RadioLab Listening Party @ MOS

Last night I attend a special even at the Museum of Science, a listening party for the public radio show RadioLab.  For the uninitiated, RadioLab is a show produced by WNYC in New York that ask questions and tell stories centered on an idea, usually related to science.  If you like This American Life, I’d say RadioLab is even better than This American Life.  If you don’t like This American Life, well RadioLab is still better than This American Life.  If you want to find out for sure you can listen to episodes on the website, download podcasts, or tune into WBUR or WGBH to listen on the radio.

The show is hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, the former of which was on hand last night to greet the chic geeks who gathered together in the museum’s planetarium.  Because that’s how cool this event was, it took place in the planetarium!  Appropriately the episode Space played while the stars danced on the dome above our heads.  At appropriate times photos and images appeared on the planetarium appropriate to the story.  But not too much.  This was time to sit back, reflect on the stars, and ponder the curiosities of space.  I admit there were times I felt weepy, especially about the Challenger disaster.  I also think that it would be cool to get a copy of the Voyager Golden Record.

After the show, Abumrad took questions mainly dealing with the unique sound of RadioLab where voices, music, and sound effects are layered and repeated.  The audience thinks these effects are cool and enhance learning although Abumrad admitted that a lot of people find it annoying.  Then there was a reception in the Blue Wing with chocolate fondue which was so good I went back several times.  I also took a gander at the beautiful & disturbing Manufactured Landscapes exhibit of photographs byEdward Burtynsky.

It was a good night.  It’s great to live in a town with museums, culture, intelligence and events and people that bring them all together.


Book Review: Ulysses by James Joyce

What can I possibly say about Ulysses (1920) by James Joyce in way of review? Here are 18 thoughts, one for each episode.

  1. I can’t believe I finally finished reading Ulysses.
  2. I can’t believe I read Ulysses for fun.
  3. I can’t believe I didn’t read Ulysses in my college English courses.  What cowardice forced my professors to make us read Dubliners over and over again when class room discussions would have made reading Ulysses such a valuable experience?
  4. Ulysses lends itself well to reading online via DailyLit.
  5. It takes a village to read Ulysses.  Here are some resources I referred to guide my way through the book:
      1. Joyce does a spectacular job of drawing in mythology, literature, history, and current events into the storyline of June 16, 1904.
      2. It’s equally amazing how Joyce well-plotted the movements of characters and overlapping plots in that one day in Dublin.
      3. The structure of the book is remarkable – each episode alluding the the Odyssey as well as having symbols, colors, body parts, writing techniques, et al as detailed in the Linati and Gilbert schema.
      4. The experiments in language and writing styles to evoke meaning beyond the plot and dialogue is also impressive even if it makes the book quite complex to read.
      5. Despite all that, I actually think I understood a good portion of the novel.
      6. Which doesn’t mean I shouldn’t read it again some day to gain a richer understanding.
      7. And despite being a “masterpiece of modern literature” and all that, Ulysses is also pretty funny.
      8. I mean there are as many fart and penis jokes in this book as your typical Kevin Smith movie.
      9. Ulysses can also be quite grotesque and disturbing.
      10. But always poetic.
      11. And sometimes quite sexy, although with an earthy realism.
      12. If this is not a good enough review for you, I have also posted my reflections while reading the book:
      13. Next I’ll have to re-try reading Finnegan’s Wake.

      Book Review: The Dark Side of the Diamond by Roger I. Abrams

      The Dark Side of the Diamond (2007) by Roger I. Abrams is the antidote for anyone who looks at the state of our National Pastime and yearns for “the good old days” when baseball and virtue went hand-in-hand.   As Abrams dutifully enumerates, professional baseball in the “bad old days” offers plenty of examples of gambling, game-fixing (commonplace in the era from 1870-1920), abuse of alcohol & recreational drugs, performance-enhancing drugs (Pud Galvin used an extract from animal testicles in 1889), and fisticuffs, racism and other violence on and off the field.  It is to Abrams credit that it is similar in tone to many traditional baseball histories in the reverence toward the game as oppossed to just being a tell-all expose such as Chico Escuela’s fabled memoir Bad Stuff ‘Bout the Mets.   Abrams’ work is the story of baseball with an added emphasis on the warts.  Still I would have liked it more if he could have given a broader context to how these flaws played out in shaping the game.  Abrams is good at making comparisons to American society at large but oddly doesn’t make a case for the game itself being helped or  hindered by the cheating, drunken, violent thugs that played the game.  In the end though Abrams does make a good case for baseball really being representative of America’s greatness and its evils all in one National Pastime.

      Favorite Passage

      “A more complete picture of baseball behaviors can tell us much beyond the heroics of a few fine atheletes.  It can tell us a rich story of a complex continental nation that was founded in liberty for some and slavery for others, that strove to find gold in individual achievement and in coordinated thievery, and that ultimately emerged on he world stage in the twentieth century as a boisterous adolescent convinced of its destiny.  Baseball was our mantra because, in the minds of many, it symbolized a nation where joint effort and individual excellence wer rewarded.  It was also a game where reules were broken unless the umpires saw the transgressions.

