A Fool in the Forest

A fool, a fool! I met a fool i' the forest,
A motley fool; a miserable world!
As I do live by food, I met a fool
Who laid him down and bask'd him in the sun,
And rail'd on Lady Fortune in good terms,
In good set terms and yet a motley fool.

As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7

L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.

Les Fleurs du Mal, “Correspondances”

Saturday, September 06, 2003
A Stick Figure Gets Rhythm

It has been a long time since I have regularly followed the world of music videos -- I seem to recall that there was a cable network called something like "MTV" that broadcast music videos all day and all of the night, but I may be mistaken. Somehow, my attention was called to the piece that Spike Jonze concocted a year or so back for Fat Boy Slim's Weapon of Choice , featuring Christopher Walken tripping the light fantastic and making like Peter Pan in a hotel lobby. It is a fine, whimsical piece of work that never fails to raise a smile from me.

Now, I told you that so that I could tell you this:

Gareth Forman, aka Stick Figure Ninja, has produced a splendid Flash remake of the complete "Weapon of Choice" video replacing Walken with a stick figure. The resulting performance resembles a Roy Lichtenstein fever dream.

Incidental intelligence: From details in the Flash version, I was able to identify the particular hotel lobby involved, something I was never able to do from the original clip. It is the Marriott hotel -- formerly the Sheraton Grande -- in downtown Los Angeles. The one significant change, which made the place unrecognizable originally, is the large painting of sailing ships, which is not present in the day to day reality of that space. The painting that actually hangs there (and which has been there since the hotel opened, I believe) is a contemporary piece incorporating a much-enlarged recreation of Vermeer's famed Girl with A Pearl Earring. I do not know if the actual painting diappeared for reasons of copyright or because Jonze preferred a different background for Walken/Stick Man's final flight.
Blogs of the Poets [updated]

Before starting this site, I had been led to Mike Snider's Formal Blog by a link on the blogroll at 2 Blowhards.

I had not originally included Mike's site in my own blogroll because he appeared to be on a hiatus of undetermined length. He has resurfaced now in earnest, posting more regularly to his own site -- where he concerns himself largely with his own poetry and that of his contemporaries, mostly in a formalist vein -- and being interviewed in two parts by Michael Blowhard. And I have corrected his prior omission from my own list of recommended links.

Unusually for a contemporary poet, Mike Snider is not in academia; his discussions of the practical aspects of keeping body and soul together while working with the muse are particularly interesting. If the poetical strain of this blog holds any charms for you, you should certainly look into Mike's as well.

And if -- in the interest of balance or variety, if nothing else -- you have an inclination to the more abstract and willfully non-formal strains of contemporary poetry combined with a rather less conservative political point of view, you can certainly do worse than to drop by the blog of poet Ron Silliman.

[UPDATE, 9/8/03 -- In a kind e-mail responding to my link, Ron Silliman catches me out in no fewer than three (3!) misstatements:

He notes that he thinks of himself "as being far more formal than the so-called new formalists, who tend to employ pattern & call it form" and that he does not consider himself "abstract" (though he notes that "abstraction can have its uses," as indeed it can). And he, like Mike Snider, is not an academic. (I didn't actually say that he was, but I can see that it was easy to get that impression from the original post.)

I reiterate the one point that I know I got right: You should read Ron's blog if you have an interest in contemporary poetry.]

[Further update: Thanks to Ron as well for blogrolling this Fool.]
Friday, September 05, 2003
And For Many A Summer Sighs the Dong

When my sons were much younger (far back when they were not yet taller than their mother nor yet gaining fast on me), I read aloud to them regularly. Thanks to that opportunity (which every parent should take early and often) I became reacquainted with Edward Lear's poem, The Dong with a Luminous Nose.

(Our copy of the poem was contained in a small English edition of three of Lear's longer poems -- including also "The Pobble Who Has No Toes" and the inevitable "Owl and the Pussycat" -- with illustrations by Quentin Blake, best known in this country for illustrating most of Roald Dahl's oeuvre. The book is no longer available, so far as I can determine.)

