Monday, December 30, 2013
Rachel Leddy and Ben Leddy play and sing Jesca Hoop’s “Enemy.”
More familial music
“Half-Acre” : “I Hear Them All” : “I Want You Back” : “No Sugar Tonight / New Mother Nature” : “Old Enough” : “Someone Like You” / “Somebody That I Used to Know”
[For a better look at the orange crate art on the wall, see here.]
By Michael Leddy at 10:40 AM
It came to me in a dream: the Gulden’s app. Press the spicy brown dot, and a runner comes to your door with a blob of Gulden’s Mustard for your sandwich. The app would save its user the inconvenience of using Gulden’s plastic squeeze bottle. Location Services required.
This dream app was no doubt the result of a conversation last night about the feasibility of online grocery shopping. And did I mention the inconvenience of Gulden’s plastic squeeze bottle? The knife has not been made than can extract all its mustard. The jar was a friendlier container.
This app idea is free to any interested iOS developer.
[Spicy brown icon. Yes, that’s mustard, beveled with an online icon maker.]
Other dream posts (Pinboard)
[And in the near far future, drones!]
By Michael Leddy at 10:19 AM
Friday, December 27, 2013
[Cigarette card, “How to draw a duck without pencil leaving the paper,” c. 1908–1919. From the George Arents Collection, via the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.]
I want to say that it was a simpler time, but I think it was in truth a more complicated time. That’s one elaborate duck.
Also from the NYPL Gallery
A 1914 telephone call : The Automat : Benny Goodman : A cigarette card of mystery : Inspector Bucket : Invisible ink : The NYPL Stereograminator : Whelan’s Drug Store
By Michael Leddy at 3:08 PM
In an outpost of a prominent coffee chain. The customer was a Gregory Corso look-alike and sound-alike:
“Do you have coffee?”
“Yes, we do.”
“I’ll make it simple for you. Gimme a hot coffee.”
All “overheard” posts (Pinboard)
[All dialogue guaranteed overheard.]
By Michael Leddy at 10:04 AM
Thursday, December 26, 2013
[W]e have awoken to find a retail panopticon where everything we say or see is observed, counted, and recorded. . . . Even readerly underlining, once the bastion of self-referentiality, is now being viewed for marketing purposes with the help of electronic readers. There is no outside the network today except the ever dwindling space-time of off. As Don DeLillo writes in Valparaiso, his satirical drama of contemporary media, “Everything is the interview.” We have returned to a world before the invention of privacy.And now the act of reading itself is becoming data. Read all about it: As New Services Track Habits, the E-Books Are Reading You (The New York Times).
Andrew Piper, Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).
[Mac Dictation turned panopticon into panoptic con. Hmm. Thanks for the book, Ben.]
By Michael Leddy at 10:37 AM
The New York Times reports on a crackdown on pedestrians in Los Angeles:
When Adam Bialik, a bartender, stepped off the curb on his way to work at the Ritz-Carlton a few blinks after the crossing signal began its red “Don’t Walk” countdown, he was met by a waiting police officer on the other side of the street and issued a ticket for $197.When Elaine and I were in Los Angeles last fall, we walked great distances and never got a ticket. I’m pretty certain that we never jaywalked — it would have been like trying to cross a football field.
“I didn’t even know that was against the law,” he said. “I was like, ‘You are the L.A.P.D., and this is what you are doing right now?’”
By Michael Leddy at 10:16 AM
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
[“13,000 at the Spugs Christmas Party: Band Played, Chorus and Soloists Sang, and Nearly Everybody Danced. 40-Foot Tree Bore Gifts. The Children Got Half a Pound of Candy Each; Luncheon Served to All.” The New York Times, December 26, 1913.]
The Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving, the Spugs, was the creation of Mrs. August Belmont. Its mission: “to fight petty holiday grafting.” A 1912 Times article attributed to Mrs. Belmont this definition of Spug̢: “a woman who has vowed never again in all her life to give any Christmas gift that is not offered with a whole heart.” The Times described the Spug as “a working girl who has put her foot on all the usual Christmas-time schemes for raising money with which to buy Christmas presents for those ‘higher up,’” such as floorwalkers and head salesladies.
To all who celebrate it, Merry Christmas. May the presents you give and receive be real ones.
By Michael Leddy at 1:00 AM
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
“A Santa during a coffee break during the NYC Christmas season.” Photograph by Leonard McCombe. New York City, December 1962. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]
[The counter layout and the sugar dispenser suggest that Santa might be a Chock full o’Nuts customer. The tray though doesn’t. Maybe it came from the North Pole with Santa.
