Sunday, September 30, 2007

Campaign e-mail etiquette

I'm a strong supporter of Barack Obama, but I'm dismayed to receive a campaign e-mail message in his name with the subject line "Hey." Even worse is the subject line on a follow-up e-mail bearing Michelle Obama's name: "RE: Hey." There are at least three good reasons to abandon "Hey":

1. A message with the subject line "Hey" is easily mistaken for spam. That the "Hey" purports to come from a well-known figure makes it look, to my eyes, even more like spam.

2. The too-casual "Hey" is likely to strike younger voters as lame.

3. The too-casual "Hey" is likely to strike older voters as saucy, pert, and less than presidential. (Do older people still complain about sauciness and pertness?)
I will add that I've met both Barack and Michelle Obama, and my sense is that neither would address a reader/voter in this way.

A better choice for a subject line might be "A message from Obama '08," "A message from Barack Obama," or "A message from Michelle Obama." Not very original: novelty in subject lines is not necessarily a good thing.

David Plouffe, if you're listening, please drop the "Hey."
Related posts

Campaign e-mails (again)
Obama e-mail improvement

Barack Obama on facts
Barack Obama on race
Ideology v. values
The kitchen shink

Typographic walking tour

Yesterday, type designer Tobias Frere-Jones led a typographic walking tour in lower Manhattan for the American Institute of Graphic Arts. A Flickr set holds some of the highlights. My favorites: Baby Ruth Candy, the Cup & Saucer Luncheonette (remember luncheonettes?), and the lethal-looking Z of Zenith Color Television.

AIGA/NY Frere-Jones Typography Walking Tour (Flickr)
Hoefler & Frere-Jones

Related posts
Helvetica
Type terms

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Telephone exchange names on screen (no. 2)


[Courtland Trenholm (George Brent) prepares to pay his fare.]

Baby Face (dir. Alfred E. Green, 1933) is a pre-Code film, the story of Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck), a young woman whose encounter with a Nietzsche-espousing cobbler inspires her to climb (i.e., sleep) her way to the top. The film is available on a DVD compilation, Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 1.

Miss Powers' phone number is SChuyler 3-2215.

Related posts
Telephone exchange names
Telephone exchange names on screen
MOre TElephone EXchange NAme NOstalgia
Mike Hammer's answering machine

All "dowdy world" posts (via del.icio.us)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Three blogs from Burma



Burmese blogger Ko Htike writes:

In Burma, the only path to oppose the military junta is to demonstrate peacefully. The military junta repressed the peaceful demonstration brutally by hiding truth. The longer the military junta represses the people we are bound to loos more lives.

Burma Digest ("A magazine specializing in human rights affairs of Burma")
ko htike's prosaic collection (A Burmese blogger in London)
Saffron Revolution ("Citizens’ photographs of the monk-led protests against military dictatorship in Burma, September 2007")
[Photograph from Burma Digest]

Proust on possessions and intelligence

Now it is precisely and only those people who do not understand us whom it may be useful to impress with possessions, since our intelligence will be enough to win the regard of superior beings.

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, translated by Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003), 159

All Proust posts (via del.icio.us)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The whole world is watching

How to improve writing (no. 15 in a series)

From a sign in a Cracker Barrel parking lot (Elaine insisted that I see the inside of a Cracker Barrel):

Lock your car and remove your valuables.
If one wanted to follow this advice in earnest, it would be necessary to revise, like so:
Lock your car. Then unlock your car, remove your valuables, and lock your car again.
But there's a better way:
Remove your valuables and lock your car.
The moral of the story: think about sequence. Why these elements in this order?

This post is no. 15 in a very occasional series, "How to improve writing," dedicated to improving stray bits of published prose.
All "How to improve writing" posts (via del.icio.us)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cmaj7#4


Backing out of a parking space on this always grey and sometimes rainy day, I thought that if the day were a chord, it would be the one above, a major seventh with a raised fourth. It's a Monkish chord (as in Thelonious), and to my ear it suggests wet streets, bare trees, and the need for lamplight, even if it's only the early afternoon.