Lear is of course still frequently read, mostly by young people and mostly as a disposable poet of nonsense, a childish thing later to be put aside. Reading the sad story of the Dong over and over (and over and over), I was impressed with what a well-written and affecting poem it is. Because Mr. Lear's poetry has joined the public domain (as he has joined the choir invisible), I can quote the entire poem as I comment.
The Dong With a Luminous Nose

When awful darkness and silence reign
Over the great Gromboolian plain,
Through the long, long wintry nights;
When the angry breakers roar,
As they beat on the rocky shore;
When Storm-clouds brood on the towering heights
Of the Hills on the Chankly Bore:

Then, through the vast and gloomy dark,
There moves what seems a fiery spark,
A lonely spark with silvery rays
Piercing the coal-black night,
A meteor strange and bright:
Hither and thither the vision strays,
A single lurid light.

Slowly it wanders - pauses - creeps -
Anon it sparkles - flashes and leaps;
And ever as onward it gleaming goes
A light on the Bong-tree stem it throws.
And those who watch at that midnight hour
From Hall or Terrace, or lofty Tower,
Cry, as the wild light passes along,
'The Dong! - the Dong!
The wandering Dong through the forest goes!
The Dong! the Dong!
The Dong with a luminous Nose!'
Those first three stanzas do such a fine, cinematic job of setting the scene that I could not bring my self to interrupt them. Lear's varying line lengths and Tennysonian verbs (breakers roar and beat, as storm clouds brood) and adjectives (awful, great, angry, towering) build a dramatic vista in the first stanza (reinforced by the vast gloom of the second stanza and our wideframe view from the hall, terrace and lofty tower of the third) before moving in for a tighter focus on the mysterious, will o' the wisp-like light that moves through the landscape. In its "piercing" loneliness, the light's hesitant and changeable movements are reflected by the stuttering rhythms of the first two lines of the third stanza, followed by the swift rush of the next two. By the end of that stanza, the reader or listener is anxious to learn who or what the Dong may be, and why he/she/it glows in the dark. Lear offers up the explanation in flashback:
Long years ago
The Dong was happy and gay,
Till he fell in love with a Jumbly Girl
Who came to those shores one day.
For the Jumblies came in a sieve, they did -
Landing at eve near the Zemmery Fidd
Where the Oblong Oysters grow,
And the rocks are smooth and gray.
And all the woods and the valleys rang
With the Chorus they daily and nightly sang -
'Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.'
Twas ever thus: the path of true love ne'er ran smooth, particularly between Dongs and Jumblies it seems, and Lear foreshadows that the Dong's happiness will end just when thinks he has achieved it (by falling in love). The Jumblies themselves had been the subject of another poem -- of which their italicized song here was the chorus -- chronicling their epic 20-year sieve-bound voyage, from which they return taller (like certain hobbits). The epic form requires that the Dong and his beloved Jumbly girl, like Dido and Aeneas (albeit with their genders exchanged), must be parted so that the Jumblies' explorations may continue:
Happily, happily passed those days!
While the cheerful Jumblies staid;
They danced in circlets all night long,
To the plaintive pipe of the lively Dong,
In moonlight, shine, or shade.
For day and night he was always there
By the side of the Jumbly Girl so fair,
With her sky-blue hands, and her sea-green hair.
Till the morning came of that hateful day
When the Jumblies sailed in their sieve away,
And the Dong was left on the cruel shore
Gazing - gazing for evermore -
Ever keeping his weary eyes on
That pea-green sail on the far horizon -
Singing the Jumbly Chorus still
As he sat all day on the grass hill -
'Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.'
The sadness is palpable, helped along by the moaning "far and few" -- an effect also seen in the sorrowing "oo" sounds in the Mock Turtle's paean to "beautiful soup" in Alice in Wonderland. The loss of his beloved is more than the Dong can bear, of course, and he transforms himself in proper Romantic style into the very embodiment of incurable melancholy:
But when the sun was low in the West,
The Dong arose and said,
'What little sense I once possessed
Has quite gone out of my head!'
And since that day he wanders still
By lake and forest, marsh and hill,
Singing - 'O somewhere, in valley or plain
Might I find my Jumbly Girl again!
For ever I'll seek by lake and shore
Till I find my Jumbly Girl once more!'

