Craziness in Cambridge


A few years ago as a I pedaled to work on my daily sojourn to work I would make a mental note of some of the more egregious behavior of my fellow cyclists and motorists on the road. I would award them the “Bad Bicyclist of the Day Award” or the “Dangerous Driver Du Jour Award”. If I’d had a blog back then I’d probably have posted the awards for all to see. These days I don’t see so much bad behavior either because people are becoming better cyclists & drivers (unlikely) or I’m just inured to such atrocities. Today I witnessed something that must be shared that must have caught my attention because it did not involve a bike nor car, but it happened on the road.

Let me preface this by stating that I have a fairly strict ethic of observing all the rules of the road when riding my bike. This includes stopping for red lights and remaining stopped until they turn green. I amazed by the number of cyclists who’ve told me proudly, even boastfully, that they never stop for red lights. This to me just defies all logic. I’m sure these same people would never purposefully run a red light while driving a car. Yet should a car with right of way come along the red-light running car has the option of braking hard, speeding up to get out of the way, and if worse comes to worse the frame of the car may protect you in the impact. A bicyclist braking hard will fall in front of a moving car (I’ve seen this happen), cannot outrace a car and does not have much protection from impact. Additionally, the oncoming drivers probably won’t even see you until it’s too late, so they will not be attempting to avert an accident. So you can see why I cannot understand why so many cyclists willingly risk their lives like this.

Anyhow, I was slowing down for a red light in Cambridge this morning, and alongside me came a man on a scooter (not a Vespa, but similar). He did not stop, nor even slow down but speed right under the red light and made a left turn. Seconds later, while I was pondering the gall of this, along came a jogger running down the street. Now you may have seen runners who run on the side of the road when the sidewalk is crowded or obstructed, but this man was running down the center of the street along the double line. He also, literally, ran through the red light. That cars with right of way were turning in the intersection didn’t seem to perturb him, he just ran right alongside them and made the drivers change their course.

When it comes to the roads in the Boston area, I can never say I’ve seen it all.

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I’m not sure if I count


According to Outsidein.com and reported on Boston.com, Boston is the bloggiest city in the US. I’m not sure if this includes the metro area or just Boston proper. If the latter, I don’t count because I don’t live in the city of Boston (yet).

I think it would be cool if the features of social networking tools like Facebook that allow you to see what other people are doing could be integrated with weblogs.  Then you could customize your own mega-blog that shows all the posts by bloggers in your neighborhood or from all your friends’ blogs.  I mean this more than just a feed reader like Bloglines, put a personalized, multi-author blog that automatically republishes from multiple sources on one page.  Then you could have the option of allowing your customized mega-blog viewable by others. Perhaps you could even make an uber-blog of all the blogs in Boston which may be fun to watch for a while to see all the posts popping-up in real time.  It would be an interesting way of getting a cross-section of a community

There would be some things to consider before this could be operable. First, should people have to opt-in before their content is republished on another site?  This is already an issue that I expect will remain contentious in online communities.  The other issue is how to bring together content from various different platforms that people use to blog and present it an effective and appealing manner.

I wouldn’t be surprised if something like this doesn’t already exist, or is at least in the works.

Simpsonized


Everyone’s doing it, so why not me.

Here’s my Springfield counterpart:

I just didn’t look right without a chin, so I added a chin, but it looks more like a goiter. I’m not sure which looks worse.

Any how you can try this cheezy, fast-food chain commercial tie-in at Simpsonize Me.

Burning of the Ursuline Convent In Charlestown


Today is the anniversary of a rather ignominious date in Boston.  An anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant mob vented their rage by burning down and Ursuline convent that stood on Ploughed Hill in Charlestown.  Today the hill’s been torn down and the site of the convent is now within the boundaries of Somerville near the site of the East Somerville branch of the public library.  One of the things that fascinates me about this story is that the ruins of the convent remained on the hill for decades after its destruction as if to reproach those who burned it.  For more about the burning of the Charlestown convent I recommend reading  Fire and Roses by Nancy Lusignan Schultz, an excellent history of this event.

Book Review: Severance by Robert Olen Butler


This odd little book is more a collection of thoughts than stories.  Severance by Robert Olen Butler is inspired by two quotes:

After careful study and due deliberation it is my opinion the head remains conscious for one minute and a half after decapitation.

– Dr. Dassy D’Estaing, 1883

In a heightened state of emotion, we speak at the rate of 160 words per minute.