Thanks to Elaine for the chord's name and notation, and for thinking that it sounds good (because of the wide voicing).

[If you don't read music, the notes from bottom to top are C G F# B E.]

Jonathan Shay wins MacArthur grant

Psychiatrist Jonathan Shay has been awarded a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation grant. Dr. Shay works with Vietnam veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. And he's the author of Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming, books that find in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey patterns of experience that shape the lives of Vietnam-era veterans with PTSD. These books will teach you more about the trauma of war, ancient and modern, than you might want to know.

Dr. Shay's hope is that centuries of effort will lead to the elimination of war as a human practice. As he writes in Odysseus in America,

The original Abolitionists understood that their work would take more than one lifetime. They passed it as a heritage to their children. In the words of the Talmud, "You are not expected to finish the job, but neither are you free to lay it down."

Psychiatrist treated veterans using Homer; work made him MacArthur fellow (Boston Globe)
Achilles in Vietnam (Amazon)
Odysseus in America (Amazon)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Elvis pretzels

A digression in Proust's The Prisoner on street-vendors' cries brought to mind a cry I haven't heard — or thought of — for years:

Southern-fried Elvis pretzels,
They are fresh out of the oven.
Or to add the proper emphasis:
SOUTHern fried ELVIS PRETzels,
They are FRESH OUT of the OVen.
The Elvis pretzel man was a familiar figure during my years as an undergrad and grad student at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. He could be found on a short dead-end section of Belmont Avenue, a street that separated the gated campus from the classroom building Faculty Memorial Hall. The pretzel man stood in the middle of the street, which saw virtually no traffic aside from garbage trucks and an occasional university vehicle. In warm weather the pretzel man wore an apron, the kind that proprietors of newsstands wore. In the cold, a shiny ski jacket ("pewter green," I'd call it, if there is such a color). The pretzel man was rather short and fairly broad, with a huge head of hair (more or less the color of his ski jacket). A laundry basket held the pretzels, which, if memory serves, sold for 50¢. Were they really fresh out of the oven? And if so, where was the oven? I have no idea, but the pretzels were indeed warm. They were also salty and chewy. A complete food, sort of, at least to tide one over between classes. I must have eaten dozens.

This little stretch of Belmont Avenue saw at least one other commercial venture during my time at Fordham: a coffeestand, where one could get something more drinkable than what the machines in FMH dispensed. The coffeestand had a short lifespan: its proprietor was almost certainly selling more than caffeine.

*

April 26, 2012: Found online: a November 9, 1978 Fordham Ram article about Elvis Lamanna, the Elvis pretzel man, complete with grainy photo.



[The Elvis pretzel man bears no relation to the Elvis impersonator Elvis Pretzel.]

More Bronx takes
Naked Bronx
Nick DeMaio and the Eldorado

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The day Louis Armstrong made noise

From today's New York Times:

Fifty years ago this week, all eyes were on Little Rock, Ark., where nine black students were trying, for the first time, to desegregate a major Southern high school. With fewer than 150 blacks, the town of Grand Forks, N.D., hardly figured to be a key front in that battle — until, that is, Larry Lubenow talked to Louis Armstrong.

On the night of Sept. 17, 1957, two weeks after the Little Rock Nine were first barred from Central High School, the jazz trumpeter happened to be on tour with his All Stars band in Grand Forks. Larry Lubenow, meanwhile, was a 21-year-old journalism student and jazz fan at the University of North Dakota, moonlighting for $1.75 an hour at The Grand Forks Herald.

Shortly before Mr. Armstrong's concert, Mr. Lubenow's editor sent him to the Dakota Hotel, where Mr. Armstrong was staying, to see if he could land an interview.
Armstrong's frank commentary on color and American culture — "The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell" — became national news. Read all about it:
The Day Louis Armstrong Made Noise (New York Times)

Related post
Louis Armstrong's advice
Invisible man: Louis Armstrong and the New York Times
Louis Armstrong, collagist
Louis Armstrong's advice
[Note: the Times article is in error when it states that Sammy Davis, Jr. criticized Armstrong "for not speaking out earlier." According to Gary Giddins' Satchmo: The Genius of Louis Armstrong (2001), "Davis said Armstrong did not speak for the Negro people, called him 'a great credit to his race,' and finally conceded that he agreed with his meaning but not 'his choice of words.'"]

