Snail Races

...where even the winners are slow and slimy. It's all a matter of degrees, really. Reality based since 1692.

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Location: Upper Canada

Sunday, November 27, 2005

In the Land of Art

A couple of weeks ago at Michael Berube's John McGowan posted these ruminations on pottery, art and the life of an artist, illustrating one of the things that drew me to pottery in the first place.

The week after we came home, Jane and I went to hear master potter Mark Hewitt (an Englishman descended from three generation of porcelain makers who now lives in North Carolina) talk about his own work and the work of North Carolina’s great potters from 1850 to the present. I have this fantasy, one that attaches to various people at various times, about people who are at one with their lives. Someone who has found an occupation that is completely enthralling, challenging, pleasurable, and satisfying. The person pursues this occupation with single-minded devotion for the whole of a life, each new step on that journey producing a new problem to be solved or a new way of seeing the whole enterprise. But, meanwhile, there is also the satisfaction of things achieved along the way. The life well lived as a career in making. An honorable life devoted to producing things that the world values. (No, I don’t’ experience my own life that way. It feels like constant scrambling, with each thing done a messy compromise between what was aimed for and what time, circumstances, and personal limitations made possible.)

Mark Hewitt seems a good candidate as the embodiment of that fantasy. In his own sphere, he is wildly successful. He can’t make pots fast enough for all the people who want to buy them. And he remains challenged by what he does, while also showing a great appreciation for and desire to celebrate the work of other potters. Mark has written a book about North Carolina pottery, and he has written lots of articles about pottery around the world. His lecture introduced us to various forms of folk pottery—from Nigeria to Korea to Japan—that have influenced him. Worries about a larger world that one cannot influence would merely be a distraction. Clear the mind and focus on the difficult and worthy task at hand. That’s the ticket.

Except, of course, it can’t quite be done, unless one cultivates a tunnel-vision that would be blameworthy. In that most unpolitical of settings, addressing an audience of fans, Hewitt could not avoid reflecting, even if mostly through short side comments, on the fact that the “folk” in Africa and Korea from whom he had learned so much when visiting them in the 1970s no longer practice the art that has made him relatively rich and famous. Manufactured goods have now replaced the hand-made pottery of those villages. By a path as inevitable as the one followed by Ruskin and Morris (whom Hewitt actually mentioned briefly), an attention to the arts leads one to politics—and leads one to recognize the privileges that place one in a position to be an artist or to visit museums. There’s no space of unconscious devotion to one’s art, untroubled by the social forces and structures that make any kind of devotion to art possible in the first place.

That came through most clearly in Hewitt’s comic—but also forlorn—relation to the problem of art as pottery. He insisted that pottery was a fine art in the sense that it took great skill to make good pots. But he also, in another part of his talk, urged us to use every piece of pottery we own. Don’t set it up on display; don’t move it entirely from the functional world of its origins in those village pots made for use into the entirely different world of “art.” Which suggests that the very notion of “art” is constructed precisely to offer us a space apart from a social reality that doesn’t bear much looking at. I want, as much if not more than the next guy, to visit the land of art. It’s a great vacation, just like a trip to London. But it turns out you can’t live there. If you did, it would be an entirely different place.

(emphasis mine)

Alot there to chew on, indeed.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Please step away from the echo chamber, sir.

This jumped off the screen at me this morning, from the NYTimes, via Huffington:

"Part of me enjoys watching him squirm," said Shirley Tobias, 46, sitting with a colleague from Netscape at a coffee shop in Grandview, a suburb of Columbus. "But he's squirming on our behalf. We're all in this together."

been reading Lance Mannion and the Viscount on liberals, conservatives and other more or less apt ways of describing one's own political predispositions.

I was so sure, 13 months ago, that W would be as widely reviled in a year's time as has actually turned out to be the case, that I could not imagine what the approximately 50.9% who apparently voted for W might possibly be thinking. On election day, I told everyone I knew it was a Kerry landslide.

I was misinformed.

