September 30, 2007

That rough poetry   {Comments: 0}

From Willis Barnstone's recollections about translating Borges:

In those months in Buenos Aires of evening bomb blasts and kidnappings, I often pored through the night on new sonnets from a book Borges had just brought out called La moneda de hiero ("The Iron Coin"). One day a decisive event took place. Late in the afternoon, while English versions of those poems were still spread all over my living room floor, Carlos Frias knocked at the door of my apartment. "Borges has a message for you about the sonnets," the editor said.

"What's the message?"

"In your translation of 'Camden, 1892,' the one about Whitman," Frias said discreetly, "Borges thinks your rhyme in the last couplet is incorrect."

I wondered why Borges hadn't called me himself. Why the messenger? I began to fumble with words, defending slant rhymes, saying how modern poets in English like to use muted assonant rhymes, how...

"Borges thinks you should try a little harder," Frias coldly interrupted.

Besides translating Borges, Barnstone also went on to write a whole collection of sonnets of his own -- about which Borges commented:
"Four of the best things in America are Walt Whitman's Leaves, Herman Melville's Whale, the sonnets of Barnstone's Secret Reader, and my daily Corn Flakes -- that rough poetry of the morning."
September 29, 2007

The weight of too much liberty   {Comments: 2}

Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, 'twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

--William Wordsworth, 1802

September 28, 2007

On the Sonnet   {Comments: 0}

If by dull rhymes our English must be chained,
And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet
Fettered, in spite of pained loveliness,
Let us find, if we must be constrained,
Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of poesy:
Let us inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress
Of every chord, and see what may be gained
By ear industrious, and attention meet;
Misers of sound and syllable, no less
Than Midas of his coinage, let us be
Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown;
So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
She will be bound with garlands of her own.

--John Keats, 1819

September 27, 2007

Hot links   {Comments: 0}

1. New City's Best of Chicago listings are out for 2007.

2. NBC games the Nielsen Ratings.

3. A day after Amazon rolls out its new digital music store, iTunes has the new Wes Anderson short, and exclusively.

September 26, 2007

The president of Iran, seeker of truth   {Comments: 0}

I'm a little late on this, but make sure to check out Ryan Brenizer's great photo set from the various protests at Columbia earlier this week.

The 7 year itch   {Comments: 0}

After we couldn't get any cheese at McDonald's, we decided to try the Mullins Cheese Plant in Knowlton, WI. This stuff hit the spot (Miriam loved it too).

September 25, 2007

The fustier, less tech-savvy noses in classical music   {Comments: 0}

From an interesting article about classical music and iTunes:

Though classical music makes a respectable showing in iTunes, executives for compact disc purveyors from ArkivMusic to Brilliant Classics say their consumers are suspicious of downloads, fearing their music will be somehow swallowed up by their computer. Or, given the often-superior sound quality of compact discs, they don't see the point.
In a lot of ways iTunes and the iPod are badly designed for the classical listener, because of the way music is grouped into songs that can't be bound together. The random settings become almost useless, and you have to be a lot more deliberate about constructing playlists. And of course it's not really surprising that the classical audience has especial difficulty with this. Still, they do represent large (and disproportionate) portion of the iTunes market.
September 24, 2007

Where's the beef?   {Comments: 1}

My wife is a vegetarian, and if we happen to stop at McDonald's, she usually orders a cheeseburger with no meat. Often this is met with confusion, but she always ends up with what she wants: a bun, with cheese and onions and ketchup and mustard. Then other day, this is what they gave her:

September 23, 2007

With fidelity to all of American history   {Comments: 0}

My dad sent me the link to this New York Times piece about John Paul Stevens, mainly because of this bit of trivia it contains:

Stevens was born on April 20, 1920, the youngest of four boys. His paternal grandfather, James W. Stevens, made a fortune as the founder of the Illinois Life Insurance company, and in 1927, his father, Ernest J. Stevens, built the Stevens Hotel in Chicago, now the Hilton Chicago, which he called "the largest and finest hotel in the world." Built for a staggering price of $30 million, the Stevens hotel included 3,000 guest rooms, a movie theater and an ice cream factory. As Charles Lane reported in a Washington Post article in 2005 about Stevensís childhood, young Stevens and his brothers posed as models for the bronze sculptures by the grand stairway.
I was actually in this hotel a couple of months ago (the packet pickup for the Chicago Distance Classic was there) but I didn't take note of the sculptures -- and unfortunately I won't be able to make it back there this week, since we're in Wisconsin. When we do get back, I'll head over there with the (silly) intention of making some portraits of the sculptures in the style of Platon, the wide-angle specialist who did the incredible portraits for the piece.
September 22, 2007

