Ben A.
Ben H.
The Imaginary Invalid

Bernie actually saw that production with some other friends of hers. We both like the play, but she said the production was marred by bilinguilism. In comedy, timing is everything. When half the audience laughs at the action on stage (in French) and the other half laughs about 10 seconds later in response to the supratitles, it just sort of throws everything off.

I Am the Ultimate...

Coprophile? While having that declaration blasted through Emerson 101 would be embarrassing*, I would not in fairness be able to fully deny the charge. But history has gilded your recollections. The beep you put on my computer exclaimed, "I am the ultimate pedophile." In the Massachussetts of Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, that might have been evidence enough to send me to the same dungeon where Gerald Amirault languished for 15 years. You're lucky it was Donald Fleming's class where it happened, as that guarateed everyone else in the class was asleep, assured in the knowledge they could get their hands on perfect transcriptions from the two or three of us who showed up, stayed awake, and took copious notes.

*Should I be embarrassed? If it's good enough for Moliere, oughtn't it be good enough for me? The chamberpot scene of the Imaginary Invalid is a triumph of coprophiliac humor, but for my money (and understanding my bias as a native English speaker) Swift's The Lady's Dressing Room represents the crowning achievement of coprophiliac literature. If I could write one poem half as good as that one, you could call me whatever name you want, I still would feel I had led a worthwhile life. [Ben H.: 6/25/04 06:09]
Le Site Est Relooké

You may have noticed some graphical instability on the site. I've been playing with HTML, trying to fix some glitches; the main remaining glitch has to do with the character set that the page declares for itself. (Update: iso-8859-1 seems to do the trick.) Before, it wasn't declaring any character set (or its document type), and this led to some arbitrariness in how it rendered on various machines. Now the page declares UTF-8 in a META tag, but this seems inconsistent with some of the characters Ben A uploads. (In particular, the "smart quotes" aren't showing up correctly.) I'll try playing around with some other character sets.

Also, Ben H, I changed your background color to what I believe the J. Crew catalog calls "twilit cinnabar". It does not, I think, mesh quite as well with the others as the old one did, but I'm not enough of an aesthete to spend time redesigning everything. Readers are welcome to submit new color schemes. Readers may also be interested to know that I changed it because you thought your old color literally looked like crap. Even if that were true, which I dispute, I don't see why that should bother you, given your love of bathroom humor. In fact (to continue with the college reminiscence theme) I remember you took your nifty new laptop to take notes in class back in 1993, unaware that Joel and I had reprogrammed the "bell" sound and turned up the volume, so that at some point, having scrolled too far down your page, your computer announced to the class on your behalf, in the tone of voice He-Man used invoke the power of Greyskull, "I am the ultimate coprophile!" Sadly, you are not living up to your title.

Further to the scatology theme, I regret not directing you to the BAM tournée of the Comédie Francaise doing "Le Malade Imaginaire" a week or two ago. We saw it last year in France. You would have liked the chamber-pot scene. [Doug: 6/24/04 21:31]
Three New Erogenous Zones and Two New Formerly Innocuous Behaviors Now Redefined as Rape

At the reunion, we were approached by a couple of kids handing out subscription cards for "02138", a new magazine for Harvard alums. "Catch up on the latest developments on campus" was one of the reasons given for reading the magazine, which prompted me to reply that indeed it would prove useful to find out which formerly innocuous behaviors had now been redefined as rape.

Well, 02138 it turns out is a slicker project than I had imagined. Check out this flash presentation. It is evident that a good deal of effort and money flowed into this little multimedia extravaganza, yet resources cannot buy wisdom or good taste. What's Cornel West doing there? He left Harvard in a huff. And Dersh's greatest achievement is to have briefly advised O.J. Simpson? That's a proud moment for Harvard? (Clearly, Dersh's greatest moment was advising Klaus von Bulow, notwithstanding that the aristocrat's body count fell short of the running back's). Bill Gates never graduated, his success an excellent index of how Harvard takes credit for accomplishments that those it admits would score on the basis of native wit, with or without 4 years of pointless classes. And Benazir Bhutto as paragon of "leadership"? She's an odious kleptocrat, poster-girl for dynasticism, who delivered her country into chaos and extremism.

But click on "buzz" to see the best part. The first testimonial (mind you -- for a product that does not yet exist) reads:

02138...covers the one thing that most interests Harvard alums -- each other

I had at first a suspicion that the blurb-whore who wrote these words was having a little ironic fun at Harvard alums' expense, but on closer inspection I think he is serious. The sentiment isn't just horrifying, it's wrong. We all know the one thing that most interests Harvard alums is themselves, other Harvard alums coming a distant second.

Imagine a class notes section that comes alive with in-depth reporting and commentary

OK, I'm imagining. So this means that instead of just baby announcements, we'd get baby pictures or maybe length and weight stats? Pictures of the operations every proud new surgery resident has peformed? Monthly return charts of each proud fund manager? Class notes "come alive": it sounds like some editorial Frankenstein.

Who is behind these words? None other than HBS Professor Donald Sull. You remember Don Sull? The Winthrop tutor who left that threatening message on our answering machine after Doug wrote his Swiftian Indy op-ed proposing that we get to eat tutor children*. I think now, Doug, that I was right to want to bring that answering-machine tape to the police. Tosser.

*followed a day later by this Crimson piece taking a similar anti-tutor line, it is no wonder the fecund tutors of Winthrop felt a little persecuted. Still, we were juveniles; aspiring professors should show a little more restraint, or at the very least more creativity in their response than to blunty threaten to "get" us. [Ben H.: 6/22/04 21:53]
Elvis Has Left the Building

I'm just too easy a target, huh? Not Elvis Costello*, but the Honorable Peter Costello, MP, and Treasurer of Australia.

*Fun Elvis Costello fact: He has a well-documented hate for Baroness Thatcher. The song "Tramp the Dirt Down" is his fantasy of literally dancing on her grave. [Ben H.: 6/22/04 21:43]
My Aim is True

Thatcher and Costello. Two of my favorites as well. Does Bibi prefer "Oliver's Army" or "I write the Book"? [Ben A.: 6/22/04 18:33]

In truth, 95% of the discussion addressed his efforts to liberalize the Israeli economy; professions of his admiration for Baroness Thatcher, Mrs. Richardson, Mr. Costello, and Mr. Haughey; pledges to make Israel among the top 5 countries on the scale of economic freedom. We heard very little about the Arab terrorist menace. [Ben H.: 6/22/04 13:37]
The IPO will be Unspeakable, Unnamable, and Cyclopean


Thanks to reader TS.


Ben H, thank you for looking out for me. Remind me to loan you this next time we're in town. [Ben A.: 6/22/04 13:20]

The piece argued that the US and the ISAF need to focus less on remnant Taliban pockets and more on dismantling warlords' militia's; and that it might make sense to postpone the Afghan elections. Masood Farivar is N-E-M's name; I recognized the name, looked it up @ post.havard and confirmed it is the same guy. He did always have a grin on his face, but if I had grown up in Afghanistan, even shitty Cambridge would have been grin-worthy. It may rain all the time, but one needn't worry about stepping on a landmine.

Perpetual Peace

Ben, I deliberately left out any discussion of Netanyahu's talk, so as not to force you into the evidently undesirable position of thebandarlog's guardian of the borders of polite discourse. I will say, though, that there was nothing remotely Kantian about his speech. [Ben H.: 6/22/04 10:44]
I was going to use Dao's work-provided login, but it expired. You'll have to let me know the gist of the Afghan's article (if the content is interesting). I do remember the guy -- his name was Masood, right? Seemed like a happy guy.

