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Tempted by the Fruit of Another

Browsing through an anthology last night, I came upon a poem by Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914 -- 4 years younger than Robert Frost or Gertrude Stein, but not so long-lived) inspired by Lucas Cranach the Elder's painting of Eve. Because the lady in question -- Eve, not Adelaide -- resides here in Pasadena in the collections of the Norton Simon Museum, I reproduce the poem in her honor.

Eve's eyes - click for the rest of herClick through the eyes on your left to see her altogether in the altogether. Her perplexed gentleman companion -- who hangs beside her in the gallery unless they've fallen, ha ha -- can be found here.

The poem can be read here:

For Lucas Cranach's Eve

Oh me,
Was there a time
When Paradise knew Eve
In this sweet guise, so placid and
So young?

The Brood X Files, or, Global Swarming (on the Trees and Bushes)

Submitted for your consideration:

1987 -- George H.W. Bush, then Vice President, resides in Washington D.C.
The District is invaded by "'huge flying creatures'" with "black bodies and red eyes and . . . amber-veined wings".

2004 -- George W. Bush, now President, resides in Washington, D.C.
The District is again expected to be invaded by "billions" of the exotic, thrumming bewinged beasties.

Coincidence? That's what They want you to think.

Brain-searing details available here!

The Kerry campaign has so far declined comment.

Hybridrogen - It's A Gas!

I am the satisfied owner of a 2001 Toyota Prius hybrid automobile, recently passing the 35,000 mile mark -- currently, I am averaging 46.5 miles to the gallon; in earlier years with somewhat different driving patterns I was averaging around 50 mpg -- so my interest was captured by this Los Angeles Times opinion piece by Joseph Romm, a former acting assistant secretary of Energy in the Clinton administration: Hot Air About Hydrogen [irksome registration required].

It seems the Southern California Air Quality Management District (AQMD) is intending to spend $4 Million or so to convert a fleet of 35 Priuses -- already operating as gasoline-electric hybrids -- to run on hydrogen. Romm, while supporting efforts to fight 'greenhouse gas' emissions, is unimpressed by hydrogen and the publicity surrounding it:

Hybrids are already extremely efficient. The Prius, for example, generates only about 210 grams of carbon dioxide — the principal heat-trapping gas that causes global warming — per mile. The car is also a partial zero-emission vehicle, which means that when it uses California's low-sulfur gasoline, it produces very little of the smog-forming pollutants, like nitrogen oxides.

Hydrogen is not a primary fuel, like oil, that we can drill for. It is bound up tightly in molecules of water, or hydrocarbons like natural gas. A great deal of energy must be used to unbind it — something the AQMD plans to do by electrolyzing water into its constituents: hydrogen and oxygen. And because the resulting hydrogen is a gas, additional energy must be used to compress it to very high pressures to put it in the tank of your car.

With all the energy needed to create and compress that hydrogen — even with the relatively clean electric grid of California — a Prius running on hydrogen would result in twice as much greenhouse gas emissions per mile as an unmodified car. It would result in more than four times as much nitrogen oxides per mile.

[paragraph omitted]

Sadly, two of the features I love most about my [Prius] would be wiped out by the AQMD's expensive "upgrade." First, the hybrid has cut my annual fuel bill by half. Hydrogen is so expensive to make that even with California's high gasoline prices, the hydrogen hybrid will have more than four times the annual fuel bill of a gasoline hybrid. Second, my car can go twice as far on a tank of gas as my old Saturn, so I have to make those unpleasant trips to the gas station only half as often. The hydrogen hybrid would have less than half the range of my car. With hydrogen fueling stations so scarce, hydrogen hybrid drivers will constantly be scampering back to the fueling stations before the tanks get too low.

Why is the AQMD spending millions of dollars to increase pollution and destroy all the desirable features of one of the greenest, most efficient cars ever made? It has bought into the hype about hydrogen, the myth that this miracle fuel will somehow solve all of our energy and environmental problems.

The hydrogen 'myth' has powerful supporters. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, for one, is an enthusiast. Romm continues his critique:

Another problem with hydrogen is in how it is made. Although people seem to view hydrogen as a pollution-free elixir, hydrogen is just an energy carrier, like electricity. And, like electricity, it is no cleaner than the fuels used to make it. For the next several decades, the National Academy panel concluded, "it is highly likely that fossil fuels will be the principal sources of hydrogen." Making hydrogen from fossil fuels won't solve our major environmental problems.

