A surprisingly affecting video: Cartoonists Demand Action to End Gun Violence (YouTube).
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Here’s the work I did to improve two sentences in a recent post. The first draft:
If the most powerful and moneyed interests who now seek to reshape higher education have their way, what we call “college” will soon become a two-tier system, with the real thing reserved for a privileged few and credits and credentials — haphazardly assembled, vocationally themed — for everyone else. If this future weren’t already in itself appalling, the rhetoric of inevitability that accompanies it — get on board or risk being swept away — might alone be reason enough to object.The work of revising, with additions in red, some deleted:
IfMost of the changes are in the interest of concision, fewer words with no loss of meaning or detail (the noun clause “what we call ‘college,’” for instance, reduced to “‘college,’” with the quotation marks doing the work of the deleted words). I used a pair of commas to avoid the ungainly repetition of dashes. I hit on prospect as a better choice than the trite future or the loftier vision, and chose sells as a far better verb than accompanies. The aside about MOOC stars came to me while revising: and yes, I do think there’s shameless cynicism in trading on prestigious names to sell a feeble replacement for real-presence education. The aside is practical too: the interruption eliminates the slightly misleading and of “a privileged few and credits.” The revised sentences:
the mostpowerful and moneyed interests whonow seeking to reshape higher education have their way, what we call“college” will soon become a two-tier system, with the real thing reservedfor a privileged few (MOOC stars have to teach somewhere, right?) and credits and credentials, /haphazardly assembled, vocationally themed, /for everyone else. If this future visionprospect weren’t alreadyin itself appalling, the rhetoric of inevitability that accompaniessells it — get on board or riskbe ingswept away — mightwould alonebe reason enough to object.
If powerful and moneyed interests now seeking to reshape higher education have their way, “college” will soon become a two-tier system, with the real thing for a privileged few (MOOC stars have to teach somewhere, right?) and credits and credentials, haphazardly assembled, vocationally themed, for everyone else. If this prospect weren’t in itself appalling, the rhetoric of inevitability that sells it — get on board or be swept away — would be reason enough to object.The changes are all minor. But such changes, multiplied over sentences and paragraphs, add up. Are they worth the time and effort? They are.
All How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)
Draft, draft, draft, draft (John McPhee on revision)
[This post is no. 43 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose. This post is one of two about my writing. Here’s the other.]
By Michael Leddy at 8:38 AM
Monday, April 29, 2013
“People read with their ears, whether they know it or not”: William Zinsser, now blind, coaches writers by listening to them read their work.
By Michael Leddy at 12:03 PM
From Richard O. Boyer’s three-part profile “The Hot Bach” (New Yorker, July 1, 1944). Ellington is talking to fans on a train and has turned to the subject of food:
“I have special places marked for special dishes,” he said. “In Taunton, Massachusetts, you can get the best chicken stew in the United States. For chow mein with pigeon’s blood, I go to Johnny Cann’s Cathay House in San Francisco. I get my crab cakes at Bolton’s — that’s in San Francisco, too. I know a place in Chicago where you get the best barbecued ribs west of Cleveland and the best shrimp Creole outside New Orleans. There’s a wonderful place in Memphis, too, for barbecued ribs. I get my Chinnook salmon in Portland, Oregon. In Toronto I get duck orange, and the best fried chicken in the world is in Louisville, Kentucky. I get myself a half-dozen chickens and a gallon jar of potato salad, so I can feed the sea gulls. You know, the guys who reach over your shoulder. There’s a place in Chicago, the Southway Hotel, that’s got the best cinnamon rolls and the best filet mignon in the world. Then there’s Ivy Anderson’s chicken shack in Los Angeles, where they have hot biscuits with honey and very fine chicken-liver omelets. In New Orleans there’s gumbo filé. I like it so well that I always take a pail of it out with me when I leave. In New York I send over to the Turf Restaurants at Forty-ninth and Broadway a couple of times a week to get their broiled lamb chops. I guess I’m a little freakish with lamb chops. I prefer to eat them in the dressing room, where I have plenty of room and can really let myself go. In Washington, at Harrison’s, they have devilled crab and Virginia ham. They’re terrific things. On the Ile-de-France, when we went to Europe, they had the best crêpes Suzette in the world and it took a dozen at a time to satisfy me. The Café Royale, in the Hague, has the best hors d’oeuvres in the world — eighty-five different kinds, and it takes a long time to eat some of each. There's a place on West Forty-ninth Street in New York that has wonderful curried food and a wonderful chutney. There’s a place in Paris that has the best octopus soup. And oh, my, the smörgåsbord in Sweden! At Old Orchard Beach, Maine, I got the reputation of eating more hot dogs than any man in America. A Mrs. Wagner there makes a toasted bun that’s the best of its kind in America. She has a toasted bun, then a slice of onion, then a hamburger, then a tomato, then melted cheese, then another hamburger, then a slice of onion, more cheese, more tomato, and then the other side of the button. Her hotdogs have two dogs to a bun. I ate thirty-two one night. She has very fine baked beans. When I eat with Mrs. Wagner, I begin with ham and eggs for an appetizer, then the baked beans, then fried chicken, then a steak — her steaks are two inches thick — and then a dessert of applesauce, ice cream, chocolate cake, and custard, mixed with rich, yellow country cream. I like veal with an egg on it. Monseigneur’s, in London, has very fine mutton. Durgin-Park’s, in Boston, has very fine roast beef. I get the best baked ham, cabbage, and cornbread at a little place near Biloxi. St. Petersburg, Florida, has the best fried fish. It's just a little shack, but they can sure fry fish. I really hurt myself when I go there.”Duke Ellington’s music has been making my life better for more than thirty-five years. For an introduction, I recommend The Great Paris Concert. If you’d like to browse other Ellington posts, they’re listed at Pinboard.
Duke’s audience seemed awed at his recital, and he looked rather impressed himself. “Gee,” he said admiringly, “I really sent myself on that didn’t I?”
