books


15
Aug 22

Cats, books, music — all the hits

It was a quiet and uneventful weekend. I think I spent almost the entire time on the front porch, enjoying the breeze and the shade, and the neighbor’s 1980s tunes. How long does it take to clean a grill? Pretty much the entirety of the early 1980s pop catalog.

So no big events, but a host of usual things to make your visit worthwhile. First, the most popular feature on the site, the weekly check on the kitties. They’re doing great.

Phoebe is ready for her closeup.

Poseidon, meanwhile, is laying a trap.

He’s just waiting on someone to spring it.

And here’s the daily check on the chipping away of the Poplar’s Building. It was a 1960s dorm, but that was a bust. And it was a sorority house, another bust. And it lived for a time as a hotel, the first premium hotel here, apparently. And then it was a “research and conference center” before finally becoming administrative offices for the university. It was time for it to go.

But no rush. The big machines didn’t pull any of the building down Friday. No one was even on site, as far as I can tell. They did move that big orange monster today, once.

Most of the day’s effort, though, was on the ground and just out of our view. Maybe they needed to rearrange the rubble, or move some of it off, before the peeling away of the past continues.

I finally finished this book yesterday. It had been my late night reading, slowly peeling the past away of some of the history of American journalism. I’m glad this one is now in the “read” stack. I was ready to move to something else, so, yesterday, it become afternoon reading. Wrapping it up.

You don’t have different books for different times of day? I have books for all manner of different kinds of events and occasions, and it used to be much worse. It used to be as out-of-control as my bookshelves. But I digress.

This book started off on the wrong foot.

But it grew on me over time. I stopped looking for errors and became impressed by some of the people that are in the book.

This part is about Jose Martí, a pioneer of social justice journalism. I have to agree with the authors, Gonzalez and Torres, that Martí’s “dispatches should long ago have accorded him a special place among America’s nineteenth-century newsmen.”

Almost everything he wrote seemed evocative.

There are a lot of stories in this book you’ve never heard of. For example …

“Only months after the US entered World War I, a frightening wave of racial violence rocked the country. The troubles began in East St. Louis in the spring and summer of 1917. The second of those disturbances culminated in one of the worst massacres of blacks in US history.”

Conversely, I grew up learning about the Scottsboro Nine, a 1930s Alabama case. I’d love to know who Ted Poston was talking about here, and who those people wrote for.

I might know some of their bylines by reputation.

Here’s another story I never got in a history class or any other book I’ve read.

The book is filled with a lot of tales of individuals, and some institutional and organizational anecdotes. It tells another, important side of the history of our media ecosystem. It tells of, as they make the point, the sides of American journalism history that were seldom noticed contemporaneously, and haven’t been deeply studied in retropsect. It’s a good book, if you’re interested in this sort of book. And it’s an important book, to be sure. But, and this is just the reader’s perception, I felt like I was reading it for forever.

So I finished that, yesterday, and I started this.

I bought that, and three other of May Sarton’s books, on the strength of this one quote. (Used bookstores offering free shipping are dangerous for my mail carrier and the local delivery folks.)

I googled her, found someone suggested these four memoirs and made it about a third of the way through this one last night. She’s in her mid-40s, her parents just died, and so she’s buying her first home. This is a book about that house, in a small town in New Hampshire because she had to have somewhere to put the sentimental family furniture. Sarton is a poet, but this isn’t sappy or purple. It’s just good writing. She’s visited four houses and then, on the fifth house, a rundown 18th century farm. And it worked out. She’s writing this memoir eight years on.

“In the end I knew I would have to trust to instinct, not estimates …. What I came back to was that moment of silence, and the oriole. Everything here has been a matter of believing in intangibles, of watching for the signs, of trying to be aware of unseen presences. In the end the oriole tipped the scales.”

And what I’ve said here, what I’ve read in this book and on her Wikipedia page are all I know about May Sarton. And, now, today, this:

May Sarton is a writer that one grows into. One can read her when young, but if one re-reads her later in one’s own maturity, her words take on extra depth and meaning. When I was in my twenties, I discovered her journals and poems, particularly Journal of a Solitude, most likely still her best known book. While I liked it, I moved on. When I re-read Sarton in my early forties, suddenly every word was alive and deeply compelling. I had grown up enough to have caught up with her.

