Tuesday, November 30, 2004

World AIDS Day

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day.

[This post is in memory of my dear friend Aldo Carrasco, 1958-1986.]

The painting in Pleasantville

All the way from Florence, Italy, here is the painting that we see in Pleasantville, Masaccio's Expulsion from Paradise.

When I first saw Pleasantville, something clicked--I knew this painting from somewhere. But where? I turned the pages of every art-history book I own to find the source of the click. I finally found Masaccio's painting in a book that I bought at a Textbook Rental sale (for all of 25 cents). To find the painting on-line, I used (what else?) Google.

And, but, for, nor, or, so, yet

Starting a sentence with a conjunction is a literary device that can be overused. And it can be annoying. But there's nothing inherently evil about it.
From a good book on writing, The Elephants of Style, by Bill Walsh, a copy editor at the Washington Post, available at fine bookstores everywhere and at Booth Library. Call number: PE2827.W35 2004.

A correction

In today's New York Times: "An obituary of the jazz pianist and composer Joe Bushkin on Nov. 5 misidentified the technology used at a recording session in the early 1930's when Mr. Bushkin, who was 14, nearly made a record with Benny Goodman before the scheduled pianist finally showed up. It was a disk cutter and wax disks; magnetic tape was not used regularly for recording music until the late 1940's."

I emailed the Times about the error on November 5. I'm glad that there's finally a correction. It's amazing though that someone writing for the Times (the Times!) would think that magnetic tape was in use in the thirties.

Monday, November 29, 2004

The uses of theater

2601 students: An interesting article on women and theater in Afghanistan.

Allen Ginsberg's laundry

2601 students: Lysistrata's famed wool analogy is almost certainly an inspiration for Allen Ginsberg's poem "Homework," which you can read here. "Homework" first appeared in Plutonian Ode: Poems 1977-1980, published in 1982.

Friday, November 26, 2004


From the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day service:

The Word of the Day for November 26 is:

frenetic \frih-NET-ik\ adjective: frenzied, frantic

Example sentence:

It’s the day after Thanksgiving—a day described by Amber Veverka (Charlotte [NC] Observer, November 10, 2003) as “the official, frenetic kickoff for the Christmas shopping season.”

Did you know?

When life gets frenetic, things can seem absolutely insane—at least that seems to be what folks in the Middle Ages thought. “Frenetik,” in Middle English, meant “insane.” When the word no longer denoted stark raving madness, it conjured up fanatical frenetic zealots. Today we’re even willing to downgrade its seriousness to something more akin to “hectic.” But if you trace “frenetic” back through Anglo-French and Latin, you’ll find that it comes from Greek “phrenitis,” a term describing an inflammation of the brain. “Phren” is the Greek word for “mind,” a root you will recognize in “schizophrenic.”

As for “frenzied” and “frantic,” they’re not only synonyms but relatives as well. “Frantic” comes from “frenetik,” and “frenzied” traces back to “phrenitis.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


I noticed these in a catalogue. Of course, they’re online too:

A replica of Rosebud

A replica of Kane’s snowglobe

Casablanca barware

Casablanca poker chips
What is it that bothers me about these items? The idea that we can somehow possess, even in simulated form, what rightfully belongs to “the movies.” (There’s an especially awful irony in the idea of Rosebud, unique in its signficance, being mass-produced.) I also don’t like the implication that one shows real devotion to works of the imagination by buying expensive items designed to cash in on said works. How many owners of a Rosebud sled or Rick's Café Américain barware are likely to have read a single book (or even an essay) on Citizen Kane or Casablanca?

Football : baseball :: Iliad : Odyssey

I woke up this morning remembering one of the lines from George Carlin’s football v. baseball routine and realizing that it provides a good way to think about the contrasts between the Iliad and the Odyssey:

“The object in football is to march downfield and penetrate enemy territory, and get into the end zone. In baseball, the object is to go home! ‘I'm going home!’”
You can find a transcription of one instance of Carlin’s routine here.

