Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Puritan Contribution to a Complaints Choir Song

So, over Thanksgiving at my sister's, I watched some YouTube videos of Complaints Choirs (see November 8, 2007 post for info and links on Complaints Choirs.) Birmingham, England, wins hands down -- we were singing along with the chorus; the St. Petersburg, Russia, choir seems to have a lot of issues with love; the small island off/in British Columbia really doesn't like tourists; Penn State's choir probably cracks up those on campus, but doesn't do much for others (i.e., my sister and me;) the Helsinki choir's song was good, but nobody much seemed to smile; the Chicago choir was a trailer for a future video. Thanks to whoever did all the subtitles.

I thought of complaints choirs today when reading my transit book: Eve LaPlante's Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall (NY: HarperOne, 2007.) Sewall was one of the Salem witch trial judges, and the only one to repent of his role. His public repentenance is pictured in the mural in the Chamber of the House of Representatives in the Massachusetts State House, with the title "1697 Dawn of Tolerance in Massachusetts Public Repentance of Judge Samuel Sewall for his Action in the Witchcraft Trials."

Salem Witch Judge is a fascinating book, and it's making me realize how little I know about the trials. For instance, the persons who were executed were the ones who asserted their innocence; those who admitted witchcraft were not executed. (Read the book to find out why.) Giles Corey, who refused to answer any questions, or to enter any plea, remained silent to protect his property from confiscation. He was pressed to death in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a plea. (Maybe waterboarding would have worked better?)

The complaints choir aspect came in with respect to Sewall's poem for the new century (the 18th): the first verse reads: Once More! Our God, vouchsafe to shine: Correct the coldness of our clime. Make Haste with Thy impartial light, And terminate this long dark night." (p. 231.) Even the Puritans could complain about winter.

Post-Salem trials, Sewall wrote the first anti-slavery tract in the colonies; he's considered the first poet to write about the American landscape as an American, rather than a displaced English citizen; and (I haven't read this far yet) he started to think of women as the equals of men. (What was the world coming to?)

Ever the teensiest, lady-like, bit of a complaint about this book: IT DOESN'T HAVE ANY FOOTNOTES! This drives me crazy. One example: at one point the author is quoting Perry Miller, a 20th-century author, about Samuel Sewall's writings. There is a bibliography in the book, but Miller has five entries. There is no way to tell from the titles which one would have the quote. I'd like to read a bit more about Sewall's writings and his position in colonial literature (about which I currently know nothing,) but I'm going to have to first find the books, then see if they deal with what I want. It would have been nice if the author could at least have included a date ("Perry, in [date] noted ....") or something like that. I'll bet Samuel Sewall gave his sources.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Highjacked Mirror

On Sunday, November 18th, someone highjacked my non-work, free, email account, and locked me out.

The highjacker then sent an email from my address that, summarized, says that I am about to leave for Africa to join others working to fight any one of three different problems, in three possible countries, one of which is Nigeria. (Ring any alarms to you?) The email (of course) asks for money: specifically, it asks the recipeient to "borrow me" $1500. The spelling, syntax, and grammar are all a lot poorer than in my own writing.

I first learned of this from my sister, who humorously called to ask if I were still coming for Thaksgiving. I then had calls from two other people, and, today, had all sorts of emails, most but not all in response to my email alerting people to the highjacking.

This experience is serving as a mirror, showing how I am seen by others. I now know that I am seen by some friends/acquaintances as someone who could pop off to Africa, at what seems at least to me to be the last minute, to work on a service project. I'm glad to know that I am easily seen as public spirited and international.

On the other hand, I am a bit crabby that those same people who assumed I really am going on this trip also accepted that I could write something with so many mis-spellings and errors in both grammar and syntax. "Borrow me" some money? Give me a break - I don't write like that. Bad mirror!

Of course, if those friends who believed the post would go ahead and send me the requested money at home, I could forgive them their acceptance of me as the author of the post. (New mirror: devious schemer.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thank you Oracle for Free4All

On Saturday, November 10th, Oracle sponsored Free4All, free admission to twelve museums located in what Leah Garchik of the San Francisco Chronicle calls (and the rest of us should call) Culture Gulch, the area around 3rd and Mission, more or less. Hats off to Oracle, even if they may have done this just to make up for the inconvenience of closing a block or two of Howard Street for a week for its annual (or is it semi-annual: surely they just had one) conference.

One of the musuems I visited that day was the Musuem of the African Diaspora (MoAD.) The two floors of exhibit space were devoted entirely (as far as I could tell: I am eminently able to miss small rooms off to one side) to "Hungry Planet: What the World Eats." This has little to do with the African diaspora, but is fascinating. The exhibit consists of large color photos of families from around the world, seated/standing with a full week's purchases of food, both groceries and takeout. Text tells a bit about the family, and lists everything purchased, with prices in US dollars. A small exhibit included shots of fast food places around the world -- mostly US firms, but some local ones.

