Saturday, December 21, 2013


Incredibly, my beloved son, Joseph, is five today.  Hard to believe.

Here are three photos from Thanksgiving (all by my uncle, John Henry Stassen):

And here's one from his school:

Happy birthday!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Link of the Day

One of the signs, for me, of a really great piece of internet writing (article, blog post, whatever) is that I find myself googling to try and dig it up again weeks or months or years after I first read it.  I just did this, not for the first time, with this article.  So I thought I'd share it with you.  It's by Adam Kotsko, who blogs here.  It's called "A Defense of the Lecture", which was not a title I was (prior to reading it) likely to be sympathetic with.  Now I keep rereading it.

Here's a small bit of it:
A lively discussion of a book by a small, engaged group is an ideal to be aspired to. At the same time, it seems to me that such discussions are pretty rare, even among professional academics (note how often people will express surprise that a conference session had good discussion). Such skills need to be cultivated, and of course you can only learn by doing. Yet there are some base-level confidence issues that need to be addressed as well, and unless we want to cultivate students who believe that their every utterance is intrinsically worthwhile due to their precious snowflake-hood, it would probably be good to get them to a point where their confidence is earned, where it’s based in actual knowledge....

I think that the assumption that students have baseline reading skills is behind the thinking of people who want more or less exclusively discussion-based classes — lectures, they suppose, are just trying to transmit information, which the books can do by themselves. If we assume that the students are reading attentively outside of class, we can use the class time to practice our critical reading with each other. I don’t think it’s at all clear, however, that students typically come to college with the skills necessary to make such a model work. Some will, but it’s much safer to assume that your students need help. And I believe that we should interpret students’ desire for more lectures precisely as a cry for help.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Michael Kammen (1936 - 2013)

I returned from a Thanksgiving trip to the news that my graduate advisor, Michael Kammen, died last Friday.  I hope to write something soon about him, in particular about what an amazing advisor he was.  For now, I don't have the heart.

For the moment, I thought I'd just post links to obituaries I've seen.  (I've seen precious few; I assume there will be more.  I'll add links when I see them.)  Here are some links:

Newspaper obituaries:

The Cornell Chronicle
Cornell Daily Sun (partially reprinted at HNN)
The Washington Post
Boston Globe
The LA Times
The New York Times 

Other comments & remembrances:

US Intellectual History BlogOrganization of American Historians
The Historical Society
The Ithaca Journal
Sara Polak

More will be added as I see them.  (If you have seen others, please leave links in the comments.)

Rest in peace, Michael.  You are sorely missed.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Same Thanksgiving Post I Have Put Up Every Year Since 1621

Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.... Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

-- Psalm 100:2, 4

ANYA: I love a ritual sacrifice.
BUFFY: It's not really a one of those.
ANYA: To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It's a ritual sacrifice. With pie.

-- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Pangs" by Jane Espenson
Thanksgiving is a holiday, and holidays are rituals. And one of my holiday rituals is to give thanks to you, Noble Reader, for reading. Not all sentences said ritualistically are heartfelt -- it goes with the territory -- but this one always is.* I am thankful that you have dropped by; I hope you will come back again.

I wish everyone a joyful Thanksgiving, however (and whether) you celebrate it, and to whomever (and however) you give thanks.

But I must admit to you all that the title of this post is a lie. The first Thanksgiving feast was in 1621; so obviously I did not put up my first blog post commemorating the event until the following year, 1622. My apologies for the inaccuracy.

* Yes, that sentence noting that the ritualistic sentence is said not just ritualistically but sincerely is now, itself, a part of my Thanksgiving ritual. I will note that it, too, is said sincerely and not just realistically, and shudder at the inevitable extrapolation of this trend. (As, for instance, the slightly odd shudder I get at copying & pasting the previous sentence from last year's post... (A parenthesis which, unlike this second-order parenthesis (which, along with this third-order one, is the only original text in this increasingly convoluted footnote (nay, post (this way madness lies!))), was itself cut & paste from last year's post...))

Friday, November 22, 2013

50 Years Ago Today

Here is a short editor's note from the December 7, 1963 issue of The New Yorker.  As was their custom at the time, it was unsigned; but it was written by John Updike (and was later republished in one of his many volumes of collected nonfiction—Assorted Prose (1965), I believe).  When I teach my seminar on the 1960s—as I am doing this fall—I use this to discuss Kennedy's death, since it captures (so far as I can tell, viewing the event through the lens of history) the experience of living through the assassination—the immediate, human experience of those days—as well as anything I've read.

For the fiftieth anniversary, I thought I'd share it here.
It was as if we slept from Friday to Monday and dreamed an oppressive, unsearchably significant dream, which, we discovered on awaking, millions of others had dreamed also. Furniture, family, the streets, and the sky dissolved; only the dream on television was real. The faces of the world's great mingled with the faces of landladies who had happened to house an unhappy ex-Marine; cathedrals alternated with warehouses, temples of government with suburban garages; anonymous men tugged at a casket in a glaring airport; a murder was committed before our eyes; a Dallas strip-tease artist drawled amiably of her employer's quick temper; the heads of state of the Western world strode down a sunlit street like a grim village rabble; and Jacqueline Kennedy became Persephone, the Queen of Hades and the beautiful bride of grief. All human possibilities, of magnificence and courage, of meanness and confusion, seemed to find an image in this long montage, and a stack of cardboard boxes in Dallas, a tawdry movie house, a tiny rented room where some shaving cream still clung to the underside of a washbasin, a row of parking meters that had witnessed panicked flight all acquired the opaque and dreadful importance that innocent objects acquire in nightmares.