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Some advice

From a university police department's ten-step list:

STEPS TO TAKE TO STAY SAFE
WHEN WALKING ALONE AT NIGHT

1. Avoid traveling alone at night.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Free fax

FaxZero is a free online fax service, allowing the user to send .doc or .pdf files, up to three pages each, two faxes a day. An ad goes on the cover page. (Can you live with that? I can.)

In some dealings with insurance-related bureaucracy over the past few weeks, I've been asked several times to fax necessary paperwork. (And I've wanted to ask: Is it still the 20th century?) When I explain that I don't have easy access to a fax machine and offer to scan a page and send a .pdf, the answer is No. So I'm happy to now know about FaxZero. FaxZero also offers unfree faxing, with no ads.

FaxZero ("Send a fax for free to anywhere in the U.S. and Canada")

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Proust and possession, continued

Twenty-eight pages later, the narrator's dream of possessing the sleeping Albertine comes undone:

We imagine that love has for its object a being which can lie down before us, enclosed in a body. Alas! It is the extension of that body to every point in space and time which that being has occupied or will occupy. If we do not grasp its point of contact with a given place, a given time, then we do not possess it. But we cannot touch all these points. If at least they were indicated to us, we could stretch out to reach them. But we can only feel for them blindly.

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, translated by Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003), 88
Albertine asleep is a body without sight or speech; now the narrator too is blind, unable to see that body in relation to every moment of its past and future. Possession now requires god-like omniscience.

I have a friend who found the roman d'Albertine, the Albertine novel, so disturbing that she wonders whether she'll go back to these later volumes of In Search of Lost Time. Proust's chronicle of obsession makes even Hitchcock's Vertigo seem almost healthy by comparison. (But I still love Vertigo.)
All Proust posts (via del.icio.us)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The most disturbing passage in Proust?

I think so, and Elaine has reminded me that I had the same thought when I was reading the novel for the first time last year. The narrator's desire to possess Albertine Simonet can find its fulfillment only in the erasure of all that is individual — all that is human — in her. Barely animate, silent, blind ("There are some faces which take on an unaccustomed beauty and majesty the moment they no longer have a gaze"), Albertine asleep becomes a thing to be looked at:

By closing her eyes, by losing consciousness, Albertine had put off, one by one, the various marks of humanity which had so disappointed me in her, from the day that we first met. She was animated only by the unconscious life of plants, of trees, a life more different from my own, stranger, and yet which I possessed more securely. Her individuality did not break through at every moment, as it did when we talked, through unconfessed thoughts and unguarded looks. She had drawn back into her self all the parts of her that were normally on the outside, she had taken refuge, enclosed and summed up in her body. Watching her, holding her in my hands, I felt that I possessed her completely, in a way I never did when she was awake.

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, translated by Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003), 60

Related post
Proust and Cole Porter (On "possession")

All Proust posts (via del.icio.us)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Telephone exchange names on screen


[A Chicago "phonebook," from Nightmare Alley (1947).]

Nightmare Alley (dir. Edmund Goulding) gives us Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Mike Mazurki (Moose Malloy from Murder, My Sweet), Tarot card readings, carnival geeks, and the rise and fall of a nightclub mentalist (who performs in a studio recreation of the Chicago Sherman House's Spode Room). There's some great dialogue:

"You've got a heart as big as —"

"Sure, as big as an artichoke. A leaf for everyone."