I’m basically Sarton’s contemporary today, but not in the age-is-just-a-number sense. I’m sure I’ll have much more to think about this as I work through the book in the next day or two.

But, first, we have something else to dive into.

We need to keep up with the re-listening project. I am working through all of my old CDs in the car, repeating a project I did a few years ago. Only I didn’t write about it then. Shame on me! So I’m writing about it now. Shame on me! These aren’t reviews, usually. Mostly they’re just memories, or marking the time between good times.

This is strictly chronological, which is to say the order in which I bought all of these things. My discs crosses genres and periods in a haphazard way and there’s no large theme. It is, a whimsy as music should be. And this is purely a pop and rock update.

I bought “Slang” right as it came out, in May of 1996. If you had MTV in the 80s, or a rock station nearby in that same period, you couldn’t escape Def Leppard. They are as much the soundtrack of my early adolescence as anyone could be. We’ll catch back up with some of their earlier work later, when I started replacing old cassettes with replacement discs. (Format changes, am I right?) But this was new, and it was somewhat different. Their sixth album, first in four years, first with Vivian Campbell after Steve Clark died in 1991. Half the band was going through a post-successful rock period in their lives. They were trying to steer away from the first five records, and around grunge. There was a lot going on, and you hear it right away, there’s a sarangi, and other exotic (for them) instrumentation all over the place. It charted at #14 on the Billboard 200 and #5 on their native UK Albums Chart and was certified gold in both countries.

Since I’m doing two of these in this post, just a few selections. The first thing you hear when you load this thing up is “Truth?” Campbell’s sensibilities are an immediate addition here.

Everything on the record is solid to good or better, but it’s not especially cohesive. This is a good record to skip around, which simply does not fit my listening style. I’m a bit of a completist, and will only move over songs that just annoy or embarrass. What is unique about this record, to me, is that each track has a place, you just need the right mood for the moment.

So it was a good car record. I can’t imagine a lot of group listening to this, but I do suspect it got a lot of spins on longer drives. Probably a lot of interstates. The mind was already wandering anyway, right, what’s a little aimless singalong?

This is the ninth track, “Blood Runs Cold” it’s the closest thing I would say that is a bridge from their traditional sound and the themes of this record — and it’s a bit more emo than their glam origins and massive stadium anthems.

Mutt Lange did not produce this record, and that is how this song made it on the finished project. Not that it’s bad, but Pearl of Euphoria is just … different.

Just before Def Leppard put that on shelves, Hootie & the Blowfish released their second album, “Fairweather Johnson.” And if you couldn’t avoid Lep in the 80s, everyone within earshot of a pop, alt, rock, MOR or adult AC station was getting stalked by Hootie in the mid 1990s.

I still really, really enjoy Hootie & the Blowfish. Their sophomore effort debuted at the top of the charts, but has only sold 3 million records, but wasn’t the 21-times platinum that their debut was. So, somehow, this is a failure?

The music business is weird.

Just for fun, then, because this is a good record, here are a few of the songs that weren’t singles.

I sang this around the house all weekend. (Sorry, dear.)

When I decided to do the re-listening project again I was confronted by a problem right away. And the solution was, I’m just not ready to play a lot of Nanci Griffith after she passed away (a year ago last Friday). This is, perhaps, the only exception.

I’m pretty sure Darius Rucker growls through part of this song. He’s laying the groundwork for his solo projects, and staying true to his Carolina yell.

There’s a hammond organ throughout this record, and Jim Sonefeld’s wet drum work, and there’s a moment in this track at the end of the record when it seems that all of that, and the jeans and the weather-worn hats and that whole fratastic 1994-1996 counter-to-the-counterculture aesthetic maybe should last forever.

And it would last, for a little while longer, anyway. Music is a weird business.

But the next time we come to this feature, we’ll have some blue-eyed funk, which is still a little weird, a quarter-century on.


3
Aug 22

There’s nonsense, a great book and a terrific video here

It was a lovely day. Fine blue skies, no ceiling to be found. It is a standout day, standing out. Gray yesterday. Grayer tomorrow. Sometimes it is difficult to enjoy the one for thinking of the other.

But that’s not a problem today. It’s too bright and blue for that. And warm. Hot, even. The heat index flirted with 105 today. A good day to enjoy the sun from the shade, or indoors.

