Previous month:
February 2005
Next month:
April 2005

But Can The Steam Engine Do All This?

New Horizons in Poetry Appreciation:  Greg Perry is listing somewhat. To starboard, to port, what does it matter? 

Here is my own first attempt, another variant on a recurring theme:

Ozymandias in list format:

  • Who I met
    • A traveler
  • From?
    • An antique land
  • Who said:
    • Two legs
      • vast
      • trunkless
      • of stone
      • standing
    • Where
      • In the desert
        • boundless and bare
        • sands low and level
    • Also in the vicinity
      • A visage
        • Shattered
        • Frowning
        • Sneering
          • with cold command
        • Telling
          • of its sculptor's wry understanding of long-lived passions
      • A pedestal
        • Inscribed with:
          • Name
            • "Ozymandias"
          • Title
            • "King of kings"
          • Instructions to the mighty
            • "Look"
              • On his works
            • "Despair"
      • Nothing beside


[On an altogether unfrivolous note, let me also recommend Greg's photo, currently on his sidebar, of the moon on Frenchman Bay.]


Special Lone Star State Update [3/29/05]: Attention Cowtown Pattie!  The great Ozymandias' vast and trunkless legs have apparently been sighted in Amarillo.  Further details here.


Additional, Coyly Blushing Update [4/7/05]:  Welcome, readers from 2blowhards and dustbury!   Thank you for your kind attentions.   You may also enjoy my April 1 post, which presents Shakespeare's Sonnet XVIII as a PowerPoint slideshow.

[Also: in the course of this update, I discovered that I never linked the particular Greg Perry post -- in which Robert Frost and his two roads in the wood receive the "list" treatment -- that started this.   Mea culpa, Greg.   The matter stands corrected.]


Say, wasn't this touted as a weekly feature?   In any case, another hodgepodge of news and links from elsewhere:

  • Limerictionary Dept.:

Having only managed a single double dactyl since the beginning of the year, you can imagine how intimidated I am by the contributors to the OEDILF: The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form

Among poetry webloggers, Henry Gould mentioned the project at the beginning of the month, but it first came to my attention some time back via Graham Lester's point2point weblog.  Graham has just posted his own ten most recent contributions to the Great Work.

  • "It's Raining, Time to Cover Up" Dept.

Los Angeles' remarkably wet winter/rainy season is at or near its end, and is widely reported to have been the "second wettest" on record, following the winter of 1883-1884.  The Pasadena Star-News, for example, reports as much here.  But is it true

At least two nay-sayers have begged to differ, arguing strongly that the real championship season in the Los Angeles rain stakes was the winter of 1861-62.  They have submitted opinion pieces to the Los Angeles Times, but the Times, which seemingly has some vested interest in backing 1883, has refused to print the truth.

L.A. Observed is all over this scandalous journalistic lapse and has provided a forum for the otherwise suppressed articles.  Here, journalist Frances Dinkelspiel provides a near-apocalyptic description of the damage wrought by 28 straight days of rain:

The surging waters from the Los Angeles River rushed through the small downtown, carrying driftwood, mud and sand as it enveloped the row of shops.  [Isaias W.] Hellman, who not long before had made his home in the store’s back room, rushed with his two cousins to salvage any goods they could.  As the three men started to grab shoes, books, tobacco and other goods, the saturated adobe walls started to crumble and they were forced to flee.

When the floodwaters receded, Los Angeles had been transformed.  The façade of the Church of Our Lady the Queen of Angeles, which had stood sentinel in the Plaza for 40 years, melted away, its straw and mud bricks unable to withstand the water’s onslaught.  The cascading river ripped out thousands of grapevines.  Sand lay a foot thick over once-fertile orchards. Roads became so impassable that Los Angeles went without mail for 5 consecutive weeks.

Here, you can read Professor Ralph Shaffer of Cal Poly Pomona to similar effect, complete with citations to the Times' own archives.  Professor Shaffer also takes the opportunity to mount his own particular hobby-horse, the silly idea that Los Angeles exists in "a desert":

Some day the Times will finally concede and print my oft-rejected op-ed about the myth promoted by the paper that LA is a desert.  Name another "desert" city in the world that has 34 inches of rain 4 times in 143 years, or has an average [rainfall] of 15 inches!

