Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Deceased--Marshall Lytle

 Marshall Lytle
September 1st, 1933 to May 25th, 2013

"Marshall Lytle, bass player for Comets and Jodimars, dies at 79"


Ed Koch

May 26th, 2013

Las Vegas Sun

When rock ’n’ roll pioneer Bill Haley refused to give three members of his Comets band $50-a-week raises in 1955, he opened the door for those talented musicians to walk out and create what became a Las Vegas lounge act legend — the Jodimars.

Marshall Lytle, Haley’s stand-up bass player, would go on to work nearly every major Las Vegas venue as a member of that Capitol Records recording group and perform for 20 years in Comets reunion bands. In 1950s films, Lytle can be seen tossing his huge instrument into the air and riding it around the stage like a horse.

Lytle’s death Saturday from cancer at age 79 leaves just saxophonist and longtime Caesars Palace pit boss Joey D'Ambrosio (stage name Joey Ambrose) as the only surviving member of Bill Haley and His Comets to have performed on the classic recording of “Rock Around the Clock” — the song that gave birth to rock ’n’ roll.

“We go back 60 years and none of us at that time knew this (rock ‘n’ roll) would become as big as it got,” Ambrose said. “But Marshall really believed in the music. He believed in the potential of something special for this new sound.”

For "Rock Around the Clock," Lytle played a late-1940s model Epiphone B5 upright double bass that had been purchased for $275 in 1951 by the group that was at the time known as the Saddlemen but three years later became the Comets.

"We spent 2 1/2 hours (in the studio working) on the A side (‘13 Women — And Not a Man in Town’) and 30 minutes on the B side (‘Rock Around the Clock’),” Lytle told the Sun for a story published April 15, 1994, for the 40th anniversary of the seminal recording that sold more than 200 million copies worldwide.

“In (just) 30 minutes and two takes, we came up with what is now the anthem of rock ’n’ roll.”

The handwriting was on the wall even then that money issues would play a big role in breaking up the group. Comets members each earned just $47.50 for that historic Decca Records recording session, and they were bitter about it for decades.

“We got the shaft,"
Lytle said in the Sun interview. "All the royalties go to (Haley's) estate and songwriter Jimmy Myers.”

Haley died Feb. 9, 1981, at age 55 of a brain tumor and complications of alcohol abuse.

Lytle, who co-wrote with Haley the hit “Crazy Man Crazy” but did not get credit for that song until 2002, was an early proponent of the “clicking slap bass” method of bass playing, which involved slapping the strings to make a percussion sound that became one of the trademarks of rockabilly music.

Lytle’s bass playing also can be heard on the Haley hit recordings of “Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “See You Later, Alligator.”

As the Comets were in the process of skyrocketing from obscurity to worldwide fame, Lytle, Ambrose and drummer Dick Richards got upset when Haley, after some early success in 1955, purchased three Cadillacs to transport the six-member band and their instruments.

The problem was that despite money pouring in from the group’s success, Haley was paying his band members just $200 a week. When they asked for the raises, Haley refused and the three quit and formed the Jodimars — a name comprising the first letters in each of their first names.

They also brought in Chuck Hess (guitar), Jim Buffington (piano) and Max Daffner (drums; drummer Richards became a vocalist) to complete the new band.

The Jodimars started out on the East Coast, performing in Allen Freed’s legendary rock ’n’ roll shows at Brooklyn’s Paramount Theatre in 1956 with such superstar groups as Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Platters and the Flamingos.

During that period, the Jodimars recorded about a half-dozen singles for Capitol Records, including “Rattle Shakin’ Daddy” and “Eat Your Heart Out, Annie,” which Lytle wrote, and "Let's All Rock Together," which Lytle co-wrote with the group’s manager, Frank Pingatore.

The Jodimars then explored uncharted waters by heading to Las Vegas and becoming in 1956 what Internet sources say was the first rock ’n’ roll band to be hired as a regular Strip lounge act.

The Jodimars played the Sands with Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole and the Riviera with Shecky Greene. They also were popular in the lounge rooms of the Golden Nugget, Fremont, Hacienda and other hotels of that period.

In spring 1957, the Jodimars signed to do a four-week engagement at the Harold's Club in Reno. The act was so popular it was held over through October, breaking the resort’s showroom attendance records.

In popular culture, the Jodimars’ music inspired a number of 1960s rock groups, among them the Beatles, who in 1963 recorded their version of the Jodimars’ song “Clarabella” for the "Pop Go the Beatles" program on BBC Radio.

But with the Jodimars’ records failing to sell well — only “Well, Now Dig This” was a regional hit — their contract with Capitol not being renewed and rockabilly music fading in popularity, the group broke up in 1958.

Lytle left show business and went into real estate sales. Richards went into teaching and acting. Ambrose became a card dealer at Caesars Palace for seven years and was a pit boss there for another 18 years.

After Haley’s death there was a revival of the old rock ’n’ roll and rockabilly sounds. Original members of the Comets, including Lytle and Ambrose, got back together in 1987 for the first time in 29 years to do tribute concerts.

The last time Lytle performed as a member of the Comets in Las Vegas was at a 2007 concert at the Cannery in North Las Vegas.

Lytle was born Sept. 1, 1933, in Pennsylvania. At age 14, he was taught the guitar by country music performer Tex King, a member of Bill Haley's Four Aces of Western Swing.

Lytle’s family was longtime friends with Haley’s family, and Lytle joined Haley’s Saddlemen in 1951. Just 18 at the time, Lytle grew a mustache to appear to be old enough to play in nightclubs that served alcohol.

In October 1987, Lytle was invited to perform in Philadelphia as part of the reformed Comets in a tribute to American Bandstand host Dick Clark. Lytle took the lead on “Rock Around the Clock” and, although he sang some of the verses in the incorrect order, the group was once again a sensation.

For the next 20 years, the Comets toured Europe and the United States, including Branson, Mo., and popular Southern California night spots, and recorded albums.

Lytle retired in 2009, the year he published his memoir “Still Rockin’ Around The Clock” and, because of medical problems, had part of one of his legs amputated.

Last year, Lytle and the rest of the Comets were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Bill Haley had been inducted into the shrine in 1987 as a solo artist, but in those days backup groups were not enshrined with their stars and subsequently had to be voted in, often many years later.

The Comets were inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in the 1990s.

Interview with Marshall Lytle [The Art of Slap Bass] [2009-10]...

Rock'n'roll bass players have long held a reputation for wild onstage antics. Although there were a handful of folks early on who would put on a show, the number one person who popularized dramatic showmanship on bass was Marshall Lytle.

Always blazing his own path, Marshall presented an engaging style of playing directly to the mainstream. He was the cornerstone of one of the first rock'n'roll bands, Bill Haley & the Comets, playing on every recording they released between 1952 and 1955. Most notably, Marshall played on a tune regarded by Dick Clark as "the national anthem of rock'n'roll", Rock Around The Clock. This song was the first #1 r'n'r song in US, selling over 80,000,000 copies. It was used in more than 50 movies and was even listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best selling single by a group. The Comets were also the first r'n'r band that ever played Carnegie Hall. In 2004, for the 50th anniversary of the birth of r'n'r, the handprints of the remaining members of the band were inlayed into Hollywood's Rockwalk. On top of that, Marshall believes that he was actually present the first time the words "rock'n'roll" were used. When Alan Freed played the Comets' (who, at that time. were known as The Saddlemen) song, Rock This Joint, at his show in Cleveland, Ohio, he got excited and shouted "Rock'n'roll, everybody!". The year was 1952, which predates other artists of this genre such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis by at least 3 years.