Kidnap Poem   {Comments: 33}

ever been kidnapped
by a poet
if i were a poet
i'd kidnap you
put you in my phrases and meter
you to jones beach
or maybe coney island
or maybe just to my house
lyric you in lilacs
dash you in the rain
blend into the beach
to complement my see
play the lyre for you
ode you with my love song
anything to win you
wrap you in the red Black green
show you off to mama
yeah if i were a poet i'd kid
nap you

--Nikki Giovanni, 1970

September 21, 2007

Almost an organic quality   {Comments: 6}

Here's an article about how photographers view the film vs. digital debate, based on the results of a survey of professional photographers by Kodak. Could it possibly be a little biased? For me the piece was a sort of unconvincing pro-film fluff piece, but I've never really shot film, so I don't have any built-in sympathies for the medium. It's too bad, because I would love to know more about what the technical differences are, beyond the obvious stuff, and beyond the various rants around the internet. Comments like "digital pictures look very flat" don't really add to my knowledge.

Probably what I should do is get out my grandfather's Leica, which has been sitting in a drawer for several months, and which I have never used. It has a small mechanical problem that will cost $300 to fix, and I keep opting to buy bigger and better equipment for my digital setup instead of getting it serviced.

Faded glory   {Comments: 0}

September 20, 2007

It started in the colleges and now it's everywhere   {Comments: 0}

Two interesting and related pieces from earlier this week: the first is a survey of the canon wars from the New York Times Review of Books, which comes with an excellent reading list; the second is Joseph Epstein's piece on the literary life and how it's changed in the last 25 years. The latter fails to mention anything about literary expression and community and the internet -- which is forgivable, given the context, but still disappointing.

A reading off your palm   {Comments: 0}

Here's a great listing of various photography rules of thumb. Mostly the rules will only be useful if you shoot with a camera that has some manual settings.

September 19, 2007

He must have a good lawyer   {Comments: 0}

What I want to know is how O.J. Simpson, who fled the police in one of the biggest television spectacles of the 20th century, could be released on bail. Isn't this guy the mother of all flight risks?

September 18, 2007

Completely lacking in class   {Comments: 0}

One of my photographs was blogged here, and in the accompanying post Shreyas Shah makes an excellent point about corkage fees:

Unlike restaurants that can serve alcohol, it doesnít cost BYOB restaurants anything when patrons bring in their alcohol. They didnít go through the trouble of getting a license, they donít maintain a bar or cellar, and donít incur any of the expenses associated with serving alcohol at a restaurant. Plenty of BYOB spots realize this and do not charge a corkage fee. The ones that do are simply trying to make extra money for doing nothing. Its greedy and stupid and the next time you get charged a corkage fee at a BYOB place, I encourage you to let the manager know it's bullshit and completely lacking in class.
September 17, 2007

Seamless access, again   {Comments: 0}

Finally the New York Times has eliminated its pay sections and opened up its archives (or most of them anyway) to search engine and other linking traffic. It's interesting that the Times gets "far more [unique visitors] than any other newspaper site." Is it possible this count includes abortive search engine hits that have yielded only frustration for most readers?

It also sounds like some of the columnists were frustrated at being sequestered as premium content -- although the article is quick to point out that some of them still have avid followings. I'm sure they're less influential than they would have been without TimesSelect, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. My life has probably been the better for not having read Paul Krugman, David Brooks, and Tom Friedman in two years!

Here's my post about the whole business two years ago when they first implemented it.

MORE: Kottke has a great rundown of the content you can now read that you couldn't before.

Government-backed   {Comments: 0}

Michael Kinsley has a seriously disturbing piece on student loans, private lenders, and interest rates:

Here's how the program works: Banks and other private companies lend money to students. The federal government pays part or all of the interest -- currently 7 percent or 8 percent. The government also guarantees the loans.

What is wrong with this picture? Well, the government itself borrows the odd nickel to finance the national debt. This borrowing, obviously, is also guaranteed by the government. For that reason, it carries an interest rate of only 3 percent or 4 percent. If the government can borrow money at 3 percent or 4 percent, why should it be paying 7 percent or 8 percent for the privilege of guaranteeing loans to someone else? Wouldn't it make more sense for the government to loan out the money itself?

