Thursday, March 30th, 2006
A statistic, from the opening chapter of Guns, Germs and Steel, to make the mind reel: of roughly 6,000 known human languages, 1,000 are spoken only on the island of New Guinea. This seems incredible to me; but Teofilo, who knows more of these things than I, confirms that it is straight up. Some Googling brings up a list of Papua New Guinean languages, and there are certainly a lot. Also the full text of Papuan Linguistics is online in PDF form. Update: there is also about a ton of interesting stuff on PapuaWeb, from beautiful pictures to scholarly articles.
I've never been much of a reader of non-fiction. Maybe part of the reason is I fear writing style like that found in Unequal Childhoods, which I finished the other day -- full of potentially useful information but written in such a way as to stymie concentration in even the most willing reader. But today I started Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel; if the first chapter is any basis for expectation, reading it will be a different story. His voice is clear, engaging, direct.
I've encountered Diamond's name a number of times over the years, mainly referred to by Crooked Timber posters, and always thought his stuff sounded interesting. I'm looking forward to this book. (And I realize on reflection that Crooked Timber has been responsible for encouraging a good deal of my non-fiction reading over the past couple of years.)
Note: Here is a Crooked Timber post with pointers to a wide-ranging controversy about GGS.
Yesterday I read The Quitter, Harvey Pekar's new book about his childhood. I've always loved American Splendor and this book is a fine addition. (It actually reminded me quite a bit of the AS movie -- Pekar as a kid in the main story, and Pekar as an old man stepping in occationally to comment.) Lovely art, moving story. Definitely recommended to the Mineshaft crowd, who I think will identify.
Tuesday, March 28th, 2006
Tonight I practiced with 13 Scotland Rd, which is Bill Binford on guitar and vocals and Aaron Seglin on harmonica, flute, percussion and vocals. I have jammed with Aaron before at Bob and Janis' house, but had never heard him playing 13 Scotland Rd songs, and never met Bill. The music was just lovely. I played coherent, pretty solos with two of their songs, and less together stuff with a couple of other songs. I did "John Hardy" with Aaron. Anyway -- they were happy enough with what I was doing, to ask me back -- so I will be practicing with them for a while, and if it goes well, performing with them! I'm very excited about this -- I've wanted to be in a band for as long as I can remember.
Sunday, March 26th, 2006
Yesterday morning I went to Sylvia's school to help build a garden for the students to cultivate flowers and vegetables. Fun working and meeting some other parents. And by a stroke of luck one of the parents I met was Matt Hauser, drummer for Felt. We got to talking about music and I asked if his band could use a fiddler. He responded pretty enthusiastically and said they were playing at St. James Gate in the evening, I should come by and check it out.
So when I got there, Matt's bandmate Tarquin asked me "Where's your axe?" I hadn't been thinking I was going to play and begged off, but Tarquin talked me into it (pretty easy to do actually.) I drove back home and returned with my fiddle. I ended up playing two songs with them, "Pass You By" by Gillian Welch and "Deal" -- I haven't really figured out how to play into a microphone though, so I was totally inaudible on "Pass You By" -- on "Deal" I was getting it a little better and people in the audience could hear at least some of what I was playing.
Leaving aside the issue of whether anyone off the stage was able to hear it, I was able to keep up with the band and improvised some really nice licks. They asked me to play with them again. (I need to get a pickup!) And: 13 Scotland Rd was in the audience and played a couple of songs at the intermission -- I have jammed with Aaron and have their CD, but have never listened to them live -- they just blew me away! And Bill was interested by what he could make out of my fiddling, and asked me to practice with them. Update: ...And, I just ordered a pickup for my fiddle. Looking forward to my next opportunity to use it.
Friday, March 24th, 2006
I am reading Unequal Childhoods by Annette Lareau currently, on the recommendation of Harry Brighouse. I like the slice-of-life aspect of it but the narrative style is kind of freaking me out. She switches constantly between a first-person where (as near as I can reckon) she is the narrator, and block-quoted observation notes in first-person where the narrator is the person who did the observation, who is never identified by name. I am finding this really frustrating, not to have an identity for the observer -- clearly there are several different people doing the observations but I have no way of distinguishing them, and it sounds like sometimes it it Dr. Lareau herself, but again no way to verify this. Maybe this is a standard style in sociology -- it just seems weird to me. The families being observed are named (though I don't know if they are real names or pseudonyms), so why not the observers?
Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006
The president of the Oglala Sioux is intending to open a Planned Parenthood clinic on the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is inside South Dakota but not affected by South Dakota's new law prohibiting abortions. They could use your help in bringing it about -- see the linked post for more information about how to contribute.
Tuesday, March 21st, 2006
This evening I am having my second fiddle lesson with Lisa Gutkin, who impressed me favorably at our first meeting. What I want to work on: blues; "John Hardy"; vibrato; "I'll Fly Away" and a couple of similar folk songs. I was going to go to a lecture on Robert Musil beforehand, but the schedule switched around and I will not be able to make it.
Got my midterm back in Network Systems last night -- I scored 62/100, which in the wacky world of Professor Rubenstein's curves is an A. (Class median was 44.)
We worked on vibrato and blues, and a lot of bow hand exercises. And toward the end of the lesson some work on "John Hardy" and on playing drone notes while I am singing. I can do some really nice stuff jamming on "John Hardy". It is time that I should start keeping a book of what songs I play. Offhand:
- John Hardy was a Desperate Little Man
- Shine On
- I'll Fly Away
- The Louisville Burglar
- St. James Infirmary
- Will the Circle be Unbroken
Anything else?... as I say, time to start keeping a book.
Sunday, March 19th, 2006
I added a "Mineshaft" category at left to reflect the undeniable fact that most of my blogging presence these days is reading Unfogged and related sites.
There is a fun meme floating around, which I saw at Jackmormon's place and at Matt Weiner's. Neither of them thought to tag me; but I am doing it myself: write one sentence about each state you have visited.
- California: California is my base line for comparison, it is manifold, it defies description.
- Wisconsin: I wish I had been old enough to form a memory of Madison, the summer we lived there.
- Missouri: I love the St. Louis Children's Museum.
- Iowa: All I remember of Iowa is a snowy day and a house with red trim.
- Oregon: My favorite rural experiences took place in Oregon.
- Pennsylvania: Philadelphia is a fine city for walking around.
- New York: A vast number of opportunities to have a good time can be found in the city.
- Illinois: Mostly I remember driving in Chicago, with my newly acquired license, and freaking Gary out with the quality of my driving.
- Florida: I watched Pulp Fiction in Boca Raton.
- Connecticut: Unlike any other place I've been in Connecticut, Danbury seems like a very pleasant town to me.
- Massachussetts: What can I say about Massachussetts that has not already been said?
- New Hampshire: In New Hampshire I learned how to build a chair.
- Vermont: In Vermont we mostly ride our bikes.
- Maine: It took a long time driving to get to Maine but we had fun there.
- Rhode Island: We rounded out our New England tour by walking around Providence.
- District of Columbia: DC is not a very good place to be at loose ends.
- Ohio: I visited Oberlin, and nothing about it seemed distinctively Ohioan.
- New Jersey: I live in New Jersey.
- Kansas: The greatest night sky I can remember having seen was from a Kansas field.
And there are probably some others, but I do not remember them. (Illinois and Florida added after some consultation with my memory.... Oops! And Kansas.)
Update: Jackmormon is now claiming the right to tag me retroactively.
Update: Richard Mason is mandating that everyone join this meme.
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Check out Ellen's writing at Patch.com.