True professor and Lehrer

Great interview between Michael Krasny and Jonah Lehrer right now on KQED — I am racing them to the top of the hour to post this entry of “Plastic Alto”. I had seen the article in yesterday’s Times about his book, on creativity, and the show mentions he will be in Palo Alto tomorrow at the JCC.

So I took the moment to load five photos from my dumbphone to this site.

1. This is a detail of Peter Wegner’s colorful machine at the new Stanford Business School, the Knight Center. I visited the site four times now and it was not until the last time that I witnessed the ball traveling across the field. I like the piece better before it was encased in glass.

2. I saw this Ray Johnson piece at a little gallery in Carmel. It was July, Terry’s birthday; we had Frida with us. We had to cut our trip short for an urgent family matter. I had read about Ray Johnson in Kimmelman, although Eric Walzcak probably told me about him first, as well as recomending “Accidental Masterpiece.”

3. Like with the Wegner, I preferred Mindy the pastry maker at Paris Bakery on University Avenue in Palo Alto more before they encased her in glass.

I think Dartmouth Hood had me sign a release form stating that my photos are for personal use; my blog gets 100 hits on a good day, so we will see how quickly they prioritize asking me to desist (and then make a donation).

4. Having written a paper for Professor McGrath — the father of the Olympic skier Felix McGrath — on this John Sloan urban painting in 1985, I was psyched to see it again during my Dartmouth reunion in June, 2011. I recall that Sloan added some detail — color — especially to the birds a few years after initially considering the piece finished.

5. Mildred Howard’s “Clear Story” persists –and prevails — at Martin Luther King Plaza at Palo Alto’s City Hall — 250 Hamilton — even though I rolled and inserted a copy of my TLPW456 hand-numbered, hand-smudged (with a set of rubber stamps and colored ink-pads) handbills between the bottles. Am meaning to DO SOMETHING with the extant hundred or so pieces of the set, and, as Lehrer would say, use the grit factor to make eventual progress both with my impact on Palo Alto City Council and policy and the effort to establish a music venue in downtown Palo Alto, perhaps at the beloved and historic Varsity Theatre, which has been vacant for seven months now.

Ok, I cheated: Krasny has been done — the radio waves are halfway to Mars — for about five minutes now.

edit to add, Wednesday at 11:15 a.m: I switched off “Talk of the Nation” but not before hearing a soundbite of a radio ad that claims that “Mitt Romney stands with big oil” which makes me wonder how oily the water was when Ray Johnson drowned. I rushed this — despite the 15 minute overage — in reference to Lehrer’s statement about the form of poetry being essential to force the writer to be that much more creative because of the constraints. He was a Rhodes Scholar, is 30, but I did not catch what they said was his day job, as a science writer for whom? Also, I was quickly thinking about a story I like to tell about running into Paul J. Cohen at Palo Alto Main Library, he happened to log onto the public computer next to me, and remarking to him that I noticed the Times had written a story about Perelman, the young Russian guy who made progress on Poincare, but turned down the Fields Prize (which Cohen had won, in 1963, for continuum hypothesis work). Paul was dismissive: “There are only a handful of people in the world who know about these things.” (about whether Perelman — Misha, Grisha? the guy who goes barefoot, I mean — had made any progress and if John Noble Wilford I think if his story adds anything for us lay people). Of course, visiting his office some time later, with his son Steve or Eric, probably Steve, I noticed the same article on the department’s bulletin board. I also recall it as having sort of a bunny rabbit shape, the geometry bit. Ok, and that bit of gratuitous Fields Prize winner name dropping cost me another 7 minutes. The time is eleven twenty two and 30 seconds.

