April 05, 2004
I'm almost positive I'm going to get into a lot of trouble for this post, but as a(functionally) card-carrying Hindu experiencing the full brunt of the Lenten season for, effectively, the first time in his life in a church choir (RMC Choir didn't do a Lenten service last year), this is really quite terrible!
...does anyone actually bother to read some of the texts that are sung during Lenten services? I mean really really read them -- perhaps the most disturbing one, from Jeremiah:
Incipit Lamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae.
ALEPH: Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo; facta est quasi vidua domina Gentium; princeps provinciarum facta est sub tributo.
BETH: Plorans ploravit in nocte, et lacrimae ejus in maxillis ejus: non est qui consoletur eam ex omnibus caris ejus: omnes amici ejus spreverunt eam, et facti sunt ei inimici
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum...
An english translation can be found here, with the exception of the last line as follows:
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn back unto the Lord your God."
Call me insane (many of you will) but is this not, in part, calling for the cultural cleansing of Jerusalem? Namely the part about how "omnes amici ejus spreverunt eam, et facti sunt ei inimici," and that final plea. Is that really appropriate?
Even more disturbing is the somewhat seething "Vinea mea electa, ego te plantavi: quomodo conversa es in amaritudinem, ut me crucifigeres et Barrabam dimitteres. Sepivi te et lapides elegi ex te et aedificavi turrim," or the "O vos omnes" (Lamentationes 12, 20, 16) commonly set to music (for my part, I'm thinking about the Ginastera setting -- magnificent stuff in its own rite). The "Tristis est anima mea." (namely, the somewhat horrific and terrifying "nunc videbitis turbam, quae circumdabit me. Vos fugam capietis, et ego vadam immolari pro vobis.")
Whatever happened to led to the slaughter as a lamb? the turn the other cheek? the good old love thy neighbor? the general warm fuzzy feelings of Christian charity and good will?
WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON!?!?
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At yesterday's Nathan Hale meeting, we diverged into a brief discussion (unresolved) over whether the media should publish photos of horrific deaths, such as those of the deaths of the four in Fallujah.
Jim Lewis argues in Slate against the use of such photos, although he links to another page in Slate with some of the same photos that he feels shouldn't be published. He cites his own experiences with pictures he's taken in the Ituri region of the Congo, and discovering that the picture actually distracted from what happened, rather than amplifying it. He also cautions that graphic images can titillate, like pornography; hardly a respectful way to remember the dead.
I agree with Lewis's points. I also think that we each have a right (often exercised for us by our families, and not found in the Constitution) to decide what level of privacy we want in death. I would never chose an open-casket funeral; I would never chose to allow photos of my corpse to circulate (save for medical purposes after they've taken all the useful organs out of me). Explicit instructions or clearly known wishes aside, whether to publish those photos from Fallujah should not be the media's unilateral decision. Perhaps those mercenaries were public persons when they were alive, fair game to be photographed at work for stories on NGOs in Iraq, but once they died, they were no longer acting in the public sphere. Their deaths are still news, but the images of their dead bodies, fully a private and individual state, should not be fair game.
We have little difficulty, however, in finding in our case law and traditions the right of family members to direct and control disposition of the body of the deceased and to limit attempts to exploit pictures of the deceased family member’s remains for public purposes.
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I have nothing interesting to say about the Daily Kos Affair, except to note that I actually quite like mercenaries as a general rule (without getting into whether these particular contractors were mercenaries, or whether the administration should be pursuing different policies). I tend to side with A.E.Housman on the matter:
These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.
Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.
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Toby Stern seems impressed by these folks who covered some thrift-store clothes in duct tape and then went to prom in them. One of my friends in high school went to prom in a real duct tape dress. As in, made of nothing but duct tape. It was pretty attractive too.
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Is this article Amanda links to below an April Fools joke? Does the President of NYU really drink thirty-three cups of coffee a day? Does the Princeton lecturer in the survey really drink the equivalent of 13 cups of coffee plus over 60 ounces of Diet Coke? Even forgetting the caffeine, this is an extraordinary amount of liquid! How do these people have even room inside themselves for processing solid food?
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As Prof. Levy (proudly?) notes, The Chronicle of Higher Education picked up on his original caffiene blogging, and asked four academics to chart their daily drinking habits. Read it, and be impressed (and unlike some of the Chronicle stuff he's linked to in the past, this is available to non-subscribers).
