Author Archives: John

Improvisation

A few nights ago, I was asked to write something, either prose or poetry, using as many of the following words as possible: palimpsest, raven, gnosis, anticipation, rebirth, sapphire, and gravel. Muddy might also have been on the list.

The time limit was 10 minutes, but I ended up having only about five. Here’s what I came up with.

A palimpsest in raven ink
Commands a scholar’s study
In anticipation of a semantic link
Deciphered from those muddy
Letters set upon each other
Close as gravel, or clutter’d sink—
From this confused compounding,
A rebirth of sense—I think.

Thomas Jefferson on Grammar

“Where strictness of grammar does not weaken expression, it should be attended to in complaisance to the purists of New England. But where by small grammatical negligences the energy of an idea is condensed, or a word stands for a sentence, I hold grammatical rigor in contempt.”

—Thomas Jefferson,
   quoted in American Sphinx (p. 229)
   by Joseph B. Ellis

“Caravaggio was to painting what Galileo was to physics”

From Alvaro Enrigue’s novel Sudden Death, which recounts an imaginary tennis match between Francisco de Quevedo and Caravaggio:

Anyone who believes that earthly objects are all composed of the same group of substances, and that transformations are accomplished only through mechanical means, will naturally perceive the voice of God in the filthy fingernails—nails that are of this world, a part of history—of Caravaggio’s saints and virgins. The voice of a god more brilliant than capricious; a god unlike God, remote and uninterested in revealing himself in miracles beyond combustion or the balance of forces; a trust god for everyone: the poor, the wicked, the politicians, the rent boys, and the millionaires.

Caravaggio was to painting what Galileo was to physics: someone who took a second look and said what he was seeing; someone who discovered that forms in space aren’t allegories of anything but themselves, and that’s enough; someone who understood that the true mystery of the forces that control how we inhabit the earth is not how lofty they are, but how elemental. (p. 89)

Quick and Dirty GDPR Privacy Policy

For those of you weary of officialese:

While you’re using this web site, we may collect some Personally Identifiable Information about you, including your name, your *******, your ******* and optionally your ********, the ******** and ******** of all your close relations, and the height of your ******, which in some cases we might try to verify with a photograph. If you’re a citizen of the U.S., by the time you read this notice, we’ve already sold this information to Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and some guy who keeps calling from Florida and who’s really persistent. If you’re a citizen of the EU, we make all reasonable efforts to keep this information private. We usually store it in a *******, which we lock with a *******, and when we leave for the weekend, we wedge the whole ******** under a *******. You have to look really hard to even see that it’s there. New EU privacy regulations require us to tell you what we’re doing with your data, to which we say, “Not very ****** much, which is killing us, because that guy from Florida has promised to pay double for anything coming from the EU.” So we’re holding onto your data and will only turn it over to a third party if we’re presented with some pretty official language that says something like subpoena or ediscovery request or one of those really long, complicated UPS forms. By law, we’re required to respond to all requests from EU authorities, but we’re saying upfront that it’s possible for us to be duped by a fake but official-looking form from some—not naming any names here—second-tier EU Member States. As we all know, there are a lot of Member States and some of them have some pretty weird-sounding agencies. ******** has a Department of Cybersecurity, *******, and Fisheries. I mean, what the **** is that? And how can we tell if its request is genuine as long as it shows up in our P.O. box on heavy, cream-colored A4 stationery and with a stamp of some bushy-sideburned prince who probably met a bad end from machine-gun fire in 1915? You also have the right to ask for your data back. We try to teach our kids, ‘No backsies,’ but thanks to the GDPR, here we are. So if you’ve read this entire notice and you really, really, really cross-your-heart want your data back, do this. Call our main office during business hours and ask for Anton. The receptionist will know where to find him. But we’re just telling you up front: His English isn’t so good.

The America of 1842 Loved Dollars

It’s uncanny how the America of 1842, at least as described by Dickens in Martin Chuzzlewit, resembles the America of today:

[Their conversation] was rather barren of interest, to say the truth; and the greater part of it may be summed up in one word. Dollars. All their cares, hopes, joys, affections, virtues, and associations, seemed to be melted down into dollars. Whatever the chance contributions that fell into the slow cauldron of their talk, they made the gruel thick and slab with dollars. Men were weighed by their dollars, measures gauged by their dollars; life was auctioneered, appraised, put up, and knocked down for its dollars. The next respectable thing to dollars was any venture having their attainment for its end. The more of that worthless ballast, honour and fair-dealing, which any man cast overboard from the ship of his Good Name and Good Intent, the more ample stowage-room he had for dollars. Make commerce one huge lie and mighty theft. Deface the banner of the nation for an idle rag; pollute it star by star; and cut out stripe by stripe as from the arm of a degraded soldier. Do anything for dollars! What is a flag to them! (Chapter 16)