Sunday, March 28, 2004

Hard to say 'I'm sorry':

"I think the president has recognized the failure that existed and the concern he has for those people and the fact that the government, our government, was there and that attack took place. I don't know quite what else one would do."

- Donald Rumsfeld, speaking today on whether the President should apologize or not for his administration's failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks

Friday, March 26, 2004

As I feared,

the blogging has slowed to a crawl now that we're on reduced hours here at the Circ Desk. But fear not, faithful readers, it's only for the week. When the Harvard student body returns from its Spring Break debauchery with a collective hangover, I will be here, with a smile on my face and fresh rantings to be posted.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Chapter Twelve of "Confessions"

is done, and I'm just about at the 73,000-word mark. A funny thing or two happened on the way to the end of this chapter - first off, I went back through the file and realized that I had two Chapter Eights, so I had to adjust the enumeration for everything from Chapter Nine on up. Second, I realized that a lot of material from Twelve really belonged at the beginning Thirteen, so I did a lot of cutting and pasting this afternoon and, lo and behold, the chapter I was working on finally started to feel like a coherent whole. Not only that, but now I have a jump start for Chapter Thirteen...

I know I was supposed to hold out for 75k to begin the new short story, but I just couldn't resist. "High Tide" is at 500 words as of this evening, and it's coming out at a fairly good clip (probably because it's been kicking around in my head for years now). Should be fun. While I know I've said this for every short story since "First", I'm going to try and keep this one short - between five thousand and ten thousand words. There are a lot of markets for short short fiction; moreover, it would be a lot easy to get all of those story ideas out if each one doesn't draw itself out into a novella!

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Not too shabby.

So I went to do that Ancient Greek scribal thing I do for the "Trial of Jesus" documentary today, and not only did it go better than the one about Homer (instead of a tunic, a toga, and some seriously Spartacus-looking hair, I got to dress up in robes and a cowl - I looked like a badass Jedi Knight more than one of the Evangelists; and I had a little more expertise using a stylus and writing on papyrus, so I was able to keep my writing more even and neat, with less inkblots), but I got paid this time as well! How cool is that? I really have to hang out my shingle for this whole classical consulting thing, as there may be money in it after all...

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Change of pace -

I'll be taking the day off tomorrow in order to reprise my role as a scribe, albeit in a different documentary. The beauty of writing in Ancient Greek for the cameras is that I can appear in practically any historical setting over a period of almost three thousand years, from the rebirth of writing during the time of Homer to the end of the Byzantine Empire. Even from the Iliad to the New Testament is a cool millennium, yet it's often difficult to tell a Greek manuscript from the B.C.'s apart from the A.D.'s., as the handwriting styles remain remarkably consistent over time.

As next week Harvard goes into its Spring Break hours, I won't have to work another Sunday for quite some time - until after Greek Easter, which actually falls on the same Sunday as Western Easter this year (the 11th, I think). Not only that, but I completely forgot that I won't be around next Saturday as well, since me, the wife, and the baby are going to a conference for parents and children with metabolic disorders. It'll be our first chance to meet some fellow PKU families in the area, listen to news about the state of Phenylketonuria research, and sample some of the latest in low-protein cuisine from the various mail-order companies.

So the weekend blogging might not quite come at the torrent that it has been, I'm sorry to report, though I'll try to make up the difference during the weeks!


``That's what we came here to fight for. More than 500 Americans have died so those guys could organize themselves, stand up and walk out of a press conference,'' (American Viceroy Paul) Bremer said. ``The last time a press conference was held in there under Saddam Hussein, they would've had their tongue cut out, if they were lucky.''

Of course the reason why those Arab journalists walked out on yesterday's Bremer/Powell press conference was to protest the shooting deaths of two Iraqis who worked for the Dubai-based satellite television channel Al-Arabiya by American soldiers, who even after a whole year in Baghdad are still having a difficult time telling a camera from a rocket launcher.

We don't cut your tongues out, like Saddam - we just cut you down in the street with a bullet. That's freedom, baby!


There are generally two types of drunkards in the world: Those that get 86’d a lot and those who never do. If you’re the latter, you’re missing out on a very special feeling. A man with any character at all must have enemies and places he is not welcome—in the end we are not only defined by our friends, but also those aligned against us. So choose the type of bar you loathe. Get remorselessly smashed on tequila. Let your lizard brain do your talking. Splash the kerosene, drop the match and watch the bridge burn. Few sentences in the English language bespeak a mysterious dark side than: “I’m not allowed in there. And, quite frankly, I don’t blame them.”

- #9 on Modern Drunkard Magazine's list of 40 Things Every Drunkard Should Do Before He Dies

Oh, shit. I've actually done a couple of these, including #10, Extravagantly Overtip a Bartender. I once gave a fifty-dollar tip on a one hundred dollar tab. The bartender grabbed my shoulder when she saw the amount and said, "Are you sure you want to do this?" I remember mumbling something completely sappy and incoherent in response. To her credit, she never held this against me. I also did #21, Hit a Dozen Bars in One Night, but that was a special occasion.


Chapman has a slender little volume called Lucian, Plato, and Greek Morals that has the following scrawled in red pencil underneath the title page:

"Is this book a practical joke?"

It turns out that John Jay Chapman was as fond of the Second Century A.D. satirist (and inventor of the science fiction genre) Lucian as I am, though it appears that not everyone here at Harvard shared this enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I can't wait to read it...

A connection?

I just scoured the stacks for holdings by and about John Jay Chapman. He's well-represented here at Widener, with a multi-volume set of his complete published works and about a dozen or so books of his "greatest hits". One of his biographers mentions that in his second year as a Harvard undergraduate his father went bankrupt and the family's finances were in a state of shambles as a result. Only through the intervention of one of his professors and the generosity of his classmates was Chapman able to remain at school and continue his studies. In the biography the professor's identity is a mystery, but I wonder if it wasn't Old Sophie, as I've encountered a similar story in the reminiscences written about Sophocles that when a student found himself in dire financial straits and had no choice but to leave Harvard, the old Greek was so upset at the thought that he secured a loan for said student (who is anonymous on this side of the tale) from another undergraduate so that he could stay! Was the professor in the one story Sophocles and the student John Jay Chapman? I must find out!

