I have an op/ed in tomorrow’s Washington Post about statistical sampling and the census. It boils down to the claim that by failing to use the best statistical techniques we have to enumerate the population accurately, we’re getting the answer wrong on purpose in order to avoid getting it wrong by accident, and possibly violating the Constitution as a result. And that estimating an unmeasured quantity to be zero is a really bad estimate.
One argument I cut for space involves Kyllo vs. US, in which the Supreme Court ruled, in an opinion written by Antonin Scalia, that the use of a thermal imaging device to detect heat coming off the exterior wall of a house, and thus to infer the presence of a drug operation inside, can constitute a “search” for Fourth Amendment purposes. On the other hand, Scalia questions the constitutionality of statistical adjustment of the census, expressing doubt that such a procedure would still be an “actual enumeration” as required by the Constitution. So, for Scalia:
“Search,” in 2010, includes a scenario in which something of interest inside the house is not seen or otherwise sensed by any person or people, but is inferred by means of a scientific instrument that didn’t exist in Constitutional times.
But “enumeration,” in 2010, does NOT include a scenario in which the population is not counted one by one by any person or people, but is inferred by means of a statistical instrument that didn’t exist in Constitutional times.
Human intelligence plus a little brute force is often far more efficient and accurate than brute force alone. This is why statistical sampling is the superior way to carry out an ”actual enumeration” of a large population. Just ask any Republican who relies on a poll or who takes a blood test rather than drain every drop from his body.
An “email on race” is the Globe’s professionally nonjudgmental description of a private email sent out by the third-year Harvard Law student Stephanie Grace, in which Grace defended the thesis that African Americans are, on balance, “less intelligent on a genetic level” than whites. The Harvard Crimson goes with the more judgmental “racist email.”
So where does the email fall on the racist spectrum? In part, it depends on which section you focus on.
I swore I was only going to write here again when I explained how the town finally got out of the lake, but it’s there still and I had a few things to say.
First, yeah wow, I’m a little surprised that it takes this long to correct an obvious map error, but that’s sort of the good news/bad news about doing your business in the cloud yes? Google Maps is great because it’s got a ton of data and delivers it to people with very little human interaction needed. Downside being when you need a human it’s pretty much impossible to get one.
I took a day off from writing yesterday (I’m ahead with my word count) and drove to Underhill after having lunch with my friend Stephanie in Montpelier. No idea how I missed Underhill before. In fact I’m pretty sure I must have been there before but the maps show no highlighter pen and I can find no record of it. Underhill is sort of a co-town with Jericho. They even have a shared website: Two Towns Online. The back road I wanted to take was under construction, a casualty of the weird snow we got this week, so I got to take fairly normal roads to get up there. And there was snow! I stopped at the local library [not the one in the photo] and did a little email checking. Once I got home I was curious about the funky looking building that also said library on it. Of course, there’s a web page explaining it.
I’ve installed keylogging software on my machine because I’m convinced that whatever amount of words I’m typing for the book, I’m doubling it with email, blog posts, chatting and whatnot. I wanted to check if that was actually true. I realize this makes me a crazy person. I will report back with my findings.
The bigger deal is just that as much as I’m enjoying writing this book, watching the word count increase, getting my thoughts on paper, I’m also somehat blasé about it, sometimes to the point of being downright yawningly bored. I can’t explain to people what it’s about without apologizing and even though it’s all I think about lately, I feel like I have nothing to talk about when I chat with friends. “Still writing the book.” I say. “Great.” they say. And then we talk about the weather or something interesting. I realize that this is normal. I felt this way about my thesis. I’m sure I will miss these days, when the book wasn’t a set of words on a page but a set of ideas in my head. Fixing things to paper gives them a terrible finality that makes me somewhat nervous.
I look forward to having something else to talk about, just a month or two left. And in the meantime, I read quotations from the other Jessamyn West, who had been writing much longer than I have.
“Writing is so difficult that I often feel that writers having had their hell on earth, will escape punishment hereafter.”
Black: I also wrote a lot of bad stories. I went into writing ten that I thought were decent enough.
Correspondent: How many bad stories?
Black: I think that if you count just the ones I completed, there are probably twenty-five others. And if you count the others that I started, and got anywhere from two to twenty pages into, there are probably another two dozen of those. So a lot. I produce a lot of pages. I like a very low percentage of them.
Correspondent: This is interesting that you do all of your thinking at the keyboard. Because the character relationships in many of these stories are quite intricate and quite connected. Do you figure out these relationships over the course of writing? How does this work exactly? Expand upon the rumination.
Black: Where does it all come from? None of it’s autobiographical. I always have to start there. So I’m not one of these people who thinks, “Wow! This thing that just happened to me would make a great story.” And to the extent that I ever think that, I put that into memoir. So if I write about myself, then I’m really writing about myself. These things are all made up. I said that a lot of it happens at the keyboard. But I should more accurately say that I also do a lot of my writing while I’m doing the dishes. Though my husband may laugh at the idea that I ever do the dishes. While I’m walking. I’m not somebody who thinks that everyone needs a regiment of sitting down and writing. A certain amount of time. Because a lot of my writing happens away. I’ll just be thinking about the people in the stories. Really as though they were friends of mine, and I was trying to figure out just what the heck they would do with their lives. And so it’s a lot of just thinking through human psychology that goes into it.
Correspondent: You mention not wanting to lift from reality. And this is interesting to me. Because I noted that in these stories, you really go out of your way to avoid extremely explicit metaphors, save in two stories. In “Tableau Vivant,” you of course have the scarf. And “If I Loved You” has the fence. I’m wondering if the scarf and the fence came about as a way of knowing the characters. Or a way of moving the characters on the chessboard while you were doing the dishes. What happened here?
