Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year’s Eve 1911

[“ No Sign of a Lid on New Year’s Eve: The Police Not Anxious to Play the Part of Joy Killers of To-night’s Celebrations.” New York Times, December 31, 1911.]

Happy New Year, reader. May 2012 be a year of bright moments and remarkable dances. See you there.

Further reading from Wikipedia
Grizzly Bear
Shanley’s Restaurants
Turkey Trot

[Healy’s? Jack’s? The Madrid? The Whirlwin? I am using my imagination.]

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, December 31, 2011.]

Yes, Hi appears to be setting the alarm on the face side of the clock. But what really catches my eye (or head) here is at. Do you set your alarm clock at, or for?

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (via Pinboard)

[Lois, you deserve better than this.]

Friday, December 30, 2011

Philip Gove on student writing

Before turning to dictionary work with the G. & C. Merriam Company, Philip Gove spent fifteen years directing freshman English at New York University. In the mid-1950s, he was at work with Merriam, editing Webster’s Third. The Dartmouth News Service wrote to offer Gove (a Dartmouth graduate) samples of student writing to illustrate current usage. He declined and explained why in a letter:

There’s an almost invariable rule that writing prepared under assignment and therefore artificially under pressure has certain forced awkwardnesses that make it quite different from genuine human utterances. Most of these writers, you will remember, didn’t want to write the theme in the first place, didn’t have anything they wanted to say in the second, and cared only about satisfying some artificial and quite likely false standards set up by their instructor. I know because I have read thousands of them.

Quoted in Herbert C. Morton’s The Story of Webster’s Third: Philip Gove’s Controversial Dictionary and Its Critics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
How to challenge the “almost invariable rule”? One way is to ask students to write critically about “college”: what it’s for, what’s wrong with it, how it can be improved. It’s exciting to see students become critical observers of their own experience.

Related reading
Paul McHenry Roberts, “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words”

Television antennas and other relics

Diane Schirf is remembering relics. The latest: television antennas. And previously: letters and mailboxes, “the one-color, non-sticky postage stamp,” and mail chutes.

[Yes, antennas. Garner’s Modern American Usage: “When the reference is to insects, antennae . . . is the usual plural. But when the reference is to televisions and electronic transmitters, antennas is better.”]

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Overheard

While shopping:

“Holy crap — they have Valentine’s stuff out already!”

And they do, right next to the meat-flavor-flavored potato chips and other New Year’s Eve items.

All “overheard” posts (via Pinboard)

Meat-flavored potato chips

“We then top them with the flavor of thick and juicy steak”: Herr’s Kansas City Prime Potato Chips. The horror.

[As there’s no meat in these chips, perhaps I should’ve written “meat-flavor-flavored.”]

Improved to-do lists

“With the new year comes the urge to accomplish all the things that were meant to be done the year before, and it often starts with long to-do lists.” Thus Sue Shellenbarger offers some advice for making workable ones: Conquering the To-Do List (Wall Street Journal). The poster-like illustration seems especially helpful.

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)
John Lennon’s to-do list (“H.B.O. Guy coming between 3–5”)
Johnny Cash’s to-do list (“Kiss June”)
Review: Liza Kirwin, Lists (Artists’ lists)
Whose list? (A found list)

Dead give-away

Why a dead give-away?

The Oxford English Dictionary explains. A give-away is “an inadvertent betrayal or revelation of oneself, of plans, the truth, etc.” Among the meanings of dead: “absolute, complete, entire, thorough, downright.” A dead give-away is “a complete betrayal; also, a person or thing that causes such a betrayal or revelation.” One more nagging question answered. Thanks, OED.

Recreational and recreative reading

From Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day:

“Recreational” is the standard adjective corresponding to the noun “recreation”; it’s about 1,000 times as common as its synonym “recreative,” a needless variant. But “recreative” is genuinely useful in the sense “tending to re-create” — e.g.: “The paradoxically destructive and recreative force of the mythical flood seemed as real to Friday’s performers as it must have to the composer.” Timothy Pfaff, “Innocence of Children Survives ‘Noah’s Flood,’” S.F. Examiner, 24 June 1995, at C1.
I remember some years ago hearing of a college administrator who characterized English studies as “recreative reading.” It seems appropriate that he chose the needless variant. Dumb and dumberer.