Marshall Lytle is a quintessential exponent of both rock'n'roll music and of slap bass playing. His bass sound on songs like Shake, Rattle and Roll, See You Later Alligator and others is still considered one of the best slap sounds ever captured on a record. He started playing bass in 1951 when he had just turned 18. Marshall still tours and plays about 200 shows per year with Joey Ambrose and Dick Richards, two other members of the original Comets. He also released his book, Still Rockin’ Around the Clock, on September 1st of 2009 and plans to do a promotional tour for the book in 2010 (Please keep in mind that we started interviewing Marshall in 2009 and finished in 2010, so some questions took place earlier than others). In his 77th year, this rock'n'roll pioneer seems busier than ever and doesn't plan to slow down anytime soon. In his own words, "I want to rock 'till I drop"!

I'm proud to present to you here, on The Art of Slap Bass, for the first time ever, member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and one of the first slap bass stars:

Djordje: Hi Marshall!
First I'd like to thank you for doing this interview while you're still recovering from your surgery. I hope that you feel better soon.

Marshall: Thank you for the opportunity. My recovery has been amazing, as have my doctors. It has been only 38 days since my last surgery and I am putting my new leg on for the first time tomorrow, October 19th. Thank you all for your love and support!

Djordje: I just read your book, Still Rockin' Around the Clock, and really enjoyed it. It was recently released, on your 76th birthday, on September 1st - congratulations! How long did it take you to write it and how would you describe it to the Art of Slap Bass readers?

Marshall: It took me about two weeks of talking into a tape recorder for about 2-3 hours a day. The rest of the work was done by my publisher and editors. A lot of it ended up on the cutting room floor. I supplied all the photos, and they chose the ones to put in the book. I did insist on the large type, and the reader comments are that they liked the large type.

Djordje: One of the great bass legends is about how Bill Haley showed you to play bass in 30 minutes, and then you played a show with his band (Bill Haley & the Saddlemen) at the Twin Bar in Gloucester, New Jersey that same night. What did he show you on that day?

Marshall: He basically showed me the 3 note run associated with each chord, and how to associate the bass neck to the 4 lower strings of the guitar neck.

Djordje: What was the difference between the music of The Saddlemen and that of The Comets, and how much did you have to adjust your playing style?

Marshall: The basic shuffle beat was pretty much the same, except with the Saddlemen, we played a lot of two-beat country Music. The Comets was almost always 4/4.

Djordje: The Comets didn't have a drummer until 1953, so you were the main groove keeper. How did the drummer affect your playing? Did you have to change your style?

Marshall: I never changed my style, but I was able to relax a lot more because of the full sound.

Djordje: In the Saddlemen, you were singing regularly while Haley was playing bass. Before then, you had a radio station where you were singing and playing guitar. Now you're the main singer in The Comets. Were you singing with Haley, after you changed the name to The Comets and switched genres to rock'n'roll?

Marshall: Yes, Bill always wanted his band members to sing and be part of the show. It kept him from having to sing so much himself.

Djordje: Your first bass, a blonde Epiphone B5, is now displayed at the Hard Rock Cafe in Universal City Walk in Orlando, Florida. How long did you play that particular bass?

Marshall: I played that one from 1951 through 1958 when I stopped playing upright and was playing a Fender Bassman all the time. I stored the upright in my brother’s attic for over 25 years. Then around 1992-3, I learned that Sotheby’s Auction House in NYC was interested in auctioning my old bass. So I shipped it to them and they sold it for a very handsome price. They never would tell me who the buyer was. Finally, I received a call last year that the Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando had my old bass, and they wanted me to come for a signing promotion, which I did.

Djordje: How many instruments did you own? What are they and what do you currently use?

Marshall: I have only owned 3 upright basses in my life.

Because of the agreement I made with The Comets and the promoters, I did not even need to own an upright bass. Our contracts always had the promoters to provide an electric upright bass, plus all the other equipment for our show. I did buy a cheap 3/4 size Bass (Made in China) for $495.00 just to have around the house. I still have it. I played it for the first year when we Opened at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theatre In Branson. I rigged it up with Weed Eaters and it was fun and easy to slap.

In 1962, I went to Rickenbacker Guitar Company, near Los Angeles, and I designed a guitar and bass combo. I was paid $1250.00 for it, and it was beautiful. It was a thin hollow body, but still pretty heavy. The guitar neck was on the top and the bass neck was on the bottom. I used it for several years with Tommy Page and The Pageboys, the group that I had created in the sixties. After getting out of show business in 1967 and going into the Real Estate Business, that instrument just sat around in my garage for many years. Around 1980, I decided that I wanted a new 12 string guitar, so I thought that trading my doubleneck was the easiest way to get a new 12 string Yamaha without paying any cash for it. I traded it evenly for the 12 string. How stupid could I be? I was told later that the double neck was worth a lot of money, that Rickenbacker had made another one, and that Paul McCartney owned it. I don't know what happened to it over the last 30 years.

My most famous upright bass is hanging in the Hard Rock Cafe at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida and I still have my King and the black one from China.

Djordje: How do you like your new King bass, and what's the difference between that one and other basses you’ve used before?

Marshall: I love my King bass -- it is the best. I first played the King in Las Vegas in 2004 at the Viva Las Vegas Festival, and I met the staff from the King Company. I told them that they could use my name as an endorsee if they would make me a bass. They agreed, and it took them about 1.5 years to get it to me. Brad at King told me that all his employees just loved my bass and its special paint job.

Djordje: What kind of strings were you using when you started playing bass and what kind are you using now?

Marshall: I used the regular old Gut Strings on the G & D and wound gut on the A & E. I still have the strings that I played on RATC. When I sold my bass back in the nineties, I put a new set of strings on it, and I kept the old strings. My King came with Roto-sound gut.

Djordje: What are the advantages of those string types in your opinion?

Marshall: They are easy on your fingers, and produce a good slap sound.

Djordje: What came first, pizzicato or slap? How did you learn the slap technique?

Marshall: Bill Haley learned the slap technique in the mid 1940's when he was part of a country group called the Down Homers. Bill taught me the basics and I created something that worked for me called the Country Shuffle Boogie Beat.

I was taught to play slap bass and that was all I ever played on the upright. I did play regular bass with my Fender bassman, which I also traded off without knowing its value to collectors, in 1990.

Djordje: Since slap bass technique is still not recognized as one of the official bass techniques, there is a lot of confusion about names for different slap patterns. What are the terms that you use, and what kind of slap patterns do you use in your playing?

Marshall: Just a plain old 4/4 Shuffle Beat.

Djordje: Who were your bass influences when you started playing, and were you aware of any other slap players?

Marshall: It was quite a while before I was aware of some of the great players, like Ray Brown and many more.

Djordje: Who were your favorite bass players who were also your contemporaries?

Marshall: I really didn't have any, for a long time.

Djordje: Al Rex was the bass player that you replaced in Haley's band and ironically he was the one that replaced you in 1955. What do you think about his bass playing?

Marshall: Al Rex and I were both taught by Bill Haley. When I left in 1955, Al was the only reasonable replacement.

Djordje: There are not that many songs with bass solos that Bill Haley recorded during his career (but that's still more than most of the artists from the 1950's). You played solos on the Saddlemen's 1951 recording of Green Tree Boogie and Straight Jacket (recorded for the 1954 movie Round Up for Rhythm) and Al Rex played solos on The Saint Rock'n'Roll and Goofin' Around. How often were you playing bass solos in the 1950's, and was that common practice for live shows back then?

Marshall: The Saddlemen always used bass solos to help fill in the time on stage and the people really enjoyed it. Even on some of the early records, I played a bass solo. Al did a triple slap on that solo, but the notes that he played could have been better.

Djordje: Do you like any slap players nowadays?

