Sunday, September 30, 2012

Happy anniversary

[Photographer long forgotten.]

Marriage is, I think, the best of all adventure stories. Or at least it can be. As André Gregory says in My Dinner with André (dir. Louis Malle, 1981),
Have a real relationship with a person that goes on for years: that’s completely unpredictable. Then you’ve cut off all your ties to the land and you’re sailing into the unknown, into uncharted seas.
Elaine and I were married twenty-eight years ago on this day. We are still sailing. Happy anniversary, Elaine.

[May marriage soon be for all partners.]

Saturday, September 29, 2012

National Coffee Day


[“Diner.” Photograph by John Loengard. 1962. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

Here in the United States, it is National Coffee Day. The Wilbur Curtis decanter is as recognizable as ever.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Tim Cook’s letter

At Daring Fireball, John Gruber calls Apple CEO Tim Cook’s letter re: Maps “humble and honest.” I’m almost willing to agree. What sinks the letter for me is one word the final paragraph:

Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.
Did you catch it? It’s that incredibly, which to my mind minimizes the company’s failure (the standard we failed to reach is incredibly high) while proclaiming the company’s greatness (the standard we will reach is incredibly high). Not exactly humble.

Bryan Garner v. Robert Lane Greene

In the New York Times: Which Language Rules to Flout. Or Flaunt? Greene scores re: that and which and the Lord’s Prayer, but I’m with Garner here.

Poem v. story, sidewalk v. floor

Getting the names of things right: it’s important. Not every short work of the literary imagination is a “story.” Some of them are “poems.” If you teach, you know that students will often get it wrong, even after getting an explanation.

In my Brooklyn kidhood, I would go a little crazy hearing kids call the sidewalk the “floor.” Don’t eat it! It fell on the floor! Had I lived in suburbia, I might not have had this experience, because 1) the kids might have known the difference, or 2) there might not have been sidewalks, just lawns, curbs, and quiet streets.

A poem is not a story. A sidewalk is not a floor. And the map is not the territory, but that’s another kettle of fish. I am not suggesting, however, that the map is a kettle of fish.

Separated at birth?



Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Nicholson Baker. Photographs by Darryl Bush and Elias Baker.

Also separated at birth?
C. Everett Koop and Ted Berrigan
Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks
Blanche Lincoln and Elaine Hansen

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Happy harvest

At Mother Jones, a 1985 clip in which Mitt Romney speaks of the work of Bain Capital as a matter of investing in and managing companies before “harvest[ing] them at a significant profit.” If companies, like corporations, are people, my friend, this metaphor is one bloody mess.

Related reading
Other posts mit Mitt

SiteSucker

SiteSucker is a Mac app that downloads websites with no muss, not much fuss. It’s donation-ware: use it for free, or pay what you think it’s worth. It’s worth, say, at least ten dollars to have a offline backup of your site, don’t you think?

SiteSucker is available from the App Store or from the developer, Rick Cranisky. The app is a bit tricky to figure out. When I e-mailed with a question, Rick sent back a file with settings for downloading a year-by-year archive of Orange Crate Art. Good deal!

On the virtues of “site:”

BrownStudies explains the virtues of “site:” and points to a handy bookmarklet: A shortcut for Googling the current web site.

Orange Crate Art has a “site:” search box in the sidebar. Here’s how to make one.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Stuyvesant students speak

“You could study for two hours and get an 80, or you could take a risk and get a 90.” It seems that for many students at New York’s Stuyvesant High School, the choice was easy: Stuyvesant Students Describe the How and the Why of Cheating (New York Times). This article describes a school in which cheating is rampant and consequences minimal.

I am happy to know that barring some exceedingly strange sequence of events, I will never see one of these students in my classes.

Related posts
Cheating at Stuyvesant High School
Stuyvesant principal resigns retires

How to fix a Mighty Mouse trackball

For anyone still using Apple’s Mighty Mouse:

When your trackball no longer scrolls, dab it lightly with a disposable lens-cloth. Then turn the mouse upside-down and roll the trackball on a clean index card. Roll in every direction. Be vigorous. Be very vigorous.

