Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Obama's "evil eye"

It must be a slow day at the Drudge Report. The big headline: "BEWARE THE OBAMA 'EVIL EYE'":

As the summer begins, White House watchers have spotted a new look by President Obama: The Evil Eye!

Staffers have joked about the menacing glance, which comes when the president meets with world leaders who are not aligned with his progressive view.

White House photographers have captured the "evil eye" in recent weeks, during sessions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Colombia's Alvaro Uribev.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi got hit with the commander's malocchio last week in the Oval office.

And at least one White House reporter has been on the receiving end of the daggers during a press conference.
As they say, "Developing."

Vietnamese coffee at home

Our kitchen is now the East-Central Illinois Institute for Vietnamese Coffee Studies, equipped with two filters, a can of Cafe du Monde, and (for the non-vegan) a can of Longevity Brand condensed milk. We found these items at our favorite Asian market.

We're now three for three making Vietnamese coffee. The photograph shows the drip process, with coffee collecting above condensed milk. Elaine and I are planning to acquire several more filters ($3.89 each) with which to serve visitors to the Institute.

Related reading
How to make Vietnamese coffee

Madoff punctuation

"I'm sorry, I know that doesn't help you."

"I'm sorry. I know that doesn't help you."
Chadwick Matlin explains the difference:

Punctuating Bernie (The Big Money)

A related post
After William Carlos Williams

Monday, June 29, 2009

"Nil admirari in stone, the waiter"



[Jean Lenauer as the waiter, My Dinner with André (dir. Louis Malle, 1981).]

25 février. — C'est le nil admirari en marbre, que le garçon de café. Le nimbe d'un Jésus à Emmaüs cerclerait la tête d'un dîneur ou bien le truc d'une féérie enlèverait tout à coup la robe d'une femme, qu'il continuerait à servir la femme, comme si elle était habillée, ou le dîneur comme s'il était un simple mortel.

[February 25. — That's nil admirari in stone, the waiter. The halo of Jesus at Emmaus could encircle a diner's head or a woman's dress disappear by magic, he would continue serving the woman as if she were clothed, or the diner as if he were a mere mortal.]

Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Journal des Goncourt: 1866–1870, vol. 3 (Paris: Charpentier,1888), 29.
[I found this passage via Marthe Bibesco's The Veiled Wanderer: Marcel Proust, translated by Roland Gant (London: Falcon Press, 1949), which refers to it by means of a very loose, embellished paraphrase. The translation is mine. The Latin expression nil admirari means "to be excited by nothing," "equanimity." My Dinner with André has just been re-released on DVD by the Criterion Collection.]

Bob Koester

"I don’t pay that much attention to sales figures. You put them out and hope for the best."

That's Bob Koester, founder of Delmark Records and the Jazz Record Mart, in a New York Times profile.

How I blog

In a Father's Day post, I noted that I'd been waiting almost a year to put up Ernie Bushmiller's "DADDY-O!" That prompted Matt Thomas to wonder, in a comment, about how I blog. And so I'm writing this post.

I've written about the why in blog-anniversary posts from 2005 and 2008. As for the how: I jot ideas for posts in a pocket notebook (since last summer, an orange Quo Vadis Habana notebook). I usually draft longer posts in that notebook or on blank pages of my Moleskine page-a-day planner. Sometimes I use a legal pad. I usually write shorter posts in a text-editor on a MacBook.

I sometimes draft a post long before it appears, but that doesn't work well: those drafts often begin to seem stale, and I often end up deleting them unpublished. The time between writing and posting seems significant for me, and the explanation probably lies in the long gap between submission and publication in academia. (I've always felt strange seeing my writing in print well after the fact.) But I can work on a post for a long time or "plan" to write a post for any length of time and then write it, with no ill effect, or at least none that I can see. I "planned" to write something about the astonishing song "I Got Your Ice Cold NuGrape" for almost two years before writing a post. Right now I'm "planning" to write a post on Hooker 'N Heat, the 1971 double-album by John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat (recorded forty years ago next May).