[paragraph omitted]

As one 2002 British study concluded, "Until there is a surplus of renewable electricity, it is not beneficial in terms of carbon reduction to use renewable electricity to produce hydrogen — for use in vehicles, or elsewhere." That surplus is, sadly, a long way off, given that Congress hasn't been willing to pass legislation requiring that even 10% of U.S. electricity in 2020 be from renewables like wind and solar.

Finally, delivering renewable hydrogen to a car in usable form is prohibitively expensive today — equal to gasoline at $7 to $10 a gallon — and likely to remain so for decades in the absence of major technology advances.

Additional Googling leads us to former government energy advisor David Morris, who advocates an alternative hydrogen-free scenario in a recent article in Mother Jones magazine [there's a source I'd bet you didn't expect to see cited on this weblog]:

A better alternative exists, one that can achieve the same environmental and national security benefits decades sooner, and at a fraction of the cost. The strategy relies on hybrid vehicles and biofuels like ethanol rather than fuel cells and hydrogen. Even the National Research Council, the arm of the National Academies charged with advising Washington on scientific matters, advocates investing more immediate effort and energy in developing a system based on hybrids and biofuels. Unfortunately, that alternative is being obscured by the scene-stealing hydrogen vision being peddled in Washington and Sacramento.

"Biofuel" is code for "the fuel that environmentalists and Californians love to hate" -- ethanol. Whatever else one says about it, though, Morris assures us ethanol currently offers significant advantages over hydrogen:

Ethanol has also been criticized as containing only a little more energy than is used in making it. But again, when compared to the most common sources of hydrogen, ethanol wins. The net energy ratio for ethanol production is climbing as farmers and manufacturers become more efficient. And when hydrogen is drawn from natural gas -- the dominant source of hydrogen today and for the foreseeable future -- the net energy ratio is worse than ethanol's.

Ethanol today comes from a renewable resource, corn starch. And it will soon be fermented from the sugars of other abundant biomass materials like grasses, straw, organic wastes, kelp and wood. Hydrogen, by comparison, comes from nonrenewable resources like natural gas, coal and petroleum. [Remainder of paragraph omitted.]

Incidental Intelligence: I had been planning to close by proposing a jokey slogan along the lines of

"Hydrogen -- From the Folks Who Brought You the Hindenburg"
Unfortunately for my joke, it now appears that insofar as it has taken the blame for that disaster, hydrogen was framed.

Succumbing to Aesthetic Temptation

I confess! I am playing hookie from the office this afternoon to take in the big William Morris show at The Huntington Library before it closes next week. ("It" being the Morris exhibition, not the Library.)

I will probably have more to say after my merry little jaunt, but for the moment those with any interest in Morris can have a look at this assessment from the March issue of Comment magazine (edited by Gideon Strauss).

Every Typo Tells a Story, Don' It?

Opening sentence of a letter recently received by a business of my acquaintance; emphasis is added, but the exclamation point is in the original:

Dear [name withheld],

We are not satisfied with the reply we received back from your Human Recourses Department!

Can any retort prevent the writer's resort to the courts to cure these torts?

TNK: Now Playing at Canterbury (or Springfield)

Yes, I have been known to do requests: Rick Coencas, noting a trivial detail in a recent episode of The Simpsons, wrote (emphasis added):

Last night's The Simpsons featured a throwaway joke about Moe the bartender wiping up a spill with a lost Shakespeare play. It was The Two Noble Kinsmen. I have a peripheral connection to that play, but this blogger has a more than peripheral relationship. Perhaps he will expound.

And expound I shall.

The Two Noble Kinsmen is now generally accepted as a collaborative effort by Wm. Shakespeare and John Fletcher (better known for his collaborations with Francis Beaumont).

The play is an adaptation of The Knight's Tale from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The plot in brief: In Athens, the wedding of Theseus to the Amazon queen Hippolyta is interrupted by the arrival of three mournful queens from Thebes, seeking revenge for their husbands' deaths at the hands of the tyrant Creon. Theseus drops everything, attacks Thebes and is impressed by the valor of Two Noble Theban cousins, Palamon and Arcite, who are captured in the course of his victory. Imprisoned and expecting to remain so, the cousins nobly declare their undying devotion to one another until, looking out their window to the garden below, they spot Hippolyta's sister Emilia. Hilarity ensues.

Pal.: What thinke you of this beauty?
Arc.: Tis a rare one.
Pal.: Is't but a rare one?
Arc.: Yes a matchles beauty.
Pal.: Might not a man well lose himselfe and love her?
Arc.: I cannot tell what you have done, I have,/Beshrew mine eyes for't, now I feele my Shackles.
Pal: You love her then?
Arc.: Who would not?
Pal: And desire her?
Arc.: Before my liberty.
Pal.: I saw her first.