The galleries were crowded, probably due to the free day (well, that's why I was there,) and there were lots of families. Some parents used different photos to point out to their child/children that not everyone has as much to eat as we do in this country. Among the adults, there was lots of conversation too. It was all fascinating, even to a non-foodie like me. I recommend this exhibit, but there's also a companion book, which won the 2006 James Beard Foundation Book Award, in case you can't get to the museum. The exhibit continues through January 20, 2008.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Good heavens -- I found someone who's not in Wikipedia

Plowing my way through a list of books in our library ( well, ok, to be honest, through our card catalog, what remains of it,) I found a great title: Impressions of Dante and of the New World, with a Few Words on Bimetallism, by John Walter Cross, 1840-1924. (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1893.) Like some bloggers today (moi?) Mr. Cross obviously free associated all over the place.

A Barney search (see October 9, 2007, post for explanation of term) produced a manuscript collection in Cambridge University, but nothing else for this particular John Walter Cross, although a number of hits for others of the same name.

Hence the title: not in Wikipedia. I had begun to think that everyone could be found there. Does this mean Mr. Cross is excruciatingly dull, inadequately infamous, or just plain forgotten today? His book title is so odd I'd like to learn more. Guess I will have to turn to some print sources.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

It's a small world someone taught to sing in perfect harmony

Today's (Nov 8th) Jon Carroll column in the San Francisco Chronicle (for some reason, I can't link to Carroll's site: go to http://www.sfgate.com/ and click on columnists, then on Carroll) reports on the international Complaints Choir movement, started by Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen.

First, form a choir of good singers. (Good, to forestall subsequent complaints about the singing, presumably.) Next, write a song full of complaints. Then videotape the choir singing the song and put the video on YouTube for all to appreciate. There's already about an hour's worth of songs from different choirs, per Carroll: search YouTube for complaints choir.

So far the choirs are from Finland, Germany, England, and Canada. Since he quotes from the Finnish one, it appears to be in English. One of its complaints: "In the public sauna they never ask if it's ok to throw water on the stones." That does it -- I'm scratching Finland from my list of courteous countries to visit.

I don't have a computer at home, and can't watch YouTube at work due to monitoring, plus I can't watch it at a Public Library due to noise, so now I'm really looking forward to visiting my sister over Thanksgiving: in addition to eating all the Thanksgiving foods our mother used to make, I can also listen to Complaint choirs on her (my sister's) computer.

(Title is a mash-up of that annoying "It's a small world" song from the Disneyland ride -- annoying because it remains with you for life -- and the line "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony" from the really old Coca Cola ad -- the song was so popular it was expanded and put out on vinyl or at least played on the radio.)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Paper Security Blankets

On October 28, 2007, my local newspaper printed a book review by Monica Hesse that originally appeared in the Washington Post. (No link as the Washington Post requires registration to use.) Ms. Hesse was noting/reviewing four new books aimed at helping people successfully use YouTube, Second Life, MySpace, and the iPhone. The last book wasn't mentioned in the review -- it was cut in my paper from the longer original -- but the cover is shown along with the other three covers in an accompanying illustration. The book is many times larger than the iPhone itself.

The review quotes Don Norman, author of "The Design of Future Things" as saying "Technologies really are being packaged in a way that's not intuitive or usable to the consumer." Ms. Hesse goes on to say "Call it the Case of the Missing Instruction Manual. New technologies have always needed some sort of user guide. In 1532, the hand plow was sold with one." (Who knew?)

On the one hand, it's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one that finds things on Web 2.0 (not to mention the rest of life) non-intuitive. (See previous posts about trying to figure out our new phones at work.) On the other hand, if I were interested in Second Life, or considering an iPhone, knowing that books have been published to explain how to use them just might reinforce my feeling that either or both are beyond me. And on what is now the third hand (I always think of the Hindu goddesses at this point, although they have an even number of arms/hands,) I can feel comfortable with my lack of interest in using any of the four items the books cover.

(Title of this post is from Ms. Hesse's review: "Though studies have shown we retain information learned online as well as that learned onpage, we still appreciate a paper security blanket.")

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Snail Mail: Sometimes Faster than a Speeding Bullet

I recently took a giant step into the twenty-first century by signing up for Netflix. (My local library didn't have set four of Foyle's War.)

The Netflix discs are sent by US Postal mail. I am amazed at the speed involved, and would love to know how the rest of my mail, both outgoing and incoming, can zip through the US postal system as quickly as the Netflix mail does.

Example: Saturday I put my return envelope in the mailbox at the PO about 9am. On Monday, by 8:30 am, I have an email from Netflix that they have received the disc. Later that day, I get an email that they are mailing the next disc, which should arrive the next day. And sure enough, it does.

I, of course, can't keep up: the disc then sits around until I have time to view it.