As a regular reader knows, I've been posting almost every day for some time. This practice is a matter not of compulsion but of pleasure. "I can quit whenever I want," and so on. My greatest happiness in Orange Crate Art is that it has made writing a pleasure, not something I have to do but what I do, an always available possibility. I love the idea of "a post" — small enough to fit in the hand, like a letter or card, but as short or long as it needs to be. Addressed, reader, to you.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"More square"

My son Ben, describing a father with his son in a museum:

"He was dressed sort of like you, but more square."
(Thanks, Ben!)

Work and online life

From a thoughtful piece (with an ill-chosen title) on "work-relevant characteristics of online life":

Intrinsic rewards matter most.

The web is a testament to the power of intrinsic rewards. Think of all the articles contributed to Wikipedia, all the open source software created, all the advice freely given — add up the hours of volunteer time and it's obvious that human beings will give generously of themselves when they’re given the chance to contribute to something they actually care about. Money's great, but so is recognition and the joy of accomplishment.
Read it all:

Gary Hamel, The Facebook Generation vs. the Fortune 500 (Wall Street Journal)

(Thanks, Elaine!)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

November 27, 1958



I was a little more than two. (Still am.) I think that the thing on my head was called, simply, a "winter hat." Sharp!

[Photograph courtesy of Jim and Louise Leddy, taken November 27, 1958, Brooklyn, New York.]

Friday, June 26, 2009

Specialized skills, no longer needed

"I know how to wait for four days for a mailed letter to arrive."

Mark Patinkin says that his specialized skills are no longer needed.

Corrupted-Files.com

Another reason for profs to insist upon paper: Corrupted-Files.com.

The website urges "Keep this site a Secret!" Oops — too late!

Thanks, George.

[To students: Don’t try it. Your professors are likely aware of this trick. Even if they’re not, a file that refuses to open is your problem, not theirs. When getting such a file, few if any professors will feel anything other than the feeling that they’re being had. They can figure out that they’re being had by opening the file with a text-editor and discovering the big piece of nothing you’ve just sent. You’ll then be in even deeper trouble for having engaged in academic misconduct.]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Let the Earth Bear Witness"



[Caution: This video includes graphic images of a state's brutally violent response to its citizens.]

The music is by Mike Scott of The Waterboys. The words are by William Butler Yeats (and George Moore).

A song from the play Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), sung by the Poor Old Woman:

They shall be remembered for ever,
They shall be alive for ever,
They shall be speaking for ever,
The people shall hear them for ever.
From "The Blood Bond," a song from the play Diarmuid and Grania (1901), by Yeats and Moore, lines sung by Diarmuid:
Let the sea bear witness,
Let the wind bear witness,
Let the earth bear witness,
Let the fire bear witness,
Let the dew bear witness,
Let the stars bear witness!
[Texts from William Butler Yeats, The Poems, ed. Richard J. Finneran (New York: Macmillan, 1983), 537, 538.]

A grade worse than F

Simon Fraser University now offers a grade worse than F: FD, "failed for academic dishonesty." The FD, given only by department chairs, will remain on a student transcript for two years after graduation, at which time it fades to a plain old F. Rob Gordon, chair of SFU's Senate Committee on Academic Integrity in Student Learning and Evaluation, describes the FD as appropriate for students whose misconduct "warrants a severe penalty, usually because they are repeat violators."

Putting this sort of policy into practice might be difficult: is a student who engages in petty, small-scale cheating on quizzes more deserving of an FD than a student who turns in one massively plagiarized paper? But perhaps the fear of FD — scarlet letters indeed — will deter some students from cheating at all.

Read more:

New FD grade a student’s record of shame (SFU News Online)
New grade exposes academic dishonesty (Martlet)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Wanting is big, having is small"

Up close everything looks smaller, especially money. This is counter to the laws of perspective — closer is bigger — but in line with the laws of desire and gratification — wanting is big, having is small.

David Barringer, "The Nine Emotions of the Working Designer," in There's Nothing Funny about Design (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), 243.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lady Elaine's can

Bill Madison has posted a lengthy interview with Betty Aberlin of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Aberlin's comment on Fred Rogers' sense of humor started me wondering:

In some of the earlier operas, there were some wicked puns, that later on, the icon would not have engaged in. I’m trying to think of them. There was the pineapple can opera. . . . There was some kind of lyric that was pretty double-entendre.
It so happens that we have three Mister Rogers operas in the family archives, all taped from television: Pineapples and Tomatoes (first aired in 1970), Key to Otherland (1975), and Windstorm in Bubbleland (1980). So I sat down to watch all three. And I can report that, yes, Pineapples and Tomatoes contains what seems to be an extended bit of double-entendre.

