Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Memento mori, for a strained laugh

Methuselah Tree
A colleague at work who is even older than I am (he was born circa 1930) popped into my office on Monday and said,
Morris, a man told his doctor that he was having a problem with his health. The doctor said not to worry about it, it'll go away.
    As Dr. Nortin M. Hadler says in his latest book (Rethinking Aging, UNC Press), "Even Methuselah died." Laughter at jokes like these can choke a person

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Does this kind of stuff concern anybody else?"

Michelle Bachmann in Sarasota
A member of a college group I email with asked us if we were concerned by the report of Michelle Bachmann's having told a gathering in Florida Sunday that
I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, "Are you going to start listening to me here?"
    Another member of the group said that his suitcase is packed, and he's prepared to retreat to his beach house and try to figure out how the island it's on can secede. He said he could see filling each of his cabinet positions with a member of the email group.
    He can sign me up for communications director. That way, when he says things like he's got his suitcase packed, I can announce what Bachmann's spokeswoman, Alice Steward, said: "Obviously [he] was saying it in jest." Those who want to believe he was serious can (and will) go on believing that he really has a bag packed, ready to emigrate if someone like Bachmann should come to power, and the ones who believe me can feel relieved that he didn't really mean it (because he doesn't think such a thing will happen). Ms. Bachmann's followers, that is, are still turned on and wound up, whatever her spokeswoman may have announced for the sake of the rest of the world.

But I am concerned. I'm concerned by the sheer number of people in this country whose days are uplifted by the Bachmanns on the political entertainment circuit. Some of these people seem to be my neighbors, too. There have been so many letters lately to the editor of the Burlington Times-News from people arguing over the correct interpretation of the Bible that someone published a letter to its editor yesterday ("Religious views a private matter, not a topic for the Open Forum") calling for the editor to "exercise some editing."
Why not keep the religious debate in the churches and set some limits for this section to local matters that concern all?
    There are so many church-related articles in the Region section of this newspaper that I almost always mis-read the section's label as "Religion."

Monday, August 29, 2011

From Japan: Second dispatch

The second dispatch from an American musician in Bulgaria actually arrived soon after the first dispatch, but I didn't notice it until yesterday, when my son re-sent it.
Osaka, Sunday, Aug. 21. Following a pleasant rehearsal of Mozart's K. 478 with pianist Miyuki Kawabe, I borrowed Milena and Pavel's camera (a Panasonic Lumix), stealed myself against the persistent drizzle with a baseball cap, and went out to soak up the Osaka atmosphere on this calm Sunday afternoon (luckily I didn't actually get soaked until the final mad dash for the hotel a few hours later).
    I started with the narrow one-way street that the hotel is on, passing many small eating and drinking establishments, each with its quaint (and in most cases carefully arranged) storefront scene, often embellished by one or more parked bicycles that added their own colors and patterns to the photo compositions. These still-lifes kept me occupied as I made my way down Kasayamashi Avenue toward Nagori Street (really a boulevard).

    Then I began to incorporate the occasional passersby into some of the photos (I haven't yet looked at them, so I'm describing what I was attempting to do rather than the results.) When I reached Nagori Street, I made a u-turn and then turned right at the Seven-Eleven onto a street that my map leaves nameless, following it to the shopping street that the Midousuji subway line runs under. That street is called—surprisingly—Midousuji Avenue. I stepped up the pace—and no doubt missed a few interesting shots—when some shouting from Midousuji Avenue became noticeably louder and I realized that there was some real action ahead. At first I thought it was a rally and that people were shouting as they walked, but when I reached the corner of "nameless" and Midousuji, where a Shinsaibashi subway station entrance descends to the right, a group of people in yellow uniforms and waving yellow fans with an apparent advertising slogan on them came into view. These were the shouters. Definitely a product promotion.

    After turning left at Midousuji, I observed single promotional shouters at various stores along the way. This is the time of the "final summer sales," as several stores identified them in English. 
Random English names and phrases caught my eye—can't imagine why I would pick them out in a sea of Japanese characters (a mixed metaphor here?). I'm pretty sure there’s a technical term for the way the English language is used to enrich Japanese with colorful phrases that English-speakers would never think of. Yesterday a Japanese-born friend explained that the treasure in an anime film [a Japanese animated cartoon] (I forget which) is called "One Piece," but the symbolism is about everyone being united under a single Peace, so is this a misspelling or a conscious play on words?
    I kept the photos coming, trying to sneak in as many locals as possible using the techniques my Swedish friend Sofia taught me earlier this year (before that I really didn’t "do" people unless I got up the courage to ask them if it were okay to take their picture).

I was especially hopeful to capture some of the younger crowd with their unusual and(/or?) stylish hats. Then I happened on the Yamaha store (not to be confused with the store earlier on that merely sold Yamaha products), and everything changed.

Here I had no trouble metamorphosing from a photographing tourist into a shopping-spree tourist. I migrated from the full-price CDs (of which I bought a few, including "Quartina," a disc by a Japanese cello quartet) to the bargain bin, where I built up a stack of assorted titles, some of which had nothing more than an anime-type image of a orchestra conductor to recommend themselves to me. An anime conductor—I just couldn’t resist!
    Then I devoured the second floor, where sheet music and musical souvenirs are sold. I went for the little notepads with little doodles and/or piano themes, plus stickers of various kinds (I kept telling myself that I "need" these for presents for…I'll think of whom all to give them to), plus these cute envelopes for collecting lesson fees (had to have examples to show in Sofia under the heading "the Japanese think of everything"), plus an arrangement for string quartet of Piazzolla's "Libertango" (good thing it was displayed front out and, unlike the other front-facing items, had the title in non-Japanese). This last will be an addition to the Sofia Quartet's repertoire, for we have a running joke that the tango I least like to play is…"Libertango." This is a different arrangement than the one we do, so maybe I'll like it a little better (and nobody else in the quartet will object to it?). 
As I was paying for all this, my wandering eyes fixed on a round wall clock with a violin on it. I would have been like, "So what?" except that the hour hand (could have been the minute hand—it was back in an office, so hard to tell from my vantage point) was the violin's bow. I had to get one of those, except that they didn’t have any for sale. (I knew that was what the saleswomen were sadly explaining to me as they bagged my stuff.)
    On the way out I stopped by the upcoming events flyers, and among them saw one with a prominent image of Alexander Nevsky cathedral and of me and my colleagues—this one announced one of the concerts we're doing here in Osaka later this month. Okay, so I’m not just a tourist here.