  • High Tech vs. High Culture Dept.:

Two articles this week emphasize the sorrows afflicting both consumers and producers of recorded classical music in this high-tech, highly litigious era:

  • Via Byzantium's Shores, I find that the Arizona Republic has republished this week's otherwise-unavailable-to-nonsubscribers Wall Street Journal article on the uneasy marriage between classical music and the age of the digital download:

Pity the classical-music fan.  While lovers of pop, rock, jazz, folk and rap can surf the Web and easily download everything from Iggy Pop to 50 Cent, the digital age has left consumers with a taste for portable Tchaikovsky more or less in the lurch.  Popular sites like Napster, Yahoo Inc.'s Musicmatch and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Music devote only 2 percent to 10 percent of their offerings to classical works, and the hunt for a specific track can be tough going, especially for classical fans with sophisticated tastes.

'It's like the budget bin at a record store,' says opera singer Susan Graham, who has searched sites like Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes for specific recordings of works such as Mahler's 'Songs of a Wayfarer' or his 'Ruckertlieder' but has come away empty-handed.  ITune's selection, she says, 'was very mainstream, with only the most popular or generic offerings.'

I spotted an oddity on display in the classical materials in Apple's iTunes Music Store myself: I was looking for a recording of Carl Nielsen's short orchestral piece Saga-Drom.  The piece is available as part of this Herbert Blomstedt-conducted collection of Nielsen's concertos and miscellaneous pieces, which is for sale in the iTunes store.  Saga-Drom itself is downloadable, however, if you download the entire album.  (If I want the entire album, which I might sometime, I'll buy it as a CD, thanks.)  More oddly, it appears that the only portions of the album that are for sale as individual tracks are excerpts (the first third of each of the two movements, but not the remaining two-thirds of either movement) of the Violin Concerto.  Peculiar.

  • This morning's Los Angeles Times spotlighted a copyright case now on appeal in the UK in which Lionel Sawkins, the musicologist-editor of the scores of French Baroque composer Michel-Richard de Lalande, has been awarded substantial damages for infringement against Hyperion, a smallish record company that used his edition for a well-received recording.  The issue is whether the "edition" has an existence and copyrightability separate from that of the preexisting, public domain compositions it contains.  The Times hides the story in its pay-only Calendar section, but PlaybillArts also provides a report:

    In an apparently unprecedented move, Sawkins demanded royalties from the label, claiming that the intense research involved in creating the edition entitled him to the same rights as the author of a work.  Hyperion agreed to pay a 'hire fee' for the use of Sawkins' version, but refused to pay royalties, arguing that 'an edition of existing musical work that is a faithful reproduction of Lalande's music cannot itself be an original music work.'

* * *

'I am not persuaded that one can reject a claim to copyright in a new musical work simply because the editorial composer has made no significant changes to the notes,' Justice Patten wrote.  'The question to ask in any case is whether the new work is sufficiently original in terms of the skill and labour used to produce it.'

* * *

'I am delighted with the outcome, which should fire a shot across the bows of record companies,' Sawkins said in a statement last year.  'Too often in the past editors have been prepared to sacrifice their rights in order to see their edition of a long-forgotten masterpiece recorded.'

A statement recently issued by Hyperion said, 'If the…decision is allowed to stand, the consequences for the recording industry will be far-reaching.  Publishers will be able to exert copyright on a whole swathe of editions which are currently in the public domain.'

(Italics added.)  If Hyperion's appeal is unsuccessful, the damage award is predicted to exceed one million pounds, which the company says will significantly cripple its business.

  • Favorite Symbols from American Literature Dept.:

Dr. Eckleberg, we presume.

  • "Why do the Wrong People Travel?" Dept.:

Naturally, this is the line on which I'll be booking my next cruise.
[Via ::: wood s lot ::: and Giornale Nuovo.]