A synopsis: John Reardon plays Vice President Reardon of the Pineapple Can Telephone Company. Lady Aberlin plays the Opera Operator. X the Owl plays Benjamin Franklin. Lady Elaine Fairchilde plays herself. In the first scene, as VP Reardon, Miss Aberlin, and Ben Franklin chat over pineapple juice, an angry call comes in from Lady Elaine Fairchilde. She doesn't like the company's pineapple cans. Says Reardon, "She likes tomatoes better." He goes off to see her. The double-entendre turns up in an exchange between them:
VP Reardon: May I see your pineapple can, Lady?

Lady Elaine: Here it is, my lovely can.

VP Reardon: And where is the picture of the pineapple?

Lady Elaine: On the other side.

VP Reardon: I'd like to check it please.

Lady Elaine: I'd rather you didn't.

VP Reardon: Lady, may I check your can?

Lady Elaine: You may if you can.
It turns out that Lady Elaine has placed a picture of a tomato on her can. It's not that she likes to eat tomatoes or feel them or smell them: she just likes the color red.

VP Reardon returns to the telephone company; Lady Elaine follows; and Ben Franklin, it turns out, has saved the day, by inventing new colors for the company's cans. Yes, red is one such color. VP Reardon and Miss Aberlin confess their love for one another, and thus the opera ends.

The canned humor in the above exchange is charming, as is the play on can and may. (Can I stay up till ten? Please? Yes, you can, but no, you may not.)

According to the Wikipedia article on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, there were thirteen Neighborhood operas. Why they haven't been issued on DVD as a boxed-set is beyond me. Until the real thing comes along, you can watch some of Pineapples and Tomatoes on YouTube, a transfer from somebody else's old videotape: Part One, Part Two.

Another Mister Rogers post
Blaming Mister Rogers

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cambridge T. party

While vacationing last week, Elaine and I met a fellow writer from the Internet — T., who blogs at Notes of an Anesthesioboist. We met T. and her husband (Mr. T., natch) for lunch at The Elephant Walk, a Cambodian-French restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Two-and-a-half hours later, we parted, after some fine food and fine conversation.

As one who came of age (whatever that means) before life online, I'm always (still) amazed by the ways in which the Internet makes possible such opportunities. My first meetup! Thanks, T., for a great party.

Things I learned on my summer vacation (2009)

In Cloverdale, Indiana, McDonald's sells SWEET TEA and UNSWEET TEA. That's how the urns are labeled.

*

Ella Logan sang "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" in Finian's Rainbow. Jazz singer Annie Ross is Logan's niece.

*

Stephen Stills' "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" is a hilariously improbable choice for a sing-along.

*

Gsus7 is a chord symbol, not part of the lyrics of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."

*

WKCR's Phil Schaap is as gloriously redundant as ever: "the cornet, or trumpet-like instrument."

*

Jean Dubuffet's Labonfam abeber (1950) is a book of erotic pen-and-ink drawings accompanied by a polylingual nonsense text. It was published in an edition of fifty.

*

Unagi is delicious. Unagi is eel. (Thanks, Luanne and Jim!)

*

The Elephant Walk in Cambridge, Massachusetts, serves elegant Cambodian cuisine. The avocado citrus soup is a dazzling combination of flavors. (Thanks, T. and Mr. T.!)

*

The phở at Zenna Noodle Bar in Brookline, Massachusetts, is dinner in a bowl.

*

Vietnamese coffee, made with condensed milk, is delicious. (Here's a how-to.). Was the coffee butter-roasted? Our waiter didn't know.

*

Brookline Booksmith is a great bookstore, even better now that a nearby Barnes and Noble is gone. It is exciting to walk into a bookstore on a Tuesday night and find it crowded with paying customers. The moral of the story: if you have a great (or good) bookstore, don't use it as a library or as a source of information for Amazon purchases. Buy books.