      Baseball was designed in the beginning as a pure and healthy exercise and it has provided entertainment to the American public for a century and a half.  Over that expanse of time, the game demonstrated the American character to its multitude of fans.  We hoped that baseball would teach our youngsters about resourcefulness and fortitude, adherence to rules and authority, teamwork and pride. At the same time, however, it taught the next generation about partisan rivalries, violence, disparagement, cheating, and human frailty.  It resonated with the full context of American society, and it has told us much about whom we were and whom we are today, ” – p. 32.

      Author : Abrams, Roger I., 1945-
      Title : The dark side of the diamond : gambling, violence, drugs and alcoholism in the national pastime / Roger I. Abrams.
      Edition : 1st ed.
      Published : Burlington, MA : Rounder Books, c2007.
      Description : vii, 216 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.

      Book Review: The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl

      Long ago when I was in high school I read and enjoyed Shakespeare of London by Marchette Chute, an attempt to reconstruct William Shakespeare’s life and times as a celebrated dramatist.  Thus I was attracted to this similarly themed book The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl.  This book is built upon one scrap of the public record which includes a rare instance of Shakespeare’s signature which is upon a deposition in a court case regarding a bride’s dowry.  That dowry is unpaid by Christopher Mountjoy who with his wife Mary are French immigrants living in London and manufacturing head-dresses for women.  Mountjoy also rents out rooms in his home and thus is Shakespeare’s landlord as Shakespeare takes a room to live in while working in the theaters of London.

      From this court record, Nicholl extrapolates details about Shakespeare’s life in London around the time that he turned forty.  He builds his case on public records, written experiences of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, the plays and poems of Shakespeare himself and lots and lots of speculation.  It is at times fascinating, tantalizing, and just down right irritating, but mostly fascinating.  We learn a lot about what houses were like in the Mountjoy’s Cripplegate neighborhood, the trade of “tire-making”, 17th-century marriage practices, the immigrant experience, and the solitary and bawdy aspects of working in the the theater.  Nicholls also speculates about Shakespeare’s atypical positive view of foriegners in his plays as well as the attention to detail in apparrell that may have been influenced by Shakespeare’s association with the Mountjoys.

      If you’re interested in learning about the life of Shakespeare you’re probably going to be disappointed by this book, but on the other hand you will get a healthy dose of “his times” which is not a bad thing.  Nicholls is both detailed and imaginative and always lively in his writing even at the times where the details may grow tedious.

      Author Nicholl, Charles.
      Title The lodger Shakespeare [sound recording] : his life on Silver Street / Charles Nicholl.
      Publication Info. Old Saybrook, CT : Tantor Audio, 2008.
      Edition Unabridged.
      Description 8 sound discs (9 hrs.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.

      Book Review: Outcasts United by Warren St. John

      Outcasts United (2009) by Warren St. John tells a story about something I never even knew was going on in America today.  Large numbers of refugees from war-torn nations worldwide are relocated to new homes in the US, but instead of blending into immigrant communities in large cities like New York and Los Angeles, they are moved wholesale into small towns, often ones that have hit economic hard times and need an infusion of new residents.  One of these locations is Clarkston, Georgia, a small town near Atlanta that in the last decade has seen an influx of refugees from Liberia, Somalia, Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Congo and dozens of other countries.  St. John paints a surreal portrait of housing projects packed with people of many cultures and languages with virtually no interaction with people born in America.  The long term residents have either moved away or are obstinately trying to reclaim their small-town lifestyle by ostracizing and mocking the refugees, keeping them under police survaillance and restricting where they can go or work.

      Fortunately, for this book to have a shred of hope there are also people who more charitably are working to help the refugees acclimate to life in America and escape from poverty (often brought on by debt for paying one-way fares to the US and exacerbated by cultural and language gaps in finding good work).  One of these people is Luma Mufleh, a woman born in Jordan and educated in Western-style schools.  She studied abroad at Smith College and at the cost of being disowned by her parents chose to remain in America after college for the greater opportunities afforded to women.  She is the creator and coach of the Fugees soccer team which allows the “misfit” boys of Clarkston to come together to share a common bond on the field.  Luma is a strict coach with rules that must be followed by any boy who wants to play on her team.  She kind of reminds me of University of Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summit in that she sounds very harsh but still commands the respect and admiration of her players.  Luma also gets result as her Fugees with very little in the way of equipment, uniforms, and as documented in this book, even trouble getting a decent practice field, still are able to compete with and defeat teams from Atlanta’s wealthy white suburbs.

      The Fugees are in fact three teams – under 13, under 15, and under 17.  The central drama of this book regards the U15 squad which Luma actually dissolves early in the season when too many players refuse to follow the rules like getting haircuts and showing up on time for the bus to a game.   Yet a core group of players are able to convince Luma to reconstitute the team with tryouts for new players even though there’s little chance the team can gain any ground in the standings so far into the season.  The U13 team also shows considerable success in making it to a local tournament.

