Pedagogical Experiment

This morning I will exper- iment with my students. One of their tasks this semester is to learn a sonnet by heart and recite it for the class. It occurred to me yester- day that one way to emphasize how end rhymes can help them "learn" a sonnet is to have them "put together" a previously unseen sonnet. So I'll give them the fourteen lines of a sonnet "cut up" and scrambled and have them work in groups to rebuild the sonnet, putting the verses in order. We'll see how it goes.

Later: it went pretty well. The students were certainly engaged in trying to figure out the correct order of the verses. And they got there after about fifteen minutes.

April 28th and cold! Might get frost tonight. In the image, the manuscript of Baudelaire's famous sonnet "Recuillement". (And I just learned there is a very, very large-breasted woman by the name of Ewa Sonnet: that's what you get when you do an image search of "sonnet". She's a polish model.


Cervantes, Shakespeare, Pacheco, Cilleruelo... Read a Book!

Friday, April 23rd, was El Día del libro, a significant day in Spain, and especially in Barcelona, where it is also the La Diada de Sant Jordi (St. George's Day), patron saint of Catalonia. In Alcalá de Henares, the beautiful university town outside Madrid, the King and Queen preside the Cervantes Prize ceremony, honoring a Spanish language author for the totality of his or her work. It is often referred to as the "Nobel of Spanish language letters". This year the winner was Mexican poet José Emilio Pacheco. Why April 23rd? On this date, 1616, the world lost two of the most singular creators ever to put pen to paper: William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes. Quite a remarkable coincidence, and a fascinating albeit imperfect one: both Shakespeare and Cervantes died on April 23rd, 1616. But they died ten days apart. Excuse me?, you ask. Yes, in 1616 England was still using the Julian calendar, while Spain had already switched to the Gregorian calendar, initiated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The switch has to do with a slight imperfection (about 11 minutes per year in the Julian calendar), resulting in the Spring equinox coming progressively earlier, and that became a problem for the Church because Easter is a movable feast. Anyway, Pacheco, a poet I've admired for years, was a great choice for this prize. (That's him, above.)
In Barcelona Sant Jordi is somewhat like Valentine's Day: men give their love(s) a rose, and the girls, ever since a bookseller came up with this wonderful marketing scheme in 1923, correspond by giving their guy(s) a book. Las Ramblas is awash in flowers and books! The Catalonians are to be greatly admired: they understand what's important! Barcelona, that's where friend José Angel Cilleruelo is, and he marked April 23rd with a nice little anecdote about Cervantes, presented here as a rushed translation:

José Angel Cilleruelo,
A Man of Action Reading

From the beginning it was believed Quijote was one thing and Cervantes something quite different. There were those who who went to great lengths to demonstrate the obvious, that Cervantes was as singular as his character. On deaf ears. At estate auctions rarely is a Quijote figure missing: framed, wooden, metal, miniature, as a bust... the variety of forms is enormous, as is the variety of gestures and postures. Today I find a surprising one: an armored Quijote, seated, book in hands, reading. There is no greater paradox: if don Quijote sat down to read, he wouldn't be Quijote, he'd be Cervantes.

Thank you, José Angel!


Squid and Earthquakes

Today it's just reminders for a tired brain: yesterday our department hosted the Dickinson Club's weekly get together. It was nice to have many nice contributions from colleagues. I made some black rice (that is, a squid in its ink paella, basically) and it came out wonderfully, if I do say so myself. It was the first time I had done that dish large scale. Hector's pork in a sweet sauce dish was extraordinary, as was Beatriz's bean dish. It was a beautiful Spring afternoon, a fun event. From there we went over to the CPYB studios to watch an open rehearsal of Cinderella's Ball. Next weekend Daniela will dance the role of Cinderella. Excellent. And this morning it's work, which is going to start momentarily.
When someone says something truly outrageous, a not uncommon response is to suggest that the provocateur should not be dignified with a response. I agree. However, sometimes the outrageous is so wacky, responses, in the form of healthy laughter, can be ventured with no danger of lending any credence whatsoever to the intelligence-challenged blabbermouth. Such is the case with the Iranian cleric who declared that the cause of recent earthquakes is scantily dressed women. And apparently, scantily dressed, large-breasted women! Well, at least this guy is working within the tradition of a rich metaphor, perhaps universal in scope: the erotic impulse as supernatural force, so strong it makes the earth tremble! The rants become tiresome, sometimes they are quite dangerous, and once in a while we can just laugh.