Marshall: Yes, there are dozens of great players that I have met and worked with over the years. You can catch some of them on YouTube, which is where I saw you and really enjoyed your work.

Djordje: Thank you very much! How did the song Rock Around the Clock, and the movie Blackboard Jungle affect your private life?

Marshall: Rock Around The Clock has sold over 80,000,000 records worldwide, and I made $41.25 for a 3 hour record session, but I am certainly glad that I had the opportunity to be on that historical recording.

Djordje: In your book, you wrote that you regularly played a shift from midnight to 6 A.M. in Reno, NV. Were these normal conditions back then?

Marshall: The casino business in Nevada in the fifties wanted to keep people in the casinos all night, if they could, so they would schedule their entertainment to keep the people there as long as possible. You could see shows like Louis Prima & Keely Smith at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, and have steak and eggs for $2.50 at 5 A.M. and catch their last show of the night.

Djordje: You have always had an amazing stage presence; standing on the bass, spinning it around, riding it, throwing it up above your head, laying on top of it, sliding the saxophonist across the floor while he sits on it, playing it like guitar or holding it with your legs in the air and other bass tricks were a big part of your show since 1953. You mentioned that after performing Straightjacket with Jodimars, you were told to tone down your act because it was causing a frenzy in the audience. How and when did you develop that style?

Marshall: Most of It happened in 1953 in Wildwood, NJ on a Sunday afternoon matinee. Joey had just come with the Comets, and during one of his sax solos, I think it was Night Train, he was out in the audience honkin’ at the crowd. I thought that I would like to get in on that excitement, so I just stood up on the bass clapping my hands. The audience went nuts, and I thought about what else could I do to excite them, so I just laid down on top of the bass. Then I laid down on the floor with the bass on my feet . Then Joey came back on stage and I had him sit on the bass and I slid him across the stage. I never saw anyone do any of this stuff before I did it. I just made it up and created it as time went on.

Djordje: You recently announced that you plan to retire from The Comets in December. Do you plan to continue playing music after that?

Marshall: Yes, I hope to rock till I drop! I will be promoting my new book and doing a part in a new movie filmed in Tarpon Springs, Florida in December. I am planning to create a new show called "Still Rockin' Around The Clock", and I am hoping to play many of the rockabilly festivals around the world.

Djordje: Songwriting is a big part of your career, yet few people recognize you as the composer of several quite famous songs. You co-wrote Haley's first national hit Crazy Man Crazy (the first r'n'r song that ever hit the Billboard), one of the most popular Jodimars' songs, Let's All Rock Together, and most recently, Viagra Rock (with co-writer Warren Farren), that was very popular on the radio in Florida. Did you compose other songs with Haley when you were playing in the group?

Marshall: Bill and I wrote Ten Little Indians, from the old nursery rhyme.

Djordje: It seems that you hardly ever received the proper songwriting credits for your work. (First with Haley, and later on with Jodimars' songwriter Frank Pingatore). I read that you finally resolved the legal issues about Crazy Man Crazy and that you received the credit for writing this song. Did you ever talk with Bill Haley about these issues you had with songwriting credits, and refused raises? How much contact did you have with him after you quit the band?

Marshall: I never resolved any legal issues about Crazy Man Crazy. Bill is still the only legal writer on the song. It is just water under the bridge. Get it in writing. No, I never did talk to Bill Haley about it. I had not seen Bill for 20 years after I left in 1955. I saw him in Hayward, CA, in 1975. He was very friendly, he introduced me in the audience as his original bass player.

Djordje: What do you think that would have been different in Haley's and your careers if he had decided to give you that $50 raise per week?

Marshall: History might have been a little different but no one knows to what degree.

Djordje: It seems that you left the band shortly after you heard Rock Around The Clock simultaneously played on five different radio stations. How was it leaving one of the most successful bands at the time of its peak?

Marshall: The decision was made before that happened, and our career as the Jodimars was about to take place.

Djordje: You continued playing with The Comets three weeks after you announced that you had planned to leave. How would you describe those last shows, especially the one at the Broadwood Hotel in Philadelphia?

Marshall: All of our replacements were in the audience watching our every move, so that they could move into our place without anyone knowing that we left. It was very clever the way they did it.

Djordje: Your slap bass sound from the 1950's recordings with Bill Haley and the Comets is still considered one of the best. What kind of microphones were you using and where were they placed?

Marshall: We used two mics, one on the fingerboard and one on the F-hole. I don't know which ones. Decca had the best.

Djordje: I really like your bass sound on Jodimars recordings as well and I found it very similar to the Comets sound. Were you using the same engineer or similar recording technique?

Marshall: No, we recorded for Capital Records, but I did have them place the mics the same way we did it at Decca.

Djordje: Do you think that things would be different if Jodimars were based in Hollywood and had a recording career over there instead of New York?

Marshall: Yes, because Hollywood was the heartbeat of Capital Records.

Djordje: It's a little known fact that after Jodimars broke up, you were leading a band with the amazing Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West for a little bit. Are there any recordings of that band and for how long did that project last?

Marshall: No, we never did any records. Jimmy Bryant and I teamed up in 1959 and were together for about 6 months. We only hired Speedy for just a one week engagement. They were amazing players.

Djordje: You were originally a guitar player and singer. What other music projects have you been involved in, and what instruments did you play in those projects? Specifically after the Jodimars broke up in 1959?

Marshall: It's all in my book, Still Rockin' Around the Clock. I played just guitar and bass.

Djordje: How do you like the Beatles' version of the Jodimars' song that you co-wrote with Frank Pingatore, Clarabella, and did you ever receive songwriting credit for it?

Marshall: It's really different, but I really liked it. No, I got screwed again because Frank had promised me 25% of the song and I did not have it in writing. That would have made me about $80,000. Oh well...

Djordje: After you joined Bill Haley you continued to be a professional musician for more than fifteen years. What was the reason to quit playing and to get into the real estate business?

Marshall: I had married a singer who was ready to have a family after being on the road for 5 years. I thought it best to find another profession.

Djordje: Did you play bass or other instruments at all after that period?

Marshall: Not at all.

Djordje: Was it hard to start playing bass again in 1987 after twenty years?

Marshall: It took a while but it all came back.

Djordje: Slap bass almost disappeared in rock'n'roll music in the 1960's and 1970's. What do you think is the reason for that?

Marshall: Transportation, techniques, and volume control (of the electric bass) were easier to manage.

Djordje: Tommy Page is the name that you were using from the early 1960's. You legally changed your name from "Marshall Lytle" to "Tommy Page" in 1967. Still, you are better known as "Marshall Lytle". You're probably the only person whose birth name became his stage name and whose stage name became his real name. How does it feel being called by a name that you did not use for twenty years?

Marshall: It all came back because my family continued to call me Marshall.

Djordje: It's very interesting to read in your book how the band from England, Stargazers, had to teach you to play your own arrangements. What was your reaction when you found out that there were many young musicians that knew all your songs from A-Z more than thirty years after you originally recorded them?

Marshall: I was thrilled when I heard the Stargazers recordings. They sounded just like us.

Djordje: I assume you liked Stargazers a lot, since you decided to do an album with them as "Marshall Lytle and the Shooting Stars" in 1991. How did that collaboration happened?

Marshall: Ricky Lee Brawn, the drummer, came to visit me in Tampa, FL in 1990. We decided to do an album of western swing music and record it in London. He put the whole thing together, and I sang the songs.

Djordje: You also released few albums where you sing Country classics. Do you play bass on those tapes?

Marshall: No, most were pre-recorded tapes.

Djordje: What songs that you recorded would you recommend to bass players who are interested in your slap technique?

Marshall: The most famous one is Rock Around the Clock.

Djordje: What are your preferences for amps and pickups?

Marshall: No preference.

