Friday, September 29, 2006

Happy Birthday Miguel

I think I have blogged about Cervantes before. Reading Don Quixote was a highlight of my sabbatical a few years ago. It was a bear...I appreciate well-edited writing, and such was not the fashion then. The book could have used a good copyeditor, but still, it just stays with you and repays the effort many times. From Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac this morning, and is good to read when one even thinks of becoming depressed if one's puny little article gets sent back rejected or with a revise and resubmit:

Literary and Historical Notes:
Today is believed to be the birthday of the man who's generally credited with inventing the modern novel,
Miguel de Cervantes, (books by this author) born near Madrid (1547). He was one of the unluckiest authors in the history of Western literature. In 1570 he enlisted in the army in order to help fight back the invasion of the Ottoman-Turkish Empire. He fought bravely in a battle off the coast of Greece, even though he was shot twice in the chest and once in his left hand. The battle was a victory, and he became a war hero, receiving special recognition from the king.

Unfortunately, he and a group of other military men were captured by Algerian pirates on the way home from the war. They were held for ransom in North Africa for five years. Cervantes led four escape attempts and all four attempts failed. As punishment for his escape attempts, he was chained to a wall for months at a time.

When he was finally ransomed and returned to Spain, Cervantes assumed that since he was a famous war hero, he would have no trouble getting government work when he got back to Spain. But nobody even remembered the battle he had fought in. The Spanish economy was in terrible shape, and it was nearly impossible to find a decent job. So he began writing plays. He knew he had to work quickly in order to make his name, and so in the course of just a few years, he managed to produce more than 30 plays.

But not one of Cervantes's plays was a success. As a desperate measure, he took a terrible job as a kind of a tax collector. He had to travel around the countryside in all kinds of weather, arguing with shopkeepers and farmers, enduring accusations of corruption everywhere he went. Even priests hated him. He was excommunicated by half a dozen churches. He was in his 50s, barely supporting his family, unhappy in his marriage, and failing to achieve success as a playwright or poet.

Then in 1595, he got caught up in a financial scandal. He was charged with embezzlement, even though historians believe that he was probably one of the only honest employees working for the government at the time. Having escaped five years of captivity in Africa, Cervantes now found himself imprisoned in his own country for a crime he didn't commit.

Cervantes later wrote that it was during that time in the Royal Prison of Sevilla that he first had the idea for his masterpiece, Don Quixote (1605). He conceived of it as a parody of the chivalric romance genre, which was popular at the time. And so Cervantes invented the character of Don Quixote, a middle-aged man who has read so many romances that he comes to believe they are true. He embarks upon a career as a knight, fighting for righteousness and for the love of his lady, Dulcinea del Toboso, who is actually a peasant wench. He takes as his squire a farmer he knows named Sancho Panza, and the two go off to engage in jousts with windmills.

The first volume of the novel was a best-seller, but unlucky as always, Cervantes didn't make much money from it. There was no copyright at the time, and pirated editions were published all over Europe.
Miguel de Cervantes said, "Too much sanity may be madness, and the maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be."

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Room Service Comeback

From James and Kay Salter's new book, Life is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days, excerpted in Narrative Magazine:

WAITERS ARE ONE THING, a face-to-face matter: room service is another. You are on the phone talking to someone unseen and located who-knows-exactly-where.
Irving Lazar, better known as Swifty, diminutive and aggressive, a famous literary and movie agent for more than four decades, from the 1940s on, once was staying at a hotel in the American West and in the morning called down to order breakfast.
“Yes, sir, what would you like?”
He wanted toast, he said, burned on one side but untoasted on the other. He would also like a soft-boiled egg, he continued, but not completely cooked, mucous-y on top. And coffee—not hot, however, just tepid. How long would that take?
“I’m sorry, sir,” was the answer, “but we’re not equipped to do that.”
“You were yesterday,” Lazar replied dryly.
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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

RIP dear beetle...Science thanks you

Did you all hear this on NPR this morning...wonderful interview: Darwin's racing asparagus...and the correspondence between Darwin and the elder Crick.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dorn on Levine on Teacher Education

Over at the group blog on the cultural foundations of education I cofounded, The Wall, is a sharp and amazingly quick analysis of part of Art Levine's just-released-yesterday report on teacher education by Sherman Dorn. Bravo, Sherman!

Update, 9/28/06: The Wall group blog has morphed to a new, more search friendly name: Education Policy Blog. Same brilliant people, same Nickleby smackdown contests, new look, more descriptive name.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Groovy quotes

Must watch out, IMDB could be a time sink, I gotta save a study break for the season opener for my girls next Sunday night. But I love dipping into the quotes the site has. Here are two, from films on school I dig, that I have put on my undergrad course website:

Jeff Spicoli: So what Jefferson was saying was "Hey! You know, we left this England place because it was bogus. So if we don't get some cool rules ourselves, pronto, we'll just be bogus too." Yeah?
-Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Cady: Yeah, I like math.
Damian: Eww. Why?
Cady: Because it's the same in every country.
Damian: That's beautiful.
-Mean Girls

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Lunar Baker's Dozen

Really looking forward to Charles Frazier's second novel, Thirteen Moons, after reading a brief interview in Newsweek. Loved Cold Mountain, novel and film. It came out when we had just moved after living for 8 years in its territory, western North Carolina (yep, AppalAAchia, don't you pronounce it AppalAYchia). I had hiked those mountains and lived amidst them in Cullowhee (Cherokee for valley of the lily, or spring salad, or onion, pick your translation!), and had designed seminars for teachers that dealt with many of the book's topics.