      This is a well-written book centered on soccer but more about the life of refugee peoples in this small town in Georgia.  It’s quite remarkable and thankfully quite hopeful.  I learned a lot from this book and highly recommend it.

      Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town by Warren St. John. Spiegel & Grau (no date), Hardcover, 320 pages

      Book Review: Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt

      I expected Traffic (2008) by Tom Vanderbilt to be an interesting but it proved to be a fascinating and provocative book about driving.  There’s a lot of stuff here about the assumptions and practices of driving that amazed even me someone who hates driving and obsesses over how dangerous it is.  Vanderbilt surveys the world, history, and numerous studies to evaluate the way humans operate machines at high speeds in a changing environment. Some things learned:

      • every driver has an optimistic bias – thinking they’re above average – and in the worst cases this leads to narcissism and aggressive driving
      • driving is the most dangerous thing most people do on a daily basis
      • sober speeders and cell phone users (even hands free variety) can be as dangerous as drunken drivers but are not restricted, stigmatized or punished in the same way
      • incorrect to refer to auto collisions as “accidents” as if they were out of the driver’s power to prevent.  This is seen in media portrayal of celebrity “accidents” like baseball pitcher Josh Hancock and politician Bill Janklow who were obviously at fault
      • unintentional blindness to things the driver is not looking for, as proved by the famous attention test with the basketball players:
      • there is safety in numbers for pedestrians
      • SUV & pick up truck drivers speed more
      • the Leibowitz Hypothesis that says that human beings are very bad at judging the speed of oncoming objects
      • remote traffic engineers adjust traffic signals and road use on Oscar Night so that 100’s of celebrity-laden limousines arrive on time (I think some gutsy celeb should take the Metro to Hollywood & Highland next time)
      • some Jewish neighborhoods in Los Angeles have “Sabbath Crossing” lights that change automatically for observant pedestrians who cannot push a button
      • roundabouts are safer than traditional intersections, although their perceived danger encourages the more vigilant driving that contributes to their safety
      • on Dagen H in Sweden in 1967, drivers moved from driving on the left to driving on the right: video
      • the more divisions between the “traffic space” and the “social space” in a city the more dangerous it is for everyone
      • there is a linkage between low GDP and traffic fatalities throughout the world although greater corruption also affects traffic safety
      • safety devices on cars have not made in significant impact in reducing traffic fatalities over the past 50 years.  It seems that the greater the sense of “safety” leads to more risky or inattentive driving behaviors although the issues are complex

      I highly recommend that everyone who drives, bikes and/or walks to read or listen to this illuminating book.  It might make you as paranoid about driving as I am, but it also may make you safer.  This book challenges the assumptions we make about driving in the same way The Death and Life of Great American Cities challenges the assumptions of urban planning.

      Author Vanderbilt, Tom. Title Traffic [sound recording] : [why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us)] / by Tom Vanderbilt. Publication Info. Westminster, Md. : Books on Tape, p2008. Edition Unabridged. Description 11 sound discs (ca. 74 min. each) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.

      Book Review: Playing Hard Ball by E.T. Smith

      Fifteen years ago I attended a portion of a cricket cup match in Bermuda and have had a curiosity about the game ever since. Now I’ve discovered a book by a cricketer who loves baseball, a game I understand much better. Playing Hard Ball: County Cricket and Big League Baseball (2003) by professional cricketer E.T. Smith is an amusing and insightful comparison of the national pastimes of England and the United States.  Smith visits New York in 1998 and is swept up in baseball fever and yearns to learn more about the game.  In 2000 he returns to New York to watch the Subway Series rightly supporting the underdog Mets agains the dynastic Yankees.

      The next spring he spends a few days with the Mets at Spring Training.  Some of the more humorous moments of the book are here as Smith takes a few cuts against live pitching and the American ballplayers inevitably refer to him as a cricketeer.  But it also shows that the then Mets manager Bobby Valentine has a sharp mind and actually knows enough about cricket to help Smith with his swing.

      In the next section of the book Smith compares the rising fortune of his own Kent County Cricket Club in 2001 while the Mets collapse and fail to make the postseason that same year.  The highlight of this book is Smith’s reflections on the Mets playing the first game in New York after the September 11th attacks.  The memory of the night made me a little bit weepy as did the part where Smith quotes Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech.  According to Smith, everyone cries at that speech, including himself.

      Other chapters of the book focus on sporting dynasties, statistics, and sports literature -which Smith believes is vastly superior in the US than in England, at least prior to Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch.  Smith is less flattering on a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame and the ideas of baseball as representing national character.  Yet he balances this with equal bunk stated about cricket.  In the end he concludes, baseball and cricket are great games but have no inherent morality or character other than what people bring to it.  Smith also observes about how much more international cricket is compared to baseball although this was written before the coming of Ichiro and Japan’s back-to-back victories in the World Baseball Classic.