On the Harvard Club issue, I have made my peace with Harvard (as my presence at the reunion shows) but will never do so with the NYC Harvard Club. Pricks. [Doug: 6/22/04 09:51]

Did he quote "Perpetual Peace" in his speech? I love it when he quotes Perpetual Peace... [Ben A.: 6/22/04 09:05]
Dinged By the Harvard Club

I was invited to attend an investor meeting with Israel's FinMin, Benjamin Netanyahu last night at the Harvard Club. I headed over to W44th street a bit early, expecting that in line with sensible Israeli practice, I would have to pass through tight security. And indeed, the perimeter proved hard to penetrate, though not due to intrusive searches by guys with earpieces (who, in point of fact, surprisingly never materialized at all). I forgot that the Harvard Club dress code requires not just jacket, but jacket and tie. The liveried door keep refused to let me in. Luckily, with the extra time i had budgeted for going through the (non-existent) metal detector, I ran over to Daffy's and bought the cheapest, ugliest tie i could find ($10 polyester special). The shirt I had chosen to wear unfortunately does not easily accomodate a tie, but no matter, I just loosely strung the cravate around my neck. Thus attired, the doorkeep, though still looking askance, permitted me to enter. As soon as I boarded the elevator, I took off the tie, and proceeded to the meeting.

After the meeting ended, I left the club, and as I went through the door, turned to the doorman and said, "oh my god, I'm not wearing a tie, it's the end of the world!" I had been careful not to remove the tag from the tie, so on my way to the subway, I stopped back at Daffy's and returned it.

[Ben H.: 6/22/04 08:45]
The Return of No-English Man

Doug, do you remember the guy in Winthrop House we used to call "No-English-Man"? He wore a scraggly beard, a funny hat, and never seemed capable of uttering a coherent sentence in English (hence the name). Well, it turns out he came from Afghanistan, and he has an op-ed piece on the Wall Street Journal editorial page today. Apparently, sometime in the last ten years, he learned English... [Ben H.: 6/21/04 07:40]
Anna Karenina: Yay!

Anna Karenina is the best book there is. Strangely, though, I find it hard to say anything about it. It's easier to talk about bad or idiosyncratic novels -- you discuss the interesting ways they deviate from the Platonic Form of the Novel -- but with Anna Karenina you're pretty much holding the Form itself. Not that it is austere or unapproachable like a Joyce tome. Tolstoy is warm and welcoming like few other authors. What I mean is ...well, there's an ad campaign underway in New York City, and probably elsewhere, featuring seasoned barhoppers who say "I just had my first beer", the implication being that until you've had Pilsner Urquell you haven't really had beer. This is false, of course; all the world's beer comes from the same vast Duff Brewery vat, only leaving via different tubes. But this pretty well captures my experience of reading Anna Karenina at the age of 29 or 30. It blew me away. Some novels had given me as much raw pleasure (the Hitchhiker's trilogy), and some had given as strong an impression of relevance to my life (Notes From Underground), but the effect of sweeping unvarnished all-encompassing effortless wisdom is achieved nowhere else but here. The problem (for me as a would-be critic) is that I can find nothing to say about how Tolstoy achieves this effect. I look in vain for whatever it is that enraptures me in the book. I have an okay ability to spot the tricks and schticks that authors use to achieve their minor successes, but Anna Karenina's success is total and seems to involve no tricks or schticks. Any excerpt I pick to inspect gives me the same impression: "Yes, this is exactly how life is, and it is perfectly vivid, and yet I can't say what it's doing that a hundred authors couldn't also do." Analogous "problems" come up in music: you can point to the unresolved seventh and ninth chords that Ben Folds uses to create a soulful melancholy sound, but when you listen to Mozart, and have the usual astonishing transcendent experience, there's not much you can point to. You can take out a magnifying glass and examine the notes on the score, but you're not going to find anything about which you can say, "Aha, that's how he does it!" In the end, with Anna Karenina, all I can do is talk about the individual characters (and I'm prepared to do this at length, in future posts), because for me, in the end, Anna Karenina just is life, or a more vivid version of it. And what can I as a would-be critic say about life as a whole? Just that I recommend it highly.
[Doug: 6/21/04 01:50]
Don't Even Think About Parking Here

New York City has long held the crown for the most confusing street signage. Parsing certain combinations of parking and street cleaning signs could stand in for the logic section of the LSAT. But it looks like the Big Apple has competition. Check out this shot from Palanga, Lithuania, proudly provided by The Count:

Even the authorities are baffled (though it is nice to see that the police tendency to congregate in useless clumps is cross-cultural). The Count knows the symbols and tells us, after a few minutes careful scrutiny, that on this particular street it is forbidden to drive anything other than a motorcycle of over 3.5 tons gross weight. [Ben H.: 6/18/04 11:29]

You might worry that a discussion of Anna Karenina would clash with our recent spate of poo-poo and wee-wee jokes. Well, I am happy to say that if you turn the dust jacket of the Oprah-approved translation 90 degrees, it looks like somebody putting a bouquet of flowers up their bum. [Addendum: the Oprah-co-branded version seems to have a purple band that obscures this.] [Doug: 6/18/04 10:08]
Joyce Antidote

I have no intention of ever reading Ulysses. However, I have long had the intention of rereading Anna Karenina, and what better time than now, when Oprah has just assigned it? I say that the Bandarlog must join this important national discussion. I got the new translation and am up to page 50. [Doug: 6/18/04 10:03]

I assembled that surrealist table setting at the Paris fleamarket. The halberd-like knife is for fish, I think (I've never figured out how those strange curves are supposed to help you eat fish); the misshapen spoon is presumably for sauce; the two clawlike things are used to take lumps of sugar from a pot; the remaining thing is anyone's guess. [Doug: 6/18/04 09:57]
Bloomsday Reprise

I love the feeling I get when I happen to read something, by pure serendipity, singularly appropriate to an experience I've just had. Having recently attended the Joyce-fest at Symphony Space, and had my teeth set slightly on edge by the academic wanksterism that without fail accompanies Joyce like Pigpen's trailing dustcloud, I came across the following Clive James poem (one of many which take as their inspiration a pretentious line in another book or article):

A Gesture Towards James Joyce

My gesture towards Finnegans Wake is deliberate.
-- Ronald Bush, T.S. Eliot: A Study in Character And Style

The gesture towards Finnegans Wake was deliberate.
It was not accidental.
Years of training went into the gesture,
As W.C. Fields would practice a juggling routine
Until his eczema-prone hands bled in their kid gloves;
As Douglas Fairbanks Sr trimmed the legs of a table
Until, without apparent effort and from a standing start,
He could jump up on to it backwards;
Or as Gene Kelly danced an entire tracking shot over and over
Until the final knee-slide ended exactly in focus,
Loafers tucked pigeon-toed behind him,
Perfect smile exultant,
Hands thrown open saying 'How about that?'

The gesture towards Finnegans Wake was deliberate.
Something so elaborate could not have been otherwise.
Though an academic gesture, it partook in its final form
Of the balletic arabesque,
With one leg held out extended to the rear
And the equiponderant forefinger pointing demonstratively
Like the statue of Eros in Picadilly Circus,
Or, more correctly, the Mercury of Giambologna,
Although fully, needless to say, clad.

The gesture towards Finnegans Wake was deliberate,
Its aim assisted by the position of the volume,
A 1957 printing in the yellow and orange wrapper
Propped on a sideboard and opened at page 164
So the the gesture might indicate a food-based conceit
About pudding the carp before doevre hors-
The Joycean amalgam in its ludic essence,
Accessible to students and yet also evincing
THe virtue of requiring a good deal of commentary
Before what looked simple even if capricious
Emerged as precise even if complex
And ultimately unfathomable.

