Saturday, July 30, 2005

Little people

Lunch yesterday at a Chinese restaurant where my wife Elaine and I have been going since 1985. Mae, the owner, was happy to see us. "You're such a cute couple," she said. "So little."

Little?

I immediately thought of what Elaine and I used to call "potato love"--our characterization of the tiny old people you see in a city, rocking slightly from side to side as they walk, arm in arm, to do their shopping.

Then Mae added, "You always look the same," and I realized that little meant young. Phew. Thanks, Mae!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Woebegone

A really revealing piece in Inside Higher Ed, "Woebegone About Grade Inflation," on professorial attitudes toward grade inflation. Authors Janice McCabe and Brian Powell draw four conclusions:

First, most professors believe grade inflation occurs at their university, but few believe it occurs in their department, and even fewer in their own classes. . . .

Second, most professors view student pressure as a key factor fueling other professors' grading practices and grade inflation, but few admit they experience this pressure, and fewer acknowledge they are influenced by it. . . .

Third, most professors assert a link between grades and student evaluations, but they also express faith in their students and their evaluations' ability to distinguish between the best and worst teachers. . . .

Fourth, most professors believe average grades should be lower on campus, but would like to see a higher grade distribution in their own classes. . . .
What do these deep contradictions mean? McCabe and Powell offer a compelling explanation:
These four seeming contradictions provide another illustration of what social psychologists refer to as self-enhancing tendencies: that individuals believe they are better than average and that their situation is distinct from others. This is the social psychological equivalent of the Lake Wobegon Effect, "where all the children are above average." The Lake Wobegon Effect is referred to repeatedly in the public discourse over grade inflation, although in that discourse, students, not professors, are being rated as above average.

The self-enhancing tendency helps explain why professors believe that grade inflation exists but their grades do not contribute to it, why student pressure and student evaluations influence others' grading but not their own, and why grades in their classes should be higher but grades at the university level (and other universities) should be lower.
The entire piece is well worth reading for what it says about grade inflation and for what it says about the self-enhancing (and self-deluding) professorial mind. (Click on the title of the article above.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Les yeux sans visage

From a New York Times article, "A New Face: A Bold Surgeon, an Untried Surgery":

A team led by Dr. [Maria] Siemionow is planning to undertake what may be the most shocking medical procedure to occur in decades: a face transplant. . . .

From the moment Dr. Siemionow first proposed this surgery, she has been hearing about "Face/Off," the 1997 movie starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage as an F.B.I. agent and a criminal mastermind whose mugs are surgically swapped.

One night, before the first review of her proposal by colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic, she rented the movie to gauge the public's potential reaction to the operation.

"It was O.K., if you like Travolta," she shrugged. "But it was just science fiction."
An earlier movie is relevant too: Les yeux sans visage [Eyes without a face], a 1959 film by Georges Franju about a doctor who seeks to give his daughter a face transplant. (He was driving "like a madman," and the accident that ruined her face was his fault.)

Les yeux sans visage is one of the most gruesome and stylish horror movies I've seen. (Yes, it depicts the surgery.) It's equal in fascination to Carnival of Souls (the 1962 film made in Lawrence, Kansas). Both films are available on DVD from the Criterion Collection in beautifully restored prints.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Microsoft disses paper and pen

Microsoft has launched "Stationery Is Bad," an ad campaign to promote a product called OneNote. Says the website, "Let's face it. Stationery isn't very good. And when it comes to note taking, it just isn't up to the job."

Oh really? This campaign is supposed to be "humorous," but I find it insulting to my intelligence and to my sense of reality. The advantages of paper-based communication have been recounted many times. Does Microsoft really believe that saying something makes it so?

Paper

One place to begin reading about the advantages of paper is The Myth of the Paperless Office, by Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper. To read Macolm Gladwell's New Yorker review, click here.