Kownacki Man!

I thought I was done with baseball for at least a few days, but thanks to the wonders of our information age, I and millions of others have seen the video of Fordham University's Brian Kownacki leaping over the catcher to score! The play of the year? How about the play of the century! See it here. How often are you going to see something like that? Now imagine pre-Internet. It would have been a local legend with no photographic evidence. It almost surely would never have moved beyond a very small circle of local fans.
Maybe this is the Yang to Billy Buckner's Ying. And what I loved about this video is that Kownacki (say that out loud a few times!) was a little nonchalant when he hopped up. Sure, I do this all the time. Most wonderful is that the kid didn't snap his neck: that was a very dangerous jump. These surprises are really wonderful. You can't run through the catcher? Don't like physical contact? Jump over him! This could be great subject matter for a ballet. (That's Kownacki on the left, above.)


The New Season

There are many things I love about Baseball. One of them is its extraordinary capacity to surprise. Just when you think it's all routine, something seemingly unique will happen. Right at the beginning of the season you had Mark Buerhle's once in a lifetime play to get a runner at first. I just watched the video again and noticed something I hadn't seen before: the first baseman also contributed nicely, making the out possible by extending his right arm and grabbing the toss bare handed. Buerhle's play was unique, but it wasn't a fluke accident. It's quite clear that the southpaw was making a very deliberate effort to make this play, resulting in an extremely rare convergence of instinct, intelligence, and imagination. See the video clip here. Another early season treat was the Mets' twenty inning victory over St. Louis. And not just any 20 inning game, but a game that was 0-0 after 18 innings! (The longest such show of scoring futility since 1989, when the Dodgers beat the Expos 1-0 in 22 innings.) So imagine this: the Mets FINALLY get a run in the 19th and you think, ok, that's it, only to see Frankie Rodriguez give up the tying run in the bottom half of the inning. But they found redemption and pulled it out. Speaking of the Mets, their new kid, Ike Davis, had a very impressive major league debut last night, helping the New Yorkers to a 6-1 win over the Cubbies. And I see that Jason Bay is off to a lousy start. Dilemma: do I escape work tomorrow to go see Stephen Strasburg pitch on City Island in a rare morning ball game?


Dolphins and Dilemmas

Last night I learned about the annual slaughter of dolphins at Taiji, Japan, as detailed in the documentary The Cove. If you have not seen this film, go see it! This was all new to me. The end of the film, when you actually see the slaughter, so disturbed me I could barely sleep last night. Truly horrific! It also presents me with a real ethical dilemma. Part of what upset me so much about the dolphins is that they are highly intelligent beings and they seem to connect so well with humans. It's easy to love a dolphin, and we've all read stories about how they come to the rescue of people who are drowning. In fact, in the film a surfer relates how a dolphin saved him from a shark attack. It's quite easy for me to feel sadness and outrage, and I'm quite clear about this: I'll NEVER knowingly eat dolphin meat. But what about my steaks? Is it because we generally consider bovines stupid that I think nothing of chowing down on a nice piece of prime rib? And what to say about my love of jamón de Jabugo? Pigs are said to be pretty smart. I've seen Food, Inc. and the film about Temple Granden, but that hasn't stopped me from consuming animals. We'll see. I guess the test will come next time I'm hungry and there's some meat within reach of my fork. Are industrially raised animals less worthy of attention from our moral compass? Because if what we're talking about here is compassion and empathy, a wish to minimize suffering and to respect diverse life forms, where do we draw the line? Are we justified in establishing a compassion pecking order? I'm all for liberating dolphins from Sea World and like prisons. With regard to "farm animals" I'm less clear. For now.