[Boyer’s profile is reprinted in The Duke Ellington Reader, ed. Mark Tucker (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).]
By Michael Leddy at 7:50 AM
Sunday, April 28, 2013
John McPhee’s “Draft No. 4” (in the April 29 New Yorker) has a passage that puzzled me, about “the irregular restrictive which” (italics mine), a term that McPhee learned from the New Yorker editor William Shawn, who “explained that under certain unusual and special circumstances the word ‘which’ could be employed at the head of a restrictive clause.” In other words, which can sometimes substitute for that.
Which in fact often substitutes for that ; there is no absolute rule that that divides their use. Many writers, however, prefer to reserve that for restrictive clauses, which for nonrestrictive. The distinction brings a small (very small) element of consistency to writing:
There are three magazines on the table. I want to read the magazine that arrived today.McPhee explains that “the irregular restrictive which” is reserved for sentences in which “words or phrases lie between the specific object and the clause that proves its specificity.” The term “irregular restrictive which” seems to be a Shawn (or Harold Ross?) creation: the only evidence for it that I can find is McPhee’s essay.¹ This use of which, however, goes back at least as far as H. W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1926), where it is explained in the entry “That, relative pronoun.” Fowler’s defining and non-defining are the equivalents of restrictive and nonrestrictive:
[That introduces a restrictive clause: “that arrived today” identifies magazine.]
There are two pieces of junk mail and a magazine on the table. I want to read the magazine, which arrived today.
[Which introduces a nonrestrictive clause: “which arrived today” is not needed to identify magazine.]
Each that-clause is, or at least may be meant as, defining; but between each & the actual noun of the antecedent . . . intervenes a clause or phrase that would suffice by itself for identification. In such circumstances a that-clause, though correct, is often felt to be queer, & it is usually possible, though by no means necessary, to regarded it as non-defining & change that to which.McPhee gives three examples from his recent writing of “the irregular restrictive which.” Here is one:
In 1822, the Belgian stratigrapher J. J. d’Omalius d’Halloy, working for the French government, put a name on the chalk of Europe which would come to represent an ungainly share of geologic time.Try it the other way:
In 1822, the Belgian stratigrapher J. J. d’Omalius d’Halloy, working for the French government, put a name on the chalk of Europe that would come to represent an ungainly share of geologic time.I find it hard to see any difference: name seems the obvious antedecent each time. McPhee’s other examples leave me just as confused.
But I found a way out of my muddle by consulting Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009). In the entry "Remote relatives," Bryan Garner addresses “the exceptional which”, his name for what Shawn called “the irregular restrictive which.” Garner presents this use of which as an attempt to avoid ambiguity:
11:21 a.m.: Not done yet. The New Yorker’s Eleanor Gould credited William Shawn:
¹ Harold Ross, who founded the New Yorker, was a Modern English Usage devotee. From a 1949 letter to Kay Boyle:
[Quoted in Barbara Wallraff’s Word Court (2000). The sentence in question referred to “a dispute about language which they would like this column to resolve.”]
We think ourselves into knots over style things around here, although we’ve long since cracked most problems. We’re having one now on when to use which and when to use that that is a little gem. Fowler, in Modern English Usage, differentiates between them and, somehow or other — I don’t know how, so help me — we got to following him in the editing of all house (or unsigned) stuff and then in practically all fact stuff (the writers are around the office and can be talked to from hour to hour), and then in more or less all the fiction, most of the writers falling into line.Notice that Ross doesn’t use “the irregular restrictive which”:
We’re having one now on when to use which and when to use that that is a little gem.The logic of “the irregular restrictive which” would have the sentence read:
We’re having one now on when to use which and when to use that which is a little gem.I found this letter quoted in John Updike’s More Matter: Essays and Criticism (2009).
[I wonder: does “exceptionally well-edited” mean persnickety ?]
By Michael Leddy at 10:17 AM
Saturday, April 27, 2013
In the April 29 New Yorker, John McPhee writes about writing and revision in “Draft No. 4”:
After reading the second draft aloud, and going through the piece for the third time (removing the tin horns and radio static that I heard while reading), I enclose things in boxes for Draft No. 4. If I enjoy anything in this process it is Draft No. 4. I go searching for replacements for the words in the boxes. The final adjustments may be small-scale, but they are large to me, and I love addressing them.No link: the piece is online for subscribers only.
By Michael Leddy at 8:49 PM
Friday, April 26, 2013
[Yorick and friend.]
Unscrewing the top of your head and pouring in information doesn’t work that well: the tidying up is terrible. Better strategies in this post: How to do well on a final exam.
In some corners of the world, final examinations are already in the near near future.
[“A young boy studying the human skull.” Photograph by Nina Leen. New York, New York, 1948. From the Life Photo Archive.]
By Michael Leddy at 9:04 AM
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Yes, it’s a Mongol pencil in the social worker’s hand. The above images are from “Golden Lads and Girls,” an episode of Naked City that aired May 22, 1963. It tells the stories of two married couples, one living at 715 Park Avenue, the other in a tenement a few blocks away. The two husbands are alcoholic and violent; each man’s wife is his target. The parallels between the couples’ lives are heightened when the story cuts back and forth during their interviews with social workers, with questions put to one husband or wife answered by the other.
“Golden Lads and Girls” is a Naked City episode with a tremendous variety of ingredients: trips to Manhattan’s Home Term Court (an institution created in 1946 to address non-felony domestic cases); Tom Bosley as a judge; a quick stop at Toots Shor’s Restaurant; a group meeting at “Alcoholics Clinic” (that is, Alcoholics Anonymous); marital counseling; a nightmare-tormented, pyromaniacal child; and, for comic relief, a scene in a delicatessen with Lieutenant Mike Parker (Horace McMahon), Detective Adam Flint (Paul Burke), and Adam’s girlfriend Libby Kingston (Nancy Malone). Adam has ordered pastrami on white. On white?
Libby: “With Adam it's a matter of principle — nonconformity.”That last line is the punchline, Bennett Cerf being Mike Parker’s idea of an hifalutin intellectual.