Update: So the stories aren't quite as similar as I'd hoped. There was a financial crisis in the Chapman family, but it seems to have been resolved by John's Grandmother and some cousins in the Jay family. However, being that I don't remember the particulars of the situation with Sophocles' student in need, I'll have to wait until I can go back to the original lay of that story before pronouncing this interesting coincidence just that and nothing more. Still, I refuse to believe that Chapman had no interaction with Professor Sophocles at all during his time here. It's clear that he read Greek, and seeing that Old Sophie was the Eliot Professor of Greek at Harvard until his death in 1883, there's a window of three years during which they could have met. The problem with history, I'm finding, is that no one is ever asking the questions that you want answered, leaving you with no choice but to try and read between the lines and hope for a occasional overlap between someone else's pet mania and yours. Case in point is that excellent book by Caroline Winterer, The Culture of Classicism, which touches on every aspect of Hellenism at Harvard in the 19th Century except for E. A. Sophocles. It's not that Old Sophie wasn't important - to the myriad students who learned Ancient Greek in his classroom, he was nothing less than seminal - but as a teacher first and a publisher and self-promoter second (if at all), he barely shows up on the radar unless you know to look for him. Of course, that's why I'm working on this book about him.

...and baby makes ten!

Our celestial neighborhood just got a little bigger this week, with the discovery of Sedna, another planet beyond the orbit of Pluto. Sedna, named after the Inuit goddess of the Arctic Ocean (okay, a pretty name, and somewhat appropriate considering its -240 Celsius average temperature, but doesn't this goof up our Graeco-Roman scheme of nomenclature? Doesn't anyone care about internal consistency anymore? Scientists are the worst offenders in this regard, to be sure - just look at what they've done to Linnaeus' system of taxonomic names, allowing such Road Runner-esque names as Niebla josecuervoe [foggy Jose Cuervo cactus] to Phyllidia polkadotsa [polka-dotted sea slug] into the admittedly artificial but nevertheless adaptable Neolatin used for scientific nomenclature. No wonder people think that they can just put "-us" on the end of any word to make it sound like Latin!), is slightly smaller than Pluto, but appears like its closest neighbor to have a moon. No word yet on what they'll name Sedna's satellite if its existence is confirmed - let's hope at least that they stick with the Inuit motif...

A really weird and totally unexpected thing about Sedna, however, is its color. Aside from Mars, Sedna is the reddest object in the Solar System, and quite bright for a little lump of rock and ice. Why? No one seems to know, which I guess isn't all that surprising, considering that no one even knew of this planet's existence until recently. What's amazing is that we're finding all of these new things in the cosmic equivalent of our backyard; who knows what's in store for us when we finally start looking at other solar systems, other galaxies, and the mysteries of deep interstellar space!

Just spotted:

The pub in literature : England's altered state / Steven Earnshaw.

I could really go for a pint or two right about now, come to think of it...

Friday, March 19, 2004

There's a book in my head,

and I'm trying to find a title for it. Right now it's either going to be The Tao of Greek, The Zen of Greek, or The Way of Greek - a relatively light book about the therapeutic effects of studying Ancient Greek, drawn from my own personal experience. There is something about the discipline required to master a language like Greek that reminds me of the principle of Mindfulness that runs through the Taoist and Zen (which is essentially Buddhist Taoism) traditions that I'd really like to explore. Learning Ancient Greek is an immersive experience, but unlike learning a spoken foreign language the immersion takes place in memorizing the thousands of inflections possible for nouns and verbs. Even the word for "the" exists in 24 distinct forms! At the same time, however, a student must learn to let go of his or her preoccupation with the grammar in order to understand the Greek, which requires a certain looseness of mind to allow the pieces to fit as they're meant to. Countless times I've seen students stymied by a sentence, not because they couldn't account for the syntax and morphology of every last phrase, word, and particle - as they almost always can - but because they couldn't then stand back from the nuts and bolts to see what those component parts were trying to say when taken as a whole.

The paradox of Ancient Greek is similar to that of jazz, where a mastery of the form exists side-by-side with a deliberate attempt to distance oneself from it, to lose oneself in the flow, but never actually be lost. It's a kind of elegant slack that resists and even evades overanalysis, which brings us back again to the notions at the core of Zen and the Tao. To speak precisely about Greek is to miss the mark. This is the first lesson that any serious student of the language must learn and learn well, as most would-be Hellenophiles come to the language of Pericles and Plato thinking that Ancient Greek is a classical clockwork, eminently rational and logical almost to a fault. While it's true that Greek is able to home in on a thought with a pinpoint accuracy that puts a language like our to shame, it is at the same time capable of being ten times more ambiguous than English as well - sometimes in the very same sentence! Getting a student to understand this principle and embrace it is (as far as I'm concerned) the fundamental challenge of teaching Greek, yet why doesn't it surprise me that there aren't any books out there that address this issue?

In fact, there is very little literature at all on how to teach Greek - Google the phrase "how to teach Greek" and you'll get 24 measly hits; "how to teach Ancient Greek" gets none at all, or at least will get none until this page gets spidered! - mostly because we have approached the idea of teaching Greek as a necessary evil, something we all endure and then spend the rest of our careers as Classicists trying to forget. That it doesn't have to be this way honestly never occurs to most of us, and when an outsider with an interest in Ancient Greek dares to call us onto the carpet for our slapdash pedagogy and questionable sink-or-swim ethic, instead of taking a good, hard Socratic look at ourselves we circle the wagon and attack the critic for being weak, like a fraternity coming down like a ton of bricks on a pledge for having the gall to complain about being hazed. Because isn't that exactly what we teachers of Greek are - a fraternity, with its arcane traditions, brutal hazing methods, and an Old Boy insiderishness that drive ninety-nine people away for every one we attract and manage to keep? We even have the Greek letters!

That is why I need to write this book. Who in our field dares talk about these things, for fear of being ostracized for it? It wasn't always this way, of course. Back in the 19th Century there were a few honest attempts to teach Greek as it should be taught, and not as it always was. John Jay Chapman was a fiery humanist from that period who had some unorthodox but wonderful things to say about the learning, teaching, and reading of Ancient Greek that I try hard to integrate into my own methods. I'll see if I can dig any of his more memorable quotes up, but in the meantime if you have access to the journal Arion go and find "The Classical Writings of John Jay Chapman," edited by William Arrowsmith in the 1992/1993 memorial issue, in honor of Professor Arrowsmith, who had just passed away.

Hmm. Looking at Chapman's biography I see that he graduated from Harvard in 1885. Is it possible that he, too, studied Greek with my good friend Sophocles? The plot thickens!

Just shy of 72k

on "Confessions". The chapter I'm working on is really falling into the place, so much so that I've decided to snip a portion of it from the beginning and save if for the next chapter, now that I see how the pieces all fit together. Originally I saw the chapter as being told in retrospect (relative to the main plot), but as things progressed I realized that to do so would lessen the suspense and remove the element of surprise at the end. The best part about making this cut is that everything I'm taking out is still useful, so I'll have a nice jump start for the next chapter...

