The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.(Act III, Scene 2)
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Saturday, December 1, 2012
In a time of austerity, there’s bound to be opposition to expensive infrastructure projects. But if the government—and, by extension, taxpayers—is already on the hook for all the damage caused when disasters strike, we owe it to ourselves to do something about how much those disasters cost.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
One can understand why public order laws exist. The police may need to be able to take people off the streets to prevent imminent violence, and be able to punish people for causing disruptions.
But was there actually any risk that Stacey was threatening public order? I don’t think there was. A row on Twitter is not the same thing as shouting abuse in the street, where there may be immediate physical consequences.
Kent police confirmed that a youth was in custody and being questioned under the Malicious Communications Act 1988. The act makes it a crime to send anything "indecent or grossly offensive, or which conveys a threat … [where] there is an intent to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient."
Monday, October 15, 2012
. . . we analyse[d] vowel sounds from the annual Christmas messages broadcast by HRH Queen Elizabeth II during the period between the 1950s and 1980s. Our analysis reveals that the Queen's pronunciation of some vowels has been influenced by the standard southern-British accent of the 1980s which is more typically associated with speakers who are younger and lower in the social hierarchy.
The Queen's English is modulating.
“My husband and I have had, y'know, a bituva tricky year, one way and annuvva. I mean, what with Chiles getting in all that hot wa'er about GM food and that, and then the flippin' Guardian sticking it to us with its, su'ov, anti-discrimination, Act uv Se'ulment thing. Anyway, bottom line: have a wikkid Christmas - plenty of turkey on the old plates, a few jars with your mates, you know the drill. You should all be well sorted.”. . . we suspect calculation here as well as mere social change. All today's most popular figures . . . speak mockney. The Queen is simply trying to get in on the act. They are nothing if not adaptable, these royals. Ain't that the truth, yer madge?A story in the Los Angeles Times began:
Thursday, September 20, 2012
TORONTO - The Toronto Blue Jays and Yunel Escobar will hold a news conference at Yankee Stadium live on TSN.ca at 3:30pm et today to discuss an alleged homophobic slur that was written on the shortstop's eye-black over the weekend. ...
Several pictures posted online show Escobar with the message written in Spanish in his eye-black, a type of sticker players wear under their eyes to reduce the sun's glare.
The words under the 29-year-old Cuban's eyes were "TU ERE MARICON" which can be translated as "You are a ------."
Harry G. Frankfurt, 76, is a moral philosopher of international reputation and a professor emeritus at Princeton. He is also the author of a book recently published by the Princeton University Press that is the first in the publishing house's distinguished history to carry a title most newspapers, including this one, would find unfit to print. The work is called "On Bull - - - - ."The opening paragraph of the 67-page essay is a model of reason and composition, repeatedly disrupted by that single obscenity:"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much [bull]. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize [bull] and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, nor attracted much sustained inquiry."The Times couldn’t even allow itself to print the title of the book under review! And in the text itself the paper had to resort to using one-half of the dreaded word as a euphemism for "that single obscenity." Basically what the Times was saying was: “Here is “bull” plus four letters—figure it out in your own dirty mind.” I imagine that other readers of the review reacted as I did when I originally read it over four years ago. They worked it out in their filthy little heads, and, when they got up off the floor, continued reading.
Why in the 21st century (I’ve just had a glance at the calendar again) can’t these people treat their readers as adults? We know all the curse words and the slanderous ones. If the media would report them, we would look them in the eye on the printed page or computer screen without getting the vapors.
But maybe I am wrong--and media giants such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Telegraph (UK), and ESPN are correct in thinking otherwise--in assuming a level of cosmopolitan sophistication on the part of their readers and online viewers.
Perhaps the place where 21st century adulthood is to be found is on the pages of papers such as the Lethbridge Herald of Alberta, Canada, whose 15,000 readers probably didn’t fall over in a swoon when they read:
Escobar had written under his eyes "TU ERE MARICON," which can be translated as "You are a faggot.”