Mike: “On rye bread, yes. On a hard roll, yes. But never on white. Have you no respect for the cultural heritages?”
Adam: “I like it on white. . . . Mike, you have to believe that pastrami won’t always come on rye.”
Libby: “Oh, I take it you’re using cold cuts as a symbol.”
Adam: “On white. It’s a symbol of hope.”
Libby describes the Park Avenue couple as “rich and very fashionable,” “part of the success culture, the golden lads and girls.” (Note: she knows no details. Adam has maintained confidentiality.)
Adam: “That’s from something, isn’t it?”
Libby recites: “Golden lads and girls all must, / As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.”
Adam: “Shakespeare, Cymbeline.”
Mike: “You know, when I have lunch with you two, it’s like being with Bennett Cerf.”
Back to those screenshots. The pencil’s identity is obvious. But do you recognize the actress? First prize is an all-expenses-paid week in the Naked City. You are responsible though for furnishing the time machine. Leave your answer in a comment.
Other Mongol posts: Harry Truman with pencil : Jimmy Hoffa’s Mongol : Molly Dodd, Mongol user : Mongol No. 2 3/8 : “Sound-testing a MONGOL” : Stolen Mongols
Other Naked City posts: GRamercy 7–9166 : GRamercy again : MUrray Hill 7-3933 : Naked Bronx : Nearly plotzing : “Old Rabbit Ears” : Poetry and Naked City : Positively Naked City : TW8-4044 : “WE DELIVER”
[Orange Crate Art is a Naked City-friendly zone.]
By Michael Leddy at 1:02 PM
From the documentary Public Speaking, (dir. Martin Scorsese, 2010), Fran Lebowitz, taking questions from an audience:
Q: “Do you think there’s a difference between a female voice and a male voice in literature?”
A: “Even on the phone there’s a difference between a female voice and a male voice.”
Gunther at Lexikaliker pointed me to an item I’d have missed otherwise: a brief tour of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State. At 1:39: glimpses of a Sunday installment of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. Thanks, Gunther.
[How wonderful to see an educational URL with the word cartoons in it: cartoons.osu.edu.]
By Michael Leddy at 7:48 AM
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
[The correct answer is C: my patience.]
From an educational publisher: “Students love LearningCurve because it allows them to study using a game-like interface and master material in a less linear fashion than simply reading and re-reading.” That’s a sample LearningCurve question above.
I tried LearningCurve’s demo activity yesterday. Was I studying? Hardly. Was it game-like? I felt no fun. I read the questions (about, of all things, memory) and schemed the correct answers as quickly as I could. One was seventy: I picked it as the most reasonable choice of four — not too high, not too low. Seventy what? Couldn’t tell ya. Seventy letters or numbers or words that someone with a Russian name was able to memorize. Another correct answer: ninety, ninety percent of slides that someone showed. People could recognize ninety percent of 250 of them after some period of time. Who showed the slides? I dunno, some guy. All I was after was the right answer. I got every one of them. So much for mastery.
That leaves “less linear,” which seems to me an optimistic way to characterize the element of mindless, loop-the-loop repetition that makes LearningCurve feel miserably regimented. By the end of the demo, I was typing the same answer to different forms of the same damn question again and again — a question I’d been getting right all along. I would much rather have been reading and rereading something, anything, else.
And speaking of reading and rereading (or “simply” reading and rereading): when did they become subject to criticism for being “linear”? Yes, word follows word, and sentence follows sentence, because that’s how words and sentences work, even the words and sentences that form the rudimentary paragraphs of LearningCurve’s questions. But flipping among scattered passages in, say, a novel, offers far greater freedom of movement and far greater opportunities for complex thinking than LearningCurve’s dentist’s chair. (Drill, baby, drill.)
If this blog post were a LearningCurve activity, you’d now be reading the following message: “You’re more than half way through with the blog post!” Yes, LearningCurve feels like a race to get it over with — another way in which it’s different from a genuine game.
I just discovered by chance the following passage in an excellent though painfully dated book, The Lively Art of Writing (1965). Lucile Vaughan Payne now sounds downright counter-cultural in her insistence on education that makes room for invention and self-discovery:
Too often students let themselves become machines, ingesting the information their teachers offer them and then feeding it back, like ticker tape, in the form of rote recitations and answers to examination questions. But a student is no machine when he writes an essay; he is a human being — judging, evaluating, interpreting, expressing not only what he knows but what he is. Thus every attempted essay is a kind of voyage toward self-discovery.Judging, evaluating, interpreting; reading, rereading, writing: they are the stuff of genuine education. It’s a sad sign of the times that it is necessary to say so.
[I will grant that a student for whom a test looms is likely to move through a LearningCurve activity more deliberately than I did. That student would be, I think, even more miserable. LearningCurve, however, has testimonials to the contrary.]
By Michael Leddy at 8:06 AM
“Children’s books, she once said, are ‘the key to the accumulated wisdom, wit, gossip, truth, myth, history, philosophy, and recipes for salting potatoes during the past 6,000 years of civilization’”: E. L. Konigsburg, Author, Is Dead at 83 (New York Times).
Fellow blogger Bill Madison met Konigsburg in the 1990s. Read what he has to say about the writer and her work.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Q.: “Where are you going to get a typewriter?”
Monday, April 22, 2013
John Churchill, Secretary of Phi Beta Kappa, in the Spring 2013 Key Reporter :
There is a powerful push to vocationalize college curricula and to measure the worth of a degree solely in economic terms. This tendency will magnify differences of access to transformative liberal arts experiences. Ironically, students who would benefit most from immersion in the liberal arts and sciences will be increasingly less likely to encounter them. This is a bad thing for America.If powerful and moneyed interests now seeking to reshape higher education have their way, “college” will soon become a two-tier system, with the real thing for a privileged few (MOOC stars have to teach somewhere, right?) and credits and credentials, haphazardly assembled, vocationally themed, for everyone else. If this prospect weren’t in itself appalling, the rhetoric of inevitability that sells it — get on board or be swept away — would be reason enough to object.