Good things come to those

who do nothing at all. My supervisor from the Modern Greek department has been working behind the scenes - or so I've recently learned - to land me some extra hours over in the Music Library, starting at the end of June, cataloging a slew of Modern Greek recordings that have been slowly but steadily accumulating there. It won't be a full part-time job, but the extra pay will come in handy (as will the additional cataloging experience!). I've said it once, and I'll say it again: I have fantastic bosses over here in Cambridge.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


I just got the word that I'm going to be in that other documentary by Providence Pictures - "The Trial of Jesus" - as well, again playing the part of a Greek scribe. Actually I'll be more than just a scribe in this one: when the camera films me copying out portions of the New Testament, I will be portraying the author of whichever Gospel I am writing at the time, be it Mark, Matthew, or Luke (John, citing artistic differences, will not be appearing in this production). As a result, I think it'll just be my arm in the various scribe scenes, perhaps garbed slightly differently from scene to scene and holding different writing implements - a reed stylus for one of the Evangelists, a metal one for another. So I wonder how I'll appear in the credits. "Arm of Mark/Matthew/Luke - Tom Bruno"? That would be kind of neat! The shoot is on Sunday, so expect a report on whether Jesus will be sporting a mullet, a la Agamemnon, or not shortly thereafter.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Don't blame the material.

Speaking of the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre, just out of curiosity I went back to the Gospels to see how much ink Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John spilt over the spilling of "The Christ's" blood, since after all, one of the points in common to the positive reviews of The Passion is how authentic Mel's vision was, Biblically-speaking. Well, wouldn't you know that the scourging of Christ, which takes up the lion's share of the film's action, merits less than a sentence in three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and John), and isn't even mentioned at all in Luke.

"Pilate tries to have Jesus freed instead of Barrabas, the mob says Hell no, Pilate says I wash my hands of this, yada yada yada, next thing you know, Jesus is carrying a cross down the street with a crown of thorns on his head."

That's how the Gospels handle this, folks! They yada-yada the part that Mel Gibson has turned into a feature-length film. Now I know that we Catholics are notorious for not reading the Bible - or so goes the Protestant charge, hand in hand with the Whore of Babylon crack - but this is ridiculous...

Oh, really?

"He clearly has an obligation to, you know ? you put up or you shut up. You don't make up reckless charges and then say, 'Well, it's really secret, I can't tell you.' "

- Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), re: Senator Kerry's now-infamous "foreign leaders" quote, which incidentally turns out to have been misquoted by the Boston Globe journalist who originally reported on the story

That's funny - I remember the Bush Administration claiming they had "bulletproof" evidence about Saddam Hussein's WMDs that for some reason they could only share in secret with the world leaders they'd duped into teaming up with them on their crusade. I don't remember Senator Coleman getting all hot and bothered about Dubya's obligation to "put up or shut up"...

...and as for the identities of the "foreign leaders", I'm guessing incoming Prime Minister of Spain Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero might be one person more keen on Kerry than bullish on Bush:

"Mr Blair and Mr Bush must do some reflection and self-criticism... One cannot bomb a people by chance, one cannot lead a war with lies, one cannot accept that."

But suppose that Kerry did speak off-the-record with various foreign leaders who expressed their dislike for the current occupants of the White House - does anyone honestly think that, given the President's Tony Soprano-style of dealing with nations who dare to dissent, the Senator would cough up any names? He wouldn't exactly be doing anyone any favors that way, unless the political equivalent of a baseball bat upside the head could be considered a "favor"!

At any rate, this was a bad thing for Kerry to say, in either the quoted or misquoted form, as any whiff of international consideration in American politics is red meat for the "Black Helicopter, One World Government" constituency, who fervently believe that the United Nations is headed by the Antichrist because Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (of the Wal-Mart Recommends bestselling Left Behind series of novels) told them so.

Oh, and Catholics worship the Whore of Babylon - but not Mel Gibson, because he made that great Jesus film!

Sunday, March 14, 2004

1896 redux.

Despite all of the attention I've been paying to Spain's elections, I haven't forgotten about Greece, which last weekend ended thirteen years of rule under the liberal PASOK government by voting in Karamanlis and his conservative Nea Demokratia party (although the terms "liberal" and "conservative" really are misnomers in Greece, where the political spectrum runs from PASOK's "very left of center" to Nea Demokratia's "only slightly left of center"). PASOK, which had been assailed time and time again for allowing corruption to run rampant during its tenure, really hit rock bottom in its popularity as a result of the ongoing headache of the upcoming Olympic Games, so much so that even the time-honored Greek practice of securing political support through doling out government jobs couldn't stem the rising tide of outrage.

The funny thing is that this happened before the last time the Greeks had the Olympics, back in 1896. Preparations for the games were over budget and behind schedule, so much so that the International Olympic Committee was threatening to cancel the Games outright or move them to London or Paris. Sound familiar? The culprit back then was a do-nothing Parliament dominated by officials who were either indifferent or outright opposed to the idea of Athens hosting the revival of the Olympics, a deadlock that was only broken by the efforts of IOC President and diaspora Greek Demetrios Bikelas, who successfully lobbied Crown Prince Constantine to rally the labor unions and the Athenian public around the Olympic cause and force an election that brought the royalists back to power and put the Games back on track.

Flash forward to 2004, where once again the Greek royalists (Nea Demokratia is the party sympathetic to the return of the Greek monarchy) have recaptured Parliament and promised to deliver the Olympiad on time. Will history repeat itself? If so, Karamanlis and his fellow conservatives might just secure their hold on the government past next year's general elections, when their coalition becomes vulnerable again to a liberal counterattack. Of course the real Olympic wild card is the possibility of another terrorist attack, now that the Madrid bombings have proved Europe just as vulnerable to al-Qaeda as the rest of the world. Let's hope that the Greeks - who to their credit worked overtime to shut down the hitherto elusive November 17th terrorist organization, albeit after years and years of prodding from the U.S. and Western Europe - can keep the Games safe for the myriad athletes, officials, and fans; not to mention the customary millions of tourists who descend upon the country every summer!

Moros y Christianos.

It'll be a frosty day in Hell when I'm pleased with any act of terrorism, but the news that last week's train-bombings in Madrid were very likely the work of al-Qaeda (who are now claiming responsibility) and not that of the Basque separatist group Eta is at least a silver lining to an ugly thunderhead which has settled over Spain and all of Europe. While the Spanish government practically fell over itself to blame the Basques in the immediate aftermath - mostly in order to deflect the opposition party's accusations that Spain's unpopular participation in the United States' "Coalition of the Willing" in Iraq had been responsible for bringing on the terrorist attack, especially in light of the fact that Spain was right on the verge of a general election, which is being held today - it just didn't seem to jibe with Eta's modus operandi, which although reprehensible has thus far mostly targeted official representatives and not the Spanish populace at-large. A "9/11-style" attack wasn't exactly going to garner any sympathy for the Basques, so it was puzzling why they would resort to such tactics, especially as their plight as an oppressed minority population is so well-known to the outside world - unlike say the Chechens, who in their 400-year struggle against Russia have little to lose.

