Unsolicited Museum Review: Sargent and the Sea at the Royal Academy

John Singer Sargent is largely known for being a portrait painter, capturing the faces of the Gilded Age of the late 19th century in American and Europe. Unlike Whistler, another American in Europe who preceded him by about 20 years or so, Sargent was always slated to be an artist, and spent his formative years traveling around Europe with his rich American expatriate parents. A guaranteed income will do wonders for an artist’s training, and by the time Sargent was 20, he already had a sizeable body of work to start submitting to salons in Europe and the US. And what we’re seeing in this show is how accomplished a draftsman and painter he was even at this age. And by focusing on a genre not associated with most of Sargent’s work, Sargent and the Sea reinforces our appreciation for these skills—as well as some of his limitations. In that, it does what any good museum show should do—it both pleases and instructs.
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When professors attack (each other): a response to "What exactly is a doctorate?"

A friend and colleague passed along a Gizmodo article today entitled “What exactly is a doctorate?” First, take a second to look it over, and make sure you sift through the comments, as well, because I think they’re important to the point I want to make.

I’ll begin by acknowledging three important things. First, the writer (Dr. Matt Might of the University of Utah) is intending a humorous take on an institution that’s pure arcana to the average American non-PhD. Heck, it can be pretty arcane to those who have PhDs (or are in the process of earning them). Since he prefaces the piece by saying this is something he uses on his own doc students every year, it’s safe to assume that it’s not intended as a body slam against education. And humor is valuable – we never get anywhere worth going by taking ourselves too seriously.

Second, It’s hard to deny that some PhDs are laboring away to very little effect. Continue reading

Hugo Best Novel Nominee Review: The City & The City, by China Miéville

I’ve come to be of two minds about China Miéville. On the one hand, he is a powerful writer with a strong, if dark, vision. He does have a fanatical following, including a number of bright people over at Crooked Timber, who have devoted a number breathless group discussions to Miéville’s work. Miéville has the kind of dark world view, and writes a gutsy prose, that seem to appeal to philosophers and other academics, apparently. On the other hand, after a number of books whose outcomes was just unremitting bleakness and despair, I sort of gave up. I never did read Un Lun Dun, or the recent short story collection. Plus he’s written a number of books in dire need of some serious editing (The Scar in particular). So I approached our final Hugo nominee, The City and the City, with some hesitation. And it’s a pleasant surprise, in that it avoids many of the excesses I associate with much of Miéville’s earlier work. In fact, it’s a good, tight, noir murder mystery—that takes place in a city that’s actually a divided city, where the two cities overlap in space and time, but the residents of each have learned to avoid and ignore each other.
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The Trouble with Paradise, or why Pakistan Sucks: Redux

Anti-west riot cancelled due to floodIn 2007 I wrote about the asymmetry of “caring”; of how the Indonesian tsunami of that year had unleashed the biggest charity response in history while the Pakistani floods had left people unmoved. Three years later Pakistan has flooded again and The Huffingonton Post makes an impassioned plea as to why we should care, but it is plain we don’t. It isn’t because they’re Muslims, as Radio Netherlands seems to believe. In 2007 Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, was also the beneficiary of an astonishing amount of charity after the tsunami. I’ll restate my original article: Continue reading

Nota Bene #115: RIP No. 32

“If you’re really pro-life, do me a favor—don’t lock arms and block medical clinics. If you’re so pro-life, lock arms and block cemeteries.” Who said it? Continue reading

Israel v. Palestine brings out the Jewish in me

Fooled you! It’s not what you think. Far be it from me to justify Israel’s oppression of Palestine by trotting out the tired “they shoot rockets at Israel” argument. Half-Jewish in descent, but raised in another religion, I know little about Judaism. But there’s no denying that I can “feel” it inside me.

I’m also prone to the Jewish self-loathing that afflicts many of us. For example, the heightened interior life — a.k.a., neurosis — to which many Jews seemed privy to me when I was young struck me as “uncool.” Thus I’ve long wondered if the outsized anger with which I respond to how Israel treats Palestine was a variation of that syndrome. Continue reading

For a political rookie, a devolution to abhor and avoid

A young Afghan war veteran, whose family has lived in my district for eight generations, wishes to be my next representative in Congress. He would succeed the imploded former Rep. Eric Massa, whom I supported, and who taught me the bittersweet consequences of commingling voter naїvete with false hope, as did candidate-turned-President Obama.

This young Democratic candidate has sent me three letters (I’m sure thousands of other District 29 voters received them, too), saying, in effect, this: “I need your help.”

All across America, as savvy political incumbents and their often hapless, outspent challengers belly up to the fundraising trough, they reach out to folks like you and me – the so-called little guys — asking for $10, $25, $50, whatever we can spare to set this country back on the right path. They’re all saying, with false modesty: “I need your help.” (They want our little donations for less than $200, the amount at which candidates must report them to the Federal Election Commission, so they can say they’re supported by real people, real voters, not PACs and pass-downs from the national parties.)

This young man from my district fought in a war with real bullets, bombs, and IEDs. He faced menacing threats each day in theater. Now that he’s home, he’s filed for entry into another war. For that, I commend him – and feel sorry for him. I don’t know if, despite a pair of master’s degrees, he’s sufficiently trained for this kind of warfare.
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The Political Compass: just how "liberal" is S&R, anyway?

Three years ago the S&R staff took the Political Compass test, an interesting survey that seeks to get past our simplistic either/or sense of American political life. Red or Blue? Liberal or Conservative? Left or Right? Metro or Retro? Coastal or Flyover? With us or Agin’ Us? And so on. While their approach is hardly comprehensive, there’s certain a good deal of value in separating our economic and social beliefs, because the truth is that some “conservatives” are socially libertarian while some “liberals” are far more fiscally reserved than the left-right stereotype would have us believe. (You can learn more about the Political Compass here.)

Since then we’ve had some folks move on and new people have joined. The US has also seen a new president elected and an apparent worsening of everything we all thought was wrong in the first place. Or maybe things have all gotten better, depending on your perspective. In light of all this, we decided we’d all retake the test to see where we stand today. Here are our results. Continue reading

Balance and Writing (part three): "Ballast, not Balance" by Jill Moore

Earlier this summer, the Clockhouse Writers Conference (CWC) at Goddard College hosted a keynote session on balance and writing. This is the final essay in a three-part series by the keynote panelists.

by Jill Moore

We’ll begin with a disclaimer. If you are expecting to hear anything enlightening, inspiring, or informative about how to find balance in your writing life, or any aspect of your life, you will be disappointed. I am the last person to give anyone any advice about balance. I don’t do balance.

I know I’m supposed to eat a balanced diet. A typical breakfast for me: four cups of coffee, red licorice, and handful of cookies, or cold double olive and anchovy pizza (what can I say—I like little hairy fish).

I know I’m supposed to balance my checkbook. I haven’t done that since I figured out how to pay all of my bills on-line years ago. I just click a box, type in a few numbers, hit “submit” and there you go—bills paid. Because I usually can’t find my actual bill statements, I estimate and tend to round up. So every now and then I get a notice that I have a credit of $37 at Kohls or Best Buy, and I feel a little bit rich. I do go on-line to check my balance once in a while, but I certainly don’t dissect it the way others do because I assume that 1) the bank is right, or 2) if the bank is wrong, they will never admit it. Continue reading

Serial denialists and the state of permanent war

by Gareth Porter

Two months ago, I wrote that the Obama administration and the U.S. command in Afghanistan faced an “Iraq 2006 moment” in the second half of 2010 – a collapse of domestic political support for a failed war paralleling the political crisis in Bush’s Iraq War in 2006. Now comes Republican Congressman Frank Wolf to make that parallel with 2006 eerily precise.

Wolf published a letter to President Obama last week calling for the immediate establishment of an “Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group.” Continue reading

What's it Wednesday?

by Djerrid

Here’s something a bit different. The following is a description of the lyrics of a popular song. What’s the title?

In later verses he expresses his exasperation with the entertainment industry’s portrayal of the ideal female form. He soundly rejects the notion promulgated by fashion magazines that diminutive buttocks are more desirable. His critique of the women that appeared in contemporary music videos is particularly scathing, likening their appearance to those of prostitutes. To further illustrate his point, he stipulates the purported ideal proportions of 36-24-36 (measuring the bust, waist, and hip diameter respectively) would only be pleasing on women with a standing height no greater than 63 inches. Continue reading

South Africa's assault on freedom and property – should anyone in the rest of the world care?

The president should give a fuck?“Instead of standing aggressively behind the status quo, dressed in the cloak of the fourth estate, they need to talk more about responsibility, more about the importance of ethics, more about improvement in the standards of journalism in all respects. … The public interest means publication or non-publication guided by what is in the interest of the public as a whole, not what readers or an audience might find interesting or titillating.”

The words are a gauntlet thrown down before the media and against free speech as a whole. This is a nation that has shown determination to introduce Chinese-style Internet screening and demanding that ISPs censor content.

Except, these words weren’t spoken in South Africa. They are from Continue reading

The billion billion stones of Jasper Beach

I had already been reminded that morning what a billion billion looked like. I had started my day well before dawn and so had taken the opportunity to gaze skyward. With no ambient light to pollute the heavens, I could see infinity spread above me—layer upon dark transparent layer, a billion stars set in each one, stretched across the sky.

Hours later, standing at the edge of the sea, I was reminded again of a billion billion. This time, I needed only to look down rather than up: a billion billion small, smooth stones, piled like a high sand dune that stretched the entire length of the beach. Continue reading

Balance and Writing (part two): “Striving for Balance in Writing” by Sam Sherman

photo credit: Jill Moore

Earlier this summer, the Clockhouse Writers Conference (CWC) at Goddard College hosted a keynote session on balance and writing. This is part two in a three-part series of essays by the keynote panelists.

by Sam Sherman

Striving for balance in writing? Just considering the topic had me a little unbalanced—there are so many possibilities for interpretation. “Striving”—well, okay, I get that, but it sounds like hard work. “Balance” in anything to my mind is a fleeting and elusive ideal. But it’s the “in Writing” part that really tangled my thoughts.

I’ve been thinking about this talk since last winter, but did I sit down to write it in January? No. February? Uh-uh. Did I take it on as a task for Spring? Nope. I sat down and started pounding the keys to make these words on Friday. And I kept coming back to the keyboard through the weekend. Continue reading

Journey's End

Well, the advance sales on Tony Blair’s autobiography (A Journey—how’s that for a title?) must not be shaping up the way the publisher had hoped. First, we learned that the publisher was banking on sales in the United States making the whole enterprise profitable—meaning it had pretty much given up any hope of selling many copies here in the UK. Today we learn that there will be a special edition, with its own nifty cover, signed by Blair himself, and slip-cased to boot—all for, as The Guardian politely puts it, “a mere £150.” The publisher, Random House, has not yet indicated how many copies of the ‘Special edition” have been ordered so far. As The Guardian article points out, Amazon has already cut the price. I think I’ll wait for it to show up in my library. Jim Crace provide a pre-review review for those of us who won’t bother to read it. Whether Random House will recoup its £4.6 million investment remains to be seen.

Celebrating nonsense with Dr. Seuss

Ted Geisel looks happy to have company. He leans back slightly in his cushiony chair, his right foot propped against the edge of his drawing table and his hands folded comfortably over his knee. His hair is swept back from his forehead and big-framed glasses, which don’t quite hide the gleam in his eyes. He has a warm smile.

The cat beside him looks happy too—so delighted, in fact, that its left hand touches the brim of its red-and-white striped stovepipe hat, ready to tip it politely or, perhaps more likely, sweep it from the top of its head in a grand, theatrical gesture. Beneath the hat, perhaps, stands a smaller hat-topped Cat A, with a smaller hat-topped Cat B beneath its hat, and so on and so forth, down to microscopic Cat Z.

That Ted Geisel and the six-foot-tall cat are both cast in bronze seems almost beside the point. After all, Ted Geisel is Dr. Seuss, so the rules are different. With Dr. Seuss, the rules are always different.

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Balance and Writing (part one): "Balance" by Jennifer McConnell

photo credit: Jill Moore

Earlier this summer, the Clockhouse Writers Conference (CWC) at Goddard College hosted a keynote session on balance and writing. S&R is pleased to pass along, over the next three days, essays by the keynote panelists.

by Jennifer McConnell

“If I can’t have too much, I don’t want any.” — quoted in “Lit” by Mary Karr

No truer words from an addict were ever spoken.


If I knew anything about balance, I probably wouldn’t be a writer.

My two years at Goddard were a perfect example. I was living in San Francisco and working part-time. I had the luxury of entire days to devote to writing–often ten hours at a stretch. I wouldn’t shower or leave the house all day, completely immersing myself in writing and editing and worrying over my short stories and novel chapters.

After graduating from Goddard, I was able to maintain this intensity for another year, until reality came back and I had to get a real job. Soon after, I moved across the country and started a family. I was able to come to CWC each summer, which seemed to partly quench my thirst for writing time.

But how I yearned for those days of nothing but writing. Continue reading