One other store drew me in. It was full of traditional Japanese watercolors (in mass-produced reproductions from China, I thought skeptically) on notepads, stickers, cards, etc., and I just couldn't leave before I bought some. Ironically, it was here that the salesperson was by exception not a young woman but an upper middle-aged man, and here that the salesperson actually tried to communicate in English. He never spoke more than two or three words at a time, but it all made sense in context and warmed my heart. Don't get me wrong, everyone I've encountered here so far (except a random fellow-shopper who carelessly cut me off at the counter) has been ready to help, courteous, and in tune with the very positive vibrations I sensed out on the street in the Osaka shopping district today.
    It made emerging from the covered Midousuji Avenue and running back to the hotel in a downpour seem like a lot of fun too.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Leisurely California living

On Threeriver Reach
in the [Sacramento River] Delta
Under "Favorite Blogs" (in my sidebar) I already recommend Pineapple Girl, along with Visitors and Тук не е Америка: 20 years in Bulgaria, but today I'm featuring my daughter's blog especially. The photo is currently her blog's signature, topmost in her own sidebar.
    If you're a boating enthusiast, or just interested in boating or leisurely California living, you might check out Pineapple Girl. (Did you follow her and Matt's participation in the 2010 Pacific Cup sailboat race to Hawaii? See the official arrival photo of the crew.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Science vs. religion: a battle of the memes

David Deutsch
A book you might like to read: The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World, by David Deutsch (illustrated. 487 pp. Viking. $30—or borrow it from your local university library).
    I'll entice you with one of the more intriguing paragraphs from David Albert's August 12 review (Explaining it All: How We Became the Center of the Universe") in The New York Times:
[Deutsch] also provides an elegant analysis of two particular strategies for meme-­replication, one he calls "rational" and the other he calls "anti-rational." Rational memes—the sort that Deutsch imagines will replicate themselves well in post-Enlightenment societies—are simply good ideas: the kind that will survive rigorous scientific scrutiny, the kind that will somehow make life easier or safer or more rewarding because they tell us something useful about how the world actually works. Irrational memes—which are more interesting, and more diabolical, and which Deutsch thinks of as summing up the essential character of pre-Enlightenment societies—reproduce themselves by disabling the capacities of their hosts (by means of fear, or an anxiety to conform, or the appearance of naturalness and inevitability, or in any number of other ways) to evaluate or invent new ideas.
That parenthetical about fear, does it remind you of anything? It reminds me of what passes for much (or at least one side) of "political discourse" in this country, with its mean-spirited, dogged anti-rationality.

Richard Dawkins
And what is a "meme"—a term coined by Richard Dawkins in his first book, The Selfish Gene (1976)?
    Alfred explains it this way:
Deutsch is interested in neo-­Darwinian accounts of the evolution of culture. Such accounts treat cultural items—languages, religions, values, ideas, traditions—in much the way that Darwinian theories of biological evolution treat genes. They are called "memes," and are treated as evolving, just as genes do, by mutation and selection, with the most successful memes being those that are the most faithfully replicated. Deutsch writes with enormous clarity and insight about how the mechanisms of mutation and transmission and selection of memes are going to have to differ, in all sorts of ways, from those of genes.
Albert elaborated on Deutsch's view of anti-rational memes. I'm not sure that I've quite understood it yet. Maybe you can help me:
And one particular subcategory of memes—about which Deutsch has very clever things to say—succeeds precisely by pretending not to tell the truth. So, for example: "Children who asked why they were required to enact onerous behaviors that did not seem functional would be told 'because I say so,' and in due course they would give their children the same reply to the same question, never realizing that they were giving the full explanation. (This is a curious type of meme whose explicit content is true even though its holders do not believe it.)"
    Or maybe I do understand it, if "the full explanation" is simply that it's true: the only reason the children are to do as they are told is that...they are told. Does that explanation "pretend not to tell the truth" by being so outlandish that we at first can't believe that it could possibly be the full explanation?

David Albert
Anyway, the reviewer, a professor of philosophy at Columbia University and the author of Quantum Mechanics and Experience, concludes:
[Deutsch, an Israeli-British physicist at the University of Oxford] is exactly who he is, and he is well worth getting to know, and we are very lucky indeed to have him.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

From Japan, an American musician in Bulgaria

Masthead of my son's blog
In "Featured on the cover of Time" the other day, I mentioned that my son was about to leave for a week of performances in Japan. From Osaka comes this dispatch:
In Japan with Pavel Zlatarov (Sofia Philharmonic concertmaster) and Milena Zlatarova (Sofia Philharmonic principal violist) for two weeks of chamber concerts with local musicians in Osaka, Kyoto, and Kochi.
    Arrived Friday, Aug. 19. Slept all afternoon. Hosts treated us to wonderful seafood dinner. Handled chopsticks bravely but with multiple attempts; proudly refused offer to use knife and fork instead. The organizer’s girlfriend was very surprised and became animated when she finally realized toward the end of the meal that she had been sitting across from a Bulgarian-speaking American. A walk through Osaka’s shopping district, a maze of pedestrian-only streets, many protected from the rain by arched awnings, revealed a vibrant nightlife replete with clubs and casinos, summer-end sales, and groups of teenagers looking like j-pop stars or anime heroes.
    Saturday, Aug 20. Miyako picked us up at the hotel for the first rehearsals, at a small performance space a few metro stops away. We were relieved that the lighting was good and that there was a fine Steinway concert grand piano– two essential prerequisites for our work that are hard to come by in Bulgaria. (Actually Steinways are available, but good lighting is rare.) A play-through of Faure’s first piano quartet presented no problems–the pianist was very thoroughly prepared and played exquisitely. The first violinist for the Debussy quartet was also well-prepared and had clearly studied the work in some detail. She had just flown in from Kochi especially for this rehearsal–she flew back directly after it!
    The pianist for the Brahms G minor piano quartet was technically flawless. She and her clarinetist colleague, with whom Milena rehearsed the Mozart Kagelstat trio, had driven to Osaka from Kochi (300 km, 5-hour drive each way).

In the evening I took the Zlatarovs to help me find a camera at an electronics mega-store. I didn’t get one because all of the menu options were only in Japanese. Pavel didn’t buy his father a watch because all of the cheaper ones looked…cheap. Milena spotted a suitcase that came folded up into a tiny package the size of a deck of cards (or of a pack of cigarettes)–I was amazed at this newest example of Japanese engineering at work and wanted to know how big that suitcase would be when you unfolded it like a reverse-oragami magic trick. “Oh," Milena realized, "it’s just a belt with a combination lock that wraps around a suitcase.” She really had me (and herself) going there….

