Literature


I just found this treasure at a local used bookstore: The Petroleum Dictionary, by Lalia Phipps Boone.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1950.  

The Last BarrelWell, the heyday of Texas-Oklahoma well drilling is over, although you can still drive by and find those workhorse pumps attempting to get that last drop out of the oil sands below the prairie.  Mature oil fields: but back in the day, the oil patch developed its own Americanized language, which took from the world of cowboys and machinists, and then gave the language back again.  It is a language of common sense, sweat, and romance: people in love with their jobs and the way of life it represented.  And you’d have to be in love with it: it was loud, dangerous, and dirty work, in every sense of the word.

One tradition that I think derives from cowboys is the contempt for farmers: farmer’s oil, for instance, is ‘a worthless black substance resembling oil that comes from blue shale’ and farmer’s sand, is “the productive sand which allegedly would have been reached if a dry hole had been drilled further.  No doubt those farmers contemplating oil leases would have preferred those Texas oilmen to drill all the way to China.  Heck, I think today that all of the U.S. would be inclined to agree with the farmers, given that 20/20 hindsight. 

Miss Rita of BeaumontGusherMs. Lalia even mentions one pimp and two madams in her book: the gentleman is named Ben Hogan of Pennsylvania, the “Wickedest Man in the World”; the ladies, “French Kate” (of course, French) but also “Lizzie Toppling”.  So you can just imagine what she left out–in particular, the madams of Texas and Oklahoma.  I wonder who the wickedest man in Texas was?

However, you can find other sources:  for instance, this deathless oil painting decorated the Dixie Hotel in Beaumont–an establishment run by Miss Rita of Beaumont, as a matter of fact.  The painting is by Aaron Arion, and combines the 1880’s with a small nod to the flatness and vistas of Depression era muralists such as Tom Lea and Thomas Hart Benton: Spindletop Viewing Her Gusher

We don’t allow this kind of thing these days: gushers, I mean.  Once the sign of success, we have now decided that it Wastes the Product.  We don’t allow human trafficking either, but somehow that’s been harder to change with advanced technology.

Here are some excerpts from the Foreword:

To spud in, which originally meant to indicate initial drilling operations, has undergone extension to designate the beginning of any activity.  If one is starting a meal, a job, a game, or a drink, he is spudding in.

Now you also have to think that this term was a joke about planting potatoes at one point.  Sort of a way to contrast the Drill and the Shovel in the scale of human enterprise.

The nouns roustabout and bird dog have also undergone generalization.  Originally roustabout was the name applied to the laborer who assisted in the loading and unloading of river craft in the United States.  In the oil field the term is applied to several different kinds of workers.  . . .   In drilling, he may be either an unskilled laborer or a skilled one.   . . .   Needless to say, he aspires to be a tool dresser or a roughneck.  The activity of any roustabout is roustabouting.

A bird dog is a field geologist: the person who can smell out the oil and point those roughnecks in the right direction.  Nowadays, we use technology. 

What I’d love to hear, from others: what’s the slang in other languages and other states?

Fiction about the American Oil Patch:
♦ Honor at Daybreak a Western by Elmer Kelton, about Central Texas, the spudding of wells, the fights, and the human trafficking during the not-so-great Depression
♦ Mean Spirit, by Linda Hogan, about oil, fraud, and the Osage tribe in Oklahoma, set in the Harding Years of the U.S.

Photo: columbia.edu; texasescapes.com

Vintage Cover, Ugly AmericanThe best book on effective diplomacy ever.  The best book on how to read a report promugated by a government agency, a politician, or a newspaper.  The best book on why it is important to be culturally and historically aware.  Et cetera:

Is a work of fiction.

William J. Lederer’s and Eugene Burdick’s The Ugly American is an easy, entertaining, fast read–and a frame story, where each chapter can be read alone and picked up later.  This novel details the fortunes of U.S. diplomats in a exemplar state, “Sarkhan”, in Southeast Asia.  The novel looks in at the embassy, the battlefield, and in reconstruction and Track II diplomacy.  “Track II” is where non-diplomats interact with the people of a host state–agricultural experts, for instance. 