Djordje: Do you use any other equipment when playing live?

Marshall: Just wireless stuff.

Djordje: What kind of amplification were you using for live shows with Bill Haley and later with Jodimars back in the 1950's?

Marshall: Didn't have any, that's why I bled a lot!

Djordje: Slap bass is very intense way of playing. Do you do any wrist stretches or other type of warm ups before the show?

Marshall: None.

Djordje: What do you suggest to younger players to practice on a daily basis?

Marshall: Everything.

Djordje: I'm very impressed with your energy and how you are always trying something new. It seems that your new adventure is acting. You appeared in some films in the 1950's, like "The Roundup of Rhythm" where you did your bass antics, but the role that you have in the Bertie Higgins movie "Through the Eye" is something different. What kind of role is it and when can we expect to see the movie?

Marshall: The film has been delayed until September 2010; our shooting schedule will begin on September 10th.  I will be the owner of the Blue Moon Saloon and I am playing an old rough and tough bartender with an attitude, a real bad-ass drug dealer.  It will be released in 2011.

Djordje: Last year you moved from Florida to Missouri. What's keeping you busy over there?

Marshall: As of July 2010 I am in Branson Missouri and I have become part owner of a Theatre Night Club called Branson Central Dinner Theatre. We are currently running a great show called 50's At The Hop featuring Johnny Rogers, a great singer and performer. I would say that it is one of the top 5 shows in Branson, and there are over 100 live shows every day.

Djordje: Thank you for finding time to do this interview and hope to see you Rockin' Around the Clock sometime soon!

Marshall Lytle [Wikipedia]

Bill Haley & His Comets [Wikipedia]

English language debased?

"Is internet English debasing the language? Not IMHO"

Some of the prose on the web is dreadful, but some is as good as anything on paper


Steven Poole

May 28th, 2013

The internet might be a historic boon for kitten-fanciers and steaming-eared trolls, but it's not all good news. Online writing, you see, is destroying the purity of English as we know it and threatening to dumb us all down into a herd of screen-jabbing illiterates. Or so runs one regular technophobic complaint, the latest version of which has been offered by Robert McCrum. He is worried about what he describes as "the abuse and impoverishment of English online (notably, in blogs and emails)" and what he perceives as "the overall crassness of English prose in the age of global communications". The remedy, as so often for such linguo-pessimists, is George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language", about whose loopy prescriptions I have previously recorded my own reservations.

But is it really true that English is being abused and impoverished in "blogs and emails"? I suppose it depends what kind of blogs one reads – the New Yorker's Page Turner blog or Crooked Timber seem pretty well-written to me – and what kind of email correspondents one is blessed with (a lot of mine, I'm happy to say, are rather excellent stylists). As for the "overall crassness" of internet prose, there is an increasing amount of very fine essay-writing going on for online-only publications such as Aeon magazine and Matter. McCrum laments "the violence the internet does to the English language", though from my point of view, here in front of my laptop, the internet seems rather faithfully to transmit whatever I type to the eyes of waiting readers without doing violence to it at all. If there's anything wrong with the result, it's my fault, not the internet's.

Of course there's a lot of bad writing on the web, but there's a lot of very good writing too. There's just more writing at all levels of quality. McCrum offers no evidence that the bad is a greater proportion of the whole than it ever was. Arguably, thanks to internetworked electronic communications, people are writing more than ever before in history. This does not by itself seem adequate cause for dejection among the literati.

Moreover, against the claim that the internet is impoverishing our language must be set the truth that it is (somehow simultaneously) expanding it with new and entertaining means of expression. Take, for instance, the very useful ejaculation "facepalm". This splendidly economical way of indicating ironic despair — sometimes accompanied by an image of Captain Jean-Luc Picard covering his face with his hand — is just one of the useful lexical innovations the internet offers to those who actually read it. As Tom Chatfield's recent book on the subject, Netymology, explains: "When I type out the word 'facepalm', nobody actually thinks that I'm dropping my own head into my hand (even though I may be doing so). The agreed convention, rather, is that typing this neatly compressed term is an efficiently vivid way of suggesting – through a word – that I consider myself lost for words."

The same kind of enjoyable perfomativity attends a semantic cousin of "facepalm" that Chatfield doesn't mention, and which is slightly more violent in its ironic despondency – "headdesk". One should be careful to distinguish between the two usages. "Headdesk" seems to imply that one is so appalled by the stimulus in question that one is prepared to cause oneself physical pain as a welcome distraction. But just covering one's eyes with one's hand seems gentler, sadder, perhaps even a little sympathetic. So the next time we read a detail-free moan about how the internet is ruining our language, I think the right response, all things considered, is a rousing chorus of "FACEPALM".

Wal-Mart in trouble again...environmental problems

Admission of full knowledge of ethical issues...

"...Kenneth Woodlin, Wal-Mart’s vice president for compliance, safety and asset protection,...sent more than 2 million pounds of pesticides to a Neosho, Mo., contractor, knowing the material would be distributed without proper registration or labels."


"The day’s admissions cost the company about $81.6 million in fines and penalties, an amount that the company said would “not be material to its financial position.”

"Wal-Mart pleads guilty in case involving pesticides sent to Missouri contractor"


Mark Morris

May 28th, 2013
The Kansas City Star

Retailer Wal-Mart resolved years of hazardous-waste complaints Tuesday with criminal guilty pleas in Missouri and California and the settlement of a civil lawsuit filed by federal environmental authorities.

The day’s admissions cost the company about $81.6 million in fines and penalties, an amount that the company said would “not be material to its financial position.” When combined with previous penalties and settlements from state actions in California and Missouri, the price of the company’s environmental missteps was more than $110 million.

In Kansas City, Kenneth Woodlin, Wal-Mart’s vice president for compliance, safety and asset protection, appeared in federal court to admit that the company had sent more than 2 million pounds of pesticides to a Neosho, Mo., contractor, knowing the material would be distributed without proper registration or labels.

Kansas City criminal defense attorney James L. Eisenbrandt, who represented Wal-Mart, said the company moved quickly to address the problems after it learned about them in 2008, including paying $3.4 million in cleanup costs in Neosho.

“One of the things I’ve learned about this client is once they are mobilized to take on a problem, they act and they act appropriately,” Eisenbrandt said.

U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson took a much sterner view.

“This tough financial penalty holds Wal-Mart accountable for its reckless and illegal business practices that threatened both the public and the environment,” Dickinson said in a written statement.

Wal-Mart pleaded guilty in Kansas City to a misdemeanor violation of the federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and agreed to pay an $11 million criminal fine and contribute $3 million to a Missouri fund that pays for environmental education and inspections.

A company statement noted that the issues “took place years ago.” Phyllis Harris, senior vice president and chief compliance officer, said in the statement that Wal-Mart was “pleased that this resolves all of these issues raised by the government.”

The company had made good progress, she said.

“Wal-Mart has a comprehensive and industry-leading hazardous waste program,” Harris said.

Between July 2006 and February 2008, Wal-Mart shipped pesticides that had been damaged or returned by customers to Greenleaf LLC in Neosho.

Greenleaf then sold the pesticides and rat-killing products after removing or defacing the package labeling, a violation of federal environmental law.

In its plea, Wal-Mart agreed that it did not provide “proper oversight of the regulated pesticides sent to Greenleaf.”

“Greenleaf would collect some of the solid pesticides received from Wal-Mart and mix them together in large bins,” according to the statement of facts in the plea agreement. “This mixture of pesticides was offered for sale to customers in containers that were not labeled with the required registration, ingredients or use information for the pesticides.”

Greenleaf entered a similar guilty plea and paid a $200,000 criminal fine in August 2009.

Greenleaf also agreed to pay a $100,000 civil penalty.