Black: The scarf in “Tableau Vivant” is complete invention. The fence is not. We actually have a neighbor who built a fence in our driveway. And in pondering how to write about it — because it was one of those events that struck me as so peculiar. That somebody would just move into a neighborhood and start tromping on their neighbors. It seemed like such an odd character defect, I guess, in a human being. I thought, “Well, I’ll write an essay about it.” What’s it like to have a horrible human being move in next to you. And then I thought, “Well, I don’t really want to write an essay about it. I’ll write a story about it.” But, again, I don’t write about myself. So the only thing in there that’s true is that there was a fence. And the other piece of truth was my impulse in the story to say to this man, “How can you just be this mean to people when you have no idea what the meaning of this is to them?” And there’s actually a funny story about that. When that story was published in the Southern Review — and in the story, the woman whose fence it is, is dying a very sad, terrible death; and when Bret Lott, who was then editing the Review called me up to say they had taken it — I was all excited. And I said — the first words out of my mouth were “Oh, I can’t wait to throw a copy of it over that damn fence.” And there was this terrible pause. And I realized that he was trying to figure out how much of it was true. And I said, “Oh! I’m not dying. There just is a fence.” So often my stories will have tiny real elements among them, and I’ll kind of build a universe around that.
According to the conceptual proposal released by Senators Menendez, Reid, and Schumer yesterday, the immigration reform to be taken up by Congress would require that
a green card will be immediately available to foreign students with an advanced degree from a United States institution of higher education in a field of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, and who possess an offer of employment from a United States employer in a field related to their degree. Foreign students will be permitted to enter the United States with immigrant intent if they are a bona fide student so long as they pursue a full course of study at an institution of higher education in a field of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. To address the fact that workers from some countries face unreasonably long backlogs that have no responsiveness to America’s economic needs, this proposal eliminates the per-country employment immigration caps.
How does this affect math? Does it change the visa status of our Ph.D. students? Is a postdoc an “offer of employment,” and if so, will non-U.S. graduate students be eligible to receive NSF postdocs, given that they’d become permanent residents upon taking up their position?
They're repeatedly digging up Centre St. and then filling it in again – paging ex-PFC Wintergreen #
Mimosas for breakfast – good for the soul, bad for the productivity #
Corrib 5k banners catching so much wind our block has rotated 8 degrees SSW. #
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I had an interesting and long conversation last week with John Becker, one of my students at Columbia's GSAPP, about everything from the future of 3D printers, the possibility of permanently embedding such machines into the fabric of a building, and even the genetic manipulation of nonhuman species so that they could produce new, architecturally useful materials.
A few quick things about that conversation seem worth repeating here:
1) Famously, groups like Archigram proposed using construction cranes as permanent parts of their buildings. The crane could thus lift new modular rooms into place, add whole new floors to the perpetually incomplete structure, and otherwise act as a kind of functional ornament. The crane, "now considered part of the architectural ensemble," Archigram's Mike Webb wrote, would simply be embedded there, "lifting up and moving building components so as to alter the plan configuration, or replacing parts that had work out with a 'better' product."
For instance, what if Enrico Dini's sandstone-printing device—so interestingly profiled in Blueprint Magazine last month—could be installed somewhere at the heart of a building complex—or up on the roof, or ringed around the edge of a site—where it could left alone to print new rooms and corridors into existence, near-constantly, hooked up to massive piles of loose sand and liquid adhesives, creating infinite Knossic mazes? The building is never complete, because it's always printing itself new rooms.
In fact, I think we'll start to see more and more student projects featuring permanent 3D printers as part of the building envelope—and I can't wait. A room inside your building that prints more rooms. It sounds awesome.
My eyes practically fell out of my head when I saw that headline, imagining genetically modified bees that no longer produce honey, they produce concrete. They'd mix some strange new bio-aggregate inside their bellies. Instead of well-honeyed hives, you'd have apian knots of insectile concrete. Perhaps they could even print you readymade blocks of ornament: florid scrolls and gargoyle heads, printed into molds by a thousand bees buzzing full of concrete. Bee-printers.
Alas, it had nothing to do with apian concrete; it was simply a play on words: urban bees make urban honey... or concrete honey, if you want to be poetic. But no matter: using bees to create new forms of concrete—perhaps even new forms of sandstone (whole new geologies!)—is ethically horrific but absolutely extraordinary. After all, there are already bugs genetically modified to excrete oil, and even goats that have been made to produce spider silk.
What, though, are the architectural possibilities of concrete honey?
[Images: The Rosslyn Chapel hives; photos courtesy of the Times].
3) Last month, over at Scotland's Rosslyn Chapel, it was announced that "builders renovating the 600-year-old chapel have discovered two beehives carved within the stonework high on the pinnacles of the roof. They are thought to be the first man-made stone hives ever found."
It appears the hives were carved into the roof when the chapel was built, with the entrance for the bees formed, appropriately, through the centre of an intricately carved stone flower. The hives were found when builders were dismantling and rebuilding the pinnacles for the first time in centuries.
As the article goes on to point out, "Although human beings have collected honey from wild bee colonies since time immemorial, at some point they began to domesticate wild bees in artificial hives, made from hollow logs, pottery, or woven straw baskets. The Egyptians kept bees in cylindrical hives, and pictures in temples show workers blowing smoke into the hives, and removing honeycombs. Sealed pots of honey were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb."
But, combining all these stories, what about bees that make concrete honey, artificially bred and housed inside hives in the spires of buildings? Hives that they themselves have printed?