[I'm lazy, didn't feel like getting out the tea ball or the brown betty, so I'm currently quickly drinking Lipton Yellow Label before it goes cold. I believe it was bought on Devon Street, since it's only sold in India. It's (sorry, Sudeep), the Rosemont Estatess shiraz of teas: perfectly drinkable but no lacking on the subtelties. Deciding I like fresh-ground coffee the best has really cut down on my coffee drinking. Perhaps I should move up to electric from hand-ground.]
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This is the Year of the University Press. I can't tell that it's helped much. The Northeastern and the University of Idaho's university preses are shutting down, the CSMonitor reports, and other presses are in rough shapes. In particular, the University of Georgia's will soon lose $300,000, or about half its subsidy. All American university presses, save the University of Chicago Press depend on subsidies from their parent universities to stay afloat (UCP is profitable enough to give money back).
Libraries aren't buying as many books; paper costs have risen; people are buying fewer UP books in the stores. But printing the things that general consumers aren't willing to pay for means the books will be around when they are wanted:
As one measure of the importance of university press books to broader audiences, Givler notes that in the months following Sept. 11, 2001, three previously published volumes quickly became bestsellers: "The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama Bin Laden, and the Future of Terrorism" (Northeastern); "Taliban" (Yale); and "Twin Towers" (Rutgers).
"It was so unusual that three university press books would be topping the national bestseller list," Givler says. "There is no visible, large, national market for a lot of these very specialized books. But when something comes along - 9/11 being the most dramatic and horrible example - university presses have already published the books about it that people need to read. They're serving the public need for information, not just scholars' need for information."
Books are research. Sometimes, books are the only original source material in a language (if you'll grant a translation that rank). Publishing is a part of many a university's job, if that university wants to support research and teaching.
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Professor Bainbridge writes apropos of gambling in California:
According to the WSJ ($), Schwarzenegger is considering cutting a deal for a short-term bump up of $2 billion in the tribes' contribution in return for which the tribes' monopoly over slots will be expanded by banning race tracks and card clubs from offering slots. I don't get it. Wouldn't it make more sense to eliminate the tribes' monopoly, letting anybody open a casino? Non-tribe casinos would pay taxes and thus make a larger contribution to the state budget over time.
Forget about Bainbridge for judge--I propose we elect the man governor.
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can a grammatical prescriptivist embrace legal realism? If there are rules of grammar that posit correctness, must there also be a domain of natural law against which we can judge the rightness of legislation or common law?
Note that one can both reject legal realism and reject the notion that there is a domain of natural law that has anything to do with the rightness of legislation of common law. My understanding is that The Curmudgeonly Clerk, for example, also hews that line.
In particular, a lot of people are led to embrace morally neutral formalism-- the notion that the laws say what they say, and might be good or bad, but not in any way that judges ought to be cognizant of or can dependably deduce-- in part because they are uncomfortable both with the notion of judges as independent political actors, and the notion of judges as guardians of our nation's ideals. One could argue that such formalism is itself a natural law belief or something, but I think that's silly.
Anyway, I mention all of this because I find myself leaning further and further into grammatic descriptivism every day,partially under the quixotic influence of Professor Ted Cohen, and partially because I find descriptivists are too often wrong or incoherent when trying to reference their own supposed authorities (nor, for that matter, have I figured out how one is supposed to decide which authorities of language are authoritative).
Someday I'll write an (I hope) clever article about all of this titled "Originalism for Moral Relativists."
Anyway, I'm sure Nick Morgan understands that his two questions are quite different, but I just wanted to reinforce the point.
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The Chicago Maroon has a story on Professor Karl Weintraub's passing. The story is notable not just because it told me that Weintraub had taught at the U of C for 53(!) years, and not just because it bravely contains the word "bullshit" on the front page above the fold, but also because it extensively quotes my fellow Crescatter, Beth Plocharczyk.
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In a previous post I interpreted Ed Cohn's remarks about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to be too negative. In a new post he explains how I've gotten him wrong. Ed goes on to suggest that I've also gotten him wrong on Shakespeare in Love and that another blogger made the same mistake when reading his remarks on Lost in Translation; for what it's worth, I made the same error as that other blogger about Ed's LiT post.