The case opened when the Missouri Department of Agriculture inspected the Neosho facility in early 2008 and discovered that the company was selling or distributing 59 unregistered pesticides, according to Environmental Protection Agency records.

Greenleaf soon shut down its business operations in Neosho and Pineville, Mo., the EPA reported.

Wal-Mart also paid a $1.25 million settlement to the state of Missouri in March 2012 for alleged violations of the state’s Hazardous Waste Management Law.

In California, Wal-Mart pleaded guilty Tuesday to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act in both the northern and central federal court districts in that state.

Prosecutors said in court documents filed in San Francisco that until January 2006 the company had no program to train store employees on hazardous waste management and disposal practices.

“As a result, hazardous wastes were either discarded improperly at the store level, including being put into municipal trash bins, or, if a liquid, poured into the local sewer system,”
according to a Department of Justice statement.

As part of its California plea agreement, the firm agreed to pay a $40 million criminal fine and a $20 million penalty that will fund community service projects.

The company also agreed to pay a $7.6 million civil penalty to settle a civil lawsuit filed by the EPA, requiring Wal-Mart to improve its handling and transportation of pesticides, hazardous materials and wastes.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

San Jose State University philosophy professors are showing their teeth and taking a bite at Harvard

"Philosophy professors refuse to pilot Harvard professor's online course"


Katherine Landergan

May 28th, 2013

A prominent Harvard professor is facing criticism from the philosophy faculty at San Jose State University, after they were asked to use the professor’s online course as part of the San Jose State curriculum.

The San Jose faculty members wrote a letter to Harvard Professor Michael Sandel, in which they condemned the use of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOC's, as part of a public school curriculum.

According to the letter, which was republished on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s website, San Jose State University recently announced a partnership with edX, an educational initiative in which colleges offer online classes to thousands of students at no cost. The faculty wrote that the administration encouraged them to pilot Harvard professor Michael Sandel’s “JusticeX” course, but they refused.

In the letter to Sandel, the philosophy department says that MOOCs will diminish the quality of public colleges and universities.

“We fear that two classes of universities will be created: one, well- funded colleges and universities in which privileged students get their own real professor; the other, financially stressed private and public universities in which students watch a bunch of video-taped lectures and interact, if indeed any interaction is available on their home campuses, with a professor that this model of education has turned into a glorified teaching assistant,” the department wrote. “Public universities will no longer provide the same quality of education and will not remain on par with well-funded private ones.”

As the use of MOOCs grow, so, too, is the pushback from some colleges and universities. At Amherst College, for example, faculty recently voted against partnering with edX, for fear that online classes will not mesh well with the small college environment.

Earlier this month, 15 higher education institutions, including Boston University and the Berklee College of Music, joined edX.

The faculty said that they are not needed to teach blended courses, which mix online material and in-class instruction. Instead, the school could save money by hiring a teaching assistant to oversee the class.

“Public universities that have so long and successfully served the students and citizens of California will be dismantled, and what remains of them will become a hodgepodge branch of private companies,” they wrote, adding “Let's not kid ourselves; administrators at the CSU are beginning a process of replacing faculty with cheap online education.”

Sandel responded to the letter, and wrote that online classes are no substitute for professors. In a statement to the Chronicle, Sandel said that he made his course, “Justice,” available for free “to enable anyone, anywhere, to have free access to the lecture videos, a discussion blog, and other educational materials.”

Sandel said he knows very little about the partnership between edX and San Jose State.

“My goal is simply to make an educational resource freely available--a resource that faculty colleagues should be free to use in whole or in part, or not at all, as they see fit,” he wrote.

“The worry that the widespread use of online courses will damage departments in public universities facing budgetary pressures is a legitimate concern that deserves serious debate, at edX and throughout higher education. The last thing I want is for my online lectures to be used to undermine faculty colleagues at other institutions.”

Dissent from a philosophy department about online courses

Monday, May 27, 2013

Hannah Arendt...a new biopic of an almost forgotten political philosopher

"Under conditions of tyranny it is far easier to act than to think."

Barbara Sukowa in “Hannah Arendt,” a film that follows the German-American philosophy professor as she covered Adolph Eichmann’s war-crimes trial in Jerusalem.

Hannah Arendt


"Hannah Arendt Biopic Offers Rare Onscreen View of Political Philosophy"

Movie Paints Vivid Picture of German-Jewish Émigrés


Beate Sissenich

May 26th, 2013

The Jewish Daily Forward

Biopics about philosophers are rare, and they favor activists over ivory-tower thinkers. The life of the mind, unless it directly shapes social action, is not easily captured in film.

Hence, Richard Attenborough’s film “Gandhi” exposed the Indian independence leader’s ideas on nonviolent struggle through his political activism, not through his writings. Likewise, Margarethe von Trotta’s cinematic portrayal of the Marxist dissident writer Rosa Luxemburg wasted little time on the latter’s considerable written output and instead explored Luxemburg’s role in the founding of organized social democracy in Poland, and later in the founding of the Communist Party in Germany, in opposition both to Russian Bolsheviks and German social democrats.

Given the challenge of translating philosophy into drama, it is understandable that Von Trotta’s latest film, about the German Jewish writer Hannah Arendt, has little to say about the political theorist’s extensive oeuvre on the nature of political action or her analysis of totalitarianism.

Instead, the film concentrates on a turbulent period in Arendt’s life, during which she came under severe attack for her reporting on Adolf Eichmann’s 1961 trial. First published as a series of essays in The New Yorker, the report was later expanded into a book under the title “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.”

The film is an engaging portrayal of a woman who did not back down in the face of massive hostility generated by her ideas. Arendt’s counterintuitive interpretation of the behavior and motivations of Holocaust perpetrators created a chasm among New York Jewish intellectuals, many of whom, like her, were German exiles.

“Hannah Arendt” is a logical continuation of von Trotta’s earlier films about women articulating perspectives in opposition to mainstream ideology; beyond “Rosa Luxemburg,” these films include “Vision,” about the medieval mystic, composer and writer Hildegard von Bingen, and “Rosenstrasse,” about a successful protest of gentile women against the incarceration of their Jewish husbands in Berlin in 1943.

The opening scene of “Hannah Arendt” depicts the capture of Nazi criminal Eichmann on a dark and lonely road in Buenos Aires. Much later in the film, Arendt finds herself similarly confronted by Mossad agents while on a meditative walk in the woods away from the tumult that her interpretation of the trial had caused.

This odd parallel suggests that Arendt, according to her critics, was culpable of empathizing with Nazi perpetrators while condemning victims’ actions. She shocked her contemporaries by claiming that the Holocaust was the deed not of raging anti-Semitic brutes devoid of basic civilization, but of unthinking bureaucrats who had deactivated their own moral reasoning in favor of absolute obedience to the Führer.

She considered Eichmann a midlevel career opportunist of second-rate intellect who organized the deportation and slaughter of European Jews because it was his job and he wanted to do it well.

The Holocaust, Arendt argued, was not a collective decision in which Eichmann participated; Hitler alone had ordered the complete extermination of Europe’s Jews, but the order’s implementation depended on the willing participation of vast numbers of German and other functionaries across Europe who were unwilling to think from any standpoint other than the law of the land. This interpretation led Arendt to question the legal concept of culpability.

A traditional understanding of guilt, she pointed out, was inadequate for convicting Eichmann of crimes against Jews or crimes against humanity. Eichmann had knowingly engineered the deportation and slaughter of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, but he had never personally murdered a single individual. Contrary to allegations by her critics, Arendt’s assessment of the shortcomings of existing legal theory was a far cry from exculpating Eichmann, whom she did consider evil and deserving of the death penalty.

But it explained her scorn for the prosecutor, who in her opinion misconstrued the nature of the crime and of Eichmann’s role in it.