Arcite is released and banished. Palamon escapes, with the aid of the Jailer's Daughter whose love for him causes her to run colorfully mad. (She is later cured by the strategem of having her fiance woo her in the guise of Palamon.) Eventually, the cousins fight a duel: the winner is to wed Emilia, the loser to be executed. Arcite prevails, Palamon is led to the block. As Palamon is about to be slain, word arrives that Arcite has been thrown by his horse in the bridal procession and is near death. With his dying breath, he hands Emilia over to his cousin.* Theseus is bemused by the workings of the gods, as the curtain falls.

I have the distinction, for what it may be worth, of having co-directed and played a leading part (the late Arcite) in what is, according to this comprehensive catalog, the only filmed (videotaped) version of the play, produced in 1978 at U.C. Berkeley as the culmination of a course taught by Professor Hugh Richmond. A copy is rumored to be maintained in the University's collection.

Resources to satisfy your Kinsmen needs:

The text is available here or, if you prefer a more elaborate editorial edifice (including a compilation of critics' views of who wrote what), you can also find it here. If you were to purchase a copy, a modest gratuity would be mine.

Michael Delahoyde, a senior instructor at Washington State, has prepared a somewhat jaded scene by scene synopsis.

The more visually inclined may prefer the cartoon version of Chaucer's original, available courtesy of the merry band at Punch.

The most eccentric Kinsmen-related item I've turned up is the work of Canadian artist Garry Newton, who produced a series of prints under the combined influence of The Two Noble Kinsmen and surrealist Max Ernst. (Newton's captions are lines from the play spoken by or about that unfortunate Jailer's Daughter.)

And to bring us full circle: if you prefer The Simpsons to Shakespeare, frequent commenter David Giacalone will be happy to fill you in on The Simpsons and the Law.

I daresay I have expounded quite sufficiently now. Thank you and goodnight.

*As Homer Simpson himself once said: "Stupid poetic justice . . ."

Unencumbered with a Title

"Baudolino," he would say to him, "you are a born liar."

"Why do you say such a thing, master?"

"Because it's true. But you mustn't think I'm reproaching you. If you want to become a man of letters and perhaps write some Histories one day, you must also lie and invent tales, otherwise your History would become monotonous. But you must act with restraint. The world condemns liars who do nothing but lie, even about the most trivial things, and it rewards poets, who lie only about the greatest things."

--Umberto Eco, Baudolino

Tell Me Who (Who?) Who Baked the Food of Love

bedroom wallsTime once again to attempt to impose my tastes on my readers.

The musical links far down the right left-hand column have been updated to reflect what's cycling most frequently through my CD player at the moment. Principal holdouts from earlier lists are the crunchy webloggin' alt-country stylings of "Fought Down" by Ken Layne & the Corvids (prior comment on which is here) and the heartfelt, wise and sophisticated loveliness of "Identity Crisis" from Shelby Lynne (concerning whom I stand by my earlier judgment that she is to be preferred to the pleasant and talented, but frightfully overhyped, Norah Jones).

New items on the list, all in a listener-friendly pop vein, include Josh Rouse's 1972 -- perfect little pop songs with a dash of Memphis soul that probably would have been a radio hit if it had actually been released ca. 1972-74 -- and "Wonderfully Nothing" by Brookville. Brookville is a side project of Andy Chase, who will be better known to you (if at all) as one third of the band Ivy, and the collection of slightly melancholy songs and instrumentals -- keyboard and guitar-based with a thin veneer electronica and string and horn arrangements from the always-worthwhile Eric Matthews -- somewhat resembles the work on Zero 7's "Simple Things" without the rotating crew of singers. A recent live performance at KCRW is reachable here.

Not listed below (because not available through Amazon [but obtainable by clicking through that album cover above and to the right]) is "I Saw You Coming Back to Me," the self-released debut of Los Angeles' own Bedroom Walls. Working in a style they label "Romanticore," Bedroom Walls combine intelligent Southern California pop craft (a la Brian Wilson or Van Dyke Parks) with a bit of bossa nova here, a dash of distortion there, and a hefty dollop of yearning sweetness to produce music with a pretty-but-somehow-askew quality: I think of Angelo Badalamenti's songs and score for Twin Peaks, with less menace. While the band has some demos posted in MP3 form on its site, perhaps the best way to judge whether Bedroom Walls is for you is to listen to their live appearance on KCRW, streamingly available here.