Bryan Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage (Oxford University Press, 2009), offers a free Usage Tip of the Day. You can sign up at LawProse.org. Orange Crate Art is a Garner-friendly site.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Awesome People Reading

Awesome People Reading collects photographs of just that: a young Rachel Carson, Buster Keaton, Lisa Simpson, and many, many more. Above, the cast of Dracula (dir. Tod Browning, 1931). Click for a larger view.

Marshall McLuhan’s reading strategy

Marshall McLuhan’s reading strategy: begin on page 69.

(via Taking Note)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Duke Ellington and a Blackwing

[Photograph by Valerie Wilmer, 1965.]

Duke Ellington in a BBC studio, at work with a Blackwing pencil. Yes, it’s a Blackwing: the ferrule is the give-away. That’s most likely a Pall Mall in Ellington’s other hand. This photograph appears in Derek Jewell’s Duke: A Portrait of Duke Ellington (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977). There appears to be no evidence that Ellington had any particular attachment to the Blackwing pencil, or to any writing instrument.

Related reading, via Pinboard
All Blackwing posts
All Ellington posts

[Note to a certain pencil company: Orange Crate Art is licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 License. No commercial use allowed. Thanks for your cooperation.]

Marco Arment on blogging

“This site represents me, and I’m random and eccentric and interested in a wide variety of subjects.” From all the way back in 2009, Marco Arment’s Avoiding the blogger trap, good advice for anyone who writes online.

[Marco’s Instapaper has changed my life — and for the better.]

Monday, December 26, 2011

Literature and word-processing

The New York Times has a good story on literature and word-processing: The Muses of Insert, Delete and Execute. One choice bit:

Jimmy Carter set off what may have been the first word-processing-related panic in 1981, when he accidently deleted several pages of his memoir in progress by hitting the wrong keys on his brand-new $12,000 Lanier.

Here’s a picture of a Lanier Model 103.

“Don’t be a brute”

[“Don’t be a brute: handle your disks as you would handle LPs — by the edges.” Click for a larger view.]

The words above, in stately mauveine, come from a three-page guide that I made for students in a Spring 1987 writing class, an experiment in teaching writing with word-processing. I discovered this document in a folder underneath a folder underneath a — suffice to say that the document is recently unearthed. I’m amused to realize that it’s the older disks in my analogy that would be familiar to at least some 2011 students.

In 1987, teaching writing with word-processing was a bit cutting edge. Now computer-assisted writing classes are everywhere. I remain unenthusiastic though, because writing is not word-processing. The work of inventing, developing, and arranging ideas is entirely different from the work of preparing a document. Word-processing makes it all too easy for the novice writer to conflate the two kinds of work, so that even the roughest draft (what Anne Lamott calls the “shitty first draft”) looks like a finished product. I take great happiness in seeing my students discover the difference between writing (really writing) and word-processing, typically by (1) working out ideas on paper before typing and (2) revising on paper.

My favorite tools of writing: index cards, pocket notebooks, legal pads, TextWrangler, and WriteRoom. I consider a word-processing window a hostile workplace.

A related post
Beagle Bros disk-care warnings
Writing by hand

[The disks we used in 1987: 5¼" floppies.]

Ebert documentary picks

Roger Ebert picks the best documentaries of 2011.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

“Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story”

From NPR, to stream or download: Paul Auster reads “Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story.”

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Eggnog economics

Why don’t they make make eggnog all year long? The answer may not surprise you.

A related post
Charles Mingus’s eggnog recipe

Steve Jobs on PowerPoint

To be posted in all classrooms:

“People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”

Steve Jobs, quoted in Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011).
[A reasoned, nuanced evaluation? Hardly. For that, see Edward Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. And yes, Jobs used a presentation app, Apple’s Keynote, for his keynotes.]

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Juneberry78s

Juneberry78s is a great resource for anyone interested in (or soon-to-be interested in) traditional American music. Juneberry’s Listening Room offers MP3s to stream or download. Here are ten (just ten) samples:

Clarence Ashley, “The Coo-Coo Bird”
Barbecue Bob, “Yo Yo Blues”
Dock Boggs, “Country Blues”
Blind Roosevelt Graves and Brother, “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind on Jesus)”
Frank Hutchinson, “Train That Carried the Girl from Town”
Sam McGee, “Franklin Blues”
The Mississippi Moaner, “It’s Cold in China Blues”
Moonshine Kate, “My Man’s a Jolly Railroad Man”
Ernest and Hattie Stoneman, “Too Late”
Henry Williams and Eddie Anthony, “Georgia Crawl”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lost mitten

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

<pathetic fallacy>

Poor little mitten. It’s been waiting on this telephone pole for at least a month.