Driven to distraction

From "Driven to distraction by technology":

For years, technology has worked to get people more connected. In the office there's e-mail, instant messages and the phone. On the road, cell phones and BlackBerrys enable workers to stay in touch with colleagues.

There is a mini rebellion under way, however. Desperate for some quiet time to think, people are coming up with low-tech strategies to get away from all their technology. That has Microsoft and others taking note and looking for ways to create software that can be more adept at preventing interruptions.

"If you don't have that sort of free time to dream and muse and mull, then you are not being creative, by definition," said Dan Russell, a senior manager at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif.

After concluding three years ago that he was becoming a slave to e-mail, Russell decided to put his foot down. These days, he takes his time replying to messages. All his responses say at the bottom: "Join the slow email movement! Read your mail just twice each day. Recapture your life's time and relearn to dream."
As someone making the effort to cut down on checking my e-mail, I like Dan Russell's advice. Microsoft's response--more software!--reminds me of what happens when you call to cancel cable television: the cable company tries to sell you more channels. The real solution of course is to step away from the machine.

You can read Ina Fried's CNET News article by clicking here. (Via 43 Folders.)

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Faux Faulkner

From "The Administration and the Fury," by Sam Apple, winning entry in the 2005 Faux Faulkner contest:

Down the hall, under the chandelier, I could see them talking. They were walking toward me and Dick's face was white, and he stopped and gave a piece of paper to Rummy, and Rummy looked at the piece of paper and shook his head. He gave the paper back to Dick and Dick shook his head. They disappeared and then they were standing right next to me.

"Georgie's going to walk down to the Oval Office with me," Dick said.

"I just hope you got him all good and ready this time," Rummy said.

"Hush now," Dick said. "This aint no laughing matter. He know lot more than folks think." Dick patted me on the back good and hard. "Come on now, Georgie," Dick said. "Never mind you, Rummy."

We walked down steps to the office. There were paintings of old people on the walls and the room was round like a circle and Condi was sitting on my desk. Her legs were crossed.

"Did you get him ready for the press conference?" Dick said.

"Dont you worry about him. He'll be ready," Condi said. Condi stood up from the desk. Her legs were long and she smelled like the Xeroxed copies of the information packets they give me each day.

"Hello Georgie," Condi said. "Did you come to see Condi?" Condi rubbed my hair and it tickled.

"Dont go messing up his hair," Dick said. "Hes got a press conference in a few minutes."
If you don't understand what's going on here, join Oprah's Book Club and start reading The Sound and the Fury. You can read the rest of "The Administration and the Fury," along with the two runners-up, by clicking here.

Update: The above link is defunct, but you can still read Sam Apple's parody in Slate via the link below.

» The Administration and the Fury

Saturday, July 23, 2005

On handwriting and typing

W.H. Auden, from "Writing":

Most people enjoy the sight of their own handwriting as they enjoy the smell of their own farts. Much as I loathe the typewriter, I must admit that it is a help in self-criticism. Typescript is so impersonal and hideous to look at that, if I type out a poem, I immediately see defects which I missed when I looked through it in manuscript. When it comes to a poem by somebody else, the severest test I know of is to write it out in longhand. The physical tedium of doing this ensures that the slightest defect will reveal itself; the hand is constantly looking for an excuse to stop.
[From The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays (1962).]

Funny that in our time typing (or "word-processing") seems to mask defects--everything looks so slick, so finished, so right. To paraphrase Alexander Pope, our attitude about "word-processed" text seems to be that "Whatever is in Times New Roman, is right." Thus it is that teachers of writing often recommend printing a draft in an unfamiliar and unpretty font, so that the text it loses its fine appearance and becomes more readily subject to revision. (Try printing in Courier New and see what I mean).

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"Stacks' Appeal"

From "Stacks' Appeal," by "Thomas H. Benton" ( a pseudonym):

What does it mean when the University of Texas at Austin removes nearly all of the books from its undergraduate library to make room for coffee bars, computer terminals, and lounge chairs? What are students in those "learning commons" being taught that is qualitatively better than what they learned in traditional libraries?

