Tuesday, December 16, 2014

rereading Scribes and Scholars

Have been rereading Scribes & Scholars, by L.D. Reynolds and N.R. Wilson, largely for the civilised tone and dry wit of Leighton Reynolds.

S&S says of Politian that he had the following response to those who criticised him for being insufficiently Ciceronian:

'Non exprimis,' inquit aliquis, 'Ciceronem.' Quid tum? Non enim sum Cicero, me tamen (ut opinor) exprimo. (Epistle 8.16)

It's the 'ut opinor' that's so lovely. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

LR and We Second That

Lightning Rods has been selected for We Second That, the Slate/Whiting list of great second novels (the 5 best in the last 5 years); Dan Kois has written about it on Slate, here.

The other novels on the list are Eileen Myles' Inferno, Daniel Alarcón's At Night We Walk in Circles, Marlon James' The Women of the Night, and Akhil Sharma's Family Life. (Click on links for reviews.)

I am a little leery of saying much about the plight of the second novel, or LR in particular, since LR was so frequently a casualty of behind-the-scenes machinations; talking about this sort of thing never seems to do much good.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

plus ça change

Gauguin wrote to van Gogh: mon cher Vincent
van Gogh to Gauguin: mon cher Gauguin

So lovely.

van Gogh to Gauguin of discussions with Theo, 3 October 1888:

Dans ces discussions il s’est souvent agi de ce qui nous tient si fort au coeur à mon frere comme à moi, des mesures à prendre pour sauvegarder l’existence materielle des peintres et de sauvegarder les moyens de production (couleurs, toiles) et de sauvegarder à eux directement leur part dans le prix  que ne prennent leurs tableaux actuellement que longtemps après avoir cessé d’etre la propriété des artistes.

In these discussions, it was often a matter of the thing that’s so dear to our hearts, both my brother’s and mine, the steps to be taken in order to preserve the financial existence of painters, and to preserve the means of production (colours, canvases), and to preserve directly to them their share in the price that their paintings at present fetch only when they have long ceased to be the property of the artists.
[translation borrowed from vangoghletters.org out of sheer sloth]

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

not enough letters

The general problem for lack of analytic talent, and for employers as well as employees wasting tons of time in fruitless job interviews, is well illustrated when you compare resumes and job ads below. One of our readers (look at the comments below) mentioned that the skill R (one of the too most popular programming languages used by data scientists, the other one being Python) is never picked up by automated search tools used by recruiters to parse resumes, because it's just one letter. So it does not matter if you have R or not in your resume, if the hiring comparing uses poor automated filtering tools to narrow down on candidates with desired skills, such as (especially and ironically) R.

Vincent Granville, Why Companies Can't Find Analytic Talent

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Rereading correspondence with Mithridates. It occurs to me that I could have posted much more regularly on pp if I had simply copied choice extracts from my emails to my very dear friend M (the correspondence is up to 1000 emails or so). 

Thought of the day. (The day is June 2, 2008.)

I sometimes think about the morbidity rate of particular topics of research. You know when one dreams up a topic one's supposed to make a case that it is underresearched.  Could be there are topics that kill off researchers.  Could be that phalanxes of young graduate students have tackled topics that required them to read Aurora Leigh. Only to get halfway through Aurora Leigh and succumb to horror at the futility of it all.  I can't do this any more, they think, and walk away - leaving the topic underresearched, a temptation to future unsuspecting victims. 

A topic deserving research in its own right, clearly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

play up, play up and play the game

A few days ago the Brattleboro Reformer ran a piece by Mike Faher on a man who repeatedly ignored a relief-from-abuse order, then stole the victim's car and took it to Florida.

The cases against Smith date to summer of 2013, when the former Ludlow man was accused of repeatedly violating an abuse-prevention order. Police said Smith had been text-messaging and calling a Windham County woman with whom he had been ordered to have no contact.

In court documents, Vermont State Police said Smith "texts and calls (the victim) numerous times a day. Too many to document. (The victim) contacts us almost daily about the amount of times Smith has contacted her."

The pattern apparently culminated in Smith taking the victim's car and ending up in Florida, where he has family. He was arrested Aug. 22, 2013, in Florida by the Marion County Sheriff's Department and later was returned to Vermont, where he has been incarcerated since.

Smith eventually pleaded guilty to four violations of an abuse-prevention order and six violations of his conditions of release. He also pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace by phone, and he pleaded no contest to operating a vehicle without the owner's consent. 

