Thought for the Day

“The very beginning of Genesis tells us that God created man in order to give him dominion over fish and fowl and all creatures. Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse. There is no certainty that God actually did grant man dominion over other creatures. What seems more likely, in fact, is that man invented God to sanctify the dominion that he had usurped for himself over the cow and the horse.”

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Milan Kundera, 1984, page 286
[translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim]

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A Cut Above: RIP Gunnar Hansen

I just learned, via MetaFilter, that Gunnar Hansen – the legendary Leatherface from the original version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – has died. I am not much of a horror film fan, but I did admire that movie, which I saw one Halloween, 36 years ago now, at the University of Washington, part of a triple feature that included Night of the Living Dead and Freaks. (As Roger Ebert wrote, “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make a movie like this, and yet it’s well-made, well acted, and all too effective.”)

Six years later, when I moved to this island in Maine, I actually met Leatherface, who, it goes without saying, was nothing like his famous film creation. He was, rather, a low-key, bearded poet from Iceland, who had gotten his role, he told me, solely because he was the largest person the filmmakers happened to know. And over the last 25+ years we remained friendly – not friends, but always happy to run into each other from time to time.

(e) Gunnar @ Jesup

On one such occasion, in October 2013, he spoke at the Bar Harbor library about his new book Chain Saw Confidential, which makes entertaining reading. As I sat listening to him, I realized I should have brought my copy of his earlier, also well-written Islands at the Edge of Time (1993) for him to sign; filed under Travel/Natural History, it’s a look at American’s barrier islands around the curve of the coast from Texas to North Carolina.

Gunnar lived next-door to the library in Northeast Harbor, where in October 2011 – at a party for the retiring librarian, who had worked there almost 40 years – he and I were hanging out when a woman, saying, “Look, it’s two local celebrities,” asked us to pose for her camera. “I don’t know about me, but definitely him,” I said.
(e) Gunnar’s house
As I drove away from the library, I passed his house, whose appearance made me laugh because, with no one home, it looked much like a place where a chainsaw murderer might live. But as Gunnar writes in Chain Saw Confidential: “I certainly did not want to be Leatherface, or even feel his emotions. For me he was a shell, a set of behaviors and postures.”

The real man, sadly no longer with us, was nothing like his image. But happily, I have the photo to back me up if I ever want to say to some lesser imitator: “Sir, I knew Leatherface. I was friendly with Leatherface. And you are no Leatherface.”

(e) Gunnar Hansen & RPS, 10-26-11

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Newspeak about the Tacos of the Tex-Mex, Sexist, Maoist, R&B, Hot-Rodding, NATO, Zydeco Jet Set

Here’s an interesting thought: what words entered the English language the same year you entered the world? The Oxford English Dictionary (aka OED) has a ‘Birthday Word Generator’ that provides you with at least one answer. A more complete selection is available only to subscribers, but thanks to Dave at I found a long list from my birth year, no charge. Insert your year into that second URL to discover your own results.

OED’s site adds, “Please note that the dates given for these words refer to the current first known usage of the word… [It’s] possible that we will find an earlier sense of the words during our research.”

The 451 new words the OED records as coming into use around the same time I arrived include all those capitalized in the headline above. (Tex-Mex, back then, referred to a dialect of Spanish, not a category of food or music.)

Some other newcomers from 1949: aromatherapy, cortisone (discovered that year), lidocaine (marketed that year), Wild Turkey bourbon (trademarked that year), hologram, home schooling, genetic engineering, and the Emmy and telethon. No, its host wasn’t Jerry Lewis – his first marathon for the MDA was three years in the future.

America’s first telethon, hosted by the nation’s top TV star at the time, Mendel Berlinger (aka Milton Berle), raised $1.1 million for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

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Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

The word from Washington: “Searching the Internet for information may make people feel smarter than they actually are, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.”

As usual, large results are being interpolated from a small sample of “152 to 302 participants,” but I did enjoy this from the experiments: “[P]articipants had an inflated sense of their own knowledge after searching the Internet even when they couldn’t find the information they were looking for.” [emphasis added] This is said to have “surprised the researchers,” which indicates they probably need to do more work with confirmation bias.