I think the absence of books confirms the disposition to regard them as irrelevant. Many entering students come from nearly book-free homes. Many have not read a single book all the way through; they are instead trained to surf and skim. Teachers increasingly find it difficult to get students to consult printed materials, and yet we are making those materials even harder to obtain. Online journal articles are suitable for searching and extraction, but how conducive is a computer for reading a novel?

I also suspect that retrieval of books in the context of food service and roving helpers inculcates in students a disturbing combination of passivity and entitlement, as if they are diners in a fancy restaurant rather than students doing their homework. The "learning commons" seems consistent with the consumerist model of education that we all recognize: "I deserve an 'A' because I'm paying a lot of money to come here (even if I spend all my time playing video games and hanging out at the new campus fitness center)."
You can read the essay, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, here. (Via Arts & Letters Daily.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Everyday details in film

When I watch old movies, I always like looking at the details of everyday life as imagined on film. That's how I first noticed the snowglobe in Susan Alexander's boarding-house room in Citizen Kane. The cigarette-lighter and Bull Durham sack on Sam Spade's night-table in The Maltese Falcon, the signs strung across the drugstore in The Best Years of Our Lives, the sad furnishings of Garzah's room in The Naked City -- they all move me to hit Pause and undertake my own version of Cultural Studies. Here's something I just took in on the DVD release of The Grapes of Wrath -- the menu-board in a diner where the Joads stop to buy a loaf of bread (a 15¢ loaf, which they are able to buy for 10¢). The menu stands a silent commentary on the distance between the Joads and their dream of a better life:

T BONE STEAK   35
RIB STEAK   30
PORK CHOPS   25
ROAST CHICKEN   25
ROAST BEEF   25
ROAST LAMB   25
ROAST PORK   25
LIVER & ONIONS   25
BOILED HAM   25
COLD MEATS   25
STEW   15
SALADS   10
SOUP
PIES
COLD DRINKS
(The prices of the last three items are obscured by a counter display of lollipops.)

Makeover

I just spent an hour or so fiddling with another template, Douglas Bowman's Minima, changing the font, changing the title-style and colors. Tedious, but somehow fun. This new design is, to my eyes, cleaner, brighter, and, uhh, oranger.

Monday, July 18, 2005

From the Greek: panegyric

From Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day:

The Word of the Day for July 18 is:

panegyric \pan-uh-JEER-ik\ noun
: a eulogistic oration or writing; also : formal or elaborate praise

Example sentence:
At the symposium, Dr. Fields introduced his colleague with a lengthy panegyric that detailed her research, her publications, and her most recent awards.

Did you know?
On certain fixed dates throughout the year, the ancient Greeks would come together for religious meetings. Such gatherings could range from hometown affairs to great national assemblies, but large or small, the meeting was called a "panegyris." (That name comes from "pan," meaning "all" and "agyris," meaning "assembly.") At those assemblies, speakers provided the main entertainment, and they delivered glowing orations extolling the praises of present civic leaders and reliving the past glories of Greek cities. To the Greeks, those laudatory speeches were "panegyrikos," which means "of or for a panegyris." Latin speakers ultimately transformed "panegyrikos" into the noun "panegyricus," and English speakers adapted that Latin term to form "panegyric."

NYT apostrophe

From the New York Times online, a link on the front page (as it were):

The Smith's Music, on Stage
That should be Smiths', plural possessive.

This goof and others (this one, for instance) suggest that writing errors are filtering ever upward.

Update: The error on the Times page has been corrected. Is the paper catching its (not it's) own mistakes? Responding to e-mail corrections from readers?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Arts and science

In the course of the interview described here, Van Dyke Parks quotes John Maeda, professor of media arts and sciences at the Media Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

Amidst all the attention given to the sciences as to how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are conventionally considered "useless," will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously. The arts are the science of enjoying life.
This comment appeared in the November 11, 2003 New York Times; you can see an image of the print version here.