Anyway, I now agree with Ed's sentiments pretty much completely-- he thinks that too much blogging is thoughtless, and that there's room for some really intelligent and interesting blogging about movies, which is now far too rare. [One thing that's always made movie-writing so difficult to do well is the question of "spoiling" the movie for those who haven't seen it yet-- I don't have a suggestion about how to fix this problem.]
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When asked to choose between grammatical prescriptivism (there are correct rules) or descriptivism (rules merely predict how people speak), Amanda replies:
What is it with the binary questions? You know I don't like being put to an either/or. Fine, for once, I won't duck. The rules of grammar are objective things that are written down in books. [Q. 16 below]
A follow-up question, if I may (and one that may interest Mr. Sandefur): can a grammatical prescriptivist embrace legal realism? If there are rules of grammar that posit correctness, must there also be a domain of natural law against which we can judge the rightness of legislation or common law?
I confess I tried to answer that question in a way that would support all of my beliefs about what proper grammar should be. I don't think that writing things down is relevant at all. I can write anything I want to; depending on who I am, I can get it published, too. Certainly standards on acceptable style can change—look at how much shorter sentences have become since the seventeenth century (thank God). And the rules of grammar have changed, too.
Part of the problem with these grammar debates is it's really hard to find any 'facts' on which to rely. Quotes of various usages don't solve the argument. How would I prove that 'we' is plural, no matter what confusions royalty and popes might add? Or that 'I' is singular? So far as I can tell, it's all in the definitions and in what gets accepted. Arguments end up sounding like babysitters arguing with two year olds: increasingly frantic cries of "because!" But to get to the question of legal realism, I'll assume that there are actually rules of grammar out there, with some lagniappe added to them to prevent them from only being habit.
I'm not a linguist, so I'm rather out of my field on some of this, but it seems that we have, to a certain extent, less choice with our grammar than with our laws (excepting Esperanto and other created languages). Even in Locke, there's an element of decision: the people came together and covenanted in order to protect... there's volition, even if he tells the story in a way that doesn't leave the natives any other rational choices to make. The desires — for security, to follow a father-figure — are the most natural parts. The laws we create follow rationally from that. Grammar happens to us, to a far greater extent. Sure, we can affect, we kill its spirit each time one of us says "they is," but it seems that we have less control over its course.
So, if the domains are of different types, it doesn't seem that the fact that one (grammar's) posits correctness necessarily impllies that the other's (law) works in the same fashion. If we have looked at the natural law beginnings of our original law, decided they didn't fit us (patriarchy and politics based on it perhaps aren't ideal?), and created new standards of "rightness" and "goodness" in law, it doesn't seem that comparing present-day practices to those under natural law will tell us if our legislation or common law is correct. It will say whether or not it has changed, but it won't offer a value judgment.
But I don't see that believing in the existence of one natural domain leads to the belief in the existence of any others. Prescriptivism, absolute textualism, strict fundamental reading of a religious text's words: one can consistently believe in some but not all of the above, for it's the creation of each that determines the most how they should be determined and what's right for one may not be right for another.
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Crescat's self-obsession knows no bounds. This week we continue to refocus our 20 Questions feature inward, and Amanda Butler (who was with Crescat before Crescat was Crescat) answers 20 Questions about public schools, the death penalty, and loud people.
1: Why did you decide to start blogging and why did you decide to join a
I started blogging back in December 2002. A few of my friends had them. I didn't really get the appeal, but I liked the style of their URLs: agarwala.blogspot.com, baude.blogspot.com. I knew that if I didn't act quickly, all the decent variations on my name would be gone, so I took abutler.blogspot.com while it was still available. I wasn't very much of a blogger at first. Will eventually set up an incentive structure: "So in a twisted attempt to encourage your ever-so-reluctant blog, I've decided I'll send you a new email every time I read a post. At least, until I get tired of that plan, which will probably happen soon. I have a short attention span. But until then..." (email, 10 Jan. 03). He has a short attention span. It wasn't much of an incentive structure anyway. If you've ever corresponded with him, you've probably realized he's a happily prolific emailer.
