Wednesday, November 29, 2006


And to be honest, that isn't all. Certain shades of limelight wreck a girl's complexion. Even if a jury gave me the Purple Heart, this neighborhood holds no future: they'd still have a rope up from LaRue to Persona's Bar and Grill - take my word, I'd be about as welcome as Mrs. Frank E. Campell. And if you lived off my particular talents, Cookie, you'd understand the kind of bankruptcy I'm describing. Uh, uh, I don't just fancy a fade out that finds me belly-bumping around Roseland with a pack of West Side hillbillies. While the excellent Madame Trawler sashayes her twat in and out of Tiffany's. I couldn't take it. Give me the fat woman any day.

Aaron Whyte-Reiss doesn't really believe I love the word twat, but I do. And this is why.

If I post at all in the next month, it will be from foreign ports. I'll have to buy my New Yorkers off the newsstand. Maybe I'll read the newspaper, or bring along some out of date NYRB to review . . .

Monday, November 20, 2006

Mrs. Columbo Sighting

Tad Friend gave us this: "With rare exceptions, the detective genre demands that its savants pay for their acuity with a stunted personal life: hence Adrian Monk's O.C.D. and Columbo's imaginary wife." "On Television, Killer Serial, The Creepy Appeal of 'Dexter'" in the Nov 20 issue. I hope every New Yorker issue now requires a Columbo reference; there was one in the Gopnik Darwin thing, remember?

Since the general consensus is that Friend is pretty smart I read this as a kind of theory of Mrs. Columbo, rather than a claim that we, the audience, all know, and agree, that Columbo has imagined her. Maybe he did and maybe he didn't, but he loved her very much and there is a whole website dedicated to her. I meant to dress up as Mrs. C. once for Halloween, but then we didn't have the time or necessity to dress up that year. Oh, the irony. Benj looks a lot like Columbo any day of the year, and the guy who worked at the local pizzeria used to call him "Lieutenant," but he's about a foot taller. Benj, not the guy at the pizzeria.

Speaking of imaginary friends, check out my new feature in the sidebar. Now you can trace the influence of Benj, The Thriftiest Girl in LA, The Family Boccigalupe, Madame Librarian and the elusive Aaron Whyte-Reiss, who made up his own name, on this blog.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

a home ec project

All I need now is some embroidery floss and some nice samples of the Irvin type (I'll need an A and and I, I think) and I'll have my own merchandise.

So we went on a short trip to LA and we stayed at a cheap and charming place in Manhattan Beach and went to a lovely beach front state park, with a very striking desert canyon landscape, in Orange County, and to a practical and pleasurable farmer's market in Long Beach. And we saw the thrifiest girl in LA and she took us shopping and she saw this bag and here we are.

Oh my god, I should have called this post "Embroidering the Truth." But you know how messy it is when you change a title.

Categories: ,

Thursday, November 09, 2006

chicken alas a dirty word

"They stopped in Charlottetown and had dinner. Emily, who had had no appetite since her father's death, could not eat the roast beef which the boarding-house waitress put before her. Whereupon Aunt Elizabeth whispered mysteriously to the waitress, who went away and presently returned with a plateful of delicate, cold chicken - fine white slices, beautifully trimmed with lettuce frills.

'Can you eat that?' said Aunt Elizabeth sternly, as to a culprit at the bar."

LM Montogomery, Emily of New Moon, Ch.6


I've said some mean things about pale, measly chicken before myself, but now that I am preparing organic chicken breasts I find them way more flavorful, rich, and, oddly reliable in their soft, slippery, sweet, firm texture. My musings were brought on by chicken thoughts at Eat and at Food+Paper, recently.

Whenever I enjoy chicken, I think of it as above. It's a fascinating quote; it's a description of inedible chicken that is still somehow quite tantilizing . . . The passage is really even more fraught, but I didn't want to quote too long. And Aunt Elizabeth, after all, Emily finds, has more tang than Aunt Laura. So not to worry. Cousin Jimmy has been haunting my academic work lately, but that's another story.

I like pork and lamb and beef a lot too, but let's not fault healthy, simple chicken breast just because agricultural industrialization made it all injected and rubbery and weird.

And another party heard from. Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons, Food.



Leaves in grass and mow potatoes, have a skip, hurry you up flutter.

Suppose it is ex a cake suppose it is new mercy and leave charlotte and nervous bed rows. Suppose it is meal. Suppose it is sam.


Alas, alas the pull alas the bell alas the coach in china, alas the little put in leaf alas the wedding butter meat, alas the receptacle, alas the back shape of mussle, mussle and soda.


Pheasant and chicken, chicken is a peculiar third.


Alas a dirty word, alas a dirty third alas a dirty third, alas a dirty bird.


Alas a doubt in case of more go to say what it is cress. What is it. Mean. Potato. Loaves.


Stick stick call then, stick stick sticking, sticking with a chicken. Sticking in a extra succession, sticking in.


That was hard to excerpt. I knew where to end this one, but when I tried to figure out where to start, well, you know . . . And I take back what I said about visual representations of Alice Toklas. There is an enchanting photograph of her in this week's New Yorker.

Categories: , , , ,


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

when it comes to reading, thrift and the public library i have no sense of humor

Ian Frazier, "Downpaging." So funny I forgot to laugh.

Will be reading Lagos, Stein and Toklas; will not be reading plastic surgery.

And if you missed the bio of Christopher Hitchens, the letters in last week's issue are worth a look.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

healthy, nutritious education

"Education at the Dewey School was based on the idea that knowledge is a by-product of activity: people do things in the world, and the doing results in something that, if deemed useful, gets carried along into the next activity. In the traditional method of education, in which the things considered worth knowing are handed down from teacher to pupil as disembodied information, knowledge is cut off from the activity in which it has meaning, and becomes a false abstraction. One of the consequences (besides boredom) is that an invidious distinction between knowing and doing - a distinction Dewey thought socially pernicious as well as philosophically erroneous - gets reinforced . . .