That al-Qaeda may now be opening up a front in Western Europe is a chilling thought, however. Though I wouldn't go so far as to claim - as former Clinton advisor Charles Kupchan does in today's Salon - that further acts of Islamic terrorism will drive the Europeans into lockstep with the Americans in its "War on Terror", which with its centerpiece an unnecessary entanglement in the heart of Mesopotamia is nothing of the sort, aside from an 11th-hour scramble to find Osama bin Laden in the mountains of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that has more to do with Bush/Cheney 2004 than it does with making the world a safer place. True, the nations of Europe might ratchet up their own efforts against the threat of terror, but even the hardliners of those nations have had a hard time swallowing the Bush Administration's bullshit reasons for going after Iraq; in fact, if the Europeans end up seeing terrorism against them as payback for cooperation with the Americans, they might turn out to be less likely to sign on for any similar crusade in the future.

Whatever the political outcome, the real losers in this awful situation - aside from those who lost their lives in the Madrid bombings, their family, and their friends - will be Europe's sizable Muslim population, which is already being made to feel unwelcome in such countries as France, where a recent ban on over religious symbols in the public schools was directed primarily at the traditional hijab worn by Muslim females. Millions of immigrants coming to the European Union who have absolutely nothing to do with the cold-blooded killers of al-Qaeda are going find themselves increasingly treated as guilty by association in the eyes of natives who in truth fear change far more than they fear terrorism. The last time Islam was so prominent in Spain, the cities of Al-Andalus were the apple of the world's eye - centers of art, science, and commerce that are remembered to this day not only for their achievements but for their remarkable tolerance in an age of religious strife. Would that such a spirit will ultimately prevail today, and that the acts of a few do not succeed in dividing Europe once more into hostile camps of Moros y Christianos - Moors and Christians (and Jews, another minority who found Muslim Spain a haven, compared to the horrors of the Inquisition and the Auto-da-Fe that would come with the Reconquista; and who are again feeling the rising tide of anti-Semitism within the borders of the European Union).

Update: I knew Kupchan's theory was mostly bunk, but I didn't expect it to go belly-up so quickly. The Spaniards have voted out Aznar and his conservative Popular Party (which have ruled for eight years) in a record turnout at the polls. The Socialists, who won a surprising 42% of the vote, will now be calling the shots. Although the soon to be new Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has declared a steadfast resolve "to fight all forms of terrorism", it remains to be seen how this political upset will affect Spain's until-now prominent role in the occupation of Iraq.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

God helps those...

"Is there someone at the Information Desk today? I need help."

I look up from my blogging. There is a middle-aged man standing in front of me whom I recognize vaguely as someone to whom I check a lot of books out. Right now he looks rather put out. I peer over towards the Information Desk, which is directly opposite my station here at Circ - the librarian on duty there must be taking a break or assisting someone elsewhere, though it's entirely possible that she went home early for the day, since she wasn't feeling all that well when I spoke to her earlier.

"I'm not sure, sir. I know that someone is supposed to be on duty this afternoon."

"Well there's nobody there. No one is answering the phone, either."

"Is there something I can help you with?"

"I need to get into WorldCat."

WorldCat is the public interface to OCLC, allowing a user to locate materials throughout North America and, increasingly, beyond. It's an extremely useful thing to have at one's disposal in the scholarly line of work. "I can help you with that, sir. It's available through our E-Resources."

"I don't know why there isn't anyone at the desks. I checked upstairs and downstairs."

"Sir? It's right here, off the main catalog page." I turn my monitor to face him, pointing at the relevant link, but he actually averts his gaze.

"But I need to get into WorldCat."

"I understand that," I say, although I'm increasingly supecting that I don't.

"Are you sure that there's someone here today?"

"Sir. It's just two clicks. Here, let me show you--"

"I don't have time to learn that!" the man barks at me. "I just want to talk to someone at the Information Desk."

By this point I should have gotten the hint that this man is trouble, but sometimes a little persistence on our end does pay off, even with the seemingly hopeless cases. "If you need to use WorldCat, you can access it anywhere in the library from HOLLIS. It's easy."

The man simply shakes his head and mutters. It's clear to me now that he's not the kind of scholar who actually does anything on his own, although presumably signing his checks for all of the labor mercilessly delegated out to others is not beneath him. He's not even a fossil, which would at least partly excuse treating me like something he'd scraped off the bottom of his shoe for having the insolence to try and educate him in the art of information gathering in the 21st Century. Oh, well. He stalks away without so much as a good-bye or a thank you, still muttering and still very much put out.

Shortly thereafter, the reference librarian reappears at the Information Desk, looking rather chipper for someone with a cold. I nod and smile. That's the kind of timing you only learn at library school...

Hat tip

to Jason Clarke, author of the blog Biggerboat, which is sporting a jazzy new design. Not only is Jason a veteran of the Widener Circulation Desk and an aspiring writer in his own right, but he's a veritable authority on collectible toys and action figures as well. Biggerboat is a lot like the Jersey Exile, with a lively mix of pop culture and political commentary, so by all means pay Jason a visit and see what he's up to.

70k at last!

After a particularly helpful lunch with my oldest friend up in these parts, who knows about as much about the imaginary world of "Confessions" as I do, I had a solid day of writing yesterday to put me up and over the 70k milestone and close to the end of the current chapter. This was a much better ten thousand words than the last - whereas getting from 50k to 60k took me five months, 60k to 70k happened in the space of two; and the last 2500 words of that were written in just the past week! The return of a predictable teaching schedule has certainly helped me get back into a groove, as the time spent taking the commuter train back to the North Shore is the only writing time that I can absolutely, positively count on.

Well - here's to seeing 75k perhaps a lot sooner than I'd thought (at which point I will start another short story, as those ideas are really backing up now)!

Meanwhile, it's finally time for me to start shopping around my short stories. Widener has a copy of the 2004 Writer's Market, which I'm picking my way through this afternoon in search of prospective publishers. I could have sworn there used to be a lot more science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazines out there just a few years ago - a sign of the times, perhaps? Makes it easier to winnow field, I guess...

