Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Curbside Haiku


From the New York City Department of Transportation, Curbside Haiku is “a set of twelve bright, eye-catching designs by artist John Morse that mimic the style of traditional street safety signs.”

Curbside Haiku (NYC DOT)
PDF with twelve signs (NYC DOT)
PDF with street locations (NYC DOT)

[Be careful out there, everybody.]

Tocar fuerte

[Photograph by Michael Leddy. Click for a larger view.]

Tocar fuerte means knock hard. But you’d think that a psychic reader would know when a customer’s at la puerta.

[As seen while waiting at a red light on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles last week.]

Eames on reams

Charles Eames, in the 1981 film Goods:

“Reams of paper: haven’t you dreamed of reams of paper? It’s absolutely beautiful, beautiful, beautiful stuff. What you do with a ream of paper can never quite come up to what the paper offers.”
A related post
Twine and yarn (From an Eames-themed exhibit)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Twine and yarn

[Photograph by Michael Leddy. Click for a larger view.]

These balls and baskets are part of “Eames Words,” an exhibit focused on Charles and Ray Eameses’ “appreciation of the value of humble objects and useful tools.” The inspiration for these objects: Charles Eames’s comments on the beauty of clothesline, rope, and twine in the short 1981 film Goods (“From a three screen slide show made for a lecture on The New Covetables given by Charles Eames during his tenure as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard, 1970-71”), one of three films on view in the exhibit. You can watch all three while sitting in a variety of Eames chairs. My favorite: the Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair with Wood Base. (List price: an unhumble $779.)

A Charles Eames thought from the exhibit: “Beyond the age of information is the age of choices.” Are we there yet? I think so. Thank you for choosing Orange Crate Art.

A + D Architecture and Design Museum (Los Angeles)
Eames Words (“Interactive postcard”)
Goods (YouTube)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Orange tree art

[Photograph by Michael Leddy. Click for a larger view.]

This orange tree stands in front of a house on a Los Angeles street, as if it were an everyday thing for an orange tree to stand in front of a house on a Los Angeles street. Which, in California, it is. Why, you can reach out anywhere and pick an orange.

Other posts with orange
Crate art, orange : Orange art, no crate : Orange crate art : Orange crate art (Encyclopedia Brown) : Orange flag art : Orange mug art : Orange notebook art : Orange notecard art : Orange peel art : Orange pencil art : Orange soda art : Orange telephone art : Orange timer art : Orange toothbrush art : Orange train art

[Elaine and I went out to Los Angeles last week for Thanksgiving. You can’t really reach out anywhere and pick an orange, but you can get bonus points if you know the source for that claim.]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

John Lennon’s to-do list

“H.B.O. Guy coming between 3–5: BE THERE”: a John Lennon to-do list will soon be at auction.

Other posts with lists
“Ambercroombie & Flitch” (Ways to be cool)
Amy Winehouse’s to-do list (“When I do recorddeal”)
Blue crayon (Supplies for an imaginary camping trip)
Johnny Cash’s to-do list (“Kiss June”)
Review: Liza Kirwin, Lists (Artists’ lists)
Whose list? (A found list)

That (in)famous line

[I wrote what follows — on a line from Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks’s song “Cabin Essence” — in October 2004. For a long time this essay was available at Jan Jansen’s vandykeparks.com, which site now redirects to Bananastan Records. Given the recent release of the Beach Boys’ The SMiLE Sessions, I thought I’d give my writing (slightly revised) a new home here. Why an (in)famous line? The Beach Boys’ Mike Love, dismayed by what he called the “acid alliteration” of Parks’s lyrics, demanded an explanation of the words “Over and over the crow cries uncover the cornfield.” Parks could not oblige. That brief encounter has come to stand as an emblematic moment in the sad and tangled story of SMiLE. “Cabinessence” appeared on the Beach Boys” 1969 album 20/20. The song is titled “Cabin Essence” on Brian Wilson’s 2004 album SMiLE and on The SMiLE Sessions.]

“Anyone care to analyze the lyrics?”

In a recent rec.music.artists.beach-boys thread of that name, concerning the lyrics for SMiLE, someone wrote:

I’d like to see an analysis by someone trained in poetry, someone who is good at that sort of thing, like one of my English profs in college . . . No, it wouldn’t be definitive, but might provide some insights.
I’m a professor of English, so I guess I’d better say something.

The twentieth-century American poet Ezra Pound describes three qualities of poetic language: logopoeia, melopoeia, and phanopoeia, or the play of meaning, sound, and visual imagery. Take Van Dyke’s (in)famous line from “Cabin Essence”: “Over and over the crow cries uncover the cornfield.” You can see the lyricist playing with meaning: is cries a verb, or a noun? It might seem that a crow is crying “Uncover the cornfield,” but there are no quotation marks in the printed lyric, so cries must be a noun. Uncover is more puzzling. What would it mean for cries to uncover a cornfield? Perhaps crows are cawing as they fly away, leaving the field as it was before they arrived and covered it. Uncover could be a surprising, logopoetic way to say that.