I loved the film, even though many of my friends from the mountains were upset it was filmed not where the novel was set, but in Romania, chosen by director Anthony Minghella (ate some of his dad's ice cream on the IOW this past summer...mmmm) because the southeast was too built up or clear cut to simulate Civil War era North Carolina. But still a fine film.

Thirteen Moons is set again in that area, this time closer to Cherokee. You need to dig past the rubber tomahawk shops there to see what is underneath, and to do more than most folks do when they visit the Park, namely, windshield touring.

A good night on the boobulous...

Sean Penn interviewed by Larry King, a fine hour, with great clips from, especially, All the King's Men, out 9/22, but also, Mystic River and, can't forget this one, Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Note to Self: Visit Vilnius...

Looks like my kind of city...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Muhammad, not Muhammad Atta

A couple of clips from Martin Amis.

- We can begin by saying, not only that we respect Muhammad, but that no serious person could fail to respect Muhammad - a unique and luminous historical being. Judged by the continuities he was able to set in motion, he remains a titanic figure, and, for Muslims, all-answering: a revolutionary, a warrior, and a sovereign, a Christ and a Caesar, 'with a Koran in one hand', as Bagehot imagined him, 'and a sword in the other'. Muhammad has strong claims to being the most extraordinary man who ever lived. And always a man, as he always maintained, and not a god. Naturally we respect Muhammad. But we do not respect Muhammad Atta.

-Two years ago I came across a striking photograph in a news magazine: it looked like a crudely cross-sectioned watermelon, but you could make out one or two humanoid features half-submerged in the crimson pulp. It was in fact the bravely circularised photograph of the face of a Saudi newscaster who had been beaten by her husband. In an attempted murder, it seems: at the time of his arrest he had her in the trunk of his car, and was evidently taking her into the desert for interment. What had she done to bring this on herself? In the marital home, that night, the telephone rang and the newscaster, a prosperous celebrity in her own right, answered it. She had answered the telephone. Male Westerners will be struck, here, by a dramatic cultural contrast. I know that I, for one, would be far more likely to beat my wife to death if she hadn't answered the telephone. But customs and mores vary from country to country, and you cannot reasonably claim that one ethos is 'better' than any other.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


T minus 4 hours til daughter turns 21. Actually 5 hours, since she is back in Evanston, and in Wrigleyville with her boyfriend tonight. Got me fingers crossed.

Back from Trader Joe's in Indy, stocked up with goodies for the week. I can feel fall in the air, hoorah!

I need to weigh in on Spellings, but too tired now and must work tomorrow on the chapter I wrote with Jim Garrison on listening and reverence, talk about it with one of the editors of the book it is going in, edit two papers for my journal (very sloppy, don't authors check references?), work on another paper with a grad student for publication, and read a book on Dewey and get going on a review due soon. Oh yes, prepare for teaching on Monday, and do laundry, the lawn, and figure out how to get the painting and shrubs done this fall.

So, to prepare for that, watch the Bucket woman tonight, along with some of the Bucks 'n Horns Fest on da tubulous...

Friday, September 08, 2006


A medical emergency with my father...a smashed up car (a man and his boat decided to back up at a stoplight, I think he thought the cornfield nearby was a lake and he was ready to launch), a nearly 21 year old daughter (that comes on 9/10) home for a few days...all contribute to exhaustion. Two trips to Chitown and back, one to Indy. Car all fixed. Father stabilized. I think I will read this weekend, listen to the Car Guys of course, and maybe catch the Buckeyes playing in Austin at least so I can see the Goddammerungazillatron at the stadium.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Walk along the river....sweet hot flash

I just love these juxtapositions: Dickey Betts's ballad to his ex-wife, Sandy "Bluesky" Wabegijig, now a jingle for a menopause commercial.

"lord you know it makes me high when you turn your hormones my waaaay, yeah, yeah..."

Trivia: I once moved a house in Macon GA with one of Dickey's drummers. Gawd, that was long time ago, I think it was even pre Cher for Gregg.

The Battle of the Scoreboards

I just love stories like this, for the mind-numbing nonsense of today's universities. In Texas, the two big pigskin powerhouses are now engaged in bragging rights over whose scoreboard is better, UT's Godzillatron, or the one at that MooU in College Station.

UT officials on Thursday declined to enter the fray, opting to let Godzillatron speak for itself. But coach Mack Brown did boast about the Royal-Memorial big screen in his talk Thursday to the Austin Longhorn Club. "It's huge," Brown said. "It's the best in the world, not just the country."'

Hat tip to University Diarist.