Lagomorphs Need Not Apply

Australia's Culture and Recreation Portal explains Easter, and in particular the unique Australian avatar of the season, the Easter Bilby:

For obvious reasons the rabbit was also a symbol of fertility and fecundity and became associated with festivals dedicated to celebrating the arrival of Spring.  In Australia the rabbit is a pest, and celebrating it in any form denies the reality of Australia's rabbit plague and the damage rabbits do to Australia's fragile environment.  The CSIRO estimates rabbit damage costs the Australian economy $AU600 million each year.

Because of this, a strong movement to replace the 'Easter Bunny' with one of Australia's own - the bilby - has developed.  The bilby is a cute-looking creature with big eyes, big ears and a long tail and is a member of the bandicoot family.

The push for an Easter bilby was begun in 1991 by the Anti-Rabbit Research Foundation of Australia when they registered 'Easter bilby' as a business name and began licensing the use of that name for bilby-related products.  The sale of the products was to fund research into wildlife conservation - an issue of importance to the bilby as bilbies are endangered, largely because of competition from rabbits and loss of habitat.

So instead of an Easter bunny delivering Easter eggs, they are now often delivered by a bilby, and Australian shops stock chocolate bilbies alongside chocolate eggs and rabbits.

As my own local population of wild rabbits has been wreaking particular havoc with my front lawn for the past year or more, I join in solidarity with our Australian brethren and their bunny boycott.  Cute as those bilbies are, I elect to continue the Easter tradition that I established last year -- although it really isn't a "tradition" if you've only done it once, is it? -- by selecting a slightly different fuzzy critter for holiday display.

Flick your bushy tails with me now as I return you again to the 16th Century, where Hans Hoffman -- this one, not that one -- provides us with this year's Easter Squirrel:


I have been unable to locate any 16th Century German illustrations of a bilby.

A Napa a Day Keeps the Lawyers in Play [Now With 100% Real Cheese]

The saga of Fred Franzia's Bronco Wine Company -- the fourth largest U.S. wine company, perhaps best known as the producer of the so-called "Two Buck Chuck" wines under the Charles Shaw label, the history of which I previously took up here -- continues.  The U.S. Supreme Court has now denied Franzia/Bronco's petition to consider/overturn the California Supreme Court's ruling (discussed here) that Franzia/Bronco cannot market wines with brand names incorporating the word "Napa" and related place names unless those wines are actually made with a significant percentage of grapes that grew in those places. 

  • The Shaw brand name contains no geographical references, so it is unaffected by this litigation.  It has been targeted in a separate suit, based on the reference to "Napa" as the place at which the Shaw wine is "cellared and bottled," as mentioned here.

The U.S. Supreme Court's order -- on page 9 of this order list [pdf] -- consists of a content-free denial of certiorari [review], leaving the California court's decision unchanged.  For a little more substance you can read the Los Angeles Times report here or, via Professor Bainbridge's wine weblog, the Reuters version.  The hedonistic Professor B also reports the story on his main weblog, declaring the outcome "a big win for consumers, banning an increasingly common form of misleading advertising."

It has been suggested in certain quarters (scroll down, but don't forget to stop and smell the haiku) that there is an inconsistency between the Professor's anti-regulatory position on wild mushrooms and his enthusiasm for enforcement of California's "At-Least-75%-From-Napa-if-the-Brand-Name-on-the-Label-Says-'Napa'" rule, but I don't see it: while the mushroom regulations (foolishly, in the view of this Fool) cut off the supply of a delicious and non-threatening foodstuff altogether, the labeling rule simply requires that another delicious foodstuff be accurately described by its packaging.

The labeling of wines can be, like The Naming of Cats, a difficult matter.  It is a problem that provides fodder for Many Lawyers, as you can learn if you read on in the lengthy continuation of this post, which encompasses soil, climate, distilled water, the French, the Chileans, many lawyers, Sideways, and of course the aforementioned cheese.

Continue reading "A Napa a Day Keeps the Lawyers in Play [Now With 100% Real Cheese]" »

Health Zealots Free Fancy Fungi

Working on a very long post, soon to appear, concerning wine label regulations, I had the opportunity to check back in on the dreaded Los Angeles Wild Mushroom ban, previously subjected here to howls of derisive laughter.  As a result, I was pleased to learn through the Southland Farmers' Market Association that the ban has been quietly withdrawn by County authorities. 

Here is Southland's report:Caterpillar

The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services recently took the unprecedented action of banning sales of wild mushrooms in certified farmers' markets.  The reason given was that the source of the wild mushrooms was not 'an approved source' according to their definition.  David West, a Southland member and long time vendor of wild mushrooms at the Santa Monica Certified Farmers' Market was essentially put out of business.  Protests from customers and calls to the County Supervisors advising them that all wild mushrooms come from the same source added pressure on the Department of Health Services.  In the end, the Department backed off its ban on wild mushrooms in Los Angeles County.  The reason they gave was that it was a State matter to develop standards for approved sources of wild mushrooms.  We think the Department simply got in over its political head on a decision that made sense to no one.  See Southland's letter to the Director of Health Services and the most recent Los Angeles Times Article.   Much credit for the change in the Department's decision goes to David West, who was persuasive in getting customers and supporters to call and write on his behalf.  Laura Avery, Southland President and Supervisor of the Santa Monica Farmers' Markets, championed David's cause and was significant in getting the word out to radio listeners and market participants.

As if in honor of the occasion, the Los Angeles Times Food section today offers the effusions of high-powered chef Scooter Kanfer-Cartmill in praise of morels:

Years before she ever thought about becoming a chef, Scooter Kanfer-Cartmill worked as a scenic artist in the film business.  On location in Iowa, she went with friends to the Iowa State Fair, where she noticed a crowd gathered at one booth.  'I got in line to see what was going on,' she says.  'When I got to the front, there was this farmer selling deep-fried morels.  He said he had so many morels growing on his property that he was feeding them to his pigs.  For $3 I got this whole newspaper cone filled with French-fried morels.' 

So now, come spring, she orders 'gray ash' morels, those that grow out in burned forests, from her mushroom dealer. 'They're bigger and meatier than other morels,' she explains. 'They're über morels.'

Kanfer-Cartmill dredges them in flour seasoned with salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne pepper, dips them in an egg wash, then rolls them in bread crumbs seasoned with nutmeg and thyme.  Next she deep-fries them in peanut oil and puts them in a parchment cone.  Finally they get a sprinkling of sea salt and thyme leaves and a dash of malt vinegar.  That's luxury.

Let the drooling commence.

We Raise Our Hats to the Strange Phenomena

I am not Irish and thus, this St. Patrick's Day, seemingly am not lucky.

Returning to my office from a court appearance this morning, I was waylaid for several hours when my left rear tire decided to tear itself to ribbons on the freeway.  By the time I was able to pull to the side, the tread had separated completely from the rest of the tire along both sidewalls, and was happily spinning round independent of the wheel to which it had once been attached.  At least it didn't fly off and strike some bystander.  In any case: A jack, some grumbling, a trip to the nearest Toyota dealer on the itty-bitty spare, a near two-hour wait, and here we are back in our places with bright shining faces.

In other news:  I had mentioned that last weekend would bring a visit from my longtime friend and collaborator, Rick Coencas of the Futurballa weblog.  Among our projects was a trip into the surprisingly green fastnesses of the Antelope Valley to visit the California Poppy Reserve.  Rick has posted the first in what should be a series of photos from that jaunt, this one being a case of art imitating an artist in the act of imitating life.

Annals of Spam:  A curious new variant on comment spam cropped up earlier today beneath my earlier post on Susan Sontag.  Webloggers regularly receive spam comments that attach some URL or other [typically for cheap mortgages, prescription drugs, or other marital aids] to an otherwise contentless or irrelevant remark.  This latest item varied in that before it attached the offending URL it lifted and repeated verbatim the body of the first genuine comment (in this case, one from David Giacalone) that had previously been left on the post.  The point of this gesture escapes me.