Why would such an un-sports-minded guy as me wake up with this thought in mind? Perhaps because I was watching ABC’s Nightline last night, devoted to the basketball brawl in Detroit.

Monday, November 22, 2004

A Frasier Casablanca moment

From "It’s Hard to Say Goodbye If You Won’t Leave" (third season). Niles has brought over a videotape of Casablanca to watch with his father:

Daphne: Oh, I just love that movie. Is there any more heartbreaking moment in all of film than when Humphrey Bogart tells Ingrid Bergman to get on that plane with Victor Laszlo even though Bogey loves her? What an ending.

Niles: Well, there goes my need to finally see that one.
Not long after, Frasier pleads with a lady friend not to leave Seattle and more or less reverses Rick’s words to Ilsa at the airport (“If you’re on that plane, we’ll regret it”).

Here’s looking at you, doc

Hanging around the house today, I was browsing through Will Friedwald’s Stardust Memories: A Biography of Twelve of America’s Most Popular Songs (2002). Here’s something from the chapter on Herman Hupfeld’s 1931 song “As Time Goes By”:

The Warner Bros. cartoon division was keen to capitalize on “ATGB”’s hit status, especially since their parent company already owned the rights to the song. It appears in one form or another in almost a dozen Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, but gets its best moment in Unruly Hare (1944). That’s the one where Bugs Bunny sings a generous chunk of Hupfeld’s lyrics on screen, and, upon reaching “Woman needs man / And man must have his mate,” the philosophical rabbit turns to the animation camera and directly addresses the audience with the affirmative observation, “Ain’t it the truth?”

Bugs is right, and so is Hupfeld. It’s been seventy years since “As Time Goes By” was first unleashed, and, old-fashioned as it sounds, the world is still welcoming lovers. They may not be traditional lovers circa 1931, they might be men with long hair and women in pants, or they might be of the same sex, as Hupfeld’s own loves seem to have been. But love goes on, and it’s still the only thing that will redeem us all. And that, my friends, is something that no one can deny.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Ted Berrigan

Before too many days go by, a poem from Ted Berrigan, American poet, born November 15, 1934; died July 4, 1983. Here is the last poem from The Sonnets, a landmark in postmodern American poetry. The poem collages a number of earlier sonnets along with Prospero’s words from The Tempest.


                                   for Chris

How strange to be gone in a minute!         A man
Signs a shovel and so he digs         Everything
Turns into writing a name for a day
is having a birthday and someone is getting
married and someone is telling a joke         my dream
a white tree         I dream of the code of the west
But this rough magic I here abjure         and
When I have required some heavenly music         which
    even now
I do         to work mine end upon their senses
That this aery charm is for         I'll break
My staff         bury it certain fathoms in the earth
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.
It is 5:15 a.m.                                      Dear Chris, hello.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Survey says

From an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Only about 11 percent of full-time students say they spend more than 25 hours per week preparing for their classes—the amount of time that faculty members say is necessary to succeed in college. Forty-four percent spend 10 hours or less studying.

Yet students’ grades do not suggest that they are unprepared for their academic work: About 40 percent of students say they earn mostly A’s, with 41 percent reporting that they earn mostly B’s.

Those are among the major findings of the latest National Survey of Student Engagement, a summary of which is being released today. In its fifth year, the survey covered 163,000 freshmen and seniors at 472 four-year colleges and universities.

Some of the survey's findings . . . suggest that many students are not taking full advantage of their academic opportunities. Two-fifths of freshmen and a quarter of seniors said that they never discussed ideas from their classes or readings with a faculty member outside of class.

The survey also found that:

About 90 percent of students rated their college experience as “good” or “excellent.”

Approximately 60 percent of seniors and 37 percent of freshmen did volunteer work.

Only 10 percent of students said that newspapers or magazines were their primary source for local and national news, while more than half said they relied on television for such information.

More than 25 percent of students said they had not attended an art exhibit or play during the current academic year.

Twenty percent of students spent no time exercising.

