege writers? The Real Reason Writers Love the Amtrak Residence — It's not just the free train ticket.

Writers are hardly the only people who do work on the train. Why not gives a fare break, too, from time to time?

… the scowl behind the leer: The Dark Psychology of Being a Good Comedian.

Great thinkers have been trying for centuries to figure out the evolutionary purpose of comedy. 
They have? Even before Darwin?  The difficulty of arriving at an intellectual formulation of humor derives, I think, from how its mystery so nicely corresponds to the mystery of being, leading me to suspect that God is a comedian. Richard Dawkins, for example, may eventually find himself the butt of a grand cosmic joke.

… faith in practice: The Secret Auden
He was disgusted by his early fame because he saw the mixed motives behind his image of public virtue, the gratification he felt in being idolized and admired. He felt degraded when asked to pronounce on political and moral issues about which, he reminded himself, artists had no special insight. Far from imagining that artists were superior to anyone else, he had seen in himself that artists have their own special temptations toward power and cruelty and their own special skills at masking their impulses from themselves.

Keep me uninvited...

After the harvest...


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ch Ch Changes ...

Let this cup pass Lord.

Curled up in agony, rolling back and forth, back and forth, caught in the horrendous torture of a mind out of control, a mind that won’t stop, why me why me why me.   Stop it stop it stop it, get control “our father who art in heaven” nononono not me not me not me.

Hours and hours and days and days.

I am not a woman, I am not a woman, I am not a woman.

Functioning, when out of my room, but barely. 

Trips to therapists, with and without my spouse my love, who is going through this with me.

One therapist I hire because she is specialist in this world, the world of the transsexual, the world of people who never fit in.  The other I hire because he is the exact opposite, a Devil’s Advocate, someone to tell me there is no such thing, you have other issues, snap out of it.  Or in the words of my wife’s best friend, “Oh stop it.  Suck it up, live with it for 30 years and die.”  And she was a liberal from Swarthmore, which is a double adjective, with both words meaning the same thing.

And yet the agony, the pain, the thoughts the thoughts the thoughts.  Get thee away from me Satan.  This is impossible, mental illness, suck it up, suffer, you can’t change for a man to a woman.  You’re trying to escape, it’s irresponsibility, yes it is Satan or mental illness get those thoughts out of your mind.  You’re 45, married, four kids, a law firm, everyone has issues, suck it up.  And soon. Because you will lose family and friends, those you’ve known forever.  And your clients too.  No money nothing.  Your entire life will be destroyed.  Suck it up.

But I couldn’t.  And I didn’t.  And changed.  

From this:

To this:

And nothing is the same.   But nothing important has changed.

For the next few weeks in an extended irregular longform serial, and with Frank’s, and your, indulgence, I will be writing a little about the aspects of the change.  Emotional and physical and spiritual and cognitive and mental.  I’ve had to go through each of those changes to Know Thyself.  Some of them are surprising to me, and may be to you too.

Oh, and the reason for this, the reason why I’ve had to change, is still murky to me.  But science is starting to understand why.  It is a result of a hormonal irregularity in the womb, a mismatch between the embryonic development of my mind and my body.   As a recent Wall Street Journal article noted:
In the 1990s, scientists began to compare … sexually dimorphic regions in the brains of transsexuals and the rest of humanity. Early work in this area required the examination of brains postmortem; recent studies use images of the living brain.

The results show that when individuals of Sex A—despite having the chromosomes, gonads and sex hormones of that sex—insist that they're really Sex B, the gender-affected parts of the brain typically more closely resemble what's usually seen with Sex B …

The issue isn't that sometimes people believe they are of a different gender than they actually are.  Remarkably, instead, it's that sometimes people are born with bodies whose gender is different from what they actually are.

"I am really really gonna fool people ha ha ha"

10 Words in Mysterious Voynich Manuscript Decoded

Time passes, things change

...This project first started when BBC filmed a train ride from London to Brighton in 1953. BBC did it again 30 years later in 1983 and is completing the trifecta 30 years after that for 2013.

We're everywhere …

… The American Scholar: Escaping America - Paula Marantz Cohen.

Some years, while on assignment in Dublin, I noticed how many waitresses were from Poland.

The morning Lull Report …

… coourtesy of Dave Lull:

… Quite a tale: Nothing is Lost or Found: Desperately Seeking Paul and Jane Bowles | Joyland.

… FYI: Apple’s Serious Security Issue: Update Your iPhone or iPad Immediately.

… Some good films, but an odd list: The Arts and Faith Top 25 Divine Comedies.