Arendt’s view of genocide by unthinking managers did not deny the notion of agency; she certainly did not consider the Holocaust inevitable.

In her book, Arendt took great pains to report on the scope of resistance to and noncooperation with the deportations in various occupied countries, most notably Denmark, where, she wrote, even career Nazis “changed their minds” about “the extermination of a whole people as a matter of course” in the face of principled resistance.

But even if people had been willing to grant Arendt her idea that evil in the person of Eichmann seemed remarkably ordinary, Arendt’s insistence that Jewish community leaders had a choice in whether to cooperate with the Nazi regime and that they used the opportunity for self-aggrandizement seemed to turn notions of moral responsibility upside down.

Without Jewish help in administrative and police work… there would have been either complete chaos or an impossibly severe drain on German manpower,” she wrote. This issue had already been addressed extensively by the historian Raul Hilberg (“The Destruction of the European Jews,” 1961), to whom Arendt’s report was heavily indebted.

But rather than seeing cooperation as a rational response that sought to lessen the impact of unfathomable evil, Arendt alleged that the Jewish community leaders “enjoyed their new power” derived from compiling lists, acquiring money from the victims to cover transportation costs, policing the deportations and transferring Jewish assets into Nazi hands.

To Arendt, the frequently posed question at the trial — Why had there not been any rebellion? — was misguided. Instead, what called for explanation was the scale of cooperation on the part of the victims’ leaders.

“The whole truth was that if the Jewish people had really been unorganized and leaderless, there would have been chaos and plenty of misery, but the total number of victims would hardly have been between 4 ½ and 6 million people.”

Ultimately, Arendt explained, this aspect of the Holocaust illustrated how completely the calculus of Nazism had replaced traditional moral conscience.

The main issues in the debates stirred up by Arendt’s report remain unresolved. The “Goldhagen controversy” during the 1990s juxtaposed an intentionalist interpretation of the Holocaust to the functionalist account of genocide engineered by unthinking bureaucrats.

Daniel J. Goldhagen’s 1996 book “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” claimed the Holocaust was possible because German anti-Semitism differed from its counterparts elsewhere in Europe insofar as it aimed at the complete elimination of Jews.

Whereas the latter argument is somewhat tautological, the functionalist thesis has no answer for why modernity engendered mass slaughter on an industrial scale only in Germany and why European societies under Nazi occupation varied widely in their response to the Nazis’ expulsion, deportation and murder of Jews.

The question of Jewish cooperation was taken up in a vastly more nuanced way than Arendt’s by the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. Instead of accusing Jewish leaders of self-aggrandizement, Bauman, author of the 1989 book “Modernity and the Holocaust,” emphasized the paradoxical nature of bureaucratically organized genocide in which victims’ cooperation seemed like a perfectly rational, yet of course self-defeating, strategy.

As a period film, “Hannah Arendt” pays little homage to the 50 years of research that have been produced since Eichmann’s death. It paints a vivid picture of the German Jewish émigré community in New York, which continued to cultivate German language and customs and made Arendt’s American friends, notably Mary McCarthy, feel oddly out of place.

The film portrays the falling-out between Arendt and her erstwhile mentor, Zionist Kurt Blumenfeld, sensitively and without taking sides. It seems less even-handed in its rendering of Arendt’s interactions with her friend and New School colleague Hans Jonas. Arendt’s complex relationship with her former teacher, the philosopher and Nazi apologist Martin Heidegger, is treated only superficially and somewhat sappily.

The script, written jointly by Von Trotta and Pam Katz, a New York-based screenwriter, is smart and nimble, weaving together dialogue on the political and the personal in multiple languages. Original footage from the Eichmann trial is interspersed with the film’s account of Arendt in the court’s pressroom and in conversation with colleagues and friends in Jerusalem and New York.

Barbara Sukowa bears no physical resemblance whatsoever to Arendt, which has the effect of letting us focus on the character while leaving behind any sentimental fixation on looks. Janet McTeer gives a forceful performance as the novelist McCarthy, a close friend of Arendt’s who stood by her when most others abandoned her.

Anyone with a passing interest in 20th-century social theory will benefit from seeing this film, but no one should expect to receive from it an education in either philosophy or Holocaust history. It succeeds best as a sociology of intellectuals who were grappling with one of the fundamental cataclysms of the 20th century that they themselves had barely escaped — genocide on an industrial scale.

[Beate Sissenich is a visiting scholar at New York University’s Center for European and Mediterranean Studies and author of “Building States Without Society”....]

"The Woman Who Saw Banality in Evil"


Fred Kaplan

May 24th, 2013

The New York Times

Fifty years ago, a small book called “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” by a New School philosophy professor named Hannah Arendt set off a storm like few books before or since. Among Upper West Side intellectuals it sparked, as the critic Irving Howe put it, “a civil war,” siring vicious debates and souring lifelong friendships. It also sold more than 100,000 copies and reshaped the way people have thought about the Holocaust, genocide and the puzzle of evil ever since.

“The Controversy” — as people simply called the growing dispute — is largely forgotten now, and the intense rancor it inspired might seem improbable. But a new movie about the episode, “Hannah Arendt,” which opens Wednesday at Film Forum, revives the debates and the era.

Its director, Margarethe von Trotta, a veteran of the New German Cinema, was skeptical when a friend suggested she make this film 10 years ago. “My first reaction was, how can I make a film about a philosopher, someone who sits and thinks?” she recalled in a phone interview from her home in Paris.

She and her American screenwriter, Pamela Katz, wrote a treatment that covered Arendt’s whole life, but it was too long and diffuse. They decided to focus instead on the Eichmann affair. “It’s better for filmmakers to have a confrontation, not just abstraction,” Ms. von Trotta said.

In May 1960, Adolf Eichmann — the last surviving Nazi higher-up, who had fled to Argentina at the end of the war — was kidnapped by Mossad agents, flown to Jerusalem and tried for crimes against humanity.

Arendt, a Jewish-German refugee and author of a celebrated tome, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” offered to cover the trial for The New Yorker. (Her book originally ran as a five-part article.)

She made two particularly provocative points. The first was that Eichmann, a senior SS officer, was not the malicious organizer of the Nazi death camps, as Israeli prosecutors charged, but rather a mediocre bureaucrat, “a leaf in the whirlwind of time,” as Arendt put it; “not a monster” but “a clown.” Hence the enduring phrase from her book’s subtitle: “the banality of evil.”

Arendt’s second point was that the “Jewish Councils” in Germany and Poland were complicit in the mass murder of their own people. They helped the Nazis round up the victims, confiscate their property and send them off on trains to their doom. Without these Jewish leaders, Arendt wrote, “there would have been chaos and plenty of misery, but the total number of victims would hardly have been between four-and-a-half and six million people.” She added, “To a Jew, this role of the Jewish leaders” was “undoubtedly the darkest chapter of this whole dark story.”

For these ideas, Arendt was pilloried as a self-hating Jew. The Anti-Defamation League sent out letters urging rabbis to denounce her on the High Holy Days. Jewish organizations paid researchers to peruse her book for errors. Some of her closest friends didn’t speak to her for years, if ever again.

At the time, Israel was just 15 years old: tiny, weak and impoverished. The prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, had ballyhooed the Eichmann trial — one of the first global media events — to build support for his fledgling state and to educate people about the Holocaust. In America, Jewish professionals, especially in academia, were just coming into their own, as blacklists and quotas withered away. And here was the great scholar Hannah Arendt downplaying their great catch and airing their dirty laundry.