I have tried other fixes for the trackball problem without success. The lens-cloth fix — which I just made up and tried out — works. It really works. I was mildly astonished by the amount of gunk set free.

Details: I used a Zeiss “pre-moistened” lens-cloth. It’s available from Amazon and other sources.

For use in “seemingly
intolerable situations”

David Rakoff, from an essay on working as an assistant in publishing:

Sheila taught me a survival technique for getting through seemingly intolerable situations — boring lunches, stern lectures on attitude or time management, those necessary breakup conversations, and the like: maintaining eye contact, keep your face inscrutable and masklike, with the faintest hint at a Gioconda smile. Keep this up as long as you possibly can, and just as you feel you are about to crack and take a letter opener and plunge it into someone’s neck, fold your hands in your lap, one nestled inside the other, like those of a supplicant in a priory. Now, with the index finger of your inner hand, write on the palm of the other, very discreetly and undetectably, “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you . . .” over and over again as you pretend to listen. You will find that this brings a spontaneous look of interest and pleased engagement to your countenance. Continue and repeat as necessary.

“Lush Life,” in Fraud (New York: Doubleday, 2001).
I believe that hatred is a waste of emotional energy, but I think that this technique is more about endurance than hatred. And I’m sure it will prove useful to someone.

David Rakoff was a funny guy.

Related listening and viewing
David Rakoff on This American Life

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Domestic comedy

“I haven’t been living under ‘some rocks.’”

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts

[Used with permission. Context here.]

New directions in nuisance calls

I am happy still to have a telephone — a landline. Without it, how would UNKNOWN CALLER get in touch?

We’ve had two calls in the last two days from UNKNOWN CALLER purporting to represent a “research and development firm” in Pennsylvania. The first came in the form of a message, asking to speak to Elaine about a proposal she supposedly submitted. The second call came today. I recognized the number and couldn’t resist picking up. I asked the guy what the proposal was about. “That’s what we want to find out!” said he. Research and development indeed.

“The Writing Revolution”

In the October 2012 Atlantic, Peg Tyre reports on an effort to reimagine the teaching of writing at one Staten Island high school: The Writing Revolution. One brief sample:

“We spent a lot of time wondering how our students had been taught,” said English teacher Stevie D‘Arbanville. “How could they get passed along and end up in high school without understanding how to use the word although?”
This article should be required reading for anyone who cares about public education.

[Students also end up in college without understanding how to use although, which is a subordinating conjunction, not a conjunctive adverb.]

Recently updated

New York in fifty objects And now fifteen more, including the subway token.

Monday, September 24, 2012

“Bushmiller Country”


[Zippy, September 24, 2012.]

The fact of a doorframe. The fact of a flight of stairs. The shading. And those paintings, one of which is a painting of three rocks (i.e., “some rocks”). It’s Bushmiller Country. You can see the strip at the Zippy website.

Other Nancy and Zippy intersections
Hommage à Ernie Bushmiller
Nancy + Sluggo = Perfection

Van Dyke Parks in Chicago

Van Dyke Parks at the Riverfront Theater
September 22, 2012

Van Dyke Parks, piano and vocal : Janelle Lake, harp : Donna Miller, cello : Jason Roebke, bass : Don Heffington, drums

“I don’t need Clint Eastwood sitting here for what I’ve got to say tonight!”

Van Dyke Parks, from the stage
Elaine and I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Van Dyke Parks in Chicago this weekend. The setting was Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements, a three-day arts event at the Riverfront Theater, a modified circus tent. Parks was opening for Conor Oberst. Yes, the audience was young. Elaine and I seemed to be the oldest members, doing our bit to make the occasion a genuine all-ages show. I’m not sure that many of the attendees were familiar with Van Dyke’s music. And I doubt that more than a handful might have known that “Brilliant Corners” is the title of a Thelonious Monk tune. But the audience was respectful and often enthusiastic.