Better make that with the spicy mustard, then -

despite myriad pleas from the Catholics of Red Sox Nation, the Boston Archdiocese has recently announced that it would not relax the Lenten restriction on eating meat for Opening Day at Fenway Park, which just so happens to fall on Good Friday this year. Furthermore the representative from the Archdiocese went on to rip baseball officials for scheduling the game on the Friday before Easter Sunday, claiming that doing so was "insensitive to the huge number of people who are Christians and fans".

Okay, let's deal with the second part of this first: so now scheduling baseball games on religious holidays is somehow insensitive because this year it happens to affect the Catholics? Funny that no one seemed to mind about this in years past, as Jewish fans and players are routinely made to choose between their sport and their faith during Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the many other minor holidays that fall during baseball season. With all due respect to Christianity, the increasingly-frequent cries of wounded indignation and accusations of "persecution" coming from the ranks of the Saved are getting a bit tiresome. The notion that Christians are somehow an endangered species here in America is ludicrous; that this idea has become a paranoid article of faith among believers is downright frightening.

Now back to the first point. It's silly enough that the Vatican feels that enforcing Bronze Age religious dietary laws should be its top priority, when there are so many other rotten food items on its proverbial plate nowadays, but in making an official pronouncement on the matter, the Boston Archidiocese has transformed the act of eating a hot dog on Opening Day from a venial sin to a mortal one. Why? The difference is one of intent. Here is what the Catechism has to say:

One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.

Normally if a Catholic eats meat on Good Friday, it's a sin, but a relatively minor one in the grand scheme of things. "But it's Opening Day! I'll just have one. How bad can it be?"

Thanks to the clarification of Church officials on the morality of huffing a Fenway Frank on the day that Jesus purportedly died on the cross, however, going ahead and eating one anyway ratchets up the seriousness of the offense for a practicing Catholic:

Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God?s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart [cf. Mk 3:5-6; Lk 16:19-31] do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

Venial sins happen all the time, and while regrettable, are not the sort of thing that puts your soul in jeopardy, whereas a mortal sin is as sinister as it sounds. That in this modern age a person who is essentially good at heart should have to choose between eating a hot dog and spending an eternity in Hell (if the mortal sin is committed and not subsequently atoned for) is as irrational as the idea that the Boston Red Sox is cursed by a bad trade made back in 1918. All that being said, however, I bet a person could make a killing this Opening Day by buying a truckful of lobsters wholesale in Maine and selling lobster rolls on Yawkey Way. Mmm. Lobster rolls.

(Of course you could always make the argument that ballpark hot dogs should hardly be considered "meat". Not everyone's God would approve of such a tenuous line of reasoning, but the Catholic God is at heart a deity that appreciates a good technicality here and there. So it might just work!)

Friday, March 12, 2004

It's not just a good idea.

Every Friday afternoon here at the Circ Desk there is usually some shelving to be done on our Hold Shelf, which receives hundreds of books daily from the Depository, Technical Processing, and various holds and recalls placed by the patrons. Often the day crew is able to shelve some of the new arrivals, but not all of them, leaving the job to us, the evening and weekend staff. Rather than allow the Hold Shelf to remain in a state of disarray, I like to get right on the case - not only does it keep us from having to worry about doing it Saturday morning, but it gives me a chance to take a little bit of a breather during what's a nine-hour day for me here on Fridays, between the job down in Modern Greek and the half-shift at Circulation. I've always found shelving or shelf-reading to be very relaxing - almost meditative, even - although it never ceases to infuriate me when I find books that have been misfiled (which is really way more often than it should be). Alphabetical order is one of those few things that separates us from the animals, people! When in doubt, sing the song...

Speaking of losing one's grasp on what was once old hat, during my day job we're finding that more and more of the Modern Greek cataloging departments around the country are becoming increasingly lax in their transliteration of breathing marks, an important feature of the Greek language that has been around for over 2,500 years. Words in Greek that begin with a vowel are supposed to be accompanied a mark over said vowel (or, in the case of a diphthong, the second letter of that diphthong) indicating to the reader as to whether he or she should aspirate the vowel - that is, pronounce it with an initial "h" - or not. With an "h" is called rough breathing; without is called smooth breathing. It's the reason that even though the word in the Greek for blood is αιμα, its English derivative hematology starts with an "h", as the initial diphthong comes with a rough breathing mark.

Although not all Greek dialects worried about the difference between rough and smooth breathing, the Attics were obsessed with it, up to the point that they originally invented the letter eta (which not coincidentally in its capital form looks like our "H") to indicate where rough breathing was called for. As time went on, however, most Hellenists agree that the majority of Greek-speakers ceased making the distinction between aspirated and non-aspirated initial vowels, although the Greeks faithfully preserved these marks in writing well into the modern era and in Greece were only eliminated in the 1980's by a special Presidential decree. Only now are we seeing the results of that break in the orthographic tradition, with a generation of Greeks who never had to worry about breathing marks entering the ranks of professional academia. And although when I teach Ancient Greek I myself employ the Modern Greek pronunciation and tell my students not to sweat the difference between rough and smooth breathing, I am saddened by the loss nevertheless.

But in Cataloging it's more than just a matter of nostalgia. Even though in Greek the words were always interfiled in dictionaries and lexica regardless of aspiration, when said words are transliterated into English (according to the standards set by the Library of Congress and the American Library Association; in Greece and elsewhere abroad the standards are different, and no longer include transliterating rough breathing with an "h") the ones beginning with rough breathing all end up filed under "h". This means that a cataloger in America still must know where the rough breathing should be, even if his or her counterpart in Greece or anywhere else in the world doesn't; if not, the item in question will be misfiled in the various indices, which can be a big problem if the index in question is part of a shared database like OCLC. And again, any kind of misfiling makes me see red.

I suspect, however, that ultimately we're going to lose this battle to maintain the distinction. At some point a critical mass of catalogers here in the States who are untrained in the matter of breathing marks will be reached and the standards will be changed. Already there are cracks in the wall of tradition: even though the letter rho was always written with a rough breathing mark when it began a Greek word - hence the island of Rhodes - the convention to transliterate it as "rh" is observed spottily at best these days. It's strange to think that a tradition as old as the Parthenon will likely die within my life time. Sic transit gloria mundi, I guess!

Wednesday, March 10, 2004


So I didn't get the Bryant Fellowship. But at least I applied this year, which is more than I've done for the past five years! And I'm steaming ahead with my work on Sophocles regardless. Someone's bound to have some money for this biography I'm slowly but surely assembling - if not now, then a little further down the road when there's an outline and some chapters that I can shop around. Putting together the Fellowship application wasn't so much about hoping I'd win it (although of course I did) as it was finally getting my ass in gear with regards to the scholarly half of my writing. I have as many nonfiction books up in my head as I do fiction, and none of them are going to see the light of day unless I get out there and take some chances. Well, I may have crapped out on my first roll of the dice, but just getting to the table and throwing my money down was a victory in and of itself. Now I won't be so afraid to bet from here on in...