The prosecutor in the case, Ashley Harriman, was the one who acted in my cases, first when an obsessive, intrusive neighbor was charged with unlawful trespass, later when he broke in at night threatening to shoot.  The sentence she originally proposed in my case was 2 or 3 to 5 years. The sentence she proposed in the new case was 36 months to 14 years.  In the latter, as far as I can make out, the obsessive behavior took the form of text messages and phone calls; the defendant did not actually break into the house with a weapon threatening violence.  As faithful readers may remember, she settled for 14 months in a plea agreement, without going to trial, because my deposition "showed absence of fear."  The accused served 9 months of the sentence, and was released with no restrictions.

The point to take away from this, anyway, is the startling lack of enforcement of both the abuse-prevention order and conditions of release.  The victim contacted the police almost daily about the frequent violations, and nothing was done.  It was emphatically not the case that, upon the first violation, the person under prevention order was taken into custody so that no further violations could occur.

Now, the victim played the game the way Ms. Harriman likes it to be played: she went right on reporting violations to the police even though the offender remained at large. In other words, she took the risk of reprisals again and again - and she was lucky, as these things go.  The defendant stacked up multiple offenses, duly reported; he did not attack her; he merely stole her car (which has, apparently, not been recovered).

But I was told, when I found a state trooper willing to issue a citation of trespass, that it would be safer to move out of my home to avoid reprisals, in view of the defendant's long criminal record and history of violence.  And I was later told, after the defendant was arraigned and released on bail, with conditions of release, that it was "probably safe to return," but if I had a problem I should call the police. The prosecutor later told me I should report even technical violations, because if there were violations "on a daily basis" this would give leverage to the prosecution - and my victim advocate confirmed that there was no guarantee that a violation would result in the defendant being arrested and taken into custody.  So to play the prosecutor's game I would need not only to report incidents but leave myself open to reprisals by staying where I was, rather than retreating to my sublet in the nearest town.  The final break-in was provoked because the defendant seemed to me to be pushing boundaries, despite a warning that he must be meticulous in observing conditions of release; I sent him an email with a list of actions which would result in an immediate call to the police, and the result was -- an incident which the prosecutor apparently found insufficiently frightening. The idea that failing to call the police after earlier, minor incidents might itself arise from concern for reprisals could not be entertained -- it would implicate both prosecutor and victim advocate in playing games with the victim's safety.

When I was later warned of the defendant's imminent release from jail I went to talk to the Women's Freedom Center, in part to ask whether a stalking order would help.  The question I asked was how consistently these were enforced.  Answer: We'd like to think they're enforced.  Well, I would have liked to think so too, but if they weren't I might be back in a situation where reporting violations did nothing except annoy my faithful admirer.

The piece in the Reformer suggests that my concern was well-founded. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

why i am not a painter

On Saturday I was still working on my display for the Library Vaccine installation at Artists Space - a mere 10 days after the opening of the show.  I asked one of the staff whether I might keep the keys and stay after hours; the curatorial assistant, Rachel Pedderson, approved this, so I stayed on under the impression that a few hours would suffice.  Ended up working straight through the night and on up to noon the following day, which did not, truth to tell, feel like a long session -- this is the way I would work if I were a permanent occupant of the library, which was, after all, the normal state of affairs until I left Berlin two years ago to, erm, finish a book in two months. (It's the stalker's biennial. Yay.)

Progress was slower than usual because I was composing for a wall.  These days, of course, a writer normally pours a stream of words into the bottomless well of the hard drive -- no sooner have I committed this metaphor to my as-yet-unpublished post than I see that it's completely up the creek (and "up the creek" seems to have come through the fingers without a brain-check), and needless to say I can remove all trace of this bodge at negligible inconvenience.  Or leave it up simply to remind us all of the importance of revision... Length is not much of a consideration -- if a post is insanely long I can a) put most of it below the fold, b) break it up into two posts, c) break it up into three posts, (and so on).  At any point I can put one or all versions under considerations in the drafts folder. And if new brilliant ideas occur to me as I develop the one or more separate posts into which I am subdividing my initial post this is GOOD -- or rather, the only point at issue is whether they are, in fact, new and brilliant. Allotting them additional posts is not a problem, nor is allotting them space in the drafts folder.

Composing for a wall, or rather a wall and four tables (whose surface is largely occupied by books), is naturally quite different.  The area available is fixed.  And all of it cannot be used, at least not without a lot of ingenuity. Given yet more time I might have used the expanse above the 6" mark by, say, using increasingly larger typeface and images which would be visible from the ground.  The floorline looks less promising, but no, given time perhaps I could have done something useful such as display a range of scripts which might be new to the visitor.  Prime real estate, however, was limited, and typing on a screen turns out to be poor training for gauging how much wall space a text or image will require to be, not just visible, but apprehensible. I would print things out on tabloid paper and stick them up and find whatever it was going on for several pages (i.e. down to the floor), or extending relentlessly down the length of the wall.  Doing the old CTRL-A and reducing the font size to 10 or even 8 pt -- I believe there are monuments which do the equivalent in cuneiform, but --  Long story short, I seemed to spend a lot of time reformatting pieces of paper and sticking them up and taking them down.  Much of this, lately, courtesy of  Barbara Epler of New Directions, who with unbelievable kindness let me move my suitcases to her apartment last Tuesday and stay there when I was not revising the wall.