There’s considerable play of sound in this line: over and over, the long o in over and crow, the hard c in crow, cries, uncover, and cornfield, the repeated r sound in over, crow, cries, and corn. You could say that the line performs the repetition that it speaks of, making the same sounds, again and again. Just say the line a few times and you can hear its richness. It’s a mouthful, literally. And it has an emphatic rhythm:
DUM da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM DUM
That’s almost a line of Homer — dactyls (DUM da da) followed by a spondee (DUM DUM). (Homer’s lines though have six feet each, this one only five.) The long o sounds also echo roll and over in “Roll Plymouth Rock.” So this line is rich in melopoeia in itself and in relation to another part of SMiLE.

As this line suggests, Van Dyke’s lyrics are often a matter of logopoeia and melopoeia: “The diamond necklace [a queen?] played the pawn,” “hand in hand some . . . handsome,” “canvass the town . . . brush the backdrop” (“Surf’s Up”). That sort of play with language is a large part of the pleasure of poetry. Such play may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s what I see (and love) in Van Dyke’s lyrics, along with witty cultural shorthand (for instance, the reference to Ramona in “Orange Crate Art”).

As for phanopoeia, the visual image of crows leaving a field might not seem like much, but Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” is at least one precedent for poetry of the ordinary, everyday bird. Making a striking image out of everyday stuff is one thing that modern American poets (William Carlos Williams, for instance) tend to do very well. In the context of the first section of SMiLE, the image of crows leaving a field might suggest nature in flight from the European presence in (and devastation of) North America — the presence that has brought the “ribbon of concrete,” the bicycle rider, railroad tracks, truck-driving men, mechanized agriculture, and an empire of homes on the range.

None of what I’ve written is what the line “means,” in any simple way, but it’s often more useful with poetry to ask what a line does, or what it evokes, or what it gives a reader to find pleasure in. To say that the line means that crows are leaving a field is in fact to kill everything that’s interesting in the line. That’s the kind of approach that literary critics used to call “the heresy of paraphrase” — the reduction of the poem to a bare statement, as if the point of reading poetry were to cut away the beauty of language to get to some sort of message.

And none of what I’ve written is a matter of guesswork about what the line “really” means, or what its writer “really” meant, or what Van Dyke was thinking when he wrote the line. Those ways of thinking about poetry begin with a misleading model of what it means to write, a model in which what the poet says and what the poet means are two distinct matters, the first happening on the page and the second happening in the poet’s consciousness (and thus unavailable to us). A much more workable approach is to think of the poet’s meaning as something we construct, by bringing to bear as much attentiveness and as wide a range of relevant reference as possible.

In an essay written last year for the SMiLE tour booklet, Van Dyke professes still not to know what “Over and over . . . ” means. That’s indeed a respectable position for a poet to take. John Ashbery, whom many readers would consider the greatest living American poet, has said that he has no idea what it is he’s doing when he writes. The work of making and the work of noticing and explaining are two different things. I tend to distrust poets who are willing to explicate their work, and I cringe a little when someone asks “What did you mean by that?” It’s for the reader to make something of what he or she reads, and that’s what I’ve been doing here.

As I write these words, it’s autumn in the American midwest, the cornfields are down, and I’ve begun to notice crows everywhere. I noticed them in field after field while riding the train home from Chicago, where my wife and I heard SMiLE earlier this month. When I put in a daily walk and bring SMiLE on my Walkman, I hear crows loud and clear along with the music (and along with the animals of “Barnyard”). That’s another dimension of poetry — its capacity for changing your perceptions of the world.

Related reading
All Van Dyke Parks posts

Friday, November 25, 2011

Telephone exchange names
on screen: Naked City

[Alfred Tiloff (Jack Klugman) gives instructions for the delivery of a ransom. “The Tragic Success of Alfred Tiloff.” Naked City. November 8. 1961. Click for a larger view.]

Elaine and I have become hooked on the great television series Naked City. Our habit will soon exhaust all available Netflix DVDs. I don’t know what’ll happen then.

The telephone number in this scene: GRamercy 7–9166.

More exchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : Born Yesterday : The Dark Corner : Deception : Dream House : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Murder, My Sweet : Nightmare Alley : The Public Enemy : Side Street : Sweet Smell of Success : This Gun for Hire

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 1911

[“Champion Eater’s Menu. Starts Sample Bill of Fare with 15 Pounds of Turkey — Will Eat It for $25.” New York Times, November 30, 1911.]

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Canned goods

[“Well-stocked preserve closet has many jellies — apple currant, grape, mint: many vegetables — carrots, asparagus, cauliflower, beets, fruit & vegetable juices.” Life, November 24, 1941. Click for a larger view.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Austerlitz on time

A clock has always struck me as something ridiculous, a thoroughly mendacious object, perhaps because I have always resisted the power of time out of some internal compulsion which I myself have never understood, keeping myself apart from so-called current events in the hope, as I now think, said Austerlitz, that time will not pass away, has not passed away, that I can turn back and go behind it, and there I shall find everything as it once was, or more precisely I shall find that all moments of time have co-existed simultaneously, in which case none of what history tells us would be true, past events have not yet occurred but are waiting to do so at the moment when we think of them, although that, of course, opens up the bleak prospect of everlasting misery and never-ending anguish.