And with good reason. Van Dyke and company were inspired. They tore the roof off the sucker, with grace and precision and heart. The set (all Parks compositions except as noted):

Jump! : Opportunity for Two : Come Along : Orange Crate Art : Wings of a Dove : Delta Queen Waltz (John Hartford) : FDR in Trinidad (Fitz MacLean) : Danza (Louis Moreau Gottschalk) : Cowboy : The All Golden : Sail Away

Van Dyke’s between-song commentary touched on everything from Lawrence Welk to Pussy Riot to rivers (the Chicago, the Cumberland, the Mississippi) to the five-day work week. My favorite line: “As Lawrence Welk once said, ‘I want a close-up of the whole band.’”

Even when Van Dyke is on our turf, it seems that Elaine and I end up being the recipients of his hospitality. Thank you, Van Dyke. Someday we will make it go, like the Chicago River, the other way around.

Related reading
All Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Autumn Rhythm


[“James Rorimer, head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, closely examines a painting by Jackson Pollock entitled Autumn Rhythm.” Photograph by Walter Sanders. 1959. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

The best of seasons. Hello fall.

A related post
Odes to autumn

Friday, September 21, 2012

Telegram (Easy Living)



A telegram, as seen in Easy Living (dir. Mitchell Leisen, 1937). You either find this sort of thing inspired and funny or you don’t. I do. Easy Living has a great Automat scene with Jean Arthur and Ray Milland. The screenplay is by Preston Sturges.

Thanks to Paul Harrington for recommending this film.

Related posts
Automat beverage section
How to send telegrams
“Lunch Hour NYC”
New York, 1964: Automat
One more Automat

[725 West 112th Street? Somewhere in the Hudson River.]

The new Blogger interface
on the iPad


The new Blogger interface is better than it was: one now can at least edit existing posts on an iPad. But it’s difficult to see this barely readable text as an improvement. It’s difficult to see this text at all.

Related posts
Blogger interface on the iPad
The new Blogger interface, unliked

[So difficult that I didn’t catch the lowercase i at the beginning of the third sentence.]

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Close reading and the brain

Stanford researchers are looking at the effect of close reading on the brain. It’s all good.

Matthew Crawford
on making judgments

Exactly right:

The experienced mind can get good at integrating an extraordinarily large number of variables and detecting a coherent pattern. It is the pattern that is attended to, not the individual variables. Our ability to make good judgments is holistic in character, and arises from repeated confrontations with real things: comprehensive entities that are grasped all at once, in a manner that may be incapable of explicit articulation. The tacit dimension of knowledge puts limits on the reduction of jobs to rule following.

Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (New York: Penguin, 2009).
Notice that Crawford is not saying that the reasons for a judgment may be beyond articulation: it’s the manner in which one grasps things “all at once” that may be beyond articulation.

In my line of business, the reduction of work to rule-following is probably best seen in the mechanical process of filling in squares on a grading rubric. Judgment can certainly be arbitrary or faulty, but a rubric is no guard against faulty judgment. And I would suggest that no rubric can so detailed as to account for every feature that might (and ought to) make a difference in one’s judgment. The rubric is a device that minimizes — or better, pretends to minimize — the necessary work of judgment. The rubric is a product of the same mindset that identifies rather than chooses a student to receive, say, a scholarship.

Other Shop Class as Soul Craft posts
On higher education
On problems

[It was this item that prompted me to get around to writing this post.]

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Word of the day: phony

Teaching a Sappho poem (the fourth poem on this page), I showed my students the first stanza in Greek. It’s a fun thing to do, even for the Greekless: at least a handful of words in transliterated Greek will immediately suggest English descendants, reducing in some small way the distance between the ancient world and our own. For example: φωνείσας, phoneisas, a form of φωνεῖν, phonein, to produce a sound. After we hit phonics, phonograph, and telephone, I wondered: could phonein explain phony — something that sounds plausible, but isn’t?