[The list]  offers what may be, but should not be, an unusual angle on the comedy genre: It focuses on movies that explore the space between the ridiculous and the sublime. Explicit religious themes are not a notable feature in most of these films, yet all of them, in different ways, touch on questions of ultimate import.

… Cut-up: Fate urg’d the Sheers.

The Rape of the Lock represents Pope’s acknowledgement of the triumph of style over substance – a mock-salute to the spirit of inconsequentiality, which seemed to be on the rise in the early eighteenth century (vide John Gay’s Trivia) and looks ahead to Seinfeldian comedy, the great show about nothing, a celebration of the quotidian where the minor itches of life are scratched large.

… Edward Norton Will Helm Passion Project ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ With RatPac Funding.

… A Climate Falsehood You Can Check for Yourself.

A thought for today …

Like all young men I set out to be a genius, but mercifully laughter intervened.

— Lawrence Durrell, born on this date in 1912

In case you wondered...

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Buckaroo Bill and the Ugly Spirit …

… Book Review: 'Call Me Burroughs' by Barry Miles - (Hat tip, Karen Heller.)

This is a marvelous act of reviewing.  Want a demonstration of the art and craft of reviewing? Read the whole thing.

… these biographies turn you into the equivalent of a boy standing by the railroad tracks watching an endless slow freight of depravity rattle past. The monotony becomes hypnotic. The freakishness becomes normal with repetition. You can't look away.
This indeed is so, even though — perhaps because — the more carefully you observe Burroughs, the more repellent he becomes. I've known a few like him — though they were small fry by comparison (one, I believe, is still doing a major stretch at Graterford). You could win a measure of sorry respect from them by letting them know you'd figured out their shtick was being evil and hurting people.
"Wind in the chilly heavens over London a dead boy on the ghostly pillow lips chapped broken sunlight a flicker of Jermyn Street pale half moon of ghostly dandies behind his head a cool ark windy evening sky washed by wind and rain broken dreams in the air."

I don't think that's all that good . Just some guy trying to impress me that he's so deep and subtle the rules of grammar and syntax just get in the way of the revelation he bears. Sure. Guess that's why that windy evening sky was washed by … wind.

 Mr. Miles, a biographer of other louche celebrities, chronicles Burroughs's dark stardom in the company of Andy Warhol, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Mick Jagger, Kurt Cobain, Frank Zappa and Patti Smith. Burroughs also dined with Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. He was introduced on "Saturday Night Live" as "the greatest living writer in America."
Absolute proof, were any needed, that people such as those mentioned should never be taken seriously.

Burroughs was an odd specimen of authenticity, a dreadful human reconciled to his dreadfulness. And every now and then he could write something worth reading, like The Western Lands.

Just a thought …

Unlike Moses, God not only can take you where you need to go, but must, if only because where you need to go is where He is, which only He knows and understands.

Together at last...

Tolstoy and the famous final scene …

… The Way of All Flesh | VQR Online. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Because Ilyich “sees the light,” as the cliché has it, because he comes to comprehend that his existence has been in error, the story amounts to a confirmation of the Christian paradox that one must die in order to live, that one’s true life—​true because eternal—​begins at death. Scholars have noted, too, that the ending of Ivan Ilyichsmacks of Christ’s crucifixion: Ilyich’s final agonizing stretch of three days, his exacerbated inquiry, “Why, why do you torment me so horribly?” an unambiguous echo of Christ’s famous “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” Brombert skillfully shows how “the transition from chapter 6 to chapter 9 closely parallels the transition from the sixth to the ninth hour of the Crucifixion.” All this Christian special pleading makes for a convenient ending, both too hasty and too tidy. Worse, it smells suspiciously of propaganda—​the narrative tortures a man only so that he can receive the deliverance which was, we can’t help but see, a forgone conclusion. Worse still, it’s an obese bromide: One must travel through hell to reach heaven? This is what happens when the fiction writer allows himself to be breathed on by the pamphleteer.
I first read The Death of Ivan Ilyich one summer night when I was in college. It completely seized me. I noticed none of this. I was just experiencing what Ivan Ilyich was experiencing. I banged my side the next day and couldn't help thinking that maybe what happened to Ivan Ilyich was about to happen to me. Mere literary criticism in this case seems petty and jejune. Who cares?

Most interesting...

Blogging difficulties …

Something has gone wrong with my iMac. It remains more convenient for blogging than the iPad. I am hoping to see my tech master on Friday and see if this can be resolved quickly and easily. I have also been working at The Inquirer arranging shipments of books to the prison system and Family Court. The upshot of all this is that I will be blogging light for the next couple if days via the iPad.