The gesture towards Finnegans Wake was deliberate,
Being preceded by an 'It is no accident, then',
An exuberant 'It is neither accidental nor surprising'
And at least two cases of 'It is not for nothing that',
These to adumbrate the eventual paroxysm
In the same way that a bouncer from Dennis Lillee
Has its overture of giant strides galumphing towards you
WIth the face both above and below the ridiculous moustache
Announcing by means of unmistakable grimaces
That what comes next is no mere spasm
BUt a premeditated attempt to knock your block off.

The gesture towards Finnegans Wake was deliberate.
And so was my gesture with two fingers.
In America it would have been one finger only
But in Italy I might have employed both arms,
The left hand crossing to the tense right bicep
As my clenched fist jerked swiftly upwards -
The most deliberate of all gestures because the most futile,
Defiantly conceding the lost battle.

The gesture towards Finnegans Wake was deliberate:
So much so that Joyce should have seen it coming.
Even through the eyepatch of his last years.
He wrote a book full of nothing except writing
For people who can't do anything but read,
And now their gestures clog the air around us.
He asked for it, and we got it. [Ben H.: 6/18/04 07:31]
Clinton Caption Contest, Reprise

Readers have made a few submissions to the Clinton Caption Contest:

"What the -? This mirror is seriously messed up!"

"I pardon him, too"

"On behalf of the American people, I apologize to you, Mr. President."

"You're a handsome devil, you are!"
[Ben H.: 6/18/04 07:13]

We did try, Doug, to identify the utensils you and Dao so generously left as gifts after your stay in Boston. Aside from the bohemian ear spoon we so carelessly left off our registry, the others have baffled us entirely. Can you enlighten us?
[Ben A.: 6/17/04 23:09]
Happy Bloomsday

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday, the day on which Joyce's Ulysses takes place. Every year, Symphony Space puts on an all-day reading of portions of the book. Bernie and I went this year; the centennial attracted more than the usual attention to it, and with it more than the usual audience. We had to wait outside -- in a line that included a disturbing number of spacey-eyed guys in straw boaters, sort the Joyce freak's equivalent of the Trekkies' Vulcan ears -- for space to free up.

Now, I am just going to flat out admit, I don't understand Ulysses. I'm inclined to think of it the way Stephen Metcalf (via Ben A) does What should I make of a work of literature whose author forthrightly declares that he has stocked it full enough of "puzzles" to keep "professors busy" for generations? The modernism of Ulysses is the first step in the transformation of literature from something you read into a raw material to be processed into dissertations by academic specialists, a sort of iron ore for the furnace-like lucubrations of graduate students. If Dubliners shows what Joyce was capable within the context of an established mode of written expression, well, more's the pity. Something about that age -- I recall, Doug, you wrote a paper about it back in college: comparing Schoenberg and Picasso (maybe?), as two guys who mastered an art, but dissatisfied with merely embellishing long-standing, organically developed arts, decided they had to refound their arts on radically different foundations. But those foundations wound up giving rise to what look like Soviet construction sites, an unfinished and unfinishable skeleton of beams and girders, monuments to a misconceived enterprise.

The Symphony Space reading makes an attempt to redeem Ulysses from its baleful consequences. Sit, just listen to the words, appreciate the work for its euphony. And I suppose there is some value to that. Unfortunately, it was somewhat spoiled by a tendency to play certain bits for absurdity and to garner the sort of cheap laughs you can only get from a roomful of intellectuals (example: Circe episode's bird-song rendered by a quartet of men making absurd falsetto noises; oh, just friggin' hilarious).

Since I am just throwing out some random thoughts here... one of the great things about New York is that however narrow one's obsession, it never proves too narrow to fill up an auditorium with the fellow-obsessed from time to time. I expressed some wonder to a friend that so many people could wish to spend a summer evening listening to a reading of Ulysses that a huge line would stretch down the block from Symphony Space. My interlocutor pointed out that at least as many people will spend a summer afternoon performing risible roller-skate ballet in Central Park. Maybe next Bloomsday Symphony Space could do the reading on rollerskates? [Ben H.: 6/17/04 22:12]
Hi-Ho, Hobbyhorse!

Amazon's top review of this typical contemporary academic philosophy book says:

"His view allows him to give neat and clean solutions to all manner of metaphysical problems (including the problem of how a time traveler who meets his former self could be both sitting and standing at the same time), and to do various other wonderful things."

Not that anyone needs more proof that academic philosophy is worthless, but think: this is a discipline that takes pride in explaining what manifestly never happens, and has given up its vocation of explaining things like free actions, which manifestly do happen. And try to imagine a review of a physics book with similarly directed pride: "Professor Jones gives a neat and clean explanation of how gravity reverses direction every six seconds." [Doug: 6/16/04 08:29]
Juvenile Humor, I'll Show You Juvenile Humor!

I am to be congratulated for not making any jokes about hemophila.

Story here

[Ben A.: 6/15/04 17:45]
My New Favorite Public Servant

UK health secretary supports smoking:

"I just do not think the worst problem on our sink estates by any means is smoking, but it is an obsession of the learned middle class"

[Ben A.: 6/15/04 17:38]
Juvenile humor moment

This woman must surely resent her parents. But check it out: she's smiling. Would that be a shit-eating grin spread across her face? [Ben H.: 6/15/04 09:04]
Caption Contest

My entry: "Gee, Monica has lost a lot of hair!" [Ben H.: 6/14/04 18:00]
Accoutability II

Reader BV relates an anecdote on Ben's post about how the press and public intellectuals made grievously innaccurate assessments of Reagan and his policy and have never had to retract them or apologize for them.

"My favorite anecdote on contemporary reactions to Reagan's anti-communism came from New Zealand peace activist Dr. Helen Caldicott. If Ronald Reagan gets re-elected, nuclear war is a certainty (declared in her movie If You Love This Planet, which formed part of our Christian education curriculum)"

Well, dear reader, perhaps we should recall that eating sheep's brains can cause brain-wasting disease and perhaps for that reason we should go easy on Ms. Caldicott. [Ben H.: 6/14/04 14:37]
The Abyss Around the Flower

Doug, you are too indulgent of my errors. I bear full responsibility for picking (twice! twice!) the worst possible route. While I did not personally gouge a hole in my coolant tank, my stubborn refusal to retire a visibly decrepit, 15 year-old vehicle must be attributed to some combination of laziness and niggardliness. Sadly, I must take the blame for the combined 11.5 hours of journey time.

The Scream

I noted a common behavior at the reunion. Sometimes two women would recognize one another and immediately break into a kind of squeal / shriek (usually followed by an embrace). The male analog comes out as a kind of bellow, but as the frequency does not differ that markedly from baritone speech, I didn't notice it as often. As you both heard, at perhaps excruciating length and repetitiveness, I did not make many acquaintances over 4 years at Harvard. The Scream brought this home to me in a very palpable way -- i do not stand in scream-relation to anyone in the Class. The scream-relation reflects two facts: 1) that the screamers feel themselves to share a substantive enough emotional bond to justify shrieking upon meeting each other 2) that the screamers have not seen each other in a very long time, which further implies that each has a rich enough set of social relations that they could manage to go long stretches of time without seeing a person with whom they had a tight enough friendship for (1) to obtain. [A final possibility, which I am not waggish enough today to advance outside parentheses is that each one screams in horror at how badly the other has aged since the last reunion.] Judging by the frequency of Screams, my social accomplishments at Harvard lie on the low tail of the distribution.

