Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Downhill Lie: A Hacker's Return to a Ruinous Sport, by Carl Hiaasen

You might think that the only thing more boring than golf is a book about golf. Especially a book about golf written by a person who isn't good at golf and doesn't even like the game that much. But if the author of the book is Carl Hiaasen, that creates a glimmer of hope that the book just might be somewhat entertaining.

Even though much of the book is a stroke by stroke account of one depressing golf game after another, documenting his lack of progress and his frustration therewith, Hiaasen does intersperse some amusing anecdotes and even manages to wedge in some political commentary:

"It's sobering to contemplate how many bribes have been negotiated in this country during casual rounds of golf. there ought to be a law that anytime a politician and a lobbyist tee off together, the foursome must be rounded out by two FBI agents." (p.119)
What really makes this book worthwhile is its personal tone. Parts of it are presented as actual journal entries, and the overall tone is confessional, full of dramatized self-loathing and Eeyore-like pessimism, made funny with literary skill. Hiaasen's attempts at improving his golf game are also a source of humor--he'll try anything, from a magical pendant to attention-focusing pills (which he keeps misplacing and forgetting to take). He also spends big bucks on books, equipment and lessons, but mostly what he learns is, "when you suck, you suck."

Though he is no big threat on the golf course, scoring-wise, Hiaasen is something of a hazard to wildlife, ironically so, considering his reputation as a nature-lover. He uses his nine-iron to loft bufo toads out of his friend's yard into the neighbor's yard. When rats chew the wiring in his car, he clobbers the whole rat family in its nest with a specially weighted training club. The turtles he beans with errant balls are more in the category of collateral damage, but I still was surprised at his lack of remorse, in light of the fury he has unleashed in his books on habitat destroyers of all kinds.

I've read most of Hiaasen's books and newspaper columns. I have wondered what he is like in real life. This book partly answers the question. Apparently, he is a loner who loves his family. A perfectionist who accepts his limitations. He would be more of a curmudgeon if not for his wife and young son, who keep reminding him that there is fun to be had, and his mother, who keeps him emotionally honest. I predict that he will continue to play golf, even if it continues to make him suffer.

Monday, June 23, 2008

God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, by Adam Nicolson

I have used the Revised Standard Version of the Bible all my life and memorized my Bible verses out of it when I was a child. My only experience with the King James Bible was that we had a big "family Bible" that sat on our coffee table, and occasionally I would leaf through it. It was pretty, but hard to read, both because of the typeface and because of the vocabulary. I was taught that the KJV was an inferior translation because it was derived from earlier translations instead of the Latin and Greek texts. This is the prejudice I held when I picked up God's Secretaries to read the tale of how the King James Bible came to be.

Needless to say, I am less ignorant now that I have read Nicolson's book. The King James Bible did draw on previous versions, but it was put together by a large group of eminent scholars, and they did have the Greek and Hebrew texts as well as the earlier English Bibles. The author does an adequate job of listing and describing many of the people who were involved in the translation that King James commissioned, but there were so many of them that they didn't really have a chance to emerge as individuals in the course of the narrative. I will try to remember that William Tyndale, who produced one of the earlier versions of the Bible upon which the King James version was based, was executed as a heretic before he even finished his translation. I always want to remain cognizant of the blood on the pages of religious history because I believe it is one of our main tasks to be vigilant and steer away from any tendency towards persecution or judgment.

What I like best about God's Secretaries is Nicolson's characterization of the King James Bible itself. He obviously holds it in reverence, and he is not reticent about singing its praises. I came away with a new appreciation for the literary value of this Bible. Numerous examples show passages where the KJV has words carefully chosen for effect, for the rhythm and the majesty of the language. The aim was not just to convey meaning, but to set a tone of authority and grandeur. One of the methods the committee used was that they chose words that carried more than one meaning. This is the Bible as literature, which is appropriate because the message it seeks to convey is not a simplistic one. Here is Nicolson extolling the virtues of the King James Bible, in contrast to a more recent translation:
"...The modern world had lost the thing which informs every act and gesture of...the King James Bible...: a sense of encompassing richness which stretches unbroken from the divine to the sculptural, from theology to cushions, from a sense of the beauty of the created world to the extraordinary capabilities of language to embody it.

