Archive for February, 2014

212-214-Product_LargeToMediumImageAn old friend showed up on my doorstep this afternoon:  Hugh Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres, first delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 1759 and published to great acclaim in 1783.  Subsequently the Lectures were extremely influential in Britain and America, where they were put to use in educating middle-class young men into the rudiments of good style and literary taste.

Blair’s insistence that young men “lay aside their commonplaces” pretty much put paid to the study of ancient (ie classical) rhetorical theory, which centered invention on arguments that circulate in communities.  Rather, Blair insisted, individuals of taste and refinement could develop persuasive arguments simply by relying on their personal reactions to life and events.  Those of you who suffered through writing “personal essays” in freshman comp have Blair to thank for that bit of academic torture.

I’ve read the Lectures several times, having taught graduate courses in modern rhetorical theory fairly often during my career (I use “modern” here in Eric Hobsbawm’s sense of “the capitalist, protestant, individualist era of western civilization”).  I also wrote an essay on Blair’s work, and relied on the Lectures fairly heavily when I wrote my history of current-traditional rhetoric.

During all that time I never owned a copy of Blair.  The best available edition consisted of two bulky hardback volumes, and it was too expensive on a struggling assistant professor’s salary.  So I spent a lot of time lugging ol’ Hugh back and forth between my office and whatever library was in the vicinity.  Now of course the text of the Lectures can now be had online.  But I’m still paperbound, and I prefer actual physical books whose pages can be turned back and forth, as well as endnotes that can be flipped to at the end.  Also, margins in which to scribble.

Last week I turned in a review to Southern Illinois University Press, for which activity one usually receives remuneration.  SIUP, cleverly, allows reviewers to choose books worth twice as much as we’d get if they simply wrote us a check.  Needles to say, I took the books, and my very first choice was this new edition (well, newish–2004) edited by two professional friends of mine.  It took them forever to get the thing done, but now it’s sitting on my coffee table, all 600 pages of it, resplendent in its new paper cover.

I don’t suppose I will actually read very far past the editors’ introduction (and natch I’ve already peeked to see if they quote/cite my work, and they do!) because I’ve read Blair so often.  But you never know.  For all that his work is now well over two hundred years old, I expect that Blair’s Lectures are still a great cure for insomnia on those nights when there is absolutely nothing on the teevee.


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Oh Get Over It!

fidel-castro-smDid you know that the United States is the ONLY country in the world that does not trade with Cuba?   Relations between the countries have been strained (to say the least) since La Revolucion occurred way back in in 1959.

For those who don’t remember, Fidel Castro and his guerrilla troops overthrew Fulgencio Batista, who was one of those tinpot dictators favored by the CIA during the ‘fifties.  In those days Cuba was a wholly-owned subsidiary of American corporations.  United Fruit, and others, built the same sort of lopsided economy there that their contemporary counterparts are busy assembling in this country today.  It is no accident that during the ‘sixties Che Guevara was a hero to young Americans, like me, who protested the war in Vietnam (another country whose natural resources the CIA coveted).

In 1963, JFK attempted to legitimize US-Cuba relations.  The talks never got any farther than a series of chats between Castro/Guevara and various Kennedy emissaries, but plans were under way.  Some researchers believe that Kennedy’s desire to normalize relations between the two countries may have been one reason that he was assassinated.  Probably with, at minimum, collusion by the CIA.

Yeah, Castro and Guevara were not unsullied heroes.  They killed people, and probably tortured some, too.  Just like Batista, and just as the CIA still does.  Castro was, and still is, a communist.  So what?   That term does not carry the same signification today that it did during the Cold War.  Are we still living in the ‘fifties?

Oh yeah.  For a minute there, I forgot about the Rethugs.

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Combine Time Again

The unis still suck . . .

tempAP342651570065--nfl_mezz_1280_1024but the scenery is still stellar.

The commentators are all saying that this is the deepest draft in years, which, if accurate, is a boon for the NFL.  Another boon is that the athletes seem to get bigger and faster and stronger every year.  I just watched a 310-pound defensive lineman from Minnesota run a 4.97 forty-yard dash.  Wasn’t too long ago that such big guys were expected to finish in around six seconds as best.

There are three Huskers at the combine:  OL Spencer Long, WR Quincy Enunwa (known to his friends as “Q”), and DB Stanley Jean-Baptiste.  Enunwa turned in a very fast forty (4.4) yesterday but pulled up lame on his second try.

Nebraska’s guys, hailing as they do from a school whose games appear mostly on the Big Ten Network, don’t appear on ESPN’s cameras as often as guys from Alabama and Texas A&M.  So their photos are scarce. I trust that the young man pictured above (who is, happily, a tight end) will suffice.

UPDATE:  In the words of Warren Sapp, my favorite football philosopher:  “It’s frightening to see a man that big run that fast.”

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Go Big Red

pipeline.jpgHooray!  A federal judge in Nebraska ruled against the Keystone pipeline, arguing that the legislature, which passed a law permitting the pipeline to be built, cannot overrule the Planning Commission, which is the traditional authority on public works in that state.