Let me – after a quick glance at the Wikipedia – show off my own intelligence by quoting:

a) Dante: “Opinion — hasty — often can incline to the wrong side, and then affection for one’s own opinion binds, confines the mind.”

b) Francis Bacon: “The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion … draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside or rejects…”

c) Leo Tolstoy: “I know that most men — not only those considered clever, but even those who are very clever, and capable of understanding most difficult scientific, mathematical, or philosophic problems — can very seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as to oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty — conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives.”

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“Hi Yo, Stravinsky!”

Many years ago (50, by now?) in Mad, Dave Berg published one of his ‘The Lighter Side of’ cartoons showing two boys watching an orchestra on TV. The conductor tells his young audience, “We’re going to play The William Tell Overture. Let’s see how grown up you are — try to listen to it without thinking of the Lone Ranger,” and while they concentrate, the father, in sleeveless undershirt and carrying a beer can, enters the room shouting, “Hi yo, Silver!”

In a similar situation, the other night, I pulled Alice Coltrane’s Reflection on Creation and Space compilation (Impulse, 1973) off the shelf, a free copy I got to review back in those days and hadn’t listened to in living memory. Never was a fan of hers, but then again the album does include performances by, among others: Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, Jimmy Garrison, Charlie Hayden, Joe Henderson, Cecil McBee, and Pharoah Sanders.

Maybe after 40+ years, I thought, I might have evolved enough spiritually to enjoy the record. So I started listening to side four, and near the end realized that Alice, on this track with an orchestra, was playing something I actually recognized. It took a moment, but then I got it…Emerson, Lake, & Palmer.

Alice Coltrane was playing Emerson, Lake, & Palmer? That seemed hard to believe, so when the record ended I grabbed the jacket to check out the name of that last track: excerpts from Stravinsky’s The Firebird. Looks like I’m just as sophisticated as the dad in the Berg cartoon – I’d remembered the music because the group Yes (not ELP) used it, also back in 1973, to open their triple live album Yessongs.

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You Can’t Get There From Here

Yahoo maps, 5-31-15

I was curious yesterday about the distance from Portland to Portland, but discovered that according to Yahoo! Maps, there’s no way to go from one to the other.

Maybe I should have asked the way to Millinocket.

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Mightier than the Sword?

I just found out about Cormac McCarthy’s Olivetti typewriter, which he bought in 1963 for $50 and a mere 46 years, plus about 5 million words, later sold at auction for $254,500. Like many people, I also had a Lettera 32, which I sometimes lugged around the U.S. while on the road. I probably still have it around – maybe out in our shed – but I doubt Christie’s would be interested.

Even better, after the old typewriter sold for more than a quarter of a million dollars, a friend bought McCarthy a like-new Olivetti, the same model, for $11 (plus shipping).

That’s one way of making a living from your art. I always was fascinated by the story – whether it’s true or not – of Picasso going out to eat and then drawing a sketch on the menu or tablecloth to pay for his meals. Or writing checks that never would be cashed because his signature was worth more than the amount he owed. (This eight-minute student video depicts another Picasso legend, that he drew art in the sand that the tide, washing it away, rendered worthless.)

The artist J. S. G. Boggs goes Picasso one better – he draws accurate replicas of money to pay his debts. Although he’s been arrested a few times for counterfeiting (and acquitted), Boggs claims his bills are artworks, not money. His 1999 biography, by Lawrence Weschler, is indeed “highly entertaining” as claimed.

Approximately 50 years, and at least 500 million words, later, I still remember sitting in our living room all day, transfixed, while reading Leon Uris’s 1958 novel Exodus. (This guy read the book again recently, and was less than impressed, but back then I devoured the 600+ pages practically in one sitting.) My favorite moment in Exodus came when the young Dov Landau, ordered to death at Auschwitz, escapes by quickly forging multiple copies of the signature of the Nazi officer who’s condemned him. Now that’s living by your art.

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