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The Odysseys of Homer

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Photo: Monica Neuwens

This essay was commissioned for The L.A. Odyssey Project, a month-long, city-wide exploration of Homer’s epic poem presented by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library. For more information, visit http://lfla.org/odyssey/.

By James Porter

The two poems attributed to Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are among the finest treasures in the world. They are also among the most puzzling and mysterious. Sprung full-grown like Athena in full armor from the head of Zeus, the poems miraculously appear sometime around 750-650 BCE, each the size of a hefty novel (nearly 16,000 verses for the Iliad and 12,000 for the Odyssey), each perfectly self-contained and of the greatest narrative sophistication, and neither one overlapping with the other, as if obeying some silent convention or territorial prerogative. Continue reading


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Stop Hunting Ishi

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Photo: Portrait of Ishi by E.H. Kemp, July 1912. Courtesy of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology and the Regents of the University of California.

Today’s post is from LARB Channel Boom.

By William Bauer

Ishi must be tired. For 160 years, people have hunted him and other California Indians. In the mid-nineteenth century, settlers, miners, and ranchers tracked Ishi and his family in revenge for the killing of livestock. In the early twentieth century, anthropologists trailed after Ishi, searching for North America’s “last wild Indian.” In 2000, Maidu and Pit River tribal members tracked down his brain, which Dr. Saxton Pope had removed at Ishi’s autopsy and Professor Alfred Kroeber had sent to the Smithsonian. In 2012, photographers Byron Wolfe and Troy Jollimore continued the quest to capture Ishi, visiting Deer Creek in search of his wilderness. Settlers, anthropologists, and indigenous people have hounded Ishi for different purposes. Understanding why people hunt Ishi tells us much about how Californians envision Indians and their past, present, and future. Continue reading


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The Generalissimo’s Ghost

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By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

“In Taiwan, Teens Protest Statues Honoring Former Ruler Chiang Kai-shek,”

Los Angeles Times headline, August 11, 2014

Like other historians of modern China, I give a fair number of class lectures that deal with Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), aka “The Generalissimo,” who was the most powerful man on the Chinese mainland from the late 1920s until 1949 and held that position in Taiwan from that point until his death.  Not many of us, though, really warm to him.  I know I never have.  He comes across in most accounts as stiff and autocratic, and even sympathetic biographers seem impatient to switch from talking about him to telling stories about his glamorous Wellesley-educated wife, Soong Mei-ling.  I’ve always been left cold by his speeches and writings, feeling they awkwardly tried to fuse two things that don’t really go together: adulation of Sun Yat-sen and his revolutionary vision, on the one hand, and veneration of traditional values and orderliness a la Confucius, on the other.  And yet, seeing that Los Angeles Times headline last month, I almost felt sorry for the Generalissimo.

Continue reading


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Introduction to Young Adult Week, From YA Editor Cecil Castellucci

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Photo: Cecil Castellucci, our Young Adult Fiction Editor. 

School’s started. In just a few hours (10:29 p.m. EDT) it will officially be fall.

Right about now classrooms across the world are settling into their routine. Students have figured out where their second- period class is. Which teachers they love and hate. Who they are going to call friend for the rest of their life. Everything is still fresh. The year is full of potential.

We know that every single one of you fell in love with reading when you were young. And this most lasting of love affairs was probably sparked around this time of year, when you went back to school. Continue reading

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Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs Art and Essay Contest Winners

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Photo: J. Soto-Gonzalez, first prize art contest winner ages 14–18

Let us congratulate Lizeth and Zulema for the impossible trek they have conquered.

Lizeth speaks of the extremes of heat, self-reliance at an early age, the round the clock labor universe of farm worker (“plant — pick and pack”) and the all encompassing knowing that all this is to sustain all life. It is incredible to know that a 10 to 13-year-old wrote this with such wisdom and compassion — a hard earned essay.

Zulema charts the long cycle of migrant generations, the year-long calendar — from Asparagus to Apples — crushing through school schedules and towns. She wants to break the cycle of poverty — the same one my father dreamed of dismantling in the 1950’s. Zulema has succeeded.

So we congratulate these chroniclers of migrant struggle and continuity, these wisdom-word writers for a just Now.

