Archive for 2012 November

Why can’t we think practically about sleep?

Researchers want to know: 

One finding that might be surprising, given how much time we spend in
our beds: Men and women don’t seem to give any consideration to sleep
patterns when choosing a mate. 

Random thought: Why do we say "sleep like a baby?" 

 Snoozing Dog

Sleep like a dog is more like it…

Full Story »

Marlon Brando ambles insolently onstage: Paglia

Camille Paglia describes a familiar scene, and makes it new:

Marlon Brando, carrying a “red-stained package” from the butcher and
sporting blue-denim work clothes as the lordly, proletarian Stanley
Kowalski, ambles insolently onstage at the opening of Tennessee
Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. “Bellowing” for his adoring
yet tart-tongued wife, Stanley is the strutting male animal in his
sexual prime. The setting is a seedy tenement in the multiracial French
Quarter of New Orleans, whose picturesque verandas open to the humid
air. Street sounds and sultry, insinuating jazz riffs float in and out. 



The exotic location, boisterous energy, and eruptions of violence in A Streetcar Named Desire were a startling contrast to the tightly wound gentility of Williams’s prior hit play, The Glass Menagerie (1944), whose fractured family is cloistered in a stuffy St. Louis flat. Streetcar exploded into the theater world at a time when Broadway was dominated by musical comedies and revivals. At the end of its premiere, the audience sat numb and then went wild, applauding for thirty minutes.

From A New Literary History of America, ed. by Greil Marcus, among others.

Full Story »

NorCal preps for promised ARKstorm: 12 Inches?

CA has had no significant extreme weather since December 2010, when a series of atmospheric rivers took an unexpected tour fhrough Southern California.

Both the precipitation totals and the graphics for "ARKstorms" are jaw-dropping. In 2011, the USGS issued a massive report on an ARKstorm that left the entire Central Valley approximately six inches deep in water, forced the evacuation of Sacramento — including the government — for over a year, and would have destroyed the California economy, if the California in that era had a full-scale economy.

That was in 1862, when it poured buckets for twenty-eight days virtually without a stop. It could happen today; in fact, it happens every 180 years or so. Some suggest chances for these storms have improved as warming puts more water vapor in the atmosphere. Should that kind of "big one" return, the disaster experts say it would break up the California economy, send the US into a recession that could be major, and probably damage the world economy


This time the ARKstorm, as the Weather Service wonkily terms them, has Sacramento in its sights.  and residents are being told to prepare for twelve inches of rain and power outages

But rain is also predicted for SoCal, so I can't be too upset about it…

Full Story »

Bear vs. people: How can we avoid killings?

Reporting in the Wall Street Journal implicitly challenges the endangered species narrative of wildlife* by bringing up the important fact that across vast regions in these United States, the forest has recovered from utter devastation at the hands of 19th-century Americans. With the forest has recovered a host of iconic species in vast numbers, including geese, deer, and beaver. 

The figures from the WSJ are jaw-dropping: 

Today, the eastern third of the country has the largest forest in the contiguous U.S., as well as two-thirds of its people. Since the 19th century, forests have grown back to cover 60% of the land within this area. In New England, an astonishing 86.7% of the land that was forested in 1630 had been reforested by 2007, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Not since the collapse of Mayan civilization 1,200 years ago has reforestation on this scale happened in the Americas, says David Foster, director of the Harvard Forest, an ecology research unit of Harvard University. In 2007, forests covered 63.2% of Massachusetts and 58% of Connecticut, the third and fourth most densely populated states in the country [cut] 

In the Ojai area, without question the most dramatic human-wildlife species conflict is bear vs. people, especially when as happened a few years ago, a wild bear was killed by Fish and Game, and this month a sow attacked a woman walking outside town, and Fish and Game promised to kill her if they found her. From the Los Angeles Times

If they are successful, the bear will be euthanized.

"Public safety is our No. 1 priority," said agency spokesman Andrew Hughan. "There is scientific evidence that when an animal attacks a person, there is a chance they will do it again."

This is very troubling to many many Ojai people, who do not want the state killing a local bear. I speculate that they would no more want the state to wantonly kill a local bear than they would want it to kill a local person, even if that local person turned aggressive.