Friday, September 7, 2012
“Joe, the turtle boy . . . He walks and eats and sleeps just like a turtle but talks the English language as well as you and I. And shaves himself with a safety razor. And as an added attraction, folks, Joe plays the zither”
Carnival barker’s spiel in I’m No Angel (1933)
“Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax - the only way you can save money nowadays.”
“Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.“
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Eventually, I decided to get my own avatar and use it on the Guardian’s site. I thought of a few good ones, but I was foiled every time I tried to upload an image into my profile. So, I just shrugged and contented myself with genericism. Until I recently re-discovered a card that I had received years ago. The image on the card would be my avatar. And this time, I vowed, I would not be foiled. I fought my way through the imaging and uploading process, and finally launched my own avatar.
Monday, June 4, 2012
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
The widespread acceptance of a locution like “exact same” is surely indicative of the depths to which American English has sunk.
J. A. F. Hopkins, Letter to the Editor, The New Yorker, issue of June 4 & 11, 2012
You see, when the world was new, the heavens young,
People lived differently . . .
Juvenal, “Satire VI” (Translated by A. S. Kline)
[E. B.] White, addressing the question of “I” versus “me,” in “The Elements of Style,” asks, “Would you write, ‘The worst tennis player around here is I’ or ‘The worst tennis player around here is me’? The first is good grammar, the second is good judgment.”
Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, issue of May 14, 2012
After which, skipping again to a different subject (in the meanwhile his voice had recovered its usual bored, mocking tone), he asked me if, a little while ago, I hadn't happened to pass by, on my bicycle, along the Mura degli Angeli. At that moment, he had been in the garden: he had gone out to see what shape the rain had left the tennis court in. But because of the distance, and also because it was almost dark, he hadn't been sure I was that person who, without getting off his bicycle, and with one hand against a tree trunk, was standing up there, motionless, looking down. Ah, so it had been I?--he continued, after I had admitted, not without hesitation, that, coming home from the station, I had indeed taken the road along the walls: and this, I explained, because of the inner revulsion I felt every time I tried to pass in front of certain ugly characters gathered opposite the Caffe della Borsa, on Corso Roma, or spread out along Corso Giovecca. Ah, it was I?--he repeated. He had been sure! But in that case, if it had been I, why hadn't I answered his shouts, his whistles? Hadn't I heard them?
Giorgio Bassani, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Translated by William Weaver)
Friday, May 4, 2012
“Has he changed? Oh my God yes,” says Michael Levine, his agent. “Conrad has come to appreciate what it means to be disadvantaged He is a far more sensitive and introspective person than he was six, seven, eight years ago.” Vanity Fair
“You know, the judge told me she thought I was a better man now, and I took that as a sort of head-patting expression on her part, you know, that she had the wisdom to send me to prison. But I think she’s right. I probably am. It is a broadening experience.” Vanity Fair
Once Conrad Black expected to get what he wanted. If he wanted to refurbish his Rolls-Royce at a cost of $90,000, he did. A $42,870 birthday party for his wife? So be it. And if a jet crept on to the wish list, he is said to have told investors: "I can have a 747 if I want."
Asked why Hollinger [Black’s company] needed two private jets, she once explained, “It is always best to have two planes, because however well one plans ahead, one always finds one is on the wrong continent.” Vanity Fair
For all the talk of his financial “ruin,” Black won’t exactly lead a pauper’s life in Toronto. A good guess of his net worth is $80 million—80 percent less than the $400 million he could once claim, but far from “ruined.” “I can live on $80 million,” he notes with an arching of his eyebrow. “At least I think I can.”
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
“I want to play the way a cat jumps.”
Claudio Arrau, Chilean pianist
Fortune cookies aren’t always right (though the next-to-the-last one I got--“You are an exciting and inspiring person”—was spot-on). My most recent one read: “The important thing is to express yourself.” The idea of expressing yourself I associate with three types of people—parents of brats, artistic wannabes, and British football (i.e., soccer) commentators.