Postscript: A silver lining of sorts - today I learned that the reason why I didn't get the Fellowship had to do with my eligibility, not the merits of my proposal (which the committee loved, apparently!). So now I've begun the search for alternate sources of funding. One strong possibility is to shop a possible book to the Harvard University Press, a natural choice of publisher considering the subject matter. Another is to find a charitable or cultural foundation willing to award a fellowship or grant. In any case, I'm eager to continue with my research!

Sunday, March 07, 2004

The digital divide.

A patron just came to the desk with an armload of books from the 19th Century. Actually, they were not so much books as pamphlets that had been dumped willy-nilly into envelopes and given what are known as Old Widener Call Numbers, meaning that they were cataloged long before Harvard had succumbed to the tyranny of the Library of Congress classification system (fun fact: here at Widener we have three systems of classification - the Old Widener, LC, and a third that's mostly numeric but not the Dewey Decimal System and used with some of the oldest books in the library. Old Old Widener Call Numbers?), evidently by someone Who Didn't Give A Damn. None of them had barcodes attached to them. Usually this isn't a problem with materials like these, as since they're already in containers such items are considered to be non-circulating for preservation purposes.

But this patron wanted to check them out to his study carrel, which is permissable but only via a process that is extremely cumbersome for both the patron and the desk worker. A patron checking books out to his/her carrel or office normally fills out a little (blue) slip of paper that tells the stacks employees that this item at least temporarily belongs in the assigned workspace and not on the shelves, and items lacking barcodes require a little (yellow) slip of paper that needs to be filled out as well. You can probably see how combining the two processes leads to nonstop fun; now compound this enjoyment twenty times over, as my patron apparently cleared the entire section out dedicated to his subject matter, and you can see what a potential nightmare this could be.

First off, you have to keep all of the papers straight, so that you don't accidentally assign the wrong barcode to the wrong item, which just involves working as slowly and methodically as possible, despite your instincts to stamp stamp stamp! But then the trickiness of the materials comes into play. For instance, while one of the envelopes contained the remains of one pamphlet, another contained that of twelve, and to make matters even worse both envelopes had been assigned the same Old Widener Call Number. So how to differentiate them? By year, probably. But who knows? With every item being a similar judgment call, the process quickly somehow becomes tedious and nerve-wracking at the same time:

Did I screw that last one up? Should I do the next one the same way, even though it's slightly different, for consistency's sake - or, for that matter, should I go back and re-do all the other ones I've already done? When am I finally going to be done with these %#$&@ books?

At a snail's pace, I make my way through the pile, trying not to notice the ever-growing line of patrons waiting to check out their books. Without fail the complicated tasks always fall into your lap when the desk is least staffed. But somehow we muddle along - the motley assortment of pamphlets has been barcoded and stamped, the patron scurries back to his study carrel, and suddenly I feel a wave of relief coming over me. Let the day shift sort out the mistakes, if any were made; the important thing is that a whole section of the stacks that probably hasn't been touched since it was originally shelved is now in the hands of someone who is delighted at its very existence. I'm sure he'll put it to good use.

Too many blogs?

Blogger can be an extremely addicting thing. Whereas once I began with the Jersey Exile, I now am master of four public blogs - The Jersey Exile, Full Metal Hoplite, Clem's Corner, and now The Library Ass, I'm also fiddling around with another five for private consumption (four of those are gaming blogs and the fifth is a place where my old friends can gather when the usual website conks out, which it does often). I think I may have hit my limit for categorization, however. Even now I almost always post everything to The Jersey Exile, then cross-post it if it seems topical, but I wonder if this is the best solution to the problem. Perhaps a blog with sortable posts like those powered by Movable Type might be better, although Blogger has the advantage of free hosting at blogspot, and moreover separate blogs can have their own lives, personalities, and quirks.

Maybe I'll just try things out for a while - keep on cross-posting where appropriate and see what happens! After all, the idea of having "themed" blogs is to avoid mixing business with pleasure, personal views with professional opinion. As I get a little further along in both my Greek and library studies, I can see the advantages of keeping things separate; but at the same time, will I ever have a post in any of the theme blogs that wasn't already posted on the main one? Hmm.

Library humor.

This is what Googling "angry librarian" will get you:

Job Generator Title for Careers in Library and Information Science Professionals

I did, however, find a couple of new and exciting library blogs - the aforementioned Angry Librarian, Wannabe Librarian, and Owen Massey's Life, libraries and the pursuit of happiness (not a blog, but chock full of good links, including the one from above). Will put them in the right margin when time permits.

I'm feeling kind of bummed that was already taken. No matter - I bet isn't!


Suddenly 75k doesn't seem so far-fetched. Or even 100k. What I'm really on my own case about, however, is the fact that three of my short stories are in need of a final edit and one of them a second draft and I haven't been able to do diddly-squat about it. Granted, I did finally get around to the first edit of "Keeper", but the other three stories are practically ready to be sent out and rejected. All I need to do is apply one last touch-up to each of them and their free to be mocked by the publishing industry. I see that the library has the 2004 Writer's Market, something I haven't yet purchased, but seeing as this might just be the year, perhaps I should. Or at the very least squirrel Widener's copy away!

No joy in Mudville -

the Sox lost, 11-7. They were on top 4-0 for the first three innings, then wham! The Yankees score six runs in the top of the four, then another four in the sixth. I hope this game doesn't turn out to be a microcosm for the upcoming season...

My kingdom for a television set!

In just a few minutes the greatest rivalry in all of organized sports will begin the year anew, as the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees are scheduled to meet on the playing field for the first time since Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. I hear tickets for this Spring Training matchup are selling on eBay for $500 a piece! Let's just hope no fights break out down in City of Palms Park between the Boston and New York retiree communities (a.k.a. the Bloods and the Crips)...

Meanwhile, I'm battling laryngitis here along with a pesky head cold. Not sure what kind of shape my voice is going to be in for my classes this week, but if I have to croak my Plato, Homer, and New Testament, well then I'll just have to croak!

(Hey, ever wonder why its larynx, but laryngitis and not larynxitis? It all goes back to Greek - I know, what are the odds! Words that come to us via Ancient Greek that end in -x are the result of a combination between the actual root of the word - which ends here in -ng, from the Genitive form laryngos - and the Proto Indo-European Nominative ending of -s. Although in Greek the final -s tends to disappear from Nominative forms, sometimes when it drops out it leaves a trace of its presence, such as compensatory lengthening of the final vowel or in this case the double consonant x or xi in Greek. I guess if we didn't believe in double consonants - and by and large English doesn't, the x being an anomalous entity in our version of the Roman alphabet - we could spell the word laryngs. But that looks as ugly to us as it did to the Ancient Greeks, hence the invention of the letter x!)

