Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Drinking and Writing

Should a lowly blogger quibble with the editor of the Claremont Review of Books?

Clearly, Joseph Tartakovsky knows his stuff. His column in the Los Angeles Times about writers and boozin’ cited many examples, from Cratinus to Norman Mailer. Keats, Pope, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac—all were there to toast Tartakovsky’s thesis, that “Intoxication, if not the source of literary creation, creates a cerebral aura congenial to it.”

Wow. That’s why I don’t have a contract yet—I’m not writing drunk!

Seriously, with 1,500 years and hundreds of well known writers to choose from, you are going to find some drunks. But to claim, as Tartakovsky does, that “Wherever you find the pen and ink set, drink is an emblem of vivacity and wit,” is misleading, silly, and insulting.

In no particular order, here are a few writers that come to mind who were not drunks, did not start each day by getting sloshed, and in spite of that, managed to produced some fairly decent prose: Abelard and Heloise, Boethius, Thoreau, Ben Franklin, Nietzsche, Asimov, Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Agatha Christie, Dante, Stephen King (now), Lovecraft, J. K. Rowling, Tolkien and his buddy C. S. Lewis, Anne Rice, Ray Bradbury, Michener, Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, T.S. Eliot, Henry James, Mark Twain, Gore Vidal, David McCullough, Isabel Allende, John Stuart Mill, Maya Angelou, Garcia Marquez, Melville, Orson Scott Card, Ursula Leguin, L. Frank Baum, William Golding, Jane Austen, Rex Stout, Dorothy L. Sayers, Harlan Ellison, H. G. Wells, Terry Pratchett, Daphne du Maurier, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Solzhenitsyn, Cormac McCarthy . . .

Some of these writers (Nietzsche, for instance) were teetotalers, others drank socially, but none, I’m pretty sure, needed a drink to (quoting again) “soothe anxiety and other stultifiers of reflection.” Or to “thaw the thoughts frozen in timidity.”

Does Dr. Tartakovsky have issues?

Getty Images

Apparently I jumped the gun in an earlier post, announcing that Getty Images was partnering to make free pictures available. Presumably, that could still happen, but the latest news is that Getty Images has been bought by Hellman & Freidman, a private equity firm--for $2.4 billion. Details at Unbeige, which seems to be part of Mediabistro.

Don't know where that leaves the partnership with PicScout and free pix deal--hopefully, still viable. Because, blog posts are nothing without pictures, but starving writers can't afford royalties for most of them! They won't sue me for using a logo, will they?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Plaza that Predates Stonehenge Found in Peru

A circular plaza built of rocks and adobe bricks has been found in Peru, north of Lima. Why is that important? The plaza dating back 5,500 years! It was found under the ruins called Sechin Bajo.

This picture comes from Science News and is credited to EPA/El Comercio newspaper. Their story further id's the spot as at a coastal zone and mountain range in the Casma region, in northern Ancash.

The Science News story (apparently taken from El Comercio) says that a relief on one of the walls shows an executioner holding a knife in his right hand and a serpent in his left. The figure has feline teeth.
"'Peruvian archeology now finds itself for the first time with a representation of a figure that endured 3,000 years, until the end of the Moche culture, which is when the figure disappeared, although it almost certainly remained in the minds of the Andean peoples for a long time afterward,' said Jesus Briceno, scientific advisor to the Sechin Bajo project. "

A few miles away is Caral, some 5,000 years old. Caral, according to the Reuters' story, is one of five places in the world where humans began living in cities around the same time. The other sites are Egypt, India, Mesopotamia, and China.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Do-You-Still-Beat-Your-Wife Journalism

Remember that song from the Music Man about gossip? "Pick a little, talk a little, peck a little, talk a little, cheep cheep cheep! Talk a lot, pick a little more."

Is it OK to print nasty rumors about a public person--say, oh, I dunno. . . say a candidate for president--as long as your newspaper story clearly says that the rumors are unsubstantiated?

The New York Times seems to think so. Hey, is it their fault that the top story on my Yahoo screen is "Cindy McCain, like others, stands by man" ? I mean, gee, they said it was an unsubstantiated rumor.

The Poynter Institutes "Everyday Ethics" column has choice words for the Times; the title of today's column is "Repeating what you don't report." Unless you're a journalist or an ethicist, though, here's the bottom line: the New York Times says John McCain was carrying on with a hot DC lobbyist a few years ago. OOOOOOHHHHHH!

As a bleeding heart liberal who is usually rather gleeful when Republican candidates gag on thier own self-righteousness, I have to say this makes me ill. Shame on the NY Times. Glad I've never been a subscriber.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

7000 Year Old Village, and Opportunistic Archaeology

Remains of a Neolithic village in Egypt are being excavated and studied. The village dates back at least 7,000 years, which puts it way before the Pharoahs and makes it the oldest village found in that area. People there harvested barley and emmer wheat, kept pigs as well as herd animals like sheep, and traded for shell ornaments.

The site is about 50 miles SW of Cairo, at the Fayiem depression.

"It's clear that this was not a bare existence that people had here. They made a pretty good life for themselves," says one of the researchers (Willeke Wendrich of UCLA) according to the National Geographic story. More pictures (also courtesy of National Geographic, which funded the dig) are here.

"Farming probably occurred much earlier in Egypt, experts agree, but those first settlements would most likely have been along the banks of the Nile River and would have been obliterated by the periodic flooding and course changes of the river." (from a Los Angeles Times story by Thomas Maugh.)

The story is exciting by itself, but it also points out the opportunistic nature of archaeology. We can't find everything. We only find, by sheer luck, bits and pieces that survive.