One of Dewey's curricular obsessions, for instance, was cooking. (Like all courses at the school, including carpentry and sewing, cooking was coeducational.) The children cooked and served lunch once a week. The philosophical rationale is obvious enough: preparing a meal (as opposed to, say, memorizing the multiplication table) is a goal-directed activity, it is a social activity, and it is an activity continuous with life outside the school. But Dewey incorporated into the practical business of making lunch: arithmetic (weighing and measuring ingredients, with instruments the children made themselves), chemistry and physics (observing the process of combustion), biology (diet and digestion), georgraphy (exploring the natural environments of the plants and animals), and so on. Cooking became the basis for monst the science taught in the school. It turned out to have so much curricular potential that making cereal became a three-year continuous course of study for all children between the ages of six and eight - with (on the testimony of two teachers) 'no sense of monotony on the part of either pupils or teacher.'"

This from Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, chapter 12, titled "Chicago" . . .


Monday, November 06, 2006

gopnik pushes all my buttons

"Rewriting Nature" (Oct 23 issue) was sort of almost exactly what I was asking for last winter, when Margaret Talbot wrote that excellent essay on teaching intelligent design and I wanted Darwinism in its historical context. And Atul Gawande's thing on industrialized "labor" (10/9) seems to have garnered praise from diverse parties, expecting and otherwise, and broken TNY out of it's, I thought, rather Victorian approach to childbirth. Dreams come true!

Reading Gopnik on Darwin, I got pretty excited at the first mention of George Eliot (55) and I thought that the joke about "Variations Under Domestication" was a smart illustration of the problem Gopnik felt Darwin and the novelists set for themselves, "how to reconcile the endless variation of the world with a set of organizing principles." Note I took the word "natural," as in "natural world," out of Gopnik's original sentence. Natural world, my eye. Have we learned nothing from the case of the miniature dog?!? But I was hooked.

I also liked the continuation of the Darwin as novelist thing later,

Darwin had the gift—the gift of any good novelist—of making the story sound as though it just got pushed out by the descriptions. The plot seems to grow out of his observations rather than being imposed by his will; in reality, the plot came first, as it usually does. (56)

More on Darwin's rhetorical strategy, where television history meets the historical myth of empiricism,

Darwin was humble and modest in exactly the way that Inspector Columbo is. He knows from the beginning who the guilty party is, and what the truth is, and would rather let the bad guys hang themselves out of arrogance and overconfidence, while he walks around in his raincoat, scratching his head and saying, “Oh, yeah—just one more thing about that six-thousand-year-old Earth, Reverend Snodgrass . . .” (57)

I also liked the emphasis on change over time as a fact that must be faced (if I ever get around to that Gladwell thing about predicting films . . . ) as in "even when domestic breeders aren't trying to vary their cattle, the cattle vary anyway." (55)

I didn't see that the extended quotation on page 55 really supported the claim that Gopnik was trying to make about how Darwin used different kinds of knowledge and authority rhetorically. But if he did, I like that and think that puts him in the same potentially revolutionary position as Dirty Jobs Mike Rowe.

Eventually, I resented the use of the plural first person, "Admiring a scientist’s prose, we usually try to humanize it by mapping the pattern of metaphor within it: look, Einstein was a visionary just like Keats." We who? Actually, Adam, this kind of thing drives me nuts and I'm careful to avoid it.

Still, that bit of fluff was followed by this, which rocks, "But the remarkable thing about Darwin as a writer is not how skillfully he uses metaphor but how artfully he avoids it. He argues by example, not by analogy; the point of the opening of “The Origin” isn’t that something similar happens with domesticated breeds and natural species; the point is that the very same thing happens, albeit unplanned and over a much longer period." I bolded the similar because it's such a lovely point. No analogy. None, got that?

Yes, I got it, Adam. Therefore, do not use the second person to implicate me in the grand misreading, "Reading “Selection in Relation to Sex,” for instance, your urge to draw analogies between his study of the way that birds’ plumage and song affect their reproductive success and the way men dress up and show off in order to attract women is so overwhelming that you practically have to bite your tongue to avoid it. Darwin bit his." (56)

Bite your own. Still, it's a lovely point. No analogy.

But it is, as ever, Gopnik who is the analogy addict, "we are on a mental continuum with pheasants and peacocks. Analogy is avoided, and then the most unsettling analogy of all is grandly asserted, and without apology. They’re us; we’re them." (56)

We're not like them, and a continuum is not an analogy. An analogy has two planes, a continuum one, no?

I'm also reading, by chance, as it were, Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club in the evenings, which goes all over and through the historically determined logics of Darwinism. And statistics. It's very nicely written and either Menand is a very heavy influence on Gopnik and Gladwell or they are doing all his research for him. These things are so hard to tell.

Oddly enough there is some Victorian parenting in the Darwin thing and I had that deja vu cut and paste sensation all over again . . .

Categories: ,

Thursday, November 02, 2006

a face for radio

On the film A Prairie Home Companion, which I finally, um, for lack of a better word, saw. Until I discovered what I found to be a rather startling photo of Garrison Keillor on a book jacket, I don't believe I had any visual representations, real or imagined, for the radio show "A Prairie Home Companion." Except for that repurposed KFC building* I once mentioned, which always popped into my mind's eye. Altman and crew supply, if only temporarily (and that is good, I like my old dark radio space) quiet, textured, morbid and humourous visions, and makes a very, very, sonic film. Genius recording of dialog. Genius delivery of dialog. Genius Woody Harrelson.

*Link has required New Yorker and cooking associations.

Categories: ,