1987: Coping with Technicalese

[Dear Mother,]

I’ve spent the afternoon coping with IBM technicalese in the form of new product announcements… Here’s the block of turgid prose for your enjoyment:


Allows IBM Personal System/2, attached to a Local Area Network to communicate with Asynchronous Host Computers, including the IBM PC-RT, other Asynchronous Devices, and transfer files with off NET connected IBM Personal System/2. IBM 3101, 3162, 3163, 3164 Asynchronous Terminals, other Asynchronous Terminals and IBM Personal Computers/System/2, communications adapter connected, can communicate with Asynchronous Hosts, other Asynchronous Devices, and IBM 7171s for Protocol Conversion for access to IBM Hosts. Local Area Network attached or Communication Adapter connected terminals can use the modem resource sharing capability of the Server to dial off-network to Asynchronous Devices, including Information Providers.

The product “highlighted” falls under the computer category of “Communications,” or computers talking to each other. Although for the layman they may be bewildering, it’s not the technical terms themselves that muddy this kind of writing, it’s the basics of writing itself: punctuation, word order, noun-modifier relationships, clause structure, coordination and subordination, etc. Although it’s not apparent here, the industry “literature” also commits egregious abuse of acronyms. One that comes to mind is “RAS,” for “Reliability, Availability and Serviceability.” How’s your RAS? One of the market channels is through VARS and VADS (Value Added Retailers, Value Added Dealers). And so on and so on. I have to fight the urge from time to time to do a heavy-handed parody of the phenomenon. It’s a pleasant way to waste some time. I’ll end here to get back to reading Product Announcements.

(c) 2018 JMN.

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1987: “A Fable”

For C*** and H***

Bamboo blinds gentle the noonday, coastal sun. A Gulf breeze licks the south-east corner of Casa Ramico’s.

I take my usual table, nodding at the busboys who greet me deferentially. Eulalia brings me water and a menu. Her walk reminds me of Johnson grass in April. Her eyes remind me of huisache bloom mirrored in an unrippled tank at sundown on eight sections of Brewster County cattle land.

I order the daily special with onions and iced tea. A plate of hot corn chips and con queso materializes on my table. I reach for a bottle of green salsa redolent with freshly crushed cumin. The salsa has the purposeful kick of a single-shot four-ten. Remembering a field of whitewing near Crystal City a few years back, I irrigate the con queso with several generous squeezes of the salsa bottle.

Eulalia brings me sun-brewed tea with a wedge of lemon grown west of Mercedes. I tear the end off a pink envelope and sprinkle a powder of aspartame over the distilled ice cubes.

The speakers vibrate softly with the strains of a nortena. I take a deep draught of tangy tea and wink at Ramiro when he peers merrily from the kitchen. I know his abuelita is pounding the corn for my taco tortilla in the ancient family molcajete.

Three draughts later my special arrives. I knife a dollop of Country Crock onto a flour tortilla. I roll the tortilla into a tight cylinder, angling one end skyward, and dredge a load of refried beans onto the opposite tip. Chewing with closed eyes, I remember what Papa wrote while fishing off the Havana coast: “It was good.”

I turn to the enchilada swimming in a pool of homemade chili. Forked, it extrudes a golden lava of Longhorn cheese. I half it in three bites. Bedded on a mound of Spanish rice, the taco is a cornucopia of grass-fed beef and garden tomatoes. I spoon guacamole into the taco’s cleft. As it cracks between my teeth, a fallout of hand-picked lettuce hits the rice. The steamy revel of Toltec chilis and fresh coriander reminds me of the wetbacks who fried prickly pear over an open fire on Granddaddy’s ranch while I played mumbledypeg as a boy.

Eulalia comes to refresh my tea.

“You know what? I say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

The truth hits home. Eulalia’s eyes glisten for a moment.

“No, Ernesto, it doesn’t.”

(c) 2018 JMN.

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1987: Twain: Tells a Lot

Mark Twain. HJN, drawing.

Mark Twain. HJN, drawing.

[Dear Mother,]

Another anecdote that tells a lot about the man is when he was allowed, with great reluctance on Clara’s part [one of Twain’s daughters], to attend a recital that she did manage to give. He was placed on the third row and ordered not to call attention to himself. When the recital was over he got on stage and gave a 20-minute speech. The next day, 75 of the 80 lines that the local newspaper devoted to Clara’s recital dealt with Mark Twain’s speech. No wonder he made the girls sick.

I hope you enjoy these snippets as much as I do. I guess sometimes sharing your readings is as dangerous as sharing your dreams. Have you ever been that interested in other people’s accounts of their dreams? I rarely have, unless it’s swapping common dreams, in which case you are trading information with someone else about your own dream life. To me the saddest and most incriminating side of Clemens’s behavior was toward Jean, the younger, epileptic daughter. She understood him and loved him more than Clara, but he relegated her to the margins of his life and couldn’t shoulder any real responsibility for her nor confront the implications of her illness. She was the only one of the women, apparently, with a real illness, yet comes across as the least morbid and hypochondriacal of them.

(c) 2018 JMN.

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Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver at home in Virginia. Photograph: Jessica Tezak for the Guardian.

“I’m in a really unusual position,” she says, “because I work as a literary writer. I work at the level of the sentence, at the level of the image, the metaphor, the theme, but I also have this commitment to accessibility, which I suppose comes from the fact I grew up here. It’s the same reason I sent my kids to public schools: I want to belong to people. I don’t want to be above them. So I would really like anyone who can read to be able to read my novels and I would like to give them a reason to turn every page.”

(Lidija Haas, “Barbara Kingsolver: ‘It feels as though we’re living through the end of the world,’” The Guardian, 10-8-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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Julia Dixit

Julia Child cake

It might be mistaken for a brownie, if not for its powerful, sophisticated flavor. Credit Gentl and Hyers for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Rebecca Bartoshesky.

Our project must be serious. This is not for fluffies!
— Julia Child

(Dorie Greenspan, “A Cake Fit for Julia Child,” NYTimes, 10-10-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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“A Weaver Who Changed Art”

Anni Albers wall hanging

An Anni Albers wall hanging from 1926. Credit2018 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via DACS, London.

“[Anni Albers] could’ve done painting later on, but she immersed herself in thread: Anni was a great person for working with limitations,” [Nicholas Fox] Weber said. “She used thread to make abstract art. Her best wall hangings from the Bauhaus and the rest of her weaving life are as great, and very similar to, work by Klee or Mondrian. They’re pure abstractions: It’s only the medium that’s different.”

(Farah Nayeri, “At Tate Modern, An Anni Albers Retrospective,” NYTimes, 10-10-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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Michelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio)

Caravaggio Lute Player

Caravaggio’s “Lute-Player” is from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, where it had been restored. This is the first time it is being seen outside of Russia post-restoration.CreditThe State Hermitage Museum. Photo by Pavel Demidov.

The exhibition’s principal curator, Francesca Cappelletti, said her aim was to demonstrate “what Caravaggio’s intellectual legacy was, not only as a painter but as an inventor.” He found new ways of depicting age-old subjects, be they mythological or biblical, and of representing music and still life, which were not necessarily common themes in painting at the time, she explained.

(Farah Nayeri, “In Paris, a Celebration of Caravaggio’s Roman Days,” NYTimes, 10-10-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

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