Unlike Friday, on Saturday I slept through the night, getting in about ten hours. Still feeling exhausted though. 

The more unbelievable, the greater the...

Thanks to Greg Houston
"The Republican Party's slapstick search for a leader," to quote Hal Crowther's August 17 article at ("Why does the right wing worship Ayn Rand?"), has provoked a fair amount of adult commentary this week.
    David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam reported in the August 16 New York Times ("Crashing the Tea Party") that
the Tea Party is increasingly swimming against the tide of public opinion: among most Americans, even before the furor over the debt limit, its brand was becoming toxic....
    Polls show that disapproval of the Tea Party is climbing. In April 2010, a New York Times/CBS News survey found that 18 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of it, 21 percent had a favorable opinion and 46 percent had not heard enough. Now, 14 months later, Tea Party supporters have slipped to 20 percent, while their opponents have more than doubled, to 40 percent.
    Of course, politicians of all stripes are not faring well among the public these days. But in data we have recently collected, the Tea Party ranks lower than any of the 23 other groups we asked about—lower than both Republicans and Democrats. It is even less popular than much maligned groups like "atheists" [emphasis mine] and "Muslims." Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right.
    Less popular than atheists? The Christian Right unpopular? If true, this is very good news.
    We're all familiar with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. As I pointed out in "Political magical thinking" about a year ago, it "guarantees the right of the People to believe any damn fool thing they please."
    And they will.
    And the effect of their right to believe damn fool things is magnified by their tendency to make up for the foolishness of much of what they believe by believing it all the more fervently. The more incredible their beliefs, the stronger their belief in them. The greater the foolishness, the greater their faith in it.

Crowther suggests some examples of this foolishness:
Could we start, at least, by dismissing candidates who called for President Obama's birth certificate or raised the specter of Shariah law in America, followed by briskly ushering offstage lunatics who dismiss global warming as a socialist plot?....
    ...When tea-stained legislators gut environmental laws to protect corporate profits, when they sneer at climate change while America bakes in its bedrock like a big green casserole, when Republican educational reform means classrooms with fewer teachers and more guns—there's a temptation for reasonable Americans to throw up their hands and succumb to despair. Is it a death wish or a scheme to kill the rest of us, when "conservatives" fight against clean air laws, or legislate to place a loaded pistol in every yahoo's holster? I've reached the second half of my seventh decade, and I've never seen such an intimidating swarm of fanatics and fools marching under one banner....
In John M. Broder's August 17 article in the Times ("Bashing E.P.A. Is New Theme in G.O.P. Race"), Michelle Bachmann is quoted from Iowa:
"I guarantee you the E.P.A. will have doors locked and lights turned off, and they will only be about conservation. It will be a new day and a new sheriff in Washington, D.C."
    In an earlier debate she said the agency should be renamed the "job-killing organization of America." She has called global-warming science a hoax.
    ...[She] wants to padlock the E.P.A.’s doors, as does former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas wants to impose an immediate moratorium on environmental regulation.
    ...In his book, Fed Up, Our Fight to Save America from Washington, Mr. Perry described global-warming science as "one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight" and a "secular carbon cult" led by false prophets like Al Gore.
    But...the American people, by substantial majorities, are concerned about air and water pollution, and largely trust the E.P.A., national surveys say.
Another foolishness is the role sought for religion (Christianity, strikingly in parallel with the role Islamists seek for Islam). Say Campbell and Putnam:
Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek "deeply religious" elected officials, approve of religious leaders' engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates....
    This inclination among the Tea Party faithful to mix religion and politics explains their support for Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Governor Rick Perry of Texas....
Fideism is the philosophy, generally applied to theology, that beliefs may be held without evidence or reason, or even in conflict with evidence and reason. And, as I've pointed out, people tend to believe something all the more strongly if the evidence for it is weak or nonexistent (or if it conflicts with the evidence).
    The case of the Tea Party argues that all of this applies to political ideology as well as to theology.
    The Tea Party candidates' rampant ideological and religious foolishness has ascended to dizzying heights. Maybe—just maybe—Americans are starting to demand that they climb down before we all throw up. (I think that some of us already have.)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Word games

Robert Conquest
(b. 1917)
So far, I've had three suggestions for the final line of Wednesday's limerick,
There once was a man of Stoke Poges,
Entirely resolved to poke Doges.
    So this elderly menace
    Took steamship to Venice....
all from my old college friend Jon:
We did it in a bed and said "Oh, yes."
And all that was required was togas.
Straight sex, rats, does not rhyme with Stoke Poges.
I like these, but I'm disapponted by Oh, yes's and togas's failing to include a rhyme for "Stoke" and "poke," and, of course, the clever third line repeats the given first line.
    Jon's first two suggestions are easy to adjust:
Where he did it in bed and said [choke] "Oh, yes!"
Where they managed the deed in bloke togas.
(I think togas came in men's and women's styles!)
    I don't expect to find "the solution" later in Hitchens's book, but in reading on I found something even better, more about word games, of which, we have to admit, writing limericks is one:
I already knew in principle that word games, like limericks and acrostics and acronyms and crosswords, are good training in and of themselves. I could not then guess at the harvest of such marvels that lay ahead....[p. 130]
    I boldly assert, in fact I think I know, that a lot of friendships and connections absolutely depend upon a sort of shared language, or slang. Not necessarily designed to exclude others, they can establish a certain comity and, even after a long absence, re-establish it in a second. Martin [Amis, son of Kingsley] was—is—a genius at this sort of thing. It arose—arises—from his willingness to devote real time to the pitiless search for the apt resonance....[p. 164]
    Something of the same was true of the "Friday lunch" that has now become the potential stuff of a new "Bloomsbury" legend...There was never the intention or design that it become a "set" or a "circle," and of course if there had been any such intention, the thing would have been abortive. The Friday lunch began to simply "occur" in the mid-1970s, and persisted into the early 1980s, and is now cemented in place in several memoirs and biographies. Let me try and tell you something of how it was.
    It began, largely at Martin's initiation, as a sort of end-of-the-week clearinghouse for gossip and jokes, based on the then-proximity of various literary magazines and newspapers. Reliable founding attendees included the Australian poets Clive James and Peter Porter, Craig Raine (T.S. Eliot's successor as poetry editor at Faber and Faber), the Observer's literary editor Terry Kilmartin (the re-translator of Scott Moncrieff's version of Marcel Proust, and the only man alive trusted by Gore Vidal to edit his copy without further permission), the cartoonist and rake and dandy Mark Boxer, whose illustrations then graced (for once the word is quite apt) all the best bookcovers as well as the Time's op-ed page. Among those bookcovers were the dozen volumes of Anthony Powell's masterwork [A Dance to the Music of Time] and among Mark's aesthetic and social verdicts the one I remember being delivered with the most authority was his decided and long-meditated conclusion that: "It's the height of bad manners to sleep with somebody less [sic] than three times."...The critic Russell Davies, the then-rising novelists Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes, James Fenton and Robert Conquest when they were in England, Kingsley when he wasn't otherwise engaged with yet more lavish and extensive lunches, and your humble servant help to complete this dramatis personae....[pp. 168-169]
    ...but Robert Conquest, the king of the limerick [emphasis mine]...always thought that if a job was worth doing it was worth doing well....
    Simple "versified filth"—Amis senior's crushing condemnation of most popular limericks—was not allowed.
    Indeed insistence upon the capacious subtleties of the limerick was something of a hallmark. Once again Conquest takes the palm: his condensation of the "Seven Ages of Man" shows how much force can be packed into the deceptively slight five-line frame. Thus:
Seven Ages: first puking and mewling
Then very pissed-off with your schooling
    Then fucks, and then fights
    Next judging chaps' rights
Then sitting in slippers: then drooling.
This is not the only example of Conquest's genius for compression. The history of the Bolshevik "experiment" in five lines? Barely a problem:
There was an old bastard named Lenin
Who did two or three million men in.
    That's a lot to have done in
    But where he did one in
That old bastard Stalin did ten in. [pp. 173-174]
There's probably another blog entry to come of this. I see that on p. 435, the index entry for "word games" also gives reference to pp. 264-266.