Another perspective...

Ok, ok, ok, so we made a few mistakes ...

Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers

Conference proceedings removed from subscription databases after scientist reveals that they were computer-generated.

Who you gonna believe? Me or your lying thermometer?

The Period Of No Global Warming Will Soon Be Longer Than the Period of Actual Global Warming

Mistakes, I've made a few ...

Science consists of facts and theories. Facts and theories are born in different ways and are judged by different standards. Facts are supposed to be true or false. They are discovered by observers or experimenters. A scientist who claims to have discovered a fact that turns out to be wrong is judged harshly. One wrong fact is enough to ruin a career.
Theories have an entirely different status. They are free creations of the human mind, intended to describe our understanding of nature. Since our understanding is incomplete, theories are provisional. Theories are tools of understanding, and a tool does not need to be precisely true in order to be useful. Theories are supposed to be more-or-less true, with plenty of room for disagreement. A scientist who invents a theory that turns out to be wrong is judged leniently. Mistakes are tolerated, so long as the culprit is willing to correct them when nature proves them wrong.
Brilliant Blunders, by Mario Livio, is a lively account of five wrong theories proposed by five great scientists during the last two centuries.

One of the mistakes Einstein made is referenced in the book.  It is his adoption of a cosmic constant which later he described as the "biggest blunder" of his life.  But Einstein being Einstein, it turned out he was right the first time.

On a note closer to home, I don't know if the book mentions this, but I seem to recall another book does, E=mc2, by David Bodanis, about the most famous equation.  Bodanis describes how Einstein lost his notes just about the time of his peak productivity, in 1910 or so, and then had to spend two years recreating what he had already done -- two lost years because of his disorganization.

I can relate.

A thought for today …

The world is my wonder, where the windWanders like wind, and where the rock isRock. And man and woman flesh on a dream. I look from my hill with the woods behind, And Time, a sea's chaos, below.
— George Barker, born on this date in 1913 

Fascinating …

… In pictures: London street scenes then and now - Telegraph.

Down on the knees...

...Big score

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Roundup …

… book reviews | Fox Chase Review.

Tuesday morning Lull Report …

… courtesy of Dave Lull:

… To roll or to run: Ivebeenreadinglately: The root of the disagreement between Johnson and Swift?

Oh, I'll admit it seems silly: Could two such great minds as these truly be set at odds by such a silly difference? Could a preference for rolling rather than running down a hill really be enough to cause Johnson to cast Swift beyond of the pale of his appreciation?
Sounds plausible to me. I've done plenty of hiking and climbing in my time, but I've always loved rolling down hills. Didn't know Dr. Johnson was also fond of doing so, but it makes me admire him more than ever. 

… Rightly or wrongly? — Unappreciated.
Richard Savage, William Dodd, Anna Seward and Percival Stockdale all carried on publishing in the face of stringent and repeated criticisms of their copious and persistent productions. Were their efforts worthwhile? Perhaps they were, given that here we are still reading about them 200 years since they last put pen to paper – if only as a reminder of what not to do if you wish for literary acclaim.
… Spooks: Writing The Snowden Files: 'The paragraph began to self-delete'.

All authors expect criticism. But criticismbefore publication by an anonymous, divine third party is something novel. I began to leave notes for my secret reader. I tried to be polite, but irritation crept in. Once I wrote: "Good morning. I don't mind you reading my manuscript – you're doing so already – but I'd be grateful if you don't delete it. Thank you." There was no reply.
… Preview: The Desert God at the Twin Towers.

Letting the poem think through you …

Robert Harrison: Literature is “the living voice of our inner lives.” | The Book Haven.

He said that the movement Jacques Derrida fostered was “the quintessential academic enterprise,” an observation confirmed “by the fierce determination and lengths it went to secure and hold onto institutional power, especially in the U.S.”

Appreciation …

… The American Scholar: In Memory of a Great Teacher - Paula Marantz Cohen.

It is one of the paradoxes of teaching that it tends to be selective—it brings some into its magic circle while leaving others outside of it. This was the case for Glenn. He had protégés, and focused on this chosen group relentlessly, seeming to neglect, even dismiss others. But it would be wrong to say that he was capricious or elitist in his favorites. He chose people who chose him, who were willing to submit to his brand of training. He looked for drive and commitment and welcomed kids who might be underestimated by other coaches, convincing them that they could, with his help, triumph over the Goliaths who routinely defeated them.

Heil ... Angela?

by photographer Marc Israel Sellem of the Jerusalem Post.