*

"These great trees in moonlight: they give the whole place a — a cathedral-like atmosphere."
As the Wikipedia article Telephone exchange names notes, Chicago first used a "3L-4N" system (three letters, four numbers). "2L-5D" (two letters, five digits) later became the standard in North America. ROGers Park and STAte were authentic Chicago exchange names, as the Telephone EXchange Name Project confirms. Checking a few of the other 21 exchange names at the TEXNP confirms that they too were Chicago exchanges.

But this page itself is from no phonebook. Or if it, the names (and addresses?) have been altered. Note Mr. Rumstad's first name in the right-hand column.
Related posts
Telephone exchange names
MOre TElephone EXchange NAme NOstalgia
Mike Hammer's answering machine

All "dowdy world" posts (via del.icio.us)

Tamas in our time

Ancient texts often resonate with startling relevance. Teaching the Bhagavad-Gita for the first time in many years, I read the following passage with new eyes. The context: Krishna teaches that tamas is one of the three gunas, the movers of all action, "the bonds that bind / The undying dweller / Imprisoned in the body." Tamas binds with "bonds of delusion, / Sluggishness, torpor." When tamas prevails, one is "lost in delusion." Here I think of the folly that has given us a war in Iraq:

The act undertaken
In the hour of delusion
Without count of cost,
Squandering strength and treasure,
Heedless of harm to another,
By him who does not question
His power to perform it:
That act is of tamas.

[Translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood.]

Some related posts
Homer then and now
Homer's Rumsfeld
Not dead yet
Petraeus

Monday, September 17, 2007

Linsey-woolsey

Today's word at Anu Garg's A.Word.A.Day brought back a bit of my elementary-school study of New York City history. I remember New Amsterdam. I remember Peter Stuyvesant and his wooden leg. And I remember linsey-woolsey. Everyone must have been wearing it back then:

linsey-woolsey (LIN-zee WOOL-zee) noun

1. A strong, coarse fabric of wool and cotton.

2. An incongruous mix.

[From Middle English linsey (linen, or from Lindsey, a village in Suffolk, UK) + woolsey (a rhyming compound of wool).]

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Macs and test-drives

Thinking about a new computer? From an article in today's New York Times:

If you're the owner of a Windows PC who is looking for a replacement computer, the choices are grim. You can step into the world of hurt that is Vista, the latest version of Microsoft Windows that was released in January. Or you can seek out a new machine that still comes loaded with the comparatively ancient Windows XP.

Maybe, you might say, the moment has arrived to take a look at the Mac. You can easily order one online, of course. But if you'd like to take a test-drive before you commit, odds are that you'll have to look far and wide for a store that sells it.
Randall Stross, the author of this article and of The Microsoft Way: The Real Story of How the Company Beats the Competition, seems to be telling us that a lifetime of Windows is inevitable, pointing to Apple's still tiny market share and citing a tech consultant who likens Microsoft's operating system and the hardware that runs it to a giant flywheel: "'It takes a lot of energy to spin it up, but once it gets going, it's virtually unstoppable.'" Alas, the analogy reminds me of the endless wait for Windows (XP) to finish starting up and of the dozens of times I had to hold down the power button to shut off a frozen Windows (98) machine.

I'm not persuaded that the Mac's limited retail presence is that crucial. The Mac interface can be studied at one's leisure at Apple's website. If one really wants to try before buying, Apple resellers can be found on or off campus in many college towns. A library or an obliging friend can also give the cautious consumer a chance to try a Mac. Still, the sometimes disarming simplicity of using a Mac — of, say, installing a program — is more likely discovered in ordinary use than during a test-drive.

The choices aren't grim: many people find Mac OS X ("ten," not "x") a joy to use. Having switched myself — first at work, then at home, no test-drives involved — I'd never go back.
A Window of Opportunity for Macs, Soon to Close (New York Times)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Orange Crate Art turns three

Orange Crate Art is three years old today. If the average blog life-span is indeed three months, Orange Crate Art is, in human terms, some 900 years old. Which raises troubling questions as to who's been doing all this writing.

The deepest and most unpredictable rewards of keeping this blog have come in the form of comments and e-mails. The responses to posts about my friend Aldo Carrasco and my professor Jim Doyle have shown me the ways in which the Internet can bring people together, not only across space but also across time. Back in my days as a full-time Luddite, I never imagined that wonderful possibility.