It is time to reassert plain facts. College is not only about training for jobs. It is about citizenship. It is about shaping oneself into a fully-realized adult person. It is about learning to cope constructively with questions of meaning and value. In a democracy, we need to take as many of us, as far as possible, down that path.
By Michael Leddy at 11:41 AM
Elaine and I are making our way through our second year of law school. In other words, we’re watching the second season of The Paper Chase, Netflick by Netflick, and we just saw an episode we’d been giddy about getting to, “My Dinner with Kingsfield” (first aired July 24, 1984). The premise is wacky: a terrible snowstorm, and Charles Kingsfield (John Houseman) gets stuck driving to the airport. When he knocks at the nearest residence to use the telephone, who answers? James Hart, “Mr. Hart,” Kingsfield’s stellar student (James Stephens). Hilarity ensues, with broken plumbing, Bulgarian Beaujolais, and the spectacle of Kingsfield wearing Hart’s bathrobe as his own clothes dry. (“I just had it laundered,” Hart adds helpfully.) Later in the episode: a brief recitation from Bleak House and some memorable, even profound bits of dialogue about love and marriage and learning.
Elaine and I made some tea before sitting down to watch, and I chose Earl Grey. I said (and I have a witness) that if Kingsfield drank tea in this episode, it would be Earl Grey. So I went a little crazy when the professor set down his wine and asked Hart for a cup of tea, “anything that’s hot and sturdy.” Hart offers Earl Grey. Is that sturdy enough? Kingsfield says it will be fine. And as Hart calls to check on the whereabouts of a lady friend flying in from New York, Kingsfield stands and muses on a box of Twinings tea bags:
“Earl Grey tea . . . Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey, leader of the Whig opposition and largely responsible for the repeal of the African slave trade. He became prime minister of England in 1830.”Hart, on the phone, asks distractedly, “Who?” And Kingsfield, fiercely: “Earl Grey.” It’s all true.
Here’s a Kingsfield observation about marriage:
“Let me tell you something: all those years I was married, of course I kept thinking I should have spent longer sowing my wild oats, but the longer my marriage lasted, the more convinced I became that being married to someone, no matter how banal it might seem on the surface, was infinitely more satisfying and more exciting than the wildest of affairs.”And here’s another moment, when Hart admits that Kingsfield’s lukewarm response to his recent paper has made it impossible for him to begin work on a new project:
“James, for God’s sake, stop sulking. You’re an adult. You’re one of the better students in this institution: you should not need to be told that. You know your work is good: that’s all that matters. Doing your best should be its own reward, and you shouldn’t need me to tell you about it.”But students do need to hear about it when they do well (and when they don’t); even Kingsfield knows that. (Notice the repetition of should.) And yes, he now offers the praise that he withheld. If he were a different person though, he’d be intoning, “Stop . . . worshiping . . . me, Mr. . . . Hart.”
[“My Dinner with Kingsfield” isn’t the first takeoff on My Dinner with André (1981): My Breakfast with Blassie appearted in 1983. Kingsfield’s remarks on marriage are reminiscent of what André Gregory says about the shallowness of affairs and the mysteries of marriage: “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.” Major props to the writers of this episode, James Bridges and Lee Kalcheim.]
Other Paper Chase posts
“Do the work”
How to improve writing (no. 42)
“Minds, not memories”
By Michael Leddy at 8:27 AM
Sunday, April 21, 2013
[Click for larger stickers.]
Yesterday was Record Store Day, and I went to Exile on Main Street in Champaign, Illinois. The store is long and narrow, and the line of (mostly younger) people moving into and through the store and back up to the register never let up. Shopping was a matter of filing slowly, slowly, past the merchandise and stopping to browse when appropriate. (It made me remember filing past the Pietà at the New York World’s Fair.) I spent about an hour, a pleasant hour, to get what I had come for, a 180-gram vinyl reissue of Van Dyke Parks’s Song Cycle (a Record Store Day exclusive).
And there were stickers. In the second row from the bottom, on the right, Taj Mahal’s The Natch’l Blues (1968), reissued on 180-gram vinyl for the Day. I bought that album not long after it came out — I must have been twelve or thirteen. Still have it. Still works good.
A related post
By Michael Leddy at 12:13 PM
Friday, April 19, 2013
My day, today: meeting with two students, prepping and teaching three classes, responding to several e-mails. And what else? Watching the news on television early this morning and, later, reading the news online and hitting refresh, and hitting refresh. The post I planned to make this morning is still a draft: I just could not bring myself to put it online.
It is difficult to think of making a blog post — or at least one far removed from current events — in the face of horrific news. And yet the world is filled with horrific news daily, and life goes on. With Boston, the news is especially close to my heart. It stops everything. And everything I can think to say about it can be thought and said by countless other observers.
In a class this morning devoted to Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, I played some relevant music from Bessie Smith. There are people, I said to my students, whose work is to perpetrate suffering, and there are people whose work is to create joy. Musicians are engaged in that second endeavor.
Music I have found myself returning to again and again this week: Mavis Staples, Nick Lowe, and Wilco rehearsing “The Weight.” I watched a couple of times when it came online last year. I don’t know what made me seek out this performance now. You might like it too.
The post I had planned to put online today concerns an episode of The Paper Chase with some great dialogue about education, love, marriage, and Earl Grey tea. I will post it next week.
By Michael Leddy at 4:51 PM
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Gabrielle Giffords on yesterday’s Senate vote:
This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.
Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.
By Michael Leddy at 3:13 PM
The word of the day is roach:
Downstairs, on a bracket shelf next to a vase with hand-painted pink roses on it, there is a matching picture of him, taken at the same time. His hair is roached and he is wearing a high stiff collar, and hardly anything shows in his face but his Welsh ancestry.It’s an American verb. The Oxford English Dictionary explains:
William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980).