[Post title courtesy of  Kate Bush, always a bit of a strange phenomenon herself.]

Morel Values, or, Adventures of a Truffle Trifler

The morel of our storyH.L. Mencken famously defined Puritanism as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."  We might just as well apply that same definition to regulators who act in the name of "public health."  A fresh example pops up today in, of all places, the Food section of the Los Angeles Times.

Meet Terrance Powell of the Los Angeles County Health Department, at the whim of whom it has suddenly become unlawful to sell wild mushrooms at farmers' markets, and possibly elsewhere:

No reports of anyone getting sick from mushrooms preceded the county's action. In fact, there has never been a report from any state or local health organization of anyone in the United States becoming ill from wild mushrooms purchased in a store or farmers market or eaten in a restaurant.

So why the sudden shutdown?  Why just at farmers markets?  And is a ban at restaurants and supermarkets to follow?

Terrance Powell, the environmental ombudsman with the county health department, says he only recently learned, through his inspectors at the farmers markets, that wild mushrooms, indeed, do grow wild.  By definition, they are foraged from forest floors, not cultivated on farms.

There is a dangerous gap in the regulations, Powell says, and that worries him.  "Should we wait to have people get sick? Our job is to be proactive....  Consumers rely on food being safe."

Yes, Powell is shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that wild mushrooms are exactly what they claim to be, and moreso by the terrifying prospect of that "dangerous gap" in the seamless web of regulatory intermeddling.  The article goes on to describe the life of the "circuit picker," as itinerant mushroom hunters are known, introducing us to picker Hippie Mark, "who says he doesn't believe in last names," and to Mike Stephens, who buys the fruits of the pickers' labors throughout California and the Pacific Northwest and distributes them to restaurants and upscale markets.  Stephens points out that Nature is to a large extent self-regulating:

How does Stephens know his pickers aren't foraging on toxic waste dumps or around nasty sludge ponds?  A quizzical look crosses his face. 'Wild mushrooms won't grow where anything's wrong,' he says.  'After a fire, you can tell where they've dropped fire retardant because there are no mushrooms there.'

Fear not, citizens!  Minor details like that don't trouble a health crusader such as Terrance Powell in his quest to do What's Good For You, whether you desire his protection or not:

Concerned for public health, Powell first shut down the wild mushroom vendors he knew about at the farmers markets.  This week, he's getting around to the rest of the county.  Stepping in where no California regulator has gone before, Powell plans to issue new product identification and source disclosure regulations governing the sale of wild mushrooms across Los Angeles, including distributors, wholesalers, retailers and restaurants. 

If Powell has his way, before consumers take their first bites of this spring's fresh morels, they will know exactly where each wild mushroom grew, who identified it as a morel, and that person's qualification for the job of mushroom identifier.  A 'buyer beware' notice will be posted at points of sale to warn consumers that the mushroom grew on land that is not regulated by the Department of Agriculture or Health Services 'and therefore was subject to conditions that may potentially contaminate,  adulterate, or otherwise render the product unfit for human consumption.'  As a bonus bit: Consumers will be told that the Latin binomial name for morel is morchella esculenta.

True, the health risk is strictly theoretical, Powell says, but throughout the years, several amateur wild mushrooms foragers have gotten sick and some have died.  Powell believes it is just a matter of time before a commercial forager makes the amateur's mistake.  He's acting now, he says, to forestall disaster.

No one has been injured by a commercially purchased wild mushroom.  This can only mean that it could happen at any moment!  (Try applying that logic to a slot machine sometime -- one that hasn't shown any signs of paying out recently -- and see what it gets you.)  Note as well that anything not grown on land regulated by one agency or another is by definition exposed to conditions making it unsafe.