W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz. Trans. Anthea Bell (New York: Modern Library, 2001).
I picked up this novel because it is has been described as Proustian — and it is, though a scene in which a walk on uneven pavement brings back the past is, really, too overt an homage. (The precedent for that walk may be found in the final volume of In Search of Lost Time, Time Regained.) The sentence I’ve typed here is deeply Proustian, not only in its preoccupation with time and memory but also in the grim twist at its end. “If all time is eternally present / All time is unredeemable,” as someone once said.

[It was T.S. Eliot, in “Burnt Norton,” the first of the Four Quartets.]

Recently updated

Heartlessness on parade: Steven J. Baum’s law firm is shutting down. (Thanks, Gunther.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Woody Allen’s staplers

[Woody Allen’s writing table.]

The New Yorker has the brief clip from PBS’s Woody Allen: A Documentary in which Allen talks about his typewriter (an Olympia portable) and his cut-and-paste method: “I have my scissors here, and I have a lot of these things, these little stapling machines.” That red Swingline Tot 50 is old: the Tot hasn’t looked like that for years. (Trust me: I have an old one on my desk.)

Part Two airs tonight.

“Still in the familiar yellow!”

[Life, August 31, 1959. Click for a larger view.]

These good-looking people are very happy about their pencils.

Gunther at Lexikaliker has a recent post with a close look at a 1953 Pedigree ad.

A related post
Pedigree pencil

Pedigree pencil

Old?

I don’t think so. Not really. It might be from the 1970s or 1980s.

Well, that’s at least twenty-two years ago.

I guess you’re right.

[Silent contemplation of time’s passing.]

So what do you know about this pencil?

Not much. I know that Empire used to be a big name in pencils, and that the company was based in Shelbyville, Tennessee. I remember that there used to be all sorts of stationery supplies bearing the Pedigree name.

I remember that too. This 1972 ad shows a bunch of them.

I haven’t seen that stuff in years.

[Silent contemplation of time’s passing.]

So you must have a bunch of these pencils?

I must have had a bunch of them. But this one is the only one I’ve got — just mixed in with some other loose pencils in a drawer. I was never a big fan of the Pedigree.

How come?

I remember the Pedigree as particularly unpleasant to write with — unyielding, really. The pencil made the writer’s bump on my middle finger mighty sore. And the erasers seemed to dry out quickly. Besides, I just never liked the design. The eraser’s sickly green, the ferrule’s dull brown band — those colors don’t even go together. And the overly busy text running down the body — it looks like a poor man’s Mongol. I especially don’t like the registered trademark symbol and the ugly Empire mark. And “Anchord Lead?” Did they have to misspell it?

[Silence.]

Look — you asked, okay?

I guess you’re right.

Whatever you say.

[This post is the twelfth in an occasional series, “From the Museum of Supplies.” The museum is imaginary. The supplies are real. Supplies is my word, and has become my family’s word, for all manner of stationery items. Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

Also from the Museum of Supplies
Dennison’s Gummed Labels No. 27
Eagle Turquoise display case
Eagle Verithin display case
Fineline erasers
Illinois Central Railroad Pencil
A Mad Men sort of man, sort of
Mongol No. 2 3/8
Moore Metalhed Tacks
Real Thin Leads
Rite-Rite Long Leads
Stanley carpenter’s rule

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Best rake ever?

The Ames True Temper rake might be the best rake ever. It’s certainly the best rake I’ve used. It pulls easily and makes a wide swath. Best of all, the tines do not get cluttered with leaves.

The True Temper rake is made in the U.S. I paid $13.49 for mine. Leaves not included.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dennis Stock, camera

[“Photographer Dennis Stock holding camera to his face so that the lens looks like his right eye & viewfinder his left eye.” Photograph by Andreas Feininger. June 1951. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

Wikipedia articles
Andreas Feininger
Dennis Stock

Salinger, illustrated

David Richardson, who’s made beautiful portraits of characters in Marcel Proust’s fiction, is illustrating Michael Norris’s four-part commentary on J.D. Salinger’s Glass family fiction. Here are parts one and two: Franny and Zooey and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” I think DR’s Seymour Glass is perfect.

Update, December 13: There are two more installments: Seymour Glass and The Glass Family Portrait Album.

A related post
Resemblance: The Portraits

Recently updated

Jacques Barzun, teacher: Now with a link to information about a new biography.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Andrew Sullivan profile

Andrew Sullivan: “I don't like walls. I never have liked walls. It’s part of why I like America — it doesn’t feel so cramped to me as England.” From a profile by Mark Warren: Andrew Sullivan, American by Choice (Esquire).

I read Andrew Sullivan daily.

Rome poem

A short rome poem encouraging people to come to rome: this Google search brought a hapless surfer to Orange Crate Art. It’s easy to oblige:

Rome! Rome! Sweet, sweet Rome!
There’s no place like Rome,
There’s no place like Rome.
[With apologies to John Howard Payne, Sir Henry Bishop, and Dorothy Gale, and Dorothy Gale.]

Project Neon

“A project to document the best of New York City’s neon signs”: Project Neon.