1803: “To clip or trim (a horse’s mane) close to the neck so the hair stands on end; to give (a horse) a roach mane.” The verb derives from a nautical noun: “an upward curve cut in to the foot of a square sail," and later, “a curved or convex part of a fore-and-aft sail extending beyond a straight line between any two of its three corners, especially on the leech side.”
By 1833 the verb applied to human hairstyling: “To brush or cut (hair) in a roach.”
By 1872, there was a noun: “A hairstyle in which the hair is brushed so as to stand up or sweep back from the face; a roll or wave of hair.”
The OED citations include a great sentence from Langston Hughes (1950): “Her head was all done fresh and shining with a hair-rocker roached up high in front.”
Other word-of-the-day posts (Pinboard)
By Michael Leddy at 10:03 AM
“When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter
collides aligns with Mars,” and so on.
As my wife Elaine pointed out to me, Jupiter cannot collide with Mars. Okay, if you say so. But also: in the face of such a collision, it makes no sense to speak of peace guiding the planets and love steering the stars.
I misunderstood this lyric for years, despite the Fifth Dimension’s impeccable diction.
By Michael Leddy at 8:23 AM
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Alan Wilson (1943–1970) was to Canned Heat what another Wilson, Brian, was to the Beach Boys: the musical genius in residence. Out today from Severn Records, The Blind Owl, a two-CD compilation of Canned Heat tracks featuring Wilson’s guitar, harmonica, and voice.
I have to say it: this release includes a short piece about Alan Wilson by me. There are also track-by-track notes by the Heat’s longtime manager Skip Taylor. Me, a writer of liner notes: something I never imagined when I began listening to Canned Heat more than forty years ago.
And the Heat plays on, with Fito de la Parra, Harvey Mandel, Dale Spalding, and Larry Taylor: a venerable foursome.
Canned Heat in Illinois
Hooker ’n Heat
[I have found that on days like today, music is the one thing that helps.]
By Michael Leddy at 9:44 AM
Monday, April 15, 2013
In the news not long ago: at John Hopkins University, students in one professor’s computer-programming classes received grades of 100 on their final exams after refusing to take the exams. The professor was grading on a curve, with the highest exam grade in each class becoming a 100 and other grades bumped up accordingly. So with a highest grade of zero — you know the rest. The Johns Hopkins students have been praised for initiative and teamwork: whether they were working as a cheerful community or a dastardly cabal, I cannot say. But I can say that they should not have received 100s.
Not because they have cheated: academic misconduct is not in any obvious way the problem here. The Johns Hopkins students collaborated, but collaboration is not necessarily forbidden, as when students study together for an exam. These students showed no intention to deceive: they didn’t share answers or use unacknowledged sources or purchase work from a term-paper mill. Indeed, the students were transparent in their intentions, standing in the hallways to check whether anyone went in to take an exam (and prepared to take the exam if necessary). There is, in any event, something odd about a charge of academic misconduct in the absence of academic work.
One can argue, as many observers have, that all these students did was to exploit a loophole in a grading policy. But such observers have overlooked important points about the workings of a curve. A curve assumes that students are making a genuine effort to do well in a course by doing its work. If that condition doesn’t hold, a curve becomes a joke, as students can decide as a group to answer, say, just one question each for an exam or assignment. More important: a curve applies only to students who have done the work. A student who doesn’t take an exam when other students do receives a zero, not a grade based on the others’ performance (a grade in the single digits perhaps, instead of a zero).
We can assume that the professor’s syllabi said nothing about these points. They are rightly left as tacit understandings shared by the members of an academic community, understandings that fall under the handy, all-encompassing alligator rule. You don’t write essays in Morse code. You don’t read novels in an English class in Spanish translation. You don’t show up for a 2:00 exam in the wee small hours of the morning, even if the professor left out p.m. You don’t get any grade other than a zero if you don’t take an exam. And guess what: the Johns Hopkins students knew that. As one of them explained in an e-mail, “Handing out 0’s to your classmates will not improve your performance in this course.” In other words, if just one student were to take the exam, those who didn’t would receive zeros, because a curve does not apply to an exam not taken. And if no one takes an exam, there are no grades to curve.
And if it doesn’t go without saying, you don’t bring an alligator to class, or a typewriter.
When I first posted about this incident, my response was indignation. I said that the organizers and those who went along with them should be ashamed. For getting 100s, yes. But only now do I realize that even in my indignation, I didn’t recommend zeros. I think that the best response to the zero-to-100 trick would have been neither a reward nor a punishment but an acknowledgement of the students’ cleverness — touché — and rescheduled examinations. Such a response would have permitted the students to maintain their intellectual integrity, if not their perfect grades.
[Thanks to Curtis Corlew, who wrote about the alligator rule in this comment. Unlike the John Hopkins e-mailer, I follow Garner’s Modern American Usage in pluralizing numbers: -s with no apostrophe.]
By Michael Leddy at 8:09 AM
Friday, April 12, 2013
[“Sign outside luncheonette on Skid Row.” Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Los Angeles, 1936. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]
Bottom left: “MAKING OUR OWN PIES NOW.” Does that news allay fear, or stoke it?
Two more Eisenstaedt lunch photographs
Angela Lansbury and Basil Rathbone
Chock full o’Nuts lunch hour
By Michael Leddy at 11:43 AM
[Click for a larger, creepier view.]
The New York Times reports on a venture capital partnership for Google Glass apps.
Flashback: Mark Hurst’s thoughts about Google Glass are worth reading.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
The New York Times reports that the building that began life in 2001 as New York’s American Folk Art Museum is to be torn down and replaced by another building. Andrew S. Dolkart, a professor of historic preservation:
“It’s very rare that a building that recent comes down, especially a building that was such a major design and that got so much publicity when it opened for its design — mostly very positive. The building is so solid looking on the street, and then it becomes a disposable artifact. It’s unusual and it’s tragic because it’s a notable work of 21st century architecture by noteworthy architects who haven’t done that much work in the city, and it’s a beautiful work with the look of a handcrafted facade.”Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art:
“We bought the site, and our responsibility is to use the site intelligently.”The building now standing at 45 West 53rd Street is a beautiful work. Its imminent destruction is a shame. I am reminded of what I have seen in my old Brooklyn neighborhood and my old New Jersey suburb: houses purchased and destroyed so that new owners can build whatever. Intelligent use: not.