Chock full o’Nuts
Chock full o’Nuts lunch hour
New York, 1964: Chock full o’Nuts
By Michael Leddy at 9:20 AM
[Left: icon by VLC. Right: icon by Primofenax.]
I know that the VLC icon has a story behind it. But I don’t like that traffic cone. I like it even less when it wears a Santa hat — to me, it looks tacky. I do like this alternative icon by Primofenax. And I like VLC, a lot, though 2.1.2 has problems playing DVDs on my Mac. I’ve gone back to 2.1.1.
From the app’s website: “VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework that plays most multimedia files as well as DVD, Audio CD, VCD, and various streaming protocols.” One great advantage of VLC, for me: unlike OS X’s DVD Player, VLC allows screenshots.
Notational Velocity replacement icon
TextWrangler replacement icon
[The free app img2icns turns an image file into an icon. There’s a nice replacement icon for that app too.]
By Michael Leddy at 9:09 AM
Monday, December 23, 2013
A related post
New directions in advertising (Indiana AM weirdness)
[Did car radios ever have dials?]
By Michael Leddy at 10:09 AM
[That was then.]
[This is now.]
Elaine and I are old hands at making our own fun. Yes, we are makers. Driving to New Jersey last month, we attempted to recreate the scene on this 1949 postcard, the Blue Mountain Tunnel as seen from the Kittatinny Tunnel. I got into the left lane and Elaine filmed with an iPhone.
When we told our son Ben about our accomplishment, he mentioned that the Turnpike’s tunnels were designed for a never-completed late-nineteenth-century railroad, the South Pennsylvania Railroad. The guy knows his American history.
By Michael Leddy at 8:30 AM
Saturday, December 21, 2013
In Garrison Keillor’s review of Deborah Solomon’s Norman Rockwell biography:
It took him seven months to paint his “Four Freedoms” pictures — a Lincolnesque workingman standing up and speaking at a town meeting, a cluster of profiles of persons in prayer, a mother and father watching over two sleeping children, a family gathered around the Thanksgiving table — which appeared in The Post and drew sacks of fan mail and was used by the Treasury to sell war bonds.Anyone can slip up in this way, yes. But such a slip shouldn’t get by the Times.
10:10 p.m.: The more I look at this sentence, the more I think about (1) the great distance between pictures and which, and (2) the awkward series appeared, drew, and
It took him seven months to paint his “Four Freedoms” for The Post — a Lincolnesque workingman standing up and speaking at a town meeting, a cluster of profiles of persons in prayer, a mother and father watching over two sleeping children, a family gathered around the Thanksgiving table. The paintings became wildly popular, and the Treasury used them to sell war bonds.Or:
It took him seven months to paint his “Four Freedoms” for The Post — a Lincolnesque workingman standing up and speaking at a town meeting, a cluster of profiles of persons in prayer, a mother and father watching over two sleeping children, a family gathered around the Thanksgiving table. The paintings became so popular that the Treasury used them to sell war bonds.Related reading
All How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)
[This post is no. 48 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose. I’ve added italics to the magazine title.]
By Michael Leddy at 9:35 PM
From Counternotions, a commentary on “the race to the bottom of the advertising barrel”: You Might Also Like.
As an update to this piece points out, The New York Times has announced that will soon plunge into so-called “native advertising.” “Native advertising” is advertising designed to look like editorial content. Plunge is right.
[Found via Marco.org.]
By Michael Leddy at 9:54 AM
Friday, December 20, 2013
Behold the Oxford English Dictionary birthday word generator. Choose a year (like, say, the year you were born) and get a word that entered the language in that year.
I get nit-pick: “to criticize (a thing) in an overzealous or pedantic fashion; to find fault with.” Hmm.
First citation: “His decisions in the main were so well conceived and executed that it would be quibbling to ‘nit-pick’ those few instances where his judgment was fallible.” Hmm.
For anyone who has access to the dictionary online, the OED has a more personalized generator. There I get repo, as word almost exactly as old as I am: “The repurchase agreement is also called a ‘repo’ or a ‘buy-back.’” I like nit-pick better.
The industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss said that this question was a frequent one after talks and panel discussions:
Since this question is so often asked, I have done some checking, for I have always been fascinated by the simple beauty of these red barns. They were built, as almost everything should be, from the inside out. A farmer needed a place to keep his livestock and store his feed and tools. So building took shape around these needs — four walls and a roof. Simple doors and windows were placed where they were needed, not to achieve exterior symmetry. This is functional architecture at its finest. But why are these barns painted red? Out of curiosity, I queried people who might know — artists, educators, architects, museum researchers, businessmen, designers, and farmers. Some of the answers that flowed in follow:A search engine will return many results for why are barns painted red. Here is one that is especially interesting.
Architect Eero Saarinen expressed the belief that the tradition of painting barns red originated in Finland and Sweden because red — “red earth” — was the only available paint. Financier Harry B. Lake and Faber Birren, the color expert, stated that barns were painted red, originally in New England, because the color absorbed the solar heat and insured a warmer barn for the livestock during the winter. Grandma Moses agrees that the practice started in New England but she believes that red barn paint originally was made by mixing linseed oil with a certain kind of clay which resembled decayed iron ore. The result, an inexpensive and lasting paint, was found to have no lead properties which could be poisonous to cows. Francis Henry Taylor, of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dug up the fact that most paint preservatives are reddish, making it easiest to use them in red paint without destroying the color. On the other hand, William W. Wurster, dean of the School of Architecture at the University of California, said that the color red has no special durability factor since it is the oil that is important. Architect W. K. Harrison replied, ”Red paint is cheap, covers well, and does not show dirt.” This view was echoed by Advertising Man Leo Burnett and Scenic Designer Joe Mielziner, who added that red lead was the best protection against the weather. Industrial Designer Harold Van Doren stated that he didn’t know why, but he knew how farmers got their barns painted red — it was done free by the Mail Pouch Tobacco Company in return for advertising privileges. Similarly, Architect Ralph Walker expressed the opinion that barns were painted red to give a background to ads for Carter’s Little Liver Pills. William Otto, executive of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, which manufactures paint as well as glass, so that the red paint used on barns in bygone days derived from Venetian red — an economical, durable paintmaker’s pigment still utilized in low-cost barn paints. He pointed out that it is an earth color, as opposed to chemically derived colors, and has more permanency than the chemical varieties. Industrial Designer Egmont Arens stated that the prosperity of farms in Iowa used to be judged by the color of their barns — white in good times and red in hard times. Business Counselor Sheldon Coons suggested that the reason was that red stood out so well against snow on Christmas cards.
I prefer to believe that farmers of an earlier day felt, as we do today, that when the landscape is blanketed with snow, red barns give a feeling of warmth and security. And so a tradition grew.
Designing for People (1955)
A related post
Dreyfuss on survival forms
[A thin line of Pantone Barn Red, code 18-1531 TCX. Click for the whole barn.]
By Michael Leddy at 10:34 AM
The industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss:
By embodying a familiar pattern in an otherwise wholly new and possibly radical form, we can make the unusual acceptable to many people who would otherwise reject it.The “survival form” seems to be more or less synonymous with the skeuomorph, and I would imagine that Dreyfuss’s reasoning here was of great interest to Apple in its work on iOS. I have no strong feelings about survival forms or skeuomorphs in general: they can be beautiful, charming, and witty (the now-gone microphone for iOS’s Voice Memos) or absurd (see below). The individual instance is all.
A simple, practical example of this may be found in the unnecessary numerals that today adorn the faces of most clocks and watches. I call these numerals unnecessary because children as a rule learn to tell time before they can distinguish one number from another. They do this by memorizing the positions of the hands on the clock dial, and it doesn’t make any difference whether the numerals are Arabic or Roman or are represented by dots. Yet it has been demonstrated over and over again that popular-priced clocks and watches without numerals on their faces simply don’t sell in quantity. Unnecessary or not, the numbers constitute a survival form that most people demand. Things like electric toasters, coffeemakers, typewriters, and fountain pens often bear survival forms that manufacturers think are necessary or desirable. The chrome band on the base of a typewriter is, for instance, a modern version of an older molding, and the stylized decoration on the side of an electric toaster is a modern replacement for the rosebud or fleur-de-lis that appeared on some household article Grandfather used.
The purist is likely to throw up his hands at the thought of such a restriction and accuse the designer of artistic blasphemy. True, we are straying from the path of utter purity when we consider anything but pure form, proportion, line, and color, but we have larger horizons than the purist need consider. Ours is the ever-changing battleground of the department store rather than the Elysian fields of the museum.
Designing for People (1955)
[The pebbled leather and ragged paper of the original iOS Notes, as seen on my first-generation iPad.]