What did it mean? Can we hope for a meaning? "It's the fashion to hate people in the United States." This quotation might be from one of a hundred admonitory sermons delivered after President Kennedy's death. In actuality, it occurs in an interview granted in 1959 to a United Press reporter, Aline Mosby, by a young American defector then living in Moscow, Lee Harvey Oswald. The presumed assassin did not seem to be a violent man. "He was too quiet, too reserved," his ex-landlord told reporters. "He certainly had the intelligence and he looked like he could be efficient at doing almost anything." In his room, the police found a map on which was marked the precise path that three bullets in fact took. The mind that might have unlocked this puzzle of perfectly aimed, perfectly aimless murder has been itself forever sealed by murder. The second assassination augmented the first, expanded our sense of potential violence. In these cruel events, democracy seemed caricatured; a gun voted, and a drab Dallas neighborhood was hoisted into history. None of our country's four slain Presidents were victims of any distinct idea of opposition or hope of gain; they were sacrificed, rather, to the blind tides of criminality and insanity that make civilization precarious. Between Friday and Monday, three men died: a President, a policeman, and a prisoner. May their deaths be symbols, clues to our deep unease, and omens we heed.

The dream began to lift at the sight, on television, of President Johnson giving his broad and friendly handshake, with exquisite modulations of political warmth, to the line of foreign dignitaries who had come to Washington as mourners. The sanity of daylight has returned, but the dissipated dream should not be forgotten; it must be memorized and analyzed. We pray we do not fall into such a sleep again.

-- John Updike
At some point, in my handing this out, I lost the last paragraph, and gave out only the first two to my classes.  It was an error—hence my adding it back here—but I think it was the sort of error that, in popular memory, sands the rough edges off of famous quotations.  Which is to say that I think that, in certain respects, the passage reads better truncated at the word "heed"—that it does not feel incomplete without the final paragraph, and indeed that it is in some ways diminished with it.  Hence, in reading it over, I did not notice the lack, since the lack improved it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Seven Score and Ten Years Ago...

...on this date, Abraham Lincoln said this:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.



So say we all.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Poem of the Day

Mirror in February

The day dawns with scent of must and rain,
Of opened soil, dark trees, dry bedroom air.
Under the fading lamp, half dressed - my brain
Idling on some compulsive fantasy-
I towel my shaven jaw and stop, and stare,
Riveted by a dark exhausted eye,
A dry downturning mouth.

It seems again that it is time to learn,
In this untiring, crumbling place of growth
To which, for the time being, I return.
Now plainly in the mirror of my soul
I read that I have looked my last on youth
And little more; for they are not made whole
That reach the age of Christ.

Below my window the awakening trees,
Hacked clean for better bearing, stand defaced
Suffering their brute necessities,
And how should the flesh not quail that span for span
Is mutilated more? In slow distaste
I fold my towel with what grace I can,
Not young and not renewable, but man.

Thomas Kinsella, "Mirror in February"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Seven Songs Per Decade: 1970s (Part 1 of 4.5)

In the spring, I am teaching I brand-new class, on the history of the United States from 1974 - 2014.  I am currently in the process of preparing the course.  One thing I thought I'd do, mostly just for fun, is play a song as the students walk in every day as a processional.  I'm only going to do this on days I lecture (not on discussion days or exam days), so it won't be every day.

But I want to come up with a list of songs which are A), Good, B) Representative, and C) Iconic.  Some songs will be on the list primarily for one of those reasons, but ideally most will be a mix of all three.  In order to get a comparatively even chronological mix, I'm going to try to do 7 songs each from the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s, plus 3 from the 10s.

And I'm soliciting suggestions!

To give you a sense of the sort of thing I'm thinking about, here is a preliminary, mostly off-the-top-of-my-head list of six songs (leaving one TBD):
  1. Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)
  2. Born to Run (or Thunder Road), Bruce Springsteen (1975)
  3. Stayin' Alive, Bee Gees (1977)
  4. Psycho Killer, Talking Heads (1978)
  5. Gotta Serve Somebody, Bob Dylan (1979)
  6. London Calling, The Clash (1979)
  7. ??
At the moment, all six are by white men. I'm not happy about that (it's not true for other decades).  That's one dimension I'd like suggestions on how to fix.

Note that as a general rule, I am limiting every single musician to one song on all five lists.  (I am making an exception for one, and only one, musician, to be revealed later.)  But bear that in mind: if you think someone's best or most representative or most iconic song is from a later decade, don't put them on this list!  Save them for later.

Note that while all suggestions are welcome, I'd prefer complete lists, either just a set of seven, or telling me what you'd add/subtract to my rough draft.

Update, November 15:

This query, cross-posted to facebook, generated a vigorous and (for me) very informative discussion, and far, far, far more suggestions than I could actually use.  After reading what everyone had to say, and painfully cutting it back down to seven, I came up with this revised list:
  1. After the Goldrush by Neil Young (1970)
  2. Search and Destroy, Iggy and the Stooges (1973)
  3. Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd (1973)
  4. The Payback, James Brown (1974)
  5. I Will Survive, Gloria Gaynor (1978)
  6. The Promised Land, Bruce Springsteen (1978)
  7. Rapper's Delight, Sugar Hill Gang (1979)
 ...with the idea that the Talking Heads will be on the 80s list instead.

So now I'm soliciting suggestions, comments and revisions on this second draft list.  I'd love to hear what you think — but please, only suggest an addition if you also suggest which it should replace.  Also, remember that we are going for a representative list of iconic songs; quality is important, but only within that larger constraint.

Myself, I am liking the list pretty well.  The one I am most tempted to cut is "After the Goldrush", not as any reflection on the song itself, but since the chronology of the course really starts a few years later, in 1973/1974.

Up next: the 1980s. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Quote of the Day

Courage, I seemed to think, comes to us in finite quantities, like an inheritance, and by being frugal and stashing it away and letting it earn interest, we steadily increase our moral capital in preparation for that day when the account must be drawn down. It as a comforting theory. It dispensed with all those bothersome little acts of daily courage; it offered hope and grace to the repetitive coward; it justified the past while amortizing the future.

— Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried, "On the Rainy River"
I'm teaching the first of three classes (in my seminar on the 1960s) on Tim O'Brien's amazing book The Things They Carried tomorrow.  It will be the fifth or sixth time, I think, I've taught it.  At least fifth, plus one time I taught the title story by itself.