Other neon posts
“[A]s Edwin Denby would / write”
Minetta Tavern
Saratoga Bar and Cafe

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jacques Barzun, teacher

Educator, professor, or teacher: which shall it be?

At best the title of teacher is suspect. I notice that on their passports and elsewhere, many of my academic colleagues put down their occupation as Professor. Anything to raise the tone: a professor is to a teacher what a cesspool technician is to a plumber. Anything to enlarge the scope: not long ago, I joined a club which described its membership as made up of Authors, Artists, and Amateurs — an excellent reason for joining. Conceive my disappointment when I found that the classifications had broken down and I was now entered as an Educator. Doubtless we shall have to keep the old pugilistic title of Professor, though I cannot think of Dante in Hell coming upon Brunetto Latini, and exclaiming, “Why, Professor!” But we can and must get rid of “Educator.” Imagine the daily predicament: someone asks, “What do you do?” — “I profess and I educate.” It is unspeakable and absurd.

Jacques Barzun, Teacher in America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1945).
If you teach: What do you call yourself? What do you ask your students to call you?

[“Cesspool technician” reminds me of Ed Norton’s self-description in a Honeymooners episode: “I’m an engineer in subterranean sanitation.” The club is no doubt the Century Association, “an association of over two thousand authors, artists, and amateurs of letters and the fine arts.“ Dante says to Brunetto Latini, “Siete voi qui, ser Brunetto?” [Ser Brunetto, are you here?] (Inferno XV.30). An explanation: “The title ser (the second element in messer, cf. French monsieur) placed before Brunetto Latini’s first name is a sign of respect, as is the use of in the Italian text of the formal pronoun voi”: Anthony Oldcorn, in the notes to Stanley Lombardo’s translation of the Inferno (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2009). Jacques Barzun will be 104 on November 30. And if you’re wondering why it’s How to e-mail a professor: professor is the word I thought students would search for.]

Update, November 18: Just out, a biography by Michael Murray: Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mind (Savannah: Frederic C. Beil, 2011).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hooverville 2.0

In the wee small hours of this morning, police removed protesters from New York’s Zuccotti Park. This Hooverville conversation seems eerily relevant:

Tom asked, “Why would they push a fella like that aroun’?”

The young man stopped his work and looked in Tom’s eyes. “Chris’ knows,” he said. “You jus’ come. Maybe you can figger her out. Some fellas say one thing, an’ some says another thing. But you jus’ camp in one place a little while, an’ you see how quick a deputy sherriff shoves you along.”

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939).
[Hooverville: “a shantytown built by unemployed and destitute people during the Depression of the early 1930s. . . . named after H.C. Hoover, during whose presidency such accommodations were built” (New Oxford American Dictionary).]

Jim Koper’s photographs from Zuccotti Park
“I go to time out for cheating”
“Take the rich off welfare!”
Man with beard
Woman with sign
Man with flag
Tarps

American Censorship Day

Today Tomorrow is American Censorship Day, marking the start of Congressional hearings on H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act. As the website Public Knowledge puts it, “This bill seriously screws with the Internet.” Creative Commons explains:

SOPA would drastically increase both the costs and risks of providing platforms for sharing and collaboration (think sites ranging from individual blogs to massive community projects such as Wikipedia, from open education repositories to Flickr and YouTube), and vaporize accessibility to huge swathes of free culture, whether because running a platform becomes too costly, or [because] a single possibly infringing item causes an entire domain to be taken down. [My emphasis.]
Related reading
Text of H.R. 3261 (Public Knowledge)
Urgent: Stop [U.S.] American censorship of the Internet (Creative Commons)

If you’re an educator a teacher, consider signing Creative Commons open letter to the ranking members of the House Committee on the Judiciary. You can also send a message to your representative in Congress via Public Knowledge.

[Oops: the sixteenth is tomorrow, not today. But better early than never.]

Monday, November 14, 2011

Jodi Birdwell

Jodi Birdwell, Recap. Four vintage typewriters, four vintage boxes, four vintage stools, four vintage paper lanterns, Victorian rug. 2011.]

Elaine and I took a drive this weekend to see an exhibition of Jodi Birdwell’s work, “Love Letters to Cy . . . and other notes.” Cy is Cy Twombly, and Birdwell’s work bears traces of his in the form of faint inscriptions. But her work is really her own. Her materials often suggest a garage or workshop: house paint, plywood, casters and furniture knobs. These paintings and installations seem to be working out a grammar of forms: birds and elephants; cups and pots; sausage shapes that begin to resemble socks; dome-like shapes that suggest bowls, cradles, igloos, lamps, planets, and tents. Walking around the gallery became ever more interesting as the family resemblances among paintings became more noticeable. I noticed resemblances too in some of the written elements in paintings: biRb and biRd, and a list of rhymes: pail, kale, and so on.

Missing from these photographs is the warmth of this installation: the Christmas lights on the floor function like a campfire for this gathering of typewriters big and small, out under a paper moon and stars.