      This is a good, fun book for sports fans and those who are interested in cultural exchange.  I can’t say that I’ve learned much about cricket though as those passages are written for an English audience leaving me completely befuddled.

      Favorite Passage

      It is a surprising comparison.  America, which so values individuality and self-expression, has produced sports which are massively reliant on the intervention of coaches and managers, and a culture which demands players to adhere to their demands.  But in England, and in English-invented games worldwide, the players have hung on to more of their self-determination.

      Authors: Smith, E. T. (Ed T.), 1977-
      Title: Playing hard ball / E.T. Smith.
      Published: London : Abacus, 2003.
      Description: viii, 213 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. ; 20 cm.
      Notes: Originally published: London : Little, Brown, 2002.
      ISBN: 0349116660 (pbk.)
      9780349116662 (pbk.)

      Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, part VII – Film Edition

      One would think that Ulysses, a novel which is remarkable for it’s experiments with language and writing styles as well as the interior dimensions of its characters far more than plot, would be unfilmable.  Yet I found two different movies that attempt to take Ulysses on, and having read the book I decided to watch the movies.

      Ulysses (1967)

      This black and white film takes a cinéma vérité approach to adapting the novel to screen.  Although Joyce set Ulysses on a specific day in 1904, all the costumes, sets and scenery are contemporary Dublin lending a swinging sixties vibe.  It makes for some odd juxtapositions such as the Republic of Ireland emblems in the courtroom scene and the appearance of British soldiers on the streets of post-colonial Dublin.  It’s pretty spectacular though that many scenes are on location in the places where Joyce set them.  The first half of the film feels like Cliffs Notes as episodes that took me weeks to read fly by in just a few conversations and monologues.  The second half of the film takes on “Circe” (as bizarre on screen as in the book), skips “Eumaeus” entirely, the actors portraying Bloom & Stephen pantomime in “Ithaca” as disembodied narrators read the catechism, and finally Molly Bloom monologues from bed over flashbacks and daydreams.  A couple of cool film effects include wind blowing in the door of the newsroom in the “Aeolus” scene and Bloom striking the poses of various Dublin statues and landmarks during the New Bloomusalem sequence.

      Bloom (2003)

      This more recent adaptation is more faithful to the costume and setting of 1904 Dublin but less faithful to the book. One good thing the filmmakers did here is to split Molly’s monologue so that half of it is at the start of the movie creating a provocative framing device.  Angeline Ball puts in a great performance as Molly – bawdy, sexy, yet sympathetic.  She doesn’t make the mistake of being overly reverent toward Joyce’s dialogue.  Stephen Rea, an actor I like, seems miscast as Bloom.  I thought Milo O’Shea put in a more versatile performance in Ulysses.  I think Bloom is even more guilty of the Cliffs Notes effects and tries to make things too pretty at times where they should be grotesgue or gritty.  The music is also pretty inappropriate.  I think they’d been better off to go with period music to match the period costumes and scenery.

      Overall I wouldn’t say either of the movies is bad.  They’re entertaining and offers some interesting insights into the novel.  Still, with all the condensing necessary to make an adaptation its impossible not to lose a lot of subtlety and import of the novel.  Perhaps some daring filmmaker should make a 24-part series with each episode based on one hour in Bloomsday.  For an innovative and experimental novel  it would also be nice to see some innovative and experimental film-making.  Ulysses is better than Bloom in this regard, but they’re both fairly pedestrian.  If you’re going to watch just one of these movies get Ulysses.

      James Joyce Ramble

      This morning my son Peter & I went to watch the James Joyce Ramble 10 K road race in Dedham, MA.  I’m not much for spectating road races in general but this perked my interest because:

      1. I’ve been meaning to visit the town of Dedham for some time.
      2. The website for the James Joyce Ramble said there would be performers reading from Joyce’s works along the route.
      3. I just finished reading Ulysses.
      4. And, most importantly, we really needed to get out of the house.

      We took the bus from Forest Hills right into Dedham Square.  Soon after our arrival a parade of antique cars passed by on Washington Street, destination unknown because I never saw them again.  We had a good breakfast at the bagel shop on the corner of Washington & High.  Then the runners started coming down the street.  We followed for a bit and saw the landmarks of Dedham.  It’s really a charming town, at least the area around Dedham Square.  Down by Dedham Mall its more suburban dystopia, but I liked the old New England village feel of the town proper.

      All in all it was a good event.  Peter enjoyed running around.  The performers reading Joyce in early 20th-century costumes is a nice touch, albeit they’re hard to hear.  And those bagels are really tasty, I need to go back to that shop

      Walk for Hunger 2009

      It’s time again for one of my favorite events of the year, Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger. I’ll be walking with my wife Susan and son Peter.  At least one of us has participated every year since 2004.  This year will be the first time all three of us will walk together as family.  It is important to us to remember the many people who are suffering from the lack of food including families like our own with young children.