Anyway, now, rereading it for class tomorrow, for the sixth or seventh or whateveritisth time, this quote struck me.  I've read those words before, of course, many times.  But each time through, of course, different quotes stand out; this one stood out tonight.

Monday, October 14, 2013

J. L. Austin's Philosophical Papers is Available Online

Awesome.  I was googling this book, hoping to use a 'search inside' function (either on google books or on Amazon or what-have-you) as an index (to then match it with my own, dead-trees copy), and I found that, lo and behold, the whole book is available online.

He's an obscure philosopher—at least these days—but, I think, an underrated one.  So now you can check him out, if you're so inclined.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Poem of the Day: Louis Macneice, "Charon"


The conductor’s hands were black with money:
Hold on to your ticket, he said, the inspector’s
Mind is black with suspicion, and hold on to
That dissolving map. We moved through London,
We could see the pigeons through the glass but failed
To hear their rumours of wars, we could see
The lost dog barking but never knew
That his bark was as shrill as a cock crowing,
We just jogged on, at each request
Stop there was a crowd of aggressively vacant
Faces, we just jogged on, eternity
Gave itself airs in revolving lights
And then we came to the Thames and all
The bridges were down, the further shore
Was lost in fog, so we asked the conductor
What we should do. He said: Take the ferry
Faute de mieux. We flicked the flashlight
And there was the ferryman just as Virgil
And Dante had seen him. He looked at us coldly
And his eyes were dead and his hands on the oar
Were black with obols and varicose veins
Marbled his calves and he said to us coldly:
If you want to die you will have to pay for it.

-- Louis Macneice

Thursday, October 03, 2013


I have blogged about palindromic dates once before, and at the time discussed two of my very favorite* palindromes: Georges Perec's Grand Pallindrome, and J. A. Lindon's brilliant palindromic poem "Doppelgänger".  (The latter is posted in its entirety at the link.)

Once you pass out of 2012, palindromic dates become in short supply -- although, of course, it all depends on what date system you use (search for "palindrome", or just scroll down.)  And if you just write the necessary numbers -- thus, "3" for the day and not "03" -- and put them in the European rather than the usual American order (which, to be fair, makes more sense (although not as much as the Chinese manner, which styles today 2013-10-3)), then today, yes, is a palindromic date.

So to celebrate, I thought I'd post** one of my very favorite artistic uses of palindromes -- up there with Perec and the Lindon -- Weird Al Yankovic's marvelous song/video parody, "Bob".

Incidentally, while the lyrics to this stand on their own (after all, they're perfectly balanced), the video itself is a parody of a famous video (avant la lettre) by Bob Dylan of his song Subterranean Homesick Blues.  If you don't know the latter, you might want to watch it first, not only 'cause it's great, but in order to properly enjoy the parody.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Weird Al:

Happy palindrome day!

* Yes, I'm claiming the Perec as a favorite without ever having read it (see post for details); I like the idea of it, the fact of it, enough for it to qualify.

** Actually repost, but the earlier post was buried in a link dump and you probably missed it (close attention that I know you pay notwithstanding).

Friday, September 20, 2013

Quote of the Day

To portray a lengthy ideological change or transition as an endogenous process is of course more complex than to depict it as the rise of an independently conceived, insurgent ideology concurrent with the decline of a hitherto dominant ethic. A portrayal of this sort involves the identification of a sequence of concatenated ideas and propositions whose final outcome is necessarily hidden from the proponents of the individual links, at least in the early stages of the process; for they would have shuddered—and revised their thinking—had they realized where their ideas would ultimately lead.

— Albert O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before its Triumph (1977), pp. 4-5

Friday, September 06, 2013

Four Phrases to Keep With You

Tamar Gendler (an old friend who is currently chair of the Yale philosophy department) just gave the welcoming speech to the first-year students.  I really liked this bit:
There’s an ancient Jewish teaching that says that every human being should carry in their pockets two pieces of paper: on one of them you should write the words “For my sake was the world created” On the other you should write: “I am but dust and ashes.”

The teaching continues telling you to reach for each these papers at the moment that you are feeling the opposite. So when you are feeling lowly or depressed, discouraged or overwhelmed, you should pull from your pocket the paper that says “the world was created for my sake.” And when you are feeling high and mighty, superior and arrogant, you should pull from your pocket the paper that says “dust and ashes are all that I am.”...

But there’s another pair — hinted at by the pair that I’ve already mentioned — that I’d also advise you to have on hand.

So here’s another version of the parable. Every human being should carry in their pockets two pieces of paper: on one of them you should write the words “All others experience the world as I do.” On the other you should write: “My perspective is mine alone.”

There are moments that you will need to pull each of these from your pockets: there are times when you will assume too much commonality with those around you, and times when you will assume too little....

So keep those contradictions in your pockets:
“For my sake was the world created”
“I am but dust and ashes”
“My perspective is mine alone”
“All others experience the world as I do”
And when circumstances require, pull them from your pockets and read them aloud to yourself.
The rest of the speech includes some interpretations of her four texts, including a bunch from cool psychology experiments, so click through for more.  (And, yeah, a rather cringe-worthy amount about how fabulous Yale is, how fabulous the Yale class is, how the old the buildings are -- precisely what you'd expect from a welcoming speech to a fancy college, I suppose (though I went to an equally fancy college and I don't recall ever getting anything of the sort) and perfectly reasonable under the circumstances and flat-out hard to take, so don't click through unless you have a strong stomach for this sort of thing.)  But ultimately what is fabulous about those pairs of sentences is that they are richer than pretty much any midrash that will be done about them.  Tamar's is, as befits the author of two of them, fabulous; but there's a lot more two.  It's what good koans are for, I suppose.

Monday, September 02, 2013

A Marvelous Jazz Visualization

Via, here's a fabulous animation visualizing (part of) the title track to John Coltrane's classic 1959 album Giant Steps, by Israeli artist Michal Levy*.  Take a look:

Sadly, she seems to have done only two such animations -- the other, "One", animates music by contemporary jazz musician Jason Lindner (about whom I otherwise know nothing, although I liked what she used in her video).  You can see that video at the artist's web site.