Later he goes on to describe a system of kickbacks that has arisen as a result, but it's interesting that there aren't any more direct attempts to lure in students. Maybe it's illegal, but so are the other inducements... I suppose with students it's easier to get caught? By paying off loan officers, you capture a lot of business with only one collaborator.

Once I took a computer class for government workers and had a couple of folks from the Student Loan Administration as classmates. They advised me always to ask to see the promissory note before repaying, because in a high percentage of cases the government can't produce it. I wonder if this is the case for the banks and other private entities.

September 16, 2007

Elsewhere   {Comments: 0}

Wow, a quick trip through the various sites listed in the sidebar shows that several are defunct. It seems I've been doing a rather poor job of keeping up with people -- I should probably get an RSS reader, but I've never found one that I really feel comfortable with. Any suggestions? I'll have to prune the sidebar soon.

Of course, some of those blogs are thriving, too. Todd Price recently ran into Alton Brown and found him to be intense, Hugo Zoom just went to a neighborhood watch meeting for vigilantes in training, and stallio! is psyched about the Bionic Woman.

UPDATE: I've just removed some of the inactive blogs and added a couple I've been reading that weren't on there.

September 15, 2007

Well, yeah, anyone can   {Comments: 0}

The excellent Corrie, who blogs over at Allora, Aspetta! with my sister, has gone and made that delicious-looking ratatouille variation from the movie Ratatouille. I'd somehow missed the Times article with the recipe, and I had no idea Thomas Keller was the food consultant or the originator of the dish that appears at the movie's end. I've run into him in two other places recently -- on a DVD of Spanglish that I happened to watch (he's in the special features promoting another made-for-Hollywood recipe) and in these instructions for roasting a chicken which I've mentioned here before and put to good use this week. Anyway check out Corrie's post, if nothing else for the pictures (one of which I've taken the liberty of excerpting above).

September 14, 2007

Earthworm   {Comments: 0}

Slim inquirer, while the old fathers sleep
you are reworking their soil, you have
a grocery store there down under the earth
and it is well stocked with broken wine bottles,
old cigars, old door knobs and earth,
that great brown flour that you kiss each day.
There are dark stars in the cool evening and
you fondle them like killer birds' beaks.
But what I want to know is why when small boys
dig you up for curiosity and cut you in half
why each half lives and crawls away as if whole.
Have you no beginning and end? Which heart is
the real one? Which eye the seer? Why
is it in the infinite plan that you would
be severed and rise from the dead like a gargoyle
with two heads?

--Anne Sexton, published posthumously in 1976

September 13, 2007

You are here   {Comments: 0}

Here's a cool tree map of the Indo-European language family.

A thin-crust revolution?   {Comments: 0}

Via Gapers Block I see this little Washington Post article about thin crust pizza in Chicago. The only place mentioned that I've actually tried is Pizza D.O.C., which is good, but after reading about the place that does New Haven style pizza I'm sure I'll be headed there soon.

Confirming the trend, at the end of our block here in Oak Park they've just opened a thin crust pizza place with a wood oven called Trattoria 225. I've eaten there a few times now (it's only 100 paces away) and the pizza is good enough, even if the service has been off. It's great to have a restaurant so close... one of these days I'll take some pictures of the food.

September 12, 2007

Strategy 101   {Comments: 0}

Indiana Pacers coach Jim O'Brien on the similarities between chess and basketball (via TrueHoop):

In both basketball and chess the middle must be controlled. In our sport, it's the three second paint -- defensively we want to control that by keeping the ball out of the middle and offensively we want to control it by making sure that we get the ball into the middle. I have never won a chess game -- or have not won very many times -- when I didnít control the middle of the board.
I don't know about the rest of the comparisons he makes (this is probably one of those analogies that's meaningless for just not being tight enough), but I've found the old chess maxim always respond to a flank attack with a push in the center very useful in other contexts.
September 11, 2007

Feed them babies on shortnin' bread!   {Comments: 3}

There was something familiar about the lyrics Jason Kottke posted for the Rhubarb Pie song, so I went ahead and listened to the audio (the song begins right around the 4:00 mark). The tune for that song (along with some of the lyrics) comes from this traditional plantation song:

Two little darkies, lyin' in bed,
One was sick and the other 'most dead.
Sent for the doctor, the doctor he said
"Feed them babies on shortnin' bread!"