I thought the things that were obvious to Josh Marshall and Duncan Black and Paul Krugman were obvious to one and all. Now, I see Dean Broder on Washington Week predicting a rush to the center, decrying the extremes, a pox on both, yada, yada...

This rush to the comfortable middle is evidence of what I fear may be fear itself.

The wrong track number has never, for me, been this visceral.

Thanksgiving always finds me reflective, especially when weather and mundane obligation conspire to once again keep me from celebrating with my extended family. This year, I am much less sure of what I know, but more unsettled by what I see congealing as the American Public Mood.

There is little comfort in noting that many more people are seeming to agree that we in for a world of hurt over the next few years.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

reality check

just for the hell of it, I submitted my own self...

thanks, I needed that.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

What kind of humanist am I?


You go out of your way to build bridges with people of different views and beliefs and have quite a few religious friends. You believe in the essential goodness of people , which means you’re always looking for common ground even if that entails compromises. You would defend Salman Rushdie’s right to criticise Islam but you’re sorry he attacked it so viciously, just as you feel uncomfortable with some of the more outspoken and unkind views of religion in the pages of this magazine.

You prefer the inclusive approach of writers like Zadie Smith or the radical Christian values of Edward Said. Don’t fall into the same trap as super–naïve Lib Dem MP Jenny Tonge who declared it was okay for clerics like Yusuf al–Qaradawi to justify their monstrous prejudices as a legitimate interpretation of the Koran: a perfect example of how the will to understand can mean the sacrifice of fundamental principles. Sometimes, you just have to hold out for what you know is right even if it hurts someone’s feelings.

What kind of humanist are you? Click here to find out.

I guess my enthusiasm for a wide-ranging cultural literacy is taking things a bit too far for some people.

Update: I see at least Jeremy Cherfas is also a handholder. I am reassured.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

a little less drafty today

I was pleasantly surprised to see a bipartisan U.S. Senate effort to move towards withdrawing American troops from the Middle East. W finally makes good on his promise to be "a uniter, not a divider."

I grew up in a time when the draft was very present in our lives. I had a selective service registration (draft) card in 1974, when I turned 18. Since my eighth birthday, 1,857,304 American teenagers had been drafted, many being sent to serve in Vietnam.

When I count all of the many blessings in my life, I have, in recent years, neglected the relief it was when my birthday came up as 344 (of, I believe, 365) on March 12, 1975 for the 1976 induction year. By 1973, when I was 17, all the high school juniors I knew knew that the war was lost, and was winding down to the helicopter evacuation from the embassy roof. We knew then that our older brothers and neighbours were probably the last to be drafted. But most were still wary, and those with a lower number in the lottery were the most skittish. Even had the call-ups been resumed, in my freshman year at college, I knew I was in less danger than most.

here is a table of selective service call-ups by year.




As the father of two sons growing closer to draftable ages, at a rate that seems to be accelerating as a function of my own increasing awareness of looming geezerdom, let's not go down that road again.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Remembrance Day

Recently I found, in a box of my father's genealogy research, a notebook, typed around 1971, apparently by or for my grandfather, Clarence Dewey (Ted) Loveland.

The notebook is eleven pages long. It records letters and visits from 1971, and we know that Ted died 1n 1972, so this was done in the last years, even months, of his life. It is a retrospective account that begins with his childhood residences, and only becomes detailed following his enlistment in the Army in Sep. 1917, at the age of 19 years. It ends abruptly as he describes his employment at various occupations following his return from the war. I can easily imagine that it was the result of a single session at the typewriter, an effort at a memoir to which, perhaps, he lacked the strength to return.

Today, 11 November, is a good day to remember his story of his service in the Great War.

Enlisted in the Army in Sept. 1918(sic, actually 1917), when 19 years old.

Soldiered in Camp Dodge with the old 1st Iowa Inf. for two or three months and the First Iowa was changed to the 133red U.S. Inf. and sent to Camp Cody, New Mexico. Soldiered there as a private, Bugler, and Signalman, til May, 1919 (1918). Was then transferred to Over Seas Service, going via Camp Merrit for a few weeks then to Boston and on boar the U.S.S. Runic, an old English cattle boat. From Boston we sailed to Halifax, N.S., where we met the convoy. Landed in South Hampton, England June 1st.