Damn, now I have to cross-post this to Full Metal Hoplite!

Saturday, March 06, 2004

The right to arm bears,

or something like that. Reproduced from my comment on Matthew Yglesias' blog, and embellished somewhat:

"A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."

Grammatically speaking, the Second Amendment is a textbook example of the Nominative Absolute use of the participle, one of the most difficult syntactic features of the English language, something we inherited from our Indo-European ancestors (Greek has similar constructions in the Genitive and the Accusative cases, and Latin has it in the Ablative). Nominative Absolutes are used as a kind of shortcut to combine two sentences. Here's an example, taken from the American Heritage Book of English Usage:

No other business arising, the meeting was adjourned.

What was originally two separate thoughts:

No other business arose. The meeting was adjourned.

have been combined into one sentence. Note that we could have just as easily joined the two by means of a dependent clause. To wit:

Since no other business arose, the meeting was adjourned.

The Nominative Absolute allows you to go one step further, eliminating the dependent clause and its finite verb entirely. This kind of compression, however, comes with a price. Whereas dependent clauses are introduced by adverbs that clue us in to how the two thoughts are logically connected (i.e., "Since"), the Nominative Absolute relies on context alone to make its meaning clear. Generally speaking, it can be read circumstantially - that is to say, as an attendant circumstance to the action of the main verb - in any of the following four ways:

1. Causal. "Since no other business arose, the meeting was adjourned."

2. Temporal. "When no other business arose, the meeting was adjourned."

3. Conditional. "If no other business arose, the meeting was adjourned."

4. Concessive. "Although no other business arose, the meeting (nevertheless) was adjourned."

I'll admit that #4 is a little counter-intuitive, but there are instances in which it might be the best way to read a Nominative Absolute; again, context is key.

But what if the context itself is ambiguous? Let's return to the Second Amendment, which could now be read in any of the following four ways:

"A well-regulated militia, since/when/if/although it is necessary to the security of a free state..."

Clearly the Temporal and Conditional readings of the amendment would have to be unambiguously for gun-control, as they expressly link the right to bear arms to the need for a militia. The Causal reading would also support such a qualification, though hairsplitters could try to say (and do say) that the linkage doesn't necessarily preclude a right to bear arms outside of the context of militia membership. Let's just say that it's a more difficult argument to make grammatically than legally! Only the Concessive reading of the Second Amendment - the most unlikely, mind you - would endorse the idea that gun control is wholly unconstitutional, as it explicitly divorces the one from the other:

"Although a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people (outside of said militia) to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Such a reading, while not impossible, is a real stretch of English grammar. And yet it is upon this reading - as well as the weakened Causal reading - that the N.R.A. and like-minded folks hang their argument. The funny thing is that Nominative Absolutes are usually employed because from the context they're supposed to be obviously Causal, or obviously Temporal, or obviously Conditional, or obviously Concessive. That the Second Amendment has seemed to be obviously each of these four circumstances to different camps at different moments is one of the most wicked grammatical ironies ever. It makes me wonder if the Founding Fathers - most of whom were familiar with Latin and/or Greek and all of their unusual syntactic features - hadn't deliberately crafted the wording of this amendment to be ambiguous!

I wouldn't put it past them. Especially Thomas "Slick Willy" Jefferson...

Down time.

I actually have no pressing matters to attend to this weekend, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to catch up on my email, as I've fallen woefully behind in my correspondence. And then perhaps I'll expound upon my impromptu grammar lesson that I originally offered on Matt's blog...

Friday, March 05, 2004


After all of those humbling days of punching this blog's URL into Technorati and getting nothing, finally:

_G.p_{Policy, Art, Rhetoric} 39 inbound blogs, 45 inbound links
Last spidered 3 days 4 hours 29 minutes ago (Read Full Post)
because gun use is to an extent predicated by regional values, geography, and demographics and is best left to local regulation. (Local, not Utah-an.) Unfortunately, there's that small little Second Amendment that keeps shuttling it up to the top. As TCB noted in comments at Yglesias, what's in an Amendment?Grammatically speaking, the Second Amendment is a textbook example of a Nominative Absolute, one of the most difficult syntactic features of the English language. Absent any adverbial sign-posts,

(Link created 3 days 4 hours 23 minutes ago) (Cosmos)

And that the website that linked to me is called Grammar.police is just icing on the cake! All right, to be fair the site linked to a comment that I made on Matthew Yglesias' personal blog about the grammatical ambiguity of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, but the link found its way back to the Jersey Exile, albeit in a roundabout way.

So I am no longer a nobody. Not quite a somebody yet, mind you, but definitely not a nobody!

Return of the Red Stockings -

another thing I did last night was watch the 2004 Red Sox take the field against the Minnesota Twins for their first Spring Training game. With Derek Lowe on the mound, Boston bested the Twins 5-3, an auspicious end to a rollercoaster off-season that at long last landed us another ace hurler - one Curt Schilling, who is already trying on his best Boston accent for a local Dunkin' Donuts commercial - but almost lost us superstar shortstop Nomar Garciaparra in a poorly-conceived and callously-executed attempt to replace him with... another superstar shortstop (duh!).

Well good riddance to Winter! I'm ready for another year of heartbreak and loss, and so is the rest of Red Sox Nation, for whom the early-February Super Bowl Parade of a million-plus is now a memory more distant than the trading away of the Bambino back in 1918. After all, football is just a sport; baseball, however, is our religion.

Speaking of the weird intersection of Fenway and faith, Edward Cossette - the most excellent author of Bambino's Curse, a blog devoted to all things BoSox - is abstaining from Boston media sports coverage for Lent. Without being able to fall back on metapunditry (the blogger's time-honored crutch), Ed is exploring some rather strange and wonderful territory, such as looking for the Golden Section in the mathematics of baseball. Check it out!

It's nice to have a hobby.

Last night I broke out the stylus, ink, and papyrus to practice my Greek calligraphy (also to make my wife her birthday present - the first twenty-five lines of the Antigone, the play she and I had many a study-date over as B.U. Classics students before one of us put two and two together and realized we weren't coming entirely for the sake of Sophocles!). The results were encouraging - I seem to have an honest-to-goodness knack for writing ancient Greek, and am looking forward to getting better at imitating the various styles with practice. I've already spoken to the director at The Greek Institute about offering a class in paleocalligraphy for the Fall, and she's pretty excited at the prospect. Students could bring in their favorite passages from Greek literature, which they would then copy onto papyrus in the ancient hand of their choice. I think it would be great fun, and it wouldn't even require that the students know all that much Greek. Just the alphabet would suffice!