*

Overheard: "Dating a sixth-grader is social suicide!" Spoken by a seventh-grader in Brookline, who also explained that she was waiting for another seventh-grader to "sprout up" before she would agree to go out with him.

*

Samson Raphaelson wrote Day of Atonement, a play that became the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer (1927). Raphaelson also worked on Trouble in Paradise (1932), a film Elaine and I both love. It turns out that we know someone who knew Samson Raphaelson.

*

The downstairs men's room in the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline displays a Simplex 35-millimeter projector. Nothing comparable in the ladies' (I am told).

*

Mass-transit in Boston and New York is a thing of beauty — clarity, cleanliness, and courtesy everywhere. In New York, one stands to the right on the escalator, leaving a passing lane for those walking their way up the machine. "There are a lot of unspoken rules here," said one commuter.

*

In Newton Highlands, Massachusetts, Paul Gilbert & Daughters are general contractors. I'd never before seen "& Daughters" on a sign.

*

Boorishness knows no distinctions. In Pennsylvania, young louts slalomed through closed-lane markers and threw a lit firecracker at our car. In Cambridge, a well-dressed man in his forties stepped from the Harvard Bookstore and spat a great gob of mucus onto the brick pavement, about two feet from where I stood waiting to meet Elaine. I looked the guy in the eye, to no effect. He crossed Massachusetts Avenue to talk on his cellphone just inside Harvard Yard.

*

It is important to notice the grace and resilience with which people meet the cruel, stupid insults of old age.

*

A wise traveler brings a jacket, even if it's June. That way he will not find himself standing in a Gap Outlet five minutes before closing time, trying to decide what to buy.

*

Elaine: "If you look hard enough for a brown hat, you'll find three."

*

Without regular news-checks via Internet, I miss most of what's happening in the world. (I began catching up this afternoon.)

More things I learned on my summer vacation
2006
2007
2008

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

I'm no longer sure where I found this image. I've been waiting almost a year to post it.

Happy Father's Day to dads everywhere, hipster- and non-.

[Illustration by Ernie Bushmiller, creator of Nancy.]

Friday, June 19, 2009

96th and Lexington



[In a Manhattan subway station, 96th Street and Lexington Avenue. Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

This post is for my dad the tileman, Jim Leddy, Leddy Ceramic Tile.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jazz, a drug

Is jazz a drug? Of course it is; a doctor said so, in a piece called "Jazz — a Drug." He was E. Elliott Rawlins, M.D., writing in the New York Amsterdam News, April 1, 1925:

The form of music called jazz is just as intoxicating as morphine or cocaine; it is just as harmful, and yet its use is not determined by law. . . .

Jazz is killing some people; some are going insane; others are losing their religion. The young girls and boys, who constantly take jazz every day and night, are becoming absolutely bad, and some criminals. . . .

Jazz, like any other drug, should be used only when needed, in a specific dose, and by those who know how it should be used. A little jazz is all right and proper; an overdose is harmful.
Dr. Rawlins' column is a reminder that African-Americans have not always celebrated jazz as a great cultural accomplishment. Yes, the Amsterdam News, if you don't recognize the name, is an African-American newspaper, founded in 1909, still publishing weekly from Harlem.

(Thanks, Elaine!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Stephen Dedalus' signature file

Were Stephen Dedalus living in the era of e-mail, he would have an elegant if longish signature file. Here is what he has written on the flyleaf of his geography book:

Stephen Dedalus
Class of Elements
Clongowes Wood College
Sallins
County Kildare
Ireland
Europe
The World
The Universe

James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)
In the real world, lengthy signature files on in-house e-mails always strike me as failures of tone: there's no need, really, to announce ourselves to each other in these ways. We already know who we are. The most extravagant example I've seen (not from my workplace): twenty-two lines, with seven URLs. No doubt that person's e-mails are really important.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bloomsday



[Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses, Long Island, 1954. Photograph by Eve Arnold, via UT-Austin.]

Other Bloomsday posts
Bloomsday 2007
Bloomsday 2008

Monday, June 15, 2009

Time passes





[From Other Men's Women, dir. William A. Wellman, 1931.]

I like calendar shots in movies — such a lovely way to note time's passing. These pages remind me of the Field Notes calendars gracing the kitchen and study in my house.