Some of the attacks on Arendt — that she sympathized with Eichmann or demonized the Jewish victims more than their Nazi killers — were over the top. But some of Arendt’s views were over the top as well, not least her portrait of Eichmann. Her “banality of evil” thesis rests on the premise that Eichmann committed his deeds with no awareness of their evil, not even with virulent anti-Semitism. In fact, though, much evidence — some of it known at the time, some unearthed since — indicates that Eichmann very much knew what he was doing.

In 1957 in Argentina, a former SS officer named Willem Sassen interviewed Eichmann at length. The tapes, which were rediscovered only a few years ago, reveal Eichmann boasting that he had helped draft the letter ordering the Final Solution and that several times, he refused requests from fellow officers to free a favored Jew.

“I worked relentlessly to kindle the fire,” he says. “I was not just a recipient of orders. Had I been that, I would have been an imbecile. I was an idealist.”

David Cesarani, in his 2004 biography, “Becoming Eichmann,” unearthed a speech from as far back as 1937 in which the idealist was clearly “in the grip of a fantasy that there was a world Jewish conspiracy against Germany,” an enemy that must be destroyed.

At the time of the trial, much was made of Eichmann’s remark to a comrade toward the end of the war: “I will gladly jump into my grave in the knowledge that five million enemies of the Reich have already died like animals.” Arendt wrote that he had been merely “boasting” — which led Howe to comment, “That kind of boast was hardly the talk of a featureless cog in a bureaucratic machine.”

Amos Elon, a prominent Israeli journalist who generally defended Arendt, allowed in his introduction to her book’s paperback edition that Arendt “had a tendency to draw absolute conclusions on the basis of casual evidence.”

The casual evidence of Eichmann’s banality was his cliché-ridden testimony on the witness stand. “His inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else,” she wrote. He testified that he was just doing his job, unthinkingly, and Arendt believed him.

Even Arendt’s friends spoke of her snobbery. In this case, her snobbery toward Eichmann’s bad grammar blocked her from seeing what was obvious to everyone else, that he was lying in an attempt to save his skin.

Arendt misread Eichmann, but she did hit on something broader about how ordinary people become brutal killers. The postwar generation of young Germans took Arendt’s book as inspiration to rebel against their parents, who may not have personally killed Jews during the war but knew what was going on and did nothing.

In America, protesters invoked the “banality of evil” to rail against the outwardly decent family men who dropped bombs on North Vietnam or sat in nuclear-missile silos, ready to push the button — seeing them as the cold war’s version of Arendt’s “desk murderers.”

Ms. von Trotta has built a career making films about strong women who go their own way, at times alienating everyone around them. “Rosa Luxemburg” was about the Communist rebel who didn’t fit in with any party sect. “Vision” was about Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th-century nun-mystic who composed music that transcended all ages. (Both figures, as is Arendt, were played by Barbara Sukowa, who in the new film really seems to be a philosopher locked in deep thought.)

“I identify with these women,” Ms. von Trotta said. “Maybe it’s because I grew up stateless.”
(Her mother came from an aristocratic Russian family, fled after the revolution and settled in Berlin, where Margarethe was born — though, under German law, that didn’t make her a citizen).

“There’s a bit of this in Hannah,” she went on. “She left Germany when the Nazis took over. She was imprisoned in France for being German. She didn’t feel she had a home until she came to America. Then the attacks on the Eichmann book felt like a third exile.

“I’m not a missionary,”
she added. “I don’t make films to have a message. I make films about people that I like or that interest me. But if there’s a message in this film, it’s that you should think for yourself, don’t follow an ideology or a fashion. Hannah called this ‘thinking without banisters.’ ”

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil


Hannah Arendt

ISBN-10: 0140187650
ISBN-13: 978-0140187656

Hannah Arendt [Wikipedia]

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Fame brings forth personal issues...Nupur Lala

"'Spellbound' Star Reflects on a Spelling Bee Life"


Joseph White

May 27th, 2013

Associated Press

Of the 85 kids who have won the National Spelling Bee, only one became an instant movie star.

For the millions who watched back in 1999, her face is frozen in time. She'll always be the 14-year-old girl from Tampa, Fla., with the glasses and dark shoulder-length hair, her arms raised while leaping for joy.

But that was a half-life ago for Nupur Lala. Like all bee winners, she's since had to deal with the perks, drawbacks and stereotypes that come with the title — all magnified because she won the same year the competition was featured in an Oscar-nominated documentary.

She became a role model for those who realized it's OK to be nerdy. She became a trend-setter, starting a run in which 10 of 14 national bee winners have been Indian-American, including the last five.

Today, she's 28 and finishing up a master's degree in cancer biology with plans to enroll in the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, having changed course from a career plan that had her researching memory and the brain for three years at MIT. She now aspires to be a physician scientist.

"My intellectual inspirations are so meandering. I blame that on the Spelling Bee sometimes," Lala said with a laugh. "There are so many interesting things in the dictionary to study."

Lala will be watching this week when the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee takes place near the nation's capital — her friends tease that her life "shuts down" during the bee — but she'll see a spectacle that's changed much since she graced the stage. The finals are now broadcast in prime time. A vocabulary test is being added this year for the first time. And the bee's popularity has skyrocketed, in part because of Lala and the other spellers featured in the documentary "Spellbound," a film that made smart people cool long before "The Big Bang Theory."

"I'm amazed at the sea change,"
Lala said in a telephone interview. "Because when I was a speller, that was one thing you totally hid. I remember like not even wanting to tell people what I was doing over the weekend when I was competing in the regional spelling bee. It was that big of a liability. And now I see that, yeah, people want to be nerds. I think that's great."

Lala is the first to say that winning the national bee has been an overwhelming positive in her life, even if does get tiresome to have people repeatedly asking her to spell her winning word — "logorrhea" — or to realize that her reputation can unfairly put her on a pedestal in an academic setting.

"I've had people say 'I expect more of you because I've seen what you are capable of,'" Lala said. "And that's a huge honor — and also very daunting."

Then there's another set of emotions she feels every year when her name is mentioned by the Indian-Americans youngsters who now dominate the national bee. All of the recent winners, to some degree, have cited Lala as an inspiration.

"It's absolutely overwhelming," she said. "And I think especially as I've grown older and seeing how much I've wanted to emulate people in my life. Yeah, it's very humbling every time I hear that. It feels like a lot of responsibility, to be perfectly honest. You become very conscious of that."

 There have also been a disproportionate number of recent winners interested in the brain and medicine, including several who said they wanted to grow up to be neurosurgeons. Lala pursued an undergraduate degree in brain, behavior and cognitive sciences at the University of Michigan, in part because of her experiences from the bee.

"Why do I remember certain words and not others? Why isn't my memory so good for everything else?" she said. "That question sort of drew me into research."

At least much of the terminology was familiar. After studying all those big words for the bee, a standard vocabulary test is a breeze.

"I remember taking the GRE years ago," she said, "and how I had such an edge over other competitors because I basically studied the vocabulary component for the Spelling Bee."

National Spelling Bee champions are a small and tight-knit group — Lala keeps tabs with many of her fellow winners — and she marvels that she had the nerve to pull off her win all those years ago. She turned down a chance to be featured on an MTV reality show that wanted to follow her through college; she wasn't comfortable with the idea and didn't feel she was crazy enough to be interesting.

Besides, there is life beyond the bee — and the public perception of what a bee winner should be — and that's where Lala prefers to keep her focus, at least during the 51 weeks a year when she's not glued to the television to see another successor crowned. Like Lala, this week's champion will have a winning moment etched in America's collective conscious and immortalized on the Internet, lasting long after he or she has grown up to pursue an impressive degree or career.

"It's something that you fight quite a bit," Lala said. "Especially now that I feel like I'm on a career path, it's becoming a little bit easier. ... People always thought of me as this nerdy, excitable, just-an-awkward kid. Now they can see me as somebody beyond that, I hope."