High up on the roof of St. John the Divine sit six symmetrical stone hives, inside of which special bees now grow, tended by an architecture student at Columbia University; the bees are preparing their concrete to fix any flaw the building might have. No longer must you call in repair personnel to do the job; you simply tap the sides of your concrete-mixing beehives and living 3D printers fly out in a buzzing cloud, caulking broken arches and fixing the most delicate statuary.
Nearby homeowners occasionally find lumps of concrete on their rooftops and under the eaves, as if new hives are beginning to form.
4) In the opening image of this post, you see the so-called "Beamer Bees" that Liam Young, Anab Jain, and collaborators created for Power of 8. The beamer bees were "formulated by a community of biologists and hired bio-hackers to service under-pollinated trees, plants and vegetables due to the disappearance of honey bees." And while the beamers don't actually have much to do with the idea of mobile 3D-printing swarms, any post about designing with bees would be incomplete without them...
(Thanks to Steve Silberman for the Rosslyn Chapel hives link, and to John Becker for the conversation these ideas came from).
[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Ben Greenman, has ended. Original price: 33 cents. Final price: $59.50. This is the last of three stories in our Identical Objects series. Proceeds from this auction go to Girls Write Now.]
“Dennis, Nell, Edna, Leon, Nedra, Anita, Rolf, Nora, Alice, Carol, Leo, Jane, Reed, Dena, Dale, Basil, Rae, Penny, Lana, Dave, Denny, Lena, Ida, Bernadette, Ben, Ray, Lila, Nina, Jo, Ira, Mara, Sara, Mario, Jan, Ina, Lily, Arne, Bette, Dan, Reba, Diane, Lynn, Ed, Eva, Dana, Lynne, Pearl, Isabel, Ada, Ned, Dee, Rena, Joel, Lora, Cecil, Aaron, Flora, Tina, Arden, Noel, and Ellen sinned” (the longest known name-based palindrome)
Dennis shot a man dead in Key West.
Nell told Ada to have sex with Dennis’s brother, Dan, in exchange for drugs.
Rolf was greedy.
Nora was greedy.
Alice was greedy.
Carol was wrathful.
Leo lied and was slothful.
Jane wore a new dress on a date with Dennis and then returned it.
Reed took naked photographs of young boys and sold them to a pawnbroker in Hialeah.
Dena worked for the pawnbroker but looked the other way.
Dale cheated on his wife.
Basil was slothful.
Rae sold used mattresses as new.
Penny should have picked Dennis up at the Miami airport, but couldn’t get out of bed.
Lana did coke and had a threesome with Dennis before he left St. Louis.
Dave suffered from spiritual torpor.
Denny suffered from spiritual torpor.
Lena suffered from spiritual torpor.
Ida ate too much.
Bernadette ate too much.
Ben hit and killed a dog while driving with his friend Ned and drove off.
Ray did a shoddy job inspecting rides at an amusement park; a ride collapsed, killing three.
Ira falsified a work injury and sued for damages.
Mara ate too much.
Sara was prideful.
Mario was prideful.
Jan was prideful.
Lily lusted after her cousin.
Arne, Lily’s cousin, lusted after her.
Bette, Lily’s mother, boasted about her daughter’s grades but was blind to the situation with Arne.
Dan, Lily’s father, left her for a much younger woman.
Reba lived in Key West; Dan came to live with her and open a restaurant; they dealt drugs out of the back.
Diane fell in love with Dan and felt despair.
Lynn fell in love with Dan and felt wrath.
Ed envied Dan.
Dana was greedy.
Lynne was enraged that Dan could not tell the difference between her and Lynn.
Pearl was slothful.
Isabel, who was in love with Dan but despaired ever having him, wrote down her desires on a piece of paper, rolled it up, pushed it into a miniature souvenir bottle, and dropped the bottle on the beach behind the restaurant.
Ada coaxed Dan out onto the beach one night with the promise of sex.
Ned hit Dan with his car; when he heard the thump, he thought of the dog he and Ben had hit and just kept on going.
Dee, Ned’s passenger, felt despair.
Rena, who witnessed the accident, felt despair.
Joel, a cop, heard about the accident from Rena; he was sleeping with her while his wife was dying in the hospital.
Lora, Rena’s sister, was in the threesome with Dennis in St. Louis, and she told him that Dan was dead.
Cecil bought pictures of boys from the pawnbroker.
Flora was vainglorious.
Tina, also vainglorious, came upon Isabel’s bottle, pocketed it.
Arden, Tina’s lover, accepted the bottle as a token of Tina’s affection.
Noel, Arden’s lover, rubbed cocaine on her gums during sex with Dennis and casually mentioned that if someone killed her brother, she’d take revenge.
Ellen was having sex with Ned when Dennis burst into the room and squeezed off two shots.
Each spring, when the Ferris wheel makes its annual appearance and Buggy is in full effect, Ed Park and his fellow men’s soccer alums take some time to reconnect on the campus where they spent four of the best years of their lives. For Park and other former players, the annual men’s soccer alumni game is one of the most memorable days of the year....
Park relished every moment of his days as a student-athlete at Carnegie Mellon. With a degree in chemical engineering, Park has found that he has had tremendous professional opportunities because of his undergraduate experience. *
* * *
In the year 2128, a scientist schemes to re-engineer humanity and escape his own impending death. Can his son stop his father’s quest to recreate man in His own image. Art imitates life in Dr. Ed Park’s newly released Maximum Lifespan. In this fast-paced graphic novel, people live over 160 years due to the invention of a substance that activates telomerase. *
Another letter of the alphabet, another night out with Eating in Madison A to Z. Perfectly adequate chicken wings (though judging from what I saw around the table, their definition of “wing” is “any breaded piece of chicken longer than it is wide.”) Various hacked-open and truncated vehicles hanging from the ceiling, which delighted CJ and led him to call this “the funny restaurant.” If you were going to have dinner at a giant chain restaurant in outer Middleton, QS&L would be a respectable choice.
by Ake Edwardsson, Never End and Frozen Tracks. I think these books are very good - though I am also, sadly, more than ever certain that I will never be an author of crime fiction. Which is a pity, because I love it very much indeed!