May 9: The Times reports that the Museum of Modern Art is reconsidering. But: “One person involved in the plans, who was not authorized to comment and therefore spoke on condition of anonymity, said that MoMA was still likely to arrive at the same conclusion.”
January 8, 2014: The Times reports that the American Folk Art Museum is to be demolished.
[Someday I will have to tell the story of my 2002 trip to the museum for a Henry Darger exhibit and a John Ashbery reading.]
By Michael Leddy at 7:48 AM
[Henry, April 11, 2013.]
Another gum machine, another dowdy streetscape.
And speaking of the dowdy: I remember when umbrellas only came in Large. Carrying an umbrella on a day that turned out to hold no rain became, at least for my younger self, an exercise in acute self-consciousness.
Other Henry posts
Betty Boop with Henry : Henry, an anachronism : Henry and a gum machine : Henry at the shoe repairman : Henry buys liverwurst : Henry, getting things done : Henry mystery : Henry’s repeated gesture
By Michael Leddy at 7:21 AM
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
We have rain, plenty. And a local television station has two — two — meteorologists on tonight’s news.
To borrow from Tip O’Neill: all weather is local. Stay safe, east-central Illinois.
A related post
The weatherman’s reply to the shepherd
[From the television: “. . . a battle zone of air masses.”]
By Michael Leddy at 6:11 PM
From Creative Bloq: twenty-five sites for free fonts. Free and legit, that is. I especially like Impallari’s Cabin Font.
I’ll add two more sites: those of Friedrich Althausen and Jos Buivenga. Althausen’s Vollkorn and Buivenga’s Fontin Sans are two of my favorite fonts for documents.
By Michael Leddy at 11:25 AM
Little Outliner is a free, browser-based outliner. I never make outlines, but I do ask students to map paragraphs using the Christensen method, and Little Outliner is perfect for doing that work on the big screen.
Found via One Thing Well.
April 17: From the same developer, Fargo is a outliner that syncs with Dropbox. And if you’d like a Dropbox invitation (another .5 GB free storage), click here.
Found via Taking Note Now.
By Michael Leddy at 11:00 AM
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Joseph Ceravolo. Collected Poems. Edited by Rosemary Ceravolo and Parker Smathers. Introduction by David Lehman. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2013. $35 hardcover. $16.99 eBook. xxxi + 560 pages.
Joseph Ceravolo (1934–1988) was a poet of the New York School’s second generation — whatever that means. (As the variousness of the poets grouped under that label becomes more recognizable, the label becomes little more than a quick note as to time and place.) Living and writing apart from po-biz, the institutional networks of favor (curried) and favors (traded), Ceravolo devoted his energies to his family, his poetry, and his work as a civil engineer. It seems that at some point he even took leave of the Lower East Side poetry community borne of the New York School.
The appearance of the Collected Poems follows a pattern of publication that we’ve seen with the work of another second-generation New York School poet, Ted Berrigan: early aboveground publication, followed by fugitive books from small poet-run presses, a posthumous selected poems from a trade press, and a collected poems from a university press.¹ Ceravolo’s Collected includes six previously published books and a large number of unpublished poems, most notably the twelve-year accumulation of Mad Angels (1976–1988). The Collected roughly doubles what had been available of Ceravolo’s work.
The Ceravolo familiar to me is the maker of poems whose surfaces look something like these passages:
Arrange the geological brush, the wasp,These surfaces are made largely of nouns and verbs and prepositions, parts of speech glued together, so to speak, to make wholes with no obvious contexts beyond themselves. Such poems suggest cubist miniatures, presenting everyday materials in new and unexpected ways. One of my favorite short Ceravolo poems in this vein is “I Like to Collapse”:
the part that makes it,
and out with a dog noise,
a night and the airplane lung. (“Life of Freedom”)
flea you say
“geese geese” the boy
June of winter
Oak sky (“Drunken Winter”)
Saturday night I buy a sodaSo much to consider: notations of time, place, and weather; the parallel lines of street and waterway; and a moment of commerce — or is it intimacy? Is the hand waiting for payment, or to be held? Is the first “it” the hand, or the can? Are we following a lone pedestrian, a couple in love, or a parent and child on a schlep in the rain? Part of what’s needed to find pleasure in such poetry is a willingness to be happy with unanswered questions.
Someone’s hand opens I hold it
It begins to rain
Avenue A is near the river
Reading through this volume, I now find such poems far from typical. Ceravolo was always the most oracular of New York School poets, with bursts of language that suggested the influence of Kenneth Koch (one of Ceravolo’s teachers):
Flare! prostrates! thirsty!But Ceravolo’s frequent “O” (twenty-two poems here begin with one) is no Kochian joke. The Collected Poems suggests that Ceravolo’s apostrophizing, exclamatory energy is deeply rooted (as is Koch’s) in the poetries of Romanticism, early and late. I hear William Blake:
Undoing! (Fits of Dawn)
O flower of water’s vent! (“Passivation”)
with the performing angelAnd Walt Whitman:
on the hill of paradise
already seen from a garden’s ray (The Hellgate)
I’m far from a window.And Jack Kerouac:
Yet I am window and
feel the multicolored pushes
through open window self. (“Floating Gardens”)
ah chirp of seenAnd in the title Mad Angels and in much else, Allen Ginsberg:
Bang my tide (Fits of Dawn)
O holy mass, o holy watersRomantic influences are everywhere in the later poetry, which is marked by a primal vocabulary — sun, grass, tree, wind, heart, dirt, body, blood — and greater plainness of statement. It is as if, after making beautiful, mosaic abstractions, Ceravolo has begun to sketch and paint and photograph. The poems of INRI (1979), twenty syllables apiece, are full of pith and wit:
O holy woman, man, and rain (untitled poem)
This morning I couldThe last poems in this volume, gathered under the title Mad Angels, move toward greater expansiveness. Many contain observations from Ceravolo’s weekday commute from New Jersey to New York, as he notices fellow travelers and the urban scene:
walk and walk.