Playing a pipe with silvery squeaks,
Since then his Jumbly Girl he seeks,
And because by night he could not see,
He gathered the bark of the Twangum Tree
On the flowery plain that grows.
And he wove him a wondrous Nose,
A Nose as strange as a Nose could be!
Of vast proportions and painted red,
And tied with cords to the back of his head.
- In a hollow rounded space it ended
With a luminous lamp within suspended,
All fenced about
With a bandage stout
To prevent the wind from blowing it out;
And with holes all round to send the light,
In gleaming rays on the dismal night.
More concrete visualization here, first of the Dong's distracted wanderings then, in a verbal close-up rounded out by the unexpected triplet toward the end of the stanza, the construction of the "wondrous Nose." The Dong's practicality even in his derangement is amusingly highlighted by the mid-stanza (and mid-sentence) shift in tone of "Since then his Jumbly Girl he seeks,/And because by night he could not see . . ." Beginning his final stanza with a brisk mid-line double-repetition of the word on which he has just paused ("night" -- you can count for yourself how often that word appears in the poem), Lear strides toward his conclusion:
And now each night, and all night long,
Over those plains still roams the Dong!
And above the wail of the Chimp and Snipe
You may hear the squeak of his plaintive pipe,
While ever he seeks, but seeks in vain,
To meet with his Jumbly Girl again;
Lonely and wild - all night he goes -
The Dong with a luminous Nose!
And all who watch at the midnight hour,
From Hall or Terrace, or Lofty Tower,
Cry, as they trace the Meteor bright,
Moving along through the dreary night,
'This is the hour when forth he goes,
The Dong with the luminous Nose!
Yonder - over the plain he goes;
He goes;
He goes!
The Dong with a luminous Nose!'
And with that lingering echo, we've circled back to our starting point, as the Dong glimmers away into the distance and there's not a dry eye in the house. The Dong's remains a fundamentally silly story, of course, but one must be impressed by the craftsmanship and depth of feeling Lear brought to bear in composing it. He was utterly serious about his nonsense, so his nonsense continues to give serious pleasure.

[This post's title concocted with apologies to Tennyson and Huxley.]
[Post re-edited 9/6/03 to correct some freakish coding of quotation marks.]
And speaking of links . . .

Friend Rick at Futurballa has been snapping up worthwile links before I get to them over the past several days. Be sure to check in on him to see what you might be missing (with a slant somewhat more leftward than you'll find round here).
Quibbles and Bits

For Friday, a miscellaneous mongrel hodge podge of suggested reading and clicking:

♣ Every California candidate for Next Governor needs a Web site, and most have one. Arnold Schwarzenegger will happily allow you to download the needed HTML to post his stern visage on your own site. Arianna Huffington, who makes up in charm and good humor whatever she might lack in qualifications, offers Hybrid vs. Hummer --The Movie. Don't forget to pick up a t-shirt. [Link to Arianna via Matt Welch at Hit & Run, who got it from a commenter at Roger Simon's weblog]

♣ If you prefer your politics international, investigate the Guardian's anti-agricultural subsidies weblog. No, really, I mean it.