[Image: Flowers on display in Shanghai, via Eastday].
I just found an old article I'd saved way back in 2001 about cloned flowers being used to beautify the streets of Shanghai. While cloning plants is nowhere near as ethically complicated as cloning animals—the streets of Shanghai populated with cloned pigeons, say—the specific details of this genetic City Beautiful movement are pretty interesting.
Experts from local universities, we read, "have discovered and studied the cloning secrets of some 60 kinds of flowers and plants, herbs and fruits. 'Those plants are either precious species or on the verge of extinction,'" one such expert points out, giving the project the air of a botanical Jurassic Park. And much of this is inspired by an attempt to escape seasonality: "Through cloning, Shanghai residents will see many rare plants in all seasons, which couldn't be grown in the city's climate before." Indeed, "The cloning will enrich the city because the company has devoted much to studying the secrets of evergreen plants for the city's greenery."
And it gets bigger yet. The same expert quoted above expands on the role that these plants might someday play: "We especially look at psammophytes against sand storms and rank vegetations to deal with floods." This idea, that the streets of Shanghai are lined with cloned flowers—some of which are actually a kind of soft infrastructure, planted as a protective barrier against sand storms and floods—reads more like an article from 2035 than one from nearly a decade ago. Flower labs turning out streetside ornament in new living shades, scents, and textures; Willy Wonka meets Edward Burtynsky by way of Gregor Mendel in an era of science-fictionalized urban design. This also seems like something to look into a bit more over the summer as all eyes are on Shanghai for the 2010 World Expo.
* Above, actors doing it up in the Mexico production of 'Zoot Suit.'
Perdiocally I'll be posting some of my recent work at La Plaza, the Latin American news blog at the L.A. Times. Just now, "Zoot Suit" premieres in Mexico City, the first time the landmark Chicano musical play is mounted in Mexico -- and the first time it is presented in Spanish. Very exciting news.
Also, Bolivian president Evo Morales suggests chicken causes baldness and homosexuality, and Mexico City archbishop Norberto Rivera is named in a sexual abuse suit in federal court in Los Angeles.
L.A. Times Mexico City bureau chief Tracy Wilkinson posts about Mexico protesting the Arizona immigration law, Lorena Ochoa quitting golf, the FBI calling Salvadoran gang members terrorists, and Mexico issuing a travel advisory on Arizona.
A couple of social-media entrepreneurs came up with what they thought was a killer charitable idea–one that, happily enough, also might publicize their for-profit business: donate one million t-shirts to poor African nations. They called it the “1MillionShirts” campaign. (In their day jobs, Jason Sadler and Evan White promote companies and causes through Iwearyourshirt.com. They will wear a t-shirt promoting your enterprise and tweet and video-blog about it for one day.)
What could be wrong with sending a million used t-shirts to Africa? Aid experts were happy to explain.
There was a set of triplets in Addis Ababa born on the third day of the third week in the third month of the Ethiopian new year. Born so close together they could have been simultaneous births, their neighbors called them A’nd, Hulet and Sost: One, Two and Three. The oldest, A’nd, was the most logical. Hulet, the most charming, and Sost was the dreamer. Everything one did, all three did. One didn’t utter a word without the other two mouthing it in unison. They were so identical, so synchronized in every move, that sometimes A’nd, Hulet and Sost couldn’t decide who had been the originator of an idea, who the deliverer, and who the interpreter.
Young, handsome men, the trio’s proudest possession was a bottle of sand an American tourist had given to them nine years ago in a bar on a side street near Bole Road. Each year on the same day, they sat at the same table, drinking the same beer and imagined the secret message waiting to be written on the blank piece of paper rolled inside the bottle. Each year, one of them suggested a line. Each year, the two voted against the one, and all agreed on the outcome.
But then came one night when the trio’s favorite waitress served them three equally measured glasses of Meta beer, but brushed a singular soft hip against only Sost. She whispered into his ear while tapping the bottle with a long, red nail, speaking so softly the other two couldn’t hear.
“It’s my turn,” Hulet said quickly to cover up the tense few seconds when none of them knew what to do except stare at the waitress’ lush lips slide into a luscious smile as she walked back to the counter.
A’nd, ever logical, had nodded. “She knows it’s Hulet’s turn to think of a sentence.”
Sure enough, when the trio turned their identical heads at the identical time, the waitress was swaying slowly at the counter, her eyes teasing Sost, who blushed and looked instead at the bottle from a place named after a key.
It all would have gone back to normal if Sost, secretly in love with the waitress for the last seven years, hadn’t spoken: “It is the best sentence any of us could ever imagine.”
The other two, one as equally surprised as the other, sat back, unsure of what to do with this disregard for order. Both of them shook their heads but Sost’s stayed still, his gaze frozen on the bottle, until he could bear the separation no more. Then he met their stares.
The silence, long and drawn out, then tripling in duration, was agonizing for each.
A’nd, Hulet and Sost, unaccustomed to separate opinions, afraid of any discord, finished their Meta beers in four large gulps and left, the bottle the bar’s only witness to a pretty woman dancing slowly by herself in the dark.
If you enjoy Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’s story about the Greek Ashtray-Plate as much as we do, then you’ll be excited to hear that she has offered to mail a copy of her novel Perfecting to the winning bidder!