</pathetic fallacy>

Related reading
Pathetic fallacy

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

change modify revise alter rewrite amend chop to pieces change”

[“The strongest drive is not love or hate. It is one person’s need to change modify revise alter rewrite amend chop to pieces change another’s copy.”]

The above poster appears in Arthur Plotnik’s The Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists (New York: Macmillan, 1982).

Also from The Elements of Editing
“Plotnik’s mantra of follow-up”

Featured merchandise

[“Not a coincidence. Large stores retain private forecasting services to know in advance which merchandise to feature.” From Paul E. Lehr, R. Will Burnett, and Herbert S. Zim, Weather: A Guide to Phenomena and Forecasts, a Golden Science Book (1965). Illustration by Harry McNaught.]

Keeps rainin’ all the time.

Related posts
Armstrong and Arlen, blues and weather
Snow, snow, snow

Monday, December 19, 2011

Eameses on PBS tonight

Tonight on PBS, Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter. Like they say, “Check your local listings.”

Related posts
Eames on reams
Twine and yarn

Cello exceptions?

Jim Fleming, on To the Best of Our Knowledge: “It’s a truism in the rock-music industry: if you want to make a sad song, put a cello in it.”

I can think of one flagrant exception to this rule — a song that’s anything but sad in which a cello plays a significant role. And there must be others. Your suggestions are welcome in the comments. (Spoiler alert: mine’s there too.)

Proust in Miami

In Miami, sixteen old folks finish reading Proust. I love it.

Make Way for Tomorrow

[Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore.]

Bookkeeper Barkley Cooper (Victor Moore), hasn’t worked in four years. He’s not retired, just out of a job: the Depression is on. But something will come along. Bark’s wife Lucy (Beulah Bondi) is sure of it, or at least she says she is. Bark and Lucy, both in their seventies, have been married for fifty years. With no income and no pension, they have lost their house to the bank. Now what? How will their children help them? Hard times, for these times: Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) is eerily contemporary in its examination of the effects of economic extremity on family relationships.

This film could have been made as a sappy picture of cute clashes between generations: Grandma and Grandpa move in. Hilarity ensues. Instead, Leo McCarey, probably best known for Going My Way (1944), gives us an intimate depiction of displacement and isolation in old age. Bark and Lucy move in, but not together: circumstances require that they live apart for the first time in their married life, each with a different child. The old people are out of place and in the way in their new quarters, and the film makes us feel their awkwardness. The creak of a rocking chair makes Lucy a distraction during her daughter-in-law’s evening of cards: the furniture itself calls attention to an interloper’s presence. A storekeeper reads to Bark (whose glasses are broken) a heartbreaking letter from Lucy, and we understand that Bark must have been unwilling to share the letter — whatever it might have to say — with the daughter who’s taken him in. Yet the Coopers’ children are hardly monstrous: obtuse and selfish, certainly, but not wicked. Indeed, the film makes it clear that having either Bark or Lucy in the house would be trying.

In an interview accompanying the film’s Criterion release, Peter Bogdanovich recalls Orson Welles saying that Make Way for Tomorrow “would make a stone cry.” And for various reasons. The film’s final twenty-six minutes chart five hours of a Bark and Lucy reunion — a late afternoon and evening in Manhattan as they revisit the world of their younger days, walking in Central Park, dining in the hotel where they honeymooned. How delightful these old people seem to those who aren’t their children. And now what? You’ll have to see for yourself.

Make Way for Tomorrow is available, beautifully restored, from the Criterion Collection. It is, I’d venture, Leo McCarey’s finest hour and a half.

[Hard Times: For These Times, the full title of Charles Dickens’s 1854 novel.]

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On interests and teaching

Gary Gutting:

Teaching is not a matter of (as we too often say) “making a subject (poetry, physics, philosophy) interesting” to students but of students coming to see how such subjects are intrinsically interesting. It is more a matter of students moving beyond their interests than of teachers fitting their subjects to interests that students already have. Good teaching does not make a course’s subject more interesting; it gives the students more interests — and so makes them more interesting.

What Is College For? (New York Times)

Domestic comedy

“There are two kinds of people: those who are punctual and those who — where are they?”

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts (via Pinboard)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

namebench

The Google Code project namebench (no cap) is an “open-source DNS benchmark utility” for OS X, UNIX, and Windows. It finds the fastest DNS servers for your computer.