For a writer, anyway, the point when a document is "finished" is the point when you stand back, look at the thing as a whole, and realize that it can be improved by drastic structural changes.  New brilliant ideas occur.  But Barbara has another guest coming tomorrow, and I can't think off-hand of anyone else who might have a room to spare, and in any case I am already not sure that all this endless revision was in the spirit of the thing.  So I am heading back to Vermont.  For the time being.

One thought I'd had was that having my library in NYC might make it easier to get somewhere with the Mute Inglorious Nabokovs project -- and if I lived in NYC perhaps it would have done so. I don't really know whether it is possible to enable a complete novice to get the hang of the Greek script and a few elements of grammar and read the first 10 or 20 lines of the Iliad or Odyssey in an hour or so - but here was the library, here were four tables and this splendid space, it looked like a chance to find out.  I don't know whether this could be done with a range of texts in other languages - that is, whether variety would be exciting or just confusing - but it looked like a chance to find out.  Various academic friends had said it is actually very tricky to try something like this in a college setting - it does not fall squarely under the remit of a single department, it is not filling a need which any department has already identified, so it would be hard to get funding.  So I thought a different venue might be a better starting point -- and, of course, have not really managed to use it in this way.

If any readers of pp happen to be in New York in the next month, anyway, there are notes and drafts of stories and the novella Paper Pool, not to mention the chance to sit quietly down with Gordon's Introduction to Old Norse or O'Neill's Reader of Handwritten Japanese.  The gallery is at 38 Greene Street, between Broome and Grand. opening hours Tuesday-Sunday 12-6.

(And now I must catch my train.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Library Vaccine (Artists Space, New York)

A couple of months ago Artists Space invited me to contribute to their latest exhibition, The Library Vaccine. They have shipped my library over from Berlin; I have spent the last 10 days organizing books in a new space and trying to incorporate materials which might draw out themes that weren't obvious. Truth to tell I think I need to do more, though the opening was Wednesday night...

The Library Vaccine will run through November 9; Artists Space is at 38 Greene Street, between Broome and Grand, nearest Metro stop Canal.  If any die-hard pp fans are in town this is a rare chance to see a somewhat wayward collection.  (Having the Turkish edition of My Name is Red seems fairly self-explanatory; having The Name of the Rose in Italian, likewise; having Turkish editions of Pride and Prejudice and Zazie dans le métro, a Polish edition of The Name of the Rose, an Italian edition of Lem's Robot Tales, maybe not so much.) Anyone who drops by in the next few days may find me trying to elucidate the connection between The Whist Book and La vie sexuelle de Catherine M.

More on the exhibition here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

faint but pursuing

Short-changed readers of pp will know I spent a long time dealing with a stalker. He was cited for unlawful trespass in May 2013; in criminal justice, the victim of a crime is simply a witness, and I wasn't sure what the legal implications might be of a witness writing about the whole sorry mess online. I had one Victim Advocate after another, and everything the Victim Advocate du jour led me to be believe turned out to -- have been straightforwardly true in a world where English, though indistinguishable from the language familiar to habituates of pp, has a range of vocabulary with widely different meanings from those we think we know.  In other words, I might ASK my VA whether I could write on my blog; I might very well get an answer; acting on this answer would almost certainly land me in the soup.

For better or worse, the legal machinery has run its course. I've published an abridged account of the saga in the LRB

Saturday, May 31, 2014

any states closer to wysiwyg legal system?

I talked to X's caseworker at the work camp.  The camp has 100 inmates, 70 of whom are sex offenders; the other 30 get a special deal under which each day served earns an extra day off the sentence. X had also earned "good time" at Springfield. This was why an additional 2 months were knocked off the sentence on top of the 3 earned at work camp. The system is not set up to inform victims.

I then talked to the Director of Victim Services of the DOC, who was very helpful. She said if the DOC had been aware of the background of the case they would probably not have recommended the work camp. If the State's Attorney's Office had told me to contact the DOC early on the circumstances would have been taken into account. She said they would discuss ways to ensure victims were better informed.

Somewhat the worse for wear.  I managed to get police intervention after X's second act of trespass in May last year; since then, a staggering amount of mental energy has been diverted from work to trying to understand the legal system of Vermont.  One is always in the position of finding out too late that there was something one needed to know -- and the more often it happens, the more the mind is taking up with wondering what it has missed, whether one asked the right questions, whether one asked the right person, and if not what more one needs to do.

