Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner

This stirring legend of the Inuit had been passed down generation to generation for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, but was in danger of disappearing as younger people forgot the traditions and became more used to watching television than to hearing their elders' songs. A team of filmmakers from Igloolik then used the new technology as an ally rather than a foe, to produce this version of Atanarjuat, reproducing the spiritual and material culture of their ancestors. This was not only a great communal experience for the Inuit; it's also a wonderful, unique opportunity for all of us to imagine what life was like for our ancestors, all our ancestors, toward the end of the last great Ice Age. I loved it also because it brought to life the scenes of shamanism (among Turkic and Mongolian communities of Siberia) that I had researched for my novel of the Ottomans, A Gift for the Sultan.
Igloolik is a community of 1200 people located on a small island in the north Baffin region of the Canadian Arctic with archeological evidence of 4000 years of continuous habitation. Throughout these millennia, with no written language, untold numbers of nomadic Inuit renewed their culture and traditional knowledge for every generation entirely through storytelling. (From the Atanarjuat website)

Mr. Rogers' Foreign Policy

Fred Rogers has died, just when our country needs him most. Some of the many former children who spent time with him in his virtual living room will just have take charge of the US's foreign policy, to act sensibly so that we can all live together and help each other.
For example, on the Op-Ed page of today's NYT, Davy Rothbart recalls consulting Fred Rogers a couple of years ago about conflicts in her neighborhood in Chicago, where, she (he? Rothbart, I mean) said,
everyone seemed to fear each other. The people moving in feared the people already there, and vice versa, and everyone feared the teenagers who cruised up and down the boulevard. ... "The worst thing, is people seem afraid to talk to each other," I said. I wanted to know why.
Sounds like the Middle East. Or South Asia. Or Korea, or the Philippines, or Colombia.
Mr. Rogers sat quietly for 15 full seconds. "Perhaps we think that we won't find another human being inside that person. Perhaps we think that there are some people in this world who I can't ever communicate with, and so I'll just give up before I try. And how sad it is to think that we would give up on any other creature who's just like us." His eyes seemed to be watering.
In the very next column on the same page is an opinion piece by Nicholas D. Kristof, about how the Bush administration has given up, before even trying, on negotiations with North Korea. "We haven't exhausted diplomacy," he quotes "one senior player." "We haven't begun diplomacy."

So sad. It makes my eyes water.


A note from the lion

Why, hello! Great to be here. Too bad there are no pictures, but you can see a good one of me on our staff website. That's an old shot -- the mane has gone a bit grayer now, I admit, but I'm told it makes me look distinguished. (Go here for more physical details.)

Anyway, you can listen to Bear grumble and Glib sound off all you or they want, but I'm the cat with the ideas! If you're up for a game of scrabble or anything else diverting, write me! If it's work you're interested in, you're better off contacting Bear -- Ursinius, I mean. And Glib -- well, he's too self-absorbed to know how to party. Girls: I'm single, weigh just under 460 pounds (unlike Bear, I know how to keep trim), in great shape for hunting gazelles, and can quickly find an oasis just for two. I await your gentle roar!

And from the bear

This is not my style, and you won't be hearing much from me, but Fox insisted I drop by to say "Hello."


I see that Glib has already been by, bragging as usual. Yet it's always me who has to pick up the pieces. I'm Ursinius Baer, but I answer -- gruffly -- to several names. I'm not very swift at writing -- you have no idea, probably, how difficult it is to write at a computer if you don't have opposable thumbs -- but I'm very steady and very persistent. Current assignment: research on pre-Columbian civilizations in the "Americas," for the opening chapters of our next nonfiction book, Latin American Architecture and Urbanism. So if Glib or anyone else is going to get in the way, look out! I'm coming through. If you have any research question or want to know more about how a quadruped produces prose, write me.

And finally, from Glib

I have arrived, you lucky dogs!

