Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Turn the page

From an interview with Clay Shirkey in Publisher’s Weekly:
I think someone will make the imprint that bypasses the traditional distribution networks. Right now the big bottleneck is the head buyer at Barnes & Noble. That’s the seawall holding back the flood in publishing. Someone’s going to say, “I can do a business book or a vampire book or a romance novel, whatever, that might sell 60% of the units it would sell if I had full distribution and a multimillion dollar marketing campaign—but I can do it for 1% percent of the cost.” It has already happened a couple of times with specialty books. The moment of tip happens when enough things get joined up to create their own feedback loop, and the feedback loop in publishing changes when someone at Barnes & Noble says: “We can’t afford not to stock this particular book or series from an independent publisher.” It could be on Lulu, or iUniverse, whatever. And, I feel pretty confident saying it’s going to happen in the next five years.
 I don’t have to care about this stuff anymore but, boy, is he right. And it’s been obvious for a long time to those without a vested interest in remaining blind. But the real fun starts when a critical mass of publishers—and even particular authors—distributing digitally, can go right around Barnes & Noble. Where and how do you get your music?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Updike, an Archive

A wow recent article by Sam Tanenhaus in the New York Times about “an enormous archive fashioned as meticulously as one of his lathe-turned sentences,” that John Updike left to Harvard. It won’t be cataloged and open to scholars for a couple of years yet, but Tanenhaus, editor of the Times Book Review, writes that it contains “the keys to Updike’s literary universe,” and then goes on to give scrumptiously enticing examples.

My favorite is this one, written home from Harvard at age 19 in what the family called “Letters to Plowville”:

“We do not need men like Proust and Joyce; men like this are a luxury, an added fillip that an abundant culture can produce only after the more basic literary need has been filled.... This age needs rather men like Shakespeare, or Milton, or Pope; men who are filled with the strength of their cultures and do not transcend the limits of their age, but, working within the times, bring what is peculiar to the moment to glory. We need great artists who are willing to accept restrictions, and who love their environments with such vitality that they can produce an epic out of the Protestant ethic.... Whatever the many failings of my work let it stand as a manifesto of my love for the time in which I was born.”

At age 19.

A terrific article, and a wonderfully written one.

And now, my obligatory link to Updike’s famous 1960 New Yorker baseball essay, Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.

Fourth, it obviously doesn’t work

This is a joke, right? England coach manger Fabio Capello has told his team “no sex” during the World Cup?

First, what is an Italian doing coaching managing England?

Second, where did they find an Italian—an Italian!—who holds this bizarre point of view? (Maybe he just thought it was no big deal to Englishmen).

Third, why aren’t the powers that be familiar with the great Casey Stengel’s recognition of the obvious on this subject: “Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.”

Monday, June 21, 2010

Backyard mixology

We’re having a go at Square Foot Gardening, and my task yesterday was to mix growing soil for our new raised beds...

... and help haul and shovel the mixture of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite into place.

Some other person actually planted the goodies: a mixture of flowers and veggie refugees that have been sitting around rather unhappily on the other side of the house grumbling to each other and waiting to be found a home.

Sometime soon, I'll install some better looking panels to obscure the fact that we now have giant black plastic boxes next to our house, and eventually, I’ll be picking tomatoes and carrots and tomatillos and lettuce and New Zealand (of course!) spinach (which apparently isn’t actually spinach at all).

In the more traditional manner, we’ve already had a great haul of plain old American spinach, and all kinds of salad greens and herbs and other nice things. Oh, such mint! I’ve been close to vegetarian for a month or so.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

X Marks the spot

For many years, I’ve worn a now battered old dark brown Tilley T3 on the trail. But it’s heavy canvas, it’s hot, it soaks up water, and it doesn’t work especially well under a hood, which in a real downpour it can’t simply replace. So I recently bought an Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap. It’s light and airy worn primarily for its visor, and when I deploy the cape it will serve to keep my delicate shell-pink ears from turning red and falling off.

But it has that big “OR” on its crown, which I hate. So I began thinking about how to obscure this particular bit of advertising. Here’s what I decided on:

It’s a patch representing a signal flag. In alpha-numeric, it stands for “M”, which is handy, given my first name—and of course, “M” is what sweet B calls me. The design is also a squared up version of the Scottish flag, which I think is especially nice. (The “What?” in this blog’s title, after all, is Scotland.) But my favorite aspect of the flag is that, displayed alone, it means, “My vessel is stationary and not under way.”

I’m into metaphor.

Monday, June 14, 2010

King Pine Tri

H and A competed in their first triathlon of the year yesterday. They rose at the crack of dawn, geared up, and wandered down the track from their room near the site to the check-in.

Others athletes and hangers-on were arriving, but the place wasn’t yet the hive of activity it would become.

My shutter finger was too slow to catch A on his swim or bike, and I somehow missed H entirely as she came out of the water, and was on a grandfatherly mission when she set out on her ride, but they were having a good day. Here they are beginning their runs.

And here they are just before finishing into the chute.

A was comically issued the number of an older woman, which caused a bit of confusion for a while (and forced him to wear a pink swim cap), but he was ultimately discovered to have finished fourth in his age (and gender) group. H was third in hers. And their club was second. More importantly, it was a wonderfully friendly and cheery event. Dogs and children were everywhere, the music was loud and good, happiness abounded, and a good time was had by all.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

New look

Along with some other very nice improvements, Blogger has just offered some new templates, most of which are much better than most of their old ones. I’m pleased with the cleaner look, but I might tweak it a bit more when I can make some time. Or I may just continue to use those hours playing with sweet B.

Friday, June 11, 2010

“anti-British rhetoric” and “name-calling”

I’ve got to say I haven’t heard any. We’re really angry at BP and Tony Hayward is universally reviled, but there’s no raging Anglophobia here. Lots of us are just as angry at our non-regulating regulators and the political process that put them in place and then left them there. Remember that we were really angry at Exxon for their spill in Alaska, and we’d hate Tone-deaf Tony and his supercilious act if he hailed from Omaha (although they actually don’t do supercilious all that well in Nebraska).

Chill out, Boris. The Queen is still welcome here anytime.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Swing

Sweet B and I took longish morning walks when we were together last week. One day we got good and wet. One day we stopped for coffee (me) and bananas—two of them (her). One day we concentrated on beep-beeps (trucks). But each day we stopped at a park and made use of the playground. B slid, climbed, and practiced being other-directive (“M up!”). But for utter glee, it’s the swing. She chortles, we sometimes play a game with her stuffed bunny (“munny”), and I inevitably essay some Robert Louis Stevenson, which in my mouth quickly becomes a mere rhythm section. When she’s more fortunate in her pusher, though, she gets the whole thing, expressively recited.

How do you like to go up in a swing,
  Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
  Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
  Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
  Over the countryside—
Till I look down on the garden green,
  Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
  Up in the air and down!

A joy to watch...and hear.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The It Girl and others

I’ve long been interested in the silent movies of the ’teens and ’20s, many of which no longer exist because the nitrate film they were shot on has essentially disintegrated. It’s one of those aching cultural sorrows, because it means a significant chunk of our artistic heritage has been blotted out. (A lot of it is trivial stuff, of course, but a surprising amount of what’s gone isn’t. And even the trivial is historically, if not artistically, fascinating.)

There was an article in the New York Times the other day that gave me, as if I needed one, yet another reason to appreciate New Zealand. A fair number of “lost” flicks are winging their way north.


My father has a funny memory of sitting in a theater in 1928 or ’29, watching a silent film at a kiddie matinee with his older brother, who was reading the dialogue to him. Remarks were passed from behind them that my uncle should pipe down. Bob, probably eight or nine at the time, but almost certainly already in the world elite of bitingly facetious remarks, turned around and made a few personal suggestions of his own. A fight started that had to be broken up by the ushers. For all I know, that movie has disintegrated...but the memory lingers. There’s cultural history for you.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Track and trail

Hoping to make last February’s walk in New Zealand, I wrote last summer about seeing the track at Wanganui where Peter Snell broke the mile world record in early 1962. Now that it looks like I’ll finally be going Kiwi tramping this coming winter, I’ll really have the chance. That track, which was grass* and something over 4-1/2 laps to the mile, was replaced during the ’90s with something more modern, but in 2009 the city added a statue of Snell in compensation.

Here’s what the great Snell did on the grass at Wanganui: 61.3, 59.5 (1:59.8), 59.0 (2:59.8), then a thundering 54.6, which made for a last half-mile of 1:53.6. He wrote later that “I don’t think I've ever felt such a glorious feeling of strength and speed without strain as I did during the final exhilarating 300 yards.” Britain’s Bruce Tulloh, famous for running barefoot, was second at 3:59.3. (It was his only sub-four-minute mile.) Snell’s 3:54.5 broke Herb Elliot’s record by a tenth. (How much would you have paid to watch those two guys race?).

In 1964, Snell drove his own record down a little farther about a month after winning both the 800 and the 1,500 at the Tokyo Olympics, but he did so in an entirely different (and uncharacteristic) style. He ran positive splits: 56.4, 57.7 (1:54.1), 60.2 (2:54.3), 59.8. Czechoslovakia’s Joseph Odlozil ran second in 3:56.4, and Snell’s New Zealand teammate, John Davies, was third in 3:56.8—their precise finish order at Tokyo. They went out like three maniacs (why?), and after that brutal first half, Snell had to make his own pace to break his own record and defeat the two next best milers in the world by the miling eternity of better than two seconds. This race was at Auckland, so I’ll see that track, too.

Iffley was tops, though. For me, the ur-track.

* The SI article linked to above claims that grass tracks were a second a lap slower than cinder tracks, implying that Snell’s record would have been much quicker on the conventional surface of the day. A few years later, cinder tracks were often said to be a second a lap slower than the then-new synthetic tracks. I actually ran on lots of grass tracks when I was in high school, but I always felt it was their dips and rises and lumpiness rather than their surface that made them slower than a good cinder track. The Wanganui track was like a golf green. A lot of older runners would probably agree that wet, muddy, chewed up cinders are slower than just about anything...but a good, firm big-time cinder track four seconds a mile slower than all-weather? Doubt it. I ran a lot of races indoors on banked boards, 11 laps to the mile (and wonderfully noisy beneath the thundering herd). Everything else being equal, even those weren’t worth a second a quarter.

Monday, June 7, 2010


From yesterday morning’s New York Times, a nice article: Carol King and James Taylor on tour together.



Sunday, June 6, 2010

My granddaughter is 22 months old

 Photo stolen from A and H

In Concord last Wednesday, I was walking sweet B down the street in her stroller. A middle-aged man came out of his house headed for his car, and when he got close enough, asked, “How old’s your son?”

0 for 2.

(He was clearly a nice guy, B doesn’t yet care, and I’m delighted to be mistaken for someone young enough to have a toddler, so I just said, “Two.” Maybe that makes it 0 for 3.)

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Due to an outbreak of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease at B’s day care (she didn’t catch it, but the other three little ones are down with it), I’ve been called north for a spot of emergency baby sitting. This is a major bummer, forcing me to forgo Woodbury yard work to snuggle, sing, play, go to the playground, wander around town, and sneak off to get ice cream with sweet B. She’s napping at the moment, surrounded by a number of curiously soft friends, and I’m sipping tea, but we’ll soon be off on our afternoon rounds.

There’s an article in the New York Times this morning about a bill that has passed the New York State Senate mandating for nannies and similar workers paid vacation days and sick days, overtime wages and either 14 days’ notice of dismissal or termination pay. I’ll be leaving it on H’s pillow, because I’m very badly treated here. Cheap chocolate on the pillow last night, and still water rather than sparkling on the bedside table. It’s that paid vacation I’m really angling for.