But I drink this coffee
before work. (“Freedom”)
Elizabeth! Elizabeth!There are translations from Saint John of the Cross, poems that comment on events in the news, poems of love, sexual and familial, and moments of shining clarity:
What dreams the American spirit
had for you (“Railway Box (Deo Te Salve)”)²
A guitar of noon, a guitarAs a much younger reader, I was delighted to realize that it wasn’t contemporary poetry I disliked but one version of it: the genteel domesticity of the so-called workshop poem, the little anecdote dressed up in strained metaphors and similes. Ceravolo’s Collected Poems is an antidote to anecdote — a poetry of energy and invention that risks everything. Here is life and food for future years.³
a guitar, aloft! (“Guitar Ode”)
¹ The relevant Berrigan publications: the Grove Press edition of The Sonnets (1967), the Penguin Selected Poems (1994), and the University of California Press Collected Poems (2005). Ceravolo’s Spring in This World of Poor Mutts (1968) was published by Columbia University Press. A selected poems, The Green Lake Is Awake (1994), was published by Coffeehouse Press.
² It helps to know that Elizabeth is a city in New Jersey.
³ This sentence adapts two partial lines from William Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”: “in this moment there is life and food / For future years.”
[Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of the book. Cover image from the publisher’s website.]
By Michael Leddy at 7:44 AM
Monday, April 8, 2013
In Djuna Barnes’s 1936 novel Nightwood, Dr. Matthew-Mighty-grain-of-salt-Dante-O’Connor, who is not a doctor, speaks in mighty and fantastic monologues. A small sample:
“We say someone is pretty for instance, whereas, if the truth were known, they are probably as ugly as Smith going backward, but by our lie we have made that very party powerful, such is the power of the charlatan, the great strong! They drop on anything at any moment, and that sort of thing makes the mystic in the end, and,” he added, “it makes the great doctor.”The simile “as ugly as Smith going backward” sounds as if it has vernacular authority, but try as I have, I find no source for it other than Barnes’s novel. Like the punchline “No soap, radio,” the simile sounds as if it means something, but what? I think it suggests someone who is so ugly that he does us a small favor by turning as he walks away.
I know of one other Smith going backward: an early chapbook by the poet Steve Carey owes its title to Barnes. (Does anyone else know that?)
[Steve Carey, Smith Going Backward. San Francisco: Cranium Press, 1968. Cover illustration by Peter Kanter. A long-ago used-book-store find.]
The book’s title poem seems to pay brief homage to Nightwood with the line “in moods strange as a fictional doctor.” I will guess that Carey was reading Nightwood and that the novel, like so much else — street sounds, weather, a cold sore, Oreos — found its way into his work.
Here are the beautiful last eight lines of another poem from Smith Going Backward, “Half a Western”:
When five and again when six comes
everybody just yells a name and
walks upstairs swinging keys
Myself, Buzz Sawyer, Beetle Bailey
we bother the breezes for the coat of RJ Reynolds
The mystery of me is mine
the book no one knows I’m writing
Times with all my heart I wish it showed
[Djuna Barnes (1892–1982) and Steve Carey (1945–1989). Photographs by Alfred Stieglitz and Rochelle Kraut. About “Half a Western”: Carey’s grandfather and father were Harry Carey and Harry Carey, Jr., actors with long careers in cowboy films and much else. Buz Sawyer (one z) was a comic strip. Beetle Bailey is one.]
By Michael Leddy at 8:06 AM
Sunday, April 7, 2013
“He shot what he wanted, captured it beautifully, and those subjects are now gone. The homogenization of American culture has obliterated it”: director Taylor Hackford, quoted in the New York Times obituary for filmmaker Les Blank.
I can vouch for The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1970) and Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers (1980). Neither is currently available from Netflix. The films are available from Blank’s website, and samples may be found in the usual place.
By Michael Leddy at 10:33 PM
Saturday, April 6, 2013
Friday, April 5, 2013
Rebecca Schuman: “After four years of trying, I’ve finally gotten it through my thick head that I will not get a job — and if you go to graduate school, neither will you”: Getting a literature Ph.D. will turn you into an emotional trainwreck, not a professor (Slate).
Schuman’s narrative reminds me of the tale told in Chapter Sixteen of The Grapes of Wrath: “You goin’ out there — oh, Christ!” The tale’s anonymous, ragged teller is the man who’s been: he’s been to California, he’s seen what’s there, and he’s heading back home to starve. Nothing he says can persuade the Joads to turn around: they have nothing to go back to. Perhaps Rebecca Schuman’s account of grad school though will persuade some aspirant undergraduates to rethink their lives’ trajectories. There are, as Schuman concedes, jobs, but the odds are against you, whoever you are.
I remember being told as a prospective doctoral student that “There are, of course, no jobs.” I nodded and thought, “Well, I’ll somehow get one.” Delusional, yes? Back then the odds were about fifty-fifty, and I was lucky. Today, the odds are worse.
By Michael Leddy at 1:25 PM
[“Teenager Pat Woodruff pondering homework while listening to radio in living room.” Photograph by Nina Leen. United States, 1944. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]
This young lady appears to be the epitome of the tech-savvy analog native, digging the tunes and getting the homework done.
A related post
Studying alone, really alone
By Michael Leddy at 7:56 AM
Thursday, April 4, 2013
In the New York Times, a report on machine-scoring college writing:
Imagine taking a college exam, and, instead of handing in a blue book and getting a grade from a professor a few weeks later, clicking the “send” button when you are done and receiving a grade back instantly, your essay scored by a software program. . . .It is worth asking: is this scheme meant to “free” professors for other tasks, or for unemployment? Machine-scoring seems to point toward a future in which the human presence is ever more superfluous for the work of teaching and learning.