By Michael Leddy at 8:37 AM
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Cooper-Hewitt’s Object of the Day: the Tiffany telephone dialer, a perfect mid-century gift, immortalized in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
If blogging is dead, I hope no one at Cooper-Hewitt finds out. I read Object of the Day daily and recommend it with enthusiasm.
By Michael Leddy at 3:41 PM
The actor Myron McCormick and the soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. We saw McCormick in an episode of Naked City the other night. Add a few inches of height and a soprano saxophone, and we might have been looking at Lacy.
If your idea of the soprano saxophone has been brought to you by the letter G, try the letters B, C, and L. With the first track, the soprano arrives at 1:55. It’s worth waiting for.
Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop
John Davis Chandler and Steve Buscemi
Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt
Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov
Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln
Harriet Sansom Harris and Phoebe Nicholls
Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks
Joseph McCarthy and Ted Cruz
By Michael Leddy at 9:59 AM
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
[A logical sequel to the previous post. Click for a larger view.]
J. Logan Gover (1908–1986) was an east-central Illinois insurance agent, real estate broker, and civic leader. Many businesses used to give out calendars: I think it’s safe to assume that J. Logan Gover gave out glasses. I bought these three a few years ago at an estate sale. A strange and happy part of the story: Elaine’s quartet was to play for the wedding of a Gover granddaughter, a few days after the sale. Elaine told her about these glasses, and she and her fiancé came by and bought dozens.
An eBay seller has a J. Logan Gover glass with a fourth picture. I wonder how many J. Logan Govers there were.
[Snow is cheaper than Silk.]
By Michael Leddy at 9:42 AM
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
[Click for a larger view.]
I found these photographs in a paperback copy of William H. Whyte’s 1956 book The Organization Man. The photographs, stamped April 6, 1960, were in an envelope bearing the name of a Lubbock, Texas, photography studio. Was the man in these photographs an organization man? Or was he playing the part? Did he buy the book looking for a way out?
Whyte’s book makes interesting reading in 2013. From the chapter “The Practical Curriculum”:
By default, the anti-intellectual sector of education has been allowed to usurp the word “democratic” to justify the denaturing of the curriculum, and while liberal arts people may win arguments on this score, the others won the war long ago. Once the uneducated could have the humility of ignorance. Now they are given degrees and put in charge, and this delusion of learning will produce consequences more critical than the absence of it.A related post
I return to my pessimistic forecast. Look ahead to 1985. Those who will control a good part of the educational plant will be products themselves of the most stringently anti-intellectual training in the country. Nor will the laymen be out of tune with the vocationalists; to judge by the new suburbia the bulk of middle-class parents of 1985 will know no other standards to evaluate education of their children than those of the social-adjustment type of schooling. And who will be picking the schools to endow and sitting on the boards of trustees? More and more it will be the man of The Organization, the graduate of the business school — the “modern man,” in sum, that his education was so effectively designed to bring about.
A list found in an old paperback
By Michael Leddy at 11:08 AM
Cooper-Hewitt’s Object of the Day today: a 1968 concert poster for Canned Heat at the Fillmore West. The artist is Lee Conklin.
All Canned Heat posts (Pinboard)
By Michael Leddy at 10:00 AM
Monday, December 16, 2013
[Hi and Lois, December 16, 2013.]
[Hi and Lois corrected, December 16, 2013.]
Good answer, Hi. But I had to do something about the faulty mirror — or is that a vampire bracelet?
All Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)
[All Hi and Lois repairs made with OEM parts and Seashore, an open-source image editor for Mac.]
By Michael Leddy at 9:32 AM
[“Goodbye, My Lady Love,” Naked City, January 27, 1959. Click for a larger view.]
That’s Detective Jimmy Halloran (James Franciscus) and a Mongol pencil. It’s the ferrule that gives it away. Here’s another Naked City Mongol.
Yes, there are all kinds of ways to enjoy television. This post involves a highly specific application of the studies-in-material-culture approach.
All Mongol pencil posts
All Naked City posts
[There are eight million pencils in the Naked City. This has been one of them.]
By Michael Leddy at 7:06 AM
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Saturday, December 14, 2013
[Illustration by R. W. A. Rouse. Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. (London: Aldine House, 1898.]
From a page about Everyman’s Library: “Aldine House, the offices of J. M. Dent and Sons, was located on Bedford Street in the Covent Garden district of London,” named of course after the great Venetian printer Aldus Manutius, founder of the Aldine Press.