Some canny jazz educator should hire her to make more of these.  The Coltrane one does such a good job of helping you hear what's going on in the music, while also being a beautiful work in its own right.

* Note the youtube page from which I took the embedded video misspells her name; as shown in the video credits, it's Michal, not Michael.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Quote of the Day

Stephen M. Walt, from a 2011 article (occasioned by the Libiya intervention) about why America fights so many wars:
[L]urking underneath the Establishment consensus on foreign-policy activism is the most successful Jedi mind trick that the American right ever pulled. Since the mid-1960s, American conservatism has waged a relentless and successful campaign to convince U.S. voters that it is wasteful, foolish, and stupid to pay taxes to support domestic programs here at home, but it is our patriotic duty to pay taxes to support a military establishment that costs more than all other militaries put together and that is used not to defend American soil but to fight wars mostly on behalf of other people. In other words, Americans became convinced that it was wrong to spend tax revenues on things that would help their fellow citizens (like good schools, health care, roads, and bridges, high-speed rail, etc.), but it was perfectly OK to tax Americans (though of course not the richest Americans) and spend the money on foreign wars. And we bought it.
I would suggest amending "mostly on behalf of other people" with "putatively on behalf of other people", but otherwise this is right-on.

I will say that I was pleasantly surprised that Obama is seeking Congressional approval for his next little act of war in Syria.  What I haven't quite seen anyone mention yet is that, among other things, it creates both time and a vehicle for the American public (overwhelmingly against this war) to make its voice heard.  This strikes me as a textbook case for classic activism, where calling your representatives might really make a difference.  So let's get to it.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

A. Philip Randolph at the 1963 March on Washington

I missed this in my earlier post rounding up commentary on the 50th anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom, but that's fine, because it's good enough that it deserves a post all its own.

For those of you who don't know, it was Randolph who first proposed a march on Washington, in 1941, which he called off when FDR, in a concession, integrated workers in war-related industries.  He was the titular head of the 1963 march (although the real organization was done by his right-hand man, Bayard Rustin, also an amazing and marvelous figure).  Here's a bit of what Randolph said about the meaning of the March for Jobs and Freedom:
And we know that we have no future in a society in which 6 million black and white people are unemployed and millions more live in poverty. Nor is the goal of our civil rights revolution merely the passage of civil rights legislation. Yes, we want all public accommodations open to all citizens, but those accommodations will mean little to those who cannot afford to use them. Yes, we want a Fair Employment Practice Act, but what good will it do if profit-geared automation destroys the jobs of millions of workers black and white? And so we have taken our struggle into the streets as the labor movement took its struggle into the streets, as Jesus Christ led the multitude through the streets of Judaea. The plain and simple fact is that until we went into the streets the federal government was indifferent to our demands. It was not until the streets and jails of Birmingham were filled that Congress began to think about civil rights legislation. It was not until thousands demonstrated in the South that lunch counters and other public accommodations were integrated.

We want integrated public schools, but that means we also want federal aid to education, all forms of education. We want a free, democratic society dedicated to the political, economic and social advancement of man along moral lines. Now we know that real freedom will require many changes in the nation’s political and social philosophies and institutions. For one thing we must destroy the notion that Mrs. Murphy’s property rights include the right to humiliate me because of the color of my skin.

The sanctity of private property takes second place to the sanctity of the human personality. It falls to the Negro to reassert this proper priority of values, because our ancestors were transformed from human personalities into private property. It falls to us to demand new forms of social planning, to create full employment, and to put automation at the service of human needs, not at the service of profits—for we are the worst victims of unemployment. Negroes are in the forefront of today’s movement for social and racial justice, because we know we cannot expect the realization of our aspirations through the same old anti-democratic social institutions and philosophies that have all along frustrated our aspirations.
Note that Randolph emphasises (as did the majority of the contemporary commentary which I saw) the connection between the civil rights and economic rights demanded in the very title of the March.  And provides, if one were needed, yet another refutation of conservative attempts to embrace the March as a narrow and fulfilled struggle.  (But then, "we cannot expect the realization of our aspirations through the same old anti-democratic social institutions and philosophies that have all along frustrated our aspirations".)

The entire speech can be found here.  It's via Digby, who adds her own commentary here.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney (1939 - 2013)

As anyone who has been online today has probably already heard, the Irish poet (and Nobel laureate) Seamus Heaney died today.

It would be an exaggeration to say that I knew Heaney, but he was to more more than simply a name signed to incredible verse (although he was that too).  His daughter spent a year at my high school -- she was a year or two below me -- and during that year he came to speak at my school.  I remember asking him a question during the Q&A; what he answered wasn't quite what I meant to ask, but it was sort of thrilling anyway.

Then, in college, I went to Harvard, where he was teaching, and I took his course on Modern British and Irish poetry.  It was a great class, and I remember a great deal of the poetry we read in it.  (We did a day on Heaney himself of course -- we couldn't not; a guest lecturer, professor Helen Vendler, came in and gave the lecture on that day.)  I also remember bits and pieces of things he said in class.  (From the first day, winding up talking about the class: "Tough grading -- nothing for nothing.")  He wasn't a perfect teacher -- he had the bad habit of quoting poems he almost, but didn't quite, know from memory, when we all had the texts open in front of us: the mistakes grated.  But he was a good one, and I learned a lot.

A number of years later I saw him on Mass Ave, across from Harvard yard.  I introduced myself as a former student.  In memory, he pretended to recognize me, but I quite doubt he did (I certainly wouldn't have, in his place.  Maybe he was better with faces than I.)  He had won the Nobel prize, and I asked if he was still teaching.  Some, he said; but he limited things so that he didn't have to grade papers any more.  (He hadn't graded them in the class I had with him; like nearly every Harvard lecture class, they were graded by TAs.)

And then we said goodbye.