♣ And for your weekend listening pleasure, download the entirely-legitimate mp3 of the irresistably catchy "Worried" at KEN LAYNE's site. Everyone says he sounds exactly like Mick Jagger on this track (which he does), but if I were the Rolling Stones I would have had Keith Richards sing this one. This is meant as praise. And when you find you can't get "Worried" out of your head, buy Ken's CD, The Analog Bootlegs. If you don't, you'll never get to hear "The Monkey Cup," or "Balloon Town" or the delicious woo-woo backing vocals on "Momma, Take Another Stand" -- and That would be Bad. ("The Monkey Cup" was playing in my dreams last night, but I'd rather not talk about it.)
Thursday, September 04, 2003
Lawyers vs. Lawyers

[These opinions have been cross-posted from the author's insurance law weblog, Declarations and Exclusions.]

I am usually sypathetic at root to the complaints of the insurance industry and risk managers over what is perceived as excessive litigation: too many lawsuits are filed on too many tenuous theories, with the resulting costs being spread throughout the economy. (Just today, to take a single example, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed yet another class action suit against McDonald's over the restaurant's claimed contributions to its customers' obesity. The plaintiff's attorneys insist more suits will be forthcoming.) Nevertheless, this editorial by Paul Winston in Business Insurance magazine strikes me as taking an unreasonable position.

Winston suggests a simple cause for the increase in litigation and litigation costs: too many lawyers.
Think about it. For many years, lawyers were considered one of the most desirable professions in our society. There was great prestige in having a child attend law school and become an attorney (unlike, say, an English major). Millions of law degrees were conferred and millions of lawyers found themselves looking for billable hours and contingency fees.

While the complex workings of society, business and government offer plenty of work for many lawyers, others have to work hard to drum up business and make a living. It's no different for butchers, bakers or candlestick makers. If there is not enough business to be had, they must hustle to make some or go hungry.
Fair enough, as far as it goes: there really are an astonishing number of attorneys out there, and new ones are entering the market at a phenomenal rate. In the two decades since I entered the profession, California alone has admitted over 100,000 new attorneys. Even allowing for attrition in the existing ranks of the profession, and the fact that a significant portion of that total reprents attorneys who do not handle litigation, that is quite a crowd of advocates.

Winston's proposed solution -- as a means to "thin the legal herd a bit" -- is to encourage lawyers to spend more time suing other lawyers!

If the threat of litigation and the resulting high cost of coverage is enough to drive doctors away from risky pursuits, if not medicine altogether, what would it take to similarly make lawyering less attractive? A dose of their own medicine is what.

With the proliferation of so many lawsuits, surely there is a willing body of disgruntled plaintiffs willing and eager to sue their lawyers for a bad outcome, or exorbitant billings. I'm sure there's even the potential for several class action lawsuits over current legal practices.

With enough of these lawsuits, insurers are bound to jack up the cost of lawyers' professional liability insurance. This would make attorneys think twice about some of their more speculative endeavors, and drive others to pursue less costly legal work, or new professions entirely.
Very clever, very clever indeed. Unfortunately, this solution is no solution at all. For starters, professional liability premiums for attorneys have already gone through the roof, as have premiums for most other professionals. As with any other business, attorneys can simply raise their rates to absorb this new cost.

Moreover, attorneys have not created today's hyper-expansive liabilities on their own: they have had the able assistance of courts and legislatures that have combined to create opportunity after opportunity for lawsuits. The most innocent error can be deemed an "unfair practice" or an offense to some "right" or other and lead inevitably to the courthouse door. The answer to every perceived ill -- from business practices to social behavior to our relations with our pets -- is a new statute or a new precedent. Lawyers may take a hand in creating some of these new opportunities to sue, but more often they simply capitalize on the opportunities created for them by others. One man's excessive litigation is another man's healthy abundance of legal remedies.

Sadly there is no simple answer or magic bullet to be had. Unless and until there is a fundamental shift in our nation's public philosophy -- away from the courts as cure-alls and toward the recognition that not every "wrong" warrants legal action -- it is unfair to place the blame on the legal profession. While it often makes sense to fight fire with more fire, fighting litigation with more litigation will only exacerbate the problem it seeks to solve.