Thanks (again, again) to Rachel, who thought "Orange Crate Art" would make a good name, to Rachel and Ben for showing me that I could learn a little HTML, to Elaine, my sounding board for much of what's here, and to everyone who's read (and perhaps commented). And thanks always to Van Dyke Parks, musician and mensch, who welcomed my use of his title with generous good wishes. (If you've never heard "Orange Crate Art," you can find it here and here.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Petraeus

I find it fascinating that all questions of American strategy in Iraq are said to depend upon the observations of one man: Petraeus.

The omission of General is no sign of disrespect. It's meant to call attention to the seer-like status that seems to be associated with the name Petraeus. I'm reminded of Calchas, the seer whom the Achaean forces consult at the beginning of the Iliad:

Calchas, son of Thestor, bird-reader supreme,
Who knew what is, what will be, and what has been.
Petraeus even sounds plausibly mythic (though General Petraeus' parents are Dutch-American, not Greek or Roman): Petraeus is the name of a centaur in Hesiod's Shield of Heracles and Ovid's Metamorphoses.

[Iliad translation by Stanley Lombardo.]

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne


[I'm not the courageous type. I'm writing to tell you what I'd never dare say in person.]

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945) is the fourth Robert Bresson film I've seen. As in the other three — Au hasard Balthazar, Journal d'un curé de campagne, and Pickpocket — someone is writing.

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne is a story of jealousy, cruelty, and, finally, love, with a screenplay by Jean Cocteau. Some deeply Proustian moments: "There is no such thing as love, only its proofs."

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (The Criterion Collection)

Other Bresson posts
Notebook sighting in Pickpocket
Pocket notebook sighting

Music in Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (Musical Assumptions)

Thanks!

I find an item online for my dad, and what do I get?

Thanks, Dad!

[Ink and watercolor by James Leddy, 2007.]

More by James Leddy
Abe's shades
Boo!
Happy holidays
Hardy mums

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"Bring on the fall"

My local newspaper has its finger on the pulse of the community, such as it (the pulse) is:

More than 50 percent of those who responded to last week's poll are ready to "bring on the fall weather and activities."

In addition to the 54 percent who are ready for fall, 16 percent said they miss summer already, while 21 percent said they like both seasons.

And 9 percent said they hardly notice the difference.

Related post
Odes to autumn

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11/01



[Photograph from a New-York Historical Society exhibit, "Here is New York: Remembering 9/11." Photographer uncredited.]

The members of the emergency crew from Rescue Company 2 (Brooklyn) died on September 11, 2001.

Rescue 2 (FDNY)
Here is New York: Remembering 9/11 (New-York Historical Society)
Remembering Lower Manhattan’s Day of Horror, Without Pomp or Circumstance (New York Times)
On Display, the Agonized Objects and Photos of 9/11 (New York Times)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Musical-comedy pencils

Ella Peterson (Judy Holliday) to Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin):

"When I went to high school, I'd do anything to keep from doing my homework. Mostly I'd sharpen pencils. You know the yellow kind that says Ticonderoga on it? Well, I'd sharpen it to the Ticonderog, and then to the Ticonder, and then to the Ticond, and then to the Tic, and then to the Ti, and then to the T. And then I'd have to start on another pencil."

Bells Are Ringing (1960), screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Bells Are Ringing, now packaged as a dopey-looking DVD, is anything but dopey. Smart songs, witty repartee, arch double-entendres, rotary phones, a telephone exchange name as part of a song lyric (PLaza 0-4433), a betting operation disguised as a classical record label, and a terrific cast (including Frank Gorshin as a Brando-like Method actor). Judy Holliday, in her last film, is brilliant.
Bells Are Ringing (Amazon)

Related post
Film noir pencils

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Andrew Sullivan's advice

Just like yours, my beard has been getting a little gray on the chin and sides recently. And it really does age one. . . .