The poem of his that I didn't know, that I've seen most quoted today which I like best, is actually from his translation/adaptation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes (quoted variously here and here).  Here are the lines being quoted:
Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.

The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.

History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.
This passage seems to have been separately published under the title "Doubletake", but I'm not quite sure about that; it's definitely from The Cure of Troy (pp. 77-78, spoken by the Chorus).

Now I guess I need to track down the whole thing.

RIP, Professor Heaney.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

50th Anniversary of March on Washington Link Round-Up

I'm teaching my seminar on "America in the Sixties" again this semester -- but, sadly, we just began and won't get to the March this week.  Pity  (I did skip ahead and talk about it a bit yesterday -- I couldn't resist -- although I don't know if it was useful or just confusing.)

Some reading about today's anniversary:

• In my seminar, we read the speech of John Lewis as delivered -- it was considered too radical by other March organizers and, with a personal appeal from A. Philip Randolph narrowly avoiding a walkout by SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, pronounced "snick"), Lewis rewrote it to tone it down.  It's on the web, though; you can read it here.  (Lewis, by the way, just published the first volume of a graphic-novel autobiography; I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but flipping through it it looks fabulous.  (They got a great artist, it seems -- thankfully, and crucially.))

Some recent media-provided historical context on the March:

Rick Perlstein, "The March on Washington in Historical Context"  Perlstein talks mostly about the fears people -- not just conservatives, but mainstream liberals (and whites generally) had about the march beforehand.

Harold Meyerson, "The Socialists Who Made the March on Washington"  Meyerson reviews some background about the march too often forgotten today

•, William P. Jones, "How Black Unionists Organized the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom"  Similar in theme to the previous link; an excerpt from a just-released book on the topic.

• Speaking of whom, both Jones and another historian with a timely book out about the March (in the latter case, I believe, specifically on King's speech) were guests on the amazing radio show Democracy Now! last week.  (Link to a transcript.)

• Relatedly, Democracy Now! has a good round-up of march-relevant interviews and materials from their show.

Garance Franke-Ruta at The Atlantic has some good photographs of the March by Leonard Freed (which I'd never seen before).

Dave Zirin notes some differences between the original 1963 March and this past weekend's commemorative anniversary march.

An interview with one of the co-authors of a new book on the Freedom Budget, an ambitious policy plan (never seriously considered) which arose out of the March coalition.  The connecting hook:
Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech cannot be comprehended unless we understand it as the culmination of a March for Jobs and Freedom, linking economic justice with racial justice. From his college days in the late 1940s until his death in 1968, King was deeply committed to overcoming poverty and economic exploitation no less than to overcoming racism. He came to see the struggles to overcome economic and racial oppression as inseparable.
Read the rest.

• And Digby puts up some really stunningly good clips from MSNBC (!) about King's legacy and its depoliticization in American memory.  Is Up with Chris Hayes always this good?  I may need to actually watch it.

• I hadn't realized, until Angus Johnston pointed it out this morning, that William Zantzinger (op. cit.) was sentenced on the day of the March.  (Nor that his sentence was deferred until after the tobacco harvest.)  Bury the rag deep in your face.

The official program from the March is online here.

• Did you know that the "dream"section of MLK's famous speech was improvised?  If not, the story's retold in the Times today.

Joseph Stiglitz on a common theme, touched in many of these links, about the forgotten "jobs" part of the March for Jobs and Freedom:
Like so many looking back over the past 50 years, I cannot but be struck by the gap between our aspirations then and what we have accomplished. True, one “glass ceiling” has been shattered: we have an African-American president. But Dr. King realized that the struggle for social justice had to be conceived broadly: it was a battle not just against racial segregation and discrimination, but for greater economic equality and justice for all Americans. It was not for nothing that the march’s organizers, Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph, had called it the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In so many respects, progress in race relations has been eroded, and even reversed, by the growing economic divides afflicting the entire country.
Read the rest.

...and that's what I've seen so far.  I'll add more later if I see more.  (Update: Yup.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Poem of the Day: Langston Hughes, Song for Billie Holiday

Song for Billie Holiday

What can purge my heart
        Of the song
        And the sadness?
What can purge my heart
        But the song
        Of the sadness?
What can purge my heart
        Of the sadness
        Of the song?

Do not speak of sorrow
With dust in her hair,
Or bits of dust in eyes
A chance wind blows there.
The sorrow that I speak of
Is dusted with despair.

Voice of muted trumpet,
 Cold brass in warm air.
Bitter television blurred
By sound that shimmers–

-- Langston Hughes

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Summer and Spring and Fall: Recent Silences, and a Poem

Been quiet 'round here this summer.  No particular reason: all my thoughts have either been briefer than blog length, or longer (i.e. the real work I'm actually working on this summer).  Or at least all the thoughts I've taken the time and energy to write down.

But hey, I can still post poetry.  Here's one of my favorite poems from one of my favorite poets (previously featured on Attempts here, here and here), which I've never posted before.  Enjoy.  And I'll be back soon.  Or perhaps in the fall.

Spring and Fall
to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Words Hard to Take Seriously Enough, However Seriously You Take Them (Repost)

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

--The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

They're hard words to live by. Jefferson, who wrote them (with some later editing by committee), had trouble living by them, seeing his role in personally denying hundreds of people their inalienable right to liberty. Indeed, many of those who signed the declaration, people who took them very seriously indeed (the pledge of their lives, fortunes and sacred honors was not simply a rhetorical flourish, since they could have been hung if they'd lost the war), had trouble taking them seriously enough.

But it was hardly the only time. When Elizabeth Cady Stanton repeated those words, adding only a few self-evident edits ("all men and women are created equal"), it took decades for her to be taken seriously enough. When Ho Chi Min said those words (in Vietnamese) in saying that his colonized people also wanted to "dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them", we did not take him seriously enough, and sent troops to aid his colonizers (who had, ironically, themselves aided us when we were the colonized).