Aldine has another meaning for me, as a joking adjective that described my great friend Aldo Carrasco. Yes, we knew about Aldus Manutius. We were Renaissance humanists, all the way.
[Gray’s poem is here. As for Robert William Arthur Rouse, one auction page gives his dates as 1867–1951. Another describes him as flourishing between 1882 and 1929. The image is from the British Library’s Flickr pages.]
By Michael Leddy at 11:36 AM
[Illustration by E. H. New. Alfred Hayes, The Vale of Arden and Other Poems (London: The Bodley Head, 1895.]
Alfred Hayes (1857–1936) was a British poet; E. H. New (1871–1931), a British illustrator. I prefer the title page to the poetry: “Embosomed shall my cottage be / In woodlands, whence the village spire / Peeps.” You can find The Vale of Arden at Google Books. The image is from the British Library’s Flickr pages.
By Michael Leddy at 11:03 AM
[Illustration by E. H. New. From A. J. Dawson, Mere Sentiment (London and New York: The Bodley Head, 1897.)]
Founded in 1887, The Bodley Head was best known as the publisher of the periodical The Yellow Book. This image is one of the 1,019,992 images in the British Library’s Flickr pages.
By Michael Leddy at 10:17 AM
Friday, December 13, 2013
The British Library has made available through Flickr more than one million images from seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century books. The image above comes from William Turner’s Journal of a Tour in the Levant (London, 1820). I like such stamps. I like circulation slips too.
This post from the British Library’s Digital Scholarship blog explains the project.
[Found via Boing Boing.]
By Michael Leddy at 5:10 PM
Last night I went to a concert that included a performance of the Bach Magnificat. (Bravo, musicians, and especially the fourth-chair violist.) How to get from Bach to inane ? The word at the end of this line of the text caught my eye: “Esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes” (Luke 1:53). Or as the King James Version has it, “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.”
So I looked up inane . Its source is the Latin inānis , “empty, useless, vain.” The Oxford English Dictionary traces the English word to 1662, when it meant “empty, void.” From the OED ’s earliest citation: “one little spot of an infinite inane capacity.” By approximately 1667, inane was working as a noun, meaning “that which is inane, void, or empty; void or empty space; vacuity; the ‘formless void’ of infinite space.” By 1710, the noun applied to persons: “an empty-headed, unintelligent person.” The OED ’s citation is from Alexander Pope’s correspondence: “Being all alike Inanes, & Umbratiles, we Saunter to one anothers Habitations & daily assist each other in doing Nothing at all.” And by 1819, the adjective came to apply to persons or their actions: “void or destitute of sense; silly, senseless; empty-headed.” The OED ’s first such citation is from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Cenci: “some inane and vacant smile.”
And that’s my word of the day, whose etymology, early meaning, and secret life as a noun were all news to me.
[Umbratile? “One who spends his time in the shade” (OED ).]
By Michael Leddy at 9:28 AM
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Ben Yagoda. How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. New York: Riverhead Books, 2013. xiii + 175 pages. $15 paper.
I am always looking for new and better books to use when I teach prose writing to college juniors and seniors. Thus I found my way to Ben Yagoda’s How to Not Write Bad. Its premise — that novice writers can improve greatly by learning what not to do in their prose — is sound. But the book is a disappointment.
I found an examination copy of the book in the mailbox one morning last month, right before meeting this semester's writing class. Feeling the show-and-tell spirit, I brought the book to class and opened at random to page 52 and a discussion of the semicolon. I read the first two sentences aloud:
My initial thought is to limit this entry to one sentence: “If you feel like using a semicolon, lie down until the urge goes away.”My students winced, at least some of them. I winced too. We winced for the same reasons: the condescending tone, the ponderous diction. Utilize ? My students know better. And substantial majority ? Why not most ? What’s especially puzzling: elsewhere in this book, as I was to discover, Yagoda advises against such ponderousness. He even recommends use for utilize. It may be that the diction in the sentences I’ve quoted is meant as a joke, but the joke, if there is one, will likely be lost on a reader who wants to understand the use of the semicolon, a mark of punctuation that many teachers of writing would say is not so much misused in student writing as merely absent.
That is because when my students utilize this piece of punctuation, a substantial majority of them utilize it incorrectly.