In March 2003, it broke. It got bloggered. I don't know what happened. Will invited me to join him and his brother Jonathan on Baudes Blog. I hesitated for a while, because theirs was already a higher traffic blog, and I wasn't sure I wanted to write for such a large audience (I think mine was about 40 hits a day when it broke, but on the upside, some people actually read it regularly as a way to keep in touch with me). I decided to just ignore the readership concerns, and, well, I guess you know the rest of the story.
2: Why did you decide to attend the University of Chicago, and have you
ever regretted it?
I don't think I'd heard of Chicago but in vague passing until I started getting the mailings from the admissions office in my junior year of high school. They used a very nice quality of paper that stood out from a lot of the rest of the deluge. And then they sent a postcard with a picture of a woman standing as the axis of a giant wheel. Other women, her teammates, had shoved the wheel, and it was a contest to see how far it would roll. On the reverse side, the caption explained that this was no longer offered as an intramural sport. I was somewhat disappointed, but by that time, I'd realized that Chicago met the rest of my requirements: small undergrad class (3,500) in a full-scale university. I knew I'd probably be going into the humanities or social sciences, but I wanted to have the balance of science majors around me. And I have regretted it at passing times, but I think I'd regret anywhere else more.
3: Youre something of an opponent of school vouchers. Keeping in mind
the limited resources available to many school districts, what would you
propose to improve Americas schools? (Or do you think they need
Not No Child Left Behind, that's for sure. It mandates a far more urban solution (one that doesn't really work) for rural schools. What do you do if you're in Lee County, Arkansas where there's only two elementary schools, one middle, and one high -- if your school is failing, to where do you transfer? It's a mistake that I'd find more understandable, though still egregious, if Bush were from New Jersey. A he's coming from Texas, where you've got places like King County where there's just one school, it's ridiculous for him to think that a system based on transfering students will work all across the nation.
The schools do need improving. Vastly expanded Head Start that's available year-round as a way to both care for children while their parents are in school and to start reading to them and exposing them to complex vocabularies. After school daycare for the elementary schools, available along similiar lines as the paid, reduced, and free lunch and and breakfasts programs. It can be a time for fun, but also a chance to teach the kids who just aren't getting it. I think foreign language immersion, performing arts and liberal arts magnets are great, but I'm leary of magnets that try to break down the liberal arts curriculum into one school for the humanities and social sciences and one for the physical and biological sciences. It's just too early to add so much tracking towards certain future majors. I would support a less rigid version of Germany's system of various types of high schools, targeted at certain kinds of students with their own needs for career and college-prep classes.
4: In general, youve been Crescat's voice in favor of public schooling, opposing the privatization of both secondary schools and universities. Is your support for public school philosophical or empirical? That is, do you think that public schools give better education than private schools would, or would you support public schools even if their education were
worse? Or both?
Keep in mind that my views on schools have been radically shaped by fourteen years in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. I think my schooling is a large part of why I'm a liberal today, for I grew up under Brown v. Board. For fourty-seven years the EBRPSS was trying (or not, as it often was in the early days) to get into the shape where it could be declared unitary. Last year, the NAACP and the original plaintiffs signed a final agreement to consent, in four years' time, to a judge's declaration that they system is finally unitary. It's been one expensive court battle, especially for a school system without much -- I believe the homestead tax exemption applies to all homeowners of property worth $75,000 or less, or 30-50%, roughly guessing.
The best public school in town sent more people to better out of state colleges and universities, had more National Merit Scholars, won more awards and all that than the best private school did (and the public school didn't charge $10,500 a year or have as fancy of equipment). Either the private school didn't produce top students, or top students didn't tend to chose to go to the private school, or parents of students who might go on to more expensive universities than LSU didn't want to spend over $40K on a high school education before facing college tuition.
Where the private schools did have an advantage and did seem to do a better job than the public schools was on the education of the average student - kids who would, with a bit of pressure, go on to LSU or U Louisiana-Lafayette or Our Lady of the Lake's nursing school. They came from decently well-off families with parents who wanted their children to get a decent education. It was a huge self-selection on a class basis, away from kids with more troubled and poorer backgrounds. If the middle and some of the upper part of the bell curve all goes to private schools, the public schools look like the home of a few kids in priviledged magnet schools and the kids in the schools that get the depressing NYT articles every few weeks.