And here are links to Maeda's blog, Thoughts on Simplicity, and to samples of his work. I especially like "Line."

Van Dyke Parks interviewed

There's a two-hour podcast from Cotolo Chronicles featuring an interview with Van Dyke Parks (whose song "Orange Crate Art" gave this blog its name). You can find the interview as a 27.6 mb download by clicking here. Scroll down to the July 14, 2005 download. The interview begins at about the thirty-minute mark.

Here's a choice Parks remark, carefully transcribed:

It all led to an opportunity for arranging, and that's what I've done for my entire life is arranging and trying to surround myself with talent and learn how to be a collaborative talent myself, be the best beta-male I can think of, because of my devotion to the motion, my eyes being on the prize, as they are, which is just to go ahead and do music in any way I can. Sometimes that means even taking an accordion on an airplane.
[Parks played accordion on the Beach Boys' "Kokomo."]

And one more, on his love of many kinds of music, from Schubert to calypso:
I'm sorry to say I love music. I'm a goat; I eat everything.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Norton on my mind

I'm teaching 20th-century British poetry this summer via the second volume of the seventh edition of the Norton Anthology of English Literature (NAEL2, edited by M.H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt, published in 2000). It's a choice dictated by necessity: teaching at a college with a Textbook Rental System (sic), I must use any new book that I order over three semesters. As I seldom teach modern British, I chose a book already in the System.

I'm not against anthologies, which can be great means of discovery. I found Gregory Corso's "Marriage" in an anthology as a college freshman (A. Kent Hieatt and William Parks' College Anthology of British and American Poetry) and immediately had to revise my sense of what a poem could say. More recently, Andrei Codrescu's American Poetry Since 1970: Up Late and Ron Silliman's In the American Tree opened my eyes to what I'd been missing in recent American writing. But Norton anthologies do not inspire my affection. When I began to really learn my way around the New American Poetry sixteen or seventeen years ago, the absurdities of the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (NAMP, ed. Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair) quickly became clear. Not only did the emperor have no clothes; he had his--well, never mind. (See Clayton Eshleman's "The Gospel According to Norton" [American Poetry Review, September-October 1990] for the gaps and errors in the second edition of the NAMP.)

Coming to the NAEL2 for modern poetry, I find unfortunate (unconscionable?) omissions. I know better than to expect poets from, say, Richard Caddel and Peter Quartermain's Other: British and Irish Poetry since 1970 or Maggie O'Sullivan's Out of Everywhere: Linguistically Innovative Poetry by Women in North America and the UK (and, yes, I'm directing my students to sources beyond the NAEL2, especially as we near the present). But Basil Bunting is missing from the NAEL2. So are William Empson and Mina Loy and Charles Tomlinson. There are no Auden poems later than 1952's "The Shield of Achilles." David Jones is here only as one of several "Voices from World War I," in brief excerpts from the Preface and Part Seven of In Parenthesis, with one of the most important sentences of the Preface omitted ("I have only tried to make a shape in words, using as data the complex of sights, sounds, fears, hopes, apprehensions, smells, things exterior and interior, the landscape and paraphernalia of that singular time and of those particular men"). Edith Sitwell is here only as one of the "Voices from World War II" (there's nothing from Façade). As one might expect, Yeats dominates "The Twentieth Century," with thirty-four poems, and a career divided, according to the headnote to those poems, into five periods (like a schoolday--fourth period gym; fifth period Yeats!).

Which brings me to another way in which this anthology dissatisfies me--in its commentaries on individual writers. My sampling of these headnotes is relatively small, and it may be that I'm seeing what are only haphazard glitches. But a book of this size--3,024 pages, including the prefatory matter--is the work of numerous hands, and I suspect that four kinds of problems I find in individual headnotes are to be found in various ways throughout the book.

