For sound complexity, one language stands out. !Xóõ, spoken by just a few thousand, mostly in Botswana, has a blistering array of unusual sounds. Its vowels include plain, pharyngealised, strident and breathy, and they carry four tones. It has five basic clicks and 17 accompanying ones. The leading expert on the !Xóõ, Tony Traill, developed a lump on his larynx from learning to make their sounds. Further research showed that adult !Xóõ-speakers had the same lump (children had not developed it yet).
Beyond sound comes the problem of grammar. On this score, some European languages are far harder than are, say, Latin or Greek. Latin’s six cases cower in comparison with Estonian’s 14, which include inessive, elative, adessive, abessive, and the system is riddled with irregularities and exceptions....
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Tomorrow is the return of Fly The Dog Across the Country Day. Today we had the vet inspection (What a racket! 60$ for a certificate to fly, obtained by having a vet do nothing more than weigh our dog and look in his ears. Give me a break).
Friday, December 11, 2009
Christmas in ANCIANT-land. Note the glorious wood panelling in the room around the tree. I described our living room area to my wife as "An Arkansas Hunting Lodge Christmas." She didn't like that. Still I can't help feeling, when I look at our tree, that Kenny Rogers should be coming out from the next room any minute to do a Christmas duet with Dolly Parton. That's not a bad thing, by the way. It's just unexpected.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
For my wife, dressing up our dog in fun seasonally-themed outfits is a standing temptation. The pumpkin-hat seen here is a little big, but I think Bink makes it work. When you have this much style, it needs to be shared.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
The leaves fall in ones and twos
From trees bordering
The new recreation ground.
In the hollows of afternoons
Young mothers assemble
At swing and sandpit
Setting free their children.
Behind them, at intervals,
Stand husbands in skilled trades,
An estateful of washing,
And the albums, lettered
Our Wedding, lying
Near the television:
Before them, the wind
Is ruining their courting-places
That are still courting-places
(But the lovers are all in school),
And their children, so intent on
Finding more unripe acorns,
Expect to be taken home.
Their beauty has thickened.
Something is pushing them
To the side of their own lives.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
To shake you, lies, fatigue, or even that of passion,
Now I see no way but a clean break.
I add that I am willing to bear the guilt.
You nod assent. Autumn turns windy, huge,
A clear vase of leaves vibrating on and on.
We sit, watching. When I next speak
Love buries itself in me, up to the hilt.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
This short film by the Coen Brothers made me laugh out loud. It also made me want to see this movie, Climates. And by the way--for anyone wondering--there are actually dozens of rabbits in La Regle De Jeu. That's pretty much the source of its greatness, right there. The rabbits.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
At some point during my first year of marriage, I originated a exciting coping technique, which I call “conversation retire.” (I know: it needs tuning. Let me know if you can think of something better). "Conversation retire" works pretty much like it sounds. Once a certain conversation topic has come up a certain number of times (43), without in any way drawing close to a resolution, either one of us is allowed to declare that that topic is, from that day forward, banned from public consumption. It has been “retired.” We could think about it; we just couldn’t talk about it.
Almost immediately, it proved a hit. Gone for good were the most emotionally agitating (and dialectically unsatisfying) of our conversations. For example: Angelina Jolie. My wife, as it turns out, has a LOT of anger towards Angelina Jolie. Probably, she should. I don’t know. But I have now heard about the many faces of Angelina Jolie’s evil enough times to be able to recite them all by heart. Even worse, despite how frequently it comes up, the subject STILL sends my wife into something approaching a frenzy. So, in the interest of the common good, I’ve had to have it banned.
Other topics that we’ve decided to ban include: Oprah Winfrey (Who, Even Though She May Not Be As Evil As A********* J****, Is, in Reality, MUCH Worse than Certain Naïve Unknowing Husbands Might Suspect); Felipe, Our Ex-Housepainter, And How Stupid We Were Not To Have Done A Last Inspection Of Our In-Fact-Badly-Painted House Before We Paid Him; The Unbelievable Gall of Certain Friends of My Wife Who Never Bought Us A Wedding Present (Despite The Fact That Some Were Actually Members of The BRIDAL PARTY); Jon and Kate Gosselin, Relationship and Parenting Skills Thereof; Hugh Hefner, Relationship and Business Acumen Thereof; and, finally, above all else, THE TOPIC—the one for which the whole idea of ‘retiring’ conversations was originated…Michael Vick. More specifically: How Michael Vick, As Punishment For His Crimes, Deserves the Death Penalty.