I don't think you can say that the quality of education that a public school can offer is better or worse than that which a private school can offer. Who are the students, who are the teachers, what is the funding, what do people want from the school? And you want me to pick answer choice A or B? But I am a strong supporter of the intitution of public schools. I don't like the class stratification I see in private schools (although as a public school kid, it did mean that I didn't have to deal with the Hummer driving set and having one of the worst cars just didn't really mean much other than that not having A/C is, in and of itself, pretty awful). There are problems and confusions, but I think public schools do a better job of acting on the basis of a student's merit, while private schools are more concerned with a parent's income (see the piece on Isidore Newman's baseball coach, which assumes that the parents bought a right to boss the school around when they sent in their tuition check. was that really on sale?). In that sense, public schools have their priorities in a much better place.
5: Youve suggested that public schools are a sufficiently fundamental right that their funding ought to be equalized among all American citizens. What other financial obligations do you think all Americans owe to one another?
Preservation - the National Park Service. Defense - the military. Internal safety - the police, the FDA, inspection of meat-packing plans. I'm especially concerned about children, the mentally ill, and people who are elderly that it is though they were children again. When these people are left without any or enough support by their family and friends, I think the rest of us have an obligation to fund programs to care for them. I think we also have an obligation to make this a good country, and even seemingly frivolous things like the Kennedy Center in DC, or Calder's Flamingo in the Chicago Loop, or historical preservation of homes and buildings in New Orleans's French Quarter play a part in making America a place to be proud of.
6: Given your love of fiction why are you going to do something soulless and boring like go to law school when you could be studying something more worthwhile, like English?
As someone who has started and failed to complete three seperate BA papers, I'm not sure that an English phD program would be more worthwhile. It would prepare me to produce literary criticism. There's good stuff out there, but there's also a lot that's soulless and boring. Certain prophets of doom haven't yet managed to convince me that law school is absolutely guaranteed to be that way, so I'll take my chances with the JD.
7: Youve frequently blogged about Mongolia, and now we see that youre excited to be going to Kazakhstan for a few years. Whats with the obsession with Central Asia?
I think I first start getting interested in regions because they look like places I'd like to go. The Rockies are one of my favorite parts of the US, and Central Asia has even taller, steeper mountains in the foothills of the Himalayas. Looking at photos like these is probably one of the first sparks of my interest. I'm also fascinated by the chance of living in a place that's not too long out of the USSR and is still teetering between a start as a success and a start as a failure.
8: What do you think of Crescat Sententias lack of comments?
I don't mind so much now that we've got trackback. I'd be interested in trying comments as an experiment just to see what happened with them, though.
9: We have it on good authority that you really dislike loud people. How do you feel about loud bloggers?
They're significantly easier to ignore. I don't see any need to start my day be waking up to reading someone who'll grate on me the wrong way, but I understand there are people who search out annoying bloggers for just that purpose.
10: As Crescat's long-time token Liberal, which candidate do/did you support in the Democratic primary?
The one most likely to win, so John Kerry.
11: Which Supreme Court Justice(s) past or present do you most admire?
Oh, hum. I'm not very well read on the past ones. I admire Justice Thomas's stubborness. I admire Justice White after reading Professor Hutchinson's The Man Who Once Was Whizzer White. I admire Justice Kennedy after reading him on First Amendment issues.
12: Are you now or have you ever been an originalist?
Can you put me down as quasi? I think it's a very relevant question to ask, somewhat less important than "what are the words of the statute and the constitution," and a touch below looking at prior case law. I just don't think our knowledge of history is great enough for us to solve everything using originalism, or that history is always a compelling precedent. Juries were shoved to the forefront as a stopgap measure after the Fourth Lateran Council forbade priests from participating in the ordeal; the cry for defense lawyers went out when wealthy men of good family started finding themselves in court on charges of treason. That the founders liked a practice is useful to know, but so are the sources of that practice (which they themselves may not have been aware of).
13; Do you think that (properly interpreted) the Constitution protects a
right to a first-term abortion? What about a third-term one?
Unfortunately, I think that banning abortion entirely falls into that rather large category of rather nasty things the Constitution does not forbid us to do to our neighbors. Run the slippery slope backwards -- the Constitution does not include a right to birth control, or even contraception by married couples. But if my neighbors were to start infringing on my ability to control those things so vitally important to me, I'm going to Canada. I thought at first I'd just go there for the contraceptive shopping, but if my neighbors are acting so obnoxiously, I'm moving (in that case, maybe replace Canada with New Zealand).