1. Odd omissions: The intro to Hopkins, which is in many ways clear and helpful, glosses inscape with no reference to haecceity ("thisness," as opposed to quiddity, "whatness"), the term of scholastic philosophy that's crucial to Hopkins' thinking. The intro to Auden makes no reference to Hardy ("my first Master," Auden called him) or to Auden's importance to later poets. (John Ashbery: "I once said to Kenneth Koch, 'What are you supposed to say to Auden?' And he said that about the only thing there was to say was 'I'm glad you're alive.'")

2. Factual weirdness: Here's a bewildering glitch, from the intro to "Voices from World War I": "the battle casualties of World War I were many times greater than those of World War II." This statement does hold if it applies to U.K. casualties, but there's no indication that that is the context. There is in fact no indication that this statement applies to anything other than the total battle causalities of the two wars. And there's also nothing to clarify for a student-reader that World War I was not fought on British soil (a common confusion, at least among undergraduates).

3. Cliché, vagueness, and tonal failure: Here the problems are more amusing, as one listens for the sound of the wind, rustling through the tweed.

Auden combines "clowning" with "cunning verbal craftsmanship" and finally learns to control his desire to "shock." Edith Sitwell too engages in "clowning" and "cunning exploration of rhymes and rhythms" and uses "shock tactics." It seems reasonable to assume that the tired phrasing in these headnotes is the work of the same tired writer.

Characterizations are sometimes so vague as to defy an attempt to trace them back to individual poets: "a thoughtful, seriously playful (if one may put it in this paradoxical way) poet"; "pain and pleasure alike rendered with a Keatsian specificity"; "combines the ironic and the visionary in a highly original manner"; "at home, one might say, with the universe, with all that is deep-rooted and elemental in the Individual and Nature"; "had a poetic sense of life"; "has since proved the truth of Yeats' statement that 'out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.'" I'm tempted to devise a matching test, but after collecting these comments, I've lost track of which poets they apply to (aside from the fourth, which does seem to describe D.H. Lawrence).

The tweedy tone in the headnotes--if one may put it in this paradoxical way, one might say, pellucid clarity, finely disciplined movement, richer harmonies, the accents of drawing-room conversation, deep yet unsentimental feeling--sometimes makes me wonder whether some smart-alecky graduate students or assistant professors are having fun at the expense of their (imaginary?) sherry-sipping elders. If not, such phrasing represents a genuine failure of tone. I can't imagine any undergraduate, dedicated to literature or already skeptical, being engaged by such stuff. Drawing-room conversation, indeed.

4. Oracular judgment: The Preface to the NAEL2 states that the headnotes "are designed to give the information needed, without imposing an interpretation." That's a remarkable sentence, as if a judgment about what "information" is needed doesn't presuppose an interpretation. Does an undergrad need to know anything about anti-Semitism in relation to T.S. Eliot's poetry? The headnote to Eliot's work doesn't mention it (though Anthony Julius' T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form is mentioned in the back-of-the-book bibliography).

While claiming to refrain from interpretation, the headnotes offer several absolute judgments of poetic value: Yeats is "beyond question the greatest twentieth-century poet of the English language." T.S. Eliot--and you'd never know from this anthology how sharply his reputation has declined--is "the poet of the modern symbolist-Metaphysical tradition." (There is one? How large?) And Seamus Heaney is "the best Irish poet since W.B. Yeats" (Robert Lowell's words, certified by the headnote). I can't find further pronouncements this absolute in the Twentieth Century section of the anthology: Auden is "uneven," but still "one of the masters," and the appraisals become more moderate in their enthusiasm as one reaches the present.

My dissatisfactions with the NAEL2 are not a matter of buyer's remorse. I chose the book, eyes open. If my choice had not been constrained by circumstance, I would gladly have ordered Keith Tuma's Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry (Oxford UP), an anthology far better attuned to innovation, far less oracular, two-thousand pages shorter, and several pounds lighter. Bunting, Empson, Loy, and Tomlinson all have a home there, along with many other poets, early- and late-century, who are missing from the NAEL2.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

5,000

I just realized that in the past day or so, this blog received its 5,000th visitor. Thanks, readers.