And today, our government is threatening the life and liberty and pursuits of happiness of its citizens (not to mention its non-citizens: and after all those inalienable rights are due to all men and all women, not simply to American citizens), but somehow, we don't take those rights seriously, or the idea that governments derive just powers only from consent of the governed, and only to protect those rights, seriously enough.

Yet those words, written in haste by a slaveowner, derived from commonplaces of enlightened thought of his day, edited by a committee and passed hurriedly so they could return to the managing of a war, those words remain worthy of being taken seriously. The words were larger and better than he or they meant; larger and better than he or they knew; and larger and better than we have yet fully and truly grasped. Indeed, the question we should continually ask our government -- and ourselves -- is whether we are acting worthy of them.

Happy July 4, everyone.

(Reposted from 2010.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Some Commentary on the Matter of Edward Snowden, from an American Writer

Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said, that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, aye, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small moveable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? Visit the Navy Yard, and behold a marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as it can make a man with its black arts, a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, and already, as one may say, buried under arms with funeral accompaniments, though it may be
"Not a drum was heard, nor a funeral note,
  As his corse to the ramparts we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
  O'er the grave where our hero we buried."

The mass of men serve the State thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, &c. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw, or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders, serve the State chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the State with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated by it as enemies.

-- Henry David Thoreau, Resistance to Civil Government

Monday, June 03, 2013

At the Ithaca Festival

I took my son, Joseph, to the Ithaca Festival last weekend. The good folks at the Family Reading Partnership Tent took our picture, and were kind enough to send it to me:

Epigraph to a Grave in Concord, Massachusetts

God wills us free; man wills us slaves.
I will as God wills; God's will be done.

Here lies the body of
a native of Africa who died
March 1773, aged about 60 years.

Tho' born in a land of slavery,
He was born free.
Tho' he lived in a land of liberty,
He lived a slave.
Till by his honest, tho' stolen labors,
He acquired the source of slavery,
Which gave him his freedom;
Tho' not long before
Death, the grand tyrant
Gave him his final emancipation,
And set him on a footing with kings.
Tho' a slave to vice,
He practised those virtues
Without which kings are but slaves.
The epigraph above is on a Concord gravestone.  Historian Michael Kammen (my graduate school advisor), notes in his 1972 book People of Paradox that "[i]n the nineteenth century this became the most famous epitaph in America, and was reprinted in English, French, German and Scandinavian newspapers." (p. 193)

The current gravestone is a facsimile of the original; the present copy was erected in 1830.  Here's the picture of the grave from Alfred Sereno Hudson's 1904 book The History of Concord, Massachusetts, Volume 1: Colonial Concord:

And here's the best contemporary picture I could find of the gravestone:
Image source here (click the above photo for a larger, almost-legible version).  Alternate images here, here, here, here and here.

There is a 1902 essay about John Jack, and about Daniel Bliss (the loyalist lawyer who wrote Jack's epigraph) here, online as a free google book.  The grave is on find a grave hereH/T to Jonathan Holloway for putting me on this trail.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Poem of the Day

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori

-- Wilfred Owen

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Quote of the Day: the Murders We Romanticize and the Murders We Don't

The city of Deadwood, they stage the murder of [Wild Bill] Hickok fourteen times a day. People have the security of knowing that that story is going to go on, and they'll be able to see Hickok killed 365 days a year.  Which might be an alternative argument in terms of continuing stories past the point of their utility. ...

All of Chinatown [in the Deadwood series] was intended as a venue for storytelling, to show the people who were invisible to what history takes to be the main story of a place.  And the process of servicing the illusions of those who are telling history what history will take to be the main story of a place -- the process of servicing that is never very pretty.  They used to bring in whores for the people too poor to pay for the white prostitutes.  The only way to make that economically feasible was not to feed the Chinese whores.  So they would just let them get fucked to death, until they starved.

They don't stage that fourteen times a day in Deadwood.

-- David Milch, "The Meaning of Endings: David Milch on the Conclusion of Deadwood" (
The heart of this fabulous little DVD extra -- available, I believe, only in the DVD set containing the complete series (which has a disk above and beyond the extras disks contained in each of the three season sets) -- is excerpted here.  A summary of the whole is here.  (Via Canavan, who comments at the link.)  It's just Milch rambling -- but "just" is very much not le mot juste here.  It's Milch, rambling -- and doing so with grace and insight.  The bit above isn't the best bit, but it's good, and I hadn't seen it quoted or transcribed anywhere, so I thought I'd quote it.

Here's one more sentence, more in tune with the main theme of Milch's rambling:
The biggest lie is the idea that we are entitled to a meaningful and coherent summarizing, a conclusion, of something which never concludes.

-- Ibid.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

American Studies 100: Cover Image Version 2.0

Since today is the last day of my second run-through of my class American Studies 100: A History of American Culture in 21 Examples, I thought I'd post the (slightly) revised cover image.  The syllabus (pdf) is pretty much what it was when I taught it in the fall -- the order switched a little bit (often for practical rather than pedagogical considerations), tweaked a few of the readings, but mostly it was the same.  (I didn't change any of my examples.)  But here's the cover image (without accompanying text):

And, just to correlate with the picture, here are the 21 examples which I used to outline the history of American culture:
  1. Minstrel Shows
  2. Central Park
  3. A Sears & Roebuck Catalog, 1898
  4. Hull House
  5. Coney Island
  6. The Five Foot Shelf (a.k.a. The Harvard Classics)
  7. D. W. Griffith, The Birth of a Nation (1915)
  8. Billy Sunday Sermons
  9. Louis vs. Schmeling (New York City, June 22, 1938)
  10. The Lone Ranger (radio and TV show)
  11. Billie Holiday, "Strange Fruit" (words & music by Abel Meeropol)
  12. Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) 
  13. Drive-in Movie Theaters
  14. Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, 1965
  15. Charles Schultz, Peanuts
  16. The Moon Landing, 1969
  17. Roman Polanski, Chinatown (1974)
  18. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Maya Lin, 1982)
  19. Fast Food 
  20. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Joss Whedon, 1997 - 2003)
  21. Steroids in Baseball
For more details on the ideas & reasoning behind the class, see this post, or the whole syllabus (pdf).