Among the new items in this year's survey was an assessment of “deep learning”: the extent to which students engage in self-reflection, the integration of knowledge and different skills, and activities that require higher levels of mental activity than rote memorization. Students who scored higher on this scale spent more time preparing for class, working on campus, and participating in co-curricular activities than students with lower scores.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

PBS Genesis links

3009 students: Here’s a link to the main page for the PBS series Genesis: A Living Conversation. These pages are badly in need of updating (one of the biographies lists an address for someone who died several years back), but there’s still much useful stuff.

And here’s a link to the page about Genesis 3.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Adventures in grain

Student cooks: Here are a couple of dishes that move away from breakfast cereal into more adventurous grain-based eating. They will also impress any guest (unlike Cap’n Crunch!).

Pasta aglio e olio

1. Cook one box of pasta. (I like angel hair or penne for this dish.) Do the following after you set the water on to boil, or, for less drama, do all the chopping beforehand.
2. Smash and chop up some garlic, as much or as little as you like. I usually use eight or more large cloves (cloves, not heads!).
3. Cut up two or three small zucchinis into small pieces. You can also use yellow squash. The pieces can be disc-like or stick-like.
4. Chop some Italian (flat) parsley.
5. Lightly brown the garlic in olive oil in a pan. Add some red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.
6. Add the zucchini to the pan. Zucchini has lots of water in it; it’ll take a while to cook. The browner the zucchini gets, the better the flavor. (You don’t want a “steamed” effect.)
7. Add oil and salt and pepper as necessary. If you want to make the dish a bit funky, add a tin of mashed-up anchovies (and omit the salt).
8. When the zucchini is just about done, add the parsley. If need be, you can let everything sit in the pan on low heat until the pasta is done.
9. Drain the pasta and mix it in the pan with everything else.
10. Serve with Parmesan or Romano cheese.
The wonderful thing about this recipe is that the proportions can vary and you’ll still have a wonderful dish. If you like garlic, put in a lot. If you like more oil, add more oil. It’s difficult to go wrong.

Pasta with tuna and lemon
1. Cook one box of pasta. (I like farfalle—bowties—for this dish.) Do the following after you set the water on to boil, or, for less drama, do all the chopping beforehand.
2. Smash and chop up some garlic, as much or as little as you like. I usually use three or four cloves.
3. Open and drain two cans of solid-white tuna in water. (Nothing but the best!)
4. Squeeze the juice from one lemon. If you’re patient, you can scrape some of the zest (the yellow part of the skin) from the lemon to add.
5. Chop some Italian (flat) parsley.
6. Lightly brown the garlic in olive oil in a pan. Add some red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.
7. Add the tuna, and mash it up. Add more oil if necessary.
8. Add the lemon juice (and zest).
9. Add oil and salt and pepper as necessary.
10. After everything has cooked a bit, add the parsley.
11. Drain the pasta and mix it in the pan with everything else.
12. Serve with—you guessed it—Parmesan or Romano cheese.
These dishes are simple and amazingly delicious. I’ve been making them for years. The first is my memory of a recipe in the Village Voice (a weekly New York newspaper); the second is more or less from a PBS cooking show called Cucina amore.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Food nostalgia

“It's some kind of Freudian childhood regression thing,” said Matthew Lynch, a sophomore at the SUNY-Purchase who favors Froot Loops and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. “It's a comfort mechanism. I remember eating cereal in the mornings with my dad and brother before kindergarten and first grade.”

Industry officials are pleased, of course, that teenagers show such fierce brand loyalty for cereals often associated with early childhood.

“I don't think you can ever outgrow the taste of something you love,” said Mary Dillon, president of Quaker Foods, which makes Cap’n Crunch.
From an article in today’s New York Times on the popularity of breakfast cereals on college campus.

[First ramen and now cereal—could it be that the Times is trying to bring in younger readers? Just a guess!]

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Veterans Day

The first World War ended on November 11, 1918. Armistice Day was observed the next year. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans Day.

