November 09, 2007

Or, he couldn't hear me over the music

In anthropocentric society, a harsh judgment is given to those that destroy or seek to destroy the creations of humanity. Monkey-wrench a bulldozer and they will call you a vandal. Spike a tree and they will call you a terrorist. Liberate a coyote from a trap and they will call you a thief. Yet if a human destroys the wonders of creation, the beauty of the natural world, then anthropocentric society calls such people loggers, miners, developers, engineers, and businessmen.

-Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society,
as quoted in "Neptune's Navy", by Raffi Khatchadourian,
The New Yorker, Nov. 5, 2007

One bright morning in the middle of the night,

Two dead boys got up to fight,

Back to back they faced each other,

Drew their swords & shot each other

A deaf policeman heard the noise,

And came to claim the two dead boys,

If you don't believe this lie is true,

Ask the blind man, he saw it too.

-American nonsense rhyme, dating back at least fifty years. Several hundred variants are recorded in the U.C. Berkeley folklore archives. This one is recorded by Sarah Clifford, who adds a note reasoning that perhaps the “two dead boys” are Truman & Stalin, & the whole nonsense logic follows that of the “cold war,” which waged in the middle of the night long after they died. By that thought, could the “deaf policeman” be indicative of Reagan?
Update: There's a nice personal essay about this poem on this man's blog.


Date: Tue, 6 Nov 2007 21:18:08 -0800
From:"James Eliot Quill" <>
To:"James Henry Welsch" <>
Subject: An incomprehensible metaphor

Midway through Haruki Murakami's novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I came upon a chapter entitled "The Zoo Attack (or, A Clumsy Massacre)." Perhaps it should be noted that no other chapter title (so far) has been formatted this way. The second paragraph describes an American submarine surfacing in some detail, and concludes that "although in form and shape the thing before her could have been nothing but a submarine, it looked instead like some kind of symbolic sign—or an incomprehensible metaphor." So, yes, Moby Dick (or, the Whale). The great American epic makes a guest appearance in a modern Japanese epic (I don't know enough to make particularly grandiose or well-informed statements here), which you can take as far as your ability to take yourself seriously will allow you to.

The reason I started re-reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was my discovery of a Portland post-modern book club. Of course, the book had already been finished and discussed by the members of the club. It seemed important that I email Billy Callis (the founder) to find out if the Moby Dick reference had been brought up.

I had no time to write this email, however, because I was, at the moment, on my way to see the San Francisco alt-country (maybe) band Or, The Whale. Maybe now you are thinking that I am obsessed with Moby Dick and these coincidences are entirely my fault. You are correct. At the show, I ran into Billy, to whom I hastily attempted to explain how crazy it was that he was at this particular show at this particular time when I was just about to write to him about what I'd noticed. It went something like this:

"Billy, I was just going to write to you about the chapter in TWUBC where he describes a submarine that's a metaphor that has to be Moby Dick and now here you are at the Or, the Whale show. Isn't that completely insane?"

Billy seemed unimpressed. I theorize that when you read enough post-modern fiction, these nerdy confluences of events become the norm. Or, he couldn't hear me over the music. Regardless, I think it's kind of crazy.


Date: Mon, 5 Nov 2007 20:05:48 -0800
From:"James Eliot Quill" <>
To:"James Henry Welsch" <>
Subject: Re: Wartime symphony


On 11/1/07, James Welsch <> wrote:

[Dmitri Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony] the Leningrad had its premiere in Kuybyshev in March 1942. It then made its way around the world, its progress complicated by wartime. As The New Yorker reported in a Talk of the Town item, the score was transferred to microfilm, put in a tin can, flown to Tehran, driven by car to Cairo, flown to South America, & finally flown to New York. Toscanini beat out Koussevitsky & Stokowski for the rights to conduct the Western premiere, which took place on July 19, 1942. Time magazine put Shostakovich on the cover, in his firefighting regalia, with the caption "Amid bombs bursting in Leningrad he heard the chords of victory." The composer became a propaganda symbol for the Allied cause, a profile in courage.

Besieged Leningrad heard the symphony on August 9, 1942, under the most dramatic of circumstances imaginable. The score was flown in by military aircraft in June, & a severely depleted Leningrad Radio Orchestra began learning it. After a mere fifteen musicians showed up for the initial rehearsal, the commanding general ordered all competent musicians to report from the front lines. The players would break from the rehearsals to return to their duties, which sometimes included the digging of mass graves for the victims of the siege. Three members of the orchestra died of starvation before the premiere took place. The opposing German general heard about the performance in advance & planned to disrupt it, but the Soviets preempted him by launching a bombardment of German positions - Operation Squall, it was called. An array of loudspeakers then broadcast the Leningrad into the silence of no-man's-land. Never in history had a musical composition entered the thick of battle in quite this way: the symphony become a tactical strike against German morale.

-Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007), pg. 246


Date: Wed, 7 Nov 2007 01:08:56 -0800 (PST)
From:"James Henry Welsch" <>
Subject: re: re: re: re: puppies re: liege
To:Send an Instant Message "Jenny Ruth Crawford" <>

Jenny Ruth,

I spoke to Shaun on the phone today. We discussed this dog issue. I offered to take it, but there are several considerations. 1) I'll probably go up to Tahoe for thanksgiving, & if I go with George, I probably can't take a dog. 2) maybe either you'll come to tahoe so we could take her in your car, 3) if you stayed here for thanksgiving you just watch the dog here, 4) dogs are beautiful & fun, 5) Shaun is camping this weekend & might stay here early next week, 6) James Quill says he's coming on the 14th, 7) I did okay on the GREs, 8) Where are you?, 9) I have the soundtrack to the Darjeeling movie, 10) I hung out with three brits tonight, 11) I fried chantarelles & clams in butter again tonight, 12) I wish we owned a dog, 13) what are you doing for thanksgiving?, 14) I took a test so now I'm drinking beer again after not drinking only a few beers for the last week, 15) Lee & Eric departed from my parent's & are now in Sacramento with the bus, so I reckon they'll reappear here again if only briefly soon, 16) [...] & the number sixteen.

James Welsch

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