The matter has been hotly debated on the Ojai Post, where former mayor Suza Franchina has challened the aggressive approach of both the press and Fish and Game towards the accused bear. Interesting that in the East, hunters are posited by the WSJ as the heroic answer to this wildlife problem, and out here in the blue West we will not accept hunting bears with guns — except by state authorities. 

Are we seeing more incidents between wild bears and people in and around Ojai? The consensus is yes, and the suggestion is that bears are coming down from the mountains for water and food.

A friend, Tim Teague, trained in ecology, working as a photographer, points to fascinating numbers, showing that bear populations in California were estimated at about 10,000 in the l980's, about 22,000 in l999, and about 31,000 in 2000.

What if we're seeing more bears because there are more bears to see? 

And what is the bear population now? Funny that our policy towards bears has changed so little officially since we drove the grizzly to extinction, even if times (and bears) have changed.

(Here's Monarch the bear, the last of the state's grizzlies, and the model for the CA flag). 


Lots of folks in Ojai eager to find an alternative to shooting bears. Could they work? Are we on that path already? Worth a few calls to find out…

[*the cliche narrative of across-the-board decline is, unsurprisingly, not the whole story, as most people know] 

Full Story »

Thought experiment: Imagine the end of NYC by drowning

Can't really do it, can you?

Don't worry, it's not you, it's us. 

If we can’t imagine our own deaths, as Freud insisted, how can we be expected to imagine the death of a city?

From a great op-ed/essay by James Atlas. In today's New York Times, of course. With an image to match…


Full Story » Comment (1)

Knitters gone wild: “Guerilla grannies” surprise Ojai

Thanksgiving is the heaviest on food of all our national holidays, and perhaps the lightest emotionally — coincidence? Not sure, but for the Ojai Valley News, here's a fun story that I think fits the occasion, about the latest in organic chic — yarn bombs. Other descriptors: Yarn bombers. Guerilla knitting. Yarnstorming properties. Guerilla granies,

Here's an example of this form of woolen public art, which depends on a lack of permits: 

Yarn Bomb Ojai1

Here's the lede: 

Anonymous knitters, working late at night, have wrapped dozens of poles
in Ojai with brightly-colored yarn in the past few weeks, as well as
cloaking local landmarks — including the metal horse in Rotary Park at
the edge of town, the condor at the museum and the statue of the boy
reading at the library — in impromptu woolen outfits.

And the wrap-up, quoting an anonymous knitter who likened herself to "Deep Throat," and concluded with a nice story about being out early after a big wave of yarn bombing to see if there would be any reaction. She was at Cluff Park downtown looking at an installation on an abstract statue when a big CalTrans truck pulled up. She and her guerilla friend were worried that he had come to take down the woolen outfit they had put on the statue, as if to keep it warm.  

         A leading member of
one of the guerilla knitters group, who did not want to be identified, said
that three separate groups of knitters are responsible, but don’t know each
other well.

         “That’s kind of the
fun part, the anonymity,” she said. “It’s not that organized. We all have our
own ideas. It was my idea to put a yarn bomb on the pole outside the voting
booth at Chaparral for voting day. It was red white and blue, with all these
criss-crossing flags. I think it made quite a statement. It’s still there,
although the flags are gone.”

         Three weeks ago her
group hit several landmarks around town, including artist Ted Gall’s iron horse
in Rotary Park, which was given leg warmers, and the statue in Cluff Park.
Early the next morning the knitter was with a friend and saw a CalTrans truck
stop at the site. She was afraid he had come to take the knitting down, but
instead he took a camera out of his truck and took a picture of the “yarn

         When she asked him
about it, he said he was taking the picture for his daughter, who had heard
about the trend and liked it. 

         “Some towns have
drive-by shootings,” he told her. “In Ojai, we have drive-by knittings."

Full Story » Comment (1)

The only ones who know spring is coming: Jack Gilbert

The poet Jack Gilbert died this week, after a long illness (which usually means cancer, but in his case meant Alzheimer's…a story well told in the Los Angeles Times). 

Gilbert was brilliantly eulogized in Andrew Sullivan's irreplaceable blog, and in passing Sullivan mentioned the name of his poetry editor Alice Quinn, formerly of The New Yorker. (No wonder his site has been featuring poetry as of late!)