Today’s New York Times contains excerpts of letters from American soldiers who have died in Iraq. Here is an excerpt from a letter from Christopher Potts, a sergeant in the Army, to his two-year-old son. Sergeant Potts died on October 3.

Hi my big guy. How are you? I miss you bad. I miss things like you calling for me in the morning when you hear me in the kitchen, or when you come home at the end of the day. I also miss cooking for you and Mom. But most of all I miss your big hugs. I enjoy hearing your voice on the phone and seeing the pictures you draw for me. I'm sorry for not writing you till now. But the days are very long here, and we only get about four-and-a-half hours sleep a night. I got up a little early to write this because I know you need your own letter too.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Where's my dinner?

3009 students: Here’s an article on the birth of the “TV dinner.” Trouble in Pleasantville!

The real ramen

In Japanese ramenyas (ramen shops) a bowl of ramen holds a house-made soup, springy noodles, the chef's own tare (a mix of soy sauce, sugar and rice wine to flavor the soup) and exactly six traditional toppings. The wait at top Tokyo ramenyas can be up to three hours.
For all college-age consumers of ramen noodles, an article on the real ramen, as prepared and eaten in Japan.

“There is no permanence”

Utnapishtim’s words to Gilgamesh echo in an article in the New York Times:

The nation's 115 million home computers are brimming over with personal treasures—millions of photographs, music of every genre, college papers, the great American novel and, of course, mountains of e-mail messages.

Yet no one has figured out how to preserve these electronic materials for the next decade, much less for the ages. Like junk e-mail, the problem of digital archiving, which seems straightforward, confounds even the experts.

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Aeschylus in three translations

Richmond Lattimore, 1953:

I ask the gods some respite from the
of this watchtime measured by years I lie
elbowed upon the Atreidae’s roof dogwise to
the grand processionals of all the stars of
burdened with winter and again with heat for
dynasties in their shining blazoned on the air,
these stars, upon their wane and when the
    rest arise.
Lattimore is making stately lines of iambic hexameter (da DUM, times six). The lines sometimes have a clunky, rough beauty—“ elbowed upon the Atreidae’s roof dogwise,” “and again with heat for men”—but there’s often a lack of clarity. The accumulation of prepositional phrases (twelve in a single sentence) doesn’t help.

Robert Fagles, 1966:
Dear gods, set me free from all the pain,
the long watch I keep, one whole year awake . . .
propped on my arms, crouched on the roofs of
like a dog.
                 I know the stars by heart,
the armies of the night, and there in the lead
the ones that bring us snow or the crops of summer,
bring us all we have—
our great blazing kings of the sky,
I know them when they rise and when they fall . . .
Fagles is translating in a loose iambic pentameter (the final line is the clearest example of the meter). There’s greater clarity than in Lattimore’s translation, but also what seem to me to be gaffes. I can’t help hearing “Dear gods” as a little too campy and histrionic, and a little too much like the start of a letter. Fall is an odd word to describe stars moving through the sky (falling or shooting stars are another matter entirely). As in Fagles’ Homeric translations, characters tend to space out  . . . for no apparent reason (the two ellipses are in the original). Notice that Fagles brings an overt military overtone to the stargazing with his reference to “the armies of the night.”

Peter Meineck, 1998:
Gods! Free me from these labors!
I’ve spent a whole year up here, watching,
propped up on my elbows, on the roof
of this house of Atreus, like some dog.
How well I’ve come to know night’s congregation
    of stars,
the blazing monarchs of the sky, those that bring
and those that bring summer to us mortals.
I know just when they rise and when they set.
Meineck is translating into non-metrical lines, with line breaks following the syntax. Like Lattimore, he is close to the Greek, but with far greater clarity. Here it’s possible really to hear a weary watchman, a hired hand—a man treated “like some dog”—who plays no great part in the affairs of state. His rueful awareness of the house’s sorry history is evident even in his reference to “this house of Atreus.” (I can hear the sardonic quotation marks around house of Atreus.)