I think a third-term abortion can fall into another line: life of the mother. Yes, very premature babies do sometimes survive and come out just fine. I was born six weeks early; seven, and I would have faced far greater risks of brain damage or malfunctioning lungs. Fourteen weeks early - the length of the entire third trimester - and that's a call that I think the mother and father should be able to make. I think the Consitutional issues may be different then, for I don't think the government has the ability to tell an extremely ill woman that she must either put her own life at severe risk for the next twelve weeks until her baby is due, or give birth to a baby that isn't ready to be born.
14; In what instances do you think government should and shouldn't be able to control speech by quasi-government entities that it funds? Should public universities and federally-funded health clinics be painted with the same constitutional brush?
Much as I curse it, the government has no constitutional obligation to do many of the good things it does, like universities and health care clinics. But once it's decided to get into the business and shown it's mostly competent, it should do its job well. Respecting a university's decision to grant one of its professors tenure and broad First Amendment requirements on campus are part of it. I think the government should take a fairly hands-off stance on curriculum, although if it wishes to encourage the establishment of a new program (a vet school where there is none), it's certainly free to dangle funding for one. With health care clinics, I recognize that the government has a right to selective funding, but I think it should place caring for people's health over advancing its own political views.
15: Youve made your less-than-positive feelings about the death penalty quite clear in the past. If you were a Supreme Court Justice asked to rule about the Constitutionality of the death penalty, what would you do? How does this differ from what you would do if you were asked to handle it as a legislative or executive official?
I do think the death penalty is constitutional. A a justice, I'd find that the juvenile death penalty isn't substantially different from the execution of the mentally retarded (which is unconstitutional). There's certainly room for heightened procedural safeguards - sleeping lawyers, jurors doing coke, testimony about a size 6 shoeprint left outside of the the window that fails to note that the shoe is a woman's and wouldn't fit the male defendant of man's size 6. After enough of this, my critics might start to complain that I was gradually chipping away at the prosecutor's ability to impose the death penalty on all cases but the ones with the cleanest police records and most ably represented defendants. The critics would be right.
As a legislative or executive official, I'd like to see the laws changed to abolish it. By constituional ammendment might be preferable, but anything would do.
16: In questions of grammar and usage, do you consider yourself a descriptivist or a prescreptivist? That is, are the rules of grammar objective things that are written down in books, or simply an attempt to generalize and predict the way people actually use words?
What is it with the binary questions? You know I don't like being put to an either/or. Fine, for once, I won't duck. The rules of grammar are objective things that are written down in books.
17: Whats so great about Sondheim?
He's great, though he's not the only witty, intelligent lyricist of musical theater out there. Some people go for Guys and Dolls. I go for Sondheim. He's got great puns in "A Little Priest" from Sweeney Todd, a wonderfully fast-paced paranoia of being trapped in "Getting Married Today" from Company, and then a sweetness in "Good Thing Going" from Merrily We Roll Along.
18: What does Amanda Butler look for in a man?
See above for "not loud" and below for "a good reader." Someone who can sing, give good massages, and is more ticklish than I am (look, I need some sort of advantage in a fight). I have exes whom I still talk to and exes whom I don't. The key difference is that I still respect the ones I'm in contact with. There's something about them that I want to emulate, that inspires me to improve myself. Without that, doldrums. But this doesn't actually distinguish well between good friends and boyfriends, so beyond that, I'm not sure myself what it is.
19: We know full well that you read fiction. But what do you read that our readers might be surprised to know about?
Guessing a reaction is hard. It's tempting to go for the obscure, like Wolfgang Borchert's Draußen vor der Tur, a radio play which has a great passage on responsibility. I tend to reread at least part of George Plimpton's The Paper Lion at the start of each football season. I don't think I've mentioned Flannery O'Connor before falling asleep for the wonderfully bizarre dreams or Willa Cather for her descriptions of the West. In high school, I think I read just about everything Kurt Vonnegut's written. What I think is most suprising is the play that I, an English major, have not yet read (but I will, just as soon as I leave Chicago behind): Hamlet.
20: What does it mean to be a good reader, and why is it important?