Prologue: Some Ragged Clauses in Praise of Mr. Eliot

I promised the other day to post my subjective defense of T.S. Eliot’s stature as a poet. Looking back over John Derbyshire’s assault, it seems to me that much of his problem stems from a particular dislike of The Waste Land, the loose baggy conclusion of which he quotes to condemn. I have never really warmed to that particular poem myself. I can see its importance in the Modernist canon, the way in which Eliot imports the lessons of Baudelaire into English, his pushing against the up-with-the-life-force/Whitmanesque strain in American poetry that seemed to make so little sense in the cold light of the early 20th Century and so on, but I remain unmoved. Discrete passages (the first seven lines, for instance, or the sequence beginning with “Here is no water but only rock”) are very fine, but the poem as a whole leaves me cold whenever I look into it -- which may be the point, I suppose.

I stand firmly in favor, however, of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which I think succeeds exceptionally in finding the right tone and form for its subject and deserves to stand with the best of, say, Browning’s dramatic monologues as a poetic embodiment of a personality. And Prufrock is just made for reading aloud, which ranks high among my personal touchstones in judging poetry.

I submit that Eliot’s best, and the best refutation of the various canards unleashed by Mr. Derbyshire, is his Four Quartets. To dive into the intricacies of those poems is more than I can even attempt while holding myself to a reasonable length. The musical reference in the title is apt, as themes and phrases recur in variations throughout the work, echoing and contrasting with one another and, in the closing stanza of “Little Gidding,” coming together in a satisfying if mystical whole:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
In the end, of course, Eliot's place is secure and he does not need me to defend him, happy though I am to do so.

All of this is actually by way of prelude to another, different post, on the subject of Edward Lear and his authorship of one of the finest poems of unrequited passion in English. Whilst I prepare to illuminate that oddball opinion further, perhaps you would enjoy a display of Lear’s other talent -- as a wildlife artist and peer of Audobon. Get a load of these parrots.

Don't Know What You've Got 'til It's Gone

If, as Tom Wolfe has suggested, Art has taken the place of religion for some in the educated classes, then what takes the place of faith, the "evidence of things not seen"? Lost and missing Art, perhaps?

The Guardian offers up a virtual gallery of the lost, destroyed and missing, some well known (Cellini's salt cellar) and others, to me at least, more obscure (such as Lucian Freud's surprisingly moving little portrait of Francis Bacon, which appears to display the influence of a favorite of mine, Sir Stanley Spencer ). An interesting reflection on the way in which absence can be stronger than presence.

[Link via ArtsJournal.]
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
Corrupter of Youth

I discovered the National Lampoon in its second issue back in 1970, in my tender and formative years. I shudder to confess how much I learned, or believed I was learning, about the adult world from its pages. (I also shudder to think what those old issues would be worth now on E-Bay, but that's just spilt crême fraiche, isn't it?)

These fond memories come rushing back as The Onion interviews P.J. O'Rourke, including a long look back at his years with the Lampoon. Trust me: it was a Golden Age of Humor.

[Link out of Hit & Run by Tim Blair.]
Mr. Publisher, Tear Down This Wall!

Doc Searls is critiquing Business 2.0 magazine for hiding content behind a paid-subscription barrier.
What little you gain in subsriber leverage and sales of old articles by putting your "content" behind a costwall is far more than offset by lost authority. When none of your stuff can be found on the Web — either by search engine crawlers or by the countless writers who are denied the chance to link to your good stuff, you fail to exist in the largest and most vital business environment civilization has ever known. Links are what make the Web a web. Preventing them is the height of folly.
Hmm. Sounds a lot like this Fool's Pet Peeve with his own Local Paper.
Arnold Overreacts to Our Advice

You will recall that I have previously criticized Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign Web site for featuring a terrible photo of Maria Shriver. Good news: on the latest iteration of the Join Arnold! Official Website the offending image is nowhere to be seen. Bad news: Maria seems to have vanished altogether, with the exception of this statement of Arnold's Views:
'What does Maria think about your running for governor?'