It was a fun class to teach.  Next year I'm teaching in the history department, rather than American studies, again; but I'd like to teach it again sometime, if I ever get the chance.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Poem of the Day: Merwin's For the Anniversary of My Death

For the Anniversary of My Death

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

-- W. S. Merwin

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Poem of the Day: Hopkins's Carrion Comfort

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist -- slack they may be -- these last strands of man
In me or, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruised bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, cheer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Poem of the Day: Yeats's The Second Coming

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-- W. B. Yeats

Friday, May 03, 2013

Quote of the Day

Of course it should not be too surprising to find out that your life story has included an event, something important, that you have known nothing about -- your life story is in and of itself something that you know very little about.

-- Philip Roth, I Married a Communist, p. 15
I'm rereading this to teach next week.  Quite, quite fabulous.  (Then again, I assigned it: of course I'd think that...)

Poem of the Day: Ryan's A Certain Kind of Eden

A Certain Kind of Eden

It seems like you could, but
you can’t go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.
It’s all too deep for that.
You’ve overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you’re given
for control. You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.
You even thought you abandoned
one or two gardens. But those things
keep growing where we put them—
if we put them at all.
A certain kind of Eden holds us thrall.
Even the one vine that tendrils out alone
in time turns on its own impulse,
twisting back down its upward course
a strong and then a stronger rope,
the greenest saddest strongest
kind of hope.

-- Kay Ryan
I went on a binge of posting Kay Ryan poems a bit over a year ago; you can read them all here if you'd like to read more of this fabulous poet. And, although it's not accurate -- the week being long over -- I've tagged this post too with the Kay Ryan Week tag, to group it with the others.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

David Graeber Link Round-Up

David Graeber has a new book out, and as a consequence, we get some interesting articles and interviews both by and about him.
I'll probably add more links if and when I see 'em.

Poem of the Day: Frost's Acquainted with the Night

Acquainted With the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain --and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Quote of the Day: A Real-Life Lord of the Flies

For there actually has been a real-life Lord of the Flies incident, and the result was the opposite of what is portrayed in the novel. One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip. They left safe harbor, and fate befell them. Badly. Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe?

They made a pact never to quarrel, because they could see that arguing could lead to mutually assured destruction. They promised each other that wherever they went on the island, they would go in twos, in case they got lost or had an accident. They agreed to have a rotation of being on guard, night and day, to watch out for anything that might harm them or anything that might help. And they kept their promises—for a day that became a week, a month, a year. After fifteen months, two boys, on watch as they had agreed, saw a speck of a boat on the horizon. The boys were found and rescued, all of them, grace intact and promises held.

-- Jay Griffiths
Sadly, he doesn't cite a source.  Wish I knew where he got the information.

Poem of the Day: cummings's i thank You God for this most amazing

i thank You God for this most amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

-- e e cummings

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Stray Thought

In some (presumably hypothetical but perfectly realizable) language, the sentence You have to be a good speller to write a palindrome is, itself, a perfect palindrome.  It's funny.

But in a different (presumably hypothetical but perfectly realizable) language, it's one letter off from a perfect palindrome -- and is much, much funnier.

Poem of the Day: Hughes's Let America Be America Again

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

-- Langston Hughes

Monday, April 29, 2013

Stray Thought

Jorge Luis Borges's Library of Babel would contain a Vast number of volumes of ASCII art.

Poem of the Day: Auden's As I Walked Out One Evening

I just noticed I haven't posted any poetry since January.  This will not do.  So I'll post a poem every day this week -- to make up for lost time, as it were.  Plus get up on this blog some favorites I've never put up here.

So without further ado...

As I Walked Out One Evening

As I walked out one evening,
  Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
  Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
  I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
  “Love has no ending.

“I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
  Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
  And the salmon sing in the street,

“I’ll love you till the ocean
  Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
  Like geese about the sky.

“The years shall run like rabbits,
  For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
  And the first love of the world.”

But all the clocks in the city
  Began to whirr and chime:
“O let not Time deceive you,
  You cannot conquer Time.

“In the burrows of the Nightmare
  Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
  And coughs when you would kiss.

“In headaches and in worry
  Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
  To-morrow or to-day.

“Into many a green valley
  Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
  And the diver’s brilliant bow.

“O plunge your hands in water,
  Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
  And wonder what you’ve missed.

“The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
  The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
  A lane to the land of the dead.

“Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
  And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
  And Jill goes down on her back.

“O look, look in the mirror?
  O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
  Although you cannot bless.

“O stand, stand at the window
  As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
  With your crooked heart.”

It was late, late in the evening,
  The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
  And the deep river ran on.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


So if you're reading this on a computer, not an iThingie or rss-gorge or what have you, you'll notice that the place just got a new look.  I'm not sure I'm 100% happy with it, but I like the idea behind it, if you know what I mean.  The rendering remains a work in progress.

(One thing it now does -- in one of the silliest wastes of time in the History of Man -- is match the main page of my twitter feed.  (Branding!) But the twitter machine lets you have a separate picture for the header; blogger only allows a color.  I like the twitter look better.  Any advice on how to more closely replicate it here would be accepted gratefully.)

The other change I made was to delete my blogroll.  No offense to any of the fine blogs on it.  But the damn things was years out of date, with a great many blogs now moved, retired, renamed or dead,* many new blogs unlisted, etc, and I didn't have the time or energy to update it, so amputation seemed the doctor-recommended option.  If I get time I'll do a new one... except that the entire things speaks to a particular time, when the World & Blogosphere was Young, that has passed.  I liked those halcyon days of yore, and the virtual coffeehouse within them -- they were what made me start blogging -- but liking won't bring them back, and maybe it's no use pretending that they're still around. (cf this)  So since I was getting a new look anyway, I decided to do the amputation and the cosmetic surgery at the same time, and save on the anesthesiologist's fee.

