Archive | February, 2012

A side. Augustus Baker Peirce: my favorite American-Australian

27 Feb

While until now I haven’t been keeping up on Pacific Rim research that has appeared since my book came out, I’ve decided to go back online and check on some of my favorite characters and stories.  And lo and behold, there was a wonderful portrait of Augustus Baker Peirce, one of the book’s important figures, the picaresque hero of the gold rush era in Australia!  Peirce was an American who jumped ship in Melbourne in 1859, and stayed there, having wild adventures, until returning to Massachusetts in the early 1890s.  (The photo was found in the Holtermann Collection at the State Library of New South Wales, As I write in my book,  Peirce “worked at various times in his 30 years in the colony as a sign painter, a butcher, a snake-oil salesman, a theatrical set designer, a sailor, an actor, a singer, a river boat captain, a photographer and …panorama painter”(Images of the Pacific Rim, p. 37).  He wrote a marvelously exaggerated story of his exploits, Knocking About, published by Yale University Press in 1924, which served as an important source of information for me on popular imagery in the gold country.  He really looks a lot like I expected him to look!

The Holtermann Collection also includes a wonderful image of one of Peirce’s many ventures, a travelling tent show, photographed by the inimitable Merlin & Bayliss:

That must be Perice in the cape.  So satisfying to see all of these remarkable images appearing online.

B side. El Segundo Blue

22 Feb

The famously obscure El Segundo Blue Butterfly is back in the news.  According to the El Secundo Herald, after a dramatic comeback in 2010 (30% on 2009), 2011 saw a modest 8% rise in population to between 120,000 and 125,000 estimated individuals.

El Segundo Blue cover El Segundo Herald

B side. Read recently

21 Feb

Rudolfo Anaya. Bless me, Ultima.

Dave Barry. Tricky Business.  The tongue-tied guy gets the girl.

Josh Bazell.  Wild Thing.  The appendix is a good summary of our failure to cope with environmental collapse/global warming.

Peter S. Beagle.  The Last Unicorn.  As plausible as any fairytale and surprisingly moving.

Beowulf (Heaney trans.)

Lawrence Block.  A Drop of the Hard Stuff.  pg 56 Buddha:  It is your dissatisfaction with what is that is the cause of all your unhappiness.

—–.  Hit Me.  The assasin Kellere specializes in colonial stamps.

Humphrey Carpenter.  J.R.R. Tolkein: A Biography.

D. Chamowitz.  What a Plant Knows.  Senses of plants — all but hearing.

Wu Cheng-en.  Monkey (Waley trans.)

Lee Child.  The Affair.  How Reacher’s military career ends.

Lee Child.  81 Hours.  What does Reacher look like, vis p 230.

Classical Hindu mythology: a reader in the Sanskrit Purāṇas (Dimmitt and Buitenen trans., Temple U.)

Tom Coyne.  A Course Called Ireland: A Long Walk in Search of a Country, a Pint, and the Next Tee.  Coyne walks from course to course around Ireland.  Very light hearted, frequently funny.  He often plays in the rain, spends time drinking in the clubhouses.

Robert Crais. Taken.  Joe Pike, Elvis Cole; honorably not depicting violence against women while employing it to denigrate those who are.  It seemed dangerous to trust him to do so.

Philip K. Dick.  Ubik.  Re-reads very well.

The Diné: Origin Myths of the Navaho Indians (Aileen O’Bryan, BAE Bull. 163, 1956).  Told by Sandoval (Hastin Tlo’tsi hee), trans. by Sam Ahkeah.  How is this available for inexpensive purchase?  The place of emergence into the present world (the 5th) was a lake near Pagosa Springs

Genesis.  (R. Crumb’s illus., he does like the farm girl too!)

Rubén Darío.  Selected Writings.  (Penguin)

Gilgamesh (Mitchell compiler)

Sara Gran. Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead.  Surprisingly affecting solution and denouement.

Robert Harris.  The Fear Index.

M. John Harrison.  Nova swing.

Michael Harvey.  We All Fall Down.

Illiad (Mitchell new trans.)

Benjamin Kunkel, How Much Is Too Much?, London Rev. Bks.  3 Feb. 2011 (

Tony Kushner.  Brundibar.  Maurice Sendak reported that this was his favorite book.  Kids need help to chase off a bully so they can sing for milk to heal their sick mother.

