Monthly Archives: May 2007

Rolling Forward: Barrel, Exercise, Illinois Politicians, and More

Lots of development in the two weeks since my last post. My mind’s been everywhere, so posts have been infrequent. But I know I’ll spare some of the regret later on by jotting down pieces of life’s happenings:

Sei-Wook graduated a couple of weeks ago, and we finally set up our Barrel office. Details of this in our new Fish & Monkeys blog. Lots of energy in the air for the things we’ll be doing, but, as expected, some anxiety as well.

Reggie, who also just graduated, has been kind enough to provide for me and Wook a diet and exercise plan. In the past week, we’ve eaten a lot healthier (salmon, tilapia, chicken breast, veggies, etc.) and actually put ourselves through the agony of barbell lunges and squats at the gym. Last night, I helped him put up his own blog, The Sweaty Guinea Pig.

Two excellent New Yorker articles that you should read together, in no particular order: a piece from a few weeks ago on Obama called “The Conciliator” and a Adam Gopnik piece on Lincoln called “Angels and Ages”. Two politicians from Illinois with law backgrounds and many other similarities. Perhaps too early and unfair to hold Obama to such a comparison, but then again, would we revere Lincoln as much as we do today if he had not been assassinated (remember how his successor Andrew Johnson fought bitterly with Congress, a fate that could well have been Lincoln’s had he lived). And as a big fan of the doctor as hero (see here), I was pleased to read how these two men had doctor-like qualities in their detached demeanor. Here’s a paragraph from the Obama piece:

…Obama’s detachment, his calm, in such small venues, is less professorial than medical—like that of a doctor who, by listening to a patient’s story without emotional reaction, reassures the patient that the symptoms are familiar to him. It is also doctorly in the sense that Obama thinks about the body politic as a whole thing. If you are presenting a problem as something that they have perpetrated on us, then whipping up outrage is natural enough; but if you take unity seriously, as Obama does, then outrage does not make sense, any more than it would make sense for a doctor to express outrage that a patient’s kidney is causing pain in his back

And a longer passage from the Lincoln piece:

The bulk of his legal work- which took up the bulk of his professional life – was the predictable work of a small-town lawyer with a wide practice: property disputes, petty criminal cases, family arguments over money, neighbor at war with neighbor, bankruptcies, and, oddly, libel suits where local women defended themselves against charges of prostitution. His practice was the legal equivalent of a small-town doctor’s, treating head colds, lice, scarlet fever, and a rare case or two of venereal disease.

What he learned was not faith in a constant search for justice but the habit of empathetic detachment. “When we look closely,” Dirck says, “we can see Lincoln the President trying hard to apply a lawyer’s grease to the shrill machinery of war.” Dirck insists that Lincoln’s magnanimity, which was real, should not be “sentimentalized as a form of kindliness. . . . His magnanimity was also a function of his lawyerly sense of distance from other people’s motives, and his appreciation – honed by decades of witnessing nearly every imaginable form of strife in Illinois’s courtrooms – of the value of reducing friction as much as possible.” The lack of vindictiveness that Lincoln displayed (his favorite expression, his secretary John Hay once explained, was “I am in favor of short statutes of limitations in politics”) was the daily requirement of a small-town lawyer. Lincoln believed in letting go; his magnanimity was more strategic than angelic.

With temperatures reaching ninety degrees and the muggy humidity of summer starting to make un-A/Ced movements uncomfortable, there are still more things to look forward to than to dread in the coming months. For one thing, I’ll be giving one more go at a Weekenders type of program with friends, hoping to gather up a mix of people for outings such as Shakespeare in the Park, Bohemian Beer Garden, indie flicks, and trips to the beach. If you’re interested, shoot me an email! I also love how cold white wines become more and more desirable each day as summer nears. I highly recommend a Picpoul, a crisp-tasting white that goes incredibly well with greasy foods.


Stipple Me

I’ve always been fascinated by the portrait illustrations of celebrities and public figures on the Wall Street Journal. Today, I decided to do some googling and found that this sort of illustration was called “stippling,” which Wikipedia says is “is the technique of using small dots to simulate varying degrees of solidity or shading.” I’d be very curious to see how I or some of my friends look in stippled form. The portraits done using the stipple technique are called “hedcuts” and has been used by the WSJ since 1979.

I spent some time looking through these WSJ portrait collections by illustrators Kevin Sprouls, Randy Glass and Noli Novak. Although there are plug-ins and methods on Photoshop to get very close to the stipple effect, it looks like the manual process is still very much preferred. And this also makes me wonder – do people featured as hedcuts in the WSJ ever get their own copies of the artwork? Do any of them hang them up on their walls or paste them in their press scrapbooks? There’s a pleasing quality to a stipple portrait that neither color photography nor caricature can produce – only the dramatic black & white photography might surpass it in terms of classiness.

On an unrelated note (or maybe somehow related, you never know), I happened to be flipping through Ian McEwan’s Saturday, which just arrived last week. I’m usually in the habit of juggling three or four different books at a time, reading bits from each depending on my ever-changing moods. I had (re)started on Saul Bellow’s Herzog a couple of weeks ago, but when Saturday came, I was eager to start on it and put the other books, including Herzog, on momentary hold. To my surprise, when I opened up to the first few pages of the book, I saw that McEwan had included, of all things, a passage from Herzog! And while a coincidence such as this may sound pretentious and hardly interesting, I thought I’d write the passage up here just so I can later recall it more clearly to see its connection to both books. Already the Vietnam-Iraq thing is very apparent, but hopefully there’s something more subtle there. Here goes:

For instance? Well, for instance, what it means to be man. In a city. In a century. In transition. In a mass. Transformed by science. Under organised power. Subject to tremendous controls. In a condition caused by mechanization. After the late failure of radical hopes. In a society that was no community and devalued the person. Owing to the multiplied power of numbers which made the self negligible. Which spent military billions against foreign enemies but would not pay for order at home. Which permitted savagery and barbarism in its own great cities. At the same time, the pressure of human millions who have discovered what concerted efforts and thoughts can do. As megatons of water shape organisms on the ocean floor. As tides polish stones. As winds hollow cliffs. The beautiful supermachinery opening a new life for innumerable mankind. Would you deny them the right to exist? Would you ask them to labor and go hungry while you yourself enjoyed old-fashioned Values? You – you yourself are a child of this mass and a brother to all the rest. Or else an ingrate, dilettante, idiot. There, Herzog, thought Herzog, since you ask for the instance, is the way it runs.

Herzog, Saul Bellow, 1964