A thought for today …

To write is to become disinterested. There is a certain renunciation in art.
— Anthony Burgess, born on this date in 1917

Twain and other failures

Mark Twain remains one of the most-quoted authors in American history, the creator of masterpieces such as “Huckleberry Finn” and “Life on the Mississippi.”
And much of what he wrote was dreck.
That last fact ought to be inspiring to all of us, notes author Megan McArdle in her clever, surprising fast-paced and enlightening book, The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success. McArdle explains that a college English course she took recast Twain as a writer who failed like the rest of us: In the 1890s, Twain “churned out lackluster prose on an almost industrial scale, just to get enough money to maintain his household and pay his debts,” McArdle writes. “But almost no English class reads the eminently forgettable stuff he produced during this period.”

Journalists v. Professors

[J]ournalism, which is in the midst of its own transformation, is moving in a populist direction. There are more writers than ever before, writing for more outlets, including on their own blogs, Web sites, and Twitter streams. The pressure on established journalists is to generate traffic. New and clever forms of content are springing up all the time—GIFs, videos, “interactives,” and so on. Dissenters may publish op-eds encouraging journalists to abandon their “culture of populism” and write fewer listicles, but changes in the culture of journalism are, at best, only a part of the story. Just as important, if not more so, are economic and technological developments having to do with subscription models, revenue streams, apps, and devices. In academia, by contrast, all the forces are pushing things the other way, toward insularity. As in journalism, good jobs are scarce—but, unlike in journalism, professors are their own audience. This means that, since the liberal-arts job market peaked, in the mid-seventies, the audience for academic work has been shrinking.

Not necessarily...

A claimed bellwether ...

[R]eports that the new Forbes was hopefully looking at a $400 million or $500 million sale on the strength of its digital accomplishments have buoyed the digital content market.
Indeed, the digital journalism business has been distinguished most recently by the number of new start-ups in the field, and by well-known journalists leaving traditional brands to join new digital efforts. There is even a sense that there is a new science to digital publishing, that the code has been broken.
Forbes is the looking glass example of this "science." Looked at one way, by being aggressive or shameless, it has built a platform that offers the use of its brand to virtually anyone in a public commons sort of way. Thanks to the sheer volume of free content and opinions alone (and with artful top editing — i.e., headlines that encourage clicking), Forbes generates lots of low-cost traffic and views, against which low-priced advertising is sold. That's the business in a nutshell: keeping your cost of content lower and cost of traffic lower than the low rates you're getting for each view.

Lessons from the Master...

The Dream of...

...The Great American Novel:

"It is a book intended to capture the curve of American history, the sweep of American culture, and the enigmas of national character—and it encompasses all the relevant scholarship as well..."

The complete review is here.


...and book reviews:

"At The New York Review of Books, there were 212 male book reviewers and 52 female; at The Atlantic, there were 14 male book reviewers and three female; at Harper’s, there were 24 male book reviewers and 10 female."

The complete article is here.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Hi, this is my parent and parent ... and parent?

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal health regulators will consider this week whether to green light a provocative new fertilization technique that could eventually create babies from the DNA of three people, with the goal of preventing mothers from passing on debilitating genetic diseases to their children.

Populist fascism …

 … Heating up: Climate change advocates try to silence Krauthammer | Fox News.

“Is there anything more anti-scientific than scientific truths being determined by petition and demonstration?”

Monday morning's Lull Report …

… courtesy of Dave Lull:

… The University Bookman: Unveiling the Obvious.

Enthralled to the mechanistic picture of reality, modern persons—even devout believers—have a hard time envisioning God’s relationship to nature through any other conceptual lens than efficient causality, positing him as the one who bestows on matter its appearance and proper functioning. Hence the ubiquitous, though irritatingly imprecise, image of God the watchmaker. But this is to turn God into only one more being among beings, robbing him of his unique status as Being itself, and the origin of all other beings, complete with the remarkable philosophical ramifications this status bears. Modern atheists, for all of their supposed fury against theistic belief, have only ever aimed their barbs at a supreme being, and thus have never “actually written a word about God.”

Everyone is taught the essentials of writing for at least 13 years, maybe more if they go to college. Nobody is taught music or tap dancing that way. When I went to high school, my most passionate desire was to be a professional baseball player. But something within me told me that was not going to happen. So I continued my interest in writing. And then I went off to graduate school.
Well, let's just say Montaigne's position still seems secure.

I must run. So this brief report will have to do until I return.

Our "betters" …

… The Irony of the Elite — Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities.

The elites in Washington and Wall Street seem not to care about their decadence and even take joy in the revealing of their decadence. It is as if a burden has been lifted, that we all in the outside world can now know what they have borne in secret. With the secret out, they can enjoy themselves without guilt.

A thought for today …

The religious life begins when we discover that God is not a postulate of ethics, but the only adventure in which it is worth the trouble to risk ourselves. 
—Don Colacho

ὦ ἄνθρωπε

Anyone who has engaged the issue of sexuality and the Bible has at some point contended with Romans 1:26-27: “For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (NRSV)
What’s even more striking, notes Porter, is what comes next: an abrupt change to the second person in Romans 2:1:
“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”
Here, then, is the vocative in the Greek, “Oh man,” a grammatical case used for direct address: ὦ ἄνθρωπε. And this takes us to the question I have posed to those who repeat 1:26-27 in condemnation. Who’s the ἄνθρωπος that Paul’s addressing here?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Well, let's hope so …

… Young Libertarians Aim to Be Players in 2014 Elections - US News.

Look, if the only way problems some mahoff claims are a big-shot deal comes down to taking from me and people like me, while certain select types in Hollywood and on Wall Street — who just happen to underwrite said mahoffs — make out like bandits and the mahoffs dine away like Marie-Antoinette, well, the evolutionary skills that got me here kick in big time, and I immediately think, "Wait in a minute, what's in it for me?" Selfish? Well, yeah. Survival is like that

Would have been lucrative ...

Girl Scouts not allowed to sell cookies outside pot shops

When I was 17, it was a very good year...

In the UNH study, researchers found a pronounced "reminiscence bump" between ages 17 and 24, when many people defined chapters of their life story beginning and ending. A reminiscence bump is a period of time between the ages of 15 and 30 when many memories, positive and negative, expected and unexpected, are recalled.
"Many studies have consistently found that when adults are asked to think about their lives and report memories, remembered events occurring between the ages of 15 to 30 are over-represented. I wanted to know why this might be. Why don't adults report more memories from the ages of 30 to 70? What is it about the ages of 15 to 30 that make them so much more memorable?" Steiner asked.

Is the News Replacing Literature?

In the early nineteen-nineties, David Mamet’s play “Oleanna,” in which a female student accuses a college professor of sexual harassment, had audiences erupting into screaming matches during the intermission. As with Farrow and Allen, there was no clear answer to the question of what actually happened between professor and student. Almost a quarter of a century later, the impossible complexity is on the other side of the stage. Instantaneous news of what happened, or might have happened, has become our art, and, like the chorus in ancient Greek tragedy, we are all part of the swelling roar.

A train trip? A house?

Free giveways for writers:


Houses (in Detroit)

The wrong message...

Help when you need it …

… Paul Davis On Crime: NPR Books: A Cure For Sochi-Fatigue, Shaken Not Stirred.

Sunday morning Lull Report …

… courtesy of Dave Lull:

… ‘The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013’ -

This is poetry written with a painterly hand, stroke by patient stroke. Walcott’s early ambition was to paint, to inhabit the “virginal, unpainted world” of the Caribbean and take on, like some latter-day Adam, the “task of giving things their names.” He learned the basics of watercolor painting, and it became his most serious pastime; his book jackets through the years have featured his gentle and competent paintings of tropical country scenes. But poetry was the deeper and more substantial practice. He brought the patient and accretive sensibility of a realist painter to his poems. They are great piles of intoxicating description, always alert to the demands of meter and form, often employing rhyme or slant rhyme, great layers of adjectives firming up the noun underpainting.
…  FYI: At Wiseblood Books.

… Neglected but magnificent: The Art Of Amateur Proofreadnig.

 Free Falling As If in a Dream.

Character rich, mordantly witty, and cunningly plotted, the first two novels are superb, but it is only when you come to this, the concluding volume, that you see what a brilliantly intricate contrivance the entire work is. The many characters' seemingly inconsequential actions and crisscrossing lives, laid down in advance, are pulled together in these pages as ingeniously and with as much finesse as the last step in erecting a ship in a bottle.
… Looking ahead: Are the robots about to rise? Google's new director of engineering thinks so…

When Kurzweil first started talking about the "singularity", a conceit he borrowed from the science-fiction writer Vernor Vinge, he was dismissed as a fantasist. He has been saying for years that he believes that the Turing test – the moment at which a computer will exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human – will be passed in 2029. The difference is that when he began saying it, the fax machine hadn't been invented. But now, well… it's another story.
Creeping fascism:


Inquirer reviews ……

… The latest from Joyce Carol Oates: Charting the distances that separate us.