Perfecting is set in Ontario and New Mexico. Described by one reviewer as “St Augustine’s worst nightmare come true,” the story follows the repercussions of one young American man’s draft dodge, thirty years after the event.
One day they woke up and realized they were not taking pills for anxiety and depression but for anger. They were all furious. They stopped taking their pills. Their anger was huge and would not dissipate. They started screaming and screaming. Eventually, with all the screaming, the anger did dissipate. They felt better. They did not feel anxious anymore. Who could feel anxious after all that? They did not feel particularly depressed either, though about a third of them still wished they were getting more sex.
It’s the last week of April, and we are still hunting around for writers who have died, particularly those who have died in an unusual manner. But we are finding ourselves unenthused by the offerings. We could tell you about John Cleveland, who died 352 years ago today, but this noted poet and satirist merely died of a fever. Had Mr. Cleveland lived 270 years longer, he might have been able to try out a nifty little thing called penicillin. Alas, the human life span, even in the 21st century, remains quite fickle. It seems absurd to suggest that Mr. Cleveland, who was fighting a bad bout, could not only conquer his debilitation, but somehow live like Methuselah. Mr. Cleveland was doomed to die when he did. May he rest in peace. And there isn’t much we can do to correct his demise except hang our heads in shame at contemplating what might have been, had he had lived for centuries. That would have been one hell of a story.
We could tell you about Charles-Irénée Castel de Saint-Pierre, who died 267 years ago today. Or Wittgenstein (59 years ago). Or we could point out that Hitchcock died today (30 years ago), even though he was more of a filmmaker than a writer. But when you begin to examine how many of these dead writers have penises, well, you have begin to see the limp progress of our humble little operation. So The Dead Writer’s Almanac is now caught within an ethical quandary on April 29, 2010. How does one respond to the vast history of letters (specifically, those authored by dead people), when one is fully cognizant that most of the writers who have died have been white men? That hardly represents a liberal spirit, does it? This hardly represents progress. While those readers now residing in Arizona will scratch their heads in confusion over our dilemma, rest assured that the question of balance is a grave problem for us.
We have flipped through many books in the stacks. We have telephoned librarians. They have reported our names to the appropriate authorities, and we await the knock at the door from the men in white coats. We are repeatedly scanning the headlines, wondering if some rocking writer of the XX variety will kick the bucket before we go to bed. Perhaps a corpse will soon be discovered. It is not that we pine for any specific writer to die. We remain firmly opposed to the death penalty. We do want people to live and not die too early, and have considered trademarking our motto in order to demonstrate the serious nature of our commitment. On the other hand, if a woman writer were to die today, it would really make things much easier for us, and it would alleviate our guilt.
One desperate option that has been suggested to us: the murder of a writer to fit the quota. But the Dead Writer’s Almanac staff has no homicidal experience or a desire to commit murder. This would be ethically and legally wrong, the friends and family of the murdered writer would feel great grief, and, most importantly, all the resultant fuss would create a needless inconvenience for us.
But we may have stumbled on a choice for tomorrow. So we leave you now with our patented signoff to aid you in your struggle with the blank page.
Stay writing, don’t die too early, and keep in touch!
LOT-EK and set designer Christine Jones will be premiering their project Theater for One in Times Square, two weeks from now. It "will be up for 10 days, with performances open to the general public"—but, as the architects point out, the public is only invited "one at a time."
Specifically, the petite space is "a theater for one actor and one audience member. Inspired by small one-to-one spaces—such as the confessional or the sex peep-booth—Theater for One explores the intense emotion of live theater through the direct and intimate one-to-one interaction of actor and audience."
In many ways, I'm reminded of the dramatic intensity of Nancy Bannon's Pod Project, which consisted of "13 private, one-on-one performances housed within 13 sculpted spaces." In Bannon's work, "the viewer actually enters the performance environment and experiences a one-on-one exchange in unconventional proximity. The interiors of the sculptures/pods are personalized"—but this also means that each pod has been architecturally stylized so as to fit the dramas involved.
What I like about the LOT-EK/Christine Jones project is the blank architecturalization of this dramatic experience; portable, easily deployed, and externally neutral, the Theater for One could just as easily be reused as an interviewing station, a place for personal confrontation, or even a writing lab. It could be a dressing room, private cinema, or staging ground for psychedelic self-actualization—and I would actually love to see this thing hit the road someday, popping up all over the U.S. and abroad, to see what flexibly subjective uses people wish to put it to. NPR meets Storycorps, by way of a one-actor play.
Florida decided to restore state aid to Florida’s public library system. This is good news. There’s also a quirky feel good story about one Florida librarian a systems librarian at Wilderness Coast Public Libraries, who dedicated his vacation to hanging around the Capitol which he did last year as well.
This year Paul spent days at the Florida Capitol, holding signs in suppport of State Aid funding for public libraries. At midnight on April 26 as funding was restored, Senator J.D. Alexander acknowledged that advocates could learn a lot from Paul’s example.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars Mostly early essays or articles by the icon of all journalists who likes to drink and feel...important. But alas don't let that stop you for enjoying one of the British prose writers of all time. George Orwell in this small edition comments on the joy of being arrested for public drunkness in East London, the joys of dirty (not really) postcards of Donald McGill, the nature of junk stores, and true-crime reading.
In other words a collection of essays that comment on the taste and passions of the typical (if one exists) British citizen during and before the war years. A big plus is the design work of Penguin's "Great Ideas" series. A well-edited series of books by classic writers on particular subjects. Mostly from bigger editions of such a writer, but here you get the feeling that these books are made for a 1 hour long train trip, and they work beautifully in the bathtub.