Jodi Birdwell
“Love Letters to Cy . . . and other notes”
The Merwin & Wakeley Galleries
Illinois Wesleyan University
Bloomington, Illinois
November 8 – December 8, 2011

Further reading and viewing
Jodi Birdwell (artist’s website)
The Merwin & Wakely Galleries

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mitt Romney at Bain

In the New York Times, a look at Mitt Romney, man of business:

Mr. Romney’s career at Bain Capital, which he owned and ran as chief executive, is a cornerstone of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination — a credential, he argues, that showcases the management skills and business acumen that America needs to revive a stalled economy. Creating jobs, Mr. Romney says, is exactly what he knows how to do.

The White House, though, is already preparing a less flattering portrayal, trying to frame Mr. Romney’s record at Bain as evidence that he would pursue slash and burn economics and that his business career thrived by enriching the elite at the expense of the working class.
You can guess which account of life at Bain Capital I think is more convincing.

Elaine worked at Bain & Company (pre-Bain Capital) in the 1980s, processing other people’s words, including Mitt Romney’s. As she puts it, Romney sees the world through “Bain-colored glasses.”

Further reading
Downsizing and Outsourcing (Management Tools 2011, Bain & Company)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

In the groves of academe

A’s for everyone:

Students at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences who received A’s for two [online] courses that were never taught will get their money back, but they’ll still get to keep the academic credit, an administrator reported on Wednesday. . . .

After reviewing the course work of the enrolled students, the university decided that all of them had met the learning objectives of the two online courses “through other courses, clinical experience, and educational activities embedded throughout the curriculum.”

Students of Professor Who Didn’t Show Up Keep Their A’s and Get Refunds, Too (Chronicle of Higher Education)
It’s telling, I think, that only three students complained when the professor went missing.

[For the plural of a letter, Garner’s Modern American Usage recommends italic type followed by a plain -s: As. I’ve followed the Chronicle in using an apostrophe.]

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eleven, eleven, eleven

Wikipedia explains it:

Eleven is the first number which cannot be counted with a human’s eight fingers and two thumbs additively. In English, it is the smallest positive integer requiring three syllables and the largest prime number with a single-morpheme name. Its etymology originates from a Germanic compound ainlif meaning “one left.” It is also the second number in the “teens.”
I like the quotation marks around “teens.” But is eleven a teen? The American Heritage Dictionary defines teens as “The numbers 10 through 19 or 13 through 19.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate says “the numbers 13 to 19 inclusive; specifically : the years 13 to 19 in a lifetime or century.” And the Oxford English Dictionary agrees: “The numbers of which the names end in -teen. Also, years, temperatures, pay, etc., measured in quantities which end in -teen.” I’m pointing out these complications here, not on the Wikipedia article’s Talk page. (Eschew disputation!)

November 11, 1921

[“Cities Observe Day from East to West: San Francisco, at Telephone, Hears President Deliver Arlington Address.” New York Times, November 12, 1921.]

Related posts
November 11, 1918
November 11, 1919
November 11, 1920

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ajax on my mind

Watch Joe Paterno address the students gathered outside his house last night. He advises them to get a good night’s sleep and to study, and adds one more thing: “We are Penn State,” with a fist in the air. As George Vecsey writes of Paterno in the New York Times, “he still doesn’t get it.”

The disgraceful events at Penn State have me thinking about Sophocles’ Ajax, a play I taught last week. As the play begins, Ajax, the great representative of old-school warrior values, is doing the unspeakable. Furious that Odysseus and not he has been given Achilles’ armor, he sets out to murder Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Odysseus. But Athena deludes him, and he ends up torturing and killing animals, thinking they’re the Greek leaders. Then he comes to his senses, and his pain grows infinitely greater. His wife Tecmessa describes his reaction to what he has done:

And when he saw the carnage under his roof,
He grasped his head and screamed,
Crashing down onto the bloody wreckage,
Then just sitting in the slaughter, fists clenched,
His nails tearing into his hair.
Ajax, as we would say, gets it, and chooses to fall on his sword. Paterno might at least acknowledge some measure of shame and sorrow for his silence.

[Source: Sophocles, Four Tragedies. Trans. Peter Meineck and Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2007). The Ajax translation is by Meineck.]

Bil Keane (1922–2011)

“As a child, he drew on his bedroom walls”: Bil Keane, Creator of The Family Circus, Dies at 89 (New York Times).

Critical-thinking skills at Penn State

“I think the point people are trying to make is the media is responsible for Joe Pa going down,” said a freshman, Mike Clark, 18, adding that he believed that Mr. Paterno had met his legal and moral responsibilities by telling university authorities about an accusation that Mr. Sandusky assaulted a boy in a university shower in 2002.

*

“We got rowdy, and we got maced,” Jeff Heim, 19, said rubbing his red, teary eyes. “But make no mistake, the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend.”

*

Four girls in heels danced on the roof of a parked sport utility vehicle and dented it when they fell after a group of men shook the vehicle. A few, like Justin Muir, 20, a junior studying hotel and restaurant management, threw rolls of toilet paper into the trees.

“It’s not fair,“ Mr. Muir said hurling a white ribbon. “The board is an embarrassment to our school and a disservice to the student population.”

*

Some students noted the irony that they had come out to oppose what they saw as a disgraceful end to Mr. Paterno’s distinguished career as a football coach, and then added to the ignobility of the episode by starting an unruly protest.