In any case, Quinn referred us to an interview in The Paris Review, in which Gilbert talked about two types of poems, which perhaps could be distinguished as poems about what just happened, poems of the broken-hearted, and poems of thought.

Gilbert suggested that poetry is a way to fearless examine matters of the heart, as much as thoughts in the mind, and perhaps his great skill is using that craft to think through the heart's pains: 

"INTERVIEWER: In your interview with Gordon Lish in Genesis West,
you say that there are two kinds of poetry. On the one hand, there are
poems that give delight; on the other, there are poems that do something
else. What do you mean by “something else”? 

GILBERT:  I think serious poems should make something
happen that’s not correct or entertaining or clever. I want something
that matters to my heart, and I don’t mean “Linda left me.” I don’t want
that. I’ll write that poem, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m
talking about being in danger—as we all are—of dying. How can you spend
your life on games or intricately accomplished things? And politics?
Politics is fine. There’s a place to care for the injustice of the
world, but that’s not what the poem is about. The poem is about the
heart. Not the heart as in “I’m in love” or “my girl cheated on me”—I
mean the conscious heart, the fact that we are the only things in the
entire universe that know true consciousness. We’re the only
things—leaving religion out of it—we’re the only things in the world
that know spring is coming."

Not sure Gilbert is right about that: When a Clark's Nutcracker hides nuts in pine trees for winter, does it not know at some level that spring will come? But the point is that in his work Gilbert thinks through big ideas, and comes up with what we may not have thought of before. Agree or disagree, one can be changed by his insights. So it is with a poem Sullivan/Quinn led with, called Failing and Falling

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.

It’s the same when love comes to an end,

or the marriage fails and people say

they knew it was a mistake, that everybody

said it would never work. That she was

old enough to know better. But anything

worth doing is worth doing badly.

Like being there by that summer ocean

on the other side of the island while

love was fading out of her, the stars

burning so extravagantly those nights that

anyone could tell you they would never last.

Every morning she was asleep in my bed

like a visitation, the gentleness in her

like antelope standing in the dawn mist.

Each afternoon I watched her coming back

through the hot stony field after swimming,

the sea light behind her and the huge sky

on the other side of that. Listened to her

while we ate lunch. How can they say

the marriage failed? Like the people who

came back from Provence (when it was Provence)

and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.

I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,

But just coming to the end of his triumph.

Arguably a rethinking of Auden's famous meditation on the same story (and Brueghel's painting) and, as unsparing as the thought remains, a rethinking of the suffering of Icarus as well. 


If you look closely, you can see Icarus hitting the water near the ship. 

Full Story »

The little girl and the Beasts of the Southern Wild

Without doubt the movie this year that most effectively dramatized the precariousness of life on the environmental edge in these United States, including sea level rise, was Beasts of the Southern Wild

Below is a central image from that powerful film, and an explanation of a story told in glimpses. You can't take your eyes of this little girl with the complicated name, Quvenzhane Wallis, said to be a lock for an Oscar nomination (who brings an impossible lightness to this blurrily real film).

Set in a near future, both dystopian and intensely real. the central idea of the future in "Beasts…" emerges unpredictably but mesmerizingly.Writer/director/composer Benh Zeitlin (BZ), and producer Michael Gottwald (MG) explain why to Pop Omnivore/National Geographic

"BZ: The way we developed that stuff [with the enormous Ice Age boars, the aurochs] was very unscientific, very literalist—in the ways you understand how matter works when you’re a young kid. Lucy, my co-writer, is the first to admit she’s really bad at science. So I would explain something about, say, particle physics to her, and she would explain it back to me as well as she understood it. And then I would explain that back to her. So we sort of played this game of telephone until the science got really surreal and basic—the way a kid might understand it.

Louisiana is in the most precarious place in terms of sea-level rise. I thought the way Hushpuppy would understand the sea rising is if an ice cube melts, the water will rise. And one way she would understand death is if something freezes, it becomes still; when it thaws, it goes back to the way it was. So she might understand that the Ice Age froze all these creatures and they “died.” But if that gets reversed, then the Ice Age unhappens—death unhappens—and these creatures come back to life. We extrapolated the mythology through her logic.