Another thing I was thinking of doing with this new "hobby" of mine was sell passages from Greek literature on papyrus over the Internet. I'm not sure if there's a market for such a thing, but I wouldn't be surprised it there were. And what's the harm of hanging out my shingle as a scribe-for-hire?

What's really cool about getting into calligraphy is that I finally have a reason to patronize art supply stores, such as the vast multi-level Pearl Fine Art Supplies, located in Central Square. I was always vaguely envious of my brother-in-law and my wife when we'd pile into the car to find his drawing materials or her mosiac tiles, as I'd never really done anything artistic as a child, and the only time I'd gone to those kinds of stores were during the myriad times my mother dragged me and my brother to the arts and crafts stores (my mother still makes a mean wreath). Well now I can linger over the nibs and styluses - I mean styloi - and drool at the prospect of browsing through a hundred different kinds of ink, in many more colors than just the Classical red and black. I'm not so sure if Sophocles would approve of seeing his Oedipus Rex in turquoise or hot pink, though! At any rate, I bought myself a nice small bamboo pen, the closest thing available to a reed stylus. Looking forward to giving it a try...

Somewhere between

67k and 68k on "Confessions". Looking forward to getting myself into 70's, where the next meaningful milestone will be 75k - three-quarters of the way to a 100,000 words and hopefully the end of the book. I think I'll allow myself to start another short story when I get there, as I'm keen on not having all those ideas backing up in my head indefinitely. Right now I think I'm about to find my way out of the present chapter of the novel, after which I think the pace is going to pick up again. The headlong rush that will be the book's third act is about to begin, and I can't wait for it. The absolutely ludicrous thing about getting this far into a novel is that you really start looking forward not so much to the end of the book you're working on but the beginning of the next behemoth. I think I'll be shifting genres for novel number two, in which I'll finally get to make all those years at M.I.T. pay for themselves. Oh God, I can hear you say already. Not another collegiate Bildungsroman! But this one will be different, I swear. Mine has sex, drugs, and a capella music.

Upon further reflection I have to admit that "Confessions" also kind of fits into the coming-of-age genre, of course in a fantasy world instead of our own. Whereas many authors have that one Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man lurking inside of them, by virtue of letting my imagination create, populate, and inhabit its very own parallel universe over the past twenty years I've ended up with two - one that's almost in the bag, the other waiting patiently for its turn. What's the plural of Bildungsroman, I wonder?

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Goats are dancing,

and so am I. This morning I mailed out my Simmons application, my transcript requests, and my recommendation forms, which means that as of right now the process of going to library school is no longer in my hands (there's an interview yet, but that's something I'll do when the time comes). So I'm sitting and waiting on many things now - the Bryant Fellowship, the ALA Scholarship, and now my Admissions application - but it sure beats dragging my feet and fretting about deadlines, or worse yet, allowing the deadlines to pass yet again without taking action! It's good to be on top of things every once in a while.

Sunday, February 29, 2004


The Academy Awards are on tonight, and I just realized that I've actually seen none of the movies under consideration. I think that's a first. But I guess that's what happens when you go and have yourself a baby - the last movie my wife and I saw in the theater was The Matrix Reloaded back in May of 2003. I can't believe we actually took turns to see that (and then didn't even bother to see the third and final film in the series)! Well, here's to catching a flick or two over the upcoming year...

Speaking of upchucking,

we have a photocopy card vending machine that has had a case of the dry heaves for the better part of the afternoon. Apparently a student attempted to force-feed it one of the newer five-dollar notes - which it doesn't take - resulting in half a ripped bill lodged within the reader slot that the machine has been attempting to dislodge ever since in fits and starts. The worst part of it is that we can't even turn it off or unplug it, so we're stuck listening to it choke for the next three hours. Urgh.

Worst lunch ever:

ramen noodles in a cup and a microwavable "chicken fajita" from the library's vending machines. Since I wanted to hit the stacks to run down a couple of fresh Sophocles citations on my break, I opted for a meal on the quick. Big mistake. The Cup of Soup wasn't so bad - ramen is ramen, after all - but the faux-ita I really could have done without, and required a remedial Hershey Bar with Almonds to take my mind (and stomach) off the fact that I had eaten a meat product of dubious quality out of a infrequently-maintained automat.

I did find what I think may be a previously-discovered reminiscence about Old Sophie, however, in the Harvard Graduates Magazine of December 1901; I'll have to check with the "team" on that come Tuesday! That and I picked up the late Meyer Reinhold's excellent Classica Americana, which again does not deal directly with E. A. but offers up a good selection of secondary literature to pick through for more information. But did locating either of these materials justify consuming a lunch that was 100% upchuck-worthy? Only time will tell!

The joys of delegation.

The research on E. A. Sophocles is moving along nicely, thanks to the team that the assistant director of The Greek Institute assigned to me, with all manners of information about this eccentric Harvard professor literally coming out of the woodwork. It still feels a little strange having people do the legwork for me, though, so it was a happy surprise that I stumbled upon the following book all by myself:

Author : Winterer, Caroline, 1966-
Title : The culture of classicism : ancient Greece and Rome in American intellectual life, 1780-1910 / Caroline Winterer.
Published : Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

This could be an important find. Up until now my team has been unearthing a ton of anecdotes about "Old Sophie", but unfortunately they're more about his odd behaviors and mannerisms than his contribution to the intellectual history of Harvard University and 19th Century America as a whole. While Winterer's book only deals with our man tangentially, her bibliography is worth its weight in gold, and will give us myriad leads to follow in hunting down Sophocles the scholar and Hellenist, rather than Sophocles the quaint Greek from the village (however much fun it is to read about him!).

It's Leap Day,

a.k.a. the Brigadoon of the Gregorian calendar, when the swirling flurries of midwinter part every four years to give us one more day of the second month of the year. This one's a particularly nice one, too, so if you're out there enjoying it take care not to tarry too long, lest you be trapped in cold and dark February until 2008! I think we need more such days in our calendar - a May 32st that appears every seven years, a July 4th that repeats itself until you've had your fill of sun, surf, and hot dogs, and an October 0th in any year that ends with a prime number - just to keep things interesting. The Mesoamericans found a clever way to build such reccurring fun into their timekeeping by interlocking two counts, the 360(+5)-day solar year and the 260-day ritual calendar, so that the same combination of solar day and ritual day only occurs once every fifty-two years. The Precolumbian Mexican calendar also happens to be far more accurate than our own system, and in fact is second only to modern astronomical observation in its precision. Of course the Mesoamericans also practiced large-scale human sacrifice on a regular basis, but we all have our quirks...