==]=]\]\=\[-=[=-

Sorry, I was cleaning some schmutz from my keyboard. The near symmetry almost suggests a meaning. Almost as much as any other meaning here. Perhaps more! Maybe I should really highlight it.

==]=]\]\=\[-=[=-

You’re right. That’s too much.

Anyway, nothing to it. Welcomed a new person to the office. Watched construction work beginning outside of the building. Ate a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. With pretzel bites!

Probably explains the schmutz.

I also brought two more books to the office. One of them is a volume on First Amendment research, rounding out my collection. The other is the famous Communication of Innovations book, Everett Rogers’ second edition from 1971. He made an entire career on this, and its supporting work, and it’s brilliant. But I might be biased. I had one of his students as a professor in graduate school, and his work comes up all the time because of how it resonates in these fast-moving times.

“An important factor affecting the adoption rate of any innovation is its compatibility with the cultural beliefs of the social system.”

This is a line from the fifth page, explaining why a two-year public health campaign failed in one particular Peruvian village. The effort focused on installing pit latrines, burning garbage, controlling insects and boiling drinking water. In most villages, the public health workers got 15 to 20 percent of the housewives to boil water. Rogers notes that, in Los Molinos, a village of about 200 families, only five percent made the innovation.

In Los Molinos, tradition links hot food with illness. Boiling water was appropriate only for the sick, and a person who is not ill wouldn’t drink the water because of the cultural norms. And Rogers further breaks it down, as a sociologist should.

Two pages later, he dives into social change as “the process by which alteration occurs in the structure and function of a social system.” And, in four more pages, as a footnote, he describes development as “a type of social change in which new ideas are introduced into a social system in order to produce higher per capita incomes and levels of living through more modern production methods and improved social organization. Development is modernization at the social system level.”

Soon after, he gets into innovation, “an idea, practice, or object perceived as new by an individual. It matters little, so far as human behavior is concerned, whether or not an idea is ‘objectively’ new as measured by the lapse of time since its first use or discovery. It is the perceived or subjective newness of the idea for the individual that determines his reaction to it. If the idea seems new to the individual, it is an innovation … The ‘newness’ aspect of an innovation may be expressed in knowledge, in attitude, or regarding a decision to use it.”

In the fifth chapter, “Adopter Categories,” we get the famous graphic.

Nobody ever made a better bell curve.

Classroom flashbacks are a lovely thing.

And if that’s not your speed, there’s this great package from Vice. Dexter Thomas went on a ride with Erick Cedeño as he follows in the pedal strokes of the Buffalo Soldiers, the 25th Infantry Regiment Bicycle Corps who took a 1,900-mile journey from Montana to Missouri in 1897.

It took them 41 days, going over mountains and through forests and deserts and rivers. They pedaled and pushed their bikes across dirt trails, and railroad tracks, covering about 50 miles a day through all sorts of weather. The iron riders, as they came to be known, crossed five states and the Continental Divide, making national headlines. This was no small effort, and it came with a lot of baggage — in both senses. Thomas and Cedeño talk about all of that. It’s a really nice package over an incredible effort, in a unique moment in American history.


28
Jul 22

2×𝑚×𝑣2 + 𝑚×𝑔×ℎ = What, exactly?

I had four meetings today. The first was scheduled for me in advance. The second was scheduled for me while I was in the first meeting. Everyone knew about it, it seems, except for me. (Everyone knows more about me than me.) The third and fourth were spontaneous meetings of opportunity.

I was in no condition for any of these meetings, I think. So if my charm or humor or good answers or input were off by six percent, I apologize. I apologize and I blame the big tour I gave yesterday, an event from which I am still recovering.

Not sure how I became the tour guy, but I’m the tour guy.

I saw this bunny this morning. He is perfectly evolved to blend in with the cement. That’s an amazing summer coat, if you ask me.

The bunnies have the most curious sense of personal space. You’re fine in their eyes until you get about 18 inches away, and only then do they do the rabbit thing. Makes you wonder about how that comes to be learned. I bet each one has an experience, learning when to hop away. It’s a valuable lesson. One learned, I hope, in a not-too-painful way.2×𝑚×𝑣2

I looked through some old books today. There’s often a table of books someone is willing to donate. You can pick your way through them and, if for nothing else, it is a nice momentary diversion to read the spines. I picked up one for my lovely bride, and grabbed one or two for me, as well. Not this one. There are only so many writing handbooks I can process.