Yagoda's brief treatment of the semicolon is not likely to be of much use to such a reader. The passage continues:
[W]hile it is tempting to outlaw semicolons and just move on, that would be too easy. For one thing, there is a particular circumstance when a semicolon absolutely has to be used. This is a series of three or more items, one or more of which contain a comma.It’s an odd presentation that begins with this relatively exotic matter before discussing the semicolon's use in joining complete sentences. And why particular circumstance? Why absolutely ? Elsewhere in the book, Yagoda says of particular that it “usually adds nothing to a thought except four syllables.” And he says that absolutely and similar qualifiers make a writer sound “mealymouthed.”
On to the primary use of the semicolon:
A semicolon can be used to connect two independent clauses if the clauses aren't already linked by conjunctions (and, but, although, etc.).This advice is highly misleading, because it fails to distinguish between coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet) and subordinating conjunctions (such as although, because, whenever): the latter cannot introduce independent clauses. Yagoda leaves unmentioned the words that often signal semicolon territory: conjunctive adverbs (such as however, nevertheless, therefore) and transitional phrases (as a result, even so, in fact). Thus his presentation of the semicolon is grammatically confused and alarmingly incomplete. And a brief discussion of comma splices a few pages earlier in the book gives no indication that however is a word often found somewhere to the right of a semicolon. To the contrary: the sample sentences in that section of the book carry the unintended implication that because however is not a conjunction, it plays no part in joining sentences:
Tuition will go up again next year, however, it will be the smallest increase in five years. [Given as wrong.]The sentence that’s conspicuously missing:
Tuition will go up again next year. However, it will be the smallest increase in five years. [Given as correct.]
Tuition will go up again next year, but it will be the smallest increase in five years. [Given as correct.]
Tuition will go up again next year; however, it will be the smallest increase in five years.Or better:
Tuition will go up again next year; the increase, however, will be the smallest in five years.The problems in my randomly chosen passage are present throughout the book. The writing is breezy and often condescending: “I certify this is an actual student sentence,” Yagoda writes of one especially bad sentence. How great to be the sap who’s responsible. Yagoda’s presentation of the word mindfulness (the idea of the mindful writer runs through the book) would not pass muster in an essay for freshman comp:
A word you see a lot nowadays is mindfulness. I confess I don’t know exactly what it means; something having to do with meditation and/or yoga, I believe. But the concept can definitely, and profitably, be adapted to writing.Has Yagoda not heard of Thich Nhat Hanh? Or even Wikipedia? But also: why does he give mindfulness a pass and not count it with deal breaker, difference maker, and meme as a contemporary cliché? Try a Google search: mindful asset planning, browsing, cooking, driving, exercise, facilitation. Mindfulness is everywhere. I am lost.
And why does Yagoda clutter his sentences with empty prose additives like definitely (“definitely, and profitably, be adapted”)? Again and again, his writing violates the book’s precepts, not wittily but clumsily, as if neither writer nor editor was paying attention. Words that Yagoda prohibits — actually and the previously mentioned particular — turn up in his sentences often (actually, twelve times; particular, seventeen). The words definitely and simply (which are not on the hit list but should be) turn up five and seven times respectively. The book cautions against clichés, yet there are many: “bad boys” to “smoke out,” “clean bill of health,” “thunderous applause,” “train-wreck,” even a reference to a sentence “riddled” with clichés. Right before advising against unnecessary quotation marks (air quotes or scare quotes), Yagoda uses them: “eventually, you will streamline the process and ‘hear’ yourself write.” He uses such quotation marks elsewhere too: “selected and processed by an editor, and then ‘published.’”
What’s worse is that some of this book’s advice about writing is unhelpful or mistaken. At one point Yagoda recommends quotation marks for titles (“Gone with the Wind”), but elsewhere in the book he recommends italics for titles of “books and other compositions.” (Sample sentences in How to Not Write Bad are always in italics, which would make for maddening complications in showing the use of italics with titles.) Yagoda’s advice about the Oxford or serial comma — “choose a style you like, and stick with it” — ignores the overwhelming support for this comma in American English. Says Garner’s Modern American Usage ,
Although newspaper journalists typically omit the serial comma as a ‘space-saving’ device, virtually all writing authorities outside that field recommend keeping it.In other words, it’s a question you shouldn’t be deciding for yourself. Yagoda’s presentation of skunked usage casts the possessive followed by a gerund (“I don’t like your talking about the senator in that tone”) as a mistake, but “you talking” is the problem, as the sample sentences make clear. And concerning the use of the word this alone (a pervasive problem in student writing), Yagoda blithely advises substituting the word that : “it can be slipped in,” he says, “without doing any damage. You didn’t hear it from me.” Such advice won’t do.
As with Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence, the real difficulties of writing good prose come in for little attention. