(Roughly) Daily

“The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit … a mobility of illusory forms immobilised in space”…

 

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Three months ago, I was a normal person. Now all I think about 24-7 is the dinkus. Did you know that dinkuses is an anagram of unkissed? I did. For the uninitiated, the dinkus is a line of three asterisks (* * *) used as a section break in a text. It’s the flatlining of an asterism (⁂), which in literature is a pyramid of three asterisks and in astronomy is a cluster of stars.

The dinkus has none of the asterism’s linguistic association with the cosmos, but that’s why I love it. Due to its proximity to the word dingus, which means, to define one ridiculous word with another, “doodad,” dinkus likely evolved from the Dutch and German ding, meaning “thing.” To the less continental ear, dinkus sounds slightly dirty, and I can confirm that it’s brought serious academics to giggles.

For me, a writer and reader, its crumbiness is its appeal. I need some crumbs to lure me down the page…

Daisy Alioto‘s “Ode to the Dinkus.”

* James Joyce, Ulysses

***

As we separate our sections, we might recall that it was on this date in 1248 that The University of Oxford received its Royal Charter from King Henry III.   While it has no known date of foundation, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s second-oldest university in continuous operation (after the University of Bologna).

The university operates the world’s oldest university museum, as well as the largest university press in the world, and the largest academic library system in Britain.  Oxford has educated many notable alumni, including 29 Nobel laureates, 27 prime ministers of the United Kingdom, and many heads of state and government around the world.  Sixty-nine Nobel Prize winners, 4 Fields Medalists, and 6 Turing Award winners have studied, worked, or held visiting fellowships at Oxford.

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Written by LW

June 20, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”*…

Kobe sliders: “I’m waiting to see the end of the Kobe slider. I’d be really happy to see that gone. The Kobe slider is an indication of a douche economy that’s threatening to me personally. It’s like bottle service at the nightclub; it’s a societal ill. It’s a clear example of nothing being added to the slider experience by using Kobe beef other than the price. No one who orders a Kobe slider wants the unctuous, fatty experience of ordering a Kobe steak. What they want is bragging rights in front of their princes of douchedom around them so they can all high five. It’s part of the ‘bro’ culture I find troubling.”

Fond remembrance…  one of twenty provocative peeves at “Here’s an abbreviated list of everything that Anthony Bourdain hates.”

* Anthony Bourdain

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As we prepare for the ride, we might pause to think some celebratory thoughts:  today is Juneteenth.

Though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on September 22, 1862 (effective January 1, 1863), word was slow to spread.  On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger, who’d arrived  in Galveston, Texas, with 2,000 federal troops  to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves, read “General Order No. 3” from a local balcony:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Former slaves in Galveston celebrated in the streets; Juneteenth observances began across Texas the following year– and are now recognized as State Holidays by 41 states.

Ashton Villa in Glaveston, from whose front balcony the Emancipation Proclamation was read on June 19, 1865 (source)

 Juneteenth celebration in Austin, c.1900 (source)

Juneteenth has become a popular time for family reunions and gatherings. As with most social events, food takes center stage. Juneteenth is often commemorated by barbecues and the traditional drink – Strawberry Soda – and dessert – Strawberry Pie. Other red foods such as red rice (rice with tomatoes), watermelon and red velvet cake are also popular.  The red foods commemorate the blood that was spilled during the days of slavery.

Written by LW

June 19, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I’m living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart”*…

 

The U.S. national debt is once again raising alarm bells. Federal borrowing from outside investors expanded rapidly over the past decade, totaling more than $15 trillion in 2018, and it is projected to grow even faster over the next ten years under current law. Major budget legislation signed by President Donald J. Trump, along with continued growth in entitlements and higher interest rates, will see the debt nearly double by 2028 [PDF], coming close to the size of the entire U.S. economy.

If the debt continues to grow at an unsustainable level, it could expose the country to a number of dangers, economists say. In the extreme, the risk rises that Washington’s lenders, many of whom are foreign, could suddenly lose confidence, demand higher interest rates, and potentially trigger a fiscal crisis. Short of that, the rising debt could gradually squeeze discretionary spending and deny the country tools it needs for security and economic stability. Bringing the debt into check, experts say, will likely require politically difficult decisions to either curb entitlement spending, significantly raise taxes, or both…

A backgrounder from the Council on Foreign Relations: “The National Debt Dilemma.”

It should be noted that there are those who disagree with CFR (and the many others) who see the need to bring the deficit into balance via reduced spending and/or higher taxes: “The Radical Theory That the Government Has Unlimited Money.”

* e e cummings

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As we parse “prudence,” we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to Franco Modigliani; he was born on this date in 1918.  An economist, he originated the life-cycle hypothesis, which attempts to explain the level of saving in the economy, suggesting that consumers aim for a stable level of consumption throughout their  lifetime (for example by saving during their working years and then spending during their retirement)– for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1985.

Among his other accomplishments, he initiated the Monetary/Fiscal Debate when he (and co-author Albert Ando) wrote a scathing critique of an early 1960s paper by Milton Friedman and David Meiselman.  Freidman and Meiselman had argued (in effect) that monetary policy was the only effective tool in managing an economy; Modigliani and Ando pointed out flaws in their analysis and made the case for fiscal measures (effectively, government spending) as equally-effective tools.  The debate– known by the antagonists’ initials as the AM/FM Debate– rages to this day.

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Written by LW

June 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Imagination, like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity”*…

 

Some essays are letters into the future. “The Prevention of Literature” is one such essay, and today I’d like to respond to it from 2018.

Orwell argues that totalitarianism makes literature impossible. By literature, he means all kinds of writing in prose, from imaginative fiction to political journalism; he suggests that verse might slip through the cracks. He writes, too, that there is such a thing as “groups of people who have adopted a totalitarian outlook”—single-truth communities of sorts, not just totalitarian regimes or entire countries. These are deadly to literature as well.

Orwell was writing in 1946, five or seven years before scholarly works by Hannah Arendt, on the one hand, and Karl Friedrich, on the other, provided the definitions of totalitarianism that are still in use today. Orwell’s own “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” which provides the visceral understanding of totalitarianism that we still conjure up today, was a couple of years away. Orwell was in the process of imagining totalitarianism—he had, of course, never lived in a totalitarian society.

He imagined two major traits of totalitarian societies: one is lying, and the other is what he called schizophrenia. He wrote, “The organized lying practiced by totalitarian states is not, as it is sometimes claimed, a temporary expedient of the same nature as military deception. It is something integral to totalitarianism, something that would still continue even if concentration camps and secret police forces had ceased to be necessary.” The lying entailed constantly rewriting the past to accommodate the present. “This kind of thing happens everywhere,” he wrote, “but is clearly likelier to lead to outright falsification in societies where only one opinion is permissible at any given moment. Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth.”

He goes on to imagine that “a totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist.”

Orwell was right. The totalitarian regime rests on lies because they are lies. The subject of the totalitarian regime must accept them not as truth—must not, in fact, believe them—but accept them both as lies and as the only available reality. She must believe nothing. Just as Orwell predicted, over time the totalitarian regime destroys the very concept, the very possibility of truth. Hannah Arendt identified this as one of the effects of totalitarian propaganda: it makes everything conceivable because “nothing is true.”

As for what he called “schizophrenia,” this, too, has been borne out. In 1989, as the longest-running totalitarian experiment in the world, the U.S.S.R., neared what then appeared to have been its demise, a great sociologist named Yuri Levada and his team undertook a large study of Soviet society. He concluded that the Soviet person’s very self-concept depended on a constant negotiation of mutually exclusive perceptions: the Soviet person identified strongly with the great Soviet state and its grand experiment, and yet felt himself to be insignificant; he worshipped at the altar of modernity and progress, and yet lived in conditions of enforced poverty, often deprived of modern conveniences that even the poor in the West had come to take for granted; he believed in egalitarianism and resented evident inequality, yet accepted the extreme hierarchical order and rigid class structure of Soviet society. To live in his world—simply to function day to day, balancing between contradictory perceptions—the Soviet person had to engage in constant negotiations. In “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Orwell predicted this negotiation, and named it doublethink. You will recall that “even to understand the word doublethink involved the use of doublethink.” Doublethink destroyed the mind and crushed the soul, and yet it was essential for survival. It killed as it saved, and that, too, is doublethink.

But perhaps Orwell’s most valuable observation in this essay concerns instability. “What is new in totalitarianism,” he wrote, “is that its doctrines are not only unchallengeable but also unstable. They have to be accepted on the pain of damnation, but on the other hand, they are always liable to be altered on a moment’s notice.” Orwell had observed the disfavor and disappearance of prominent Bolsheviks and the resulting adjustments to the official narratives of the Revolution—the endlessly changing and vanishing commissars. Arendt argued that the instability was, in fact, the point and purpose of the purges: the power of the regime depended not so much on eliminating particular men at particular moments but on the ability to eliminate any man at any moment. Survival depended on one’s sensitivity to the ever-changing stories and one’s ability to mold oneself to them.

But why, exactly, did Orwell think all this was so destructive to literature?…

The marvelous Masha Gessen explains in her important essay (adapted from a lecture delivered in Barcelona at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona on June 6, 2018, in honor of Orwell Day), “George Orwell predicted the challenge of writing today.

C.f. also Cass Sunstein’s piece in the current issue of The New York Review of Books, “It Can Happen Here.”

* George Orwell

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As we say no to non-sense, we might recall that it was on this date in 1885 that “Liberty Enlightening the World”– a symbol of anti-totalitarian democracy and a token of friendship from the French to the U.S. that is better known these day as the “Statue of Liberty”– entered New York Harbor.  Encased in more than 200 crates, the statue was reassembled, placed on its pedestal on (what was then known as) Bedloe’s Island, then dedicated by President Grover Cleveland in October, 1886.

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Written by LW

June 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Classics are books which, the more we think we know them through hearsay, the more original, unexpected, and innovative we find them when we actually read them”*…

 

Highly efficient summaries from Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read but Probably Didn’t by John Atkinson. Not recommended for use in study…

More samples at: “Literary classics retold as two-panel comics

* Italo Calvino

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As we ponder the précis, we might recall that today– and every June 16– is Bloomsday.  a commemoration and celebration of the life of Irish writer James Joyce, during which the events of his novel Ulysses (which is set on 16 June 1904) are relived: Leopold Bloom goes about Dublin, James Joyce’s immortalization of his first outing with Nora Barnacle, the woman who would eventually become his wife.

The first Bloomsday was observed on the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel, in 1954, when John Ryan (artist, critic, publican and founder of Envoy magazine) and the novelist Brian O’Nolan organized what was to be a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route. They were joined by Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Tom Joyce (a dentist who, as Joyce’s cousin, represented the family interest), and AJ Leventhal (a lecturer in French at Trinity College, Dublin).

The crew for the first Bloomsday excursion

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Written by LW

June 16, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The city’s full of people who you just see around”*…

 

An archaeologist’s reconstruction of Dvin, one of the most ancient settlements of the Armenian Highland and an ancient capital of Armenia [source], and modern day New York City [source]

Much of the history of the city—its built forms and its politics, the urban experience, and the characteristic moral ambivalence that cities arouse—can be written as a tension between the visible and the invisible. What and who gets seen? By whom? Who interprets the city’s meaning? What should remain unseen?

Rulers of cities have always had an interest in visibility, both in representing their power and in controlling people by seeing them. The earliest cities emerged out of the symbiosis of religion and political power, and the temple and the citadel gave early urbanism its most visible elements…

Warren Breckman‘s  fascinating history of the city as a place to see and be seen: “A Matter of Optics.”

* Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

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As we wonder, with Juvenal (and Alan Moore), who watches the watchmen, we might recall that it was on this date in 1752 that Benjamin Franklin and his son tested the relationship between electricity and lightning by flying a kite in a thunder storm.  Franklin was attempting a (safer) variation on a set of French investigations about which he’d read.  The French had connected lightning rods to a Leyden jar, but one of their experiments electrocuted the investigator.  Franklin– who may have been a wastrel, but was no fool– used a kite; the increased height/distance from the strike reduces the risk of electrocution.  (But it doesn’t eliminate it: Franklin’s experiment is now illegal in many states.)

In fact, (other) French experiments had successfully demonstrated the electrical properties of lightning a month before; but word had not yet reached Philadelphia.

The Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing created this vignette (c. 1860), which was used on the $10 National Bank Note from the 1860s to 1890s

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Written by LW

June 15, 2018 at 1:10 am

“A recipe is a story that ends with a good meal”*…

 

A recursive recipe is one where ingredients in the recipe can be replaced by another recipe. The more ingredients you replace, the more that the recipe is made truly from scratch

Dive into some of your favorites (like chocolate chip cookies, above; larger images on the site)– fractal fun at “Recursive Recipes“!

* Frank Conroy

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As we noodle on “natural,” we might send tasty birthday greetings to Nathan Handwerker; he was born on this date in 1892.  In 1916, with $300 borrowed from friends, he and his wife Ida started a hot dog stand on Coney Island– and launched what evolved into Nathan’s Famous restaurants and the related Nathan’s retail product line.

An emigrant from Eastern Europe, Handwerker found a job slicing bread rolls for Feltman’s German Gardens, a Coney Island restaurant that sold franks (hot dogs) for 10 cents each.  Encouraged by a singing waiter there and his piano player– Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante– Handwerker struck out on his own, selling his hot dogs (spiced with Ida’s secret recipe) for a nickel.  At the outset of his new venture, he reputedly hired young men to wear white coats with stethoscopes around their necks to stand near his carts and eat his hot dogs, giving the impression of purity and cleanliness.

Handwerker named his previously unnamed hot dog stand Nathan’s Hot Dogs in 1921 after Sophie Tucker, then a singer at the nearby Carey Walsh’s Cafe, made a hit of the song “Nathan, Nathan, Why You Waitin?”

 source

 

Written by LW

June 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

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