Even without knowing each translator’s background, it wouldn’t take much to guess that Meineck is the translator who’s most clearly thinking in terms of translation suitable for performance, would it?

Monday, November 8, 2004

David Shulman, r.i.p.

There’s an obituary for David Shulman in today’s New York Times. Shulman tracked down the origins of countless modern words and expressions, including Big Apple, The Great White Way, doozy, hoochie-coochie, and hot dog.

Tip: You can read the full article on the Times site by typing “mediajunkie” (without quotation marks) as both user name and password. The magic word “mediajunkie” will get you into many free news sites that require registration.

Saturday, November 6, 2004

Harold Russell photos

Here’s a link to what must have been a wonderful event—a showing of The Best Years of Our Lives at a community college, with (it would seem) Harold Russell in attendance. The page has several photos, including a photo of HR in later life (looking much the same as he does in the movie) and what appear to be two stills from Diary of a Sergeant.

Harold Russell

From the New York Times obituary, by Richard Severo, February 1, 2002:

Harold Russell was born [in 1914] in North Sydney, Nova Scotia. His father was a telegraph office manager who died when Harold was 6. His death caused the family to move to Cambridge, Mass., where Mrs. Russell was a nurse and where Harold started working at odd jobs at the age of 10. After high school he worked in a food market.

Mr. Russell said he “made a rush to the recruiting office” after Pearl Harbor was bombed, not out of patriotism but because he thought of himself as a failure.

After basic training, he volunteered to become a paratrooper, and he learned that skill as well as demolition. The United States Army made him an instructor. On June 6, 1944, while some of the men he trained were involved in the D-Day landing, Mr. Russell was teaching demolition work at Camp Mackall in North Carolina and a defective fuse detonated TNT that he was holding. The next day what was left of his hands were amputated three inches above the wrists.

Walter Reed General Hospital offered him a choice of prosthetic devices: plastic hands or steel hooks. He chose the hooks, proved unusually adept at mastering them and eventually made a training film for soldiers who had lost both hands. The film, “Diary of a Sergeant,” showed Mr. Russell in daily activities.

Wyler saw the film after he had been asked by the producer Samuel Goldwyn to direct “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Wyler urged Goldwyn to hire Mr. Russell, and after some coaxing Mr. Russell, who was then attending business school at Boston University, agreed to appear in the film. The salary—$250 a week, with an additional $100 a week for living expenses—seemed generous, especially when compared with the $25 a week he had earned as a part-time worker at a Y.M.C.A.

The movie won eight Oscars and was a financial success. To show his gratitude, Goldwyn awarded Mr. Russell a bonus of $120 a week for a year, asking that he make promotional appearances.

Later, Mr. Russell was active in Amvets, a veterans’ organization, becoming the national chairman. In 1950 he became a founder of the World Veterans Foundation.

In 1954 “The Best Years of Our Lives” was rereleased and journalists asked why Mr. Russell had made no other movies. “I decided to quit while I was ahead of the game,” he told one reporter.

Mr. Russell received few other offers to act. He had several television roles, and in film he appeared in “Inside Moves” (1980), about handicapped people who congregated in a bar and helped each other, and in “Dogtown” (1997), in which he played a cigar store owner and war veteran in a small town.

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy appointed Mr. Russell as vice chairman of the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped. In 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson made him the chairman, and Richard M. Nixon reappointed him.

Survivors include a daughter, Adele; a son, Gerald; four grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

In his 1949 autobiography “Victory in My Hands,” Mr. Russell recounted his struggle to recover physically and psychologically from his wounds, and to use his prostheses. He became so adept at using his hooks, he liked to joke, that he could do anything but pick up a dinner check.

As a man who would go on to promote veterans’ causes, he wrote: “It is not what you have lost but what you have left that counts.”
[Note: I was lucky to borrow a copy of Victory in My Hands through interlibrary loan a few years ago. Imagine my surprise to find that the book was signed by Harold Russell, in the peacock-blue ink that filled so many fountain pens all those years ago.]