– Dr. Emily Reasoner, A Sourcebook of Speech, 1975

Putting 2 + 2 together, Butler concluded that a severed head would be able to speak (or think) 240 words before expiring.  Thus explains this collection of 62 pieces about what goes through the mind of a severed head.  Each story is exactly 240 words long.  The heads are historical (John the Baptist, Walter Raleigh, Nicole Brown Simpson),  fictional (Medusa, the Dragon slayed by St.  George) and fanciful (a prehistoric man, a chicken, and the author himself).  Over history people are beheaded by angry kings (Henry VIII) and angry mobs (the French Revolution) as well as by murders and in horrible accidents.  The thought are often not about the beheading, but focus on a vital moment in the life of that person as the author imagines it.  The text is written in a primal stream of consciousness, all one sentence no  periods.   I don’t know who all the characters are, but in some ways the people I know nothing about are all the more fascinating to read about in just 240 of heightened speech.

It’s an interesting concept for a book and it works, although I suspect that Butler takes a lot of liberties with the personal histories of the actual people included in his books.  This is especially a concern for those who may still have family alive like Brown Simpson or a woman killed in the World Trade Center attacks (the latter includes a bad pun about Paul Anka singing “Put Your Head on My Shoulder”).  Barring squeamishness though, this book is an intriguing examination of humanity in extreme situations.

Clare


St. Clare of Assisi

In a very powerful scene in Roberto Rosellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis, Clare comes to visit Francis and all the friars are filled with joy about the meeting of these two living saints. It’s a scene in which two people who love each very much come together in the serenity and joy of the greater Love of God that brought them together and changed their lives.  This was my introduction to Saint Clare of Assisi and one that’s stuck with me over the past couple of years as I’ve learned more about this remarkable woman.

Just as it was portrayed in the movie, Clare was a lifelong friend and spiritual guide for Francis, and in many ways they were brother and sister.  With Francis she is the co-founder of the Franciscan movement and would be the first woman to write a Rule for religious women that would be the basis of the order now known as the Poor Clares.

Her spiritual transformation began in her youth when during a time of war she spent time with other women as penitents in Perugia.  Many of the women she knew from this period would later join her order, including her mother and sisters.  Later she would return to Assisi where she would hear Francis preach and through his inspiration would chose to give her life to poverty for God.  At the age of 15 she refused a prosperous marriage and at 18 she ran away from her wealthy home and family to give herself over to the spiritual life. Francis himself helped by cutting her hair and introducing her to a religious order where she traded fine gowns for rough robes of a sister.  Her father and brother were furious and tried to force her back home, but she clung to the rails of the altar in the chapel.

While Francis traveled great distances to spread the Gospel message, Clare never went far from the convent of San Damiano in Assisi for the remainder of her life.  Her relatively sedentary existence would not hinder her influence.  As mentioned above, women flocked to her to join the Poor Clare’s order.    By Francis’ command she became abbess at the age of 21 and remained so until her death.  Yet all the sisters were considered of equal rank and made decisions affecting their lives together.  Instead, Clare lead by the example of her virtue in a live focused on austerity and gospel poverty.  Many men came to consult her as well, including cardinals and even Popes.  Clare also correspond with people such as Agnes of Prague, the Queen of Bohemia who would take vows as a Poor Clare under the inspiration of Clare’s writing.

After Francis’ death Clare would take the lead in persevering on the way of Francis when other Franciscans wished to relax the Rule. Many people of the world and even church leaders thought the life of the Poor Clare’s to be too strict, and Clare had to negotiate up until the day before she died until she received official approval from the Pope for her Rule.

Clare is an inspiration in how she chose poverty in order to become close, her example of leadership, and her steadfast devotion to Christ and the Franciscan movement she helped found.

More information about Clare of Assisi:

Book Review: The Architecture of Happiness


The Architecture of Happiness (2006) by Alain de Botton is as much a philosophy book as it is a treatise on architecture. Instead of the who, what and how, this book explores the rarely asked why of architecture. In a short, lyrical work that is a delight to read, de Botton questions why some types of building make us happy, what buildings say to us, what ideals and virtues are put forward by architecture, and the hardest question of all, what is a beautiful building.

This is a difficult book to summarize, or at least to do it in a way that does it justice. So I’m just going to share a few of my favorite passages to give you a taste of what I liked in this book. I’ll also mention that this book is richly illustrated with images of exactly what de Botton is discussing, almost always on the same page with the relevant text which is a logical improvement over how many art and architecture books often do not include relevant illustration or bury it several pages away.

