Thursday, February 23, 2006

Not just no

One of the best letters I've read, though I disagree on substance.

Jorge Posada on Philip Hughes

Let it be true:
[...] the pitcher who made the best impression [at an early spring training bp] was starter Phil Hughes, a 19-year-old right-hander who went 9-1 at two minor league stops last season. "I haven't seen a young arm like that since Mariano, I would say," Jorge Posada said referring to Mariano Rivera.

More here.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Wieseltier on Dennett's Breaking The Spell

If you think you'd be amused by the spectacle of a man being confronted with a work that upsets all his dearest assumptions, resulting in a three-page splutter, read this.

You'd think the New York Times could have found a book reviewer with a little scientific or philosophical background, someone who could do better than argue, "Dennett says this weak thing, which is dumb because it's stupid" or "Dennett must think Kant was a real idiot because he believed design is manifest in the world, and by the way it is manifest in the world." We don't even get a sense of Dennett's argument, so thick is the denigration - perhaps Wieseltier found the whole book so transgressive that he only read passages here and there. He can't even bring himself to the usual "Dr. Dennett, a professor at Tufts and author of the widely acclaimed Consciousness Explained..." Or maybe that doesn't matter to a "literary editor".

[Note I haven't read Breaking the Spell, but I have read three or more of Dennett's previous books and probably agree with him here 99%.]

Update: a good shredding of the Wieseltier review.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Whittington turns the other cheek

If sheep could talk

PZ Myers on Richard Cohen, whose column left Mrs. R. speechless before she started making all the linked arguments.

Not even sheep could be this dumb.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

He chains me to that bed & he berates me

In the comments to a recent post, batailleseyes took me to task for ignoring the ending of the Bishop(?) poem I referred to, that is:
He chains me & berates me--
He chains me to that bed & he berates me.
Ok, the rhythm here is really striking:
-'-   -   -'-
-'-   --'--   -'-
but it's got a bit of the usual amphibrach comic flavor, which maybe doesn't help the "chain"-"berate" contrast out.

The rule I've just invented for deciding these matters is as follows: Imagine Ricardo Montalban in his Wrath-of-Khan finery declaiming the lines in question, and if they don't seem silly they're fine. Consider, for example, the ending of Dylan Thomas's "Fern Hill":
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
This passes, I don't think the title line does.

Thinking about repetition put me in mind of a favorite passage from the beginning of Paul Park's Soldiers of Paradise:
Two ponies pulled a sledge piled with gutted animals, and when the barbarian saw it, he spat, and touched his nose with the heel of his hand, and ducked his face down into his armpit. It is your ritual of hatred; seeing it for the first time, standing in the snow, I found it funny. My brother had climbed up onto the mule, and he was kicking his boots into its ribs, while I kicked its backside. "Look how he hates death," sang my brother, as the barbarian muttered and prayed. "He hates the sight of it." A strutwing goose trailed its beak along the snow from the back of the sledge, its feathers dripping blood. "He hates it," sang my brother.

Here's one more quote, from Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana, a fantasy novel of unusual depth and vigor but the usual unevenness on every scale:
"My love," [he] said. Mumbled, slurred it. She saw death in his eyes, an abscess of loss that seemed to be leaving him almost blind, stripping his soul. "My love," he said again. "What have they done? See what they will make me do. Oh, see what they make me do!"

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Shaker cupboard

Adam Gopnik's essay on Shaker art in the current New Yorker is a typically insightful and pleasurable piece: e.g.,
In an amazing midcentury case with cupboard and drawers made by the carpenters in the community in Enfield, Connecticut, two doors, above and below, mismatch, while two central drawers are broken up arrhythmically into smaller parts. It is like a cupboard in Morse code, stuttering out one half and two shorts.
He's referring to this (as usual, click for a larger image):

The image in the magazine is even more striking - the cabinet glows like a Stradivarius cello. I started working on a spare-as-possible poem about it:

Shaker Cupboard With Drawers (c. 1825-1850)

Below the fire-maple top
there is a door above

Between the narrow sides
there is a drawer,
then one on the left
and two smaller on the right,
a spiral started
and finished

Above the fire-maple base
there is a door below

When I first started thinking about the poem I had "there is a door above". I had thought there wasn't a base, and was aiming at "Above the ground/there is a door below" as the ending, because "ground" is such a usefully significant word. I had in mind an asymmetric poem; the above draft obviously doesn't succeed. I poked around on the web and asked some friends about better words than "top" and "base" without any luck, so I decided to at least describe the wood. "Fire-maple" comes from my misremembering "tiger maple", a wood used in some reproductions I came across. "Tiger" doesn't work. (As it turns out, the wood is pine and butternut (aka white walnut.)

So I decided I'd need to make major changes in the draft, and continued to look at the image and poke around on the web. One thing I had noted was that the hinges of the doors were on the right, which seemed odd. I discovered why when I came across this by John Kirk:
The keyhole to the lower cupboard door is at present upside down, for the round part is at the bottom when it should be at the top. The bottom board of the upper cupboard is only a loose piece of quarter-inch-thick yellowish plywood. There are stains and signs of wear on the bottoms of all the shelves in the two cupboards and on the bottom of the present top board. The original yellow paint covers the lower forty-nine inches of the left side. There is new yellow paint on the upper part of the left side and on the entire right side. Two broad grooves extend across the entire back.

All the anomalies are resolved when the piece is turned over and the drawers repositioned, as shown in the computer-corrected image

Gopnik again:
Shaker design, while reaching toward an ideal of beauty, unconsciously rejects the human body as a primary source of form. To a degree that we hardly credit, everything in our built environment traditionally echoes our own shape: we have pediments for heads and claw and ball feet, and our objects proceed from trunklike bases to fragile tops.
I take it he didn't know about the inversion, which presents a wonderful demonstration of the above: the cabinet looks more natural with a small head and long legs.

I've as yet no idea how to incorporate the above into the poem I'd like to write - it will have to be something much more complex, I think.

(Images via this page.)


Cheney is Aaron Burr, wins a duel

This morning Dean says Cheney is Aaron Burr. This afternoon Cheney shoots someone. No word on whether the victim was a Federalist.