Maria is very supportive and shares my strong belief that I can make a positive difference for Californians. She is a bit distressed, however, that after 17 years of marriage she was unable to get me to change my party affiliation!
Educational and Eleemosynary Institutions

That Time of Year is upon us again as the March of Knowledge purports to resume in schools across the land. Your assignment to start the term is to seek out and read as many interesting education-oriented blogs as you are able.
Might I recommend California's own Joanne Jacobs or perhaps Kimberly Swygert's Number 2 Pencil?

Those of you with an interest in higher education and diversity issues might find inspiration in the faculty/intellectual political reporting and commentary at Erin O'Connor's Critical Mass or the well-named Discriminations.

Life-long learning, that's the ticket.
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
More Wine for Wolverines

Hit & Run reports that the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has overturned Michigan's ban on the direct shipment of alcoholic beverages (read:wine) to individual consumers, holding that the law was an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce. As in other states in which such laws have been struck down, this should allow Michigan consumers access to a greater variety of wines at more competitive prices.

A useful bit of timing, too, as the dread California Wine Grape Glut shows no signs of abating. Grapes of good quality, uncommitted to "name" producers, keep finding their way into inexpensive bottlings, such as Trader Joe's infamous "Two-Buck Chuck" (not itself the best example of the sort of quality I have in mind), and those wines keep finding their way into additional markets, where the downward pressure on pricing allows them to compete more effectively against low-priced imports from Australia and South America. Until the inevitable retrenchment by growers leads to a drop in supply, Michiganders can reap Bacchus' economic boon.

[Consumer tip: We had another bottle last night of the 2000 Trader Joe's Napa Cabernet noted in my "Two-Buck Chuck" post, and I stand by my earlier praise of it. In southern California at least, it remains available at the bargain basement tariff of $4.99 the bottle.]
Old Possum's Book of Practical Spats

Over in The Corner on National Review Online, John Derbyshire -- oft-excoriated, particularly by AndrewSullivan, for his more, shall we say, melodramatically perverse manifestations of conservatism (no endorsement of which manifestations will you find in this part of the Forest) -- is having it out over whether T.S. Eliot rates any consideration whatever as a great 20th Century poet. Derbyshire is of the opinion that he does not, claiming that in England Eliot is no longer taken seriously and has become essentially the province of "elementary-school teachers who like Eliot's cats--I had to memorize 'McCavity' for a school show at age 9--and sentimental old Anglican ladies who like that thing about the Magi." He trots out a 1996 Spectator piece by Bevis Hillier in which Eliot is declared to have "had a talent about equivalent to Edward Lear" and to have been "essentially a misanthropic nonsense poet."

I will have to return to a defense of Eliot (and, for that matter, of Edward Lear) another time. Today, I simply accuse Mr. Derbyshire of having proven his own judgments unsound by confessing the standard against which he believes Eliot (or any other poet) is to be measured, the dreaded Housman Beard Bristle Test:
The only criterion for judging poetry that I have ever found convincing was Housman's: If you say the poem to yourself while shaving, it makes the bristles stand up. On that criterion, so far as I am concerned, Eliot is no poet.
That test, you may recall, has been amply debunked elsewhere.

[Concerning the title of this post: it alludes in part to the fact that Derbyshire first manifested his tastes on this score when he declared himself "mildly allegic" to Eliot in a post concerning, yes, spats. The discussion has spiraled on from there for several days.]
Monday, September 01, 2003
Futurballa Wins Showcase -- Spread the Meme!

Heartiest heartfelt congratulations, palpitations and auroral emanations to my longtime Pal of Pals, Rick Coencas, whose Futurballa Blog emerges victorious in the most recent New Weblog Showcase at The Truth Laid Bear.

Based on the original nominatory post at Snooze Button Dreams putting his blog in the running, I hereby anoint Rick "The LILEKS of the Left." Pass it on!