Madlyn Orloski

Yesterday we said our final farewell to Madlyn. It was a nice service, but I was sorry I couldn't go to the reception afterwards. Madlyn was a fine friend. She was a tough cookie and had little patience for nonsense. I think I'll remember her most for our time together on the Drug and Alcohol commission. She was not a frequent participant in the discussions at the commission meetings, but she did ask pointed questions. I also have very fond memories of those other meetings we'd attend together. Madlyn was wonderful with the way she could reach even the youngest, most reluctant women who would sometimes come in, full of anger, negativity, and feeling defeated, sometimes even worthless. She really wanted to help them, and she was often successful. Madlyn could have a sharp tongue, but her heart was soft and true. Her humor was self-deprecating and she was always toughest on herself. She reminded me sometimes of my aunt Jo, another tough woman with a soft heart. I can hear her voice, and I miss it terribly, "Mark, it's Maaaadlyn..." And those curt answers when she'd call you out on your b.s. "Ya. Un huh." And she'd look right through you. Cosmos, be on alert. Madlyn is here!


It's True: I know a Dog Named Ratzinger

This morning I begin the day thinking of Yumi in Malaga and her dog, Ratzinger. The truth is, it's a really ugly little thing. A yapper you'd just like to kick. Get it to go away.
The other day I read an opinion piece in our local paper about the church's sexual abuse scandals. The gist of the article was that there is an unfair, anti-catholic media frenzy that is especially unjust with the pope. Wow! Oh yes, such compassion and understanding from Ratzinger! Always ahead of the curve. Some of us have suspicions that the church hierarchy is heavily weighted with out of touch, clueless hypocrites. Today brings more evidence: the NY Times reports that in 1985 Ratzinger resisted defrocking a convicted child molester. Not only that, the reasoning is strictly self-interested: the priest in question, Stephen Biesle (described years later by a lawyer as an "evil, remorseless sociopath") was only 37 years old. You know, not even the perverts were exactly knocking down the walls to become catholic priests. Keep that collar on! Imagine, decades to come of molestation and abuse! But not even the local bishop who was trying to get him defrocked turns out to be a model of compassion: the letters reveal that it's all about avoiding scandal. Every move is calculated according to how the church will be perceived. The victims? They'll get over it. Hypocrisy from the church hierarchy is amazingly transparent. We're not dealing with rocket scientists here. Recently Vatican officials have been whining about how local bishops are the ones in charge and the holier than thou spirits in Rome can't be held accountable for the actions of a few rogue elements out there. It's a big world, blah, blah, blah... Well, the Inquisitor General's letter gives the lie to that nonsense: when the Vatican wants to control, it controls. After all, it's a "universal church". (And certainly Ratzinger had no difficulty with central authority when it came to those wayward liberation theologists. Worrying about the poor, and social justice. The nerve of those guys!)
One of the last times I was at a catholic mass, several years ago, I was on the verge of interrupting the sermon, but held my tongue for not wanting to embarrass the girls. I regret it. It was during the Boston priest scandal and the local priest was acting all indignant, how terrible it was that a priest could do that. Of course, he couldn't imagine any wrong doing in our diocesis, but that if anyone had any knowledge of any bad behavior or had, God forbid, themselves ever been a victim, to come talk to him and he'd take care of it. No!!!! I was about to scream, No, no, no!!! You go right to the police. Better still, call the dog catcher!



Our van died on Sunday. A rubber seal burst, we lost all the transmission fluid, and the transmission is cooked. So now we need to buy a new car, not an easy proposition in our current state. Go super cheap and hope to things get better in a couple of years? Finance something more reasonable and pray that everything falls into place? Of course, what I really want to do is not even think about it. I'm not interested in cars and would prefer to live without one, but that's simply not feasible just yet. And I'm really busy right now and not excited about this process. Oh well, this is one of those problems reserved for the fortunate of the species. Deciding what car to buy! I just need to think for a moment of the hundreds of millions who are trying to figure out real problems: how to eat, how to avoid violence, how to provide for a family.
What impressed me about the breakdown was how relatively non-eventful it was. Easy! It's Easter Sunday and I'm thinking, man, this could be bad. Not at all: we call AAA and a guy comes right away. Pete Ford, you are one of the nicest men I've ever met! Amazing. Pete drove us to the Elmira airport, where Alma had reserved a rental for us. Off we go and that was that. Pete then continued with the van to a car place in Ithaca. All told we were only set back a meager 60 minutes. Pretty impressive. Jay Ohlsten: you are a paellero extraordinaire! Thank you! The day was beautiful and lunch was delicious. All of us together. Magnífico! Ok, it's late, time to go to work, do something productive. Oh, oh, oh, how about that play by Mark Buehrle to open the season! You won't see that again ever, I can assure you. I'll remember that one. (More on that later!)