If you poke around a bit online, you’ll find a folkloric consensus that Google Public DNS and similar services are faster than an ISP’s DNS. I switched to Google’s DNS in 2009, and the difference in speed was indeed great. But now namebench tells me that my ISP’s DNS is faster. Because more people are now using Google’s DNS? Beats me. At any rate, I’ve switched back. And yes, my ISP’s DNS is faster. PDQ. QED.

They don’t write ’em
like this anymore

“The entire ballet is running away, and I am mired in this insignificant little speck on the map!”

William Conrad as Major Anatole Karzof, in “Death Takes a Curtain Call.” This episode of Murder, She Wrote first aired on December 16, 1984.
Related reading
Stubbs’s Corollary

Friday, December 16, 2011

Brian Wilsons

Brian Wilson, September 2011, on the Beach Boys’ fiftieth anniversary and the prospect of a group reunion:

Asked if he’s looking forward to the anniversary, he responds, “Not particularly,” adding, “I don’t really like working with the guys, but it all depends on how we feel and how much money’s involved. Money’s not the only reason I made rec­ords, but it does hold a place in our lives.“

Beach Boys Plan Anniversary Blowout With Likely Reunion Tour (Rolling Stone)
Brian Wilson, December 2011, on the Beach Boys’ fiftieth anniversary and the prospect of a group reunion:
“This anniversary is special to me because I miss the boys and it will be a thrill for me to make a new record and be on stage with them again.”

Surviving Beach Boys Announce Album, Tour Plans (Billboard)
[I like George Harrison’s 1989 comment on the idea of a Beatles reunion: “As far as I’m concerned, there won’t be a Beatles reunion as long as John Lennon remains dead.”]

Stubbs’s Corollary

The principle of eternal reruns:

Time is infinite. Television is not. Thus there are reruns.
This principle (which I just invented) is a corollary of Friedrich Nietzsche’s principle of eternal return. I call it Stubbs’s Corollary, after Freddy “Rerun” Stubbs of What’s Happening!!.

[The words “what’s happening” themselves nicely capture the idea of eternal return. I invented Stubbs’s Corollary after thinking about Me-TV, which is nothing but reruns. Time for each of us is finite: don’t spend too much of it in front of a television.]

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Strunk and White rap

“Jails and schools should not be called facilities. / I hate all these writers with second-rate abilities.” Rapping The Elements of Style, with “Strunk,” “White,” and Olde English “800.”

Related reading
All Strunk and White posts

[The Olde English is a nice touch.]

Raymond Carver and Ovid

In Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” cardiologist Mel McGinnis is telling a story about an old couple with in the hospital after a car crash. They are in casts and bandages, head to foot:

“Well, the husband was very depressed for the longest while. Even after he found out that his wife was going to pull through, he was still very depressed. Not about the accident, though. I mean, the accident was one thing, but it wasn’t everything. I’d get up to his mouth-hole, you know, and he’d say no, it wasn’t the accident exactly but it was because he couldn’t see her through his eye-holes. He said that was what was making him feel so bad. Can you imagine? I’m telling you, the man’s heart was breaking because he couldn’t turn his goddamn head and see his goddamn wife.”
I’ve known this story for a long time, but it was only recently, teaching Ovid, not Carver, that it came to me: Orpheus and Eurydice.

[A clarification: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” is Gordon Lish’s edited version of Carver’s story “Beginners.” This passage above is Lish’s work, not Carver’s. You can read the original story and Lish’s edited version at the New Yorker. Which do you prefer? Either way, the story remains a late-twentieth-century version of Plato’s Symposium, a drunken discourse on the nature of love.]

Longuyland

Are you from Longuyland?

[You don’t have to be from to say “Longuyland.” Ask my mom.]

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mac Quick Look

If you use a Mac: do you know about Quick Look? It’s been a part of OS X since Leopard. Even better than Quick Look itself: in Lion, changing a setting lets you copy text from a Quick Look window. Yowza.

[A strangely delightful feature of using a Mac: stumbling upon a wonderful feature that you never knew was there. It happens with surprising frequency.]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Descendants

Elaine and I went to see Alexander Payne’s new film The Descendants last night. It’s a good film, but not nearly as good as Election or Sideways (both of which I love). Tone seems to be the problem here: sometimes we’re in a world of the blackest comedy; sometimes we’re in an upscale Hawaiian version of Raymond Carver territory, with scenes of painful, plainspoken pathos. And sometimes it’s difficult to know whether a line of dialogue is meant to sound overwrought or moving — not because what we’re hearing is unsettling, but because the film seems so uncertain about its intentions.