When this book came out in 1958, it created an instant dialogue and outcry for a new diplomacy from the U.S.   President Kennedy used the ideas from this book to develop the Peace Corps. 

Once read, it makes a non-foreign service public almost instantly literate in foreign affairs.  One thing to note: the word “ugly” covers a lot of ground, starting with an overweight & oily political appointee as diplomat to Sarkhan and ending with an engineer who’s physically unattractive but a man of techniques and skills.

Anyway, below the jump, there’s one phrase per chapter showing the lessons given in the book.  The main thing is to read it, laugh, weep, and get mad–and let it get you thinking. (more…)

There’s more than one way to satisfy the need to see mankind’s highest and best aspirations, but one way that I most enjoy has been reading and studying poetry.  Over the last two weeks, I’ve been looking at it pretty steadily, with definite purpose.  In the process, I feel happier and rested– almost a vacation from the mundane.

For decades, I’ve always have a blank book dedicated to collected-by-me poems I liked.  Since I write them all out in longhand, some favorite-but-really-long poems never get included (T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, for instance).  No portable anthology could include every poem I like, anyway. 

The first of such books, which I have taken camping, on airline flights, on car-trips, to restaurants, coffee shops, the houses of strangers and families, the post office, etc, etc. has served me well.  That anthology has been taped, re-covered, glued, and all other methods of finite, ad-hoc conservation.  The poor book finally broke beyond repair–its glue, once yellow, then orange, is now brown, and the pages are flying out one by one.  As in the words of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, this book is done for, except as a relic of happy life experiences. 

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Yes, with few leaves still attached in the old copy, I started a new one.  And I’m almost done: this time I decided upon a semi-alphabetical order, and I’ve finally got to Yeats.

The new book I have used is a more expensive type with hand-sewn signatures, so if I don’t douse it in a Wordsworthian brook or lose it in Szymborska’s lost-and-found, I should have it for decades.  Fortunately, though expensively-made, I found this new blank book on a close-out sale.  The real expense was in the time to fill it in: slightly over 400 pages, and I am on page 360-something.  My hand hurts, but that is nothing compared to the words I have been revelling in and ‘Marvelling’ over.

Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball:

The old book versus the new one invites comparisons.  Handwriting: most of the time, my handwriting has devolved into a scrawl, but in this book I’ve managed to contain the careless, sprawling jot-down and come up with something decent, if somewhat more pointed than before.  But so what: what’s really interesting is that so many of the poems I thought important before still seem important to me now.

Observation No. 1: Thank you, Mrs. Reese.
Again, I am forced to acknowledge that  the stuff they forced down my throat in grade-school and high-school English class about poetic tropes like alliteration and assonance are really true.  There is nothing like copying a poem in longhand to make you realize that the word-choices that poets make are really specific and deliberate, and that they help create the engine that drives the message, the feeling, the ecstatics of the art . . .

Observation No. 2: O! Innovators!
I am newly grateful to Thomas Wyatt for bringing the sonnet to the English Language.  Three hundred years later, Walt Whitman really opened up the sphere of poetry subject matter: love, death, age, yes; but new details and new approaches to these matters, a different diction.  Again taken up by Pound, and others post-World War I, in terms of subject matter . . . . and Pound also further globalized poetry in the English language.

Observation No. 3: Time changes everything, including tastes
Though I loved Wallace Stevens much the first time, I’m finding him limited and pretentious this time around.  Though many poets got more room in the new book, he received less.  Also receiving less room: Sylvia Plath, who seems more selfish (though still tormented) at my now older perspective. 

Observation No. 4: Those that wrote the best also failed completely
Even the best poet wrote howlers, including Shakespeare.  I found a sonnet (No. 50) in which his love is evinced by the way he maltreats his horse; and a couple of dreadful soap operas in Wordsworth.  I mention these two poets in particular because they were the ones, this time, that also made me drunk on their words.  Excellent, excellent works, and some, like Wordsworth’s “Lines Written at Tintern Abbey” I’ve never been able to read all the way through before, and now want in my hand forever. 