George and Ira, corrected

My dad has sent me another music-related error in print, in a syndicated obituary for Mark Trent Goldberg, an archivist and expert on the music of George and Ira Gershwin:

Together the Gershwins--Ira, the lyricist, and George, the composer--wrote some of the most enduring music ever heard on Broadway.

"Porgy and Bess," which opened in 1935, set new standards for musical theater, with songs that included "Summertime" and "It Ain't Necessarily So."

Dozens of other Gershwin show tunes--"It Had To Be You" and "Embraceable You" among them--have become standards for singer-pianists.
Yikes! As my dad points out, "It Had to Be You" was written by Gus Kahn (words) and Isham Jones (music).

For previous Jim Leddy corrections, click here.

Saturday, July 9, 2005

We're not afraid

A response to London: Photos of people saying "We're not afraid," at http://www.werenotafraid.com/.

Moleskine 2006 datebook review

[Welcome, Moleskinerie readers.]


I gather that the 2006 Moleskine datebooks are not that widely available yet. Here are my first (and happy) impressions.

I bought the week-on-two-pages pocket datebook, which is a little thinner than the standard pocket notebooks. Like every Moleskine I've bought, it's beautifully made. The rounded corners and the slight bumps on the back cover from the glued-in ends of the elastic give the book a satisfying sort of feel--more comparable to, say, a leather briefcase than to a memo pad.

Many pages precede the datebook pages themselves: an i.d. page ("In case of loss..."); a title page; a personal data page; calendars for 2006 and 2007 (one line per day); two pages for travel planning; a map of time zones; and pages listing international holidays, average temperatures, city-to-city distances, international calling codes, measures and conversions, and clothing sizes. Finally, there's a 5-inch/13-centimeter ruler printed along a page edge. At the back of the book, a detachable address book tucks into the familiar Moleskine pocket. There's also the folded page with the Moleskine story. No writing stickers though.

What makes this datebook useful to me is the switch Moleskine has made away from thin columns and back to lined pages. (The columns kept me from buying a Moleskine datebook for 2005.) Having nine lines to write on (eight for Wednesday and the weekend) allows for to-do lists and notes, not simply notations of events. I particularly appreciate the absence of printed hours, which always make me feel that I'm not using a datebook as I'm supposed to be using it.

I gave the other Moleskine datebooks a careful look--the pocket and large day-per-page books seem to have the same layout as for 2005, with hours running down the edge of the page (I didn't own one of those, so I'm going from glances here and there at the 2005 books--I may have missed some small changes). These books are simply too bulky for my taste, but anyone whose days are heavy with appointments should consider them.

I was surprised to see that the layout of the large week-on-two-pages datebook keeps to thin columns across the page, which I'm guessing might lead to some confusion and disappointment. It seems too easy for someone to assume that the large and pocket versions have the same format. So look carefully, and if you don't want to be fenced in, stay away from the large week-on-two-pages datebook.

Of all the datebooks I've owned, this Moleskine is the one that most delights me. Its many features appeal to my Swiss-Army-knife gene; its excellent paper takes fountain-pen ink well; and its small size makes it more useful to me than larger books (like Quo Vadis' Scholar). And unlike my Palm 515, it has no battery in need of endless recalibration.

"Big"

From an interview with James W. Keyes, chief executive of 7-Eleven, marking the return of 7-Eleven to Manhattan:

Q: Aside from the Slurpee, several of 7-Eleven's label products emphasize their size. There's Big Gulp, Big Eats Deli items, Big Eats Bakery and Big Bite grill items. Is big what you think Americans want?