The performances are excellent; the cinematography (think Hawaii) is beautiful; the soundtrack (Hawaiian guitar music) is a delight. But is this movie really the stuff Oscars are made of? I’m not so sure.

Have you seen The Descendants? Whadja think?

The Glasses, illustrated

Here’s a four-part series on the J.D. Salinger’s Glass family, commentary by Michael Norris and portraits by David Richardson: 1, 2, 3, and 4.

DR’s portraits seem uncannily right. I especially like his Les Glass, who bears a strong resemblance to another fine vaudevillian. (Recognize him?)

Related posts
Resemblance: The Portraits
Salinger, illustrated

Monday, December 12, 2011

Charles Mingus’s eggnog recipe

“Bourbon? I use Jamaica Rum in there. Jamaican Rums. Or I’ll put rye in it. Scotch. It depends”: Charles Mingus’s eggnog recipe.

Related reading
All Mingus posts (via Pinboard)

Foot Clinic sign

Tax examiner Chris Fogle was a drug-taking “wastoid” in college, at the University of Illinois at Chicago:

The dorm we roomed in was right on Roosevelt, and our main windows faced a large downtown podiatric clinic — I can’t remember its name, either — which had a huge raised electrified neon sign that rotated on its pole every weekday from 8:00 to 8:00 with the name and mnemonic phone number ending in 3668 on one side and on the other a huge colored outline of a human foot — our best guess was a female foot, from the proportions — and I remember that this roommate and I formulated a kind of ritual in which we’d make sure to try to be at the right spot at our windows at 8:00 each night to watch the foot sign go dark and stop rotating when the clinic closed. It always went dark at the same time the clinic’s windows did and we theorized that everything was on one main breaker. The sign’s rotation didn’t stop all at once. It more like slowly wound down, with almost a wheel-of-fortune quality about where it would finally stop. The ritual was that if the sign stopped with the foot facing away, we would go to the UIC library and study, but if it stopped with the foot or any significant part of it facing our windows, we would take it as a ‘sign’ (with the incredibly obvious double entendre) and immediately blow off any homework or supposed responsibility we had and go instead to the Hat, which at that time was the currently hip UIC pub and place to hear bands, and would drink beers and play quarters and tell all the other kids whose parents were paying their tuition about the ritual of the rotating foot in a way that we all appeared nihilistically wastoid and hip.

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (Boston: Little, Brown, 2011).
The real thing is found not on Roosevelt Road but on West Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles:

[Photographs by Michael Leddy. Click for larger views.]

Laura Miller has tracked the Foot Clinic’s life in literature and music.

[3668? FOOT.]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christopher Logue (1926–2011)

The British poet Christopher Logue has died. He is best known for reimagining Homer’s Iliad in a long work that he called “a poem in English dependent on the Iliad” or simply “my Homer poem.” Or as others have called it, “Logue’s Homer,” a decades-long project that began in 1958 with a section of Iliad 21 commissioned by the BBC. Logue noted in his autobiography Prince Charming (1999) that when the opportunity to work on the Iliad came his way, his copy of E.V. Rieu’s prose translation of the poem was in a box of books he had planned to sell.

You can read Logue’s Homer in three volumes: War Music (1997, collecting Kings, The Husbands, and War Music), All Day Permanent Red (2003), and Cold Calls (2005), whose jacket flap calls it “the penultimate installment.” (Will there be another?)

Logue’s Homer seems to me the last great work of literary modernism, collapsing past(s) and present with grim wit and startling originality. Three brief examples:

“Hail and farewell, dear Ek.”
(The Husbands, Paris speaking to Hector)

Blurred bronze. Blood? Blood like a car-wash:
    “But it keeps the dust down.”
(All Day Permanent Red)

They find him with guitar,
Singing of Gilgamesh.
(Cold Calls, the embassy to Achilles)
[“Hail and farewell”: “ave atque vale,” from Catullus 101, the poet addressing his dead brother.]

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lynda Barry on Carrie

Lynda Barry on her “absolute favorite monster movie” (which, she acknowledges, might not really be a monster movie):

“Whenever I’m depressed, I always put Carrie in and watch it, because there are times when you just really would like to stand in front of a bunch of people, covered with blood, and blow stuff up with your mind.”