… I weigh in on Diane Setterfield's follow-up to The Thirteenth Tale'Bellman & Black' partly dull with threads of magic.

… From the Philly Poe Guy: In solid 'Montana' a reporter trades Kabul for Big Sky mystery.

A thought for today …

Only as an individual can man become a philosopher.
— Karl Jaspers, born on this date in 1883

Saturday, February 22, 2014


… PJ Lifestyle � 20 Things You Might Not Know About Robert A. Heinlein, Part 1: His Maculate Origin.

Anne Michaels

Some books sit on our shelves for years before we pick them up. That was the case recently with Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels' somber tale of war, dislocation, and love. 

Fugitive Pieces was given to me in 2006, a gift from an acquaintance in Philadelphia. And now, for reasons unknown, I've picked it up and read it: the timing just seemed right. 

But wow: what a grim book, one that traces the life of a boy displaced by the Second World War; who ends up in Greece, and then later in Canada; and who spends much of his life tracing the sorrowful contours of the poetry that sustains him. 

Michaels begins the book in a bog, her character emerging from the mud and water, to be saved and transported to Greece. The book ends with the same boy returning to Greece, to retrace his steps, to move closer to his moment of loss. This is a novel of silence, of life's fragments slowly melding into one. 

Michaels is a poet, and the book, while not perfect, is suffused with memorable passages that have a way of seeping deep into the experience of reading. Michaels is not Sebald, though her quest is similar. And that's, I think, why I admire her work: in the face of immeasurable loss, she asserts the role of imagination, and demands space for love. 

Michael's book is about inheritance, really: and it's about that moment when your life becomes your own, and your sorrow is reflection less of what you've inherited from the past, and more about your ability to will it away, to construct a future of your own, one tinged with something foreign and remote: that is, happiness. 

I'll leave the last few words for Michaels:

"Murder steals from a man his future. It steals from him his own death. But it must not steal from him his life."

"What is the smallest act of kindness that is considered heroic?"

"Complicity is not sudden, though it occurs in an instant."

"Before our son was born, I also thought I believed in death. But it was only being a father that convinced me." 

"Find a way to make beauty necessary; find a way to make necessity beautiful." 

That last passage, in particular, remains with me. It is an ethic to which I aspire.

Today's belated Lull Report …

… courtesy of Dave Lull:

… Getting at the the man: The John Updike Society — De Bellis: Updike’s first biographer gets a gold medal.

Begley frames his exploration of Updike by taking his cue from this admission inSelf-Consciousness: “Some falsity of impersonation . . . forms part of myself.” Updike’s good friend Joyce Carol Oates, detected this “element of impersonation in his character. . . hints that his modesty was exaggerated.” She knew that this “hillbilly” had managed to masquerade as a world-famous writer, and the role made him “uneasy and ironic.” Begley discovers Updike “impersonating the author as a wholesome family man,” while posing for a Life photographer, though instantaneously, “he couldn’t stop being a writer, his ‘inner remove’ apparent in the backward tilt of the head, the slight squint, the half-smile.” This is real sleuthing!
… Melody, rhythm, and conversation: Jazz study shows link between music and language.

… Pull up the bandsaw and have a seat: The Man Who Makes Steampunk.

… Encounter: Ronald Blythe suggests that a service is more than ‘going to church.


… Because the writers usually have nothing to say? WHY IS ACADEMIC WRITING SO ACADEMIC?

Life isn't fair …

… Zealotry of Guerin: "It's Tradition, That Makes It Ok" (Taylor Carpenter), Sonnet #165.

A thought for today …

Thus natural science is not a way of knowing the real world; its value lies not in its truth but in its utility; by scientific thought we do not know nature, we dismember it in order to master it.
— R. G. Collingwood, born on this date in 1889


Friday, February 21, 2014

The science is settled …

… The 6 political groups least likely to believe that astrology is scientific.

Turn-ons …

… Bryan Appleyard — Embrace Your Inner Perv. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

God, does this make me feel pedestrian.

Fear of trying …

… Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail - Bloomberg.

America needs more bright, hardworking kids taking on challenging academic work. But it does not need them to learn that success is a formula -- or a zero-sum game in which the race goes to the safest. In fact, that’s exactly the opposite of what we need -- and more important, it’s the opposite of what those kids need.

Three from the NEA …

… Sherman Alexie — Plainspoken Inspiration | NEA.

Tod Lippy — Providing a Context for Art.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph — Follow Your Ghosts.