Greg Becker, 19, a freshman studying computer science, said he felt he had to vent his feelings anyway.

“This definitely looks bad for our school,” he said sprinting away from a cloud of pepper spray. “I’m sure Joe Pa wouldn’t want this, but this is just an uproar now, we’re finding a way to express our anger.”

*

Paul Howard, 24, an aerospace engineering student, jeered the police.

“Of course we’re going to riot,” he said. “What do they expect when they tell us at 10 o’clock that they fired our football coach?”

Penn State Students Clash With Police in Unrest After Announcement (New York Times)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

TextWrangler gutter removal

To permanently remove the left-side gutter from the Mac app TextWrangler, open the Terminal and type the following:

defaults write com.barebones.textwrangler Editor:Gutter -bool false
And to get the gutter back:
defaults write com.barebones.textwrangler Editor:Gutter -bool true
The gutter is useful for text folding, but if you use TextWrangler for plain old writing, the gutter might seem like clutter.

TextWrangler is great, and it’s free. It’s my favorite writing app.

[Solution found at TextWrangler Talk. Thanks, adiener.]

An old Life never dies

Back-date magazine dealer Sidney Friedman:

My brother Ben and I run maybe the busiest back-date magazine store in the world. It’s on Sixth Avenue in New York City. We have customers in here fourteen hours a day and we’re famous enough to get mail just addressed: “Old Magazines, near 42nd St.”

A few yards away is the big New York Public Library. You find something in an old magazine there. Can you clip it out? You’d go to jail! Copying takes time. Photostats cost money and don’t come in color. So hundreds of people cross the street and buy from us.

[“Life file . . .” Life, December 14, 1953. Click for a larger view.]
This back-date magazine store sounds like a 1953 Internet.

Yesterday’s Henry led me to this page from Life. Sidney Friedman was right: an old Life never dies. December 14, 1953 lives on at Google Books.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bravo, Ohio

“Republican-backed limits on collective bargaining for 360,000 public employees in Ohio were squashed by voters through a resounding defeat of Issue 2.”

Issue 2 fails (Columbus Dispatch)

Welcome, 10,006th subscriber

FeedBurner now shows 10,006 Orange Crate Art subscribers, almost all in iGoogle or Google Reader. I’ve been watching the counter creep toward 10,000 for a while now.

Who are you all? Aside from the free pizza, what do you like about Orange Crate Art? Please, click on through sometime and say hello.

SIUC on strike

“This is what I have worked for. In our time of need our students have stood up for us”: Jyotsna Kapur, associate professor in cinema and photography, at a student rally in support of striking faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. You can follow the story online at Occupy SIUC and SIUC Unions United.

The SIUC administration’s thesaurus seems to be opened to intransigent:

uncompromising, inflexible, unbending, unyielding, diehard, unshakable, unwavering, resolute, rigid, unaccommodating, uncooperative, stubborn, obstinate, obdurate, pigheaded, single-minded, iron-willed, stiff-necked.
I think the administration needs to find a different word.

[Adjectives courtesy of the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus.]

Henry, an anachronism

[Henry, November 8, 2011.]

When did you last see a bookstore selling back-date magazines?

Henry is a wonderful anachronism. I think I must be the last person reading.

Related posts
Betty Boop with Henry
Henry mystery
Henry’s repeated gesture
An old Life never dies

[Henry solves his magazine problem by going to a doctor’s office.]

Naming Apple

The two Steves, in the beginning:

Now that they had decided to start a business, they needed a name. Jobs had gone for another visit to the All One Farm, where he had been pruning the Gravenstein apple trees, and Wozniak picked him up at the airport. On the ride down to Los Altos, they bandied around options. They considered some typical tech words, such as Matrix, and some neologisms, such as Executek, and some straightforward boring names, like Personal Computers Inc. The deadline for deciding was the next day, when Jobs wanted to start filing the papers. Finally Jobs proposed Apple Computer. “I was on one of my fruitarian diets,” he explained. “I had just come back from the apple farm. It sounded fun, spirited, and not intimidating. Apple took the edge off the word ‘computer.’ Plus, it would get us ahead of Atari in the phone book.” He told Wozniak that if a better name did not hit them by the next afternoon, they would just stick with Apple. And they did.

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011).
Apple Computer, Inc. is now Apple Inc., no comma. “Apple,” unlike, say, “Executek,” is a name built to last.

Also from Walter Isaacson’s biography
Steve Jobs at college (and typos)

[The All One Farm: an Oregon commune founded by Jobs’s Reed College friend Richard Friedland.]

Monday, November 7, 2011

Inara G. and Van Dyke P. in LA

Through it all Parks was as entertaining between songs as he was in the midst of them, touching upon everything from Qantas to Darwinism and referring to the concert itself as “a testament to durable goods.”
From Sean J. O’Connell’s review of Inara George and Van Dyke Parks’s November 5 performance at the Getty Center (LA Weekly Blogs).

A related post
On George and Parks’s An Invitation

The Parks mark


Van Dyke Parks, Arrangements, Volume 1.
Bananastan B3300. 2011.
Playing time: 39:28.