Here There Be Monsters (ttbook.org)

Friday, December 9, 2011

As exams approach

[“Actress Elizabeth Taylor, 18 (Feb. 27), at graduation time, posing at desk in classroom at Hollywood’s University High School.” Photograph by Peter Stackpole. January 19, 1950. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

For the end of the semester, strategy and tactics: How to do well on a final examination. Best wishes to all finalists.

[Where is Miss Taylor sitting? In a drama classroom? A home-ec classroom?]

The Audio-Visual Society

Wednesday morning, pulling up files for a class (two MP3s, two PDFs), I remembered, from junior high, the Audio-Visual Society, the kids who were the kings of all media.

Now we’re all members.

Eameses in the air

At the New York Times, Ice Cube visits the Eames house.

And a new PBS American Masters episode, Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter, airs on December 19.

Related posts
Eames on reams
Twine and yarn

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lorem ipsum

Lorem ipsum dolor end of semester, consectetur adipisicing elit grading papers, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore all day long. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea back tomorrow.


[Chicago, September 2004.]

Related reading
Lorem ipsum (Wikipedia article)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Blagojevich sentencing poll

It’s not every state whose news organizations get to poll audiences on appropriate prison time for an ex-governor.

This poll is from WCIA in Champaign.

Update, 12:44 p.m.: He got fourteen years. U.S. District Judge James Zagel: “When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired.”

Review: The Wage Slave’s Glossary

Joshua Glenn and Mark Kingwell. The Wage Slave’s Glossary. Designed and decorated by Seth. Emeryville, Ontario. Biblioasis. 2011. 173 pages. $11.95 US / $12.95 CA.

One of the saddest things is that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You can’t eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours — all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy.

William Faulkner, in a 1956 Paris Review interview
The work of a writer and editor (Glenn), a philosopher (Kingwell), and artist and designer (Seth), The Wage Slave’s Glossary is a sequel to the trio’s The Idler’s Glossary (2008), whose entries explored a world free from the imperatives of getting and spending. (Sample entries: skylarking, sleep, slouch, stroll.) This new book is both well and oddly timed. In an era of economic collapse, it makes good sense to examine the language of work and the ways in which such language naturalizes perspectives and practices that might otherwise seem repellent. (Consider downtime, which identifies the worker at rest with an out-of-service machine.) Yet when so many are desperate to find a job, any job, the authors’ anarcho-revolutionary suspicion of “the work idea” itself seems strangely detached from human circumstance and urgency. It’s nice to envision the world “as a site not of work but of play,” but one still has to eat.

Suspicion of “the work idea” aside, The Wage Slave’s Glossary is a grand and saddening tour of language past and present. So many of the terms herein suggest weariness as the necessary consequence of work: boreout (“a syndrome of exhaustion and disillusionment caused by office work that is underwhelming and unsatisfying”), burnout (“long-term mental and emotional exhaustion and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment”), grinding house (slang for a house of correction, then for a place of work), guolaosi (“Mandarin neologism meaning ‘overwork death’”), karoshi (Japanese for “death from overwork”). Euphemisms abound: downsizing, for instance, which seems to have euphemisms of its own:
Also known as: recruitment, delayering, early retirement, force shaping, headcount adjustment, offshoring (or bestshoring), rightsizing or smartsizing, operational simplification, personnel realignment, rationalizing the workforce, recession, reduction in force (RIF), skill mix adjustment, workforce optimization, and workforce reduction (WFR).
I’m struck too by the metaphors of modern working life: the many ceilings that impede ascent (bamboo, brass, concrete, glass, and stained-glass), the transformation of the human being into machine (bandwidth, multitasking) or obedient drudge. Busy as a bee?
Bees works tirelessly, without ever taking orders or varying their routines, only to be unceremoniously shoved out of the hive when they become useless to the collective.
The Wage Slave’s Glossary is beautifully designed and made — small (4" x 6"), with a glossy embossed cover, cartooned endpapers, and numerous illustrations (each about ¾" square). It’s the kind of book that represents, I think, the future of print — the book as desirable object. (Decidedly not better on a Kindle.) The Wage Slave’s Glossary is — I’ll say it — a labor of love, and worth your money and time.


Related reading
William Faulkner, The Art of Fiction No. 12 (Paris Review)

[Thanks to Biblioasis for a review copy of this book.]

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On the dash

Merrill Perlman:

Garner’s Modern American Usage calls the dash “perhaps the most underused punctuation mark in American writing.”

But — and this is this columnist’s opinion — it’s frequently overused.