I used to think that my limerick, "No End in Sight" (November 26, 2006):
Religious war burns on and beleaguers
Iraq's Sunni and Shiite besiegers,
    But it brings no relief
    From dogmatic belief
But for stone-dead dogmatic believers.
was pretty darn good, and maybe it isn't bad, but it compresses far less into itself than either of the examples from Conquest.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What was the limerick's final line?

Among the pages of Christopher Hitchens's 2010 memoir, Hitch-22, that I read this morning, was a passage about a limerick "appeal" that a journalist had made in the New Statesman. I've decided to borrow the appeal and pass it on to my readers.
    The original appeal provided only the first line, but I'll provide all but the last. Here's why:
Tom Driberg in the last years of his life was still a true legend on the journalistic and cultural left. In youth, he had been an original member of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead set, while also maintaining good relations with the more radical forces clustered around W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender. He had, indeed, given the young Auden his first copy of The Waste Land, and joined him in reading it aloud...Anyway, he was sometimes invited to contribute the "Londoner's Diary" to the New Statesman, and one week issued an appeal to readers to help him complete an indecent limerick the first line of which ran: "There once was a man of Stoke Poges." This highly respectable town in Buckinghamshire seemed to cry out for the rhyme "poke Doges," which in turn meant that the remainder of the limerick would have to be Venetian in flavor.
    Fenton and I [poet James Fenton], assisted by our dear friend Anthony Holden, accepted the challenge and were duly invited to a lunch by old Tom held at the Quo Vadis restaurant in Dean Street, above which Karl Marx had once kept his squalid lodgings. How we completed the task I don't entirely remember ("entirely resolved to poke Doges. So this elderly menace / Took steamship to Venice..." But what was the last line?). At all events [I continue quoting beyond what's necessary simply in able to get to Hitchens's mention of the actor who played Lawrence of Arabia; like Frank Harris, Hitchens seems to have known everybody]...
Left hand panel from
Francis Bacons' 1966 triptych
Three Studies for a Portrait
of Muriel Belcher
At all events, by the time the restaurant had finally insisted on throwing us out—this in the days when the pubs in London were not allowed to stay open in the afternoon—Tom simply took me down the street and up a flight of dingy stairs and made me a member of the infamous "Colony Room Club," an off-hours drinking establishment run by a tyrannical Sapphist named Muriel Belcher. Renowned to this day for its committed members, from Peter O'Toole to Francis Bacon, the joint at that epoch gave off an atmosphere of inspissated gloom, punctuated by moments of high insobriety and low camp.... [pp. 151-152]
Anyway, I invite you to submit your nomination for what the final line of the limerick concocted by Mssrs. Driberg, Hitchens, Fenton, and Holden might have been:
There once was a man of Stoke Poges,
Entirely resolved to poke Doges.
    So this elderly menace
    Took steamship to Venice....

Monday, August 15, 2011

Featured on the cover of Time

Another treat, in that cardboard box on Saturday, was a mock issue of Time Magazine, dated May 30, 1995, that my son had created, probably in elementary school around 1978 or 1979. The cover article featured a "Masterpiece~Music~Writer," illustrated with a mustachioed musician holding a book titled How to Compose a Masterpiece.
    This prophetic piece reminds me of the class prophecy I'd written for my graduation from Liberty School. My piece had identified what various classmates would be doing some years later; my son's much more imaginatively (and accurately) says what he himself would be doing during the following seventeen years or so:
Now a composer and classical musician, Geoff Dean started out as a cellist in the fourth grade. He continued to play the cello throughout elementary school.
    In high school, he became an excellent classical musician and played in the school orchestra. While in college at Yale University [alas, no, he wouldn't even apply to Yale, but would attend the North Carolina School of the Arts], he studied music composition, plant taxonomy [his mother's particular interest], and chemistry. In his spare time, he took piano lessons.
    After graduating from college, Geoff wrote a short piece called, "Moonlit Music," for violin, clarinet, cello, bassoon, French horn, and viola. It was to be in C minor. It happened to catch the attention of a conductor whose manager wanted to buy a short piece of music to play during intermissions at an opera house in New York City.
    The conductor told the manager, who offered 3,000 dollars for it. Geoff accepted the offer, on the condition that he get 5.00 dollars for every two times it was played. The piece was played during all of the intermissions of 50 plays, and was heard by millions. Soon it was being played all over America and Europe. Geoff was becoming known everywhere, and making a fortune.
    In 1990, he wrote a short symphony. It was heard by more people than ever before when it was played in concert tour with a collection of selected musical pieces.
    Geoff has decided that he has overstayed his welcome in the musical world. Other composers aren't very friendly with him; they make fun of his age and the bow ties he wears. Now he is going to write music to play on his piano and cello at his home in Los Gatos, California. Besides playing his instruments, he also likes to work on his tree and flower gardens. He thinks that he's got a prize peach tree growing in his back yard! –Herman Grablow
I said that Geoff's childhood prophecy was more accurate than mine. He did continue, and continues to this day, to play the cello. He is a professional musician. He has composed a few pieces. He has transcribed many pieces (mostly Bulgarian compositions) for performance on the violoncello.
    He performs all over Europe and is about to leave for a week of performances in Japan, traveling there with the conductor of the Sophia Philharmonic Orchestra and its concertmistress.
    He is a member of the Sofia Quartet and a founding member of the Ardenza Trio. He organizes the annual Am-Bul Festival of American and Bulgarian Music. He is the author of a blog of "random notes from the daily life of an American musician in Bulgaria."
    He has a profile on the website at the American University in Bulgaria. He is listed as the dean of students on the website of Killington Music Festival.
    He hasn't made a fortune yet, however.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Illustrated limerick

I removed the contents of a cardboard box in the garage this morning, the same one I'd peaked into in September 2009, hoping to finally say good-bye to most of the mementos, some of which I've held onto for almost sixty years. Right, there was a "class prophecy" I'd written and apparently delivered at my elementary school graduation, which would have been May or June 1954. Liberty School, out in the country west of Petaluma, California. Into the recycle bin.
    There were my note cards for my speech two years later, upon graduating as valedictorian (apparently) from Central [junior high] School in Tulare, California:
[Card 1] Tonight in unison, you have heard the graduating class recite the theme of the graduation, The American's Creed.
    Adopted by our government in 1918, The American's Creed was written by Wm. Tyler Page.
    Being a list of the things people believe, it is a statement to keep in mind and never forget....
    [Card 14] ...Communism flourishes in places of poverty and ignorance. If we keep our country's standards high, communism will have less chance of gaining control in the United States. We should help other countries in education and their home life.
    We also are fighting a never-ending battle against disease and the forces of nature....
    [Card 15] The United States is here today. But look what happened to Rome, to Greece, Assyria, and Babylon, one-time world powers. Where are they today?....
    [Card 16] We know all of our educational facilities are the result of tax payers' generous offering, the long-working [sic] hours of the unpaid school board, the never-finished job of our teachers, and the painstaking love and sacrifice of our parents. We feel greatly indebted to these people for their sincerity and perserverance [sic] in fulfilling their duties.
    I hope that you, graduates, feel as I do that we are obligated to these people to do something in return. I hope that you feel that you should strive to become the peace-makers of tomorrow.
    Do you "therefore believe it is your duty to your country to love it; to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to [Card 17] respect its flag; and to defend it against all enemies"?
Well-indoctrinated eighth-grader. Recycled.
    And, of course, there were high school papers (in English, physics, and civics), and papers from college (including "The Necessary Angel," about which I'd written in 2009 and which I put into the recycle bin this morning), and papers from graduate school (including one in the philosophy of science, December 14, 1966, on whose title page Professor Errol Harris had written, "Refreshingly original; genuine philosophizing," and which I set aside to read again).
  There were two or three dozen photographs, a couple of sketchy journals from the 'sixties, and a few items of correspondence, including a letter from my grandmother Ada Voss, postmarked Hector, Arkansas and dated May 24,1964, the month I graduated from Yale, and addressed to me at 414 Yale Station, New Haven, Conn 06520:
Helo, dear good sweeat prety Marsie was i. glad to get your good letter bless your good heart to thank you thout of your Mama Voss bless you how i do wish you hear whitte me to night i get so lonely hear buy my self [my namesake grandfather, Morris Voss, had died in June 1960, right after I graduated from high school] but i stay busey most all time got a prety garden 8 head cattle mare one dog 3 cats quiet a few chickens so you i stay busey most all time but isent a day are night i dont thank of my good Marsie see we can thank of the Pass but we dont now the feauture wish you hear an [over] spend the sumer with me i would bee so glad i shure dont  no much news i havent eaven been to Russellville since the 29 lase Sept do you have the fim of me you tuck of me in the yard if you do i like to have it so whin you have time rite me  a gain i love you so much will sa good night till we meeat bey xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx i do love you Mama Voss rite me a gain can see you in mind pulling your little read wagion me you picking to matoes picking cucumbers on Porter Sandra place [my father worked for Porter Sanders, who provided a house on his farm outside Farmersville, not far from Tulare; my first experience with school was at Outside Creek Elementary School in Farmersville; I believe that was its name] We shur had a good time xxxxxx
I kept a few of these items.
    I also kept one copy (I found two) of a typescript of a sixty-thousand-word novel I'd written in 1974, a parody of Watergate titled The Unmaking of the President: A Bicentennial Celebration—it was going to be published in 1976, you see. It'll probably be discouraging reading, but two and a fraction pages of handwritten notes from David Obst (who had been Woodward and Bernstein's agent for All the President's Men) contained mostly commending comments, so why not take a look?

But most enjoyably, there were school projects, report cards, and home work of my son and daughter—all of it from San Jose, California, before we moved to North Carolina (in 1983).
    "Emmett Kelly," by Geoff Dean, Allen School, Sixth Grade, on which Mr. Cabral had written in red ink: "Date."
    "Ecuador," by Geoff Dean, Allen School, May 9, 1980, Mr. Howseman-Cabral, Grade Six.
    "The Human Ear," by Geoff Dean, on which his teacher had written "A+. Excellent, well written and illustrated."
    "Tobacco," by Jennifer Dean, May 9, 1980, Allen School, 4th grade, on which Mr. Miyugishima had penned, "Excellent report. I especially like your 'Tobacco Facts,' which is the 'heart' of your report. Glossary is also great."
    And a Time Magazine prophecy by Geoff.