This morning's Lull Report …

… courtesy of Dave Lull:

… Agreement reached: Harper Lee and Alabama Museum Settle ‘Mockingbird’ Dispute —nLaw Blog —WSJ.

… Who knew?  — “All Poetry Comes from the Sun”.

I guess everything does, then. So what's the big deal?

Which Books Should We Stop Calling Classics?

I'm surprised so many people think of Ayn Rand in this context. I think they have an ax to grind, and it isn't a literary one. Otherwise, I'm with Jennifer Weiner.

… Buzz: Philip Pullman's latest literary endeavour: the Twitter tale of Jeffrey the housefly.

… A consummation devoutly to be wished: Letting Go of the Beatles.

Don't get me wrong. I like the Beatles as much as anybody. But it was all 50 years ago.

… The torment of the comfy chair: Mots justes: pick the perfect word in a poem.

… Well, then, why don't you write them, dear: These 8 Female Characters In Literature Deserve Their Own Damn Books.

A thought for today …

Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic.
— W. H. Auden, born on this date in 1907

Hail the oddities...

Help at hand...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Invitation …

… Best AWP Party in the History of Mankind | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

Vanitas vanitatum …

… omnia vanitas: A "Vanity Asset" Heads To The Auction Block | Big Trial | Philadelphia Trial Blog.

The World has both ...

To day is the fourth anniversary of my brother's death, at 52.  I am 53, now one year older than he was.  Sometimes during this day, the world has seemed to have that dead, resonant silence it has for me on Good Friday, too. 

He left his lovely wife and three small wonderful children in Maine after he died, and we, my three other brothers and I and our older children, went up to Maine and moved stuff, and took care of farm animals too, and generally settled the estate, and then moved his awesome wife and wonderful children down here, so they could all be closer to us.

The day, four years ago, Nick died was like this one, it was a bad winter then, too.

Now, recently, we found ourself at the last minute with two small puppies, rescued from the shelter, and sometimes today I have to remember the world has both, death and exuberant life.


Who would've thought?


An afternoon roundup …

… courtesy of Rus Bowden:

… Call Me Burroughs: A Life — The Barnes & Noble Review.

Don't turn to Call Me Burroughs for a critical reading of Burroughs's books. There is enough of that, anyway. This is a "Candid Camera" of Burroughs's peregrinations from his silver-spoon childhood in St. Louis to his final days back in the Midwest. Miles will get into Burroughs's head, but he is invited in by Burroughs's words and doesn't presume postmortem psychoanalysis. Burroughs also left a handy paper trail, and when that wasn't available, his wake of mayhem made it easy to track his movements. 
… Virtual travel: Kerouac's On the Road followed on the road via Google Maps.

Biggest rises and falls in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index.

I see the U.S. has dropped from 32 to 46. I fear the media has aided and abetted the change.

George Herbert: the man who converted me from atheism.

The poems are, in effect, a spiritual autobiography. Although they are not individually dated and so cannot be directly related to different phases of Herbert's life, many of them clearly describe his intensely personal struggles with faith and calling. Even those that are more formal explorations of particular religious doctrines or concepts have a similar air of spiritual authenticity. There are no mere statements of dogma. The poems record the poet's own doubts and faith in a way that still rings true with many readers, even those with no explicit faith of their own.
Bird Thou Never Wert: ‘Holding On Upside Down,’ a Biography of Marianne Moore.

To read Moore now is to find what wasn’t obvious before: her joy in vernacular language (“plain American which dogs and cats can read”); her emotional candor, oblique but true; her principled commitment to all liberations, with a bias toward the freedom in self-restraint.

This morning's Lull Report …

… courtesy of Dave Lull:

… Hierarchies: In Defense of the Canon | The American Conservative.

… In cad e you wondered: Why Henry Miller and Louis-Ferdinand Céline deserve success as well as scandal.

I'm not sure if Journey ages better or not, though Cancer is far from from being Miller's best book (that would probably be The Colossus of Maroussi). The problem with Journey was identified years ago by J.B. Priestly, who noted that a mad account of sane world or a sane account of a mad world can work, but a mad account of a mad world can never be entirely satisfying.

… The course of true love: My Love Affair With Gerard Manley Hopkins.
If Father Hopkins were to know that in the 21st century a woman would write these words he could hardly be more surprised than at the fact he was known to posterity as a poet at all. For it wasn’t until 1918, long after his death, that his friend Robert Bridges published a collection of his poems. And fifty years later the ecstatic poem of the glory of God revealed in nature, God’s Grandeur, would prove a fulcrum in the life of a young English woman. 
… Homecoming:  Ved Mehta's Vision of Writing.