Writing at PrawfsBlawg, Carissa Hessick, an Arizona State University law professor, suggests that the recent “crush video” opinion from the Supreme Court may offer a window into how the court might decide a sexting case. It “seems to suggest that teen sexting, unlike child pornography, may be protected by the First Amendment,” she writes.
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I’ll say it, so you don’t have to: Our study of the New Testament was lame. Lame, lame, lame.
Actually, it was worse than lame, for it left my kids profoundly upset.
It was a lovely summer afternoon, and the hammock beckoned. I figured I’d read Nini and Desmond about the birth of Jesus from one of our children’s Bibles, and soon give some more thought about how to proceed.
But once we’d read the story of Jesus’ birth, the kids wanted to hear more. And more. He gathered His disciples, performed His miracles, and the kids got more and more engrossed. “Keep reading, Mommy!” they declared, each time I proposed to put the book down for the day.
I warned them that something really bad was going to happen to Jesus, and they might not want to hear it all in one sitting. “Keep reading!” So, stupidly, I did, all the way through Jesus’s arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.
Stunned silence ensued. Here the kids had discovered this remarkably appealing protagonist, full of love and magic and good deeds, and he died gruesomely. I talked about how Christians understand it as a hopeful tale, with the resurrection as not just as a happy ending but as the centerpiece of their faith. Desmond acted like this made him feel better, but I could tell otherwise.
From that point forward, the kids refused to discuss Jesus or the New Testament at all; they just shut down.
Obviously, I screwed up. I tried to remember way back to the Methodist Sunday School of my childhood: What, if anything, were we taught about the crucifixion? Was it all just baby Jesus in the manger and adult Jesus performing miracles and preaching love? Can’t recall.
So all I can say is, Don’t follow my example. And if you have thoughts about approaches or resources for teaching the New Testament to the very young in a non-proselytizing, important-slice-of-world-culture way, please please share.
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Teaching the Bible was a real challenge for this agnostic homeschooler. I knew the overall approach I wanted to take: This is one of the most influential books in world history, I told the kids. Millions of people believe it contains the words of their God, and that every word in it is true; millions more have been affected by its teachings; its stories and themes will show up over and over again in the things you read and see in your life. And as you grow up, you’ll make your own decisions about whether to view it as a great work of literature or a divinely-inspired text.
But there is so much religiously oriented material out there, it was difficult for me to know how to wade through it and find some books or other resources that seemed right. I came up with a few things, but this unit ended up being pretty brief for us (though not as brief or disastrous as our New Testament unit, about which I will write later).
Good picture books are available for many of the Old Testament tales. We especially liked Arthur Geisert’s marvelously and whimsically illustrated The Ark. In detailed black and white etchings, Geisert portrays how the Ark itself might have been constructed and imagines the nitty gritty of life during those fabled 40 days and 40 nights, including the important matter of excrement disposal. We spent hours pouring over these illustrations, giggling as we tracked the damage to the ship’s timbers by voracious beavers. The story of the Flood can be traumatic to sensitive children — after all, God massacres virtually every living thing on earth — but this book helped my kids focus on the survivors. (Nini noted, in any case, that the creatures of the sea were necessarily spared from God’s punishment.)
An even bigger favorite in our household was The Moses Basket, by Jenny Koralek and Pauline Baynes. It sweetly captures the dramatic tale of Moses’ infancy, with illustrations that vividly portray the day-to-day world of Ancient Egypt. Our drively quickly became the Nile, and Nini’s baby doll must have floated down it a hundred times.
The illustrations in Brian Wildsmith’s well-crafted Joseph and Exodusalso provided welcome continuity with our study of Ancient Egypt.
Yep, we did it: We were crazy enough to watch the entire Ten Commandments (in three installments, mind you). It was great campy fun for me, and they — like the movie audiences of 50 years ago — were dazzled by the dated special effects.
But that was it for us. Surely there are other things we missed — please post any other recommendations.
We fashioned our own Noah’s Ark and populated it with little plastic animals we already had lying about; there are, of course, a great many custom-made Ark playsets out there, some of them quite lovely. But beyond that, and the Moses basket play mentioned above, the Old Testament just didn’t make its way into my kids’ play life the way Egypt or even Mesopotamia had. Ideas or suggestions, dear readers?
A bored family in Shropshire, England, after having a few too many drinks one night, started playing around with an air grate in their living room floor—which they managed to lift up and out of its grid, crawl through and under the house, and there discover an entire church sitting in the darkness where a basement should be. It was a "dark chapel complete with a large wooden cross on the floor."
Even better, after continuing to search, they found "a staircase in the chapel [that] came out of a cupboard in the dining room." Hidden topologies surround us.
After posting this link on Twitter, meanwhile, Patrick Smith chimed in, asking: "I wonder if stuff in their house moves around?" A poltergeist, turning strange devices on an altarpiece below ground, with a whole family on remote control above.
[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Wesley Stace, has ended. Original price: 33 cents. Final price: $52. This is the first of three stories in our Identical Objects series. Proceeds from this auction go to Girls Write Now.]
We were the unluckiest band in the world.
On reflection, and it’s all I’ve got left, Key West was not a great name. I was thinking Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, Doug was thinking “Songs In The Key of the West” and all that, but that was right when “Margaritaville” went global, and it was too late to change. We were an edgy post-punk combo, reading the right books, listening to the left bands, and suddenly people were asking if our music was “Gulf and Western” and I didn’t even know what it was.
The first single was “Message In A Bottle”. I know, I know. It seems mad now, but at the time I honestly didn’t think it mattered. Besides, there was a lot Sting left unsaid. He only skimmed the surface. The worst is when you get booed for playing your new single because the audience discovers it isn’t a cover of a Police song.
