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By Nathan Bierma

Content & Context

The Books & Culture Weblog

This Week:


No, the police didn't actually shut down Avigayil Wardein's lemonade stand in Naples, Florida, as everyone from Matt Drudge and the Associated Press indignantly announced last month. But before long 6-year-old Avigayil had appeared on Letterman and the box of a toy lemonade stand. The story was seized upon as a sour parable of a mean society, though plenty of others were at hand in July. A not-so-professional baseball player reached his bat out of the dugout and felled the nearest mascot, a 19-year-old dressed as a sausage. A New Mexico family sued the priest who gave a scathing eulogy for a man he claimed hardly went to church (second item here). And was it in the chambers of Congress or on an elementary school playground where one lawmaker told another last month to "shut up" and was asked, "Are you big enough to make me, you little wimp?"—which prompted a committee chairman to tearfully apologize. If elected, Jerry Springer, who made plans to run for U.S. Senate, may be in better company than we thought. What we need is a renewed spirit of bipartisanship, seemingly exhibited by presidential advisor Karl Rove at a Fourth of July parade, exhorting his boss' presumably most beatable opponent: "Go Howard Dean!" And the willingness to forgive and forget, as was offered by the Holiday Inn executive who declared a "national towel amnesty day" for all the guests who have ever swiped the signature souvenirs.

Simplify, simplify, said Thoreau, whose 186th birthday passed last month. To him, that meant getting back to the land, as New Yorkers do in Central Park, which celebrated its 150th anniversary. The world was simpler in 1984, when Terry Wallis fell into a coma. "Mom" was his first word in 19 years. July brought other surprises. The remains of a mysterious 39-foot sea creature washed ashore in Chile. A mother opened her mail to find a subpoena from the recording industry listing the songs her 14-year-old son illegally downloaded. And we learned the answer to the question, "What Would Jesus Drive?" Jesús Rivera drives an SUV, reported a full-page ad from the SUV Owners of America.

James E. Davis, a city councilman shot and killed in New York City Hall, and Iranian twins conjoined at the head who died in surgery to separate them, were mourned. Uday and Qusay Hussein, Saddam's sons who were apparently killed by U.S. troops, were not.

Lance Armstrong's victory in the Tour de France was his narrowest, his most arduous, and his fifth straight. Michael Phelps set a world record for world records, establishing five at the swimming world championships, one more than Mark Spitz at the 1972 Olympics. (Another water record was harder to see—a Texas diver held her breath for nearly four minutes during a 400-foot dive). For the first time, baseball's All-Star Game determined home field advantage in the World Series. Later, a switch-hitter became the first big-league player to hit grand slams from both sides of the plate in the same game. Martina Navratilova, playing mixed doubles, won her 20th Wimbledon title. It left Vancouver to wonder what athletic feats would grace its soil after the city was awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Bob Hope, entertainment legend, guest of U.S. troops and golfing partner of presidents, died in July at age 100. Bawdy comic Buddy Hackett appeared in everything from The Love Bug to The Music Man. Singer Barry White, whose bass voice rumbled in subterranean octaves, died on July 4. Celia Cruz, "the Queen of Salsa," was mourned by thousands in a Fifth Avenue funeral procession in New York. Children's author Robert McCloskey wrote Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal. Hartley Shawcross was chief prosecutor of the Nazis at Nuremberg. As the familiar voice of telephone company recordings, Jane Barbe spoke to millions. Television art director Matt Jeffries designed the starship Enterprise for TV's Star Trek. An African bushman named N!xau had seen three white people in his life before being chosen to star in The Gods Must Be Crazy.

As a missionary surgeon in India, Dr. Paul Brand advanced the study of leprosy, tenderly regenerating bodies and restoring souls in a field from which others recoiled. Brand died in Seattle on July 8 at age 88. "It is indeed possible to live in modern society, achieve success without forfeiting humility, serve others sacrificially, and yet emerge with joy and contentment, wrote Books & Culture editorial board co-chair Philip Yancey, who co-authored three books with Brand. "To this day, whenever I doubt that, I look back on my time with Paul Brand."

In memory of William Bierma 1923-2003


From the Washington Post:

MADRID — For a glimpse of Europe's young generation on the move and the future of the borderless continent, head to the late-partying Spanish capital, drink a strong shot of coffee and try to keep up with Stina Lunden, a 25-year-old Swedish transplant. Lunden is part of the new "Generation E"—E for Europe, a continent that has been essentially without borders for most of Lunden's and her peers' adult lives. For them, traveling from Sweden to Spain is about as simple as it is for an American college student to take a spring break drive from the Northeast to Florida. While bureaucrats in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union, toil away at highly technical regulations aimed at forging a single, more integrated Europe . . . educated young people like Lunden are traveling farther from home, crossing borders to study and work, learning more languages, building cross-cultural friendships—and chipping away at the old national stereotypes and animosities of their parents' generation. Full story

HONOLULU — The grave robbery occurred nearly a century ago, a brazen incursion into a burial cave of ancestral Hawaiians. But its legacy of intrigue and deceit still haunts Hawaii today, and has ignited a renewed struggle over the fate of the stolen artifacts. The artifacts, considered sacred by some Hawaiians, were taken from the cave by an antiquities buff in 1905. . . . [and] spent nearly a century in Honolulu's prestigious Bishop Museum until three years ago, when they were spirited away for reburial. Today, the museum and several Hawaiian native groups are vying for control of the cache in a controversy that also spotlights a debate over how to treat archaeological items that have spiritual significance, as well as cultural, historical and educational importance. Full story


At age 60, Art Garfunkel made his songwriting debut last year on his latest solo album, Everything Waits to Be Noticed (with Buddy Mondlock and Maia Sharp). This past February he appeared with Paul Simon at the Grammys to receive their Lifetime Achievement Award. In the portion of this interview that ran in Chicago Tribune Magazine, Garfunkel hinted that he and Simon might reunite. He spoke from his apartment in New York City.