A: Our definition of big means more quality and popularity. If you will, it's kind of an attention-getter, a brand name that we started using in the late 1960's, the early 70's and it stuck, so it's a trademark. But, it's definitely not intended to portray, in all cases, large.
So the 44 oz. Super Big Gulp is about quality and popularity, not more sugar or caffeine (or just more soda). Now I understand.

Auden, London

The novelist Ian McEwan, writing in the New York Times:

In Auden's famous poem, "Musée des Beaux Arts," the tragedy of Icarus falling from the sky is accompanied by life simply refusing to be disrupted. A plowman goes about his work, a ship "sailed calmly on," dogs keep on with "their doggy life."

In London yesterday, where crowds fumbling with mobile phones tried to find unimpeded ways across the city, there was much evidence of the truth of Auden's insight. While rescue workers searched for survivors and the dead in the smoke-filled blackness below, at pavement level men were loading vans, a woman sold umbrellas in her usual patch, the lunchtime sandwich makers were hard at work.

It is unlikely that London will claim to have been transformed in an instant, to have lost its innocence in the course of a morning. It is hard to knock a huge city like this off its course. It has survived many attacks in the past.

But once we have counted up our dead, and the numbness turns to anger and grief, we will see that our lives here will be difficult. We have been savagely woken from a pleasant dream.
You can read the complete piece by clicking here.

Friday, July 8, 2005

Moleskine 2006

A small delight in a crazy world: the 2006 Moleskine datebooks are now available. July is the month when next year's calendars begin appearing in stores (as stationery obsessives already know), and I've been waiting for the new Moleskines to show. Talk about obsessive: I signed up for e-mail notification from MoleskineUS. The e-mail hasn't arrived, and the new books aren't yet listed on the MoleskineUS site, but they are available at Borders in Champaign, Illinois, and who knows where else.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

London

From a statement by Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London:

This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.

That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith--it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee, that the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I’m proud to be the mayor of that city.

Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life.

I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others--that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail.

In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.

They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.
You can read the entire statement by clicking here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

"Rip-Off"

From "Rip-Off," an essay by "Shari Wilson," a pseudonymous adjunct prof:

According to the students, the less they were taught, the better. But I knew better. And I had been on the receiving end of some of these half-taught students. One of my colleagues at a large community college in California had confessed that he passed any student who would sit through his course. With no work to grade them, he simply gave them all C’s. He was not the only one, I realized.

When I had struggled with a student whose grammar was shockingly poor and who could not form a decent paragraph or essay, I sometimes wondered if they had simply tested well on the eligibility exam or if an unwitting colleague had passed them on to me.

And what did the students get out of this? Yes, their semester was easier. Yes, they had less homework. Yes, they could spend more time on sports. But at what cost? Their education was being whittled away by instructors who could not or would not insist on the curriculum.
You can read the essay, from Inside Higher Ed, by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Brueghel painting

3808 students: Here's a link to a reproduction of Brueghel's (or Bruegel's) Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Click on the Image Viewer below the thumbnail for a dazzling full-sized image.

Sunday, July 3, 2005

Louis Armstrong's advice

Louis Armstrong gave his birthday as July 4, 1900. As we now know, he was born on August 4, 1901. It doesn't matter. If anyone should have been born on July 4, it was Louis Armstrong. Here's some of his advice for younger generations:

My belief and satisfaction is that, as long as a person breathes, they still have a chance to exercise the talents they were born with. I speak of something which I know about and have been doing all of my life, and that's Music. And now that I am an elderly man I still feel the same about music and its creations. And at the age of "sixty-nine" I really don't feel that I am on my way out at all. Of course a person may do a little less -- but the foundation will always be there. . . .

On my sixty-ninth birthday, all of the kids in Corona [Queens, New York] where I live came in front of my house and wished me a Happy Birthday, which thrilled ol Satch. Saying carry on until you're a hundred years old. I have seen three generations come up in the block where I live. Many kids grew up, married, and brought their children to visit my wife Lucille and I. And those kids grew up -- Satchmo fans. Just want to say that music has no age. Most of your great composers -- musicians -- are elderly people, way up there in age -- they will live forever. There's no such thing as on the way out. As long as you are still doing something interesting and good. You are in business as long as you are breathing. "Yeah."
From "Goodbye to All of You," published in Esquire (December 1969), a feature in which twenty-five famous old people offered their advice to younger generations. Reprinted in Louis Armstrong in His Own Words, ed. Thomas Brothers (Oxford University Press, 1999).

"Weddings and Celebrations"

The "Weddings and Celebrations" section of the Sunday New York Times makes for interesting reading. The details of the ceremonies sometimes read like the work of wealthy surrealists:

The bridegroom, a 33-year-old hip-hop D.J. in New York, ran in slow-mo down the aisle to the "Rocky" theme. (Cuff links that were golden impressions of Ms. Ruderman's [the bride's] fingerprints fastened his wedding shirt.)

The bride, 34, a designer and host of "Trading Spaces: Boys vs. Girls" on NBC, made her entrance standing at the bow of the historic fireboat John J. Harvey, which spouted water like a mechanical whale. A band of red fabric, the length of two city blocks, was unfurled to wrap the couple and all 200 guests like a construction by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
You can read the rest of the story here.

Friday, July 1, 2005

P.S. 131

Not long after writing about P.S. 131 last night, I saw my old school on television, a really wonderful surprise. I happened to have the television on while waiting my turn to be online. (Wireless network? Bah. We take turns.) WGN was showing Home Delivery, a show I'd never seen. Very strange--these four demi-gods show up at people's houses and apartments to help solve problems. John was helping Antasia, a young girl with problem hair.

And suddenly, there's 44th Street, Boro Park, Brooklyn, with the fence of the schoolyard of P.S. 131, and the elevated train tracks over New Utrecht Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway in the background. A half-dozen or so other shots of Antasia outside her school confirmed that it was indeed P.S. 131.

There's real consolation in finding that the places of one's past are still there, and more or less the same. I was lucky to have that consolation when I visited P.S. 131 in 1987, on a schoolday, with a tour of the school from a member of the safety patrol, and in 1998, on a Saturday, when I happened to find the school's custodian just finishing his morning's work. (He turned out to be the son of Jimmy, the custodian when I was a student, as I found out when I described Jimmy to the current custodian and asked if he had known him.) Most of the details of the school building were still there when I visited--the classrooms had been modernized, the old desks and the globe lights removed, but the tiny water fountains outside the kindergarten classrooms were still there (yes, I took a drink), as were the strangely industrial staircases, the thick wire gratings protecting the hallway radiators, the beautiful Board of Education doorknobs, and the cool, smelly basement, where everyone assembled on the first day of school. Walking down the steps to the gym or into the auditorium or past "the office," I felt like my K-6 self.

The P.S. 131 fence played a large part in my childhood--one had to be able to climb it to get into the schoolyard to play ball. So at some early age, I learned. The fence--maybe eight feet high, made of bars six or eight inches apart--could be climbed only at one corner, where it angled in close to a ledge in the schoolyard. So by extending a leg through the fence, it was possible to pull up via the ledge and then climb over. It was literally a matter of climbing through the fence so as to climb over the fence.

My teachers, even the youngest ones, were all gone by 1987 (many to death, as I've discovered by checking the Social Security Death Index.) Nowadays (or at least in 1998), the schoolyard gate is left unlocked. But like the Native American canoe in the Museum of Natural History (so beloved by Holden Caulfield), the fence is still there, same as it ever was.

Here's a photo of the older part of P.S. 131, though it doesn't include the schoolyard.

Related posts
P.S. 131, 44th Street, Brooklyn (with photos of the school)
Some have gone and some remain (With a photo of the fence)

P.S. 131 class photographs
1962–1963 1963–1964 1964–1965 1965–1966 1966–1967