MG: Where we shot the film in southern Louisiana, the environment is changing in a way that’s extremely visible and more aggressive than it is in a lot of other places. People say, “Twenty years ago, that was a field. Now it’s not. Now I have to take a bridge to get there.” What the film does—and what the aurochs do in their transition out of the ice—is take that already accelerated process and accelerate it even more."


Meet the future, litle girl. 

Full Story »

How to start a conversation: David Brooks

David Brooks, the conservative columnist for The New York Times, can be irritating to a Californian: 

During his first term, President Obama faced a wicked problem: How do you govern in a highly polarized, evenly divided country with House Republicans who seem unwilling to compromise? 

The GOP did not "seem" to be unwilling to compromise. They famously said they were not going to compromise on issues like spending and health care, and also made clear they would not even discuss immigration or gay marriage. 

Yet Brooks can find a sweet spot in the latest crucial budget debate, and start a conversation:

Before he gets lost in the mire of negotiations, the president could step back and practically describe the task ahead. Between 1947 and 2007, the U.S. economy grew an average of 3.3 percent a year. But over the next few decades, according to forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office, it’s projected to grow only at 2.3 percent per year. The task ahead is to make the sort of structural changes that will get America back on its old growth trajectory.

Then the president could remind everyone that there’s lots to do. Some of the things on the to-do list are things Democrats relish doing: investing in infrastructure and basic research; reforming immigration to attract global talent; investing in student loans and community colleges; trimming the annual $1.1 trillion in tax loopholes, many of which go to corporations and the rich.

Other things the Republicans will surely relish doing: simplifying a tax code that has bloated to 74,000 pages; streamlining the Code of Federal Regulation that has metastasized to 165,000 pages; slowing entitlement spending.

For a panel discussion this Monday at the Art Center in Ojai, someone did a little research on the contentiousness of our current politics.

(Let me give a shout to the organizer of this event, master of words Tree Bernstein, for this idea, to assemble =a couple of writers, an editor, a screenwriter, a publisher, a curator, to think out loud in public about Civil Discourse.) 

Well, here's an interesting fact: Three of the last four presidential elections have been decided by a margin of 2.7% or less. That means excruciatingly close elections in the Bush years, and then another close election again this year. One analysis I saw — somewhere — said that only about 350,000 votes in four states — Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and Florida — decided the election in 2012. 

This is very unusual in American politics. It's not an illusion that the nation is badly divided today. Looking at the numbers, we can see that this neck and neck kind of election horse race has only broken out once before in our history, during Reconstruction, in the era between James Garfield and Grover Cleveland, between 1889-1892. 

(That's a little deceptive, true, as it glosses over the Civil War years. But never mind.) 

Various solutions to the divisiveness were suggested, including idealism, moderation, humor, and story-telling. Someone said that the argument over the marginal tax rate is an argument whether should tax conventional income as 35% — or 40%.

As the WSJ points out, the tax has been as low as 7% at its inception, and as high as 92% during wartime.

Can our politics imagine the kind of deal we could put together, to give our economy a shot or two in the arm, using both left wing and right wing ideas? 

That's the question Brooks asks, and it's a good one. 

Full Story »

The great and the small: Mary Ruefle

From a spectacular essay in Poetry by Mary Ruefle

I remember John Moore, another teacher, who did the damnedest thing. We
were studying Yeats, and at the beginning of one class Mr. Moore asked
us if we would like to see a picture of Yeats. We nodded, and he held up
a photograph of Yeats taken when he was six months old, a baby dressed
in a long white gown. Maybe he was even younger, maybe he was an infant.
I thought it was the funniest thing anyone had ever done, the
strangest, most ridiculous, absurd thing to have done. But nobody
laughed and if Mr. Moore thought it was funny, you couldn’t tell by his
face. I always liked him for that. The poems we were reading in class
were not written by a baby. And yet whenever I think of Yeats, I see him
as a tiny baby wearing a dress—that photograph is part of my conception
of the great Irish poet. And I love that it is so. We are all so small.

Yes, and how mightily we endeavor to escape our fate


From my story on a production of The Trojan Women, staring Helen, Cassandra, and Hecuba at California Lutheran University. 

Full Story »