As an undergrad, faced with the situation (not dissimilar to that of a reunion) of having to interact with a huge crowd of unfamiliar people, I tended toward pre-emptive rejection, convincing myself that they were all obnoxious jerks. Many years later, I've met Harvard people I didn't know as an undergrad, or alums whose time in Cambridge didn't overlap with my own, and I've found most of them unobjectionable and some of them very interesting and engaging indeed. That would on its face suggest that I would enjoy the reunion. However, the reunion is not a promising time to make new friends. Note all the Screams: people come to see old friends, not to make new ones. I very much enjoyed hanging around with the few people I made lasting connections with as an undergrad -- but pretty much 100% of them remain close friends with whom I am in frequent contact. But the mob of strangers among whom we found ourselves was largely irrelevant to my experience of the proceedings.

[Ben H.: 6/14/04 11:04]
Reunion Recap

Like, say, the Moonlight Sonata, our 10th reunion was a flower between two abysses. Both the ride up and and the ride back took 5 1/2 hours, rather than the usual 3 1/2, because of traffic, unmarked construction, and a coolant leak. (None of which, just to be clear, was Ben H's fault.) I see why some people never leave the city. But the reunion itself was swell. We saw a bunch of old friends including our roommate Joel and his wife Jennifer. As a bonus, Ben A came back early and we got to hang out. The weather was perfect. I used to think that whenever NASA launched a secret payload, it was a satellite used by our alumni committee to track down us potential donors. Since, however, I showed up in our class directory with a fake address (that I did not even provide them), I now have an alternate theory: NASA has been launching weather-control satellites that our alumni committee uses to make Boston into San Diego for a few key weekends each year. As my memories fade, it becomes easier and easier for me to walk around campus on a day like yesterday and say "Wow, remember the good old days of studying out in the sunshine and playing frisbee ... what institution could be worthier of my support than the one that makes all this possible?" When in reality the sun hardly ever shone and the snow sometimes didn't even wait to hit the ground before turning to brown slush. [Doug: 6/13/04 18:00]
Me, Too

I hold this truth to be self-evident: all parades are created equally annoying. [Ben H.: 6/13/04 17:56]

My Puerto Rico Day Parade pun was over the line. If I had less built-up anger about spending too much time at work I would have censored myself. You'll be glad to know that I've begun talking with my superiors about cutting back to half-time. Let me stress that my distaste isn't for any ethnic group, but for the drunk hooliganism and occasional sexual assault that attend ethnic parades generally. There is a tradition of criticizing this sort of parade in newspaper headlines. The Post, I believe, titled a report on this year's NYC St. Patrick's Day parade, "Erin Go BRRAGGGHHHH".

[Doug: 6/13/04 17:28]

I often wonder why no organization exists to tracks public intellectuals and record the reliability of their pronouncements. Consider the following debates in foreign policy: the likelihood that the first gulf war would lead to numerous American casualties, the impending dominance of Japan, and Japanese-style industrial policy, the economic viability of the Soviet Union, the consequence of ANC rule in South Africa. Once, all these issues were debated; all now seem decisively resolved. It does not seem difficult to hit the archives and rate talking heads against these signal events. Would not such an “accountability index” be invaluable in wading through the muck of political bombast? Or would we find instead the majority of commentators to be stopped clocks, right when events correspond to their predetermined prejudices, and wrong otherwise? (For example, if there were voices on the right who didn’t get Nelson Mandela basically wrong, I don’t recall reading them in National Review).

This topic was brought to mind by the nice spade work on contemporary reactions to Regan’s anti-communism provided here by Andrew Sullivan’s intern. Anthony Lewis: What a maroon.

Sauce for the Goose

There’s another aspect of accountability I’d like to raise: our own. How I hate to voice these querulous, scolding tones! But the rules of our current civility are clear. Expressing black-hearted contempt for humanity is a-ok, implying, even indirectly or in passing, contempt for a particular ethnic segment of humanity is not. I do not make the rules, but I know that readers who are not personally acquainted with our virtues will hold us to these expectations. So even if we address an eminently risible topic – for example, a celebration of ethnic pride renowned for hooliganism – let’s not use language that might make a sensitive reader infer a slur to his background? Rather than merely rain on our misanthropic parade, let me instead recommend we march under a different banner: hate the universals, but not in re>

Nice Quip

“[I]sn't the entreaty behind any book's cutesy po-mo trickery, whether it's by Joyce or Dave Eggers or Karen Joy Fowler, ‘Don't judge a book by the book’?”

Stephen Metcalf
[Ben A.: 6/11/04 19:39]
Only Decent Harvard Commencement Speaker In Living Memory?

Ali G. [Doug: 6/11/04 13:00]
If you see the New York Sun guy at the reunion this weekend, maybe you can convince him to make Sunday's headline "Puerto Ricans Defile Everyplace In Manhattan". [Doug: 6/11/04 12:26]
Nice One!

Excellent pun! Sadly I am going to have to miss the parade this year. And you guys know how much I love ethnic parades. The pageantry, the pride, the stench of urine, the opportunity to grope young women... The prominence of the Puerto Rican day parade defies the subaltern status of Puerto Rico. I mean, it's not even a country! It seems to me that before the city blocks off 5th Ave for a day of good, clean wilding to honor Puerto Rico, it needs to assure slots for the pridemongers of all legitimate states. Surely some Andorra pride organization would be interesting in pre-empting the Puerto Ricans.

I think on this one point, Cambridge, MA had the right idea. I remember one year I got caught in the middle of the St. Patrick's Day parade. You could have forgiven my confusion, because my way across Mass Ave was blocked by a marching contingent from the Cambridge Haitian Association. To give St. Patrick's day entirely to the Irish clashed with the city's resolute multiculturalism, so St. Patrick's Day became a celebration of ethnicity in general, so far as I could tell. A fantastic idea. Let's get all these parades done at one stroke and leave NYC's streets clear for the SOuth Asian Motorized Pride Parade (i.e. taxi traffic) the other 364 days. [Ben H.: 6/10/04 17:46]
Big Pun

They should call it the Puerto Rican Day Defiling [Doug: 6/10/04 16:18]
Convention: Wolfenstein

I am trapped in an enormous multi-level indoor complex. While I crouch, unobserved, in a small alcove, guards pass every few minutes, their walkie-talkies blaring snatches of German. Can I time their movements? Can I reach the rumored "lecture hall 5"?

Alas, rather than infiltrating a totalitarian redoubt, I am merely attending a conference in Berlin. At least the meeting organizers -- the (shadowy? Dread?) European League against Rheumatism -- sound suitably pulp-heroic! [Ben A.: 6/10/04 07:49]
My Kitchen Renovation Plans Are Decided

I saw this brand of home appliances on prominent display in Harrod's. My plans for a kitchen immediately fell into place. The beauty of the design is that the company name is written in large silver relief across the front of each appliance. The trick now is to find if they have a model identifier starting with the letters "MA."

Do you think the Italians understood the rich comic possibilities of a web page entitled The Smeg Collection? [Ben H.: 6/8/04 08:42]
More Poetry

Inspired by Ben A's earlier contribution ("The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered"), while in London Bernie bought me a copy of Clive James' collected verse. Forgive the momentary descent into unadorned yay-booism: Clive James is a geeeenius. And I say that only on the basis of the parodies and lampoons, which section I flipped to first, naturally, and where I am still bogged down in hilarity. Personal favorite so far: The Wasted Land, T.S. Eliot as channeled by an Anglo-Indian restauranteur. "April is a very unkind month, I am telling you."

