28 June 2010

450 Faces

The Mate and The Boy caught a glimpse of Felix Morelo chalking his faces around Union Square. He said he was going to ring the whole park, but we caught up to the end of the line an hour or so later, and he was gone, the project unfinished.

Still compelling, even though he only got halfway there.

Legislating "Educationally Sound" Choices?

The Pennsylvania legislature is considering a bill requiring faculty to order "the least expensive, educationally sound textbooks" for courses they are teaching.

Well, guess what? I already do that, and I'm pretty sure most of my colleagues do, too.

I went to college on a generous scholarship from the University of Pennsylvania, and I worked during the school year and in the summers to pay expenses, and I bought my books week by week rather than all at once at the beginning of the term because they were just so expensive. And then I worked my way through the Ph.D. program at NYU.

I remember coming home in grad school once and telling The Mate I needed to buy two books for a paper I was writing. He looked at me funny. "Why are you telling me this? Just buy the books." I told him the prices of the books, one around $85, the other around $130. "Oh." I did buy them.

Anyway, back to Pennsylvania and its pending legislation. The problem is in the phrase "educationally sound."

Let's consider Beowulf, which has been translated many, many times, and which I'll be teaching in a survey course next year. The cheapest option in an actual book is probably the Dover Books edition of R. K. Gordon's translation from 1923, which retails for $2.50 at Barnes & Noble.

Or I could send students on-line to download the translation by Francis Gummere (1910) for free! (Someone has to pay for all that paper, though, if I want them to have a copy in front of them for class discussion.)

But translation is a tricky thing, and a lot has been written about the difficulties. Go for "literal" accuracy, representing the text word for word just as in the original language? Aim to reproduce the feel of the original, maintaining poetic structures like alliteration and meter? Attempt to create a new classic in a new language, recognizing that it's always going to be an adaptation and never the original?

I'm assigning Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf, which retails for $13.95.

Here's Gummere's opening sentence:
LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!
And Heaney's:
So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.
The Old English, in case you're wondering (you can find the rest here)
HWÆT, WE GAR-DEna in geardagum,
þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!
The students in the survey course I'm teaching aren't English majors. I get just one semester to persuade them that it's worth their time to read, to read literature and not just Cosmo or Sports Illustrated. My choices about what texts to assign are based on what versions I think will engage them, interest them, keep them thinking beyond the end of the course.

I think I've made my case that Gummere's version is not just as "educationally sound" a choice as Heaney's. But I'm glad I don't teach in the Penn State system, because I'd hate to have to make that case for every text I was teaching.

26 June 2010

Top 100 Books

Spynotes posted the list below of "the top 100 books of all time," as published by The Guardian here. As Spynotes notes, there's plenty to argue about, in terms of books included as well as books left off, but she lists the books, with those read (at least in significant part) printed in bold.

Here, then, is what I've read. I think my list is pretty wimpy! I posted last week about plans to read through the NEA "Big Read" list this summer, and i'm working on Alvarez' In the Time of the Butterflies at the moment, so I'm not going to start in on this list right away. But it gives ideas.

Copy and repost if you want to play.

1. Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, (b. 1930), Things Fall Apart
2. Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark, (1805-1875), Fairy Tales and Stories
3. Jane Austen, England, (1775-1817), Pride and Prejudice
4. Honore de Balzac, France, (1799-1850), Old Goriot
5. Samuel Beckett, Ireland, (1906-1989), Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable
6. Giovanni Boccaccio, Italy, (1313-1375), Decameron
7. Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina, (1899-1986), Collected Fictions
8. Emily Bronte, England, (1818-1848), Wuthering Heights
9. Albert Camus, France, (1913-1960), The Stranger
10. Paul Celan, Romania/France, (1920-1970), Poems.
11. Louis-Ferdinand Celine, France, (1894-1961), Journey to the End of the Night
12. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Spain, (1547-1616), Don Quixote
13. Geoffrey Chaucer, England, (1340-1400), Canterbury Tales
14. Anton P Chekhov, Russia, (1860-1904), Selected Stories
15. Joseph Conrad, England,(1857-1924), Nostromo
16. Dante Alighieri, Italy, (1265-1321), The Divine Comedy
17. Charles Dickens, England, (1812-1870), Great Expectations
18. Denis Diderot, France, (1713-1784), Jacques the Fatalist and His Master
19. Alfred Doblin, Germany, (1878-1957), Berlin Alexanderplatz
20-23. Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881), Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; The Possessed; The Brothers Karamazov
24. George Eliot, England, (1819-1880), Middlemarch
25. Ralph Ellison, United States, (1914-1994), Invisible Man
26.Euripides, Greece, (c 480-406 BC), Medea
27-28. William Faulkner, United States, (1897-1962), Absalom, Absalom; The Sound and the Fury
29-30. Gustave Flaubert, France, (1821-1880), Madame Bovary; A Sentimental Education
31. Federico Garcia Lorca, Spain, (1898-1936), Gypsy Ballads
32-33. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Colombia, (b. 1928), One Hundred Years of Solitude; Love in the Time of Cholera
34. Gilgamesh, Mesopotamia (c 1800 BC).
35. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany, (1749-1832), Faust
36. Nikolai Gogol, Russia, (1809-1852), Dead Souls
37. Gunter Grass, Germany, (b.1927), The Tin Drum
38. Joao Guimaraes Rosa, Brazil, (1880-1967), The Devil to Pay in the Backlands
39. Knut Hamsun, Norway, (1859-1952), Hunger.
40. Ernest Hemingway, United States, (1899-1961), The Old Man and the Sea
41-42. Homer, Greece, (c 700 BC), The Iliad and The Odyssey
43. Henrik Ibsen, Norway (1828-1906), A Doll’s House
44. The Book of Job, Israel. (600-400 BC).
45. James Joyce, Ireland, (1882-1941), Ulysses
46-48. Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924), The Complete Stories; The Trial; The Castle Bohemia
49. Kalidasa, India, (c. 400), The Recognition of Sakuntala
50. Yasunari Kawabata, Japan, (1899-1972), The Sound of the Mountain
51. Nikos Kazantzakis, Greece, (1883-1957), Zorba the Greek
52. DH Lawrence, England, (1885-1930), Sons and Lovers
53. Halldor K Laxness, Iceland, (1902-1998), Independent People
54. Giacomo Leopardi, Italy, (1798-1837), Complete Poems
55. Doris Lessing, England, (b.1919), The Golden Notebook
56. Astrid Lindgren, Sweden, (1907-2002), Pippi Longstocking
57. Lu Xun, China, (1881-1936), Diary of a Madman and Other Stories
58. Mahabharata, India, (c 500 BC).
59. Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt, (b. 1911), Children of Gebelawi
60-61. Thomas Mann, Germany, (1875-1955), Buddenbrook; The Magic Mountain
62. Herman Melville, United States, (1819-1891), Moby Dick
63. Michel de Montaigne, France, (1533-1592), Essays.
64. Elsa Morante, Italy, (1918-1985), History
65. Toni Morrison, United States, (b. 1931), Beloved
66. Shikibu Murasaki, Japan, (N/A), The Tale of Genji Genji
67. Robert Musil, Austria, (1880-1942), The Man Without Qualities
68. Vladimir Nabokov, Russia/United States, (1899-1977), Lolita
69. Njaals Saga, Iceland, (c 1300).
70. George Orwell, England, (1903-1950), 1984
71. Ovid, Italy, (c 43 BC), Metamorphoses
72. Fernando Pessoa, Portugal, (1888-1935), The Book of Disquiet
73. Edgar Allan Poe, United States, (1809-1849), The Complete Tales
74. Marcel Proust, France, (1871-1922), Remembrance of Things Past
75. Francois Rabelais, France, (1495-1553), Gargantua and Pantagruel
76. Juan Rulfo, Mexico, (1918-1986), Pedro Paramo
77. Jalal ad-din Rumi, Afghanistan, (1207-1273), Mathnawi
78. Salman Rushdie, India/Britain, (b. 1947), Midnight’s Children
79. Sheikh Musharrif ud-din Sadi, Iran, (c 1200-1292), The Orchard
80. Tayeb Salih, Sudan, (b. 1929), Season of Migration to the North
81. Jose Saramago, Portugal, (b. 1922), Blindness
82-84. William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616), Hamlet; King Lear; Othello
85. Sophocles, Greece, (496-406 BC), Oedipus the King
86. Stendhal, France, (1783-1842), The Red and the Black
87. Laurence Sterne, Ireland, (1713-1768), The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy
88. Italo Svevo, Italy, (1861-1928), Confessions of Zeno
89. Jonathan Swift, Ireland, (1667-1745), Gulliver’s Travels
90-92. Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910), War and Peace; Anna Karenina; The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories
93. Thousand and One Nights, India/Iran/Iraq/Egypt, (700-1500).
94. Mark Twain, United States, (1835-1910), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
95. Valmiki, India, (c 300 BC), Ramayana
96. Virgil, Italy, (70-19 BC), The Aeneid
97. Walt Whitman, United States, (1819-1892), Leaves of Grass
98-99. Virginia Woolf, England, (1882-1941), Mrs. Dalloway; To the Lighthouse
100. Marguerite Yourcenar, France, (1903-1987), Memoirs of Hadrian