The problem is, it's easy enough to comparison shop state laws: one can find the stalking laws of all 50 states and DC, for instance, on the website of the Stalking Resource Center.  With a little effort one can track down the law on trespass in any state.  What one can't so easily find out is whether the laws are implemented in a way that is intuitive to someone seeking to claim their protection - whether there are states which have a fairly transparent system that does not require telepathy to negotiate. (I thought at one point that it might have helped to hire a lawyer -- but when I sounded out a local lawyer he seemed to think there was nothing he could have done to get a better or more intelligible result.)

I wondered whether any readers had experience of other states.  Is it standard for a simple case of trespass to take months, perhaps up to a year, to resolve? Even if this forces the victim to move out in the interim? Is it standard for Victim Advocates to withhold information, even if state law specifies that it should be provided? Are there states where the victim of a crime would in fact be told if a sentence was curtailed? 

Thursday, May 22, 2014


I spent yesterday morning and early afternoon rushing around organizing paperwork for notices against trespass from me and the other neighbors who share my hill, including, most importantly, the neighbor who had let Edmond Arundell stay rent-free at his place in return for work. I went in to the Sheriff's Department to hand in some forms; the dispatcher was on the phone with this neighbor, who was going out of his way to be helpful.

The dispatcher told me my neighbor had talked to a friend of E's; he was in fact due to be the following day (i.e. today), and there was not enough time to get the papers served at his work camp.

The Sheriff's Department contacted the Sheriff's Department in Windsor, closest to the facility; they could not help. I contacted the Victim Advocate at the DOC, the State's Attorney's Office, the work camp. Everyone agreed that there was nothing to be done. No one could really explain why the correct date had not been revealed in time to act on it.

I talked to a man at the work camp, who explained that every day spent at the work camp knocked a day off the sentence. (E had been there 3 months and they had knocked off 5, so there is presumably some other wrinkle to the formula.)

I spent today talking to an advisor at a women's shelter about the benefit of a stalking order, which sounded likely to do more harm than good. She thought I might do best simply to return for a time to my mother's house in DC.

The neighbors up the hill have very kindly let me come to stay for a few days.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


I went to DC in April  to stay with my mother. On May 2 I got an email from VANS, the Vermont Automatic Notification Service, which sends out updates on an offender's status to registered users.

Edmond Arundell was notionally serving 14 months for breaking into my house at night last August and threatening to shoot me, which is to say that, since he was apprehended and taken into custody in early September, the sentence would presumably end some time in November.  When I say "notionally" I mean that this was the sentence agreed in the plea bargain, which conveys to the uninitiated the notion that the time spent in jail will be 14 months.

Before breaking in he had shown a pattern of obsessive behavior which would have been a clear case of stalking in many states; in Vermont it wasn't so clear; he had been charged with two cases of unlawful trespass in early May.  (I have discussed this briefly in an earlier post.)  What he would do upon release was anyone's guess.

The notification from VANS said he was up for parole or a record review next month, and gave a number I could contact if I wished to participate. It looked as though this was the last month when I could live at my place with the guarantee of not being disturbed: if he was under supervision in the community he might comply with the conditions of his parole or he might not. So I went back to Vermont to snatch of a month to work on a book, and when I got back I began calling the number I had been given. If EA was to be let out I wanted some kind of restriction on his movements so that he could not come back to my place.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Too long for Twitter

Agatha Christe once wrote that, as a girl, she (mis)estimated she would never be so rich as to be able to afford a motor car, but never so poor as to be unable to hire servants.

HT Brad DeLong 


Monday, April 7, 2014

spacing effect

The spacing effect essentially says that if you have a question (“What is the fifth letter in this random sequence you learned?”), and you can only study it, say, 5 times, then your memory of the answer (‘e’) will be strongest if you spread your 5 tries out over a long period of time - days, weeks, and months. One of the worst things you can do is blow your 5 tries within a day or two. You can think of the ‘forgetting curve’ as being like a chart of a radioactive half-life: each review bumps your memory up in strength 50% of the chart, say, but review doesn’t do much in the early days because the memory simply hasn’t decayed much!
the whole thing here...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

the irony of Benn

The irony is that, had Benn stuck to the centre ground that he occupied for his first 20 years in parliament, he may* well have become Labour leader and possibly even prime minister. In the end, however, the die was cast in the early 70s when he opted to throw his weight behind the grassroots uprising and against the party establishment. He once explained his disaffection thus: "I was brought up to believe that when you were elected to parliament, you were elected to control the statute book, the purse and the sword. But I have sat in a commons that has abandoned control of the statute book to Brussels, control of the sword to the White House and the purse to the IMF."
Chris Mullin on Tony Benn here

*Brits. Do not argue with a Brit about moods and tenses. DO. NOT. DO. THIS.