      Having a child makes us realize how
      important good nutrition is for the development of children like Peter. With the cost of food rising, it is getting harder and harder for low-income parents to buy good food for the kids.  Hunger affects children’s physical and mental development and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.  We believe that no child or adult deserves to go hungry.

      As a result of the global economic crisis more and more people are unable to make ends meet. They are forced to go without food in order to pay their rent, utility, and medical bills. The demand for emergency food has never been greater with pantries and meal programs supported by Project Bread serving 43.4 million meals last year alone.

      Here are the ways you can help:

      • Go to the Project Bread Walk for Hunger website and sponsor us for the Walk.  Donations in any amount small or large are welcome.  Together we can make a difference.
      • If you live in the Boston area, register to walk or volunteer.  If you’re already signed up, let us know as we’d love to see you on May 3rd.
      • We always welcome good thoughts, prayers, and moral support in addition to or in lieu of donations.

      Project Bread helps by using the funds raised in the Walk for Hunger to support 400 emergency food programs across the state.  These include some of favorite places to volunteer like:

      • Haley House which provides meals daily to homeless men and the elderly as well as a bakery training program to promote self-sufficiency for underemployed people with barriers to employment.
      • Wednesday Night Supper Club where a hot and nutritious meal is served once a week to guests with respect anddignity.
      • Greater Boston Food Bank where food discarded by supermarkets is salvaged for stocking food pantries.

      We hope you can support our fund raising and walking efforts in any way you can.

      Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, part VI

      Thoughts on the final three sections of Ulysses.


      Much of this section takes place in a cabman’s shelter which seems to be like a late-night pub.  There are shadowy figures and impostors there including the sailor “Murphy.”  Bloom has paternal feelings about Stephen, wanting to strengthen their relationship but also thinks of ways to profit off Stephen’s vocal talent.  According to Harry Blamires in The New Bloomsday Book:

      In short, there is no coming together here; no meeting of the minds; only a collision between the socialisitic, materialistic, liberal, twentieth-century mind, pinning its faith to the collective and to the assumed capacity of man to build his own Bloomusalem — and the rebellious guilt-ridden, individualistic inheritor of Christian culture who has lost his illusions along withi his faith. – p. 198

      At one point Bloom looks at the newspaper and it is a reflection of many thing that happen in the novel: the horse race won by Throwaway, Dignam’s funeral (Bloom’s name mispelled), and the letter from Mr. Deasy.  The style of writing is deliberately poor as if written sluggishly late at night (much like this blog).  There are also pretentious passages in foreign languages and a mysterious run of numbers that not even Blamires explains.

      The conflict between Ireland & England is a topic in the cabman’s shelter with the proprieter rumored to be one of the Invincibles of the Phoenix Park murders.  Bloom keeps to himself that he thinks Ireland benefits from its association with England.  Still he proudly remembers meeting Parnell and recovering the great man’s hat.
      (NOTE: This episode takes place in part of Dublin I stayed in 1998).

      From inside information extending over a series of years Mr Bloom was rather inclined to poohpooh the suggestion as egregious balderdash for, pending that consummation devoutly to be or not to be wished for, he was fully cognisant of the fact that their neighbours across the channel, unless they were much bigger fools than he took them for, rather concealed their strength than the opposite. It was quite on a par with the quixotic idea in certain quarters that in a hundred million years the coal seam of the sister island would be played out and if, as time went on, that turned out to be how the cat jumped all he could personally say on the matter was that as a host of contingencies, equally relevant to the issue, might occur ere then it was highly advisable in the interim to try to make the most of both countries even though poles apart.

      All kinds of Utopian plans were flashing through his (B’s) busy brain, education (the genuine article), literature, journalism, prize titbits, up to date billing, concert tours in English watering resorts packed with hydros and seaside theatres, turning money away, duets in Italian with the accent perfectly true to nature and a quantity of other things, no necessity, of course, to tell the world and his wife from the housetops about it, and a slice of luck. An opening was all was wanted. Because he more than suspected he had his father’s voice to bank his hopes on which it was quite on the cards he had so it would be just as well, by the way no harm, to trail the conversation in the direction of that particular red herring just to.


      Bloom & Dedalus take cocoa at Bloom’s house.  All of this chapter is written in the form of a catechism with mock scientific/philosophical language.  Thus the part of the book where the reader expects a climax where the two heroes come together is deliberately distanced and obfuscated by a flurry of excess detail.  Much of it reads like this:

      What, reduced to their simplest reciprocal form, were Bloom’s thoughts about Stephen’s thoughts about Bloom and about Stephen’s thoughts about Bloom’s thoughts about Stephen?

      He thought that he thought that he was a jew whereas he knew that he knew that he knew that he was not.

      There are some nice things in this episode nonetheless as Stephen and Bloom compare the Hebrew and Irish languages and then go out for a shared piss in the garden.  Here they look at the stars studying the constellations upon which Bloom reflects with scientific precision.  I can’t help but think of the original Odyseus who would use the stars to navigate as well as see the pantheon of Gods in the constellations.  Despite their failure to truly connect, Bloom & Stephen see something complementary in one another:

      What was Stephen’s auditive sensation?