Arrangements, Volume 1 is the first of two compilations of Van Dyke Parks’s work as an arranger, on his own recordings and others’. (Parks has worked with many, many musicians: here’s an incomplete list.) Each of the fifteen selections here bears the Parks mark of sonic density and tonal variety, which makes for a jukebox of considerable range and sophistication: calypso (with Bonnie Raitt), funk (with Little Feat), a production number (with Ry Cooder), reggae (with a very plausible Dino Martin), straightfaced soft-rock (with Sal Valentino), and Tex-Mex (with Lowell George).

Most appealing to me are this album’s early (and until now relatively inaccessible) Parks recordings: the swirling keyboards and umpteen (I’d say nine) key changes of “Donovan’s Colours” (the 45 mono mix, released under the pseudonym George Washington Brown), the bright choiring voices of “Come to the Sunshine,” the brass-heavy fits and starts of “Out on the Rolling Sea,” an orchestral interpretation of the Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence’s idiosyncratic style (in Spence’s signature key of D), and “Ice Capades,” a forty-four-second flurry of synthesizer high jinks created for a late-sixties Ice Capades commercial. And perhaps best of all, Parks’s version of “The Eagle and Me,” whose bassoon, oboe, and percussive clicks and rasps suggest a happily creaking and croaking menagerie. It’s a rare musician who can take up the songs of Joseph Spence and Harold Arlen and make them both sound like parts of his own soul. Onward to the next volume.

Track listings at Bananastan Records.

Related reading
All Van Dyke Parks posts (via Pinboard)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Colgate Optic White


I find it impossible to decide what’s more plausible: that the name Colgate Optic White is the work of a snarky creative type who’s read Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man (1952), or that this new toothpaste just happens to share its name with one of that novel’s most important tropes of color and invisibility. Either way, I’m buying a tube as soon as possible to remember this odd intersection of art and commerce.

In Ellison’s novel, Optic White is the signature product of Liberty Paints, where the narrator, adrift in New York City, has gone to see about a job. Optic White suggests a range of matters: appearances (color as what meets the eye), invisibility (Lucius Brockway, an African-American genius of paint, mixes Optic White in the factory basement), masks (Optic White will cover anything, even a chunk of coal), the melting pot (a black liquid stirred into the paint leaves a grey tinge), whiteness as what’s officially American (Optic White is used on government buildings), and xenophobia (“Keep America Pure with Liberty Paints” is one company slogan). Brockway had a hand in another slogan: “If It’s Optic White, It’s the Right White.”¹ Gosh, that’d make a great toothpaste slogan too, wouldn’t it?

¹ The slogan reminds the novel’s anonymous narrator of “a childhood jingle”: “If you’re white, you’re right.” Ellison in a 1954 Paris Review interview:
Q: Can you give us an example of the use of folklore in your own novel?

A: Well, there are certain themes, symbols, and images which are based on folk material. For example, there is the old saying among Negroes: If you’re black, stay back; if you’re brown, stick around; if you’re white, you’re right.
Related posts
Barack Obama and Ralph Ellison
Invisible man: Louis Armstrong and the New York Times
Invitation to a dance (A passage from Invisible Man)
Three inaugural moments (“when white will embrace what is right”)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Allen Mandelbaum (1926–2011)

The translator Allen Mandelbaum has died at the age of eighty-five. From the New York Times obituary:

Mr. Mandelbaum was well known for his translations of the modern Italian poets Giuseppe Ungaretti and Salvatore Quasimodo, and for his Aeneid, which won the National Book Award in 1973. His verse translation of The Divine Comedy was published in three volumes by the University of California Press in the early 1980s and was later brought out by Bantam in an inexpensive paperback edition that is still used widely in college courses.
I like his Dante and Metamorphoses. Looking at Inferno this morning, I thought this last line of Canto I a fitting tribute to Mandelbaum’s work:
Then he set out, and I moved on behind him.
That’s Dante of course, speaking of Virgil. Like Virgil, the translator too is a guide to what might otherwise remain inaccessible.

Sam Fink (1916–2011)

The artist and calligrapher Sam Fink has died at the age of ninety-five. From the New York Times obituary:

A grandson of Jewish immigrants to the United States from Russia and Poland, Mr. Fink dedicated the last four decades of his life (after retiring as an advertising art director) to hand-lettering, illustrating and commenting on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address and the Book of Exodus.
In 2009 Mr. Fink was the subject of a lovely Wall Street Journal article by his cousin Bob Davis: Through Letters, a Family History Unveiled.

Friday, November 4, 2011

“Incompatible with real democracy”

Paul Krugman:

But why does this growing concentration of income and wealth in a few hands matter? Part of the answer is that rising inequality has meant a nation in which most families don’t share fully in economic growth. Another part of the answer is that once you realize just how much richer the rich have become, the argument that higher taxes on high incomes should be part of any long-run budget deal becomes a lot more compelling.

The larger answer, however, is that extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy.

Oligarchy, American Style (New York Times)

Apple thanks


I called Apple support recently to solve a minor paperwork problem (first call in four years). Apple then sent me a link to an online form asking for my feedback. I filled out the form and found this image at the end. Nice.

I bet my friend Norman can identify every language here with no peeking. Let’s see.