Percival Leigh, “The Chemistry of a Pint of Beer.” Household Words No. 47 (15 February 1851): 498-502.

Elmore Leonard.  Raylan.  Author as an indigenous speaker p 163 [break] “What Raylan did the next morning, he watched the house where Carol was staying from a patch of trees in Woodland Hills, kept watch close to two hours before the limo arrived. ”   I wonder how vernacular American English sounds in Delhi.  And Rita is so nice to Pervis.

—–.  Valdez Is Coming.  Internal dialogue makes this book,  also the woman Gay Erin.

Elias Lonnrot. Kalevala (Bosley trans.)

Lisa Lutz.  Trail of the Spellmans.  Best of the series for her affection for the characters.

Julie Mars.  Rust.  Touching sketch of attachment and affection.  Margaret has Rico teach her how to weld.

Walter Mosely.  Merge and Disciple.  Extra-terrestrial mind-melding.

Ryu Nutsyse.  10 Billion Days & 100 Billion Nights.

Niebelungenlied (Hatto trans.)

Odyssey (Fagels trans.)

Robert Parker.  Sixkill.  A flawless private eye procedural novel.

Thomas Perry.  The Informant.  The Butcher’s Boy meets Elizabeth Waring DOJ.

Alice and Martin Provensen.  Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm.  Arguably one of the best books to read with a toddler at your side.

October 9.  Thomas D. Seeley.  Honeybee Democracy.  Princeton 2010.  Bees reproduce by swarming.   Seeley describes the science of discovering how they decide on a new hive and how they get to it.

Shakespeare.  Romeo and Juliette.  Royal Shakespeare Company.  I always wondered who Romeo’s first love was.  So, Romeo just walks up to Juliette and starts kissing her while her nurse stands by?  If Juliette had told her nurse what she was doing Romeo would have lived.

Robin Sloan.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  Gerritszoon’s type font.  What a goofy adventure.

O. Steinhauer.  Nearest Exit.  On conspiracies, p 237, “The CIA couldn’t have pulled it off; not JFK, not 9-1, not Katrina.”

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.  The Hidden Life of Deer.  of monarch butterflies: “struggling on with their astonishing, important lives.”

—–.  The Social Life of Dogs.

—–.  Tribe of the Tiger, Cats and Their Culture.

G. Willow Wilson.  Alif the Unseen.  430pages, but describing it to people as you read it is a series of fun misdepictions.  The attraction the being Sakina has as a cat to Alif, the hero, is interesting.

Women artists of the WPA.  Mt. Diablo Pictorial History.  WPA Area No. 7. San Francisco, CA.  Sponsored by the State Division of Parks.

B side. Usagi

21 Feb

I looked so hard to find usagi. I only have an image.


Usagi Seattle

A side. Walter Benjamin on The Otter

18 Feb

Many of you know–if you see how many of my ZooBorns shares  on Facebook involve them–that I love otters.  And Benjamin is my favorite German aphorist/philosopher/essayist.  So the following is the perfect essay for a Friday share.

This is from his wonderful book, Berlin Childhood around 1900, Howard Eiland, trans.,  Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006:

