Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What I’m Reading #124

The first of a five-part series, A Polite Hatred, on growing anti-semitism in the UK is an interview with novelist Howard Jacobson. Quote unquote:
Eventually, in his forties, he learned to “stop keeping shtum” and start writing about his own world. His subject matter changed, but his sentences still reveal his classical training. “I like an elegant sentence,” he says. “My sentences have assimilated.” Unusually for a prize-winning novelist Jacobson’s books are comic, but he bridles at any suggestion that this makes them less important. “Jews tell the best jokes,” he once said, “because they know that life isn’t funny.”

Heather Mac Donald writes in City Journal about “Queering agriculture”. Yes, it’s a thing. Quote unquote:
Another day in academia, another twist in the bizarre world of identity studies. The Center for the Study of Sexual Culture at the University of California, Berkeley, is presenting a talk next week on “Queering Agriculture,” dedicated to the proposition that “it is absolutely crucial queer and transgender studies begin to deal more seriously with the subject of agriculture.”
Queer theory has taken over student life on many campuses. Now that gay identity has been thoroughly institutionalized, declaring oneself “trans*,” “genderqueer,” “pangender,” or any of the other rapidly multiplying alternative sexes has become the last frontier of self-engrossed agitation available to students. But apart from the odoriferous leavings of female ginko trees, the “problem” of gender and plants did not seem to be a pressing one, making the application of queer theory to agriculture an innovation that even the most dogged observers of identity studies might not have seen coming. The talk’s presenter, a Ph.D. candidate in American studies at the University of Maryland, will allegedly show that “the growing popularity of sustainable food is laden with anthroheterocentric assumptions of the ‘good life’ coupled with idealized images and ideas of the American farm, and gender, radicalized and normative standards of health, family, and nation.”

I can’t see this taking off at Lincoln University.
Monitor: David Thompson

Arrant Pedantry has a crack at grammar-checking website Grammarly with the blogpost “Fifty Shades of Bad Grammar Advice”. Hurrah! At last. Quote unquote:
A few weeks ago, the folks at the grammar-checking website Grammarly wrote a piece about supposed grammar mistakes in Fifty Shades of Grey. Despite being a runaway hit, the book has frequently been criticized for its terrible prose, and Grammarly apparently saw an opportunity to fix some of the book’s problems (and probably sell its grammar-checking services along the way).
The first problem, of course, is that most of the errors Grammarly identified have nothing to do with grammar. The second is that most of their edits not only fail to fix the clunky prose but actually make it worse.
Mark Allen already took Grammarly to task in a post on the Copyediting blog, saying that their edits “lack restraint”, that “the list is full of style choices and non-errors”, and that “it fails to make a case for the value of proofreading, and, by association, . . . reflects poorly on the craft of copyediting.” I agreed and thought at the time that nothing more needed to be said.
But then Grammarly decided to go even further. In this infographic, they claim to have found “similar gaffes” in the works of authors ranging from Nicholas Sparks to Shakespeare.
Do read on and see how they improve Shakespeare and others. Good comments, too, including this:
As any thoughtful writer or editor knows, “grammatical writing” is not the same as “good writing,” and vice versa.


Vanity Fair celebrates the 50th anniversary of the movie of The Sound of Music by interviewing its stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in execrable prose. Quote unquote:
The incurably handsome, subtly grieving, widowered Captain von Trapp was always the heartthrob in the movie, never Rolf, the twerpy teenage messenger boy.

Incurably handsome? Subtly grieving? Widowered?

Fun fact I learned from the 60s pop-star memoir I am editing: the man who played the twangsome guitar lead on the James Bond theme, recorded in 1962 for Dr No, was Vic Flick. It is his real name, and it is perfect. Quote unquote:
Flick performed the legendary Bond theme on what he refers to as a “big, blonde f-hole Clifford Essex Paragon Cello-Bodied guitar, fitted with a DeAmond Volume Pedal into a Vox 15-Watt Amplifier.”

Anne Bauer in Salon tells it like is for most authors: they have a wife/ husband/partner with a proper job, and most authors (here she is talking about the US) pretend otherwise. Quote unquote:
In my opinion, we do an enormous “let them eat cake” disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed.

Monitor: Chad Taylor

What to buy for the person who has everything:
The Korg CLIPHIT is a new electric drum kit that’s great for practice or relaxed playing. Simply attach the clips to any object – a magazine, a desk or almost anything – instantly transforming it into a snare, hi-hat or cymbal. If you prefer something a bit more traditional you can also attach these clips to practice pads using them to play drums or any of the programmed EFX sounds that include things like dog sounds, cat or hand clapping.

Monitor: The Week

Jon Michaud, co-head librarian at the New Yorker, tells at Emdashes how starting in November 1968 the New Yorker secretly serialised the first chapter of Ulysses, from “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead” to “homing, upstream, silently moving, a silent ship.” Quote unquote:
In 1970, New Yorker editor Gardner Botsford explained to Time magazine that he began the serialization of Ulysses because he got bored writing the same straight capsule reviews week after week. Asked about reader response to the serialization, Botsford observed, “Many are delighted they can identify the excerpts, but others think we are trying to communicate with the Russian herring fleet in code.”

Elsewhere, Ulysses Reader is serialising the entire novel on Twitter. If you go on Twitter as seldom as I do, you read it backwards. Which works surprisingly well because they are such great lines and it’s still funny – but not all is gold. For example:
he growled in a hoarsened rasping voice as he hewed again vigorously at the loaf:

But it’s worth it for:
Outside them and through them ran raddled sheep bleating their fear.

Followed by:
whisking their tails slowly on their clotted bony croups.

And then:
A divided drove of branded cattle passed the windows, lowing, slouching by on padded hoofs,

And, much later:
holding out calm hands, knelt in grief, pointing. Fragments of shapes, hewn. In white silence: appealing.

How good a fragment is that?

The Economist reviews Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup by sports economist – really – Andrew Zimbalist and concludes that the economic benefits to the host city are, at most, zero. Probably much, much less. Quote unquote:
To justify this spending, proponents of hosting often argue that these infrastructure projects will provide continuing benefits long after the events end. Such claims are almost offensively misleading. Mr Zimbalist offers a whirlwind tour of the “white elephants” that litter host cities following the Olympics or World Cup: in Athens a volleyball stadium inhabited by squatters and a softball park overgrown with trees; in Beijing a weed-infested cycling racetrack; in Brazil a football pitch with 40,000 seats now used by a second-division team that draws around 1,500 fans a match. All of these structures cost millions of dollars a year to maintain, making the games’ costs their enduring “legacy”.
Finally, Stephenson Billings asks the burning question:
Are Militant Atheists Using Chemtrails to Poison the Angels in Heaven?

I can answer that: no.

So here is PP Arnold in June 1967 – she was 20 – with “Angel of the Morning”:

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