Juan Felipe Herrera

Poet Laureate Continue reading

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Right to Raft

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Photo: Nadine Cordial

By Elizabeth Lauren Winkler

There’s a quality to youthful American summers that sets those childhoods apart. I’ve sped far enough forward now from that time that my memories have condensed into a series of vivid, if fractured, images: my parents parked on their canvas beach chairs (Dad slack-jawed in a heat-induced nap); crabs strewn like the bodies of a defeated army across a long brown-papered table; the sea of Fourth of July patchwork quilts; fireworks, post-explosion, dripping color through the night; heat throbbing on the courts at tennis camp; melting popsicles; tangled, sunburned limbs; and the cool, chemical blue waters of the country club pool. Continue reading


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Robert Buscemi, of Surprise! Comedy, Nominated for Andy Kaufman Award

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In early August LARB AV ran a feature on a new Los Angeles comedy circuit called Surprise! Comedy. One of the comedians featured, Robert Buscemi, has just been nominated for an Andy Kaufman Award. Here’s the video from the award voting:

And here’s the video from the original feature by LARB AV:

We won’t tell you to vote for Robert, but if you like comedy, you should vote for somebody! The link to all of the videos and voting is here. 

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Take Me Out to the Ballgame, in Taipei

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By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

At precisely 6:35pm on a Thursday night, exactly as scheduled, the ChinaTrust Brother Elephants took the field at Taipei’s Xinzhuang Stadium, their bumblebee-yellow uniforms sharp against the deep green of the grass. Alone, with nearly an entire section of the outfield stands to myself, I leaned back in my seat and watched the first Uni-President 7-Eleven Lion step into the batter’s box. I had no idea who he was or how his season was going. I didn’t know who was pitching, or which team had the better record.

I didn’t care. I just wanted to watch a baseball game. Continue reading

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Futures Past

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Today’s post was originally published on LARB Channel Boom, which describes it as “exploring California landscapes with the San Francisco Estuary Institute.”

By Erin Beller, Ruth Askevold, and Robin Grossinger

Heading home from a successful duck hunting trip near the Sacramento River one rainy winter evening around 1850, William Wright got hopelessly lost in a muddy maze of ice-covered tules. Navigating in the pitch dark only by the direction of the wind and sleet, he trudged through a series of cold, waist-deep lakes, falling into beaver holes full of icy water. Disoriented, soaked, cold, and hungry—and lugging dozens of duck and goose carcasses—he and his companion gave up for the evening. They set up camp, making a dinner of raw goose meat and a bed of tules and goose wings—”the worst camp I ever made in my life,” Wright wrote.

At the San Francisco Estuary Institute’s Center for Resilient Landscapes, we use accounts like Wright’s to discover California as it was before the rapid and often profound transformations of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Our ecological detective work synthesizes clues found in naturalists’ field notebooks and surveyors’ sketches; diary entries by Spanish explorers, Forty-Niners, and farmers’ wives; and photographs of camping trips and family picnics, to name a few of the colorful and idiosyncratic sources left behind by previous generations of writers and artists, scientists and surveyors, residents, and travelers. These early observations allow us to reconstruct past ecological patterns and create detailed maps of long-gone landscapes across the state. They let us visualize change through time, providing a spatially explicit view of how prior generations of Californians shaped their landscapes into the ones we have inherited and continue to reshape today. Continue reading


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A Wellness Memoir: Suzanne Koven on Gail Caldwell’s New Life, No Instructions

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By Suzanne Koven

In 2005, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History mounted an exhibit titled “Whatever Happened to Polio?” The Salk vaccine, first available in 1955, all but eradicated the virus which killed thousands of Americans and paralyzed many more — most famously, Franklin D. Roosevelt — during the first half of the 20th century. “All but” is significant, though, as the exhibit highlighted. Despite the introduction in 1963 of the Sabin oral vaccine, making it easy and cheap to immunize large populations, there are still a few hundred cases of the disease each year, primarily in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and, most recently, Syria. Global health experts fear that war, mass movement of refugees across borders, and prohibition of vaccination by extremist regimes could cause a renewed spread of polio in the twenty-first century. Continue reading