To take the last first. The football commentators, usually resorting to the third person plural and forgetting that they are talking about a team sport, bemoan any defensive strategy by a manager as not letting the players “express themselves.” It is interesting that in all the years that I have watched ice hockey (which is a parallel sport, only on a different surface), I have never heard a commentator speak of his desire for the players to express themselves. If anyone got down to the essence of team sports it was Freddie Shero, who coached Stanley Cup championship teams in Philadelphia: "If it's pretty skating they want, let 'em go to the Ice Capades."
“Lady Constance's flush deepened. Not for the first time in an association which had lasted some forty years, starting in days when she had worn pigtails and he had risked mob violence by going about in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, she was wishing that her breeding did not prohibit her from bouncing something solid on this man's bald head. There was a paper-weight at her elbow which would have fitted her needs to a nicety. Debarred from physical self-expression by a careful upbringing at the hands of a series of ladylike governesses, she fell back on hauteur.”P. G. Wodehouse, Service With a Smile
I have most often associated “self-expression” not so much with aristocratic granddames but with bratty children. They not only throw things (as Lady Constance refrained from doing) but scream at the top of their lungs until they get what they want. Their doting parents usually dismiss those antics by explaining that the child was only “expressing him/herself.” What exactly a child’s “self” is—and why it couldn’t be expressed at a lower volume—has never been satisfactorily explained to my philosophically-probing mind.
But it’s not only bratty children and overpaid footballers with bad haircuts who have a desire to “express themselves.” A good number of years ago I was browsing through Bloomingdale’s (in New Jersey; I was never chic enough to be allowed through the doors of the New York store), finally ending up in the stationery department, when my shuffling through greeting cards was interrupted by an intense woman followed by a covey of serious young men and women. The leader of the pack moved quickly to a table and pointed. “I’m not satisfied with that display,” she said. “I wanted to make a statement.” It took all my powers of self-restraint to keep from shouting at her: “Lady, they’re just boxes of goddamn envelopes!”
For many years I have collected quotations by artists in all fields from jazz to ballet about the nature of artistic creation. And I have never once read or heard a serious artist—in any field—speak of his/her need for “self-expression.” Indeed, what those artists have said is the exact opposite—the creation of art is a selfless undertaking. Consider the words of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos: “I create music out of necessity, biological necessity. I write because I cannot help it.” Or those of the great jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli: “When I improvise and I’m in good form, I’m like somebody half sleeping.” Or those of the poet Elizabeth Bishop: “I really don’t know how poetry gets to be written. There is a mystery and a surprise, and after that a great deal of hard work.”
“Sally pinched him. 'Ass,' she said. 'I'm interested. Tell me why a poet doesn't have to be a man who needs a haircut.'
'Because,' said Cadogan, uneasily attempting to gauge the length of his own hair with his left hand, 'poetry isn't the outcome of personality. I mean by that that it exists independently of your mind, your habits, your feelings, and everything that goes to make up your personality. The poetic emotion's impersonal: the Greeks were quite right when they called it inspiration. Therefore, what you're like personally doesn't matter a twopenny damn: all that matters is whether you've a good receiving-set for the poetic waves. Poetry's a visitation, coming and going at its own sweet will.'“
Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop
What the fictional poet Cadogan says is what so many artists have said; the art seems to have been mysteriously introduced into the artist by some outside force. The art chose the artist.
“I didn’t make a decision to pursue astronomy. Rather, it just grabbed me, and I had no thought of escaping."
Just as with artists, so too with scientists. In ancient Greece there were not only Muses for artists like poets and musicians and dancers, there was a Muse of astronomy, Urania, and it was her twentieth-century counterpart who picked out Sagan, who could not escape doing astronomy. Any more than Marina Tsvetaeva could escape writing poetry:
“Why I write”
“Not for the millions, not for some one-and-only, not for myself. I write for the poem alone. The poem, through me, writes itself.”
And when the work is completed, perhaps every true artist utters a version of what novelist Edna O’Brien calls the writer’s prayer:
“Please, God, let me start another.”