      He heard in a profound ancient male unfamiliar melody the accumulation of the past.

      What was Bloom’s visual sensation?

      To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be first, last, only and alone whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity.

      He saw in a quick young male familiar form the predestination of a future.

      Bloom, alone, reflects on death, reviews his daily accounts and daydreams of a home in the country and a petit bourgeouis life.  The contents of Bloom’s bookcases and desk are itemized. This includes Bloom’s father’s suicide  note.  He thinks about Molly and Boylan and assumes that Boylan is the latest in numerous affairs, but Bloom himself always is the last:

      If he had smiled why would he have smiled?

      To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be first, last, only and alone whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity.

      Finally, he climbs into bed, head to toe with Molly, kissing her on the bottom and reflecting on the day leaving out some salient details.


      This is Molly Bloom’s episode, a long stream-of-consciousness monologue with no punctuation.  Blamires says that it’s written in eight sentences, but I didn’t really see any breaks.  Molly is an earthy and frank woman especially when it comes to sex.  Yet, despite Bloom’s assumptions of her infidelity Boylan is actually her first affair and she only feels driven to it because Bloom has abstained from sex since their son Rudy died ten years earlier:

      Im not an old shrivelled hag before my time living with him so cold never embracing me except sometimes when hes asleep the wrong end of me not knowing I suppose who he has any man thatd kiss a womans bottom Id throw my hat at him after that hed kiss anything unnatural where we havent I atom of any kind of expression in us all of us the same 2 lumps of lard before ever Id do that to a man pfooh the dirty brutes the mere thought is enough I kiss the feet of you senorita theres some sense in that didnt he kiss our halldoor yes he did what a madman nobody understands his cracked ideas but me still of course a woman wants to be embraced 20 times a day almost to make her look young no matter by who so long as to be in love or loved by somebody

      Yet, Molly is still fond of Bloom and there are many memories of their better times together mixed in with her other reflections on the day past and her life growing up in Gibraltar.  At one point Molly mentions she’d like to collect a book of the eccentric things Bloom says:

      if I only could remember the I half of the things and write a book out of it the works of Master Poldy

      The book concludes with the famous if ambigous final line where Molly remembers the day Bloom proposed to her.  It’s a positive and joyful finale nonetheless.

      Beer Review: Abita Turbodog

      Beer: Abita Turbodog
      Brewer: Abita Brewing Company
      Source:  Draught
      Rating: ** (6 of 10)
      Comments: A dark ale from Lousiana, Abita Turbodog pours out with a big-bubbled head that quickly vanishes.  The beer has a sweet caramel scent and a slight chocolate porter flavor.  The tastes isn’t that strong though, which makes it a bit disappointing as it is rather bland.

      Beer Review: Stella Artois

      Beer: Stella Artois
      Brewer: Stella Artois
      Source:  Draught
      Rating: * (5.5 of 10)
      Comments: Belgium’s most popular export is light colored and effervescent with a nice fluffy head that quickly vanishes and doesn’t leave behind much lace.  The taste has hints of lemons and smells kind of skunky.  The beer is refreshing and not offensive but not too exciting either.  Okay for a lager, but not a great example of Belgian brewing excellence.

      Beer Review: Presidente

      Beer: Presidente Imported Beer
      Brewer: Cerveceria Nacional Dominicana
      Source:  12 oz. bottle
      Rating: No stars (4.5 of 10)
      Comments:  A lager from the Dominican Republic.  Just the type of beer that you’d expect to drink on a hot day at the beach.  Pale, weak, and not to exciting but okay if you’re not too discerning in what you quaff to cool off.

      Book Review: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

      Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003) is a memoir about life and Iran and reading English language books by  Azar Nafisi.  My alumni chapter book club selected this book appropriately about a book club Nafisi started to read Western literature with young women she had taught at the university in Tehran.  The book is divided into four sections loosely draping Nafisi’s story over the works of four authors:  Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the works of Henry James (particularly Daisy Miller), and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The first section focuses mainly on the reading group and the conversations therein, while the reamaining three sections are more of a straight-forward memoir.  Nafisi is educated in America (in Oklahoma, no less, which she makes sound like a hotbed of Iranian revolutionaries), returns to teach in Tehran right at the time of the revolution, loses her positions due to her liberal ways, returns to teaching (albeit compromising some of her principles), and then starts the reading group.  Finally, Nafisi departs Iran for good for the United States where she teaches and writes to this day.