Ok, now understand. I don’t like Michael Vick. I didn’t like him before the dogfighting stuff came out. I like him less now. He’s a terrible person, and deserves to be permanently banned from public life. But I don’t think he should be put to death. And my wife, hyperbole aside, actually did. And does.
This ended up becoming a long-running debate. Her side of the argument was that after he got out of jail, he would re-sign with another team, make a lot of money playing football and eventually be totally rehabilitated. In a few years, it would all be forgotten; therefore to make sure that didn't happen, he should be executed. Really.
My argument was that it wasn't necessary. Even before the dogfighting stuff, Vick was on the way down. He was never better than a second-tier quarterback. He couldn’t pass; he wasn’t a great leader; he wasn’t well-liked. Add to that the massive public outcry that would greet any team crazy enough to sign him, and there was no way—NO WAY, I explained (in the Knowledgeable, Man-Who-Understands Sports voice I trot out from time to time)—that he would ever play again in the NFL.
You all know what happened. Somehow—stunningly—my vast insight into the mechanisms of pro football has proven insufficient. Vick’s been given one more chance. My wife, it saddens me to say, was totally 100% right. (Which suggests, by the way, that Angelina Jolie lives entirely on the blood of slaughtered kittens). It makes me sad. It makes me angry. It makes me want to root against the Eagles.
I started this thinking I’d write a funny post about the travails of marriage. Now, though, I’ve become upset. I was grouchy (well, grouchier) all last week because the Bink was going through some sort of unhappy emotional phase (it manifested itself in a lot of mean-spirited growling and excess barking). Literally 1/3 of my waking involves me worrying in some way about his happiness. And I don’t even like animals! Meanwhile, Michael Vick is charging money so people can come watch dogs fight to the death!? I mean…what the bleep is that?
I guess no one deserves to be punished forever, but somehow this seems to have all gone away so fast. I just feel like somehow there is something deeply wrong with Vick. Anyone who would willingly inflict pain upon something innocent and helpless is profoundly broken. And two years in jail is not enough. The death penalty may be too much. But this.... This is not enough. It can't be. It just can't.
What a great guy!
Friday, August 14, 2009
Friday, August 7, 2009
Monday, August 3, 2009
`And you, you will come too, young brother; for the days pass, and never return, and the South still waits for you. Take the Adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes!' 'Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old life and into the new! Then some day, some day long hence, jog home here if you will, when the cup has been drained and the play has been played, and sit down by your quiet river with a store of goodly memories for company. You can easily overtake me on the road, for you are young, and I am ageing and go softly. I will linger, and look back; and at last I will surely see you coming, eager and light- hearted, with all the South in your face!'
The voice died away and ceased as an insect's tiny trumpet dwindles swiftly into silence; and _____, paralysed and staring, saw at last but a distant speck on the white surface of the road.
Mechanically he rose and proceeded to repack the luncheon-basket, carefully and without haste. Mechanically he returned home, gathered together a few small necessaries and special treasures he was fond of, and put them in a satchel; acting with slow deliberation, moving about the room like a sleep-walker; listening ever with parted lips. He swung the satchel over his shoulder, carefully selected a stout stick for his wayfaring, and with no haste, but with no hesitation at all, he stepped across the threshold just as ____ appeared at the door.
`Why, where are you off to, ___?' asked ___ in great surprise, grasping him by the arm.
`Going South, with the rest of them,' murmured ___ in a dreamy monotone, never looking at him. `Seawards first and then on shipboard, and so to the shores that are calling me!'
He pressed resolutely forward, still without haste, but with dogged fixity of purpose; but ___, now thoroughly alarmed, placed himself in front of him, and looking into his eyes saw that they were glazed and set and turned a streaked and shifting grey--not his friend's eyes, but the eyes of some other animal! Grappling with him strongly he dragged him inside, threw him down, and held him.
___ struggled desperately for a few moments, and then his strength seemed suddenly to leave him, and he lay still and exhausted, with closed eyes, trembling. Presently ___ assisted him to rise and placed him in a chair, where he sat collapsed and shrunken into himself, his body shaken by a violent shivering, passing in time into an hysterical fit of dry sobbing.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
The texture of the lace lends a luster to the complexion. Careful placement of Christmas poinsettias adds an Easter Island element to this remarkable portrait of the sixteenth president's wife. A painting that could have changed the course of the Civil War.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Let’s be honest: This is probably going to be bad. Fine: it’s definitely going to be bad. Still, I’m going to see it. Because it has ninjas. Ninjas ninjas ninjas. Two of them, actually. You may reasonably ask why a high-tech, 21st century Special Ops military force would need a ninja. Aren’t throwing stars pretty useless in comparision to, I don’t know, anti-tank guns? That misses the point--badly. The point—as any ten-year old boy would happily tell you—is this: ninjas rule. They just do. And if one ninja is good, then obviously two ninjas are better. Way way better.