I found a faded, wrinkled, blue-lined sheet on which my son had illustrated a delightful limerick that I guess he must have written about 1980, around age twelve—going by the drawing's similarity to one he did for a usability campaign I was involved in at IBM's Santa Teresa Laboratory at about that time.
    "Limerick," by Geoff Dean:
A girl on the flying trapeze,
Going through her performance with ease,
    Was suddenly frozen.
    Her partner had chosen
A terrible moment to sneeze.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Confession might do what Jingle Jangle hadn't the clout to do

Maureen Corrigan's review of John Grisham's legal thriller, The Confession (in The Washington Post, October 26, 2010), warns us, "don't read this book if you just want to kick back in your recliner and relax."
    I agree. As I wrote to my daughter, who herself was reading a Richard Jury novel by Martha Grimes, "it's not that easy reading, emotionally, because you know that the suffering of the condemned man in the book, and of his family and friends, has been the real suffering of quite a few people (of whom just one was more than enough)."
    I'm reading The Confession by listening to a digital recording, so I don't think I'd noticed the dust jacket image. I saw it yesterday when I looked up a review to include in my listing of books recently read. I'm struck by its use of the "scales of justice" image, which was stylized by Brooklyn artist Matthew Moss for the dust jacket of Jim Rix's 2007 true crime book, Jingle Jangle: The Perfect Crime Turned Inside Out:

Because of Grisham's base (over 250 million copies of his books sold worldwide), The Confession could achieve what Jim hoped for Jingle Jangle, which never won enough of a readership to do so—namely, rev up the anti-death penalty momentum a notch or two (not that Jim was attacking the death penalty; he wanted to stop wrongful convictions, especially when based on junk science). The Confession attacks most of the police, prosecutor, judge, jury, prison, and political problems that Jingle Jangle attacked, including the use of jailhouse snitches. But Grisham's book doesn't involve junk science.
    I think that Jingle Jangle outdid Grisham's own true crime book, The Innocent Man, in its harder-hitting, broader critique of the criminal justice system. The Confession also outdoes The Innocent Man, in the much greater and more immediate intensity with which it shows just how wrong, wrong, wrong is our criminal justice system—especially as practiced in Texas (or in the Arizona of Jingle Jangle, where Jim's cousin Ray Krone was sentenced to die for a murder that he didn't commit any more than Donté Drumm committed the fictional murder depicted in Grisham's latest thriller).

I'd be very, very surprised (indeed, shocked) if The Confession isn't made into a movie, the kind of movie Jingle Jangle might have become if the right director and screen writer had picked it up. I don't see any mention of a movie project yet, though, on the Internet Movie Database.
    Grisham is an old-hand at piling on the complications and heightening the conflict. The conflict in The Confession just crackles, it's so intense.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Finches feeding in slow motion

I made this movie this morning, right after sunlight had begun to fall directly onto the feeders in our back yard. It was taken from our bedroom window with my wife's Nikon Coolpix P100, at the "HS" setting, with extreme digital zoom.
    We're still far from getting a handle on using the camera with our fieldscope, not even sure now whether the P100 can be mounted to a fieldscope (although my wife believed that she had confirmed this when purchasing the camera). With a fieldscope, the images should be both sharper and better lit. Of course, since holding the camera against the fieldscope's eyepiece for a still photograph is very difficult, it would be virtually impossible to do so for a movie.


August 13. I learned definitively two days ago from Nikon that "There is no digiscoping adapter for the P100. The camera's lens diameter is too large."
    I'm looking now at the Coolpix P300 (which includes slow and fast motion movie recording) and consulting Nikon again to make sure that the adapters listed on its digiscoping system diagram will work on the angled Nikon ED50 fieldscope. The ED50 pictured in the diagram is straight.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Get your brain out of your ears"

The main way spouses can be in agreement is to hear and understand one another correctly.
    This morning, I was just returning from the yard into the screened porch on the back of our house when my wife was coming into it from the house.
    "Would you open the door for me?" she said. She was carrying a cup of milk and a plate containing her English muffin.
    I stepped back to hold open the door I'd just come through.
    "No, I mean this door," she said.
    I stepped forward instead, but by now she had already gotten out okay.
    "Would you turn the fan off for me?" she said.
    As I neared the door into the house, she added, "Put it on speed two."
    I proceeded to the controls for the fan in the house, realizing on the way that if I turned it off it wouldn't have any speed at all, so—
    "No, no," my wife said, "Turn this fan on."
    But by now she had set her cup and plate down and was already at the controls for the porch fan.
    "I thought you said to turn the fan off," I explained.
    "No," she said, "I said turn the fan on. You need to get your brain out of your ears."

Great metaphor, that! We have all experienced mishearing words—or misinterpreting words correctly identified—because our brain has imposed a contrary preconception or assumption onto the interchange.
    My brain's contribution in the scenario reported above seems to have been, first, to assume that "the door" was the one that I was touching, especially since the door she was touching was already open, and the door I was next to is stiff and would certainly be difficult or dangerous to get through holding a glass in one hand and a plate in the other.
    Next, apparently, the correction of "the door" from the one I was near to the one farther away from me set me up to interpret "the fan" similarly, especially since my wife is a stickler for not leaving electrical equipment on in a room you're just leaving. And, of course, if she was referring to the fan in the room that she was leaving, she certainly wouldn't want me to go turn it on. In any case, the fan on the porch never entered my mind at all.
    And so on.
    Clearly, my brain was working away. It didn't mean to be plugging my ears, but to my wife trying to communicate her wishes to me, that was effectively what it had been doing.

If I'm to make my own contribution to world peace through better agreement with my spouse (as was suggested at the end of yesterday's post, "Ready for adult content?"), my brain is going to have to quit contributing so much. Or contribute better.
    So, let's replay the scenario:
"Would you open the door for me?" she said. She was carrying a cup of milk and a plate containing her English muffin.
    "This door?" I asked for clarification.
    "No, this one," she said.
    I stepped forward, but by now she had already gotten out okay.
    "Would you turn the fan off for me?" she said.
    "The fan inside?" I asked for clarification. "No," she said. "This one. Put it on speed two."
    Ah, turn it on, of course. I stepped to the controls for the porch fan. Unfortunately, they're different from the controls for the fans inside the house.
    "How do you turn it on?" I asked.
    "Never mind," my wife said. By now she had set her cup and plate down and joined me at the controls for the porch fan.
    "You need a new brain," she said.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ready for adult content?

A shell among many
collected at North Carolina's
Outer Banks in May
With impeccable timing, in view of this morning's post, a simple test presented itself in the morning Burlington Times-News—on the front page, too.
    The article at the bottom of the page features the photo shown to the right. Click on it to see it larger. What do you see?
    What you see is the test. Do you see a random pattern of colors and lines and textures? Or do you see a particular image intentionally placed?