Mama's little chillun love shortnin', shortnin',
Mama's little chillun love shortnin' bread.

Also, it occurs to me now that a popular preschool song derives from the same place, even though it's usually performed as spoken rhyme rather than a song:
Five little monkeys jumping on the bed,
One fell off an bumped his head.
Mama called the doctor, and the doctor said,
No more monkeys jumping on the bed!

Four little monkeys...

September 10, 2007

That inimitable lesson in elegance   {Comments: 0}

An impressive Oulipian feat, although it doesn't always sound terribly natural:

Cadaeic Cadenza is a 3834-word story by Mike Keith where each word in sequence has the same number of letters as the corresponding digit in pi.
Via Kottke, who else?
Assailed with ordinance violations   {Comments: 2}

Incredibly, my old classmate and occasional co-conspirator Seth Patinkin has a page on Wikipedia. The entry appears to describe his business dealings with more forthright detail than I have ever been able to obtain from him, even though it seems to be self-authored (or at least, that is the conclusion of those calling for the entry's deletion). There is also some discussion of his legal difficulties with the City of Bloomington. Finally, while it does not appear to be there now, there must at one time have been a link to this blog on the page, since I discovered it through my referrer logs. Perhaps someday I will troll the history until I find it, but I doubt I'll have time before the page is deleted. Here's a screenshot of how it looks now.

UPDATE: And now it's gone.

September 9, 2007

Sit back and enjoy your consumer surplus   {Comments: 0}

Tyler Cowen on angry iPhone early adopters.

No more flying coffins   {Comments: 0}

This weekend I did some highway driving, and after reading the bit in this Kottke item about trucking and load-optimization software, I had my eyes on the passing trucks. What really surprised me was how few cab-over-engine trucks ("flying coffins") I saw -- almost everything was the imposing long-nose trucks, usually with sleepers and rounded tops. I assumed that these trucks had replaced the flat-nose cab-over-engine trucks because they are more aerodynamic.

But I was wrong! According to Wikipedia these cabs are less aerodynamic than flat-nose trucks. Cab-over-engine trucks were more common in the US until the 80s, when regulations limiting truck length were loosened.

September 8, 2007

Reflected words can only shiver   {Comments: 2}

What is translation? On a platter
A poet's pale and glaring head,
A parrot's screech, a monkey's chatter,
And profanation of the dead.
The parasites you were so hard on
Are pardoned if I have your pardon,
O Pushkin, for my stratagem.
I traveled down your secret stem,
And reached the root, and fed upon it;
Then, in a language newly learned,
I grew another stalk and turned
Your stanza, patterned on a sonnet,
Into my honest roadside prose --
All thorn, but cousin to your rose.

--Vladimir Nabokov, introducing his translation of Eugene Onegin, 1955

September 7, 2007

Public art   {Comments: 0}

One of my photographs from the visit to Cermak Plaza the other day is on the front of Gapers Block today. The other shots are here.

Pasta with goat cheese and spring vegetables   {Comments: 2}

Barrett was kind enough to post a link here a couple weeks back mentioning a pasta dish I prepared for him and his wife when they were visiting recently, and I've been meaning to post the recipe here. It's a simple dish that we were able to make entirely out of produce from the garden and our vegetable share, but which also recalls for me a memorable spring pasta dish my wife ordered at L'Etoile a couple years ago. As usual Barrett added some interesting elements that I'd like to try at some point -- make sure you check out his recipe here.

3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
3 large cippolini onions, sliced into thin wedges
3 large tomatoes, peeled, cored, and pulsed in the blender a bit
3 medium zucchini and/or summer squash, sliced into thin disks
1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
4 oz fresh goat cheese
a few leaves of basil, shredded
red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper to taste
olive oil
linguine or other pasta

1. After starting your pasta water, saute the vegetables. I do this fairly quickly with this dish because I don't want to lose too much of the crunch. For me the best order is garlic, onion, red bell pepper, zucchini.

2. Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper, and simmer over medium heat. Depending on how watery your tomatoes are, it may take a while to reach an appropriately saucy consistency. When it does, start the pasta.

3. Add the goat cheese and combine with the sauce -- I use the flat side of a silicone spatula for this. It helps if you have a very creamy goat cheese. Add the shredded basil leaves and serve with pasta.