23 June 2010

The New Cyclist

I have such mixed feelings about the numbers of people newly out riding their bicycles now that there are so many nice bike lanes in the city, and now that it's warm and dry outside and the sun stays out nice and late.

It can be wonderful to be part of a flock, or perhaps better, a school of little fish swimming among the bigger vehicles on the roads.

But oh, the disregard for the laws of nature.

I'm not going to claim that the messengers, the fast-food delivery guys, or the lycra-clad fleets of the past always followed all the rules of the road. But at least they paid attention while they were ignoring them, and usually gave the impression of making the effort to save their own skins and avoid harming those around them.

(Yes, I have cycled in lycra. Yes, I have also in this city been a pedestrian and a driver, not to mention the pusher of a stroller. And I am convinced that all of the groups of people who use the streets and the sidewalks can do so in harmony, if everyone pays a little attention.)

Yesterday, I encountered in a bike lane on Ninth Street a woman with no helmet, riding the wrong way down a one-way street, and texting.

Along with all those wonderful new bike lanes, maybe it would be a good idea for the mayor to run an ad campaign recommending helmets, and common sense, to the people using them.

17 June 2010

Food Chain

Seen at Whole Foods.

15 June 2010

Illness as Sin

Yesterday, The Times published an article about a program that pays people to take their medicine and, presumably, stay healthier so that they end up costing insurers less money later on. It's also been reported that insurers are giving people breaks on their insurance if the exercise and quit smoking.

Today, there's a debate about getting people to adopt healthy lifestyles. By "healthy lifestyle," they mean keep your weight down and don't smoke, eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day and have a glass or two of wine, and exercise.

These articles send me in two different directions. One has to do with the advertising from Dunkin' Donuts and McDonalds that claims that you can get a healthy breakfast in either establishment.

The other has to do with the fact that I take this stuff personally. Apparently, I don't drink enough, but I do all the other stuff right. But I still have a chronic illness, and it wasn't brought on by bad habits, and getting rid of all the bad habits is never going to make it go away.

Diabetes and heart disease? Yes, clearly affected by diet and exercise. Asthma and cancer, stroke and arthritis? To some extent. Epilepsy and hay fever (one of the five most common chronic conditions, according to this report)? Probably not at all, unless you figure going out and exercising is going to make you sneeze more than staying on the sofa.

(The other items in the top five: sinusitis, arthritis, orthopedic impairments, and hypertension. Stay off the football field, folks.)

The last contributor to the Times' debate, Arthur Caplan, makes me feel a little better. He's a professor of bioethics at UPenn (my alma mater, which also makes me feel a little better), and he writes:
We are in the midst of a cost care explosion in health care and the new zealots of virtue know why — sin. Or more specifically, your sin — be it eating too much, drinking to excess, unprotected sex or smoking. The cure is not the same as that used in the 17th century. You won’t be flogged for dining again and again at the local burger joint.
He adds:
On my drive home I pass by at least 10 fast food franchises. They devote billions in advertising to lure me in to sample their fatty, salty and otherwise unhealthful wares.
The insurance companies want to lower premiums, and this might have as a side effect that some of the insured do, in fact, end up with healthier habits. But chronic disease isn't just a problem of individual perfidy. It's also a problem of social structure.