By the way: Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Those are their names. The ninjas.
By the way: Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow. Those are their names. The ninjas.
Yep. It's gonna be goooood.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Periods of rapid transition in the history of man often produce extremely great men because the simultaneous existence of two systems of thought and behavior opens twice as many alternatives as are available to individuals living in a static time when only one system prevails.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
The mulch has also imparted a distinctly rural smell to our environs. Our neighbor was so upset by it that she left a chiding note on our door, complaining that she had been forced to cancel an outdoor barbeque; apparently her guests don't like being attacked by swarms of flies while inhaling lungfuls of recently-lain manure. Wimps. We went over to apologize, and she seemed placated. (I told her that we'd harvested the manure fresh from our own hogs, and offered to give her some. That made her happy, as you would imagine.)
I actually don’t think it smells that bad--nothing like Iowa City in June. Now THAT was a smell.
Anyway, it’s been an eventful weekend. Suburbia is a lot less dull than you might think.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
He rode through La Vega without dismounting, the horse blowing and rolling its eyes at all it saw. When a truck started up in the street and began to come toward them the animal moaned in despair and tried to turn and he sawed it down almost onto its haunches and patted it and talked constantly to it until the vehicle was past and then they went on again. Once outside the town he left the road altogether and set off across the immense and ancient lakebed of the bolson. He crossed a dry gypsum playa where the salt crust stove under the horse's hooves like trodden isinglass and he rode up through white gypsum hills grown with stunted datil and through a pale bajanda crowded with flowers of gypsum like a cavefloor uncovered to the light. In the shimmering distance trees and jacales stood along the slender bights of greenland pale and serried and half fugitive in the clear morning air. The horse had a good natural gait and as he rode he talked to it and told it things about that world that were true in his experience and he told it things he thought could be true to see how they would sound if they were said. He told the horse why he liked it and why he'd chosen it to be his horse and he said that he would allow no harm to come to it.I will say, as well, that I had to look up six words in this paragraph (two of which appear in no Spanish or English dictionary I own) and also that if I stopped to look up every word that I didn't know, reading this book, I would probably still be on page 50.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Friday, April 3, 2009
"Bono’s voice can sound strained fairly quickly and isn’t in the same league of instruments as that of Michael Stipe or Robert Plant...."
"In a U.K. poll conducted several years ago, the band’s slower, spiritual song “One,” which is so basic it sounds almost like a traditional ballad, was voted the greatest song ever recorded. It isn’t, but it’s a model of simplicity and unfussy positivity...."
"“No Line” works precisely because it doesn’t try too hard to add to the band’s pile of epic moments. This album is a long dinner with old friends, all of whom love each other, most of whom are born talkers, and some of whom hold the floor for too long. Not every anecdote holds up, and some of the food belongs, untouched, on the edge of your plate. But it would be small-minded to leave before the whole warm, rambling night is over."
Where to start? Has the band done few covers because of its "limited" gift or because they happen to be able to write pretty damn good songs by themselves? (I don't recall the Rolling Stones doing too many covers, or even the Beatles once they'd broken through). Is "One" (which, for my money, is absolutely their greatest song) a model of "unfussy positivity?" I guess since it's not "fussy," exactly, it could accurately be described as "unfussy"--but in no universe is that the first, or even the fiftieth, most apposite adjective. As far as its putative "positivity"....maybe we're listening to different songs, Sasha. The "One" I know is about despair and desolation--about what it's like to want more anything in the world just to give up. No, the speaker does not give up; hope does endure (mostly). But the song is not 'positive', and it's certainly not positive when considered within the general context of their music.
Finally, there's his assessment of No Line on the Horizon. It "works" because it doesn't "try too hard" to add to the "pile" of "epic moments." (Note the slight but quintessential New Yorker scorn: neither "pile" nor "epic", as they're used here, are terms of praise.) Well then, Sash, why does it work? Here we go--because it's 'warm' and 'rambling?' Really? Are those qualities we want, or expect, from U2? Is it qualities they deliver? (One out of two's not bad.) The best reason he can give us to listen is to suggest that those who don't are "small-minded." So...you want to convince people to appreciate something by insulting those who don't? Count me persuaded!