Despite all you may have heard about me, I am a very sensible person and a MAJOR contributor to all the products that come from the so-called "Geoffrey Fox Productions." If you're looking for fluency over stodginess, airiness over weighty ponderings, a happy skipping through phrases rather than a muddled wade through verbiage, feel free to e-mail me to inquire of rates. You want references? Boy, have I got references! Practically every important writer you've ever heard of uses Glib! A sampling of names available upon request.


Team members

Fox has invited his collaborators in all our writing efforts to collaborate also in this weblog. They are: Arslan "Leo" Leoncio, Ursinius "Ursus Major" Baer, and Hyacinth "Mr. Glib" Glib. In future postings, I've asked them to include their e-mail links so that you may communicate directly with any of them.
Still fiddling with settings. Lately I get a repetition of heading matter at the foot of the screen. Also trying to fix the archives problem.


BTW, I'm using a new browser that I love -- "Opera," developed by some smart Norwegians. Much cooler than Netscape or IE. I thought maybe that was why I was having blogger problems, but no, the same things happened in the other browsers (silly, isn't it, to have 3 browsers on the same machine! But what are you going to do, if you're maintaining a website and want to be sure everybody can see it properly?) Anyway, I'm writing and posting this from within Opera. If I continue to like it as much as I do so far, I'm even willing to pay the $39 they ask for (the free version is great, but you get more features and fewer ads the other way; check it out -- "fastest growing browser on the net," they say, which is mathematically almost a certainty, since they're starting from such a small base).

Bloggers to the rescue!

Strange problems have slowed my blogging, and I can't get any help from Blogger.com (their "knowledge base" doesn't cover my problems, and they warn users of the free blogs that they're not likely to respond to e-mails for a very long time, if ever). So, since they have no user group, maybe I can start one. Any other Bloggers out there? Have you experienced anything like this?

#1. Yesterday I wrote messages, posted & published as usual, and the posting page told me "Transfer successful" -- but now they did not appear on my blog. Must be something in my Settings, I thought, some change that Blogger performed (they said in a note that they upgraded their equipment this past weekend). I fiddled with the Settings, deleting all text from FTP Path (it used to say "weblog.html," which is also what's written in "Blog Filename"), and with that I was able to really publish my note from yesterday (about Robert Merton). If any of you have had a similar problem, maybe you want to try that. I spent a lot of anxious time trying to figure it out, and I still don't understand why or how that setting makes a difference.

#2. A continuing problem: Click on "Archives" and you get a blank page. Used to be you'd get an index, week by week, which you could click on to see the archived messages from that week. I didn't change anything; must be that Blogger did. Right now I have in setting for Archive Path "archive.html", and for Filename "archive". I'm going to try changing that last setting (again -- I've gone back & forth several times trying to get it work, but maybe there's some secret combination) to "archive.html," which is the name it has on the server.

Anyway I'd be happy to hear from other Bloggers, whether happy or frustrated. Maybe somebody can give me advice on whether it's worthwhile to upgrade from free to their $35/year service.


Robert Merton, r.i.p.

Robert Merton, whose enormous reputation as a sociologist seemed to me to be itself a sociological problem when I was beginning graduate studies, has died at 92. He seems to have had a good life, in both senses: he did the things he wanted to do, and he left the world a little better off for his having visited it.

Perhaps he had some secret desires that remained unfulfilled, but I doubt that they could have been as important to him as the ones he did fulfill.

He followed his curiosity, and it�s obvious from the verve and grace of his writings that he found joy in making his discoveries. Some of these may have been illusory, their incoherence disguised by his invisible collaborator, an uncle of my own assistant Hyacinth Glib. We should remember that Merton began his career of discovery-performance as a high school magician, using the wizardly name of Robert Merlin. (I hadn�t known, or hadn�t remembered until today�s NYT obituary, that his name at birth had been Meyer R. Schkolnick.) Other discoveries � such as the causes of �anomie� � continue to provoke new questions, which is the real job of sociology (those who wander in expecting answers are in the wrong field).

It�s the best any of us can hope for, to enjoy our visit and leave things a little better or at least more interesting when we depart.