From Poesy to Carrot Carnations — When arts die, they turn into hobbies.The short story, like poetry, already may have gone from being a minor art to being a craft. When I worked as an editor at Harper’s magazine in the 1990s, many acquaintances would comment on our essays and features, but I never heard anyone mention one of the short stories we published. The short story writers whom we published were almost exclusively MFAs who made a living by teaching short story and novel writing at liberal arts colleges. I may be mistaken, but I suspect that the same group that writes short stories today makes up the majority of those who read the short stories that are still published out of a sense of cultural responsibility in magazines like The New Yorker and Harper’s.
The literary novel, too, may be on its way to losing its minor art status and becoming a pure hobby of the creative writing professors who produce most of it in their spare time, while teaching writing courses. Some time ago, I was surprised when the editor of a highbrow magazine and of a major book review, respectively, both told me that their favorite contemporary author was Patrick O’Brien, author of “Master and Commander.” You hypocrites, I thought. You don’t even read the literary fiction that you publish or review. You read well-written genre fiction on your own time. Goodbye, Jonathan Franzen, and ahoy, matie!
A couple of days ago, I was already going to be near one of my favorite thrift stores, so I stopped in. I haven't done much thrifting for a while . . . The rare find I keep my fingers crossed for is pants in the right size. Decent shoes are once or twice a decade, and it's unusual not to find interesting shirts. But I often have only a few pair of pants.
I found a dozen. After winnowing out the maybes and Idunnos. Half a dozen shirts too, of course, but a DOZEN pair of pants. Jeans, Dockers, "nice". I was deeply amazed to spend $60, which is two or three times ever before, but not unhappy about it.
“I won't have to go thrifting for a very long time . . . Hmm. Is that an omen, a sign, maybe I should hang it up for a while?”
There seems to be gradually growing sentiment toward reining in Google as a monopoly. I appreciate some of the problems, but -- do we need competing indexes of the internet? If there's one, what's the point of the tremendous investment in another?
Meanwhile, Google seems to be steadily nibbling away at brute-force soft AI. "Soft" AI being a machine that "acts" or "seems to be" intelligent, without going into the hairy questions about what is "really" going on inside the box.
Broadly, and somewhat oversimplified, Google has the biggest collection ever of questions people have asked, the answers the machine offered, and which of those answers the person selected. Many of Google's current initiatives can be considered "soft AI" in various domains, based on their uniquely gigantic database of real human machine interactions. And, of course, the further ahead they get, the harder it is to catch up.
So I can sort of see the brute force approach to soft AI resembling a "natural monopoly". What's the point of spending astronomical amounts of money to duplicate or parallel Google's data bases?
And soft AI clearly has a lot in common with "conventional" "utilities". You get your 'device' to give you driving directions ad hoc. All of a sudden, I want it here, now. Right here. Right now. Just turn the spigot or flip the switch.
What might appropriate guidelines or regulation of such a utility be?
There has been quite a spike in news reports of rape and sexual predation. It's not that rates have suddenly shot up, but there seems to have been a sudden change in what's reportable.
There has been quite a spike in news reports of killer cops. It's not that rates have suddenly shot up, but there seems to have been a sudden change in what's reportable.
Is this one breakthrough/trend or two?
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Maira in Kalamazoo calls up and says, I'm giving a paper at a conference in San Antonio, wanna come along? We can visit [important mutual friend] Donna in Virden on the way.
Well, what else am I doing with myself in my second retirement?
So, after a two-day drive (man, is there a lot of Texas!), here we are.
I really should have gotten up earlier this morning. By the time I got to Westminster Abbey, the line was about two blocks long. So that's tomorrow – earlier!
I'd been planning on the tower in the afternoon, so I went there. It's a lot larger, so a few thousand tourists (exaggeration only mild) don't entirely clog it. Though the ticket line seemed almost half an hour.
And I ran into my first few fans going round all the towers in the Tower, so now it's really a Worldcon.
Since My morning was shortened, I still had some day left, so I went to Forbidden Planet. It was sorely disappointing. If I were into limited edition action figures, or $30 unexciting t-shirts, but I'm not. the books are markedly more expensive than in the States, and they don't do used. However! I ran into David Hartwell and he told me that there's a little street in front of the Museum called Cecil Court where the bookstores are, so that's tomorrow afternoon's target.
First thing Monday morning, I went out to Camden Market. It's smaller than I expected, and yes, it's half a metric buttload of repetitive tat, though there were a couple of fashions I enjoyed but only were in female cuts. On the high street, though, there a couple of interesting shops, and at a Goth/Edwardian/steampunk sort of place I found a Halloween costume component, if it works right.
And to the British Museum. It's really big, and has a really lot of really great stuff.
The Rosetta Stone is thicker than I'd thought, though I don't read any of its languages, so why more than a quick look?
The Elgin Marbles are intriguing. I had never run into a list of the many times the Acropolis of Athens had been burned, captures, rebuilt, or converted to various religions. It's pretty clear that a lot less than even these wonderful fragments would still exist if it weren't for Elgin.
They have a couple of extraordinary Aztec objects covered with tightly fitted chips of turquoise, including a double-headed serpent, and a skull decorated to be Tezcatlipoca.
I have no idea how they chose the beautiful gilded statue of Tara, from Sri Lanka. It's no surprise that the Indian collection is repeatedly jaw-dropping. I made it all the way through, but was out of steam.
The 'Ram in a Thicket' (actually a goat) from the Royal Cemetery at Ur was my last must.
I'd Googled to try to find good used bookstores, but without much success. There seem to be several near the Museum, so that was next. I bought a couple of things at the Oxfam shop; skipped another; definitely skipped the Marxist one, and found the little occult Atlantis Bookshop, a hundred meters in front of the Museum. It turns out to be quite an institution; it's now the third generation of the family and will celebrate its centennial in eight years. I was pleased to see a Robert Anton Wilson in the window, and had a wonderful chat with the proprietress. The witchcraft laws were only repealed in the 1950's, so the store had been "anthropological" before that. I was very pleased to be able to refer her to Raiders of the Lost Basement
, so even though I didn't buy anything, I feel I did give.
My father's yahrzeit is the 16th of Av, and Barb went out of her way to find me a 16th of Av candle, so I went back over there at the end of the day to say Kaddish, and to wish Star Straff happy birthday. They were once roommates, and Barb and Brock and Star and Pooch were going out to dinner to celebrate.
My first day out and about was Sunday. I managed to find the river, and took my first selfie against Big Ben to send to my mother, who doesn't get much entertainment.
London is predominantly on the north side of the river, but the South Bank has been given a long walk for tourists and business. There are various art projects/installations/whatevers. Currently, there's something about "love", with thingys for agape, philos, and all the rest. There were what I thought was a lot of tourists.
My legs were bothering me, so I didn't know how far I was going to get. I'll have to get up and walk back and forth more on the flight home.
The big Ferris wheel, the Eye, is right there, and it is indeed big, but I'm a fan of the
Ferris Wheel from the Columbian Exposition.
An old, blocky brick powerhouse has been repurposed as the Tate Modern along there. It's pretty nicely organized, and devastatingly high quality. The biggest jokes I ran into were a Louise Nevelson piece whose media included "Chipboard, cardboard, leather, fluff and plywood" and an insolently homoerotic piece of a young skinny African man whose brief analytic curatorial description made no reference to the hash pipe in his hand.
One of the most important pieces for me was Salvador Dalí's Metamorphosis of Narcissus
. One of the things that impresses me about Dalí is the way he mixes styles and techniques in one painting. The main images in Narcissus are fully rounded, in a pretty realistic style while the cliff face in the upper left has the weave of the canvas showing through, and its reflection in the water below it is mainly dabs of solid color, almost cubist.
Painfully, there was an annex to the museum store full of clearance. There was a stack of beautiful reproductions of Narcissus, but there's no way I'd be able to get it home. arrgh
My most amazing discovery was Francis Picabia's Otaïti
. The contrast is sharpened in the reproduction; it takes close looking to see al the cross references, puns, and odd details.
I continued along the South Bank as far as the Golden Hind. I hadn't realized that Drake's four year voyage around the world to harass the Spanish on the west coast of America had paid off England's national debt.
My brother says that the good thing about London is that it makes Paris look cheap. yowza!! I haven't settled on a description of the odd texture of the city yet, but fortunately there are signposts with immediate maps all over the place.
There’s some sort of very outer bits of a hurricane about. Once a day, unpredictably, there’s a 5-minute downpour. The temperature has been fine, but completely humid. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so sweaty and sticky at such relatively low temperatures.
The Tube is an experience. It’s a cross between D&D and San Francisco. Changing lines at a station can involve several flights of stairs, several corridors ranging from sparkling clean to is that chicken wire a fix from WW II or WW I? and multi-story escalators.
And the "Oyster card"! I have no idea why it's called that. It's an ordinary credit card-sized card with an RFID chip. The card is blue; the icon for Oyster cards is a yellow circle. That's how much sense it makes. When you try to add money at the vending machines (or buy one in the first place), the kiosk makes choices for you – always wrong so far.