After Spending the night in an English rest camp we entrained for Liverpool, then taking a channel boat for Brest, France. After a few days in Brest, was sent to St. aignon an American replacement camp in So. France.

There I was assigned to the 102nd Inf. of the 26th Div. This division was composed of men from the New England States and was the first complete American division to land in France and the first complete American division to enter the front lines as a division.

I joined the division during the Chateau Thierry Drive, the first big battle of the war for the American Army.

After the division was relieved, about the last of july, I, with many others of the division, was taken sick from smoking gassed tobacco and eating gassed foood.
Spent two or three weeks in Base Hospital 42 at Nevers, then rejoined the division just in time for the St. Mihiel drive. Got through this battle very easily but while holding the line after the drive was wounded in the finger by a machine gun bullet. It was not very serious so stayed with the company. I received this wound while on a raiding party into MArchville, a town that the Germans were holding near our front lines. This happened about the last of September.

We next moved to the city of Verdun where we stayed for a few days and next took up a position in support of the 29th division just a few miles north of Verdun.

I was a regimental runner for about three weeks in the Argonne Forest and was in and thru most of the front lines in this sector during that time.

About the last of October while guiding the first battalion of the 102nd Inf. to a front line position, I ran into heavy shelling and machine gun fire. The major gave the signal and everybody ducked into whatever shelter or shellhole they could find. I picked a hole that a gas shell had just exploded in and when I tried to back out was hit in the right leg by a machine gun bullet so I had to get back in the hole again.

The machine gun wound wasn't very serious but in the excitement didn't get a gas mask on quick enough and got a lot of gas. After they stopped shelling and the battalion was in position went to the first aid station and got tagged for the hospital. I was too sick to go back for a day or two but reached Base Hospital 24 about the 5th of Nov.

When I returned to the company I was just in time for Christmas Dinner.

Was in several camps and went on several trips through France, Switzerland, and Germany before sailing from Brest in March.

We left Brest on the U.S.S. Aggermendon(sic), an old German ship one of the largest in the world at that time.

Landed in Boston and went to Camp Devons for a few weeks, then was sent to Camp Dodge where I was discharged in April, 1919.

Growing up, I didn't know anything about him, nor did my father. The genealogy bug that bit Dad brought us this information when I was well over thirty and Dad was pushing sixty, 15 years after Grandpa Ted died.

Writing that last sentence was the first time the phrase, "Grandpa Ted" ever entered my mind. Surprising, the emotion, especially today, in just thinking those words.

Thanks, Grandpa Ted.

greetings, librarythingers

just in case the blog link to my profile at librarything drives any traffic this way, let me be the first to say, "Librarything - beauty, eh?"

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

in my dreams

I woke up this morning having dreamt about a conversation at work from just over eight years ago. Our youngest had just been born, and a woman with whom I had previously had a pleasant if not interesting acquaintance, asked what we had chosen for a name. When I replied, "Owen Robert", she wrinkled her nose, and said "Isn't that a Jewish name?"

Gob-smack stunned, I don't think at the time I said anything, other than "no".

In my dream, I was the soul of wit, the apotheosis of rejoinder, blistering her bigotry with word and gesture, worthy of Neddie his own self.

Bigoted and stupid, always a winning combination, eh? As Dean Wormer used to say, that's no way to go through life.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

we are... Penn State!

I was glad to see that PSU has clinched a BCS berth and a share of the Big10 title with their win over Wisconsin yesterday. JoePa has run a relatively clean program for such a long time that it would have been a shame to see him go out on a down note. He has shown that the game has not passed him by. And it helps to have some ath-e-letes again. Michael Robinson has grown into a stud at QB, and could be the next Mike to be like in the NFL.

If only they had beat the Wolverines.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

library thing

My latest obsession has been with library thing, a cataloguing killer app that will finally get me moving on putting the collection of books in some order.

MDW says we have over a thousand easy, maybe two, but I think somewhat less. The kids books are skinny, though.