Oh, and is there any particular meaning to the whole The Wind in the Willows, and specifically the E. H. Shepard illustrations thereof, theme?  Nah.  I've used Toad as my twitter & blog icon for a while.  It just seemed like some nice images to play with and give a thematically consistent yet visually interesting look.  (Again, more successfully here than, er, here.)

* Not a metaphor, sadly.  RIP Leila Abu-Saba, Steve Gilliard and Andrew Olmsted.  I couldn't bear to delete them from the list, but it's wrong to keep them on too; one more reason for the whole list to just go.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Nature of the Primordeal Story

All children are magical realists; realism is a later development.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Quote of the Day: The Two-Step of Terrific Triviality

Henry Farrell has done us all the favor of reminding us of a good idea* from John Holbo:
...a standard rhetorical move which has no accepted name, but which really needs one. I call it ‘the two-step of terrific triviality’. Say something that is ambiguous between something so strong it is absurd and so weak that it would be absurd even to mention it. When attacked, hop from foot to foot as necessary, keeping a serious expression on your face. With luck, you will be able to generate the mistaken impression that you haven’t been knocked flat, by rights. As a result, the thing that you said which was absurdly strong will appear to have some obscure grain of truth in it. Even though you have provided no reason to think so.

-- John Holbo

c.f. Dennett's coinage "deepity", which is, I think, a close cousin of the two-step (but not a subcategory? Have to muse on this more.)


* Not quite le mot juste.  It's not an idea, it's an act of naming, which in this case (as in many but not all) includes an act of recognition. title="Not quite le mot juste. It's not an idea, it's an act of naming, which in this case (as in many but not all) includes an act of recognition."

What We Cannot Speak About We Must Link To In Silence

Lotsa links, some old but all still fresh.  Mostly humorous or diverting.  A few otherwise. Random order.

Teju Cole, "Seven Short Stories About Drones" (viaMore here.

100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About

Philip Roth v. Wikipedia

Flowchart: Are You Good at Following Flowcharts?

The Spider-man frog.

The greatest 404 page ever. (Warning: music starts on opening.)  Another good one.

• Possibly the greatest Venn diagram ever (via):

• If you read the Narnia books as a kid, you might remember the problem of Susan.  I'd always thought that Neil Gaiman had the last word on that.  But it turns out there were other brilliant things to say too.

• I’ve done my work for the day,
I’ve twittered random shit.
I’ve whined about immigration;
And I’m sure I displayed my wit.
I’ve drunk my supper, watched some porn,
And even fed the dog.
Now it’s time to be an idiot on John Scalzi’s blog.

(continues at the link)

•  Plot holes (and similar flaws) in World War Two.  Sample:
Apparently we're supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war? Real people just aren't that evil. And that's not even counting the part where as soon as the plot requires it, they instantly forget about all the racism nonsense and become best buddies with the definitely non-Aryan Japanese.
Similarly (or is it 'conversely?), If Series Set In the Modern Day Were Written Like Sci-Fi Series.

• Rest easy: University of Chicago's Indiana Jones mystery solvedAlso here.

The Avengers vs. God. 'nuff said.

God's blog: the comments.  Sample:
Going carbon-based for the life-forms seems a tad obvious, no?

The creeping things that creepeth over the earth are gross.

The dodo should just have a sign on him that says, “Please kill me.” Ridiculous.

Amoebas are too small to see. They should be at least the size of a plum.
• The inspiring and uplifting -- at least in personal terms; it's a bit depressing & infuriating considered politically -- story of Richard the piano tuner:

Here's his web site, for more on his lifestyle -- or to hire him to tune his pianos. if you live in the London area.

•  11 More Weird & Wonderful Wikipedia Lists. The problem with pages like this is that highlighting good stuff on Wikipedia always sets it up for deletion.  But it's fun.

Brief but fascinating (and quite persuasive) speculation about how fictional characters work from Cory Doctorow.

• Old news, but I missed it before: Neil Gaiman's writing a new Sandman series!  Huzzah!  And with the person who is probably the best artist working in mainstream comics today, too.  (JHW3's books are pretty much the only ones I'll buy just for the art, even with little interest in the story.)  So double huzzah!!

The Battle of Hoth (from The Empire Strikes Back) in military terms.  Includes links to rebuttals, further discussion, etc.

Zombies as an image of survivalism.

A defense of academic hesitations and verbiage.  Preach it!

Compilation of Calvin & Hobbes snowmen cartoons.

• And speaking of which, “Hobbes and Bacon” is a “Calvin and Hobbes” tribute that takes place 26 years later

• I don't know how to describe this incredible, amazing series of photographs called simply "The Basement".  It's brilliant.  Go see.

• The Saga of the Hat:

An extraordinary blog post about addiction, from the fabulous Natalie Reed who, sadly, recently stopped blogging.

Sayings of the Jewish Buddha.

27 Science Fictions That Became Science Facts In 2012

• Truth hurts:  Novelists strike fails to affect nation whatsoeverDying Lion Sure Doesn't Feel As Though He's Completing Some Great Cosmic CircleNew Cheney Memoir Reveals He's Going To Live Full, Satisfied Life Without Ever Feeling Remorse And There's Nothing We Can Do About It.

• Ever since Ambrose Bierce's classic Devil's Dictionary (1881 - 1906), there have been a lot of sequels, updates, etc.  Most aren't nearly in its class.  But this one comes pretty close.

Henri Matisse’s Rare 1935 Etchings for James Joyce’s Ulysses

Texts from Superheroes (via).
 Link to tumblr; link to best-of-2012.

How many people are in space right now?

• "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious": not invented in Mary Poppins. In fact, it predates it by decades.

• Quiz: 18th-Century Connecticutian or Muppet?  Don't miss the answers (especially the final answer).

Wild dolphins will greet one another by exchanging names.

Six things rich people need to stop saying.

• Two on (SF writer) Robert A. Heinlein: Friday as a trans novel, and Robert Heinlein: One Sane Man?  By John Kessel.

The unabomber's entry for his Harvard alumni reunion book.  And the unabomber's pen pal.

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.