Uh, no. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary suggests that phony may derive from an “alteration of fawney gilded brass ring used in the fawney rig, a confidence game, from Irish fáinne ring, from Old Irish ánne.” The Oxford English Dictionary has a citation from Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1823) that explains the game:

Fawney rig, a common fraud thus practised: — a fellow drops a brass ring, double gilt, which he picks up before the party meant to be cheated, and to whom he disposes of it for less than its supposed, and ten times more than its real, value.
M-W suggests that the Old Irish ánne is “perhaps akin” to anus. Which seems to make sense if we’re speaking of phonies.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A new song from Randy Newman

“With lyrics from the viewpoint of a voter who casts his ballot solely based on skin color, the song draws attention to something Newman has noticed and written about for 40 years: racism in America.” “I’m Dreaming” is a free download from Nonesuch Records.

A perfect way of writing

From a spam comment:

The place elѕe may just anybоdy get that type of information in such a perfect way of writing?
Frankly, no.

VDP, Letter from Berlin

Van Dyke Parks’s Letter from Berlin is now in the Los Angeles Times, with art by SMiLE illustrator Frank Holmes. It’s Proustian I tell ya.

Related reading
All Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

A “wheelchair dude” in our Macs Does a curious sentence in the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus have anything to do with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest? Now there’s an answer.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Now the other foot

This zillionaire doofus doesn’t need a Reverend Wright. He seems to be his own worst enemy.

Related reading
All OCA Mitt Romney posts
The Bain of My Existence (Elaine’s account of life at Bain & Co.)

A. L. Salomon & Co.


[The American Stationer and Office Outfitter, July 7, 1917. Click for a larger view.]

“Mother! Mother! Whatever shall we do? Our shawl straps are past mending, our silicate slates have cracked, and our mucilage pot is nearly dry! And we have yet many months of school to go!”

“There, there, children! Worry not! A. L. Salomon & Co., Wholesale Stationers, The House for School Supplies and Stationery Sundries, will supply all our needs!”

[They embrace.]

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nicholson Baker, re: Maeve Brennan

I am cheered to see Maeve Brennan’s name in a New York Times Q. and A. with Nicholson Baker:

Which writers are egregiously overlooked or underrated?

All writers are underrated. They’re all trying to do their best. It’s hard to finish a book. But Denton Welch deserves more of a fuss. Also John McNulty and that Long-Winded Lady, Maeve Brennan. Shakespeare is probably the most overrated writer of all time, although I must say his sonnets are incredible.
A related post
Maeve Brennan, The Long-Winded Lady

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The new DFW biography

D. T. Max. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace. New York: Viking, 2012. 356 pages. $27.95.

To its credit, D. T. Max’s biography deepens the enigma of David Foster Wallace’s character. The humble truth-teller of the rightly celebrated Kenyon commencement address was no saint. Wallace’s committment to “the capital-T Truth” (as he called it at Kenyon) did not extend to the presentation of the self in everyday life (claims of perfect SAT scores and other imaginary achievements) or to his non-fiction, which, it turns out, is filled with invented circumstances and events. Wallace’s dedication to teaching did not stop him from sleeping with his students. (He joked to a friend about trying to get fired.) His deep gratitude for the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous did not prevent him from “thirteenth-stepping,” seeking out sexual partners at meetings. The details of Wallace’s violence toward others — shoving a student, ramming a stranger’s car, throwing a table at a lover, plotting at least briefly to murder that lover’s husband — make for a very dark portrait.

And then there is the violence Wallace directed against himself. This biography omits the most gruesome detail of his suicide (it can be found in the autopsy report). But Max leaves so much more unsaid. One example: he mentions a history of suicide in Wallace’s mother’s family — and stops there. Did Wallace know about these suicides? Did they occur before his birth, or in his lifetime? Did he know the people involved? Could a family history of depression have had something to do with his struggles? The answers might explain nothing, but the questions are still worth asking. And if Max has no answers to them, that would be worth stating too. Another example: Max has spoken with a man he calls Big Craig, the model for Don Gately in Infinite Jest. That there was a Gately is big news, but it’s presented here in passing. We learn that Craig — also an addict in recovery — suspected that halfway-house resident Wallace was looking for material for a book. But what of their relationship? Did Craig become something of a mentor to Wallace? Did the two stay in touch? Does the climactic fight scene in Infinite Jest draw in any way from Big Craig’s life?