But to allude to the serious debate of that old thread, James takes the side of those who see poetry-as-profession as unpromising (both as art and career). From the new introduction:

I still think that a career as a poet is the wrong idea for most people who write verse, because it can lead to a concern for the reputation, and hence to that unedifying process - be it ever so sedulous and even sacrificial - by which the output is kept up when a real inner need is lacking, and the Muse doubles as an inflatable doll. But the writer who confines himself to never writing a poem except to answer a specific impulse might have to resign himself to having no reputation at all, because he looks like a part-timer. His best course, I now think, is to take on the chin. He should forget his pride and remember his privilege. With no established apparatus to speak for them, his poems will speak for themselves..."

See, Doug, just because our output didn't stretch much beyond bashing in Diatribe people we'll be seeing shortly at re-union cocktail parties, that doesn't mean we aren't still poets!! [Ben H.: 6/6/04 21:08]
Go East, Young Purveyor of Pureed Fruit!

A little bit of Irvine's University Town Center comes to the Big Apple: Jamba Juice opens a location in Manhattan. All I need now is a branch of Asia Noodle Cafe, a basketball court in my backyard, 100 more sunny 70-degree-plus days per year, and a million bucks back on my home price and it could be just like my happy days back in Irvine! [Ben H.: 6/6/04 15:36]
Stalked By Celebrities

My last night in London featured a sybaritic dinner at posh Knightsbridge restaurant "Foliage." Of course, each dish was identified by something more akin to an essay than a title, so I can't reproduce for you guys exactly what opulent confections I consumed. However, I can tell you this. As I waited for my dinner companion, I saw Pierce Brosnan sitting alone at the bar. He was drinking a beer rather than a shaken martini, and he had a rather sour look on his surprisingly grizzled face. Maybe every time he visits a bar he needs endure the same "what, no martini" quip when he innocently orders a lager. I guess that would make me sore, too. As I recall, Doug, Dao is a fan. And if I could have been completely sure that his drinking of a beer rather than a martini meant that he didn't also have some Q-provided anti-autograph seeker device built into his pen or his watch, I woudl have asked for one on her behalf... [Ben H.: 6/6/04 15:22]
Music As Argument

Glenn Gould is not the first person you think of when you're looking for a Mozart performer, nor should he be. Gould dryness doesn't quite suit the courtly conviviality of Mozart. Many of his sonata renditions remind me of the final scene in 2001, the creepily still airless room whose Louis XVI furnishings sit inert like answers to a trigonometry word problem.

Check out Gould on the A minor sonata (K. 310), though, especially its first and last movements. It sounds like a burst of anger -- a carefully controlled burst of justifiable anger -- that has been building up for a long time and has enough force to devastate its target in a few short minutes. It is not louder than it needs to be; it is not hysterical anger. It has no superfluous pauses or accelerations; it is not dramatized anger. It is, however, very fast -- it is like Gould has honed his case subconsciously over many frustrating years, and now that it can flow out, it does so with startling speed. It is like Gould himself is amazed at how little effort he needs to make its case, and his only effort goes to restraining himself from overstating it, which would leave his target the one consoling thought that maybe his opponent was speaking from irrational rage. Gould leaves his target nothing; his argument is absolutely rational, without gaps. The dryness of the final chords is devastating. He says, "And that is why your beliefs are utterly void," and walks away. Exhilerating.
[Doug: 6/5/04 12:30]

One way in which a stay at our London office delights me is the variety of Englishes spoken there. The place is sort of like the living epilogue of Niall Ferguson's Empire: we have Irish, Australian, Canadian, South African, Nigerian and American English represented. Granted that much of the office's free time is taken up in people's mocking each other, it is still surprising how much debate arises from the variant dialects in use. Friday, an hour went by in disputation about what you call the people who take your stuff from one residence to another. One of the Australians was calling around looking for "removalists," which led the true Brits to retort that she would surely fail, since no such profession exists. Of course, to my ears, "removers" sounds just as weird. What, do you hire two sets of movers, "removers" and "putter-backers"? For some reason, I find this small and subtle differences endlessly fascinating. One that caught my eye this trip: "male toilets" for "men's bathroom." How do you know the toilets are male? Do you palpate under the lid? Is their marked sexual dimorphism among toilets? Another: I was headed out on the subway (ok, underground) this morning when the conductor announced the suspension of service from a few stations ahead to the end of the branch. The cause: "a person under the train." I guess we would call that, more euphemistically, "a police action." To me, a person under the train suggests a lurker or maybe someone engaging in civil disobedience. "I ain't comin' out from under this train until a get a refund on my metrocard." [Ben H.: 6/5/04 11:53]
"Fears Of Vacuum In Terror Fight"

... headline in this morning's Times. Uh-oh, disturbing reports from our man in Havana? [Doug: 6/5/04 08:08]
Bush Administration Bungles Iraq Again

Come on, guys. If you're going to disguise John Ashcroft as the "prime minister of a sovereign Iraq" and put him on TV to welcome continued U.S. occupation, at least get him some Groucho Marx glasses. The ones here aren't fooling anybody.

[Doug: 6/4/04 18:50]

As penance for withholding my profession from the Havenhurst College Class of '94 Report, I should be compelled to manage the Bandarlog Fund. I promise to use at least 50% of the money you entrust to me to buy chunks of rhodium, which I will store in my closet as their value skyrockets.

Mark my words. It's all about rhodium.

[Doug: 6/4/04 16:28]
Missing in Action

Sorry I didn't add to the fund manager count (I would have put down "international usurer", anyway). They put me in the '93 Class Report and I failed to get my year corrected in time for this one. Trust me, I would have pulled a Kaczynksi. The Unabomber put down Afghanistan as his address, I think. [Ben H.: 6/4/04 15:56]
Day Made

In advance of our 10th reunion (mine and Ben H's; Ben A is a year behind) the "class report", wherein our classmates describe their lives, has arrived. It ought to be ideal blog-fodder but I can't get into it for some reason. Maybe it's that I had hardly any friends in college (if you don't count our "Might and Magic" characters); maybe it's that my eyes glaze over from seeing the phrases "cardiology residency" and "fund manager" too much (sorry Ben H (not that you're even in there)).

Our copy was addressed to Dao. The thing that made my day was that the alumni-tracking committee not only failed to list my current address, but came up with some totally specious one in Sterling Heights, Michigan. And if they think they know where I am, they won't come looking for me! [Doug: 6/4/04 14:52]
Saatchi Update

Local papers over here reporting this morning that the storage facility where cleansing fire rid the world of Saatchi's ugly art collection was burgled just before the inferno broke out. The police say that the burglary targeted another area of the facility, where some electronic goods were stored. How clever Saatchi is to set up such a thorough cover story! [Ben H.: 6/4/04 08:00]
"Buy High, Burn Higher"

Hey Ben, while you're in London, are you going to stop by the scene of the Saatchi Investment Method's great triumph? Maybe you can bring us back some souvenir ash.

Doug's Million-Dollar Ideas, #12

Stopped at a Quality Dairy, when we were in Michigan, to get a Diet Coke: do you realize how many variants of the Ur-Cola there are these days? First off you can remove the sugar, the caffeine, both, or neither, giving you four bases. Then you can add an extra flavor: cherry, vanilla, lemon, lime, or nothing, which could theoretically give you 20 variants, although in practice they seem to be added only to the "regular" and "diet" bases. As variants proliferate, consumers' tastes will become more particular, and stores will have a harder and harder time gauging how much inventory to carry.