Another William A. Wellman post
EATS

Saturday, June 13, 2009

How to type ¢, é, and ß

A useful website, with keyboard shortcuts for typing symbols, accents, special characters, and "weird punctuation":

How to Type Symbols, Accents, and Special Characters

Friday, June 12, 2009

Florida Citrus responds

The Florida Department of Citrus has responded to Alissa Hamilton's book Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice with a website, created in March, Orange Juice Facts. Well, sort-of facts: "The basic principle of orange juice processing is similar to how you make orange juice at home."

A related post
A review of Squeezed

EATS



Look at that sky. Look at that train. Look at that guy flouncing into EATS. Look at EATS.

The opening scene of Other Men's Women (dir. William K. Wellman, 1931) is a beaut. This pre-Code film focuses on a love triangle involving trainmen Bill White (Grant Withers) and Jack Kulper (Regis Toomey) and Jack's wife Lily (Mary Astor). Great lunch-counter talk, great train scenes, great rain, and one remarkable moment of desire and guilt and more desire between Withers and Astor. Joan Blondell shows up as a fast-talking waitress named Marie (just Marie), and trainman Eddie Bailey (James Cagney) sheds his work clothes to dance in evening wear across a floor. (Could this bit have inspired the bit with the dancing maître d' in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo?)

Other Men's Women is available in Volume Three of the Forbidden Hollywood Collection (TCM Archives), a set of six Wellman films and two documentaries about this relatively neglected director. Elaine and I have been on a Wellman kick all week. His films are beautifully made, their stories told with great economy and visual imagination. They are now packaged as little scandals, but they are intensely moral films, with a consistent emphasis on figuring out and then doing the right thing — which means, always, self-sacrifice. Wellman's sturdy realism and social conscience seem made for our times. Watch the homeless vets in Heroes for Sale (1933) talking over FDR's Inaugural Address and their country's future, and you'll feel right at home.

As to what's happening in that opening scene: Bill, a hard-drinking joker, has dropped off the engine for a bite to eat. He will count cars while bantering with his waitress, leaving just in time to catch the caboose and run across the tops of cars back to the engine.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Crayola madeleines

A wax museum of sorts, Crayolas through the years:

Brand Spotlight: Crayola (The Dieline, via Coudal Partners)

My madeleine: the 1964 eight-pack (but yes, I had a sixty-four pack).

Other crayon posts
Blue crayon
Early writing

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Safari 4

I've been loyal to Firefox for a long time, but Apple's new Safari 4 may change that. It is blazingly fast, available for Mac and PC.

Proust's supplies

Céleste Albaret, Marcel Proust's housekeeper, has been describing Proust's writing posture — "more than half lying down," with knees for a desk:

It was astonishing how fast he could write in a position no one but he could have found comfortable. The pen flew along, line after line of his fine cursive writing. He always used Sergeant-Major nibs, which were plain and pointed, with a little hollow underneath to hold the ink. I never saw him use a fountain pen, though they were becoming popular at that time. I used to buy stocks of nibs, several boxes at a time. He always had fifteen or so pen holders within reach, because if he dropped the one he was using it could only be picked up when he wasn't there, because of the dust. They were just little bits of wood with a metal holder for the nib — the ordinary kind used in schools, like the inkwell, which was a glass square with four grooves to rest the pen and a little round opening with a stopper.

"Some people need a beautiful pen to write with, but all I need is ink and paper. If I didn't have a pen holder, I would manage with a stick."

Céleste Albaret, Monsieur Proust, translated by Barbara Bray (New York: New York Review Books, 2003), 270–271.
I suspect that Montblanc, the maker of this dubious tribute, has no idea how far removed its efforts are from the spirit of Proust's writing. Note in the "About the Author" sidebar the reference to In Search of Lost Time/Remembrance of Things Past as "probably [Proust's] most important work." "Probably": in other words, Montblanc's people have no idea what they're talking about. O tempora, o mores!

But all's not lost. One can still buy Sergeant-Major nibs: here, for instance.

Related reading
All Proust posts (via Delicious)

[About the title: supplies is my word, and has become my family's word, for all manner of stationery items.]