But this one fits in your pocket!

Does it? Which pocket?

Or maybe your hand!

Well, sure. Most books these days do come with the ability to be manually manipulated.

And we sprung for the spiral binding!

That’s not the selling point you think it is.

Sure it is! You can distinguish it in your bookcase!

I can’t read the non-existent spine, to see if it is the book I need to pull.

But it has this wire spiral! Easy to find!

What if someone already has that in a book.

Who would have another book like that?

I have nine of them in my office bookcase alone.

Oh? Wow. Well, this one is a writing style guide!

Seven of the nine I have in my bookcase have to do with writing or style.

And you still write like this?

Look, fictional book seller —

Fictional book giver-awayer.

Fine, whatever. You’re not really making a strong case here.

I was able to make a 2010 joke this evening, which meant I needed a 2010 photo.

Turns out the specific photo was from 2011, but it fit the point perfectly. My confusion of the date of the particular photo gave me an excuse to spend a few minutes clicking through old photos of happy times, so that was a nice part of the evening.

Also tonight, we discovered the joys of grilled wings, with nothing more than a simple salt and pepper seasoning. We bought a lot of wings, recently, and we’ll probably be returning to this style. I mention it because they were good, and you should know, and we can all want some more wings together.


26
Jul 22

Reading stuff

Not much today, but I did want to share one little passage from this book. Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres wrote an important book. The blurb on the cover, “We’ve needed this book for a long time.” from the journalist and LBJ press secretary and journalist Bill Moyers seems apt. And if we needed the book when it was published in 2011 there’s no less of a need for it today.

The text has a few small problems — every book does if you pick at it long enough, and this is late night, few-pages-at-a-time reading for me — but there are so many lessons to learn.

So I was reading a bit about Jose Martí, a pioneer of social justice journalism — think Ida B. Wells. You have to agree with Gonzalez and Torres, his “dispatches should long ago have accorded him a special place among America’s nineteenth-century newsmen.”

The problem, as Gonzalez and Torres see it, is that Martí’s work was in Spanish so he often gets overlooked by English readers and historians. But, almost everything he wrote seems evocative. He was also a revolutionary in his native Cuba, but I think of him as a writer. And, based on a conversation with a colleague, I learned there are at least six books of his works that are translated into English.

So I guess I’ll have to buy some of those.

Why not? Nine other books I purchased just arrived this weekend — free shipping! — after all.

It might be a problem.

(But it isn’t a problem. I can not read whenever I want.)


27
Jun 22

Two cats and a book

It has been three weeks since we featured the most popular part of the blog — hey, we’ve been busy. But now we can catch up with the kitties. They’re both doing well, thank you.

Phoebe has been having a lot of cabinet meetings of late.

I’m sure there are many important policy decisions are made in those meetings. Where to map, what to scratch, how to stretch.

Probably the cabinets are a part of her routine to try to create distance between her and Poseidon, seen here showing of his regular charming nuisance.

No breakfast is safe from this guy. Mine certainly wasn’t yesterday.

Can’t say he didn’t warn us. Here he is, warning us.

“YOUR BREAKFAST IS NOT SAFE!” — Poseidon, probably.

I don’t know when I wrote the nerdiest thing I’ve ever written, but it occurred to me early this morning that this is a thing we should chart. I wrote this.

The book is News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media.

It is a good book. It is, unequivocally, an important book. It was when it was released in 2011, and remains so today. But these little problems are compounding. Maybe it is a function of the editing process when they created the Kindle version.

Look, I’m not an expert in this area. Far from it. The first error, I knew a tiny bit about the man involved. The second was revealed as a chronological inconsistency one page, and a few paragraphs, apart. The third is an obvious error. The fourth I found because now I’m googling every name and publication in this book. I’m enjoying the book and learning a great deal. It’s just slowing me down, from the continued learning, is all.

Of course, I’m also picking up tidbits here and there about the people and their work that weren’t included in the book. When the world wide web is your footnote database …

I don’t know if this is the nerdiest thing I’ve ever written (Not by a longshot. — ed.) but it is somewhere on that list.

Come to think of it, let’s never chart the nerdiest things we’ve written. Never, ever.