      This is horribly judgmental of me, especially to say of someone who lived under a totalitarian regime, but I found that Nafisi comes across as whiny, at least in the first chapter.  Marjane Satrapi (who is roughly the age of one of Nafisi’s “girls”) writes much more eloquently about the Iranian Revolution and the oppression of the Islamic regime, especially for women. The discussion of the books and life issues by the women of the reading group is supposed to be central to this work, but I never get the sense of individuality of the women in the group as if they’re only there to fill a role for Nafisi’s thesis. I warmed up to this book in the second section when Nafisi’s class puts the novel The Great Gatsby on trial, a clever way of discussing the book and the clash of cultures of the students in reading it.  Nafisi is at her best when discussing the books and I found her observations quite illuminating.  Especially for Lolita which I read many years ago but didn’t really follow it all to well.  I think Nafisi must be an excellent teacher and her passion for the novels comes across well in this work.  Ultimately this is a pretty good book, especially for its literary sections as well as a glimpse into life in modern Iran.

      Favorite Passages

      In class, we were discussing the concept of the villain in the novel.  I had mentioned that Humbert was a villain because he lacked curiousity about other poeple and their lives, even about the person he loved most, Lolita.  Humbert, like most dictators, was interested only in his own vision of other people.  He had created the Lolita he desired, and would not budge from that image.  I reminded them of Humbert’s statement that he wished to stop time and keep Lolita forever on “an islnd of entranced time,” a task undertaken only by Gods and poets. – p. 48-49

      The worst crime committed by totalitarian mind-sets is that they force their citizens, including their victims, to become complicit in their crimes. – p. 76

      This respect for others, empathy, lies at the heart of the novel.  It is the quality that links Austen to Flaubert and James to Nabakov and Bellow.  This, I believe, is how the villain in modern fiction is born: a creature without compassion, without empathy.  The personalized version of good and evil usurps and individualizes the more archetypal concepts, such as courage or heroism, that shaped the epic or romance.  A hero becomes one who safeguards his or her individual integrity at almost any cost. – p. 224

      Authors: Nafisi, Azar.
      Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books / Azar Nafisi.
      Edition: 1st ed.
      Published: New York : Random House, c2003.
      Description: 347 p. ; 22 cm.

      Book Review: Founding Faith by Steven Waldman

      Founding Faith (2008) by Steven Waldman examines claims made in today’s “culture wars” regarding the religious beliefs and intentions of America’s Founding Fathers.  Did the Founding Fathers create the United States as a Christian nation with religion a core value in government as today’s Christian conservatives claim?  Or were the Founding Fathers really Deists and secular humanists who set up a solid wall between church and state as liberal commentators believe?  Both sides cherry pick quotes to back up their arguments and in a sense both are correct.  And both are wrong.

      Waldman conducts an illuminating historical survey of the so-called Founding Fathers and their views on church and state. Waldman focuses on five particular leaders of the Revolutionary and early Federal era: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.  Turns out that the Founding Fathers didn’t agree with one another and like many of us their views changed over the course of their lives.  All of them were spiritual and to a certain extent Christian (although none of them to the strict standards of today’s Christian evangelicals) and believed religion was important to the morality of a society.  All believed that religious freedom from government was a boon to religion and worked to protect religious expression.

      Sometimes what they prohibited for the Federal government was acceptable for state governments.   Politics also played a role in that a strict seperationist like Madison would have to <gasp> make accomodations in legaslation to appeal a wider political spectrum even when it went against his political ideas.  Turns out that what the Founding Fathers said about religion and government was often deliberately vague because they hadn’t figured it out themselves.  What may matter more to us today is what we believe about church and state and not expecting to find cut & dry answers in the words of the Founding Fathers.

      I really enjoyed this book and found it a good analysis of complex and nuanced issues.  It’s great that Waldman can go beyond myth-busting and side-taking to create a great historical and biographical work of religious issues in our nation.

      Recommended reading to go with this book: The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

      Favorite Passages

      Careening through Adam’s contradictor writings on religion, we are reminded that just because the man was great does not mean he was coherent.  He thought Christianity perfect, except for many of its most important teachings.  He loved his Puritan ancestors except for their core beliefs.  He hated religions’ tendency to squelch rational though but admired its effectiveness at instilling morality.  The Founding Fathers were brilliant but, like all mortals, changed over time, and Adams in particular had no shyness about expressing his views in certain terms, even as he was still figuring them out.  Some of Adam’s views, however, only seem contradictory when seen through the prism of our current beliefs.  His contempt for hypocritical clergy was not a sign of secularism; his belief in an omnipotent God was not a sign of evangelism.  It’s just the way militant Unitarians were back then. – p. 38

      Was Washington a “good Christian”?  By the defintion of Christianity offered by contemporary liberal Christians, he would pass muster.  He believed in God, attended church, endorsed the golden rule, and valued the behavioral benefits of religion.  More conservative Christians, however, generally believe that being a good Christian means accepting Jesus Christ as personal savior and the Bible as God’s revelation.  By those standards — those of twenty-first-century conservative evangelical Christianity — Washington was not a Christian.  – p. 59-60