Books & Culture: More than 30 years after Simon and Garfunkel split in 1970, the duo is still how you're identified to many. Is it a burden for an aspiring solo artist to have such success with a duo so early on?

Art Garfunkel: Paul has made his strong awkward feelings about that loud and clear. I feel differently about it. Is it a burden? No. I love Simon and Garfunkel, I thought they did great stuff. I have no problem enjoying and showcasing Simon and Garfunkel [by performing their songs in solo concerts]. I love singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water." But I'm alive and well, I've become a songwriter on my own. There are new songs to sing. I don't have to live in the past.

B&C: Some of your songwriting contributions on your latest album come from passages you wrote on postcards and sent to friends. How easily do those postcards translate into songs?

AG: Poems are denser than songs. Poem language often has rich nuggets that are too taxing for song syntax. With poetry, you can say so much in a line, you're allowed to ask your reader to slow down, let the associations reverberate around in your mind, let the rhythm of language dance for you. A song is a different animal. It's something to do while you're sitting in the saddle, loping along on horseback. There's this seamless marriage of the words and the melody, and more rhymes. This is the gift of Buddy Mondlock and Maia Sharp; they make music that serves the intention of my words and the melodies I write. I learned to be a songwriter because of them.

B&C: For almost 20 years, you've been doing marathon cross-continental walking tours in installments, walking the length of Japan, then the U.S. and now Europe. Where did you last leave off?

AG: I'm in France, in the Alps. I went up to Grenoble and now I'm going to go south and east of that to Italy. Where I left off was just as pretty as pretty gets.

B&C: Why walk rather than ride or sit in Central Park?

AG: I like the word "aeration." Walking in relatively clean air, on small roads—I imagine that the brain is profiting from all this lung power. It puts me in a fantastic place by the third hour. The opening minutes are for relaxation, to break the momentum of life. By the third hour, I feel tuned in, I'm in a better place. So it's great for me. The notion is that it's increasing the length of my life. It's the answer to New York, stress, airports.

B&C: After years of touring, is it harder to summon the energy to take the stage?

AG: I plan to sing on stages for audiences as long as I can get away with it. I just love the work. If they book me, if I can make a nice sound in the room where want me to come, I'll do it. It's my love, my calling. I'm happy at this point in my life. I've come to a good patch where my introspective years are behind me. I'll return to them, but these years raising a beautiful family are a time of pleasure. It's a glorious mystery on a daily basis.


  • For most of its nearly 100-year history, the Chicago Manual of Style was preoccupied with the printed page. When its 15th edition comes out this month, the 956-page rulebook will reflect changes in reading and research since its last edition in 1993. In addition to 16 paragraphs on how to write an ellipsis, says the Chronicle of Higher Education, "The new edition also takes on journals, electronic publications, online multimedia, informally published material, and even corporate reports, publicity material, and the like." It can be hard to stay dogmatic about style in the face of such a variety of sources, as the manual itself has long acknowledged. The first edition declared back in 1906: "Rules and regulations such as these . . . cannot be endowed with the fixity of rock-ribbed law." Full story

Related from B&C:Remembering Carol Thiessen, copyeditor extraordinaire

  • How can a college be more productive? A restaurant? A symphony? A college can fire teachers or raise tuition; it can't tell teachers to teach twice as fast. Waiters can't serve two tables at once. And last anyone checked, it takes as long to play Mozart's String Quintet as it did in 1787. Not all industries can be more productive; some can only raise prices for the same output, writes James Surowiecki in the New Yorker. It's called Baumol's cost disease, named for the economist who first used the Mozart analogy. "There are really two American economies: one that's getting more productive and one that's not," Surowiecki writes. "The first economy has policymakers worried about deflation. The second has consumers worried about paying their bills." Full story Surowiecki is one of the most lucid economic columnists there are, and I think I followed him most of the way. But do "productive industries" actually help "non-productive" ones by shouldering the load of economic growth, or hurt them by raising wages at an unmatchable pace?
    Earlier in this weblog:What is a weak economy?
  • For the historian, few moments are as ripe with the promise of revelation and the thrill of voyeurism as the latest release of archived Oval Office tapes. Listening to Nixon talk about Watergate, Johnson about Vietnam, and, most recently, Kennedy about Cuba is like eavesdropping on history. There's just one problem, says David Greenberg in Slate: it can be awfully hard to hear what the President is saying. "The background noise, faintness of speech, overlapping talk, and your unfamiliarity with particular voices makes transcription tedious, time-consuming, and treacherous," he says. The inevitableerrors in the transcripts can undermine their historical usefulness. It turns out there's a fine line between hearing that so-and-so "lied. He gets his information from the Joint Chiefs," and that he "implied he gets his information from the Joint Chiefs." Full story
  • "Thanks to [my] genetic tactiturnity, I was well-equipped to be a funeral-home worker," writes Laura Bennett-Kimble in Newsweek's "My Turn" column. What she didn't expect was the tension the work creates in a person. You meet families in their most intense and authentic moments, and yet the necessary routine of the job creates a distance from death Bennett-Kimble eventually could no longer tolerate. "I never cried on the job," she writes. "I needed to release my pent-up emotions and reclaim my humanity." So she left. Full story What would have made this thoughtful essay even more interesting is if Bennett-Kimble's had pondered whether and how she could "reclaim her humanity" while remaining on the job.

Nathan Biermais editorial assistant at Books & Culture.

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