edit to add, at 11:28: the article I am describing I am fairly uncertainty-less, was actually by Dennis Overbye and appeared in August, 2006 — Paul died in 2007, after a lengthy set of illnesses that presented with him toppling over in the garden and then having surgery for fluid in the scalp, which led to a finding of a cancer-like blood disorder and numerous other bits of bad luck, including what killed him which was more like lung cancer. The article on Poincare and Perelman does have an illustration of a rabbit and says that to a topologist a rabbit and a sphere are similar in that neither has a hole. I also, perhaps gratuitously, recall helping Steve or Eric — probably Steven — move some of Paul’s books from his office with a view of the quad to the Cohen residence. To be clear, I never visited Paul in his office; I only visited with his family to help his effects, mostly after he had passed, I would think. I saved a piece of chalk from his chalkboard. Who knows what secrets it still has to proffer up? 11:34

edit to add, six weeks later, or May 17, 2012: Terry bought Jonah Lehrer, “Imagine” for sale at a big box store and read it cover to cover while I only grazed it, 0r it only grazed me, rather, plus we have caught maybe two interviews. I plan to draw on this when I run for Palo Alto City Council, the idea that adding me to the machine is like adding Sondheim to “West Side Story” and more. Also, I was psyched that Lehrer must have studied at Columbia Shakespeare with my old Dartmouth professor James S. Shapiro (who actually taught a seminar on Marlowe, in Hanover, and whose “Contested Will” I have been chewing on, or it is chewing on me, or stuck like gum, recently):

imagine me also linking to James S. Shapiro and sending my old prof this link:

who writes back that he remembers me and that class but that he does not recall Lehrer as a student (!); it’s possible that JL only read Shapiro and did not take his class; JL in his notes to Chapter 8 “The Shakespeare Paradox” pp.213-246, recommends Shapiro “A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599” from 2006 among three other books, by Greenblatt, Garber and Ackroyd, all written between 2004 and 2006, oddly. See also: “Shakespeare and Verdlander” by Bill James, in Slate, March 2011; the chapter goes from Shakespeare, to NOCCA New Orleans, to Bob Dylan.

It is true that I am unduly and gratuitously influenced by Errol Morris “Fast Cheap and Out of Control” in that I seem to want to discuss four topics simultaneously and leave you guessing which of the four we are on but also 1956 “Mystery of Picasso” in that I start out having “professor” be a reference to the Ray Johnson piece in the photo then turn the thing into a tribute to James S. Shapiro, although he is much to busy to read this all the way through and see that.

I also caught in revision a typo, in the title of the Shapiro book. Oots!

edit to add, hopefully for the last time, Aug. 1, 2012: Michael C. Moynihan of Tablet, a Jewish-themed internet magazine skewers Jonah Lehrer for inventing Bob Dylan quotes. Lehrer resigns from The New Yorker. David Shields says, “See, I am right, again!” (I made that up!). Bob Dylan is thinking of re-writing “Hurricane” about Lehrer. I am relieved that Lehrer merely “grazed me” (I did spend another 30 minutes or so with it or him recently on the “West Side Story” story, and recall mentioning it to at least one other person — better check the sources! It’s from a 2005 paper by Brian Uzzi of Northwestern, assisted by a Jarrett Spiro  — which sounds like an alias for James Shapiro — who has a PhD from Stanford — and as I say “skewer” I think of Polonius and wonder if he is being punished for plagiarizing and being sententious in his blowhard address to Laertes two acts earlier…)

“Oh, I am slain!” –Jonah Lehrer

22 minutes later I cannot help but, apparently, self-delusionally, add more in the form of a mere mention of Arthur Phillips, his faux-Shakespeare but also his songwriter-muse story. If there were world enough and time.

Seven minutes after that and I should really log off, set machine to “sleep” mode, walk the dog, breath fresh air, absorb sunlight, eat something, but I am recalling my friend the successful music promoter and agent Reggie Marshall who claims to have taken acid with Ken Kesey, who then offered this wisdom in a nutshell, about “use what you can and let the rest pass on by” which I truly don’t understand, not being Reggie Marshall or Ken Kesey — I met him once, at the San Francisco Bay Area Book festival, where my job was to grab Kesey by the elbow and escort him from Furthr to the signing booth on time; so I should let poor Jonah go, in the Biblical sense, but instead now I find that he also did not properly reference a Norman Maclean story, about a Montana firefight and so my inner Dartmouth north woods first nation wanna-be machismo is rising to the occasion and I give a quite hardy and surprising “hoop” and raise a metaphorical very sharply pointed stone attached quite ingeniously and skillfully to a well-carved tree branch — a hatchet, say — and link again. But in the reverie am forgetting who I am linking to: someone on Slate.

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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