Saturday, December 20, 2008

Parvum Opus 306 ~ On Mendication


The word museum comes from Latin/Greek for “temple of the Muses” while to muse comes from Latin for muzzle or snout, originally from bite, so it’s hard to tell whether to expect any given museum to inspire or leave you gaping open-mouthed, or both. “The Past Isn’t What It Used To Be” by Andrew Ferguson (The Weekly Standard, Dec. 15, 2008) is about the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which exhibits the Puffy Shirt from the Seinfeld TV show on a par with the desk Thomas Jefferson used to write the Declaration of Independence. Someone has to make those decisions.

This fall I went with a group of students to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, so located because the Ohio River was the dividing line between Northern free states and Southern slave states. As a museum, it was disappointing to all of us. The only authentic historical artifact I saw was a slave pen from Kentucky, a log building that held slaves for sale. On the floor inside the log structure was a small pile of unidentified chains, shackles, and manacles with no indication that they were original. I should think not since they were loose; anyone could have taken them. There’s a Lincoln exhibit, mostly reading matter and some illustrations. The most engaging exhibits were an interactive video that let viewers choose their escape route ~ up a tree or through the woods? travel in winter or summer? stop to eat or keep moving? ~ and a video dramatization of the escape of a slave over the river, helped by a white man and a free black man, both real historical figures, who lived on the Ohio side. But that’s more or less TV. There was a large collection of photos of people from all over the world, and as my Chinese student asked, why were they there? The only point I got out of the photo exhibit was that they were not white people. But let us not forget that white people have been slaves too. And there was a very large, colorful fabric wall hanging that depicted in an abstract way the history of black people in Cincinnati, but no one could make much sense out of it. I was interested in the exhibit on modern slave trafficking, but it was closed.

The NURFC is a huge, beautiful building, but it is not attracting the expected hordes of visitors and isn’t doing too well financially. The city donated the land to the museum, and when the city wanted part of the land back for parking, the museum tried to shake down the taxpayers and sell part of the real estate back to the city, which didn’t go over well.

All in all, the NURFC just doesn’t have enough content to justify its footprint. A museum has to have a point of view, and this one does not do justice to its big story. No wonder it’s called by that catch-all non-word name “center” rather than “museum”.

Parvum Opus Readers

Tim Bazzett wrote:

Didja do yer homework? Timothy Egan is the bestselling author of The Worst Hard Time. I don't think he'd has any trouble getting a book contract.

No, I hadn’t done my homework; when Egan got snarky in the NY Times about non-writers getting book contracts, I got snarky about him and thought he might be jealous of their publication. Apparently not; it was just pure spite against people he dislikes politically. I’m still recovering from the two-year presidential campaign, two years of political over-mendication, and it’s all I can do to remind myself that’s it’s Christmas, and a new year is coming.

Just a reminder here that Tim Bazzett has published several memoirs; he was stationed with the Army Security Agency in Sinop, Turkey, as a ditty-bopper (Morse code guy) and later became a Russian translator. (Fred was in also Sinop, as a Russian translator, before Tim got there.) Find Tim’s books at Rathole Books, and listen to his recorded interview.

A new PO reader has a blog worth catching, Ed Kelce’s fogdad. Long-time reader Dave DaBee’s sister Suede is a great jazz singer; find her music at Dave blogs too; which do you want to share, Dave? Computer maven Bob Oberg writes poetry; don’t know if he has a web site he wants us to know about. Kathy Taylor writes an amusing, down-home column, with gorgeous scenic photos, in the Hur Herald; search for Beason News.

I know other readers must have stuff. For the new year, I’d like to list all the web sites, blogs, etc. of Parvum Opus readers. Update me, and I’ll list them here.

Synchronized Spooning on Ice

If you’re up that way, be sure to get tickets to Synchronized Spooning on Ice in the Vancouver Pacific Coliseum (every night through New Year’s Eve). By using that venue, some competitors are hoping they still have a chance of being slated in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, but so far, looks like it’s not happening.

“If they have wheelchair curling, why not us?” asked competitor Nudge Carhardt, referring to a Paralympic event. “I mean, we don’t need prosthetics.”

“Now hush,” whispered his wife Swish.

“I’m just saying,” said Nudge.

Most competitors will be performing on 10’ x 10’ x 3’ blocks of ice towed into the ice arena. Spooning on ice makes for faster moves as the surface of the ice melts. Some competitors (or “spoons” as they’re beginning to call themselves, rather than “spooners”) are urging a permanent move to ice to replace platform beds in competition, but Ned Ferguson and Sheila Urquhart-Ferguson will be using a spectacular waterbed filled with blue water and flashing lights.

“It’s softer but harder,” Ned joked. “I mean, the bed’s softer of course, but it’s harder to get traction so it’s really just for exhibition spooning. It feels as cold as ice, though. Sucks the heat right out of you.”

Jem Whittle and Shirl Purley are building their trademark campfire on their own 20’ diameter block of ice and yes, the ice starts to melt under the fire, adding to the excitement of their extreme Cubing the Circle routine.

“We actually like working on ice,” said Shirl, “because it’s slippery. Our moves are so difficult and I’m thinking we should always work on ice.”


Seven years ago, December 19, 2001, I got an e-mail from Fred, after 26 years. After two solid months of e-mailing, we were engaged. Here are some fragments of poetry that we tagged our e-mails with:

Above, across or back again,

wherever he goes in the world

let him carefully scrutinise

the rise and fall of compounded things.

~ Itivuttaka 120

Stay together, friends

Don't scatter and sleep.

Our friendship is made

of being awake.

~ Rumi

A cowgirl gets up in the morning, decides

what she wants to do, and does it.

~ Marie Lords, 1876


Read The Wish Book, a novella by Rhonda Keith, free online.

New interview with bluesman Sonny Robertson.


Trivium pursuit ~ rhetoric, grammar, and logic, or reading, writing, and reckoning: Parvum Opus discusses language, education, journalism, culture, and more. Parvum Opus by Rhonda Keith is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. Rhonda Keith is a long-time writer, editor, and English teacher. Back issues from December 2002 may be found at Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please e-mail, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2008. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

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