      This idea — that freedom comes from God — was the foundation for a new American conception of rights.  If rights resulted from a social compact — a practical way of allowing for mutual survival — then they certainly could by altered by the majority when it seemed practical or convenient.  If they came from God, however, they were immutable and inviolate, whether you were in the majority or not.  This had particularly important implications for wrestling with how to define and protect religious liberty.  Toleration assumed that the state was generously choosing to do the tolerating.  As Thomas Paine put it later, “Toleration is not the opposite of intolerance but the counterfeit of it.  Both are despotisms: the one assumes to itself the right of witholding liberty of conscience, the other of granting it.” A God-given right is something quite different. – p. 92-93

      Thus, many conservatives have it backward.  In effect, the conservative accomodationists say that while Congress cannot set up an official state religion, anything else is fair game, since nothing else is prohibited.  Madision wanted us to think of it the other way around: Just because Congress is explicitly forbidden from doing one thing (establishing a national religion), that doesn’t mean that everything else is acceptable.  Madison wanted the opposite assumption — that any actions no mentioned and specifically sanctioned are prohibited.  This concept doesn’t apply just to restrictions on religion but to help for religion, too.  If Congress wasn’t explicitly granted power to aid religion, then it cannot.  Congress is not allowed to interfere, restrict, establish, discourage, or encourage religion.  In Madison’s mind, Congress had one simple assignment when it came to religion: Stay away.  – p. 154

      Madison’s most important isnight was that it would lead to a distrust of religion.  It would be assumed, Madison suggested, that the invocation of religion by a politician was, well, political.  He and his Baptist allies would be mystified by the assumption that being pro-seperation means being anti-God.  How on earth does it follow that if you treasure religion, you’d want government touching it?  Church and state, when married, bring out the worst in each other, Madison would say.  If God is powerful, he does not need the support of the Treasury.

      Indeed, to equate support for religion in the public square with love God is not only an insult to those God-fearing people on the other side of the debate, but also expresses a profound lack of confidence in God and a disconcerting shallowness of personal faith. – p. 201.

      Authors: Waldman, Steven.
      Title: Founding faith : providence, politics, and the birth of religious freedom in America / Steven Waldman.
      Edition: 1st ed.
      Published: New York : Random House, c2008.
      Description: xvi, 277 p. ; 25 cm.

      Beer Review: Southern Tier Raspberry Porter

      Beer: Raspberry Porter
      Brewer: Southern Tier Brewing Company
      Source:  Draught
      Rating: * (5.9 of 10)
      Comments:  As the name implies this is a raspberry beer, the aroma and taste are overwhelming.  There’s also a chocolaty flavor  under the raspberry.  And it’s a porter that pours out in a rosy copper-black.  I like raspberry, I like chocolate, and I like porter so this beer gets point for all those things.  On the other hand though, it fails to go beyond the novelty to approach a complex, satisfying beer.

      Beer Review: Boddington’s Pub Ale

      Beer: Boddington’s Pub Ale
      Brewer:  InBev
      Source:  Draught
      Rating: ** (6.3 of 10)
      Comments: A golden bubbly beer with a thick creamy head. I detected a scent of melon and despite being a bitter this beer tasted malty and mellow.  In fact, I thought it tasted rather like a lager  instead of an ale.  The head sustains while drinking, leaving a lot of lacing on the glass.  Not bad.  Very smooth if not too exciting.

      Time Begins … and I almost missed it

      One of the best observed … but not official … national holidays occurred this week, and I almost neglected to write about it.  I refer of course to my annual post waxing rhapsodic about Opening Day in Major League Baseball.  It’s a day of hope and possibility, and since my two favorite teams won yesterday and today, hope flourishes.  Since rain delayed Opening Day at Fenway until today I can also be excused for my delay.

      I’m not one for hot stove league discussion, and Spring Training barely excites me, so opening day kind of snuck up on me.  I do feel ashamed that I didn’t watch a single of the World Baseball Classic because I really enjoyed the premiere edition of that international competition back in 2006.  I guess there are many things that kept me away from making dates with MLB TV on my computer.  But not any more.  I expect that my teams will be in the playoffs this fall and I will watch how they get there over the next months.

      Here are my 2009 season predictions or as they should be more properly termed, wild guesses.  One need only look at my 2008 predictions to see that my magic ball is broken.  I only was correct for two of the division champions (although two other teams I picked made it in as wild card winners) and I confidently stated that the Detroit Tigers would be World Series Champions.  If only.

      New York Chicago Los Angeles
      Philadelphia (WC) Milwaukee San Francisco
      Florida Cincinnati Colorado
      Atlanta St. Louis Arizona
      Washington Houston San Diego
      * Pittsburgh
      Boston Minnesota Los Angeles of Anaheim
      Tampa Bay (WC) Cleveland Oakland
      New York Chicago Texas
      Toronto Detroit Seattle
      Baltimore Kansas City

      NL Division Series:  Cubs defeat Phillies, Mets defeat Los Angeles

      AL Division Series: Angels defeat Rays, Red Sox defeat Twins

      NL Championship Series: Mets defeat Cubs

      AL Championship Series: Angels defeat Red Sox

      World Series:  Mets defeat Angels

      Play Ball!