But all is not lost, your Mullahship.
Andrew Sullivan offers some hair care advice:
Queer Eye for the Jihadist Guy (The Daily Dish)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Film noir pencils

Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) to Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray):

"A desk job. Is that all you can see in it? Just a hard chair to park your pants on from nine to five. Just a pile of papers to shuffle around, and five sharp pencils and a scratch pad to make figures on, with maybe a little doodling on the side. That's not the way I see it, Walter. To me a claims man is a surgeon, and that desk is an operating table, and those pencils are scalpels and bone chisels. And those papers are not just forms and statistics and claims for compensation. They're alive, they're packed with drama, with twisted hopes and crooked dreams. A claims man, Walter, is a doctor and a blood-hound and a cop and a judge and a jury and a father confessor, all in one."

Double Indemnity (1944), screenplay by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler

A related post
The dowdy world on film

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Everything I always wanted to ask about Grape-Nuts



My son Ben gave me the above advertisement, which he found at a garage sale. (Thanks, Ben!) The plastic sheet that protected the ad is labeled 1920s. I have a bowl of sturdy, appetizing Grape-Nuts almost every morning, so this ad has found a good home.

I'm wondering: this scene carries a sexual implication, doesn't it? The locked eyes seem to bespeak a desire for more than cereal. But does "Only time for Grape-Nuts" mean that there's no time for more than breakfast, or does it mean that time already spent in the bedroom has left no time for a more elaborate breakfast? It's possible of course that this ad might only be a comment on modern times and the death of cooking. The locked eyes though suggest more.

And who are these people anyway? Are they both headed off to work? (Would a woman have dressed in this way around the house?) If the couple are a husband and wife, why is he dressing next to what looks like a single bed? And why is his coat hanging on a chair?

[Readers of a certain age will recognize in this post's title a play on the title of David Reuben's book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1969).]

Related posts
Alkalize with Alka-Seltzer
"Radios, it is"

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The one after 99,999

Orange Crate Art received its one-hundred-thousandth visit this morning, from someone doing a Google search in Seoul: how to write email professor. It's that time of year: 270 of the last 500 visits to this blog have been to How to e-mail a professor.

Related post
_
L
(50,000 visits)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Television in the background

Having the television on as ambient noise can yield unexpected rewards. The following line floated up this afternoon to startle and amuse, from the Bonanza episode "San Francisco Holiday":

"I'm not offering you a drink; I'm offering you a sailor."
The context: two ranch-hands have been shanghaied.

Other delights of this episode: guest appearances by Richard Deacon (Fred Rutherford on Leave It To Beaver, Mel Cooley on The Dick Van Dyke Show), David White (Larry Tate from Bewitched), and best of all, Tor Johnson (Inspector Clay from Plan 9 from Outer Space).

Proust: "the self-identity of things"

An interesting passage to think about in relation to those rooms in which things always look the same — this lamp here, that vase there:

I became more clearly aware of my own transformations by contrasting them with the self-identity of things. Yet we become accustomed to these as we do to people, and when, suddenly, we recall the different meaning that they carried, and then, once they had lost all meaning, the events, very different from those of today, for which they had been the setting, the diversity of the actions performed beneath the same ceiling, between the same glass-fronted bookcases, the change in our hearts and in our lives which that diversity implies seems further enhanced by the immutable permanence of the décor, reinforced by the unity of place.

Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah, translated by John Sturrock (New York: Penguin, 2002), 510

All Proust posts

Monday, September 3, 2007

Utnapishtim's word-processor



[IBM Displaywriter disk, circa 1984, 8" square.]

Talking with my students about the ancient Mesopotamian story of Gilgamesh leads to all sorts of thoughts about impermanence. (The great truth of the story, expressed by the mysterious Utnapishtim, is that "There is no permanence.") I like pointing out to my students that the tablets holding the Gilgamesh story are still readable (or at least largely readable) to anyone who can read cuneiform script. Also readable, a page from a 13th-century Book of Ezekiel that I bring into class (given to me by a friend who was divesting himself of his belongings). But the circa-1984 disks that hold the text of my dissertation (on E.D. Hirsch, Stanley Fish, and J.L. Austin, if you're wondering) have been useless to me for many years — except for display purposes during discussions of impermanence.