Teresa Wright, Teresa Wright

[As May in Roseland (dir. James Ivory, 1977).]

[As Peggy Stephenson in The Best Years of Our Lives (dir. William Wyler, 1946). With Dana Andrews as Fred Derry.]

Teresa Wright is one of my favorite actresses. That facial expression in Roseland struck me as something straight out of The Best Years of Our Lives or Shadow of a Doubt (dir. Alfred HItchcock, 1943). I have tried my best to find an equivalent.

Filmed in New York’s Roseland Ballroom, Roseland is a strange and beautiful film, made of three vignettes of love and loss: “The Waltz,” “The Hustle,” and “The Peabody.” It’s a Merchant Ivory film, screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, but as Elaine suggested, Roseland feels more like something by Fellini.

Related posts
Teresa Wright (1918–2005)
Teresa Wright, anti-starlet
Shadow of a Doubt, on location

[An unexpected benefit of seeing Roseland: learning from my dad that his parents met at the Roseland Ballroom. Whose band would have been playing?]

Thursday, November 3, 2011

String-bag hack

Elaine Fine (Mrs. Orange Crate Art) has figured out a nifty way to keep string bags from getting tangled up inside her shoulder bag.

A related post
String bags FTW

Bad handwriting and job security

A look at life at the U.S. Postal Service’s Remote Encoding Center, “a room where hundreds of clerks sit in silence, day and night, staring at America's worst-addressed envelopes”:

Poor Penmanship Spells Job Security for Post Office's Scribble Specialists (Wall Street Journal)

[I’m reminded of The Pale King: David Foster Wallace might have made a great novel about boredom, attention, and these postal workers.]

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fake speeding ticket


A new direction in spam, or new at least to me. This ticket came with a no-doubt lethal attachment. Strangely enough, twenty-four other people (e-mail addresses all visible) are getting the same ticket. The Bcc: option would add at least a smidge of greater realism, as would a city name and zip code.

Other spam posts
Achilles and stochastic : English professor spam : The folks who live in the mail : Great names in spam : Introducing Rickey Antipasto : The poetry of spam : Spam names : Spam names again

Charles Simic on writing by hand

[A] scrap of paper and a stub of a pencil are more preferable for philosophizing than typing the same words down, since writing a word out, letter by letter, is a more self-conscious process and one more likely to inspire further revisions and elaborations of that thought.

Take Care of Your Little Notebook (New York Review of Books)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Debit-card fee canceled

It’s difficult not to think that the Occupy movement has something to do with this decision: In Retreat, Bank of America Cancels Debit Card Fee (New York Times). See also: Are big banks feeling pressure from Occupy Wall Street? (Washington Post). But the decision doesn’t seem to have made much difference at Zuccotti Park: Occupy shrugs off bank’s debit-card move (MarketWatch).

-wise-wise

In a recent post, I mentioned that in 1960 the suffix -wise “was very much in the air”: the object of lighthearted yet firm rebuke in Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (1959), and a running joke in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960). Looking back at David Skinner’s 2009 article on Webster’s Third New International Dictionary has reminded me that -wise was very much in the air in 1961 too, the year of that dictionary’s publication. As Skinner notes, Life magazine “singled out the ending -wise for condemnation” in its editorial comment on the new dictionary. Google Books has the passage:

[“A Non-Word Deluge.” Life, October 27, 1961.]

Skinner notes that the Third New International labels irregardless as nonstandard and distinguishes enormity from enormousness. He also points out that concretize, finalize, and -wise “were all established enough to have appeared without warning labels in W2 [the second edition of the New International], the very dictionary Life’s editors claimed to know and trust so well.”

A weekly magazine editorializing (even if mistakenly) about an unabridged dictionary: those were heady times.

The American Heritage Dictionary,
fifth edition

The fifth edition of The American Heritage Dictionary is out today, in print and as an app, and with a free website of limited usefulness. (Compare, say, the treatment of irregardless in the online American Heritage and the online Merriam-Webster.)

I would like to go out and buy this dictionary today. O reason not the need, King Lear said. But with the Oxford English Dictionary, Webster’s Third New International, and at least a dozen other dictionaries in the house, and the OED online, and dictionaries on my Mac and iPad, I think I’m full up dictionary-wise (at least if I plan on buying the Fourth New International, whenever it appears).

*

June 24, 2012: The online AHD now has a lengthy usage note for irregardless. Hmm.

Michael Bierut's notebooks

“For the past three decades, [the design firm] Pentagram’s Michael Bierut has kept a numbered series of notebooks — plain composition books, filled with rough sketches, notes taken in client meetings, doodles and design ideas — that cumulatively provide a record of his working life.” The notebooks are the stuff of an exhibit at the College of Saint Rose (Albany, New York): 30 Years 90 Notebooks (via Notebook Stories).

A related post
Angelo Bucco’s composition book

An Iliad

“In their one-man adaptation An Iliad, Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare (TV’s True Blood) return Homer’s epic poem to the voice of the lone poet as he recounts a story of human loss and folly that resonates across three millennia of war and bloodshed.” An Iliad runs at Chicago’s Court Theatre, November 10 to December 11.

[Thanks to Music Clip of the Day for the news.]