Non Sequitur Clickbait

“This 26-year-old became a small-town California mayor. Then a jet dumped fuel on her snakebit city.” 

(Headline from the Los Angeles Times,, 2-11-20)

In other news:

“A cook in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana over-salted his boudin. Then it rained in North Dakota.”

(Spurious clickbait concocted by the blogger)

(c) 2020 JMN

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Firehose of Rage

I hope that none are offended when I say that I am nonplussed at Ross Douthat’s use of “conterminous” in his column.

Here are two scenes from the same drama. The first scene takes place in California, where the state’s public university system now requires prospective faculty members to make a statement affirming their commitment to “diversity, equity and inclusion” — an officially politically neutral trinity that is widely suspected to be conterminous with progressive notions of what counts as diversity and what sort of inclusion matters.
(Ross Douthat, “Trump’s De-Polarizing Architecture Plan,” NYTimes, 2-11-20)

At first reading I assumed Douthat meant “coterminous” — who wouldn’t? To make sure I was on a sound footing before braying my contempt for his ignorant slippage from my speck in the social medium I Googled “conterminous.” Worse luck, it’s a word!

As adjectives the difference between conterminous and coterminous is that conterminous is meeting end-to-end or at the ends while coterminous is (of property leases) linked or related and expiring together.
(“Conterminous vs Coterminous — What’s the difference” — WikiDiff)

Hey, Douthat, here’s a scene from my drama. You’ve slipped my noose this time, but keep your fancy words to yourself. Ignorance of the American constitution insulates good citizens from eloquence and erudition such as yours for a reason — to make America simple again. MASA! 

(c) 2020 JMN

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De Gustibus…

I try to envisage EthicalDative as a safe space for saying that I like certain art. Tolerating tastes, especially other people’s, doesn’t come easily to our species. Persons with cultivated eye, especially, may compare it to defending people’s right to have opinions based on alternative facts. I myself, uncredentialed and untrained in art, experienced a fugitive thrill of specious superiority once when a man retired from 30 years of teaching art in the public schools told me his favorite artist was Norman Rockwell. De gustibus non est disputandum, I reminded myself. “There’s no arguing over tastes.”

I find much to like about Noah Davis’s painting.

Also, I always find something to be intrigued by, puzzle over, and admire in Roberta Smith’s art commentary.

Davis once said he preferred to think of himself as a painter rather than an artist, and the 27 canvases here… back him up. He was immersed in the medium, its materials and its history, and although his work was ostensibly traditional, it was also subtly pushing at the envelopes of subject matter, psychological expression and painting technique.

For me the provocative notion of identifying as painter rather than artist has appeal. It makes a backhanded kind of sense; whereas adverbs almost always fog my windshield. Words such as “ostensibly” and “subtly” sap vigor from the traits and acts they qualify.

[Davis]… refused to commit to a single figurative style or to use photographic images in a formulaic way. Nearly every canvas here is different, and most have an interpretive and painterly openness. Your eyes and mind enter them easily and roam through the different layers of brushwork and narrative suggestion. There’s an unexpected optimism to all this. The paintings also dwell in silence, slow us down and hypnotize.

The bit about not using photographic images “in a formulaic way” gives me something to grope my way towards understanding. Also, paintings that “dwell in silence.”

(Roberta Smith, “Noah Davis Is Gone; His Paintings Continue to Hypnotize,” NYTimes, 2-6-20)

(c) 2020 JMN

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Artie Shaw on Glenn Miller

I transcribed this snippet from the Ken Burns documentary about jazz. It inspires me to make mistakes at what I’m doing.

[Glenn Miller]… was sort of the Lawrence Welk of jazz. It was one of the reasons he was so big; people could identify with what he did, they perceived what he was doing. But the biggest problem: His band never made a mistake, and it’s one of the things wrong. If you never make a mistake, you aren’t trying, you’re not playing at the edge of your ability. You’re playing safely, within limits, and you know what you can do, and it sounds after a while extremely boring.

(c) 2020 JMN

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What Stuff Is About

“Math is not about memorizing formulas without meaning, but rather about learning how to reason logically through precise statements,” Dr. Loh said.

(Kenneth Chang and Jonathan Corum, “This Professor’s ‘Amazing’ Trick Makes Quadratic Equations Easier,” NYTimes, 2-5-20)

Dr. Loh’s statement teases me, a non-adept at mathematics, in imprecise ways.

The saucy segments are: “formulas without meaning”; “reason logically”; and “through.”

There are no formulas “without meaning”; a formula “means” what it formulates. It abstracts and generalizes in a repeatable way, and it’s useful only to those who have it beyond memory. It’s the act of lazy head-stuffing that’s meant to be belittled.

To reason “logically” is the same as to drink “liquidly.” How else to do either?

“Through” is tricky. At first I read it as prepositioning the notion of advancement by means of penetrative navigation. Picture, if you will, a thicket of precise statements; then picture yourself reasoning your way “through” them. On second reading, however, I estimate Dr. Loh to imply instrumentality — “by means of.” Picture yourself engaged in a reasoning process, and doing so by making a series of precise statements — reasoning “through” them.

Much stuff is about the likes of “through,” which is why computers are better at arithmetic than at translating.

(c) 2020 JMN

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George Steiner, 1929 – 2020

My experience with George Steiner’s work is bitter-sweet. His book “After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation” had great significance for me at a time when I struggled to establish my bona fides as an academic linguist while casting about for a basis on which to salvage a disintegrating career. Having striven with mixed success to acquire my extra languages, I envied his natively absorbed polyglot fluency. My fight to be learned is behind me. That makes it easier now to tip my hat to Steiner for having supported it.

Mr. Steiner complained… of having “scattered and, thus, wasted my strengths… As the close comes nearer, I know that my crowded solitude, that the absence of any school or movement originating in my work, and that the sum of its imperfections are, in considerable measure, of my own doing… It is the unwritten book which might have made the difference… Which might have allowed one to fail better. Or perhaps not.”

“I’d love to be remembered as a good teacher of reading,” he told The Paris Review in 1994. Characteristically, he had a specific, lofty notion of reading as a moral calling. It should, he added, “commit us to a vision, should engage our humanity, should make us less capable of passing by.”

(Christopher Lehman-Haupt and William Grimes, “George Steiner, Prodigious Literary Critic, Dies at 90,” NYTimes, 2-3-20)

(c) 2020 JMN

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Advancing Retrogression

“Put your flags away, you’re leaving, and take them with you.”
[Mairead McGuinness, vice-president of the Parliament, to Nigel Farage, who waved a miniature Union Jack in the European Parliament as he bade farewell (2020).]

“We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”
[Winston Churchill in a speech (1946).]

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;
Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.
[Lines from W.H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939” sent to Roger Cohen by Patrick Wintour, diplomatic editor of The Guardian.]

[Referring to the lines from Auden:] A better epitaph for the aborted story of Britain in Europe and the tragedy of a disoriented nation’s willful infliction of enduring self-harm is impossible to imagine.
(Roger Cohen, “Requiem for a Dream,” 1-31-20. All quotations above are from this opinion piece.)

I say without irony that I feel Cohen’s pain from my perch in the boonies. I’ve kept the 99-line Auden poem memorized for several years. I would add only that it concludes with mention of “the Just,” and with the self-exhortation: “May I… show an affirming flame.” Here is the last stanza of a poem that transcends its moment in an Orwellian way:

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

(c) 2020 JMN

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