Now, let's pull back to a wider view.  Is the creeping menace of unpedigreed fungi being dealt with elsewhere?  Powell envisions a much broader regulatory push.  Witness the slippery slope in action:

The urge to regulate happens frequently when officials first discover the peculiarities of wild mushrooms, says Dave Bengston, Mendocino County agriculture commissioner.  And just as predictably as they try to regulate them, he says, they drop the idea.  'In my mind, mushrooms are like any other fruit or vegetable, common things we eat all the time that, treated improperly, are poisonous,' Bengston says.  'Fix rhubarb wrong, it's the same thing. And you don't see a lot of people panicking over rhubarb.'

* * *

Mendocino County hasn't regulated its foragers, Bengston says.  With the slump in the local lumber industry, mushroom foraging saved Christmas for more than a few families.  'We've had discussions, but we felt that no one has the time to do it,' he says.

As for Los Angeles County, Powell doesn't care what has happened elsewhere; as far as he is concerned, his new interim rules should stand as law until the state decides whether to act.

And what does the state say?  'We don't know what the county is doing,' says Robert Miller, spokesman for the California Department of Health Services.  To date, Powell has not notified the state of his new regulations.

According to Miller, the state would like to see a requirement that foragers go through a training and licensing program.  But because wild mushroom commerce crosses state lines, he says, 'we're waiting for the federal government to act.'

I, for one, will rest easier knowing that I am protected from the rogue spawn of spurious spores, won't you?

For further reading:  On a more serious note, what we have here is another example of throwing resources at a perceived risk far out of proportion to the degree of that risk.  The phenomenon shows up everywhere and is hardly limited to California or even the United States.  Even that clever fellow Tony Blair has expressed dismay, albeit he has not yet weighed in on the Mushroom Problem.

Update [3/17/05]: Professor Bainbridge is appropriately outraged, and contemplates appropriate acts of civil disobedience in response. 


Jo vs. The Old Ones: A conservative source -- the Wall Street Journal -- provides an appreciation of H.P. Lovecraft on the occasion of the Library of America's new edition of his horrific corpus, including this intriguing publishing statistic:

If our country's literary canon has a dress code, then surely it involves those shiny black jackets covering the volumes produced by the Library of America.  Lovecraft's new one runs for more than 800 pages and includes 22 novellas and short stories with titles such as "The Horror at Red Hook," "At the Mountains of Madness" and "The Thing on the Doorstep."  There are now 25,000 copies in print, which is an above-average number for the nonprofit publisher.  (A book of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" and other writings, released at the same time, has an initial printing of 19,000.)

While it is the horror stories that get most of the attention, Lovecraft was also something of a straight fantasist: in tales such as "The Cats of Ulthar," "The White Ship," and most successfully in "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath," he was strongly and explicitly under the influence of Lord Dunsany, and particularly of Dunsany's 1910 collection, A Dreamer's Tales.  Lovecraft wrote in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith that "Dunsany has influenced me more than anyone else except Poe -- his rich language, his cosmic point of view, his remote dream-world, & his exquisite sense of the fantastic, all appeal to me more than anything else in modern literature." 

Ursula K. LeGuin is a Dunsany enthusiast as well, and wrote a glowing review of this new Dunsany collection in the Los Angeles Times last June.  The article, alas, is now buried in the Times' archives and only available at a price, but if you search for it, you get this excerpt in which LeGuin reminisces about her own discovery of Dunsany in childhood, which at least hints at his virtues: "I'd read all the children's classics of fantasy, 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and 'The Wind in the Willows,' and myths, legends, folk tales, a cleaned-up-for-kids Arabian Nights and so on - - but this was different. It was an adult writing for adults, and it wasn't ancient or ethnological or anonymous. . . ."  I tracked down a copy of the Dreamer's Tales in the local library in response to LeGuin's review, and was glad I did.

The Skull Beneath the Skin Ink & Paint: Via another conservative source at National Review Online: a sort of Gray's Anatomy of the Skeletal Systems of Cartoon Characters.  So much for inner beauty.

Update [3/17/05]: Professor Bainbridge reveals that he, too, loves Lovecraft's craft.  In his enthusiasm, he is leading innocents astray.   (We have it on good authority that introducing them to Lovecraft poses less danger to their souls than turning them on to The Da Vinci Code.)