Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Buenos Aires

Acá me tienen, en BA. I haven't been posting much, doing a study abroad program in Buenos Aires after giving a lecture on Paul Celan in Spain (in Spain). I met a fellow blogger Natalia J., and saw a long-lost cousin who is a career foreign service officer stationed here at the American Embassy. We had dinner one night and then went to the race track another day. I won about 5 bucks by betting on the favorite to win. I had never been to a race track before. I am not planning on writing much here since my efforts will be directed toward learning and teaching about Argentina.

I am on Jorge Luis Borges. A good street to live on for 3 weeks. We share the same birthday, though he was born 61 years before me.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Another reader writes to say

thank you. He has a contract with a major publisher and owes both me and Thomas: "I discovered you in grad school back in '09 or '10, and really settled into a good writing life during my dissertation, in part, as a result of reading your blogs."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

25. Music, when soft voices die

This poem by Shelley... I found it first on an lp my parents had, Vincent Price (!) reads Shelley.

I've always felt it had a kinship with Bécquer's: "Los suspiros son aire..."

It was my Platonic idea of the perfect lyric poem.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Note from a student

Got this note in my box today:
Beginning my graduate education in your Spanish Poetry class was a surprising blessing that emerged from your challenging & rigorous expectations, and though I certainly did not expect to work with you as closely as I did, I am very thankful that we found ourselves in Lawrence at the same time. Your influence has undoubtedly improved the ideas that took shape in this dissertation, and your profound affirmation of literary and cultural work continue to inspire me as I transition into my professional life.

Thank you for questioning my ideas; thank you for challenging me to express myself more clearly; thank you for modeling a delightfully percussive intellectual practice.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Toasted peanuts
Red pepper flakes
Fried To-fu slices
Mandarin Oranges

Lime juice
Sesame oil
honey-ginger white balsamic vinegar

Combine ingredients to taste. Enjoy!

Monday, April 20, 2015

What can you do?

First, what can you do? What are your actual skills?

[for example, I can make a martini, say, or evaluate a journal article in my field]

Second, how necessary and valuable are these skills?

[this is the value that others place on these skills, humanity in general]

Third, how uncommon are they?

[If I can make a martini, but so can millions of other people, this skill is not going to be as highly prized. This factor is independent of the second criterion. For example, making a fried egg is a valuable skill, but almost anyone could be taught to do it.]

A fourth factor is more tricky to define. There are things that are not particularly valuable, in intrinsic terms, and not particularly rare. However, with certain skills, society has determined that the very highest level of development is immensely more valuable. Hitting a golf ball with a club, for example, lacks any social value, per se. Many people can do it, also. But doing it very, very well brings enormous economic benefits. You cannot get paid for hitting a golf ball; in fact, usually you pay for the privilege. A very tiny percentage of people who can do this better than anyone else, though, can get paid large sums of money.

Situations in which we give extraordinary rewards to ordinary skills provoke outrage. Say, speaking fees in the thousands, for those who are not great speakers.

A rare skill might not have any value for anyone else, so its rarity in itself brings no added benefit.


Evolution is a also a topic that suffers a religious distortion. There is no significant secular opposition to evolution, not based on religious motives. Once you realize that then the issue becomes much more clear.