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fun with APA style

Someone has been having fun — of the good clean sort — working on Wikipedia's article on APA style. A sample entry:

Electronic copy of a journal article, three to five authors, retrieved from database:

Costanza, G., Seinfeld, J., Benes, E., Kramer, C., & Peterman, J. (1993). Minutiæ and insignificant observations from the nineteen-nineties. Journal about Nothing, 52, 475–649. Retrieved October 31, 1999, from NoTHINGJournals database.
George must have fought hard to get top billing here.

There are also some Canadian in-jokes, which Canadian readers will understand better than I do.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Andrew Keen, amateurs, Wikipedia, and the Oxford English Dictionary

I've now read a book that I'd long been getting around to reading, Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture (New York: Doubleday, 2007). I too mourn the disappearance of book stores and record stores, but Keen's polemic seems to me mistaken in countless ways. What most bothers me in this book — aside from its soon-predictable reliance on sensationalist anecdotes, sweeping generalizations, and rhetorical questions — is its uncritical trust of those whom Keen calls "gatekeepers," the "seasoned," the "trained," the professionals whose work it is to select for everyone else what is worthy of attention. Keen equates these gatekeepers with those who manage traditional media, whose expert judgments are supposedly being undermined by anyone with an Internet connection. He misses the real point of the Internet: not that it makes everyone an expert (it doesn't of course), but that it allows independent expertise to flourish.

Keen reserves special contempt for Wikipedia. This passage gives a sense of his argument and tone:

On today's Internet, . . . amateurism, rather than expertise, is celebrated, even revered. Today, the OED and the Encyclopaedia Britannica, two trusted reference volumes upon which we have long relied for information, are being replaced by Wikipedia and other user-generated resources. The professional is being replaced by the amateur, the lexicographer by the layperson, the Harvard professor by the unschooled populace.
One might argue about whether the Britannica is what "we" have long relied upon for information (I grew up in a World Book house), but to present the Oxford English Dictionary as the people's choice is to distort reality. And it's certain that there's no user-generated resource now replacing it.

Moreover — here comes irony — Keen seems unaware that the OED is the result of the volunteer work of a considerable number of laypeople, reading books and sending in quotations to document words in use. (Granted, laypeople did not write the entries, nor did OED editor James A. H. Murray believe them capable of doing more than collection work: "I have had to come to the conclusion that practically the only valuable work that can be done by the average amateur, & out of the Scriptorium, is that of reading books and extracting quotations.")

Keen's contempt for Wikipedia is not shared by everyone on the Oxford side of things. In a recent (post-Cult) interview, Niko Pfund of the Oxford University Press says that he's "very fond" of Wikipedia and uses it daily, and he likens the resource to — yes, here comes more irony — the Oxford English Dictionary:
I'm actually increasingly bored by this question of whether Wikipedia is good or bad, and even more so by the easy vilification of it, a reaction often rooted in professional self-interest. After all, the Oxford English Dictionary, arguably the greatest reference work in the English language (and certainly the greatest reference work ABOUT the English language) found its origins in a wiki model, whereby scholars put out the word to English speakers far and wide that they would welcome hard evidence of the earliest appearances of English words. The response was astonishing (never underestimate the enthusiasm of amateur lexicographers), so much so that the building in which the word submissions were kept, called The Scriptorum, began to sink under the weight of all the paper. Wikipedia is here to stay and its evolution will be one of the more interesting publishing and technology stories in the next decade.
I wonder what Andrew Keen would say to that.

[The Murray quotation is from K.M. Elisabeth Murray, Caught in the Web of Words: James A. H. Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979). One prolific OED contributor, William Chester Minor, did his work from an insane asylum. That story is told in Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (New York: HarperPerennial, 1998).]

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Who blogs?

Jonathan Rauch suspects that it's introverts who blog. Recent studies suggest that "openness to new experience" and neuroticism are key factors:

The results of two studies indicate that people who are high in openness to new experience and high in neuroticism are likely to be bloggers. Additionally, the neuroticism relationship was moderated by gender indicating that women who are high in neuroticism are more likely to be bloggers as compared to those low in neuroticism whereas there was no difference for men.