September 6, 2007

The unhappiness of the many Berwynites   {Comments: 3}

Yesterday morning I went over to Cermak Plaza to get one last look at Spindle, the giant car-kebab sculpture of Wayne's World fame. It's scheduled to be torn down later this month because the shopping center is being redeveloped. It's still unclear whether the sculpture will be scrapped or moved down the street -- at a cost of $350,000.

You can read more about Spindle at Wikipedia. There's no entry about Dustin Shuler (the scupltor), but this page gives a sense of what his work is like, and I also took this photo of an informational plaque at the base of the sculpture itself. You can read more about the controversy here and here, and there are pictures from Critical Mass's recent Save the Spindle event here.

It's too bad there isn't any kind of comprehensive resource about Cermak Plaza -- which is home to a lot more public art than just Spindle -- but most of the story is here. It turns out this isn't the first controversy surrounding a sculpture there.

September 5, 2007

Consistently inconsistent   {Comments: 0}

Now Larry Craig is reconsidering his resignation, which should be no surprise, since he also wanted to reconsider his guilty plea. A friend suggested today that they're going to need to hold Congressional consistency hearings. I'm so glad the Democrats have kept mum on this -- obviously it's 1) a personal matter, 2) a story that seems to want to propel itself, and 3) potentially treacherous for would-be attackers -- at least, if you consider Craig's own history of crucifying Clinton.

On a different note Tyler Cowen had an interesting post yesterday about signal conventions for cottaging, and how they might emerge. Of course, the foot has been a phallic symbol going back to the Old Testament.

MORE: Check out Bill Clinton's comments on the story.

We're drowning in quirk   {Comments: 0}

Here:

We're drowning in quirk. It is the ruling sensibility of today's Gen-X indie culture, defined territorially by the gentle ministrations of public radio's This American Life; the strenuously odd (and now canceled) TV sitcom Arrested Development; the movies of Wes Anderson; Dave Eggers's McSweeney's Web site; the performance art, music, and writing of Miranda July; and the just-too-wacky-to-be-fully-believable memoirs of Augusten Burroughs.

It’s been 20 years of beneficent, wide-eyed gazing upon the oddities of our fellow man. David Byrne probably birthed contemporary quirk around 1985 -- halfway between his "Psycho Killer" beginnings with the Talking Heads and his move to global pop -- when he sang the song "Stay Up Late": "Cute, cute, little baby / Little pee-pee, little toes." (As it happens, Byrne appeared on July's recent book tour.) Jon Cryer's "Duckie"; Dale in Pretty in Pink came a year later, and quirk was on its way.

(Shamelessly stolen from MeFi.)
September 4, 2007

This crazy sports town   {Comments: 0}

So Chicago is officially the American bid city for the 2016 Olympics. I don't know what its chances are against Tokyo or Rio, especially given that the latter would be the firsr South American city to host the games. Still, it's fun to think about... Chicago is indeed a great sports town, and it would be nice to get the international attention.

By the way, the article has a quote from Mike Conley Sr. (who's rather upbeat about Chicago's prospects), who is the father of the NBA rookie from Indianapolis who took Ohio State to the NCAA title game last year.

September 3, 2007

Guest blogging   {Comments: 0}

Ana Marie Cox should really join the McLaughlin Group permanently, she was great, and it was kind of shocking to see her debating Pat Buchanan -- or was it more shocking how much they agreed?. I still think this new issue-based formatting they've had on the show lately is a little weird, and I wanted to hear them talk about about Larry Craig, but it was interesting to get McLaughlin's perspective on the blogging revolution. I wonder if they're taping these shows in advance.

Amazingly -- or maybe I should say embarassingly -- the McLaughlin Group is pretty much all I watch on TV these days.

September 2, 2007

Principled differences   {Comments: 0}

A quote from Mark Twain, recently relayed to me by a conservative:

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.
September 1, 2007

Home of the large cone   {Comments: 0}

I've been meaning to blog about Belts' in Stevens Point for a while now. It's basically a soft serve stand, the walk-up kind, and they serve what you'd expect of such a place (but bigger -- their motto, Home of the Large Cone, is an understatement). The twist is that each week they have fresh fruit -- red raspberries, Door County cherries, blackberries, strawberries -- that you can get added to your soft serve for a flurry or a milkshake or a sundae, and they use a lot of fruit. I was overcome with nostalgia while eating the red raspberry flurry, but nostalgia aside it was probably the most delicious thing I've eaten this year. Anyway if you're in central Wisconsin in the summertime, make sure you stop in.