The Otter

One forms an image of a person’s nature and character according to his place of residence and the neighborhood he inhabits, and that is exactly what I did with the animals of the Zoological Garden. From the ostriches marshaled before a backgrotmd of sphinxes and pyramids, to the hippopotamus that dwelt in its pagoda like a tribal sorcerer on the point of merging bodily with the demon he serves, there was hardly an animal whose habitation did not inspire me with love or fear. Rarer were those which, by the location of their housing alone, already had something particular about them: inhabitants of the outskirts, mainly—of those sections where the Zoological Garden borders on coffeehouses or the exhibition hall. Among all the denizens of these regions, however, the most remarkable was the otter.  Of the three main entry gates, the one by Lichtenstein Bridge was closest to the otter’s enclosure; it was by far the least used entranceway, and it led into the most neglected part of the garden. At that point, the avenue which welcomed the visitor resembled, with the white globes of its lampposts, an abandoned promenade at Eilsen or Bad Pyrmont; and long before those places lay so desolate as to seem more ancient than the baths of Rome, this corner of the Zoological Garden bore traces of what was to come. It was a prophetic corner. For just as there are plants that are said to confer the power to see into the future, so there are places that possess such a virtue. For the most part, they are deserted places—treetops that lean against walls, blind alleys or front gardens where no one ever stops. In such places, it seems as if all that lies in store for us has become the past. Thus, it was always in this part of the Zoological Garden, when I had lost my way and strayed into it, that I was granted a look over the edge of the pool that welled up here, as in the middle of a spa. This was the cage of the otter. And a cage it was, for strong iron bars rimmed the basin in which the animal lived.  A small rock formation, constructed with grottoes, lined the oval of the basin in the background.  It had no doubt been conceived as shelter for the animal, but I never once found it there. And so time and again I would remain, endlessly waiting, before those black and impenetrable depths, in order somewhere to catch sight of the otter. If I finally succeeded, it was certainly just for an instant, for in the blink of an eye the glistening inmate of the cistern would disappear once more into the wet night. Of course, the otter was not actually kept in a cistern. Nevertheless, when I gazed into the water, it always seemed as though the rain poured down into all the street drains of the city only to end up in this one basin and nourish its inhabitant. For this was the abode of a pampered animal whose empty, damp grotto was more a temple than a refuge. It was the sacred animal of the rainwater. But whether it was formed in this runoff of the rains, or only fed from arriving streams and rivulets, is something I could not have decided.  Always it was occupied to the utmost, as if its presence in the deep were indispensable. But I could easily have passed long, sweet days there, my forehead pressed up against the iron bars of its cage, without ever getting enough of the sight of the creature. And here, too, its dose affinity with the rain is manifest. For, to me, the long, sweet day was never longer, never sweeter, than when a fine- or thick-toothed drizzle slowly combed the animal for hours and minutes. Docile as a young maiden, it bowed its head under this gray comb. And I looked on insatiably then. I waited. Not until it stopped raining, but until it came down in sheets, ever more abundantly.  I heard it drumming on the windowpanes, streaming out of gutters, and rushing in a steady gurgle down the drainpipes. In a good rain, I was securely hidden away.  And it would whisper to me of my future, as one sings a lullaby beside the cradle.  How well I understood that it nurtures growth.  In such hours passed behind the gray-gloomed window, I was at home with the otter. But actually I wouldn’t become aware of that until the next time I stood before the cage.  Then, once again, I had a long while to wait before the glistening black body darted up to the surface, only to hurry back almost immediately to urgent affairs below.

B side. Calligraphic skill.

13 Feb


This weekend at an antiquarian book fair, local members of the  California Society for Calligraphy were writing people’s names on slips of paper.  I prevailed on Jane Shibata to pen the society’s initials in my day book.  A good sport with an astounding sense of geometry, wrote this logo in black and blue one off on the spot.

I had to go back Sunday to ask her name.  Avoiding the entry fee was fun.  Just as we arrived on the first visit, the exhibitor from 414 offered free entry tickets to Erika and me and a couple of others waiting to pay to get in.  On our way out, I gave my ticket to someone from the Huntington Library who had loaned her ticket to someone with a task in the hall.  On Sunday, I dressed the part in a sport coat and brown shoes, hoping to talk my way in using fliers from the first day.  At the gate two attendants and a supervisor were talking to someone earnestly so I held up a semblance of the ticket, a colorfully printed slip of paper from a dealer, and walked through.

B side. Bite the heal of the oppressor.

2 Feb

And sometimes the world is wonderful and bites the heal of the oppressor.

The conservatives would frustrate a non-profit women’s health care provider.   Susan G. Komen Fndn withdrew financial support from Planned Parenthood.

I know Planned Parenthood from my youth for giving my girlfriend something for a “navy wives'” infection and, importantly, birth control pills without the cost of a doctor’s visit.  We didn’t have any money.

According to their supporters, that’s still the case.

In the heat of the moment, lots of folks have sent them money.  We got a phone call, the pleasant woman wanted us to set up a monthly gift!  An impassioned statement of support has gone viral.

We should address ourselves to the people at the Komen Foundation.  Planned Parenthood does further their goals.  Really, who else will look after these women but Planned Parenthood?  Certainly not the conservatives.

Is there anything like a conservative version of a women’s health provider which is not government run and offers care to uninsured women?  The answer is “no” which is why it is in the best interest of conservatives themselves to support planned parenthood.

Oppression of women is not negotiable.