Solution: sell only "Everything-Free Coke", and let customers take whatever "Coke Powder" they want at the checkout counter. You add sugar or aspartame or vanillin to your soda just as you would to your coffee. The inventory problems are gone because the powders take up hardly any space, and you only have to worry about aggregate demand for the fluid Coke base.

Imagination Beggared

In "researching" the foregoing, I came across a lengthy list of brands owned by the Coca-Cola Co. My top 10:

  • 10. "Freezits" You just can't find a less expensive comedogenic.

  • 9. "Pocarrot" Might as well corner the carrot-juice market, in case a new cancer study boosts demand.

  • 8. "Diet Almdudler" Hmm, I hadn't been aware that almdudler was fattening.

  • 7. "Bimbo Break"

  • 6. "Delaware Punch" Yet another marketing meeting I'd love to have attended.

  • 5. "Odwalla" How many granola types think they're sticking it to the man by sticking with this hippie brand?

  • 4. "Guarana Jesus" Joking aside, that is a great name.

  • 3. "Tuborg Squash" Now with more rutebaga

  • 2. "187168" Wait. Can Coca-Cola own an integer? Yes. It's not so shocking when you consider that they own ...

  • 1. "American"

I'm glad, anyway, to see evidence that not all the marketing geniuses behind OK Cola were fired. [Doug: 6/4/04 00:03]
Imagined Communities

The kind of life I lead obliterates any connection between the community I feel myself to belong to and any notion of physical contiguity. I lived in the same apartment for 7 years, yet could not tell you the name of a single person on my floor. Seven years of restaurant patronage in the area yielded not a single unexpected encounter with an acquiantance. Yet, my "community" does pop into existence in little isolated pockets. For example, at the JFK Admiral's Club on the way over to the UK, I ran into two people that I know (one who works at a competitor fund and who i knew slightly at Harvard, and the other a banker). I don't think I've ever been on the NYC-to-Buenos Aires flight without having an chance meeting. And in this part of London (Mayfair) I find myself bumping into people all the time. For example, late last night I went to a restaurant near my hotel. As I entered, I heard a small chorus call my name. I found myself practically attacked by a bunch of Vikings -- one of the Icelandic banks I deal with had sent a group to do a marketing trip in London. Kind of pathetic; though, less, I guess, than belonging to a community that materializes only occasionally at cheap convention hotels that host Star Trek Expos... [Ben H.: 6/3/04 06:16]
Clash of Civilizations

I remember talking to a 20-ish French student in Paris when I lived there. "Hier j'ai regardé Jerry Springer à la télé, sur une des chaînes américaines. C'est très amusant. Mais il y a un mot que je ne comprends pas: 'Ho.' Qu'est-ce que c'est, 'ho'?"
[Doug: 6/2/04 09:54]
Brush With Greatness

I shared an elevator at my hotel with Jerry Springer. Unfortunately (and I'm sure you'll all be shocked), I could not come up with anything witty or cutting to say. An opportunity to strike a blow for decency and good taste... lost!

I wonder what he is doing here. Some bus shelters have advertisements for a show called Jerry Springer: The Opera, but I am told this extravaganza is unauthorized. [Ben H.: 6/2/04 08:05]
Scary But Not Surprising Market Color

Was on the phone with Saudi currency/rates trader of a major western bank's Bahrain branch this morning, trying to get color on the reaction of Saudi market to the events of the weekend. The guy very off-handedly mentioned that, "somebody in the market seems to have known something Friday. I got taken in the 1yr rates market in unusually aggressive size." (Translation for laymen: Saudi currency is pegged to USD, so interest rates track USD rates, with some additional risk premium. The 1yr sector is usually very quiet. On Friday, before the attack, there were aggressive payers of Saudi rates vs USD rates in 1yr sector; i.e. people betting the risk premium would move up). Is Al-Qaeda so entrenched in Saudi that your local punters know far enough in advance of attacks to borrow the forwards? [Ben H.: 6/1/04 07:59]
A Dining Experience Which Will Live in Infamy

The hotel where I was staying (no longer -- another story) boasts grandly of the presence of its "celebrity chef" restaurant, an amenity that no hotel can seem to do without these days. A little card in the room touts Bryan Turner Mayfair's eponymous restauranteur as "the infamous (sic) Yorkshire-born chef." Infamous? Has praise-inflation come to this? Infamous makes me think Mr. Turner may have pulled a Lycaon at his last establishment, which I understand closed a few years ago. I guess the punishments for culinary infamy have become less severe since the heroic age, since Mr. Turner was not turned into a wolf, nor the human race wiped out in a flood, but the author of the infamy suffered only a temporary reverse and commitment to a decidedly third-rate hotel.

Or, perhaps they did notreally mean that he is infamous. [Ben H.: 6/1/04 05:04]
Wordsworth's Book Was No Help At All On My Botany Midterm, And Had All These Weird Linebreaks: What's Up With That?

Fine, Wordsworth sucks. I already said I agreed with Haspel that W is too hazy in describing his subjects and not that hot in pure word-arranging skills. And "The Idiot Boy"'s charm is a goofy charm that would be instantly gone if you had to write a paper on it. (Incidentally, Ben, your vignette about your reaction to it with Bernie was hilarious.)

I still think Haspel's main criticism of Wordsworth is senseless, and that its flaws are representative of a main peril of blogging. Criticizing a poet for betraying interest in how and why the external word matters to him, rather than merely describing it in meter, is somewhere between dumb, philistine, and nuts. You may be personally irked that he chose not to be a botanist, but that ought to have little bearing on his literary stature.

Question 1: Shouldn't the canon assign to every important way of thinking its canonical practitioner? Question 2: If Wordsworth's way is one of these ways, who better than him to represent it? (I would say Rousseau, but this trend was big in England too, and ought to have an agreed-upon English avatar.)

There are a few books on my shelf that are there only because they play the role of unequivocal spokesbook for some (usually bad) way of thinking: Skinner's "Beyond Freedom and Dignity" and David Lewis's "On The Plurality of Worlds" come to mind. Wordsworth is not fully in this category for me, since there are times when I actually enjoy sitting down and reading him. [Doug: 5/31/04 18:18]
Wordsworth Revisited

My point is not that all Wordsworth is bad. You have to admit, though, that some of his work (and not just the later work, which critical consensus judges unremarkable, is pretty stilted. For myself, I don't see the charm in The Idiot Boy. Just a little aside: Bernie actually had to write a paper on this poem (and the class was taught not by Walter Jackson Bate, but David Perkins*, late of Harvard, and Bates' lover). At something of a loss before it, she came up with an interpretation which somehow equated the Idiot Boy with language or somesuch thing, which, inasmuch as it wasn't a reverential celebration of Wordsworth, did not make Perkins very happy.

Anyway, some Wordsworth I like. Take "The Character of the Happy Warrior": an elegant, compact statement of how to live the Aristotelian happy life, one must endure a certain amount of struggle, pain and self-sacrifice. As this is necessarily rather abstract topic, Wordsworth's abstraction of language suits it.