The printed article is titled "Jesus in a seashell? Graham woman shows off image of Christ." On the web, it's titled "Sharing the light: Image in beachcombing find illuminates."
    When the shell collector's father first examined the shell, he thought there was a flame in the middle of it.
    He handed it to his wife (the collector's mother), who had just glanced at a picture of Jesus she keeps in the living room.
Her picture of Jesus
She saw Jesus just as he is depicted in her picture, with a white robe and looking slightly toward the right in the center of the shell. She handed it back to her husband.
    "He looked again, and he saw it," she said.
    When she put her picture of Jesus beside the shell, the image seemed even clearer.
    "I guess you have to be a believer to see it," she said....
    It makes perfect sense to her that her husband first saw the flame of a candle inside the shell.
    "Any way you look at it, he's the light of the world," she said.
She doesn't seem to be ready for adult content.
    What about her husband?
    Depends on whether he was just being agreeable with his wife. Might be. After all, to her, he was the light of the world (going by "her husband's" textual proximity to "he's the light," at any rate)—a stellar spouse indeed. The world might be more agreeable by half with that sort of concord among spouses.
    And think of a world not only more peaceful but also more rational, in which the spouses being agreed with are the ones who are ready for adult content.

PG not required

Comments on the blog's "Adult Content" designation have ranged from "more adult material, please" all the way, that's been the only comment. But it caused me to try to find some good adult material, which I did try to do. Without much success.
    I decided to just turn off the warning, so visitors would no longer have to click "I understand and I wish to continue."

But wasn't I surprised. Turns out that if you turn on that designation, it's no easy matter to just turn it off. You'll be asked some questions:

    What made you change your mind?
    Well, I'd had enough fun and it didn't seem to increase the number of visitors to my blog.

    Are you sure about your decision to remove the warning?
    Of course not; are you ever sure of your decisions? You have to live with them for a while, don't you?

    But are you sure that a blog that uses the word "wacky" in its masthead shouldn't warn its readers?
    Well, it does say "wacky," doesn't it?

    If this were a movie, are you sure it wouldn't be rated X or R or PG-13?
    No, I'm not sure, but who understands the MPAA's rating system, anyway? And what makes you think that clicking something is going to dissuade anyone from visiting a web page?

    Have you checked all of your previously added adult content and taken steps to protect non-adults?
    No. I didn't change a thing. I guess you'll have to continue to exercise the judgment and intelligence Moristotle has always assumed and expected of its readers.
Test for adult-content readiness

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Most Recently Read Books" expanded

As a convenience to my readers, I've expanded my "Most Recently Read Books" feature page to include a description of each book and, for most entries, a link to a review.