Favorite Passages

Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better or for worse, different people in different places — and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be. – p. 13

At its most genuine, the architectural impulse seems connected to a longing for communication and commemoration, a longing to declare ourselves to the world through a register other than words, through the language of objects, colours and bricks: an ambition to let others know who we are — and, in the process, to remind ourselves. – p. 126

While a common reaction to seeing a thing of beauty is to want to buy it, our real desire may be not so much to own what find beautiful as to lay permanent claim to the inner qualities it embodies.

Owning such an object may help us realise our ambition of absorbing the virtues to which it alludes, but we ought not presume that those virtues will automatically or effortlessly begin to rub off on us through tenure. Endeavouring to purchase something we think beautiful may in fact be the most unimaginative way of dealing with the longing it excites in us, just as trying to sleep with someone may be the bluntest response to a feeling of love.

What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty. – p. 150-52

When buildings talk, it is never with a single voice. Buildings are choirs rather than soloists; they possess a multiple nature from which arise opportunities for beautiful consonance as well as dissension and discord. -p. 217

Book Review: 1776 by David McCullough


This week I listened to another good book while performing mundane tasks at work: 1776 (2005) by David McCullough.  Since the book was read by the author in his commanding baritone, it was a bit like having a Ken Burns’ film in my ears.

The book named for the most famous year in American history is strictly a military history.  The Continental Congress is barely mentioned and the civilian experience doesn’t appear at all except where it interacts with the military.  Views from both the American and British sides are presented, and while strategy is explained, McCullough wisely avoids dwelling on those tedious parts and focuses strongly on the human element.

The star of this book is of course General George Washington.  His character and leadership is given a lot of credit in keeping together the Continental Army and thus the chances of the Revolution.  Less famed, but given their due are Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox, two New Englanders selected by Washington who prove to be wise and able leaders in their own right.  On the British side, Commander-in-Chief William Howe is given a lot of insight as well as his second in command Henry Clinton.  Towards the end of the book (and the year) Lord Cornwallis is given greater attention as he begins to play a greater role in the war, something McCullough presents as a good move by the British.

In near-cinematic description, McCullough breaks the year 1776 into three parts.  First, the siege of Boston, where the Continental Army by the brilliant stroke of fortifying Dorchester Heights with cannon from For Ticonderoga are able to force the British to evacuate.  McCullough provides evidence that this is paradoxically both more humiliating than the British are willing to let on, yet also not as great a victory as the Continentals contend.  In the second section of the book, the various battles of the New York campaign are explored.  Starting with the dramatic arrivals of ships in the British Fleet in New York Harbor and then the battles of Long Island, White Plains, Fort Washington, and Fort Lee.  Washington tactical mistakes almost lose the war, yet a brilliant retreat of the main army and failure of the British to pursue them into New Jersey save the Revolution once again.  The finale of the book is Washington’s sneak attack on Trenton and victory at Princeton which prove to both tactical victories and necessary morale boosters.

I’m a history geek and particularly like colonial and revolutionary history, so none of this was new to me.  I enjoy McCullough’s lively writing (reading) style and how he focuses in on making it all a clear, concise and interesting story.

Views on Immigration


The debate over immigration is a major topic this summer.  I’ve been collecting articles about immigration the past couple of months and here are some of the many views expressed on the issue.

Previous post on this issue.

A Legal and Economical View: Why restrict immigration at all? By Becky Akers and Donald J. Boudreaux
Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 2007

As technology and globalization continue shrinking the world, people and ideas move more quickly and freely. Political borders become increasingly irrelevant. But that’s fine because the qualities that define Americans don’t depend on geography. Rather, it’s their history of liberty, pluck, ingenuity, optimism, and the pursuit of happiness. Culture is a matter of mind and spirit. Why entrust it to politicians, border guards, and green cards?

The ideal immigration policy for this smaller world would harmonize with both the Constitution and common decency. It wouldn’t deny anyone the inalienable right to come and go.

A Catholic View: A Catholic View on Immigration Policy By Steve Bogner
Catholicism, holiness, and spirituality, June 12, 2007

The Catholic Bishops do not condone unlawful entry or circumventions of our nation’s immigration laws. The bishops believe that reforms are necessary in order for our nation’s immigration system to respond to the realities of separated families and labor demands that compel people to immigrate to the United States, whether in an authorized or unauthorized fashion.