Rosanna E. Guadagno, et al., Who blogs? Personality predictors of blogging (Computers in Human Behavior)
So if someone accuses me of being neurotic, I can reply, "What difference does it make?"

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Lexicographers and Twitter

Oxford University Press lexicographers have been looking at the language of Twitter:

OUP lexicographers have been monitoring more than 1.5 million random tweets since January 2009 and have noticed any number of interesting facts about the impact of Twitter on language usage. For example the 500 words most frequently used words on Twitter are significantly different from the top 500 words in general English text. At the very top, there are many of the usual suspects: "the", "to", "as", "and", "in" . . . though "I" is right up at number 2, whereas for general text it is only at number 10. No doubt this reflects on the intrinsically solipsistic nature of Twitter. The most common word is "the," which is the same in general English.
The average number of words in a Twitter sentence: 10.69.

The average number of words in a sentence "in general usage": 22.09.

Read more:

RT this: OUP Dictionary Team monitors Twitterer's tweets (OUPblog)

[RT: "ReTweet, in the social networking and micro-blogging service Twitter, to re-post something posted by another user, usually preceeded with "RT" and "@username" to give credit to original poster."]

A related post
Geoffrey Nunberg on Twitter

Friday, June 5, 2009

Geoffrey Nunberg on Twitter

Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg comments on Twitter:

The English sentence has done very well for itself over the last thousand years or so, and it's not about to autodestruct because kids have suddenly started to text message each other rather than passing notes under their desk. In fact, what we're taught in school — the gospel according to Strunk and White — is to be concise. What imposes more constraints of conciseness than Twitter? So in that sense, Twitter could be the greatest thing that's happened to English since print.

Interview: Geoffrey Nunberg (Mother Jones)
My 140-character reduction:
Kids texting rather than note-passing won't ruin the sentence. Strunk & White = concision = Twitter! Greatest thing for English since print?

Boy chewing gum



He looks like a happy kid. He has gum. Gum is fun. And it's Friday. And there's no homework. And it's June. Pretty soon school'll be over. Yep, pretty soon.

[Young boy chewing bubble gum. Photograph by Bob Landry, 1946. From the Life photo archive.]

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Proust's five-franc piece

A story from Marcel Proust, as recounted by his housekeeper Céleste Albaret. Marcel is off with his brother Robert to visit a relative, Mme. Nathan:

"Mother dressed us up all neat and clean, and before we went, said, 'Here's a five-franc piece each. When you get there and Marie, the maid, opens the door, make sure you first of all wish her a Happy New Year, and then give her the five-franc pieces.' On the way there, in place de la Madeleine, I saw a shoeblack swinging his arms and stamping his feet to keep warm. I went up to him, asked him to shine my shoes, though they were already as bright as new pennies, and gave him my five francs. When I got home, Mother said, 'I hope you were good and didn't forget to give Marie the five francs?' I told her about the shoeblack. 'What did you do that for?' she cried in despair. So I explained: 'I saw him waiting in the cold for a customer, so I let him shine my shoes.' And she kissed me."

Céleste Albaret, Monsieur Proust, translated by Barbara Bray (New York: New York Review Books, 2003), 138.
Related reading
All Proust posts (via Delicious)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Koko Taylor (1928-2009)

Blues singer Koko Taylor has died at the age of eighty.

I was fortunate to hear her in the early 1980s at Jonathan Swift's in Cambridge, MA. She was, as one of her album titles declares, a force of nature.

Here are two versions of her signature song, Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle." Yes, "All night long."

Ducks amuck

“'In the duck world, San Francisco is almost impossible.'”

Strange sentence. It's from an article on the use of kazoo-like instruments to promote amphibious-vehicle tours in San Francisco:

A Quacking Kazoo Sets Off a Squabble (New York Times)

I'd be remiss if I didn't include a link to the 1953 Merrie Melodies cartoon that gave me my title:

Duck Amuck (YouTube)

I should add that this cartoon is a major influence on John Ashbery's poem "Daffy Duck in Hollywood" (Houseboat Days, 1977).