EdX, the nonprofit enterprise founded by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to offer courses on the Internet, has just introduced such a system and will make its automated software available free on the Web to any institution that wants to use it. The software uses artificial intelligence to grade student essays and short written answers, freeing professors for other tasks.
Especially galling is the claim, from University of Akron professor Mark D. Shermis, that critics of machine-scoring tend to come from the nation’s elite schools, where human beings do a much better job than machines. “There seems to be,” he says, “a lack of appreciation of what is actually going on in the real world.” Indeed. The great variety of institutional affiliations represented by the signers of the Human Readers petition against machine-scoring suggests that opposition to the practice extends well beyond elite schools. Thoughtful and helpful evaluations of student writing by what the Times article calls “human graders” can be found at all levels as well.
My mantra re: technology, which I will now repeat (because that’s what makes it a mantra): technology makes it possible to do things, not necessary to do them. And its converse: technology makes it possible not to do things, not necessary not to do them.
By Michael Leddy at 6:55 PM
From Life Itself: A Memoir (2012), quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times obituary:
I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.Roger Ebert was a son of east-central Illinois. Champaign’s fifteenth Ebertfest takes place later this month.
By Michael Leddy at 4:15 PM
Arjan den Boer has created a better tool to search Google’s Life Photo Archive: Better search for LIFE Photo Archive. I just tried it out:
A search for duke ellington : LPA: 34 results; Arjan’s search: 156 results.
A search for post office : LPA page: 38 results. Arjan’s search: 218 results.
A search for typewriter : LPA: 45 results; Arjan: 158 results.
Arjan’s search not only yields far more results; it presents those results in a legible uniform size, twenty to a page.
The Life Photo Archive is a wonderful place to get lost. It’s now easier than ever to get lost and stay there. Thanks for sharing your work, Arjan.
March 12, 2014: As Arjan wrote in a comment, Google has a new way to search Life photos. Thanks for the memories, Arjan.
By Michael Leddy at 4:05 PM
7 Little Words — that’s its icon to the left — is a lovely little diversion, challenging enough to provide at least slight difficulty here and there, easy enough to solve in a minute or two. (You can make things more difficult by removing the number-of-letters hint for each word.) The daily puzzle is free online or as a mobile app. Extra puzzles for the mobile app are fifty for 99¢. Clues in the for-sale puzzles offer flashes of crossword-style wit. “Nice chap, perhaps”: FRENCHMAN.
By Michael Leddy at 8:55 AM
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
“A window into a world where analog was king”: Buehner’s Office Supply, in Cleveland, Ohio (via Coudal.) They even have Robinson Reminder refills for sale.
The photographs of Buehner’s remind me of the now-defunct office-supply stores where I found many of the items in my imaginary Museum of Supplies. How come I never took a picture?
By Michael Leddy at 10:25 AM
From his 1982 Paris Review interview:
That’s what I try to do — write sentences that won’t be like sand castles. I’ve gotten to the point where I seem to recognize a good sentence when I’ve written it on the typewriter. Often it’s surrounded by junk. So I’m extremely careful. If a good sentence occurs in an otherwise boring paragraph, I cut it out, rubber-cement it to a sheet of typewriter paper, and put it in a folder. It’s just like catching a fish in a creek. I pull out a sentence and slip a line through the gills and put it on a chain and am very careful not to mislay it. Sometimes I try that sentence in ten different places until finally it finds the place where it will stay — where the surrounding sentences attach themselves to it and it becomes part of them. In the end what I write is almost entirely made up of those sentences, which is why what I write now is so short. They come one by one, and sometimes in dubious company.I’ve just begun reading Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow. No dubious company to be found.
By Michael Leddy at 8:26 AM
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Mark Kirk, Republican senator from Illinois, supports equal marriage:
When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others.I’d say that the times, they are a-, &c., but I think that the times have already changed, and people are now catching up.
Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back — government has no place in the middle.
Two related posts
The flag of equal marriage
Logic and marriage
[Notice: “to who you love,” not whom. Another way in which the times have already changed.]
By Michael Leddy at 5:11 PM
For sale at eBay, a 1966 J. D. Salinger letter from Bermuda. A sample:
The beginning of the week I got back from a three weeks progress to: Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Fransisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Chicago, and New York. I made a lot of friends for the Company.Related reading
All Salinger posts (Pinboard)
[The seller describes the letter as “re Politics & Vietnam.” Salinger mentions those topics in passing, yes, and that in itself is noteworthy, but they are hardly what the letter is “about.”]
By Michael Leddy at 8:55 AM
[Read from left to right, and click on any image for a larger view. Notice “N.Y. 36”: the world before ZIP codes.]
I don’t know how often such PSAs aired. I do know that the beautifully executed PSA that provides these images aired on December 12, 1962, after the Naked City episode “King Stanislaus and the Knights of the Round Stable.”
The exhortation to “Give to the college of your choice” has been superseded, I’d say, by the bumper-sticker proclamation “My daughter/son and my money go to .” I’ve never understood what tone of voice goes with that sticker: rueful? snarky? proud?
And while I’m asking questions: Can someone tell me what’s happening in the fourth image?
[Yes, Stable. ]
By Michael Leddy at 8:14 AM
Monday, April 1, 2013
[Photograph by Michael Leddy.]
Tastykake Cupkakes in Illinois? I had to buy a box. And thus I saw the similarity between the kake’s scrawl/scroll and the much derided signature of United States Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. And then, having taken some photographs and schemed a post, I discovered that back in January, the Internets had noticed the similarity between a Hostess product and Lew’s signature.
Richard Posner, in The Little Book of Plagiarism (2007):
[O]ld ideas are constantly being rediscovered by people unaware that the ideas had been discovered already. . . . A rediscoverer or independent discoverer is not a copier, hence not a plagiarist.One could even argue that it is the earlier discovery of the similarity that counts as plagiarism — an instance of what Winston Churchill called anticipatory plagiarism.
[Jack Lew’s signature.]
All plagiarism posts (Pinboard)
By Michael Leddy at 7:56 AM