I said to Angie from the record company: “Sure you can make a tchotchke, but please avoid the obvious.” She laughed at how dumb that would be. Mind you, she was also the one who told me with great enthusiasm that our new record was a “Tour de France” and I asked her whether she meant “Tour de Force” and she said she didn’t know.
Anyway, you can imagine my surprise when I open the sample at our management office.
“Butch,” I said, “it’s everything we didn’t want. Our vibe isn’t Key West and our logo isn’t palm trees.”
“I couldn’t put a hammer and symbol wrapped in barbed wire on this.”
I let it go. “Barthes would have a field day.”
“Besides,” he enthused, “the mini-scroll inside has the lyrics on it.”
“Oh well, that’s something,” I said, ever the peacemaker.
“Unfortunately, it’s the wrong version. There was some miscommunication.”
“We have to throw them all away.”
And with them went the single budget, and, in fact, the single and, in fact, the band.
What to do with 30,000 tchotchkes?
When Kanye West turned up to freestyle on that wretched song with The Police at Live Earth in 2007, I couldn’t believe my luck. I went to the trouble of getting little stickers made which transformed Key into Kanye, but even I wasn’t convinced. He butchered the song anyway. Sally said you shouldn’t throw good money after bad.
Weirdly, due to a glitch at Harry Fox or PRS or somewhere, I am currently receiving royalties from some version of Sting’s song that has mistakenly attached itself to my name and account. It’s difficult to be honest about this, however, because it’s now my main source of income.
Sally said the tchotchkes were a monkey on my back and that we should get rid of them while waving around some sage. Dumping them into the sea was not her greatest idea however. Almost anytime I go to a beach, I find one of them bobbing in the surf at my feet.
I'll be in Portland this weekend to read at the Loggernaut 5th Anniversary party. I read at the very first Loggernaut back in April 2004 with Charles D'Ambrosio and Alicia Cohen--it was in the back room overlooking the patio of the restaurant Gravy on Mississippi Avenue, and by the time Charlie read it had gotten so dark in there that he had to perch a votive candle next to his manuscript, and we all listened raptly in the dark, his face lit by the tiny flame. I had read first, the baby shower scene from my long story "Your Heart Is A Piece of Tape." (Are baby showers not the weirdest feminine ritual ever? Everyone turns into babies, cooing and clapping. Maybe tied with bridal showers. Any shower that doesn't involve a direct spray of hot water is trouble.)
The series really took off--these readings were always my favorites to attend in Portland. They take place every other month, with three readers who read for an attention-span-friendly 15 minutes each, with a theme. For this one the theme is "Now & Then" and I'm going to read some nonfiction about kitchen haircuts, inappropriate relationships (not involving me), and small town weirdness, flipping back and forth between half my life ago and now. I'm still writing it. Come if you want to hear how it turns out.
It's at Urban Grind on NE 33rd and Oregon Street, this Saturday, May 1, at 7:30 pm. Also reading: Arthur Bradford, who wrote Dogwalker and directed the series How's Your News?, the eminent Barry Sanders who blew my mind when he read about ghosts and Sarah Bernhard for Loggernaut a few years ago, and poets Rodney Koeneke and Mary Szybist. Plus, they say, a super-secret special musical guest. Plus cake!
It’s the death day of Iceberg Slim, who passed away eighteen years ago on April 27, 1992. Iceberg Slim is not to be confused with iceberg lettuce (alive, but only for short periods and not exactly the best lettuce) or Vanilla Ice (alive, but often dead on stage). But it is safe to say, that Iceberg Slim was not born with this name. Few parents indeed would name their new children “Iceberg.” He was born in Chicago under the name “Robert Lee Maupin.” But please don’t confuse him with Armistead Maupin (also alive). Iceberg’s tales from the city, as portrayed in Pimp and Trick Baby, were decidedly less comfortable, often involving drugs in less salubrious situations. He spent his early years working as a pimp. He needed a name that would frighten people, that would sufficiently confirm his rep as a badass. So Iceberg arrived at his nom de plume for being “ice cold” — that is, sitting at a bar with cool equanimity after a bullet had pierced through his hat. He was later to impart this vocational advice: “to be a good pimp, you gotta be icy, cold like the inside of a dead-whore’s pussy.”
So Iceberg’s pre-writing career was built upon dodging death, which makes the (now dead) Iceberg especially suitable for The Dead Writer’s Almanac. He remained a pimp until the age of 42, serving several prison sentences during this period of gainful employment. During the last stretch, Iceberg was asked to “square up.” Upon seeing no obnoxious cowboy with a bullhorn and a phonograph asking him to stir the bucket, much less a pencil and a straight edge with which to sketch a quadrangle, Iceberg interpreted “square up” to mean (the previous two options not being common among his circles) taking up the pen.
He then moved to California and found some success writing books in the 1960s. (Pimp was often stacked next to Soul on Ice.) But when Iceberg met the Black Panthers, the Panthers expressed disdain for his former life. As he wrote in The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim:
As I stood there chattering about the raid and my writings, I had the sobering realization that unlike the hundreds of non-Panther black youngsters who had recognized me on the street and admired me as a kind of folk hero, because of my lurid and sensational pimp background, the Panther youngsters were blind to my negative glamour and, in fact, expressed a polite disdain for my former profession and its phony flash of big cars, jewelry and clothes. Their only obsession seemed to be the freedom of black people.
I noticed a thin, light-complexioned, secretary-type Panther, with a sheaf of paper under his arm, silently scrutinizing me.
He stepped forward abruptly and with curly-lipped contempt said, “Nigger, you kicked black women in the ass for bread. How many you got now?”