"This is about more than mere sonority or the beeswaxed heritage-appeal of antique vocabulary and grammar. The flattening of language is a flattening of meaning. Language which is not taut with a sense of its own significance, which is apologetic in its desire to be acceptable to a modern consciousness, language in other words which submits to its audience, rather than instructing, informing, moving, challenging and even entertaining them, is no longer a language which can carry the freight the Bible requires. It has, in short, lost all authority. The language of the King James Bible is the language...of patriarchy, of an instructed order, of richness as a form of beauty, of authority as a form of good; the New English Bible is motivated by the opposite, an anxiety not to bore or intimidate. It is driven, in other words, by the desire to please and, in that way, is a form of language which has died." (p. 154)
I would have preferred that Nicolson include more specific examples of the translation process, discussing the reasons why the specific words were chosen, including the discussions and arguments. He does have some documentation for that level of detail. Instead he spent more time on the general history of England in the early 17th century, which was too complex to be adequately covered in this limited book. Still, it's a good beginning and I look forward to learning more about the period,when the opportunity arises.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Adventures in Transportation

With my daughter (D) home from college, we have three adults, a van, a car and a bicycle. We all got to where we needed to go this week and here's how it went:

Monday morning, my bike developed a flat tire en route to work. I rode it the last mile on just the tire, no air—this is possible because I have heavy duty tubes and fat tires. Possible, but not recommended. I got to work on time, though. In the afternoon, D picked me and the bicycle up with the van and drove me home. I went to Walmart to buy a tube for the flat tire, but they didn't have any so I drove to the bike shop and bought a premium, puncture-proof tube. Came home and fixed the flat.

On Tuesday, I got on the bike to ride to work, but the wheel was not adjusted correctly and I didn't have time to fix it. My husband (R) gave me a ride to work, I got there on time. I planned to take the bus – actually, two buses -- home. I went to catch the first bus at the end of the day and found that my regular bus stop has been eliminated. I walked a mile and a half (in the rain) to where the second bus could pick me up. When I put my dollar in, driver said the fare is $1.25 now. So it's a good thing I missed that first bus because I only had $2.00. I got home, dried off and changed my clothes. Then I got a phone call from D to tell me the car she had driven to work was not running right, something about the transmission, apparently. I took the van to where the car was, added transmission fluid, and tried to drive it, but it was really bad. I drove in second gear to the garage, left it there and walked home. D drove the van home. That evening, I fixed the bike so it would be sure to be ready to go next day.

Wednesday morning, I called the garage. They said the car needed a new transmission. After discussion we agreed they would install a rebuilt transmission and a new clutch. I bicycled to work; D used the van to get to her job; R worked at home. Wednesday afternoon, I bicycled to the garage, put the bike in the trunk, and drove home.

Thursday, I rode the bike to and from work without incident. D used the car to get to her job. R used the van for his purposes; all systems were normal.

Friday: TGIF! D called me at work at 1 p.m. - R was at the pool and had locked his keys in the van. D was at the house and didn't have a key to the van. I described where my copy of the key was hidden at the house, and explained that the key is a copy and might not work right away (R couldn't make it work last time but I used it to start the van after he gave up on it). D drove the car to the pool, R unlocked the van and drove home.

On Saturday morning, I drove R to the airport so he could catch a plane to visit his older daughter.

We are all hoping that our transportation situation is a little less eventful in the immediate future.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Some Sights from my Commute

Here's a tree I pass every day on my commute--it's a great example of an interesting species. It used to be a palm tree, but a fig seed germinated in the top of the palm tree, grew roots and tendrils that surrounded the palm tree, then proceeded to grow branches and take over, but the palm tree is still alive in there; you can see the fronds reaching up for their needed sunlight, out of the middle of the strangler fig.

After I pass the strangler fig, I am in an upscale neighborhood, home to rich people who keep their lawns nice and live in old, overpriced homes, not McMansions. This one house sticks out like a sore thumb, not because the inhabitants are Republicans--I'm sure that's common in these parts--but because they are radical and tacky about it. Their yard is surrounded by a high wall with a locked iron gate. Their flagpole flies the American flag, the Republican Party flag, the Confederate flag, and a pirate flag. Their vehicles are covered in bumper stickers, which leave no doubt about their ideological leanings:

  • Fairness Doctrine (circle/slash) IT'S NOT FAIR - IT'S COMMUNISM
  • Picture of Hillary Clinton (circle/slash)
  • HRC (circle/slash)
  • NEWT 2008
  • NEWT 08

I've never met these people, but if I ever do, I have something to tell them: It doesn't annoy me if you work hard and smile. Your bumper stickers amuse me. However, I do find it somewhat irritating that you are BLOCKING THE BICYCLE LANE with your big ol' truck: