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Helen Vendler’s review of the Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove, is quite a piece of work. (It’s been widely noted in the blogosphere, e.g. here, by I think the same Anderson seen commenting on likeminded blogs.)

Dove’s response is well worth reading. But not having been gored directly, the rest of us may wonder if Vendler hasn’t just missed the point. Do we expect of an anthology that it will supply a complete and final list of the “poems to remember?” That’s from the headline, but it does reflect Vendler’s thinking —

No century in the evolution of poetry in English ever had 175 poets worth reading, so why are we being asked to sample so many poets of little or no lasting value?

How flatly she equates “lasting value” with being “worth reading”! For me, these are pretty different categories —  especially for recent work, part of whose interest is precisely that its value is still to be settled. And the expectation that an anthology should be a Golden Treasury seems particularly inapt for American culture, which despite its manifold fallings-short is organized still around a recurrent dream of mobility and self-invention.

(PS. If there were any doubt of Vendler’s specific animus in this piece, consider that the sentence I’ve quoted is offered to support the proposition that “Multicultural inclusiveness prevails.”)


Dwight Garner reviews Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West. (The Times seems to go in for this sort of alarmism lately.) Garner concludes:

It is hard to argue with his ultimate observation about Europe today: “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture” (Europe’s) “meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines” (Islam’s), “it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.”

Hard to argue with, because no specific examples are provided. But is there any “culture” more “insecure, malleable, relativistic” than that of the United States? Surely our success in reducing any immigrant strain to three-day weekends and Taco Bell should be grounds for optimism in this regard.

Holy Smokes Update (aka, still astonishing but now for different reasons)

Harvard Scholar Disorderly

If you just watched the Cambridge police union* press conference, I’m pretty sure you heard the spokesman claim there was no influence of the bad history between cops and black people in Cambridge. At least, that’s what I think I heard; we’ll have to wait for a transcript. Stand by.

… So far, very little, but already sounds pretty bad. I stick by my original prediction.

Police unions call for apology from Obama, Patrick

By Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff

Cambridge police unions today called on President Obama and Governor Deval Patrick to apologize to “all law enforcement personnel” for their comments about the arrest of an African-American scholar last week at his home near Harvard Square.

Speaking in at a press conference packed with local and national media, the union officials also said that the disorderly conduct charge should not have been dropped against professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. The move earlier this week to drop the charges “was a decision made without our input.”

… already clear that a lot of people need to watch Jay Smooth again.

Cambridge police are not stupid

As Jay Smooth says, “I don’t care what you are, I care about what you did.” The President did not say “Cambridge police are stupid”, nor did he say “Officer Crowley is stupid”. He said, “Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof he was in own home.” (As my colleague Professor Kelman points out, quite possibly, as a constitutional law professor he has an informed opinion on what police behavior is stupid and what isn’t.) But it’s clear that the discourse is already spinning out of control.

HOLY SMOKES update: The President of the United States is pretty smooth.

So at the end of the conversation there was a discussion about — my conversation with Sergeant Crowley, there was discussion about he and I and Professor Gates having a beer here in the White House. We don’t know if that’s scheduled yet — (laughter) — but we may put that together.

He also did say he wanted to find out if there was a way of getting the press off his lawn. (Laughter.) I informed him that I can’t get the press off my lawn. (Laughter.) He pointed out that my lawn is bigger than his lawn. (Laughter.) But if anybody has any connections to the Boston press, as well as national press, Sergeant Crowley would be happy for you to stop trampling his grass.

… and a pony

… which, it appears, means the President has proven my original prediction incorrect. But if you’re gonna be wrong, you might as well be wrong in the most wonderful, rainbow-colored ponylicious way. It’s not as big a pony as passing healthcare, ending the war ‘n’ stuff, closing Gitmo and Bagram, and returning to the rule of law, but you gotta start somewhere. Even small ponies have been scarce as of even date.

*See Ralph’s request for clarification below.

I guess Neil’s “Naming Fail” says it all.

In the early days of radio and television, baseball announcers fell into their jobs. Mel Allen, “the Voice of the Yankees,” was a lawyer by trade; his partner, Red Barber, caught his break while working as a janitor at a college radio station. (A professor scheduled to read “Certain Aspects of Bovine Obstretics” never showed, so Barber picked up the microphone and read it himself.) Jimmy Dudley majored in chemistry, got drafted and, like Harry Kalas, began his broadcasting career calling intramural games in the South Pacific during WWII. Although all four of them belong to the Baseball Hall of Fame, they were amateurs.