As one must now expect with new non-fiction from trade publishers, the writing in this biography is in need of more careful editorial attention. There are frequent problems with pronoun reference (missing referents) and at least one error in subject-verb agreement. And there’s a conspicuous factual error about Infinite Jest (Charles Tavis is Avril Incandenza’s half-brother, not her husband’s brother.) A larger criticism: Max’s attempt to link Wallace’s interest in “sincerity” to a midwestern habit of saying what one means is, I think, an East Coaster’s fantasy. Life in the midwest — trust me — can be full of evasions, silences, and mask-like tact. Some of the details of Wallace’s life in the midwest show just that.

Any reader of Wallace’s work will want to read this biography. But I’d suggest — and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know where this sentence is going — getting it from a library.

Related reading
All David Foster Wallace posts (via Pinboard)

Happy birthday, Orange Crate Art

I remember as if it were eight years ago sitting at the fambly Dell after dinner and getting advice from my daughter Rachel about how to begin. It was Rachel who suggested this blog’s name. She and my son Ben were my guides in the world of HyperText Markup Language. Thank you, kiddos.

Now that Orange Crate Art is eight, it enjoys having the opportunity to solve problems independently. It is able to concentrate on tasks for longer periods of time and use its own resources prior to seeking adult help. It applies comprehension and vocabulary strategies to a wider variety of texts and is better able to check on and improve its comprehension as needed. Orange Crate Art applies a host of strategies when solving problems with three-digit numbers or less, recognizes a wide variety of shapes, and can readily identify patterns. It has yet to participate in dance lessons or team sports, though it occasionally dabbles in backyard play.

Thank you, reader, for reading.

[The eight-year-old language is borrowed from PBS Parents’ Child Development Tracker. I hope you agree with me that using quotation marks would destroy the effect.]

Friday, September 14, 2012

E=F♭


Here’s a theory of relativity I can understand.

As a boy caroler, Van Dyke Parks sang “Stille Nacht” for Albert Einstein. They once sat one row apart at the 3-D horror film House of Wax. And at the Princeton Junction train station, three days before Einstein’s death in 1955, twelve-year-old Van Dyke got an autograph.

Thanks to Van Dyke Parks, who sent this doctored photograph my way.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Roger Ebert on current events

Worth reading: A Statement and a “Film” (Chicago Sun-Times).

How to improve writing (no. 40)

This paragraph, on a box of Twinings English Breakast Tea, has been on my mind:

For over 300 years, Twinings has been sourcing and blending the finest, high-quality teas from around the globe to ensure that your tea has the perfect balance of tea taste, flavour and aroma. Twinings blends to perfection the finest black teas to give you a line of great-tasting teas with enticing flavour, fresh taste and invigorating aroma.
I know: it’s adspeak. But still. The redundancy (finest and high-quality, flavour and taste) and repetition (tea, tea, tea) in this paragraph make me think that the writer needs to switch to decaf. I see too a problem of logic with aroma and taste. Isn’t it the aroma that entices and the flavor that invigorates? I cannot imagine being invigorated by sniffing at my morning cup. A more sedate and more effective version:
For over 300 years, Twinings has been sourcing and blending the finest teas from around the globe to bring you the perfect balance of enticing aroma and fresh, invigorating flavour.
As my daughter Rachel pointed out to me several years ago, flavor and taste do not have complete synonymy. But here, as on the package that prompted her observation, one or the other will do.