Why do they publish this guy? Somebody? Anyone? Off the top of my head, I can think of five friends of mine who could write better pieces. And let me assure you all: my friends are not that bright.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
Today was a big day for a certain small dog: today Elliot "Bink(ers)" Lake officially turned one year old. It’s been quite a year. Not only was I radically unprepared to be a dog owner, I was actively unwilling. Only one person in the world could have overcome my host of reservations. Luckily—I think—she happens to be my wife.
Bink celebrated his birthday by gnawing--and in some places actually consuming--the border and understitching of our expensive new carpet. He’s sitting on a chair in the photo above because he’s been given a "Time Out." He doesn’t look very chastened, does he? Regret, I think, is not a common emotion for small dogs. If it were, he might consume a higher percentage of actual food, and a smaller amount of rubber, cardboard, styrofoam, and sundry other organic substances too unpleasant to mention. He’s a mischevious, rascally, and incredibly joyous little creature. I can’t believe I ever got along without him.
One of the reasons we chose a Maltese over other dogs was because of their longevity. Apparently, many can live to be fifteen or sixteen years old. In other words, I’ve got many years of Bink-dom in store for me. I doubt they’ll be enough.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
Burn After Reading: Does not add up. (* * *)
Crossroads featuring Def Leppard and Taylor Swift: No one is Def Leppard. Even them. (****)
Winter Light: The church is bare. (****)
Pretty Young Things: Fizz only hurts the head. (* *)
Ninotchka: Communist delight? No. (* *)
2046: Time is longing. Both are infinite. (****)
Friday, March 20, 2009
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
"Fools!" said West, his clenched fist striking the lectern before him. "We must prepare today's youth for a world whose terrors are etched upon ancient clay tablets recounting the fever-dreams of the other gods—not fill their heads with such trivia as math and English. Our graduates need to know about those who lie beneath the earth, waiting until the stars align so they can return to their rightful place as our masters and wage war against the Elder Things and the shoggoths!"
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
"Giving Blood" by John Updike
Instead of trying to talk about this entire story I thought I would pick out a few paragraphs and talk about those specifically. The point is to isolate an effect--in this case the way Updike transforms going to a hospital to give blood into something mysterious and otherworldly. (It's very much in keeping with what I think is one of the thematizing sentences in the story; "Romance is, simply, the strange, the untried.")
At the desk they were directed down a long corridor floored with cigar-colored linoleum. Up and down, right and left it went, in the secretive disjointed way peculiar to hospitals that have been built annex by annex. Richard felt like Hansel orphaned with Gretel; birds ate the bread crumbs behind them, and at last they timidly knocked on the witch’s door, which said BLOOD DONATION CENTER. A young man in white opened the door a crack. Over his shoulder Richard glimpsed—horrors!—a pair of dismembered female legs stripped of their shoes and laid parallel on a bed. Glints of needles and bottles pricked his eyes. Without widening the crack, the young man passed out to them two long forms. In sitting side by side on the waiting bench, spelling out their middle names and recalling their childhood diseases, Mr. and Mrs. Maple were newly defined to themselves. He fought down that urge to giggle and clown and lie that threatened him whenever he was asked—like a lawyer appointed by the court to plead a hopeless case—to present, as it were, his statistics to eternity. It seemed to mitigate his case slightly that a few of these statistics (present address, date of marriage) were shared by the hurt soul scratching beside him. He looked over her shoulder. “I never knew you had whooping cough”
“My mother says. I don’t remember it.”
A pan crashed to a distant floor. An elevator chuckled remotely. A woman, a middle aged woman top heavy with rouge and fur, stepped out of the blood door and wobbled a moment on legs that looked familiar. They had been restored to their shoes. The heels of those shoes clicked firmly as, having raked the Maples with a dazed, defiant glance, she turned and disappeared around a bend in the corridor. The young man appeared in the doorway holding a pair of surgical tongs. His noticeably recent haricut made him seem an apprentice barber. He clicked his tongs and smiled. “Shall I do you together?”We're going here to give blood but we're also entering into a kind of strange almost phantasmagoric forest. It contains a witch, whose door says BLOOD DONATION CENTER. In it, there are dismembered legs, and medieval barbers with tongs who offer to 'do you together.' Elevators are alive (or at least alive enough to "chuckle") and "glints of needles and bottles" prick our eyes. (What a great, great sentence) like deadly weapons. If romance is, as the narrator asserts, simply the strange and untried then this experience is undoubtedly romantic. It's romantic in the strict sense, the one given by the narrator, and it's romantic in they way probably most of us define it; it leads to romance, to the birth (or rebirth) of love. After they've made their journey into this strange forest, the Maples emerge newly joined. Their fragile relationship is at least momentarily healed. ("Hey, I love you. Love love love you." Richard says as they leave the hospital).