The first great professional announcer, Vin Scully, studied broadcast journalism at Fordham. Following Scully’s success on both coasts, team owners and network executives decided that games were best called by people whose sober, understated delivery betrayed an intimate knowledge of the technical limitations of their equipment. No matter where in America you turned on your radio or television in the 1960s, you were listening to a college graduate whose vocal coach had taught him to speak the smooth, unaccented English of an imaginary Middle America.

With the exception of a few token athletes, like Joe Garagiola and Bob Uecker, by the early 1970s the voices that spoke for the game weren’t the voices of the game. Because the game on the field is so different from the one observed from the booth, I think it best that there be someone up there who, for example, understands in his bones that the depth of field required to keep both the pitcher and the batter (60 feet 6 inches away) in focus makes a 67 m.p.h. curveball look slow even though, were it a car, it would have exceeded the interstate speed limit in ninety-percent of the country.

I would hope that a wise former baseball player, with the richness of his playing experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion about a game situation than someone who hasn’t lived the life. But I’m not so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the game. Many are so capable. Gary Cohen could only play in Soviet Russia—when he picks up a bat, it swing hims—yet he is a tremendous announcer.

However, for someone who didn’t play the game to understand its nuances takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. Personal experiences influence the facts that announcers chooses to discuss. But this is not to say that only former players can understand the game. Sometimes they emphasize their own experience to the exclusion of others, as is the case with Tim McCarver, for whom baseball has not changed one iota since the day he retired in 1979, and Joe Morgan, whose greatness on the diamond is inversely proportional to his awfulness in the booth. For a former player to become a good announcer, he must extrapolate from his experiences into areas which with he is unfamiliar. Because what comes naturally to white, colleged-educated, broadcast journalism majors might not come easy to a poor kid from Oakland nicknamed “Mex.”

This is why the best Supreme Court broadcast team working today consists of Gary, Keith, and Ron.

Sotomayor unfit for the Court because she agrees with Rauchway.

On his authority as Admiral of the battlestar Galactica, Edward James Olmos addresses a crowd in the United Nations chamber and gets them to condemn the use of the constructed term [edited] “race” with a shout of “So say we all!”

Apart from the, I believe, indisputable general awesomeness of this moment, I’m not sure there’s that much else to say. The poor UN official who set Olmos off by using the word “races”—in quotation marks—was pretty good-humored about it.

Links explaining the occasion here.

Via Sadly, No! I learn that the mayor of Los Alamitos—a city whose proximity to Los Angeles disqualifies its citizens from claiming they live behind the Orange Curtain—recently sent the city council an email entitled “No Easter egg hunt this year.”  It contained this picture:


When questioned as to the propriety of sending poorly-executed racist photo-shops to government employees, the mayor claimed to be “unaware of the stereotype that black people like watermelon.”  Putting the issue of what exactly is “funny” about the picture in the absence of said stereotype aside, there are some conservatives who claim that the real problem here is hypersensitive blacks and their “rat-fink” instincts:

The fink who ratted him out was a black woman who sacrificed friendship to the motto, “Never Fail to Be Offended.”

His commenters agree:

How dare [defenders of the rat-fink] be offended at everything? So far the list is getting pretty long: fried chicken, monkeys, watermelons, poverty, any number of words in several languages referring to the color Black, any mention of Africa as anything less than the greatest cultural center in the history of mankind, any suggestion that there is some kind of bell shaped curve in the intellectual and physical attributes that all humans share and that Blacks are not clustered at the far right percentile [ . . . ] There is one thing that is certainly apparent and that is that Blacks seem to have a serious genetic deficiency in the lack of a sense of humor.

Being offended because they cannot violate decorum with impunity is bad enough.  This is worse:

What is wrong with Blacks liking watermelons? Should a Scot go crazy if somebody mentions plaid? Should a Norwegian go nuts if somebody has an axe or a spear or a horned helmet and God forbid a mention of lefsa or lutefisk? Should an Irishman go berserk and start screaming discrimination if somebody has a potato?

Scotland is a country.  Norway is a country.  All the other countries mentioned in this comment are countries.  Black is not country.  Even if it were there would be nothing wrong with liking watermelon per se.  The same cannot be said of the claim that blacks have a special affinity for watermelons.  Why?

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