[This post is no. 40 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Related reading
All How to improve writing posts (via Pinboard)
All tea posts (via Pinboard)

Marcus Aurelius on Maximus

Marcus Aurelius, on what he learned from Claudius Maximus, philosopher and teacher:

From Maximus: self-mastery, immune to any passing whim; good cheer in all circumstances, including illness; a nice balance of character, both gentle and dignified; an uncomplaining energy for what needs to be done; the trust he inspired in everyone that he meant what he said and was well-intentioned in all that he did; proof against surprise or panic; in nothing either hurried or hesitant, never short of resource, never downcast or cringing, or on the other hand angry or suspicious; generosity in good works, and a forgiving and truthful nature; the impression he gave of undeviating rectitude as a path chosen rather than enforced; the fact that no one would have ever thought himself belittled by him, or presumed to consider himself superior to him; and a pleasant humour.

Meditations, translated by Martin Hammond (New York: Penguin, 2006).
Do you know a Maximus?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How to improve writing (no. 39)

In August 2008 I wrote a note to myself with some book-buying advice. It ended like so: “Ask yourself, self, the crucial question: do you need to buy this book, or can you be happy getting it from the library?”

More and more often, I am happy getting it, whatever it is, from the library. So it is with Kenneth Slawenski’s J. D. Salinger: A Life (New York: Random House, 2011), a book I found myself rewriting as I read it. Its language is filled with tiresome phrasing: criticism is scathing; friends are close and personal; royalties are handsome; stories are finely crafted.¹ The words actual and actually, often meaningless intensifiers, appear again and again. Some sentences appeared to have been run through a thesaurus: “The episode scorched Salinger fans, a sensation exacerabated twelve years later when Internet booksellers replayed the feint only to deliver disappointment once again.” And Slawenski’s efforts at lit crit rely upon lengthy paraphrase and reductive symbolism: “The room also symbolizes Franny’s spiritual and emotional state.” “The value of acceptance through faith is symbolized by the character of Muriel’s tiny great-uncle.” No, and no.

Here is a sample paragraph, about a novel that was to be devoted to the Glass family:

In attempting such an ambitious work, Salinger tried to employ the same method that worked for him so well when he had penned The Catcher in the Rye: he sought to construct the new book by sewing together pieces that could also stand on their own as self-contained stories. “Zooey” is a prime example of this method. While his letters leave no doubt that “Zooey” was intended to rest with the new novel upon the book’s completion, the story’s most immediate purpose was to stand alone as a sequel to the story “Franny.”
Here’s my more readable version, which omits reference to ambition (as there’s no explanation of what makes this work so ambitious), drops the slightly pompous penned, avoids the illogic of a stand-alone sequel, and reorders elements of the paragraph to make a more logical point: yes, the story is a sequel to “Franny,” but it was meant to be more:
Like The Catcher in the Rye, the new novel was to be a sequence of self-contained stories. While “Zooey” would first serve as a sequel to the earlier “Franny,” Salinger’s letters leave no doubt that the new story was meant to be part of the novel.
Shame on Random House for not making this book’s prose better. Back to the library.

¹ And then there’s this sentence about Claire Douglas, who became Salinger’s first wife: “At the time Claire could not have suited Salinger better had he crafted her himself.”

[This post is no. 39 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Related reading
All How to improve writing posts (via Pinboard)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

WTC, 1980


[From a 1980 New York City subway map.]

A related post
At the World Trade Center and St. Paul’s Chapel

From the eighty-fourth floor

A handwritten note from the eighty-fourth floor of Two World Trade Center found its way to the writer’s family in 2011. Bringing consolation? No.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Proust on 120 CDs

The New York Times reports that Naxos AudioBooks is releasing a 120-CD recording of Remembrance of Things Past.

[Remembrance of Things Past, not In Search of Lost Time: the text appears to be the C. K. Scott Moncrieff translation.]

William Kennick on writing

William E. Kennick to his students: “I want you to be writers of prose, not processors of words.” Kennick, who taught philosophy at Amherst College, required that undergraduate papers run no more than five pages and draw on primary sources only. David Foster Wallace was among his students. Kennick’s words appear, unsourced, in D. T. Max’s Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (Viking, 2012). More on the book soon.