No one is rewriting the book on Egyptian history, because of course there were villages in Egypt before the rise of the Pharoahs. Historians were sure of it. But to actually find the remains of one is extraordinary. Fayiem will be studied and we'll know a lot more about how people lived--and lived well--7,000 years ago.

My favorite quote on this topic is from Stuart Piggott's book, The Druids: "Archaeological evidence in itself consists of the accidentally durable..."

Accidentally. If trained PhD's find the site and make careful records, the best they can do is say "We found this, and we think it implies this."

That's the best case. But what often happens is that looters dig up a pot or arrowhead, sell it to someone who fakes a document, and so the guesses made later about "this implies this" are even shakier. Sad, huh?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Gainfully Employed Writers

The writers' strike is settled; we can all go back to vegeing in front of the plasma screen, confident that we will now have quality entertainment rather than a plethora of reality shows featuring people even more stupid than we are (maybe . . . Come to think of it, we're the watchers. Doesn't that make us . . . never mind.)

To celebrate, the Los Angeles Times asked writers to pen Op-Ed pieces for the Feb. 13, 2008 edition. No one wrote anything serious, thankfully, which made the Op-Ed page much more readable that usual. No link--the Times doesn't keep articles up for more than a week or two. But here's a sampling.

Tim Long, writer and Executive Producer of The Simpsons:

I began the strike with lofty plans to write a novel, which soon turned into a novella, which then turned into 13 solid weeks of playing "Guitar Hero III" in my underpants.

Ken Levine, writer for Mash, Cheers, and Frazier:

The great American novel that I started four strikes ago is almost done. I figure one more strike, two at the most . . . So I've got a target date of 2014, but I'm close. Really close. I can feel it.

Frank Pierson, who wrote Dog Day Afternoon:

Write an Op-Ed piece? Sure. Haiku-like
They'll change it
Cut my heart out
Old story.

I'm so glad they're back at work. I want those literary agents free to deal with ME.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

going green

A friend sends me an announcement about a big scirptwriting contest: Scriptopalooza. Win a ten thousand dollar prize!

Well, I don't write scripts but this caught my eye: The Scriptopalooza Contest is going green. They even have a logo! How does it go green? The contest is now accepting email entries.

Some might call that joining the twenty-first century, rather than going green.
They really do award $10,000, btw.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Archaeology, Los Angeles

Here's a post link to my other blog, about Native American remains in Los Angeles County.

Not to repeat it all here, but during the construction of a pricy condo development, bodies of the Tongva people were found--a cemetery full. There are still people who belong to this tribe--the Tongva are often called Gabrielinos. Rather than turn over the bodies for reburial, the "authorities" (whatever that means) have stored and studied them and apparently wanted to hold on to them a while longer, because. . . um. . . . I dunno.

Read further, if you like. Most Los Angeles folks have never heard of Tongva, but Los Angeles itself is pretty poor at preserving or celebrating its history.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Free Pictures!

Whee! According to, Getty Images is partnering with PicScout to make millions of pictures available for posting on blogs like this! Read the Press Release for details.

I always try to use pictures from free sites (like MorgueFile), but honestly, for many subjects the pickings are slim. So yes, I use pictures from websites and online archives, hoping that the fact that I fully credit the source will spare me from legal consequences. After all, it's just a blog. Really.

But I've used Getty Images for a paid gig and their collection is in-effing-credible. So I will be eagerly monitoring, which is currently in Beta, waiting for them to give me the enchanted entree to The Mystical Archive Palace. My tail is switching back and forth. . . .

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Ernie Pyle at Peace

It may be stretching the point to call a photo of WW2 journalist Ernie Pyle "archaeology" but it definitely falls under the freelance writing heading of this blog.

Pyle wrote dispatches from the battlefronts of World War 2 that touch the heartstrings in a hundred ways. He was killed in 1945, and only now--63 years later--has a copy of a photo of him surfaced, taken just after he died. No gaping wound, just a rather peaceful photo.

Right to the point, here's a link to the USA Today story, that reprints the photo. The photos of D-Day and the Normandy coast here are from the Library of Congress' Prints & Photo Collection, online.

And here is a link to several of Ernie Pyle's wartime dispatches. My particular favorite is "A Long, Thin Line" written from the beaches just after the Normandy invasion in June, 1944. It begins like this:

NORMANDY BEACHHEAD, June 17, 1944 - In the preceding column we told about the D-day wreckage among our machines of war that were expended in taking one of the Normandy beaches.

But there is another and more human litter. It extends in a thin little line, just like a high-water mark, for miles along the beach. This is the strewn personal gear, gear that will never be needed again, of those who fought and died to give us our entrance into Europe.

Here in a jumbled row for mile on mile are soldiers' packs. Here are socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles and hand grenades. Here are the latest letters from home, with the address on each one neatly razored out - one of the security precautions enforced before the boys embarked.

Here are toothbrushes and razors, and snapshots of families back home staring up at you from the sand. Here are pocketbooks, metal mirrors, extra trousers, and bloody, abandoned shoes. Here are broken-handled shovels, and portable radios smashed almost beyond recognition, and mine detectors twisted and ruined.

Here are torn pistol belts and canvas water buckets, first-aid kits and jumbled heaps of lifebelts. I picked up a pocket Bible with a soldier's name in it, and put it in my jacket. I carried it half a mile or so and then put it back down on the beach. I don't know why I picked it up, or why I put it back down.

That last line: "I don't know why I picked it up, or why I put it back down." strikes me as the most profound ever written.