Our nation’s economy demands foreign labor, yet there are insufficient visas to meet this demand. Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents face interminable separations, sometimes of twenty years or longer, due to backlogs of available visas. U.S. immigration laws and policies need to be updated to reflect these realties.

A Political View: Why the Immigration Bill Died in the Senate — and Will Keep Dying By Joshua Holland
AlterNet, June 12, 2007.

The compromise’s unexpectedly swift destruction reveals a little-discussed aspect of the immigration debate today: It is not an epic battle between America’s two major parties, and it’s not a grand clash of political ideologies. It is a debate between a supermajority of pragmatic Americans in both parties who favor a comprehensive approach to immigration control, and a small but extremely loud group of immigration hardliners who want a predominantly punitive approach to the issue — with a focus on “enforcement” first and foremost — and have proven that they will do whatever they can to obstruct any bill that allows undocumented workers who meet certain conditions to come out of the shadows.

A Long View: Immigration: The Long View By Larry James
Larry James’ Urban Daily, June 12, 2007

The compromise’s unexpectedly swift destruction reveals a little-discussed aspect of the immigration debate today: It is not an epic battle between America’s two major parties, and it’s not a grand clash of political ideologies. It is a debate between a supermajority of pragmatic Americans in both parties who favor a comprehensive approach to immigration control, and a small but extremely loud group of immigration hardliners who want a predominantly punitive approach to the issue — with a focus on “enforcement” first and foremost — and have proven that they will do whatever they can to obstruct any bill that allows undocumented workers who meet certain conditions to come out of the shadows.

A Film View: Immigration’s beauty, and brutality By Wesley Morris
Boston Globe, June 15, 2007

A Biblical View: Immigrants and the Hebrew Bible By Larry James
Larry James’ Urban Daily, June 17, 2007

“The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

A Local View: Immigration debate reaches Somerville By George P. Hasset
Somerville News, July 6, 2007

Curtatone said he continues to stand by the resolution he proposed last year and that the documentation status of Somerville residents is not something city departments should be concerned with.

“I’m not going to break the trust we have built up with the immigrant community to enforce the misguided policies of the federal government,” he said.

View from the Sanctuary: Illegal immigrants find refuge in holy places by Emily Bazar
USA Today, July 9, 2007

Hundreds of immigrants have sought help from the church movement recently, but congregations typically give sanctuary only to those who fit a profile. They seek immigrants facing deportation who have children, parents or other close relatives in the USA legally, to emphasize immigration laws’ impact on families. Such immigrants must be willing to speak publicly to draw attention to the cause.

So far, eight immigrants across the nation are getting financial, legal and other help from the movement. Four of them, including Liliana and Jose, are staying in church buildings. Most speak to reporters on the condition their last names not be publicized, for fear their families would be harassed.

Sanctuary can take various forms. Congregations supply lawyers or medical care, provide financial assistance or offer moral support at immigration hearings. Immigrants who seek shelter – not all want it, and not all congregations involved can provide it – never leave church grounds.

Church leaders usually make a three-month sanctuary pledge to the immigrants but acknowledge it may last much longer. The immigrants say they will remain cloistered until their legal cases are resolved or until Congress approves a plan to help lead to their legalization.

A Library’s View: VA Counties Target Illegal Immigrants; Libraries May Be Put in a Bind by Jennifer Pinkowski
Library Journal, July 31, 2007

Asking librarians to deny services based on immigration status violates the American Library Association (ALA) Bill of Rights, ALA president Loriene Roy reminded Library Journal. Most U.S. libraries include the guidelines in staff or policy literature (as does Prince William County; LJ was unable to confirm by press time whether Loudoun does). Article V states, “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.” In January, the ALA Council also passed the Resolution in Support of Immigrant Rights, which declares the organization’s opposition to legislation that seeks to limit anyone’s access to libraries, regardless of citizenship status.

A Day Laborers’ View: Laborers lining up on Mass. streets: Worker markets spread to East By Maria Sacchetti
Boston Globe, August 4, 2007

The attorney general’s office said all workers, even those here illegally, are entitled to wages if they work. The office does not question workers’ legal status if they complain.

Union officials and immigration-control activists have called on state and federal officials to crack down on unscrupulous employers. In February, Governor Deval Patrick said state contractors who hire immigrants here illegally will lose their contracts and face fines.