As you note, Doug, much of Wordsworth's poetry is a something of a protest against modernity's estranging man from nature. There's a lot more critical talk thes days of the "political Wordsworth" (Bernie confirms it, my inkling of this comes mainly from A.N. Wilson's The Victorians). The proponents of this view see Wordsworth nature-philia as part of a more general intellectual reaction against the changes wrought by the incipient industrialization of England. What Carlyle was arguing in prose, Wordsworth advanced in verse. What inclines me a bit to this view is the rather abstract, hazy appreciation that Wordsworth has for the specific incidents of nature as opposed to big-n Nature. If you read other writers who proclaim a similar spiritual in communion with nature, you can see they've really lived it, learned about their environment, developed a love for in specifics. Take for example Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac; or, heck, even Virgil's Georgics. These writers aren't on about Nature, they are on about their land, its flora, its faunu, its eternal cycle of rebirth and decay. To achieve that ecstatic communion requires an outward-directed effort of perception and study; Wordsworth's communion strikes me more as intense self-contemplation (and here I guess I agree with Haspel) in the presence of nature.

*David Perkins was our roommate's advisor.

Yay-Boo Machines Are A Form of Technological Prowess

Don't be so quick, Doug, to dismiss the value even of a relatively crude yay-boo machine. Perhaps the most important change blogs have wrought is the way that they break a certain elite monopoly on critical opinion-formation. It's sort of like what Havel calls "living In truth." If each person thinks everybody else holds these conventional-wisdom opinions, it becomes much more difficult to hold a contrary opinion. The presence of blogs serving nothing more than a yay-boo function opens up a view into the opinions of others, opinions that may be at variance with conventional wisdom. Readers may say, "hey, maybe I was not crazy to think that Wordsworth isn't a poet of the highest caliber." [Ben H.: 5/29/04 20:14]
Whose mind is but the mind of his own eyes, he is a Slave; the meanest we can meet!

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I heard a crowd,
A host of bloggers behind me
Who for no reason start bashing me with a two-by-four.

Whence these unprovoked muggings of Wordsworth??

A Bandarlog reader once told me: you guys devote too much space to belittling, and you often give an impression of "I'm-so-clever-to-have-seen-the-emptiness-of-what-others-value" smugness.

So now I have to mount a defense of Wordsworth. Great. Just what I wanted to do with my $&%#* long weekend.

[Re-reads some fifteen shortish poems in order to have some basic idea of what he's talking about.]

[Finds some of them quite good; finds that even "The Idiot Boy" has some charm]

[Prepares to rip apart Aaron Haspel's post, which begins preposterously by faulting "Tintern Abbey" for not being mere description, then citing as evidence a passage which manifestly is mere description.]

[Becomes even more eager to attack when Haspel calls Wordsworth "a man whose thoughts are never interesting". Has blogging always been this abject? Has it always been filled with pile-driver attacks so implausibly overacted that spectators lose even the baseline interest that comes from thinking that people may be hurt? Who are we to mock pro wrestlers?]

[Is slightly disappointed to find that Haspel's post becomes more reasonable, and makes some fair points. (1) There is something hazy about W's poetry, and it's not just the smoke rising from picturesque shacks of hermits. (2) W's pointless grammatical inversions (the "sense sublime") are annoying. (But I seem to recall them infesting all pre-1800 poetry.) (Also, Haspel berates W in the next breath for leading a "counter-revolution toward simple language", thereby ignoring consistency in order to stay vitriolically on-message, which bloggers often take to be the only, or at least the easiest, way of keeping a reader rapt. Why not just add a few extra exclamation points to "Wordsworth: BOO!!!!"? At least that carries no risk of inconsistency.) (3) "[Wordsworth] is a convenient stand-in for wide cultural change."]

I think point (3) is the heart of the matter, and it somewhat redeems Haspel's post. Wordsworth qua wordsmith would not have been so long remembered. It is because W hammers early and often on this theme -- the "modern-life-is-a-bummer-what-with-the-logarithms-and-the-factories-and-the-spiritual-vacuum-but-still-contemplating-nature-is-some-consolation-and-can-even-be-downright-transcendent" theme -- that he holds the place he does. It is unfortunately the case that with the following stanza you have about half the content of Wordsworth:

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Let's consider this theme, especially its corollary that the way to happiness is contemplation of nature. Who could be worse situated to evaluate this claim than a blogging software developer? There is something pathetic about Haspel's attempt to do so. "I confess," he writes, "I find the doctrine (of the ecstatic merger with all existence) incoherent." Two points for honesty, I guess, but minus fifty for lack of curiosity. Wordsworth agrees with just about every proponent of "ecstatic merger with all existence" that the doctrine cannot be understood without being lived, and that to live it, you need to do prolonged work on calming your state of mind. It takes a certain way of life to achieve "that serene and blessed mood", "while with an eye made quiet by the power / of harmony, and the deep power of joy, / we see into the life of things." This way of life does not include drinking Diet Coke until your legs bounce epileptically under your workstation while you click helter-skelter from half-read website to half-read website. The thought does not cross Haspel's mind that there are radically different ways to live than his, better ways to live, ways which might lead one to value things differently, and more soundly. Although Haspel's blog is better than most it still gives the same tiresome impression: "I am a perfectly-wrought valuation engine, a finely-tuned yay-boo machine that logs its reaction to every passing thing." His mind is but the mind of his own eyes. We all ought to spend less time giving our opinions and more time working to improve the minds from which the opinions flow. That this is a main message of the school that Haspel dismisses with a mouse-click is a sad irony.

These posts of Haspel's are better.

I'll throw in one and a half really good Wordsworth poems and refrain from commenting further. First, the end of the sonnet "England! the time is come when thou shouldst wean":

If for Greece, Egypt, India, Africa,
Aught good were destined, thou would'st step between.
England! all nations in this charge agree:
But worse, more ignorant in love and hate,
Far -- far more abject, is thine Enemy:
Therefore the wise pray for thee, though the freight
Of thy offences be a heavy weight:
Oh grief that Earth's best hopes rest all with Thee!

And the poem "Personal Talk" which I read several times when first deciding whether to start a blog:

I AM not One who much or oft delight
To season my fireside with personal talk.--
Of friends, who live within an easy walk,
Or neighbours, daily, weekly, in my sight:
And, for my chance-acquaintance, ladies bright,
Sons, mothers, maidens withering on the stalk,
These all wear out of me, like Forms, with chalk
Painted on rich men's floors, for one feast-night.
Better than such discourse doth silence long,
Long, barren silence, square with my desire;
To sit without emotion, hope, or aim,
In the loved presence of my cottage-fire,
And listen to the flapping of the flame,
Or kettle whispering its faint undersong.

"Yet life," you say, "is life; we have seen and see,
And with a living pleasure we describe;
And fits of sprightly malice do but bribe
The languid mind into activity.
Sound sense, and love itself, and mirth and glee
Are fostered by the comment and the gibe."
Even be it so; yet still among your tribe,
Our daily world's true Worldlings, rank not me!
Children are blest, and powerful; their world lies
More justly balanced; partly at their feet,
And part far from them: sweetest melodies
Are those that are by distance made more sweet;
Whose mind is but the mind of his own eyes,
He is a Slave; the meanest we can meet!

Wings have we,--and as far as we can go,
We may find pleasure: wilderness and wood,
Blank ocean and mere sky, support that mood
Which with the lofty sanctifies the low.
Dreams, books, are each a world; and books, we know,
Are a substantial world, both pure and good:
Round these, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
Our pastime and our happiness will grow.
There find I personal themes, a plenteous store,
Matter wherein right voluble I am,
To which I listen with a ready ear;
Two shall be named, pre-eminently dear,--
The gentle Lady married to the Moor;
And heavenly Una with her milk-white Lamb,

Nor can I not believe but that hereby
Great gains are mine; for thus I live remote
From evil-speaking; rancour, never sought,
Comes to me not; malignant truth, or lie.
Hence have I genial seasons, hence have I
Smooth passions, smooth discourse, and joyous thought:
And thus from day to day my little boat
Rocks in its harbour, lodging peaceably.
Blessings be with them--and eternal praise,
Who gave us nobler loves, and nobler cares--
The Poets, who on earth have made us heirs
Of truth and pure delight by heavenly lays!
Oh! might my name be numbered among theirs,
Then gladly would I end my mortal days.