But Iceberg had the last laugh. As the Black Panther Party faded in the subsequent decades, Iceberg maintained prominence, selling six million books before his death in 1992. Artists such as Ice Cube and Ice-T would find inspiration in his words and build hip-hop careers. But certain radio personalities in Minnesota, promoting a “literary” culture to unadventurous middlebrow listeners, would never mention his name, terrified of alienating an aging white bread audience.
Stay writing, don’t die too early, and keep in touch!
I don’t like to wander into controversy on the blog, but I do want to share what I know about our postdoc Amanda Folsom‘s job search this year, in order to counteract some incorrect impressions I’ve heard about.
Folsom interviewed at Rutgers, and got an early offer of an assistant professorship, with a deadline in February. She had other interviews already scheduled, and asked for an extension on the deadline. They didn’t give her one.
Folsom accepted the Rutgers job, while on an interview visit to Yale.
Later, Folsom was offered an assistant professorship at Yale as well. Yale, understanding that Folsom had already accepted a position at Rutgers, agreed to make the offer effective in Fall 2011 if she so chose.
Folsom told Rutgers about her situation, making clear that she had no intention of reneging on her acceptance of the position, and that she was honestly not sure which department was the better home for her. She asked for a year of unpaid leave for 2011-2012 so that she could visit Yale after one year at Rutgers and make an informed decision.
This request, too, was denied. At this point, the chair at Rutgers told her that she had to make up her mind now which job she wanted to take; she was released from her commitment to Rutgers and told that she should immediately start whichever of the two positions she chose. At this point, Folsom chose the job at Yale.
As far as I can see, no one acted unethically here. At every stage, Folsom was upfront with everyone involved, and never considered not showing up at Rutgers until the chair there explicitly authorized it. Yale made an offer to someone who already had a job, yes: but I see no difference between making her an offer in March 2010 for Fall 2011, and making her the same offer in October 2010, which would obviously be OK. As for Rutgers, they ran their hiring process in a somewhat nonstandard and maybe suboptimal way — in particular, by denying Folsom the unpaid leave and releasing her to go to Yale next fall instead, it seems to me they denied themselves the opportunity to convince Folsom that Rutgers was the right department for her. (But I’m told that, at some departments, unpaid leave is not routinely granted as it is at UW.)
In case you hear someone say “Amanda Folsom accepted a job at Rutgers and then reneged,” please let them know that the story is more complicated.
Update: Timeline above corrected to clarify that Folsom’s Rutgers deadline coincided with her interview at Yale; she didn’t interview at Yale after already having accepted Rutgers, as the original version suggested.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars Academic yes, but still full of life in its history. London can never be a dull subject, and when you add the post-war world of Gay Men in a new world - that was London, it is fascinating.
The "Architect" in the title is those who plan out the vision of London after the war. The Spiv is the outsider (Gay, criminal, boho, etc) who lives in that new world - or make it their own world somewhat or somehow. Using ubran architecture, 1950's British films, Cheap paperback books and its industry, and the nature of the "bed-set room" is all told in a PHD manner, yet the subject is one of total interest.
How 'sub-culture' life exists in a world that is totally indifferent or in fear of them is an interesting tale. Richard Hornsey's thesis and paper is a must for those who are interested in British gay culture, but even more important how cities/architecture/books comment on a world that they can't control or contain.
Click to get a larger view of the above strip, an installment of "El Ñacas y El Tlacuachi," by a cartoonist known as Bobadilla, who is based in the cartel citadel city of Culiacán, Sinaloa.
In this strip, which appears in the tough Culiacán newspaper Ríodoce, a young "emo" asks the two narco hitmen characters to do him the favor of killing him. The hitmen remind him that assassinations are a "business," meaning costly, which depresses the emo even further. Generously, the hitmen suggest the emo step into the cross-fire of their next gun battle. The emo complies, but miraculously survives the bullets. The following day, the corrupt papers proclaim the capture of a major narco figure: El Emo.
Planet magazine has an engaging interview with Bobadilla, and more examples of his strip. "El Ñacas y El Tlacuachi" originated in the Culiacán magazine La Locha. There are more here.
The Irish Times recently trumpeted the following finding from a European Commission report on attitudes toward alcohol: “Irish Binge Drinking ‘Highest in EU.’” That may be a dubious honor but it is not, it turns out, an uncontested one. Reading the same study, the Daily Telegraph, in London, proclaimed Britain “the ‘Binge-Drinking Capital of Europe.’”
Who’s right? P. O’Neill, at Best of Both Worlds, a blogger interested both in social science and Irish affairs, dug into the data.
The Office Assault: Post-It Gun, by the designer Alex Marshall–created as an exercise in computer-assisted design–takes business-as-combat metaphors to a new level. (“Got an idea that you know will just kill at your next office meeting?” asks the design blog Yanko Design. “Show them all how deadly serious you are about it …”) Marshall offers his potent Post-It delivery system in a number of guises, including what he describes as a “Star Wars”-influenced color scheme and a vaguely steampunk model, and he proposes the following slogan: “Designed for Extreme Ideation and Brainstorms.
William Carlos Williams thought New Directions publisher James Laughlin spent too much time skiing.
"After publishing her first novel at thirty-nine...[Muriel Spark] completed the next few books astonishingly quickly, at half-year intervals, as though some part of her mind had been readying itself." (Maud Newton)
The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is twice the size of Earth. It is a hurricane that has been raging for 340 years.
It turns out that the noted historian of Russia Orlando Figes did write those savage reviews of his rivals’ books after all (not his wife, which was the first “admission” after a period of flat denial): Figes confessed a few days ago:
“I take full responsibility for posting anonymous reviews on Amazon,” he said. “I am ashamed of my behaviour and don’t entirely understand why I acted as I did.” He pleaded for time to reflect on his actions “with medical help.”