Tim Sullivan, a spokesman for the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, said the day-labor stands may have contributed to a spike in injuries among immigrant laborers. He said cash-only jobs deprive the state of millions in tax revenue and workers of health coverage and other benefits.

“It continues to feed an underground economy where everybody has to play by these race-to-the-bottom rules,” Sullivan said. “It’s really not good for anybody except for people who are worried about their bottom line.”

That’s it for now, but I’ll probably be adding more in comments as they come up.

Richard Harris Film Festival


I’ve been a fan of the Irish actor Richard Harris (1930-2002) ever since I so him perform as King Arthur in Camelot (1982), a film of a stage performance show on TV when I was a kid (not to be confused with the 1967 film in which Harris also stars that is not as good). When he died in 2002, I was annoyed that the remembrances of his life focused on his role as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films, pretty much ignoring the rest of his career. Yet, I’m also guilty as I’ve not seen to many Richard Harris films. With the help of the Minuteman Library Network, I addressed this wrong by watching the following three Richard Harris movies on DVD.

This Sporting Life (1963)

A stark film from the British social realism features Harris as tough and ambitious professional rugby player Frank Machin. While successful on the rugby pitch, he meets greater resistance trying to woo his widowed landlady Margaret Hammond (Rachel Roberts). Skipping back and forth through time we learn that Frank is generous and playful with Margaret’s children but also prone to violent outbursts which make Margaret rightfully wary, although we also learn that they are involved sexually. None of this ends very well for anyone, and the filmmakers capture every grim detail from punches in the face, trash blowing down the street of a North England town, and nuclear power plants looming over the rugby stadium. This is not a movie to watch when you’re down, and not easy to watch under any conditions, but there is some damn fine acting by Harris and Roberts. The on-the-field rugby scenes are also brilliantly filmed.

A Man Called Horse (1970)

Harris portrays a British aristocat John Morgan on a hunting safari in the American West who is captured by a Sioux and is taunted with the derogatory nickname of Horse. Biding his time until he can make his escape, Morgan ingratiates himself with the Sioux by killing warriors from a competing tribe and taking their horses. He undergoes graphically depicted initiation rights and takes a wife and soon becomes a respected leader of the tribe, no longer desiring to escape but fully integrating into their lifestyle.

In the movies about Indians continuum, this movie stands as a hinge between the “only good Indian is a dead Indian” movies that preceded it (and to which it superficially resembles) and the later overly-sentimentalized portrayals of Indians like in Dances With Wolves (which is also a similar story). The filmmakers obviously made a great effort to accurately portray the language, clothing, and culture of the Sioux, although they sometimes were wide off the mark. The film is also very much a product of it’s times. Harris’ sideburns make him look like he’s in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band, the Indian maidens all have hair like Jeanne Shrimpton back in 1965, and the warrior initiation rites are psychedelic trip, man!

All in all this is a good, but not great movie.

The Field (1990)

I’ve learned that Richard Harris films are not easy to watch, and this one is particularly harrowing. Set in Leenane, Ireland between the wars and based on a play by John B. Keane, I first learned of this film on a coach tour through Connemara. Our cheerful guide never mentioned the gruesome murder that takes place by the falls he pointed out as one of the film locations. The story is about an imposing, bully of a man “Bull” McCabe, but still much respected in the village, who lovingly tends to farming a field he rents from a neighboring widow. Unbeknown to Bull, his ne’er-do-will son joins with the village idiot in tormenting the widow in hopes of getting her land and thus impressing his father. The widow instead decides to sell the land at auction and while no one in the village will bid against Bull, she makes special conditions that help favor a wealthy American stranger. This leads to a clash which brings the whole village to turmoil, uncovers buried secrets, and leads to murder and madness. Very King Lear-ish actually. A powerful film that is beautiful to watch for its scenery if you can stand grim reality long enough.


Future installments of the Richard Harris Film Festival will include The Molly Maguires (1970) (which I saw about 10 years ago but don’t remember well) and Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993).

Book Review: Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return


Marjane Satrapi returns with another harrowing, introspective, and funny graphic memoir in Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (2004). Picking up where Persepolis left off, one can forget any preconceived notions of the difficulties of adolescence. Sure Marji is facing mood swings, sudden changes in her body and unpopularity among her peers. She’s also coming-of-age in a foreign country and she’s all on her own. Her family is still in Iran in the midst of a bloody war and repressive regime.