I wrote my dissertation with Faber-Castell Uniball pens and legal pads bearing the imprint of the Boston University Law School (the ultra-wide left margin was great for revision; I've never seen such pads since). I made reading copies for my committee with a Panasonic electronic typewriter. And I produced the final text with what was then called a "dedicated word-processor," an on-campus IBM Displaywriter.

Here, from IBM, is a partial description of the machine:

IBM's Office Products Division announced the Displaywriter in June 1980 as an easy-to-use, low-cost desktop text processing system. The Displaywriter System enabled operators to produce high quality documents while keying at rough draft speed. Users could automatically indent text, justify right margins, center and underscore. They could also store a document and recall it for review or revision, and could check the spelling of approximately 50,000 commonly used words. While these features are taken for granted in the post-PC era, they were novel for a time when most documents were created, formatted and revised on manual or electric typewriters.

The Displaywriter's "intelligence" came in 160K, 192K or 224K bytes of memory. Single diskette drive diskette units with a capacity for approximately 284,000 characters of information were available. As requirements increased, customers could upgrade to a dual drive diskette unit. . . .

A basic system — consisting of a display with a typewriter-like keyboard and a logic unit, a printer and a device to record and read diskettes capable of storing more than 100 pages of average text — cost $7,895 and leased for $275 a month.
The disks (diskette seems coy, considering the size) went into a toaster-like drive (to the right of the CPU, monitor, and keyboard in this IBM photograph). Yes, that's a disk drive, at least 12" wide (and that's the printer to its right).



I knew a guy who was doing word-processing full-time in downtown Boston in 1984. His dream was to buy a Displaywriter of his own and freelance. I hope he was saving slowly enough that he saved himself a lot of money.
IBM Displaywriter (IBM)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Musical diagnosis

Unlikely songs have been running through my mind — and my vocal cords. "Easter Bonnet," "Sweet Caroline." From whence?

Elaine has an explanation. To the tune of "Auld Lang Syne":

I think you've lost your mind, my dear
I think you've lost your mind
I think you've lost your mind, my dear
I think you've lost your mind

Saturday, September 1, 2007

M. de Charlus and Ignatius J. Reilly

It occurs to me that Proust's Baron de Charlus — baroque, elusive, haughty, loony — is a likely ancestor of John Kennedy Toole's Ignatius J. Reilly, protagonist of A Confederacy of Dunces. Here is M. de Charlus preparing for a duel (an imaginary duel, as it turns out):

"I think it'll be very beautiful," he said to us with sincerity, intoning each word. "To see Sarah Bernhardt in L'Aiglon, what is that? Excrement. Mounet-Sully in Oedipus? Excrement. It acquires at most a certain pallor of transfiguration when it takes place in the Arena in Nîmes. But what is it compared with that unprecedented thing, of seeing the actual descendant of the Connétable do battle?" At the mere thought of which, M. de Charlus, unable to contain his delight, began to perform contre-de-quartes reminiscent of Molière, leading us to move our beer glasses closer for safety, and to fear that the first clash of blades might wound the adversaries, the doctor, and the seconds. "What a tempting spectacle it would be for a painter! You who know M. Elstir," he said to me, "you should bring him along." I replied that he was not on the coast. M. de Charlus hinted that he might be sent a telegram. "Oh, I say that for his sake," he added, faced by my silence. "It's always interesting for a master — in my opinion, he is one — to capture such an example of ethnic reviviscence. There's perhaps only one a century."

Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah, translated by John Sturrock (New York: Penguin, 2002), 456

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[The Connétable de Guermantes is one of the Baron's ancestors. The contre-de-quarte is "a circular parrying movement of the sword." Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme features a fencing lesson. These details are drawn from the notes to the Penguin edition of the novel.]