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Mykonos from Grandchildren on Vimeo.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Friday, February 6, 2009
First off, I’m glad you chose Alice Munro; it’s given me a chance to reassess her work. As of course you know, Munro is a writer admired by all--or nearly all. I’ve read most of the Selected Stories before, but for whatever reason they've never much excited me. Maybe it’s the subject matter or maybe it’s the general emotional terroir from which they spring. Maybe it’s a failure of imagination on my part.
I won’t say rereading “Labor Day” has radically changed my view of Munro, but it has given me a new respect for her writing. I admit it; she does a lot well. Here are some passages or moments that I particularly admire....
- The first sentence: “Just before six o’clock in the evening, George and Roberta and Angela and Eva get out of George’s pickup truck—he traded his car for a pickup when moved to the country—and walk across Valerie’s front yard, under the shade of two aloof and splendid elm trees that have been expensively preserved.” I LOVE 'aloof.' It's perfect. It’s also an unusual word to use to describe a tree. Its strangeness doesn’t manifest itself immediately because it’s buried so deep within the sentence. I think it ends up being a key word in the story—a thematizing word, as it were.
- The present tense makes it seem like something reported, as opposed to told. Probably the present tense always does something like this but it seemed especially noticeable here.
- “The four people are costumed in a way that would suggest they were going to different dinner parties.” Again: aloofness, separation. “Costumed” is excellent; it gives the sense that while these people are taking part in something they haven’t completely surrendered to it. The whole dinner is a kind of performance. Roberta acts the part of a caring girlfriend, the daughters act the part of loving daughters, George acts the part of a dutiful husband. Underneath, they all fear; they all have reservations, doubts. But for tonight, the performances goes on.
- More on costuming: Roberta…”herself has given up wearing long skirts and caftans because of what (George) has said about disliking the sight of women trailing around in such garments, which announce to him, he says, not only a woman’s intention of doing no serious work but her persistent wish to be admired and courted. This is a wish George has no patience with and has spent some energy, throughout his adult life, in thwarting.” I love the rhythm of that last sentence; the appositive “throughout his adult life” is masterful.
- I was unpleasantly surprised by the transition, midway though, to George’s thoughts. (“George is enjoying the scything.”) Munro has done so much to make us dislike him at that point, that going inside his mind felt like it be hugely unappealing. But, of course, Munro is better than that. Instead of giving us more cruelty and aloofness, she presents a view of the Roberta/George relationship. Suddenly, he becomes sympathetic. He feels underappreciated; she doesn’t help out around the house; she doesn’t work. She doesn’t seem happy and he takes her unhappiness personally. It’s a perfect interlude and it makes the story far more interesting.
- George starts scything as soon as they reach the party. I wonder if this is intended to evoke Levin, from Anna K. Munro wears a deep erudition very lightly; it’s not too big a stretch to imagine she did this deliberately.
- Another intertextual clue: Roberta’s linked to The Tale of Genji. I wonder how much more I would understand about her character, if I’d read that book.
- What do you make of the discussion between Valerie and Roberta that begins…”this is a bad time for you….”? (“I doubt if things happen so symmetrically."/“I don’t think so either, really. I don’t think you get your punishment in such a simple way. Isn’t it funny how you’re attracted—I am—to the idea of a pattern like that? I mean, the idea is attractive, of there being that balance. But not the experience. I’d like to avoid them. “you forget how happy you are when you’re happy.“And vice versa. It’s like childbirth.” I don’t think I really understand it. And yet I sense that it is somehow crucial.
Actually, transcribing that sentence about the moonlight (which reminds me, oddly, of Hemingway) has given me an idea. Consider the adjective Munro uses here to describe the grass—“hesitant.” What does that remind us of? I’ll tell you what it reminds me of; the trees, at the start. It must be deliberate. We’ve gone from trees which are “aloof” to grass which is “hesitant.” Is that the transformation that the story has described? Both are thematizing words, I think; both personalize the inanimate.
I know, reading Munro, that beneath the seemingly arbitrary happenings her stories describe exists a profound internal coherence. The coherence is never immediately apparent. (If it were, it wouldn’t be profound). But we intuit it, just as someone who has no experience with classical music can nevertheless intuit some abiding structure beneath the seemingly superficial melodic dalliances of a Mozart concerto. And that’s, I think, is the mark of a great craftsman—the ability to reconcile order and chaos. The first gives us hope. The second gives us truth.