Sent to live in Austria, she soon finds herself unwelcome at the home of relatives and in a convent where she was sent. So she finds a room to rent and begins study at a French Lycee. At school she befriends a group of punks and anarchists but never fits in even with these marginals. She slowly descends into loneliness, depression, drug abuse, and life on the streets of Vienna.

And so she returns home to her family and friends in Iran. Of course this is not the expected panacea as people of Iran have been living with war, repression and martyrdom. Marji has difficulty relating her own troubles in such context, and yet they are still vividly real to her. Always the rebellious youth, and even more reckless due to learning Western ways, she mouths off to authority but manages to scrape by without punishment. Her life becomes one of study by day and illegal parties by night. Despite the obstacles she is able to attend university for art studies and marry the man of her choice, although neither work out as well as she hopes. At the end, after her divorce and realizing once again that there’s very little opportunity in Iran, Marji leaves Iran once again.

Book Review: Michael Tolliver Lives


This is “my favorite book series” week.  Armistead Maupin returns to familiar ground with Michael Tolliver Lives (2007), catching up with the characters from his Tales of the City series.  The differences here are that while Tales centered around Mary Ann Singleton — starting with her arrival in San Francisco and ending with her departure for New York — this book is about the character Maupin himself identifies with most, Michael “Mouse” Tolliver.   While the earlier series is addressed by an omniscient narrator, this new volume is written in first person by Michael Tolliver himself.

The basic premise of the book is that 20 years ago when the series ended one could reasonably assume that Michael Tolliver’s days were numbered because he was HIV+.  Yet, in real life many people who were sick and dying found their lives extended by the drug cocktails that debuted in the 1990’s.  And so it is with Michael, who is not only alive and well but facing middle age and the prospect of dying from old age.  He keeps in touch with his youth through Ben, 21 years younger, but fully in love and devoted to Michael.  In fact they married at San Francisco’s City Hall.  At the other extreme, Michael needs to deal with the mortality of his conservative Christian mother in Florida and his former landlady and mentor Anna Madrigal.  Much of the story involves the choices Michael must make between the biological and the logical family.  Readers get to meet Michael’s extended family for the first time, and Maupin captures them in a nuanced, non-stereotypical way while at the same time not making excuses for them.

The book lacks the juice provided by the omniscient narrator in Tales of the City books as well as the quick and witty, almost script-like dialog.   On the other hand, Michael Tolliver Lives benefits from not being as over the top and ridiculous as those books could be, creating a quieter, more introspective novel.  All the surviving characters from Tales of the City — Anna, Brian, and Mary Ann — put in an appearance and do so in a logical plot-friendly manner.  New characters such as Ben, Brian’s daughter Shawna (a baby in Tales), and Jake add a “life goes on” element and new ways to explore the human character of San Francisco (oddly the city’s presence is not as strong as in the other books).

For Tales of the City fans this is a must-read, and for anyone else it’s worth checking out.   I’ve read all of Maupin’s books including Maybe the Moon and The Night Listener, but he’s best when writing about old friends.

Book Review: First Among Sequels


Thursday Next, the heroine of my favorite series of books by Welsh author Jasper Fforde is back in First Among Sequels (2007), the fifth in the series.  The story picks up 14 years after the end of Something’s Rotten and Spec-Op’s has been shut down by the bureaucracy so Thursday and her colleagues run it themselves with a carpet store as a front.  Meanwhile, reading rates are dropping precipitously (something unusual in the literature-obsessed Nextian universe) and the BookWorld is ready to take on ill-advised measures to try to combat it.  As usual, the world also faces an existence-ending catastrophe and Thursday’s teenage son Friday who should be in the ChronoGuard seems to think he can save the world by sleeping in.   The biggest challenge of all are two new cadets she must train for Jurisfiction and they’re both herself, or fictional variations thereof.  Thursday1-4 is a violent, sex-crazed action hero version of Thursday Next from a highly inaccurate fictional version of Thursday’s life.  Reacting to the real Thursday’s complaints, but overcompensating, Thursday5 is more compassionate but also a dopey, New Age stereotype.

This book starts kind of slow, and since it seems to be trying to appeal to people who’ve never read a Thursday Next book it spends a lot of time recapping.  But once it gets going, it goes to very clever, imaginative, and funny lengths.  I particularly like where Thursday gets stuck in a moral dilemma.  The book introduces a lot of loose ends and ends with a cliffhanger.  This is supposed to be the start of the second four-book saga, so I expect it to lead to to good things.