[Doug: 5/29/04 10:51]

I am leaving for London tonight, unfortunately! [Ben H.: 5/28/04 14:57]

The Christian Wrestling Federation bills itself as an outreach ministry, Ben H. Surely you're not going to try to Dershowitz your way out of this!

Also, while reports describe al-Masri as a "cleric," shouldn't we interpret that in the Dungeons and Dragons sense of a subcategory of professional freebooter, rather than as an religious accreditation? If I'm remembering my Bernard Lewis, the underdeveloped ecclesiastical structure of islam lowers the barriers to any random kook declaring himself a preacher (although, insitutional checks aren't foolproof). In al-Masri's case, it's not like he graduated from the Islamic equivalent of an Anglican seminary. This guys is to Islam what Bob Jones is to Chritianity: He's an adventurer, with the proven ability to cause light wounds. So perhaps he's a cleric of sorts...


Very short notice, I know, but if Deb and I were to turn up in NYC tomorrow, would any of you be interested in getting together? (nothing definite as yet, but under consideration) [Ben A.: 5/28/04 14:44]
Chicken Make Lousy Housepet

We've all experienced embarrassing incidents that have left us mortified. Some are intese enough to make us say, "I wish I were dead." The woman at the heart of the Poopy-Pants story making the rounds probably has had the thought. But even she will come to realize that the sting of mortification need not prove fatal. Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit*. But every so often, a person is capable of behavior the opprobrium of which will never fade and the embarassment attendent to which will never recede. Here's a fine example. Maybe that's what Dana Carvey's chinese pet store owner meant when he urged customers to consider that, "chicken make lousy housepet." Chicken make even worse concubine...

*Aeneid Book I. Basically, "someday we'll be able to laugh about this shit." (Aeneas says this to the assembled company after yet another disaster, quite apart from the fall of Troy, murder of their countrymen, etc, befalls them. Little did Aeneas know that "someday" would arrive in May 2004, with the release of Troy: the Movie. [Ben H.: 5/28/04 14:09]
Nice Try, Guys

While the Christian Wrestler is indeed scary, I need not compare him to Hamza, because while a wrestler may enjoy a certain social standing among the pious, I don't think he counts as a prelate. Doug, it's not so much Tammy Faye herself that is frightening, as the fact of her existence. Facing her down in a dark alley would be no problem, contemplating her far away causes more distress.

As calculation agent in this contest, I hereby rule that my sectarian put-downs can continue. [Ben H.: 5/28/04 13:00]

... and mine.
[Doug: 5/28/04 11:38]
Menacing Monotheist Challenge

Here's my entry. [Ben A.: 5/28/04 10:00]
On Judging a Book By Its Cover

Check out the recently pinched Abu Hamza al-Masri:

I mean, would we even consider this guy plausible as a Bond villain? Say, how about this? A one-eyed mad sheik... with a hook for a hand! -Come on, our audience will never buy something that cliched.

Religion of Peace Challenge

If you can find me a picture of a Christian prelate that looks similarly menacing, I will promise no mocking references to the "religion of peace" trope for 30 days. Artistic representations of John Brown not accepted. [Ben H.: 5/28/04 07:03]

I had some photos I intended to upload. I had some thoughts on "hedonic adjustment" I wanted to share. I intended to do both this evening, but I am just plain out of gas. Sleep usually comes over me, unbidden, within thirty seconds of moving more than 30 degrees off the vertical.* Lethe, it seems, failed to get my change of address card. Since I moved to Brooklyn, generally I have had trouble sleeping for the first time in ages, and this just at a time where my travel schedule has been heavier that usual. Part of it has to do with unwonted disturbances. Over the weekend, just as I was slipping off into elusive slumber, my burglar alarm started shrieking. After taking a moment to restore my hearbeat to regularity, I ventured out of my bedroom to reconoiter the area. Seeing no burglar, I relaxed a little and waited for the alarm company to call. They didn't, so I decided to call them; my phone line was dead. Like a good paranoid outer-borough homeowner, I opted for "cellular backup" service: if the phone line goes dead, it is assumed a burglar is trying to thwart the alarm and a cellular unit phones in the alarm. My phone died because of typical Verizon unreliability, not larcenous wire clipping. However, since the alarm company couldn't reach me, they called the police. Suffice it to say, I didn't get back to bed for hours and that restorative night of z's went by the boards. (In typical Verizon fashion, the phones switched back on within two hours, without explanation). My clothes dryer has a "feature" whereby it alerts the user that the cycle is almost done with three piercing tones. It repeats this every minute until the cycle is complete. This has blown away a few incipient REM cycles. I can't figure out how to turn it off. (Note: I have demonstrated to my satisfaction that kicking the washing machine below it with a bare foot does not turn it off, although it can crack one's toenail).

But I think the main problem has to do with acclimitization. It is amazing how the brain over time learns the typical sounds of one's abode and does not allow them to trigger a rousing response. For a long time, the elevators in my old apartment building spent all night shuttling from the floor below to the floor above me. Click...whirrrrrrr... all night long. After a few weeks, I slept right through it. This old brownstone has a sonic profile not unlike a old man, full of wheezes, cracks, and creeks. Each one of these catapults me up in bed, from soft repose to tense vigilance.

There is one place of rests whose noises I have fully adjusted to. Indeed, I am so looking forward to 7 hours of blissful rest tomorrow aboard a 777 to London...

*I have had one period of severe insomnia in my life, which gave me my first intense awareness of my own mortality. In the autumn when I entered the third grade, I suddenly found myself waking up, wired and unable to get back to sleep, every night at around 1 a.m.. I would lie in bed until 6 a.m. every morning, recounting to myself in excrutiating detail every little change of the light that portended the coming dawn and my release from solitude. My parents assumed that my troubles had to do with the stress of the new school year, not unlikely for a nerdy kid susceptible to bullying. This went on for a few weeks, to the point that one day (my mother recounts, though I remember only vaguely) that I started bawling at the dinner table; when asked what was wrong, I replied that I knew I was going to die, because if an animal can't sleep eventually it would die. At that point my aunt, a sedulous follower of health food fads and other than in this incident a person who brought nothing but trouble, told my mother that she thought the culprit could be pectin (the latest villain in her food-fad pantheon of chemicals). She noted that in the autumn, we switched from drinking lemonade to drinking apple juice. My mother cut out my apple juice and within 48 hours I was sleeping like a baby. I still refuse to drink apple juice. [Ben H.: 5/27/04 21:41]
Wordsworth's Unintentional Comedy Watch

That link, Ben, was much better. I, too, see Wordsworth as a rich vein of unintentional poetic comedy. The Idiot Boy, for me represents the pinnacle of the so-bad-its-good phase of his work. I only read this piece because Bernie had to read it for some grad school class (a near-death Walter Jackson Bate might have been the professor if memory serves) out in Irvine. And for weeks afterwards, whenever she sent me on an errand, I would pretent to come back emptyhanded and make "brrr"ing noises.

UPDATE: Daily Variety reports production deal for first filmic version of Wordsworth poem. Adam Sandler to play title role in "Idiot Boy," Kathy Bates signs on for Betty Foy role. Souce tells us, "will be faithful to the source, except for more flatulence." [Ben H.: 5/27/04 14:11]



Ben A.
Ben H.