What's that? I shouldn't?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

More on Proust's coffee

Corcellet coffee, that is:

It being an acknowledged fact that French coffee is decidedly superior to that made in England, and as the roasting of the berry is of great importance to the flavour of the preparation, it will be useful and interesting to know how they manage these things in France. In Paris, there are two houses justly celebrated for the flavour of their coffee — La Maison Corcellet and La Maison Royer de Chartres; and to obtain this flavour, before roasting they add to every 3 Ibs. of coffee a piece of butter the size of a nut, and a dessertspoonful of powdered sugar; it is then roasted in the usual manner. The addition of the butter and sugar develops the flavour and aroma of the berry; but it must be borne in mind that the quality of the butter must be of the very best description.

Isabella Beeton, The Book of Household Management; Comprising Information for The Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper And Under House-Maids, Lady's-Maid, Maid-of-All-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nursemaid, Monthly, Wet And Sick Nurses, Etc. Etc. Also, Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda; with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of All Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort. (London: S.O. Beeton, 1861), 876.
Butter-roasted — who knew? (Not me.)

Vietnamese coffee, it seems, is still butter-roasted — the French colonial influence. Reader, if you can recount a close encounter with butter-roasted coffee, please share.

Given recent posts on Orange Crate Art, I should note that Isabella Beeton, "Mrs. Beeton," was, it seems, a plagiarist.

Related posts
Proust's coffee
All Proust posts (via Delicious)

Donkey Kong

Steve Wiebe is after a world-record score in Donkey Kong, live, now, online.

The wonderful documentary film The King of Kong chronicles the rivalry between Wiebe and Donkey Kong arch-nemesis Billy Mitchell.

Steve Wiebe plays Donkey Kong (via kottke.org)

[Update: He missed.]

Related post
Movie recommendation: The King of Kong

Monday, June 1, 2009

What plagiarism looks like


[Image from What Plagiarism Looks Like.]

Some enterprising readers (faculty? student-journalists?) have gone through the dissertations of Carl Boening and William Meehan, highlighting every passage in Meehan's that can be found, word for word, in Boening's. Neither the University of Alabama (which granted Boening and Meehan their doctorates) nor Jacksonville State University, where Meehan is president, has chosen to take up the obvious questions about plagiarism that Meehan's dissertation presents. As another recent story suggests, plagiarism seems to be governed by a sliding scale, with consequences lessening as the wrongdoer's status rises.

With Meehan's dissertation, things are even worse than the highlighting would suggest: what's yellow is what's word for word. There are further instances of plagiarism in Meehan's work that involve less than word-for-word correspondence.

You can find both dissertations and an index, syncing them page by page, at What Plagiarism Looks Like. That site is the source of the image above.

[The documents are also now at Scribd: Boening dissertation, Meehan dissertation, index.]

[December 5, 2009. A new development: Court stops plagiarism claim against JSU president.]

Related posts
Boening, Meehan, plagiarism
Plagiarism in the academy

Proust's coffee

Marcel Proust's housekeeper Céleste Albaret recounts preparing the boss's coffee:

It was a ritual. First, only Corcellet coffee could be used, and it had to be bought at a shop in rue de Lévis in the seventeenth arrondissement where it was roasted, to make sure it was fresh and had lost none of its aroma. The filter, too, had to be Corcellet. Even the little tray was from Corcellet.

Céleste Albaret, Monsieur Proust, translated by Barbara Bray (New York: New York Review Books, 2003), 22.
The Corcellet family opened une épicerie fine, a fine-foods store, a delicatessen, in Paris in 1787. As late as 1983, there was a Corcellet (Paul) roasting coffee at his Parisian store. Céline de Pierredon-Corcellet, Paul's daughter, now runs SOPROVAL (Société Provençale d'Alimentation de Luxe) in Provence, producing mustards, oils, spices, and vinegars. No coffee alas.

A trip to Google Book Search suggests that Proust was hardly unusual in his devotion to Corcellet coffee:


From Galignani's New Paris Guide, for 1852: Compiled from the Best Authorities, Revised and Verified by Personal Inspection, and Arranged on an Entirely New Plan (Paris: A. and W. Galignani, 1852), 594.
*

June 2: Now there's more on Proust's coffee.

Related reading
Paul Corcollet (1910–1993) (The Independent)
SOPROVAL (company history)
Proust's letters to Céleste Albaret at auction (with coffee stains)
All Proust posts (via Delicious)