“I think the coinage of writing has been debased over the last 50 years,” he says. “Now people don’t know how to write letters. I think hardly anyone writes formal prose these days. John Updike was the last writer I know who wrote formal prose. By formal prose I mean writing that is elegant, precise, clear. Now the writing has become quite a bit like schoolgirls writing to their mums — letters about what’s going on in their schools. It’s different.”
Timothy McDermott: An appreciation.

As a philosopher, he could be withering about the attempt by some scientists to explain how the universe could have emerged from “nothing”, properly understood. He remained adamant that it is impossible, in the terms naturalism allows, to say how anything could exist at all.
… Reading on the move:  5 Books to Take on Your Travels.

Time to accept the...

A thought for today …

Hope is a risk that must be run.
— Georges Bernanos, born on this date in 1888

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Luke 12:22-34

Do not worry little one


What I Learned From Obsessively Tracking My Every Move On The Internet

Get ready to duck …


Agreed …

 a commonplace from eastrod: Solution: Court-martial every one of the bastards . . .

And the nominees are …

… Book Prizes – Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

So there …

 God knows, scientists are more religious than you think | Faith & Reason.

This morning's Lull Reprt …

… courtesy of Dave Lull:

… Appreciation: The work of Mavis Gallant: Lost & Found: Chris Beha | Tin House.

… The Latest Scheme for the Parthenon.

… the Parthenon and its sculptures have not always been the object of our unquestioned admiration. In fact, it is not only the slightly perplexed artists of early-nineteenth-century London—still unfamiliar with “original” Greek fifth-century style—who have had their doubts about the quality. A hundred years later the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore is reputed to have wept at the sight of the Parthenon, not overcome with its aesthetic power, but horrified by its barbarity.
… Freeman Dyson on The Case for Blunders.

The essential point of Livio’s book is to show the passionate pursuit of wrong theories as a part of the normal development of science. Science is not concerned only with things that we understand. The most exciting and creative parts of science are concerned with things that we are still struggling to understand. Wrong theories are not an impediment to the progress of science. They are a central part of the struggle.
This is a must-read.

…  Take that: Bryan Appleyard tweets Richard Dawkins.

… Q&A: Kevin Birmingham on The Most Dangerous Book.

I’d like to remind people that books are dangerous and powerful, and Ulysses is the perfect example of that. Female sexuality simply wasn’t something an author could write about—it seemed to be a force that could break marriages and families apart. Joyce confronted those fears directly.
… Kindred spirits: Eudora Welty and William Maxwell: food, friendship and letters.

… In case you wondered: What Your iPad Knows About You.

A thought for today …

The mind is like a richly woven tapestry in which the colors are distilled from the experiences of the senses, and the design drawn from the convolutions of the intellect.

— Carson McCullers, born on this date in 1917

Puppies! In The Snow!

From the archives...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

R.I.P. …

… Writer Mavis Gallant, 91, has died - (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Out and about …

I have much to do that will keep me away from my desk today. Blogging will resume when I am back.

Ranting, The Bat Segundo Show and Dave Itzkoff ..

Correspondent: Dave, you’re not looking terribly indignant, but how are you doing? 
Itzkoff: I have nothing to be angry about. 
Correspondent: Really? 
Itzkoff: But the day is young. 
Correspondent: The day is young? 
Itzkoff: I mean, it’s only 11 AM. It’s a Tuesday. 
Correspondent: How much rage do you typically go through in a 24 hour period? 
Itzkoff: Actually, it can be a lot. It really depends on my morning commute. I take the subway. That is definitely a source of a lot of ire and provocation, depending upon how crowded or empty my train.
Full mp4 here too.

And an older but pretty funny article "by" Jane Smiley by Edward Champion on the same blog here.  Excerpt:
Back in the late 1990s, I wrote a 1,672-page novel about horse racing. Though I portrayed an array of upper-class characters and still remain more than a bit mystified by the thoughts and sentiments of the working class, it was easy for me — indeed, perhaps easier — to declare to all of my rich friends in Napa that I was a good liberal, and to always point to my work in defense of this claim. My fiction always informed my readers just how much I cared. I adored Latinos because I adored my Latino apprentice-jockey’s jaunty buttocks. And sometimes, I’d even drag out the Sybian just after pounding out a chapter. It was the only way for me to understand how not to be white, how not to be upper-class, how not to be a humorless twit.
To demonstrate my commitment to multiculturalism, I wrote a lengthy chapter describing how my character’s brown buttocks bounced atop a horse’s brown buttocks.