On, Dasher! (Columbia Journalism Review)
[This post is for my advanced writing students, who have made the dash — and its potential for overuse — a frequent occasion of fun in the last weeks of a wonderful semester.]

Another random number

A random number between 1 and 1,000, generated by a journey on the New York subway system this summer.

As Elaine in Arkansas has helped me understand, there’s more to 42 than meets the eye.

A related post
Random number (108)

Uncle Mark Gift Guide & Almanac

The 2012 edition of the Uncle Mark Gift Guide & Almanac is available for download as a PDF. Mark Hurst offers single buying recommendations in various categories, along with useful and sometimes surprising tips and tricks. His computer advice this year: “Get the right Mac, or iPad, depending on your needs.” I second.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Salinger due-date slip at auction

A library due-date slip with J.D. Salinger’s signature is at auction. At least it’s smaller than a toilet (and you probably have one of those already).

Telephone exchange names
on screen: Naked City

[Barney Sonners (Robert Duvall) walks from the bar where he works, before robbers and cops show up. “Torment Him Much and Hold Him Long.” Naked City. November 7, 1962. Click for a larger view.]

The Social Security Death Index lists just one Bernard R. Jankoff, 1913–1994. Items in the New York Times have some of the facts of his life. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1935. In 1938 he completed a law degree from Columbia Law School and passed the bar. He married Edith Ragovin (d. 1998) in 1940. They had three children. Mr. Jankoff’s name appears in a number of Times items as representing parties in real-estate transactions. I hope that the Jankoffs’ descendants know about this fleeting moment of television fame.

Update, 10:42 a.m.: I e-mailed family members, and now they do.

[MUrray Hill 7–3933.]

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 : Naked City : Nightmare Alley : The Public Enemy : Side Street : Sweet Smell of Success : This Gun for Hire

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Panhandling and handshakes

Dan Ariely’s account of experiments in panhandling reminded me of the following passage in Infinite Jest (from one of my favorite sections in the novel). Barry Loach’s spiritually despondent brother is in danger of leaving the seminary. That would leave Barry to fulfill his mother’s wish that one of her children enter religious life. But Barry’s dream is to be an athletic trainer. What can he do to restore his brother’s faith in humanity?

After a few suggestions and rejections of bets too way-out even for Barry Loach’s desperation, the brothers finally settle on a, like, experimental challenge. The spiritually despondent brother basically challenges Barry Loach to not shower or change clothes for a while and make himself look homeless and disreputable and louse-ridden and clearly in need of basic human charity, and to stand out in front of the Park Street T-station on the edge of the Boston Common, right alongside the rest of the downtown community’s lumpen dregs, who all usually stood there outside the T-station stemming change, and for Barry Loach to hold out his unclean hand and instead of stemming change simply ask passersby to touch him. Just to touch him. Viz. extend some basic human warmth and contact. And this Barry does. And does. Days go by.

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (Boston: Little, Brown, 1996).
Ariely found that passers-by were surprisingly willing to shake a panhandler’s hand. In Wallace’s novel, Loach makes plenty of money, but it’s only saintly Mario Incandenza — with no one “to explain to him why the request of men with outstretched hands for a simple handshake or High Five shouldn’t automatically be honored and granted” — who’s willing to shake Barry Loach’s outstretched, fuliginous hand.

Reader, has a panhandler ever offered to shake your hand? What did you do? I’d answer too, but it’s never happened to me. I can’t imagine that the handshake-offer is a technique in wide use.

Related reading
All David Foster Wallace posts

[Fuliginous: sooty. A Wallace word.]

The Los Angeles Times
on Mitt Romney and job creation

The Los Angeles Times examines “Mitt Romney’s job creation record“:

The Republican presidential contender says he learned about expanding employment during his time heading a private equity firm. But under his leadership, Bain Capital often maximized profits in part by firing workers.
That’s no surprise to anyone who knows something of the firm’s history. My wife Elaine worked at Bain & Company (pre-Bain Capital) in the 1980s, processing other people’s words, including Mitt Romney’s. Read her take on life at Bain.

A related post
Mitt Romney at Bain

[If Romney becomes the nominee, look for Bain to become a familiar name in political discourse. I think though that it’ll be Gingrich, and that Obama v. Gingrich will resemble Clinton v. Dole. Gingrich seems well suited to play a cranky old guy.]

Random number

Above, a random number between 1 and 1,000, which I obtained from random.org, offering “true random numbers to anyone on the Internet.” Get your own random number today!