"Vocabulary section adds meaning to national spelling bee"


Erin Kelly

May 27th, 2013


It could help lexicomanes participating in this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee to be a little sesquipedalian.

The nearly 300 spellers who will come together next week at the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee will have to survive tougher challenges to make it to the championship rounds.

When the competition begins on Tuesday in National Harbor, Md., the spellers in Round One will face the traditional 24-word written spelling test with a twist: It will now include three separate sections of vocabulary words for competitors to define.

And when the first day of public spelling begins on Wednesday, spellers will no longer have a chance to spell two words before facing elimination at the end of Round Three. The dreaded elimination bell will go off the first time they misspell a word in Round Two.

"Every year, we're trying to improve the competition — improve the fairness and the competitiveness," said Chris Kemper, the bee's spokesperson.

Only 50 children will survive the three preliminary rounds to go on to the semifinals. Even if they spell both words correctly on stage, contestants can still be eliminated based on how well they performed on the written test, which they take on a computer.

Spellers who move on to the semifinals will take a second computerized test — another new requirement — that has more spelling and vocabulary questions. That will be followed by two more rounds of spelling on Thursday. Only about 12 spellers will earn enough points to move on to the championship finals.

"In regards to vocabulary being added to the tests, it's a big change but a natural one that has largely been embraced by our spellers and their parents," Kemper said. "A lot of the spellers were already studying definitions to help them learn their words."

The champion will receive a $30,000 cash prize and the Scripps National Spelling Bee engraved trophy; a $2,500 U.S. savings bond and a complete reference library from Merriam-Webster; and $2,000 worth of reference works from Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

Past winners have sometimes been invited to the White House to meet the president and appeared on late-night talk shows. The 2012 champion was Snigdha Nandipati of San Diego.

This year, the 281 spellers are coming from all 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as Japan, South Korea, China, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Ghana, Canada, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and U.S. Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe.

Kemper said the bee continues to grow in popularity. Scripps has been sponsoring the national competition for 70 years.

"People enjoy the competition, and we can all relate to what it's like to be a 13- or 14-year-old child," he said. "I think people also see how incredible these children are. They're amazing."

There are 147 girls and 134 boys ranging in age from 8 to 14 competing in the bee. The youngest speller is 8-year-old Tara Singh of Louisville. Nearly 90% of the children are ages 12 to 14. Spellers cannot compete beyond the eighth grade.

Most of the spellers — more than 63% — come from public schools. Nineteen percent come from private schools, and nearly 9% are home-schooled. Math — not English — is most frequently cited as the spellers' favorite subject.

More than 60 of the spellers have competed in the national bee before.

"There's a great camaraderie among the spellers," Kemper said. "You see that when they ask each other to sign their autograph books and give each other high-fives on the stage when they spell their words correctly. It's not one speller against another. It's all of them against the dictionary."

The championship rounds will be broadcast live on ESPN beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday.

[In times past they were broadcast by ABC.]

Einstein's dreams...thought process novel

"...this book goes well beyond the scope of physics. Each new concept of time raises new questions in the realms of psychology, ethics, and metaphysics."

Physics Central...

Einstein's Dreams Review...

Although Albert Einstein’s ideas ultimately changed the course of physics, very few of his colleagues foresaw his great success when he was working as a patent examiner in the early 1900s. Nonetheless, he wrote much of his groundbreaking papers during this time and emerged as a leading scientist shortly thereafter.

Inspired by these humble beginnings, author and physicist Alan Lightman imagined what ideas may have been bouncing around the physicist’s head as he formed his theory of special relatively. In 1993, Lightman put his ideas into words with his critically-acclaimed book: Einstein’s Dreams. In the book, a fictional Einstein dreams of a new conception of time in every new chapter, sometimes incorporating the actual consequences of special relativity.

Physics, Philosophy, and More

But this book goes well beyond the scope of physics. Each new concept of time raises new questions in the realms of psychology, ethics, and metaphysics.

For example, one chapter explores how people’s behavior might change if time moved increasingly slower at higher altitudes. In Lightman’s imagining, people would live exclusively atop mountain peaks on precariously built stilts. Eventually the higher, slow-motion residents start snubbing their elevation-challenged peers, but some develop an insatiable compulsion to live at the highest point possible.

Meanwhile, others take a more down-to-earth view. Instead of chasing heights, those who remain on the surface seem content to live shorter — albeit more relaxed — lives.

Each chapter presents new puzzles and challenges. What if time were circular and repeating? What if time increasingly slowed down until it stopped at certain geographic locations? What if the relative “speed” of time changed for different cities? What if cause and effect had temporal link, and effects sometimes came days or months before the actual cause?

Many of the chapters are mind-boggling, yet all of them are insightful. At times, the constant jump from one conception of time to another may seem jarring, but Lightman’s consistent setting and style make the journey seem oddly smooth.

The book’s occasional interludes following Einstein’s waking hours also help unify the book’s otherwise disparate chapters. A brief respite in a more familiar reality gives the reader some time to breathe before delving into another foreign world.

Relativity Primer

The conceptions of time aren’t always far-fetched, however; in fact, a few chapters flirt with the actual theories of time found in special relativity.

One such chapter depicts a world where time slows down when people move faster. Consequently, everyone’s in a constant rush: office buildings run on wheels; housing prices are determined by how fast they travel; and people never seem to unwind. This time dilation is relative, however. Some of the characters argue that the clock tower in the city square represents the “true” passage of time — an absolute time. But even the clock tower remains in motion relative to the buzzing inhabitants.

Although time does slow down for objects moving near the speed of light, the effect wouldn’t be noticeable at the speeds mentioned in the book.

Constantly jumping from one conception of time to another may turn off some readers. As I was reading the book on a plane ride, the woman next to me recalled that the book was “strange” when she read it years ago. I think this favors the book; it definitely has a strangeness worth diving into.

Final Thoughts

If you let it, Einstein’s Dreams will have you pondering its contents well after you’ve put it down. At minimum, it’s a poetic primer on the very basis of special relativity. On a deeper level, there’s a great deal to take from this book.

When re-reading certain chapters, I find myself wondering what I would do if I were dropped into one of Lightman’s strange worlds. Would I embrace the time-slowing rat race, or would I linger, ironically, as time moved more quickly? Would I want to live a singular happy moment, or would I rather live through all of life’s ups and downs?

Lightman’s prose doesn’t have all of the answers, but he expertly prods you to consider these sorts of questions. Lightman’s descriptions bring life to seemingly mundane situations — even the quiet work of a scientist in a patent office. Be sure to check it out if you haven't already.

Einstein's Dreams


Alan Lightman

ISBN-10: 140007780X
ISBN-13: 978-1400077809

Publishers Weekly...

Few endeavors are more beguiling than a grossly improbable conceit realized with subtlety and wit. Science writer Lightman ( A Modern Day Yankee in a Connecticut Court ) seems to have mastered this principle: his slender but substantial fictional debut is a daring re-creation of Einstein's dreams during May and June 1905, when the Swiss patent clerk was putting the final touches on his special theory of relativity. Each dream embodies "one of the many possible natures of time." In one world time proceeds in circles; in another its rate varies with location. In a third, time reverses unexpectedly; in a fourth, it stutters and skips. Each variation spawns its own weird psychology, yet magically, touchingly, each also echoes patterns of events that take place in supposedly ordinary time. Lightman's speculative prose poem warrants comparison to Calvino's masterful Invisible Cities . Its one disappointment is a scanty view of Einstein, whom we glimpse only in the waking interludes which periodically break the progression of dream-worlds. The great scientist broods in the hazy distance, indifferent as the Alps above this chronometric carnival. First serial to Granta, Harper's and the Sciences.