If this ruling is appealed, as it surely will be, it may be five years or more before a decision can be made about whether or not the pipeline will blight its way  through middle America.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that neither Colorado or Iowa, Nebraska’s neighbors to the west and east, will agree to host the thing.  So hallelujah!  Flyover country has spoken–something I suspect nobody at TransCanada ever suspected to happen.

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That Was Quick!

r-WINTER-SUMMER-large570As long as I’ve lived in Arizona I still can’t get used to the subtlety with which the seasons change.  When I lived in Arizona’s high north country the change from winter to spring was usually announced by tiny flowers trying to peek through the ground cover.

That change in the season, welcome as it usually was, seemed more gradual than it does here in the Valley of the Morlocks.  Down here, in what passes for “fall,” we realize that summer has passed because it is a bit cooler in the evenings–say 70 degrees or so.  And we might smell tangy smoke from some eager beaver’s fireplace in the early evening.

And then all of a sudden, or so it seems, we find ourselves asking “now where did I put the socks and sweatpants?”

The same sort of reversal occurs without warning when “spring” announces itself with suddenly warmer daytime temps.   Then there’s a scramble to pull out shorts and tee shirts and to sigh with relief as we slip into sandals once again.  This occurred here late last week.

I looked hard for a picture that would convey this subtlety, but all the great ones show midwestern sites where changes in seasons announce themselves pretty spectacularly–with leaves turning in riotous color and sudden snowstorms that can be life-threatening.  Then, around April and towards May, soft breezes take the place of howling winds and the smell of emerging green stuff is everywhere.  Then it gets hot–just as it does in Arizona–but it’s humid, humid, humid, as well.

I settled on a photo that reminds me of Nebraska.

UPDATE:  A pair of javelina just sauntered by my back porch.   Wow!   I’ve never seen them this far from the mountains.  And so close to my house!

JavelinaWhere is Robert Baratheon when you need him?  Sorry–its a Game of Thrones in-joke.

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Inky Update

rhinocerosLast week I took Inky to see a vet who specializes in animal behavior.

I listened carefully while she showed me how to teach a cat to respond to simple commands.  This involves giving treats along with the commands.  She explained that the point of training a cat is to show it who’s boss.  That is, if Inky can learn to respond to my commands, he may be less likely to try proving he has the biggest dick in the house (actually, Inky is the only dick in the house, empirically speaking).

So I’ve started off with some simple Pavlov stuff, saying “no” when he shows signs of falling into one of his ziffs.  The signs are pretty obvious to me now that I’ve studied his behavior, and so far he’s responded to my “no.”  The change in his diet seems to have calmed him down some, as well (he’s on half grain-free food.  He still gets half regular because the grain-free costs three times as much as the regular).

The vet also recommended I use a “click-stick,” which teaches a cat to associate a “click” with a small bit of behavior.  She sent me some videos showing how that works.  I’m doubtful whether Inky and I can pull this off, but I’ll give it a try when the click stick I ordered arrives from Amazon.

She also recommended more play in order to wear him out.  Yeah, right.  Every morning after breakfast I walk briskly around the house for about ten minutes in order to keep my blood glucose from rising.  So I tried trailing a toy on a string after me while I walked–two birds and all that.  After two mornings of this, Sassy and I found ourselves getting some nice exercise while Inky sat in a window sill and cleaned himself.  He wised up once he realized he’d never catch the damned thing.

All in all, the doc was fairly modest about how much behavioral training a cat can absorb.  But, she said, one has to keep things in proportion–a cat is easier to train than, say, a rhinoceros.  True that.  However, she also pointed out that aggressive behavior generally does not abate as cats get older.  In fact, it may become worse.  Which is all the more reason to intervene now.

Wish us luck.

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A James Bond T-Bird

3656081_1_lToday I saw one of these beauties parked outside the grocery store.  After I stashed my grocks in my lowly Prius I walked over to admire it close up.

As I lingered over its luscious white leather interior, the car’s owner emerged from the store, groceries in hand.  He is obviously used to gawkers because he congenially struck up a conversation.  Eventually I asked “what’s under the hood?”  I meant “how many horses?”  but he said “well, it has a 3.9 liter.”  Which is correct, as I found out when I got home to my internet.  Here are the specs for this car:

  • 3,948 cc 3.9 liters V 8 front engine with 86 mm bore, 85 mm stroke, 10.6 compression ratio, double overhead cam and four valves per cylinder
  • Premium unleaded fuel
  • Fuel consumption: EPA urban (mpg): 17 and country/highway (mpg): 23
  • Fuel economy EPA highway (mpg): 23 and EPA city (mpg): 17
  • Multi-point injection fuel system
  • 18 gallon main premium unleaded fuel tank
  • Power: 188 kW , 252 HP SAE @ 6,100 rpm; 267 ft lb , 362 Nm @ 4,300 rpm

Not quite the 300 horses made familiar to us by the muscle cars of his and my youth, but powerful nonetheless.

My mother would have been unhappy with me for asking this next question, but I couldn’t resist:  “So why did you get an automatic transmission?”  The unspoken premise was, of course, “given that this car is so hot and all.”

“Well,” he said, “I bought it for my wife.”

I see.

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