[Kennick’s 1958 essay “Does Traditional Aesthetics Rest on a Mistake?” was one of the best — and most lucid — things I read in grad school. I still have my xeroxed copy.]

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Plain Text Primer

At A Better Mess, Michael Schechter is writing about the benefits of working with plain text files. Two installments so far: A Plain Text Primer and Plain Text Primer: nvALT 101.

In a December 2011 post, I listed my favorite writing tools: index cards, pocket notebooks, legal pads, and the Mac apps TextWrangler and WriteRoom. I can now add nvALT: with Markdown, it’s perfect for creating blog posts. I continue to consider a word-processing window a hostile work environment. Writing is not word-processing.

“I Won’t Talk”

Yesterday, in Iowa, Ann Romney declined to answer a journalist’s questions about contraception and equal marriage. “This election,” Mrs. Romney explained, “is going to be about the economy and jobs.”

Elaine Fine has responded with some help from Jerome Kern and company.

Recently updated

Stuyvesant principal resigns retires The new principal has suggested that the school create an honor code.

Also in the news: Studies Find More Students Cheating, With High Achievers No Exception (New York Times).

Friday, September 7, 2012

Jennifer Granholm at the DNC

If you weren’t watching C-SPAN last night, you most likely missed it: former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm speaking to the Democratic National Convention. This woman was on fire.

My favorite line: “In Romney’s world, the cars get the elevator, and the workers get the shaft.” Yes, an elevator for cars.

[I want to point to a noteworthy speech, not argue politics.]

It’s called lifelong learning

Hay ≠ straw. When you go into the farm-and-home store to buy stuff to cover the grass seed you’ve strewn across the lifeless stretches of your so-called lawn, you should ask for “straw,” not “hay.” Hay is grass. Straw is stalks.



[From the New Oxford American Dictionary.]

I think that most hayrides are in fact strawrides.

A related post
The dowdy world goes to a party (includes a hayride)

[I sure hope the grass grows.]

Perry Mason’s office

“The aim of this project was to make a floor plan drawing of Perry’s office suite based upon a careful analysis of what can be seen in the show.” Perry’s Office Suite: A Discussion of a Magical Workspace.

Other Perry Mason posts
Perry Mason and Gilbert and Sullivan
Perry Mason and John Keats
Streetside gum machines

Recently updated

Larry David’s notebook Stephen Windham has found a source for the little brown book.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Streetside gum machines


[Perry Mason, “The Case of the Ominous Outcast,” May 21, 1960.]

I know that Perry Mason isn’t reality, but the above image suggests that wall-mounted gum machines were indeed found on mid-twentieth-century American streets.

Why these machines caught my eye: one, two, three installments of the comic strip Henry.

Pepperidge Farm Cookies

“What kind of person am I, and how am I different from people who prefer, say, Veronas or Genevas?” Leon Neyfakh tried every variety of Pepperidge Farm Cookie.

Thanks, Elaine.

[My favorites: Bordeaux and Shortbread.]

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pencil holder

[Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

I had a birthday a few days ago. Elaine gave me the ebony object above. We don’t know if it began its life holding pencils (perhaps dip pens?), but it’s holding pencils now. This pencil is a mid-century Eagle Turquoise, from an Eagle display case. Mid-century, c’est moi.

Thank you, Elaine.

Hi and Lois watch


[Hi and Lois, September 5, 2012. Click for a larger view.]

Fish happens.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (via Pinboard)

Oscar’s Portrait

George Bodmer, a longtime friend of Orange Crate Art, is posting a drawing a day at Oscar’s Portrait. George’s work is funny, pithy, poignant, silly, smart. Look, reader, look.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Words from M. Lazhar

One of the best moments in the film Monsieur Lazhar (dir. Philippe Falardeau, 2011) is M. Lazhar’s statement about the classroom:

“A classroom is a home for . . . It’s a place of friendship, of work, and courtesy. Yes, courtesy. A place full of life. Where you devote your life. A place where you give of your life.”
Now that I have the DVD, I can share the exact words, transcribed from the subtitles. The ellipsis is in the original.

I loved this film and wrote about it in this post.

[A secret message to my fambly: Go fambly!]

Another streetside machine

[Henry, September 4, 2012.]

I think that GUM is more plausible than CANDY, but it’s not my comic strip. I’ve seen two other such machines since falling into the Henry vortex.

Are 2012 installments of Henry many decades old? Are they modeled on old strips? Do the makers remember these machines? And back-date magazine stores? And Shoe Repair While U Wait?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Harry and Bud’s European Cuisine

I have a suggestion for which someone, I hope, will thank me: if you live within driving distance of the Queen City of the Wabash, aka Terre Haute, Indiana, make a reservation and visit Harry and Bud’s European Cuisine. Elaine and I visited two days ago and had a great meal and, better yet, a great adventure in hospitality.

Harry and Bud’s is a one-man operation: Jeffrey Marks is owner, chef, and server. The restaurant is located in a little unmarked building distinguished by two large glass-brick windows. From the outside the place looks dark and closed, but the windows fill the interior with natural light. (Surprise.) On the inside walls, a Denoyer-Geppert schoolroom map and a much older and larger map of Europe. The tables are the kitchen tables of my childhood: Formica tops and aluminum trim. I hadn’t sat at one in years.

There is no menu at Harry and Bud’s. Jeff knew from our telephone conversation that Elaine wanted something vegan. “Do you like lamb?” he asked me. Yes. We chose our water, sparkling and still, set up the house chessboard, and had time for one game before Jeff brought us onion soup, polenta, squash, tomatoes, greens, and, for me, a hefty serving of a chicken-and-eggplant hash. (I think it could be called a hash.) Along with these dishes, a loaf of great French bread. That was to start. What followed: kale and lentil salads, cabbage-leaf crepes (stuffed with corn, mushrooms, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes, and covered in a garlic-and-tomato sauce), asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, gnocchi, mushroom caps, and, for non-vegan me, a cheddar and Gorgonzola torta, a wedge of Gouda, and the largest lamb chops I have ever seen, three of them, beautifully rare, seasoned in a Provençal manner (with, among many other flavors, the great and impossible-to-place flavor of lavender). For dessert, custard with a ganache and blackberries for me, blackberries and dark chocolate for Elaine.

I am no foodie: I feel awkward even recounting what we ate. I do so only to suggest what Harry and Bud’s offers in abundance and variety. The dishes we had were rustic, satisfying, and perfectly prepared. We are making three meals from our leftovers (which came with extra bread).

If you go to Harry and Bud’s, prepare for an intimate restaurant experience. (We were the only guests in the time we were there.) And trust that whatever comes from the kitchen will be great. Your trust will be rewarded. Study the website. Read Elaine’s account (with photographs of leftovers). Read the Yelp reviews if you want third and fourth and fifth opinions. Call. And go.

Other Terre Haute posts
The Clabber Girl Museum
John Gardner’s photographs
Saratoga Bar and Cafe

Labor Day


[“Tightening a nut on a guide vane operating ser[v]omotor in TVA’s hydroelectric plant, Watts Bar Dam, Tennessee. Located 530 miles above the mouth of the Tennessee River, the dam has an authorized power installation of 90,000 kw., which can be increased to a possible ultimate of 150,000 kw. The reservoir at the dam adds 370,000 acre-feet of water to controlled storage on the Tennessee River system.” Photograph by Alfred T. Palmer. June 1942.]

The Library of Congress has made this photograph available via Flickr.

Related reading
Labor Day 2010 (another Library of Congress photograph)
Servomechanism (Wikipedia)
Tennessee Valley Authority (Wikipedia)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

New York in fifty objects

From the New York Times, a history of New York in fifty objects. No I♥NY logo, no subway token, but many welcome choices, including the Anthora and the Automat.

September 25, 2012: The Times has added fifteen more, including the subway token.