Feast of the Transfiguration


Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, based on a story related in all the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Luke, and Mark. Jesus climbs Mount Tabor with Peter, John, and James to pray. While there he is transfigured, his face and appearance change, and Moses and Elijah appear to be speaking with him. This leads to the best part in which Peter, who is always so good at not getting (and thus a good representative for all us humans) wakes up and sees this happening.

Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.

This is Camping with Jesus, as Susan describes it. Of course, as much as I love outdoors activity and feel the presence of Christ in a tent on a mountain, this story is actually about the Resurrection. A sneak preview, you could call it, presented to an exclusive audience. This is a moment of revelation, of the Glory of Christ, in which God the Father says “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” And so we do on this feast day which is one of my favorites as we do every day.

More on the Transfiguration of the Lord from one of my favorite theological thinkers (or as they say in Ireland “teological tinkers”) Baptized Pagan who posted about this last year. Father Lasch and Saint of the Day also offer insights on the scriptures and the feast.

Hyperactive Hyperlinks


Here’s another post that’s nothing more than a collection of links, many of them silly, the majority introduced to me by Metafilter.

Abandoned But Not Forgotten is a collection of photos of abandoned, historical, and unusual locations from around the world. Beware of the slow loading vintage web design (somewhat apropos to the topic actually) but it’s worth slogging through to see the cool photos.

PCWorld collects The Strangest Sights in Google Earth, which of course is the same as our own planet earth but frozen in time and shared with everyone who lives here. Again, be wary of some crummy web design.

A clever video in which two young men celebrate the city that rocks: Colonial Williamsburg. Funny in that they don’t openly mock CW but let the incongruities of music and images speak for themselves.

PinchHitter 2 is a frustrating and addictive baseball game that will take you from the sandlot to the majors.

If you like ugly, but tasty, fruit and vegetables, you’ll enjoy the stark images of the mutatocollection. The oddity here is that many of these are actually naturally grown vegetables as opposed to the genetic mutations that pass as “perfect.”

Is the world of Gil Thorp in the Matrix? Could explain the oddities of that comic strip. I particularly like Clambake as Morpheus.

From world travelers, a collection of 20 funny signs from around the world. Reminds me of a sign I saw in Ireland near a cliff’s edge showing a car flying over a cliff. The Irish are not subtle.

Finally, a demographic study of Pluggers and They’ll Do It Every Time, a scientific analysis of the two head scratching, anachronistic comics drawn on suggestions mailed in by readers.

While I’m posting links, I may as well introduce some recent additions to the blogroll:

  • Bringing Home the Word: Exploring the Bible Through the Catholic Lectionary – Fairly self-explanatory title, good reading for lectors like myself.
  • Digital Campus – A biweekly discussion of how digital media and technology are affecting learning, teaching, and scholarship at colleges, universities, libraries, and museums. This is actually a podcast, but they post links relating to the topics discussed on the show.
  • Francesco Explains It All – Blog by the creator of Sally Forth.
  • History Conversations – An occasional dialogue with historians and history lovers about their interests, their ideas, and their lives in history. A podcast from the creator of Found History.
  • lower east side librarian – A personal/professional library blog by a librarian who is interested in/expect to write about zines and alternative press publications in libraries, library activism, open source technology applications and culture, and lolcats.
  • Ms. Magazine – More than a magazine, a movement. More of a feed than a blog.
  • Nobody Loves Rusty – A tribute/mockery blog for Mark Trail.
  • Paste Magazine – Updates on signs of life in music, film, and culture.
  • pazonada – A spiff local photo blog.
  • Pitchfork Media – New music reviews to help me feel old.
  • separated by a common language – Observations on British and American English by an American linguist in the UK.
  • Stat of the Day – This and that about baseball stats. From the people who brought you Baseball Reference.
  • Uncontrolled Vocabulary – A live discussion of news, trends and topics in librarianship. Another cool podcast that’s like The McLaughlin Group, but with Librarians. Useful links posted on the blog after the show.

You may also notice on the sidebar that I’ve added links to my new Library Thing profile and catalog.  I should be adding books over time.

On Facebook Now


I’m pretending to be a young, connected hipster by participating in Facebook. I’ve added a WordPress application in hopes of drawing more attention to Panorama of the Mountains. The application also allows me to make posts to WordPress from within Facebook for whatever reason. So I’m trying it out.