Most links are to a New York Times book review.
  1. Christopher Hitchens
    Hitch-22: A Memoir (2010: Christopher Hitchens) [Over the course of his 60 years, Christopher Hitchens has been a citizen of both the United States and the United Kingdom. He has been both a socialist opposed to the war in Vietnam and a supporter of the U.S. war against Islamic extremism in Iraq. He has been both a foreign correspondent in some of the world's most dangerous places and a legendary bon vivant with an unquenchable thirst for alcohol and literature. He is a fervent atheist, raised as a Christian, by a mother whose Jewish heritage was not revealed to him until her suicide. In other words, Christopher Hitchens contains multitudes. He sees all sides of an argument. And he believes the personal is political. This is the story of his life, lived large] 8-2011
  2. The Grand Design (2010: Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow) [This book gets into the deepest questions of modern cosmology without a single equation. The reader will be able to get through it without bogging down in a lot of technical detail and might have his or her appetite whetted for books with a deeper technical content. And who knows? Maybe in the end the whole multiverse idea will actually turn out to be right] 7-2011
  3. Jonathan Franzen
  4. Freedom (2010: Jonathan Franzen) [St. Paul, Minnesota. Liberal environmentalists Walter and Patty Berglund pioneer the gentrification of their neighborhood. But their seemingly perfect life disintegrates when their son moves in with Republican neighbors and Walter assists the coal industry. Walter's musician friend Richard and Patty's estranged family further complicate matters] 6&7-2011
  5. Room: A Novel (2010: Emma Donoghue) [To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years] 7-2011
  6. God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer (2008: Bart D. Ehrman) [Former minister and author of Misquoting Jesus examines the Old and New Testaments for answers to the problem of suffering in the world. Ehrman finds the Bible offers different viewpoints—suffering as punishment, as a redemptive process, and as a test of faith—and analyzes the answers] 5,6&7-2011
  7. Antonio R. Damasio
    Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (2010: Antonio R. Damasio) [Goes against the long-standing idea that consciousness is somehow separate from the body, presenting compelling new scientific evidence that consciousness—what we think of as a mind with a self—is to begin with a biological process created by a living organism. Besides the three traditional perspectives used to study the mind (the introspective, the behavioral, and the neurological), Damasio introduces an evolutionary perspective that entails a radical change in the way the history of conscious minds is viewed and told] 5&6-2011
  8. Rescue (2010: Anita Shreve) [Webster is raising his teenage daughter as a single parent; his wife and the daughter's mother left years ago when she couldn't conquer her alcoholism. Explores the story of how Webster and his wife met, when he was an EMT and she the victim of a drunk driver—herself] 6-2011
  9. American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work (2006: Susan Cheever) [Novelist explores the relationships among five writers of the transcendentalist movement who clustered around the home of wealthy Ralph Waldo Emerson in Concord, Massachusetts, during 1840-1868. Highlights their intertwined families and the love affairs that contributed to the creation of their literary masterpieces] 5&6-2011
  10. Stalin's Ghost: An Arkady Renko Novel (2007 Martin Cruz Smith) [Moscow detective Arkady Renko investigates mysterious nightly sightings of Stalin at metro stops. He also uncovers crimes committed by two colleagues, former members of the Black Berets who operated in Chechnya, one of whom is running for office and knows Renko's lover Eva] 5-2011
  11. Sam Harris
  12. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (2010: Sam Harris) [Promotes a science of morality and argues that many thinkers have long confused the relationship between morality, facts, and science. Aims to carve a third path between secularists who say morality is subjective (e.g., moral relativists), and religionists who say that morality is given by God and scripture. Harris contends that the only moral framework worth talking about is one where "morally good" things pertain to increases in the "well-being of conscious creatures"] 4&5-2011
  13. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know about Them) (2009: Bart D. Ehrman) [In this companion to Misquoting Jesus, biblical historian Ehrman reveals the divergent views of scholars concerning the true nature of Jesus and the concept of salvation. Discusses the historical Jesus, the writers of the Bible, and the origins of Christianity] 4&5-2011
  14. Jonathan Safran Foer
    Eating Animals (2009: Jonathan Safron Foer) [Author of the novel Everything Is Illuminated investigates the meat production industry and his own family's food choices. Examines factory farming and aquaculture and exposes their connections to global warming and environmental degradation. Explores the philosophical and ethical issues of carnivorism while advocating a vegetarian diet] 3&4-2011
  15. Worth Winning (1985: Dan Lewandowski) [A rollicking story about one man’s search for his ideal mate. Set in Washington DC. The hero, Taylor Worth, is a well-to-do, good-looking 30-something computer programmer. He is actively courted and pursued by women, but can’t seem to find that ideal girl] 2&3-2011
  16. Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior (2005: Temple Grandin) [Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures, theorizes that autistic individuals experience the world as animals do—through direct sensory perception rather than abstract thinking. Grandin, herself autistic, and Johnson combine insights about autistic people with animal facts and anecdotes to reinterpret the capabilities and strengths of both groups] 2&3-2011
  17. Stieg Larsson
    The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (2009: Stieg Larsson) [Sweden. Computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, from The Girl Who Played with Fire, is hospitalized with a bullet in her head, accused of murder. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist investigates Swedish officials protecting Alexander Zalachenko, Lisbeth's attacker—and father] 3-2011
  18. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (2009: Alan Bradley) [England, 1950. Eleven-year-old aspiring chemist Flavia de Luce overhears her father in a heated argument with a stranger, who turns up dead in the garden of the Luces' decaying estate. When Flavia's father is charged with murder, she seeks clues in their village and his past to exonerate him] 2-2011
  19. Richard Dawkins
    The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (2010: Richard Dawkins) [Author of The God Delusion questions the theory of intelligent design and explains the scientific evidence for the theory of evolution. Discusses selective breeding, genetics, fossils, new species, land mass changes, and more] 1-2011
  20. City of Tranquil Light (2010: Bo Caldwell) [Caldwell (The Distant Land of My Father) draws from the biographies of missionaries in northern China during the turbulent first half of the 20th century in this second novel. It traces the story of two young, hopeful Midwesterners—shy, bright Oklahoma farmer Will Kiehn and brave Cleveland deaconess Katherine Friesen—as they journey to the brink of China's civil war in the isolated town of Kuang P'ing Ch'eng: the "City of Tranquil Light"] 12-2010&1-2011
  21. The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History (2006: Jonathan Franzen) [Author of National Book Award winner The Corrections reminisces about his conventional Midwestern childhood and New York adulthood. Discusses his participation in a Christian youth fellowship in the 1970s, bird-watching, and learning German. Provides revelations about his fiction's real-life basis] 12-2010&1-2011
  22. Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  23. Nomad: From Islam to America, A Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations (2010: Ayaan Hirsi Ali) [Somalian author discusses events that occurred after those related in Infidel, including her move to America from Holland and relationship with the dysfunctional family she left behind. Analyzes Muslim attitudes toward money, women, and violence and offers suggestions to the West on avoiding radical recruitment of immigrants] 11&12-2010
  24. Nothing to Lose: A Jack Reacher Novel (2008: Lee Child) [Hitchhiking through Colorado, ex-military cop Jack Reacher comes upon the unfriendly town of Despair. After being told to leave, Reacher, with the help of a female cop from neighboring Hope, sneaks back in repeatedly to investigate a mysterious factory and missing young men] 12-2010
  25. John Le Carré
    Our Kind of Traitor (2010: John Le Carré) [After teacher Perry Makepiece and his lawyer girlfriend Gail Perkins meet Russian money launderer Dmitri "Dima" Krasnov at an Antigua tennis resort, Dima asks for help defecting. British agents Hector Meredith and Luke Weaver get the case, and all players reunite in Paris] 12-2010
  26. The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam (2006: Ayaan Hirsi Ali) [Somali-born Muslim author who fled to Holland advocates women's rights in Islamic cultures and condemns such practices as forced marriages, genital mutilation, and honor killings. Describes her 2002 election to the Dutch Parliament and her controversial film Submission that led to the 2004 murder of filmmaker theo van Gogh] 11-2010
  27. Philip Roth
    Nemesis (2010: Philip Roth) [Set mostly in 1944 Newark, it tells the story of Bucky Cantor, at 23 a freshly minted phys ed teacher and summertime playground director. Life’s dealt him some blows: his mother died in childbirth; his father, a thief, exited the picture long ago. Worse, to his anguish and disgrace, Bucky’s poor vision keeps him from going to fight the Germans alongside his best buddies—alongside, for that matter, “all the able-bodied men his age”] 11-2010
  28. The Lion (2010: Nelson DeMille) [2003. Asad "the Lion" Khalil, from The Lion's Game, returns to America seeking revenge for the 1986 air raid that killed his family in Libya. His targets: antiterrorist agent John Corey and Corey's wife, FBI investigator Kate Mayfield] 10&11-2010
  29. Martin Cruz Smith
    Three Stations (1010: Martin Cruz Smith) [Moscow senior investigator Arkady Renko labels a young woman's death a murder and continues searching for clues even after he's suspended from duty. Meanwhile, Renko's unofficially adopted son Zhenya befriends a runaway whose baby was snatched at the Three Stations railroad hub] 10-2010
  30. Crossfire (2010: Dick Francis & Felix Francis) [After losing his foot during an explosion in Afghanistan, British captain Tom Forsyth returns home to Berkshire only to discover that someone is blackmailing his mother, Josephine Kauri, a famous horse trainer. Tom investigates to find the culprits] 10-2010
  31. The Girl Who Played with Fire (2008: Stieg Larsson) [Stockholm. Computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, from The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, stands accused of murdering two journalists who were researching sex trafficking. Lisbeth's former lover, magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist, investigates to exonerate her. Violence, strong language, and explicit descriptions of sex] 9&10-2010
  32. The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever (2007: Christopher Hitchens) [Author of god Is Not Great selects and introduces writings that refute the concept and existence of God. Features works by notables from science, literature, and philosophy, including Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Thomas Hobbes, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, and Mark Twain] 9&10-2010
  33. Daniel C. Dennett
    Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (2006: Daniel C. Dennett) [Argues for a scientific analysis of religion in order to predict the future of this phenomenon. Dennett implies that the spell he hopes to break is not religious belief itself, but the conviction that religion is off-limits to scientific inquiry] 8&9-2010