Observation No. 5: More greatness, an expanded world
Better-discovered: Gerald Stern, Siegfried Sassoon, Mr. Coleridge, Sir Wyatt, Jane Kenyon.  Newly-discovered: Wislawa Szymborska, Sir John Harrington, Martial.  Still awe-inspiring: Philip Larkin, John Keats, John Donne, Seamus Heaney, and so many others.

Yes, it’s true love: great poems that grow with one and sustain one.  The beloved ones.  Here’s just a little bit of Tintern Abbey.  If you can, read it aloud:

The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e’er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations!

Dear Mr. Wordsworth: indeed I will always remember thee.

Further reading:
Robert diYanni’s Glossary of Poetic Terms at McGraw-Hill

Asia-Pacific:
♦ This year alone: Floods and landslides in China have killed 411 people as of Tuesday and inflicted 4.9 billion in losses to the state, particularly in the Northern provinces.
Last week, I reported that China executed  Mr. Zheng Xiaoyu over corruption and product safety violations.  This week, the Shanxi slavery case (also reported in previous RI) has resulted in one execution and several prison terms for officials of the brickyard.
♦ China’s diplomatic forays in Oceania–for various very good reasons.  The title sums up what I think about China’s foreign policy overall: The Long Game.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ Runaway inflation: Russia’s grain and oilseed prices went up 15% in the last two weeks, thereby affecting food prices for flour and flour products, condiments, and other staples.  Overall, inflation is jumping as well, due again to agriculture–trade embargoes in produce and meat, crackdowns on illegal immigrants who sell in food markets, and so forth.  Bt it is also due to increased money supply at Central Bank, and oil wealth uninvested.
♦ Again, Khodorkovsky gets charged:this time before parole hearing.  Robert Amsterdam also features the pressure that a Big 4 accountant, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, has been receiving in regard to Yukos books, which they audited and approved for the months of Khodorkovsky’s new charges.  After intense pressure, PwC has withdrawn all its audits and evidences, leaving Mr. K in jail for sure, despite all calls to the rule of law.
♦ Death to Russian environmentalists:  100km/63 miles from Lake Baikal, a large freshwater lake, is going to be the site of a uranium enrichment facility.  Protesters, camping out near the site, since July 14, were attacked: one dead, several in serious condition.  Two bullyboys arrested . . . so far . . .

Latin America
♦ Dear U.S. citizens: it is your patriotic duty (or, at least, wise) to peruse this collection of articles at Bloggings by Boz to see how U.S. demand for drugs, the lapse of the automatic weapons law, and different gun control strategies between the U.S. and Mexico are causing murder of Mexican law enforcement officials.  Since at least the 1960’s the United States has insisted that Mexico stop drug traffic to the U.S.–and now it turns out that the U.S. is the drug-runner’s best supplier.  My fellow U.S. citizens: we could definitely be creating a failed state, right here on our border: and won’t that be great?  Maybe it’s time for U.S. citizens who want to preserve the right to bear arms to consider what kind of an arms-control regime they feel would optimize both their rights and their safety.  Because there are no rights without safety–only necessities.
♦ Also at Boz (on sidebar, so I’ll link it directly: Venezuela’s police taking a hand in facilitating cocaine traffic to Europe.  Le Monde Diplomatique has a great map of drug traffic from the Americas, circa 1998, that is beautiful and informative.
♦ Greg Weeks looks at changes to presidential term limits in Bolivia, Venezuela, and elsewhere.
♦ Brazil cuts up stiff about U.S. farm subsidies in the new U.S. Farm Bill–and rightly so. . .  Anti-CAFTA Costa Rican doctors say CAFTA will cause the Americas to cut on “the stiffs”–uh, human organ trade.  But of course not?  Ick.
♦ High oil prices are affecting Argentina’s ability to access energy–and run its industry.

Middle East:
♦ Israel frees 120 of its 256 Palestinian political prisoners–almost all members of Fatah party.  Welcome home.  Now all these people need a job, so that means economic jumpstarts–the pressure isn’t off–just different.
♦ Afghanistan:   Another week where Afghanistan’s concerns are left out in U.S. politics.  See U.S. politics, below.  But also:
Two German hostages, held since July 18, are executed by the Taliban.  Twenty South Korean hostages, who were to set up hospital services in Kandahar, are still missing.
♦ Iran: Foreign policy initiatives with allies ruled this week, with hostages second:
On Thursday, Iran’s Mr. Ahmadinejad makes a visit to Syria, trying to keep a loyal ally with new pressures on it loyal; and Iran tells Central Asian states that the U.S. is a de-stabilizing force in the region, echoing Russia.  Here is the backup article used at the post as well.
While U.S. detainees in Iran had to come on air and “confess” their treasonous activities for which they were arrested.  Iran says televised interviews reveal a plot; U.S. sources say — not.  What they apparently said would not look like conspiracy to us, but part of their customary duties, given their profession as think-tank analysts: basically, talking to people about politics and economics.  But that’s part of the cultural divide here: not to be dismissed.
♦ Iraq:  The U.S. generals ask for time to surge and surge again.

U.S. Politics: It’s all about terror, detainees, the rule of law, and lost privacy.
♦ More domestic spying?  Slate’s Fred Kaplan thinks so, based upon some carefully-worded excerpts from the newest National Intelligence Estimate (pdf, 7 pages).  I discuss the NIE in previous post.
♦ Mr. Bush gets down and gets busy on the GWOT and your dinner plate: 
◊ New Executive Order leaves out Afghanistan in financial sanctions.
◊ New Executive Order for greater food safety: another Interagency Working Group.  No doubt China will take this personally–how about Congress?
◊ New Executive Order re-enables CIA torture–but not military torture.  This will, if nothing else, continue to obstruct coordination and cooperation in Afghanistan, as many ISAF states are hesitant to cooperate on any actions that require imprisonment of potential malefactors.  Without trust, cooperation cannot be absolute.
♦ The DC Federal Appeals court orders that Guantanamo files be turned over to detainee defense lawyers.  Next: The Supreme Court.

Energy:
♦ Oil prices as of July 20, 2007: up,  another USD 4 per barrel in one week for the second week in a row.  Brent crude, USD 78.34; West Texas intermediate, USD 75.39. 
♦ The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is predicting USD 100 per barrel oil prices by next year, a figure that seems believable considering that the price is going up one to three dollars per week lately.  Goldman Sachs is predicting USD 95 per barrel oil by the end of the year.  This will undoubtedly be blamed upon OPEC supply constraints, okay, and we could equally blame high-consumption . . .but to be honest, my air conditioner is ON. (h/t Energy Blog)
♦ The National Petroleum Council (of the United States) has a new five-point strategy for energy security.  At least one comment on this post is hilarious: hundreds of experts, 18 months, and the obvious solutions–?  but you know, that’s how it works in a democracy.  A long consensus-building before action is taken and dollars committed.
♦ Nuclear power woes: post-earthquake, a Japanese nuclear plant leaks–and, —two German nuclear plants under question after one of them has an electrical fire, prompting corporate dismissals and public debates.
♦ Japan to sell 10% of its 77% stake in Westinghouse to Kazakhstan–which, since Kazakhstan has 30% of the world’s uranium reserves, is a good deal for Westinghouse.

Away from all this:
Buckingham Palace LibraryThe libraries of the successful do not include books on how to succeed, but how to think.  Amazing and wonderfully liberating, isn’t it, to read for pleasure?  Keep checking back: I’m sharing mine, a little at a time . . .

Much of the great war poetry comes from World War I.  I’ve already posted one of the great Wilfred Owen’s poems. 

Repression of War Experience

Now light the candles; one; two; there’s a moth;
What silly beggars they are to blunder in
And scorch their wings with glory, liquid flame—
No, no, not that,—it’s bad to think of war,
When thoughts you’ve gagged all day come back to scare you;
And it’s been proved that soldiers don’t go mad
Unless they lose control of ugly thoughts
That drive them out to jabber among the trees.

Now light your pipe; look, what a steady hand.
Draw a deep breath; stop thinking; count fifteen,
And you’re as right as rain…
Why won’t it rain?…
I wish there’d be a thunder-storm to-night,
With bucketsful of water to sluice the dark,
And make the roses hang their dripping heads.
Books; what a jolly company they are,
Standing so quiet and patient on their shelves,
Dressed in dim brown, and black, and white, and green,
And every kind of colour. Which will you read?
Come on; O do read something; they’re so wise.
I tell you all the wisdom of the world
Is waiting for you on those shelves; and yet
You sit and gnaw your nails, and let your pipe out,
And listen to the silence: on the ceiling
There’s one big, dizzy moth that bumps and flutters;
And in the breathless air outside the house
The garden waits for something that delays.
There must be crowds of ghosts among the trees,—
Not people killed in battle,—they’re in France,—
But horrible shapes in shrouds—old men who died
Slow, natural deaths,—old men with ugly souls,
Who wore their bodies out with nasty sins.
. . . .
You’re quiet and peaceful, summering safe at home;
You’d never think there was a bloody war on!…
O yes, you would … why, you can hear the guns.
Hark! Thud, thud, thud,—quite soft … they never cease—
Those whispering guns—O Christ, I want to go out
And screech at them to stop—I’m going crazy;
I’m going stark, staring mad because of the guns.

Siegfried Sassoon

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More of Mr. Sassoon’s poetry, and a short biography, are available here.

After reading that Iraq is sending about 2,000 refugees per day to its neighbors and reflecting on the Sudan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, I found, by happenstance, a poem by the poet Wislawa Szymborska:

Some People

Some people flee some other people
to some country under a sun
and some clouds.

They abandon something close to all they’ve got
sown fields, some chickens, dogs,
mirrors in which fire now preens,

Their shoulders bear pitchers and bundles.
The emptier they get, the heavier they grow.

What happens quietly: someone’s dropping from exhaustion.
What happens loudly: someone’s bread is ripped away,
someone tries to shake a limp child back to life.

Always another wrong road ahead of them,
always another wrong bridge
across an oddly reddish river.
Around them, some gunshots, now nearer, now farther away,
above them a plane seems to circle.

Some invisibility would come in handy,
some grayish stoniness,
or, better yet, some nonexistence
for a shorter or longer while.

Something else will happen, only where and what.
Someone will come at them, only when and who,
in how many shapes, with what intentions.
If he has a choice,
maybe he won’t be the enemy
and will let them live some sort of life.

                                             –Wislawa Szymborska
Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

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From  Wislawa Szymborska: Poems, New and Collected 1957-1997.  New York: Harcourt Brace and Company.

I was telling my mother about this poem, how remarkable I found it:  in theme and trope it reminds me of Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas, but is completely its own: a little more terse, more formal, more contained–and therefore more intense.

Old Walls

When the year has turned on its mountain as the summer
     stars begin to grow faint and the wren wakes into
singing I am waiting among the loosening stones
     of the enclosure beyond the lower door of the far barn
the green stitchwort shines in the new light as though is were
     still spring and no footprint leads through it any longer
the one apple tree has not grown much in its corner
     the ivy has taken over the east wall toward the oak woods
and crept into the brid cherry here I listened
     to the clack of the old man’s hoe hilling the potatoes
in his dry field below the ash trees and here I looked up
     into the quince flowers opening above the wall
and I wanted to be far away like the surface
     of a river I knew and here I watched the autumn light
and though this was where I might choose to be buried
     here I struggled in the web and went on weaving it
with every turn and here I went on yielding
     too much credit to an alien claim and here I came
to myself in a winter fog with ice on the stones
     and I went out through the gap in the wall and it was done
and here I thought I saw myself as I had once been
     and I was certain that I was free of an old chain.

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I found this poem in The New Yorker, but don’t have the date of issue.  Other W.S. Merwin poems are at The New Yorker web site, and of course one may purchase W.S. Merwin’s poetry books. 
For those of you that don’t take this terribly seriously, here is a send-up by James de Ford.

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