The phrase comes from Professor Veeder's lecture on Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. "Is Jack a good husband? Which is to say, is Jack a good reader. . . can he make love? That is the other side of the coin of 'can he make sense of his experiences?'" To be a good reader is to understand what isn't said, or spoken, or written. It's a form of close reading. Throughout his lectures, Veeder presses the point that all we ever do in life is read and everything is a text. You can do a close textual analysis on the words that an author choses to write (or not write) on the page. It's perfectly valid and useful and I don't mean to disparage it at all. But you can also do it on the moods, character, and motivation that are also displayed. It's important because to be a good reader is to be able to communicate and to understand, without which there's more confusion, unnecessary conflict, la-ti-da, insert your own parade of horribles here.
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UpdateJust recieved a few e-mails regarding this post. Many have been interested in my previous tea writing -- I can't promise how informative they'll be, but at the very least, they'll be marginally entertaining. They follow:
On other tea companies
Tea--Blog the First: the Brewing
Related links (DO be careful of the F&M -- before my falling out with them)
Tea -- Blog the Second: On the Blackness of the Tea
That should be it -- forgive the errata (as I just noticed some as I was putting the lists up. Most egregiously, the taxonomy on the last link -- I don't know what I was thinking -- should start with the Eukaryota.
A small fraction of you may or may not know of my obsession with the perfect cup of tea. This preoccupation has consumed the space of many entries on my home blog and has led to many snide comments generally regarding some sort of snobbery this apparently entails on my part. Yes, yes, I'll give you that much (on a good day) -- perhaps my insistence that all tea made in my presence be made in Rockport crockery, the leaves proofed, the water freshly drawn and cold, has been a bit excessive at points -- my derision of certain nefarious classmates as deserving of the bagged swill they probably take with their breakfast a tad hasty. Miraculous to say*, I seem to have come round -- not completely, mind you -- but at least a little bit.
You guessed it -- tea bags. I can only imagine that many of you have already closed your web browser at this point in disgust. Perhaps tears are welling up in your eyes at reading such injustice, perhaps now your head is in your hands as you rock back and forth wondering how on earth you can possibly continue on as your heart slowly turns cold, and you plot vengeance on my blasphemy...
For those still paying attention, I feel that I should explain my somewhat audacious suggestion. They're not all bad, although I should warn that many of them really are. For instance: at Starbuck's, if you must order, stick with their coffee. The Republic of Tea teas they carry are usually somewhat less potent than they are in their leaf form (which, sadly translates into quality for the majority of the Republic of Tea teas). Indeed, I also have a hard time believeing in their Tazo...ever. Frankly, I'd even stay away from Twinings. What, then, can I possibly be talking about?
There are two possibilities, maybe three. However, I've got to warn that these teas are DEFINITELY not as good in their leaf form -- for these teas, stick firmly to the bag form.
First: PG Tips. Many (well, perhaps just a few) of you may know of my on-going feud with the majority of British leaf teas (BOP! Who the hell do they think they are!). PG Tips, however, is a bit different. As a tea, it's got a good aroma, a rounded flavor, and is fairly good for what it is.
Second: Lipton Yellow Label. There may be an initial gasp at seeing Lipton on this list, but frankly, they make a good bag (take it for what you will). It is bit heavy handed on the Assam in this blend, and it's not as floral as your usual Darjeeling, however, it's got a good flavor to it, and honestly, it's much better a tea than some leaves I've tasted.
Finally: Taj Mahal Tea. As per the caveat above, I really really HATE their loose form. However, in bag form, it's really good. Again, a bit heavy on the Assam-like flavor, but makes for a good cuppa nonetheless.
These are, however, only a few of the disturbingly large bagged tea population I've tried -- DO let me know if you feel differently about any of my suggestions or have any suggestions of your own.
*sorry about the side bar here, however, this is one of my favorite constructs in English precisely because of the possibilities of translating to Latin -- my most prized method, of course, utilizing the all-too-rarely utilized supine case: Mirabile dictu -- i.e., wonderful with respect to saying. (If I'm not mistaken, Vergil the same words in the first book of the Aeneid -- although I very well may be wrong -- along with a dative of agent out of its cannonical use with the gerund -- WTF!). Sadly, I'm almost positive I'd be beaten with multiple heavy cudgels should I use this exact translation a) in common speech, 2) in common writing. Sad to say (!), this construct must lie supine (!) in the closet until people are more comfortable with it.
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