[For the record: I know that random numbers are not a joke.]

Saturday, December 3, 2011

FeedBurner, broken again

Google seems to have no love for its FeedBurner service. A glance at the Feed and Web Statistics section of Google’s FeedBurner Help Group shows that for many FeedBurner users, subscriber counts have all at once dropped to zero. As I joked in a 2009 post about FeedBurner problems, the FBHG is a self-help group: there seems to be no Google presence, not even to acknowledge when there’s a problem.

The FeedBurner Status Blog — which acknowledges no current problem — lacks a FB widget to display a subscriber count. But the FeedBurner account for the Official Google Blog is now out of commission:

[Click for a larger view.]

I joked in an e-mail earlier this week that Blogger is the Cinderella of the Google Family of Products, but FeedBurner is probably more deserving of that name. Still no acknowledgement from Google that something went wrong.

8:10 p.m.: FeedBurner, or at least my FeedBurner account, is back.

[Cinderella, that is, with no prince in sight.]

Friday, December 2, 2011

Santa Monica clock

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

This clock sits atop the 1929 Bay Cities Guaranty & Loan Association building at 225 Santa Monica Boulevard. You-Are-Here, an excellent site about Los Angeles-area architecture, helped me track down the building’s name.

By the way, it’s 1:37 p.m.

Henry buys liverwurst

[Henry, December 2, 2011.]

Where else are you gonna find liverwurst in the comics? And such a good price.

Also with liverwurst
“THIS IS FUN” (1941 advertisement)

John Ashbery in Time

And eternity:

Q.: What do you think it’s going to be like to meet God?

A: Episcopals are famed for their martinis, so I imagine he will hand me one when I arrive.
10 Questions for John Ashbery (Time article)
10 Questions for John Ashbery (Time video)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chrome v. Firefox

StatCounter reports that for the first time, Chrome has overtaken Firefox in worldwide popularity:

The firm’s research arm StatCounter Global Stats reports that Chrome took 25.69% of the worldwide market (up from 4.66% in November 2009) compared to Firefox’s 25.23%. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still maintains a strong lead globally with 40.63%. . . .

In the US Internet Explorer continues to perform strongly and is maintaining market share at 50.66%, up slightly from 50.24% year on year. Firefox retains second place on 20.09%, down from 26.75%. Chrome is up to 17.3% from 10.89%. Safari is on 10.76% from 10.71%.
Orange Crate Art readers dance to the beat of a different percussion section. My most recent StatCounter stats (last 500 visits):
Firefox30%
Chrome26.6%
Internet Explorer19.8%
Safari17.8%
Mobile devices  4.4%
All others  1.4%
I’ve been using Chrome on a Mac and find that I have no interest in installing Firefox. Being able to use HTML5 to play YouTube clips is one advantage of Chrome. Speed is another — the thing is just plain fast.

“Plotnik’s mantra of follow-up”

[What’s with the kerning letter-spacing?]

Poking around in a used-book store, I found a copy of Arthur Plotnik’s The Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists (1982). The cover is worth a look, both for its once-modern, now-dated Helvetica and for the positioning of the book as a companion to The Elements of Style, also published by Macmillan. It’s not just the title or the Publishers Weekly blurb or the “From the publisher of.” The cover even looks like that of the then-current third edition of Strunk and White. (Plotnik went on to write Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style.)

Much of the advice in The Elements of Editing applies beyond the world of publishing. Consider “Plotnik’s mantra of follow-up”: “NOTHING HAPPENS WHEN IT IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN WITHOUT WELL-TIMED REMINDERS.” Too true. Some explanation:
Trust and good faith. The words mean something different in communications that in the rest of life. Editors show trust and good faith by signing and renewing contracts, not by expecting people to have infallible memories and priorities identical to their own.

New editors who understand this principle will soon develop into functionally compulsive pests. They needn’t be insufferable. After all, “routine follow-up” is generally accepted as good business practice, and a reminder can always be tactful. Editors must also learn to distinguish between those who need frequent or infrequent nudging, firm or soft nudging. They must learn the best timing for a nudge.
The Elements of Editing is a dryly funny book. I can imagine Larry David and an adversary arguing about the firmness or timing of a nudge.

[It’s called letter-spacing: see the comments for an explanation. Thanks, Daughter Number Three.]

Mail chutes and phone booths

Diane Schirf has two more posts about “relics”: mail chutes and phone booths. Previously: letters and mailboxes.