Anyhow, I still don’t really know what Facebook actually does but I find it strangely compelling and addictive.

Finally!


Some news that acknowledges that the internet is not death to libraries as we know it!

Good Circulation by Eric Moskovitz, Boston Globe, July 29, 2007.

Library directors remember the talk, not long ago, of technology rendering libraries obsolete. But statistics show that the opposite has occurred.

Over the past decade, library circulation has climbed, driven partly by demand for audiovisual materials and enabled by the Internet, which has allowed patrons to easily scan catalogs from home and request interlibrary loans with a few mouse clicks.

Lots of good stuff about Interlibrary Loan in this article, a service I provide at my academic library where I work and use often at my public library through the Minuteman Library Network. There’s also a place to leave comments about your public library, so if you have something good to say, get to it!

Edward Hopper at the MFA


Tonight Susan and I visited the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for the Edward Hopper exhibition. It was a good retrospective of the 20th Century artist known for iconic works such as Nighthawks. Oddly, the Nighthawks on display must have been a knockoff because it didn’t have James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis in it. Seriously though, I love going the MFA exhibitions (except for the crowds) because I always learn a lot about the art by seeing it in context. I learned that Edward Hopper creates art that evokes solitude and melancholy and is a little bit pervy (after all he’s always peeking in windows at naked women).

The exhibition groups artworks together by themes such as place (Gloucester, Maine, New York City, and Truro), period (early and late works), and one room with three iconic paintings (the above-mentioned Nighthawks, New York Movie, and Office at Night). All his work evokes a very down to earth, day to day life that other people overlook and artists rarely deign to paint. A trolley turnaround where nothing is happening and no trolleys can be seen, people sitting alone in rooms, empty windows in empty buildings. While Hopper’s art is always representational, sometimes it’s abstract without being abstract. The last work on display for example is Sun in an Empty Room. Is it sun shining on bare walls and floors broom swept and ready for a new tenant or is it just a grouping of geometric shapes of different shades and colors?

The exhibit had some interesting quotes from and about Hopper. About his motivation for creating art, Hopper said “All I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.” About Gloucester, he stated “When everyone else would be painting ships and the waterfront, I’d just go around looking at houses.” Guy Pené du Bois commented about Hopper’s New York works that “His New York City is one that people with their restless need for change have overlooked.” The text in the Icons gallery notes that the scenes in the paintings seem to be from a story yet Hopper provides no details. “He does not tell stories, he provides moments within them.”

My favorite works from the exhibition:

Apartment Houses, 1923: Looking out a window, in a window, and then through another window at more windows. Rigid rectangular shapes are broken up only by a voluptuos maid and an overstuffed chair.

The Hill, 1926: In Gloucester, Hopper doesn’t paint pretty beaches or boats. In this painting he doesn’t even really paint houses but paints the street as a void between them. In the distance there is no scenic vista, just a tangle of telephone poles and rooftops.

The Mansard Roof, 1923: Reminds of a hotel in Newburyport. The fluid painting makes it look like the house is dancing in the breeze.

Freight Cars, Gloucester, 1928: Seaside New England has never looked more like the Heartland than it does here.

From Williamsburg Bridge, 1928: As a kid I enjoyed going up on the big bridges in New York and watching as the rooftops dropped away and vanished. Sometimes I’d see people in those buildings and wonder what it was like to live by the bridge. This painting brings me back to that part of my childhood.

Room in Brooklyn, 1932: This work is in the MFA general collection and I’ve loved it since I first saw it. No work better captures loneliness in a city teeming with millions of people.

Automat, 1927: It’s late at night and this woman has had a bad night. It’s cold out so she hasn’t taken off her coat and only takes of one glove to hold her coffee cup. Maybe there’s a draft coming in the door. It looks like a Degas or a Renoir, but it’s also undeniably New York.

New York Movie, 1939: I like how the pretty usher in her high heels is daydreaming off to the side while the movie plays. The text in the exhibition suggested she has to come up with her own fantasies since she’s seen the ones on the screen too many times.

Summertime, 1943: The sassy redhead in the sheer white dress is read to head out on the town. And do what?
Sun in an Empty Room, 1963: Reminds me of that moment when I’ve packed up everything and put it in the moving van and take one last look at the place I’ve lived.

The exhibition continues until August 19th, so go see it if you can. We realized that many of the art works don’t reproduce well on postcards so it’s good to see them in person.