Food producers want to make more money, and they can do this best by selling lots of cheap food, and cheap food isn't healthy. That they're allowed to use the word "healthy" on the same billboard with a picture of a concoction of fat, refined carbohydrates, and salt or sugar, makes me nuts.

Meanwhile, most of our towns and cities are laid out in ways that discourage walking or cycling, perhaps along with public transit, to get to work, get kids to school, or run errands. So people walk 15 feet out their front door to a parked car, drive to and park at one destination after another, and then drive home.

Don't even get me started on pollution, and the high incidence of asthma among people living in the most polluted places.

So yeah, it's a good idea to encourage people to eat better and exercise more. If those folks could get La Palin to stop glorifying Joe Sixpack and the implied drinking binges, that probably wouldn't do any harm, either.

But at the same time, if people shouldn't be eating junk food, there probably should be laws that prevent the makers of pop tarts from using the word "healthy" on the label. And Congress should divert a major proportion of highway funding toward public transit, sidewalks, and bike paths.

And vilifying the ill as complicit in their illness, failures in some moral way? It's been going on for a long time, as detailed by Susan Sontag in Illness as Metaphor and Aids and Its Metaphors. And it's not doing anyone any good.

14 June 2010

The Big Read

The National Endowment for the Arts is promoting its "Big Read" at the moment, and The Mate and I have decided to work our way through their reading list this summer. We plan to re-read those we've already read, somewhere back in high school or college or grad school, and just work our way through the list alphabetically.

First item: In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.

Updates here, occasionally. Let me know if you want to join us.

11 June 2010

More Bike Lanes for NYC

That's a big blow torch the guy in the orange vest is aiming at the sidewalk; he's heating it up in preparation for the other guy to place the other wheel on the bicycle. After that, orange vest man blow-torched the wheel itself, and it all melted into place on the new bike lane.

All of that pleases the generalist geek in me. The eco-geek was very surprised when one of the guys then said that New York is now the most bike-friendly city in the world. I demurred, and he qualified: New York now has more miles of bike lanes than any other city in the world.

To the eco-geek, this is very exciting news indeed, though I haven't been able to verify it in a news report anywhere. Does that mean I have the scoop? Or he was mistaken?

In any case, the profusion of bike lanes in the city is very welcome. The cycling landscape is certainly improving, and perhaps most importantly, the drivers can now see cyclists, which wasn't the case a few years ago.

But one more thing. Please don't ride without a helmet. I've gone over the handlebars--on my honeymoon--in Scotland!--and, fortunately, I was wearing a helmet. Plenty of bumps and bruises, but my head was fine, or at least as fine as it was before the incident.

09 June 2010

Boycott Oil!

Green America sent me a newsletter recently (electronic, I should note) with various suggestions about what we can do about the Gulf oil spill. The most important item in the list: Boycott oil. Not just BP (most of the other big oil producers are just as dirty), but oil altogether.

The folks at Green American are organizing a climate ride in northern California in September. A great idea to raise awareness for the cause, but it's "fully supported" which means riders will be followed by vehicles carrying their stuff. And what can I say? I hope not too many cyclists will be driving or, worse, flying to northern California to join in the ride.

Instead, stay home and boycott oil. Not just the oil that goes into your car, but all the oil that goes into all the products in your home. Did you know that conventional dish and laundry soaps are made of petroleum? Switch to Seventh Generation or a similar non-toxic product.

Re-use containers for lunch rather than buying take-out and throwing away all the attendant garbage, day after day. But are your lunch containers made of plastic? Doesn't make any sense to toss them if you already have them, but when they wear out, buy stainless steel containers instead. The big groceries in Chinatown carry inexpensive versions, the camping stores, higher-end ones.

Big decisions can change your life. If it's feasible, think about getting rid of a car. But little decisions, made over and over again, day in and day out, also add up to big change.

Every time you're about to make a purchase, think. Can you live without that item? If not, is there a way to obtain it with less impact?

Me? I'm going to take the train to work this summer instead of driving the car. By car, it's a three-hour round trip; by train, six. But I get in a bike ride at both ends of the train journey, and I don't have to drive. In the summer, I only go to the office once a week; the rest of the time, I work at home or hole up in a library.

If I can make it a habit in the summer, though, maybe I can get it to carry over into the regular semester.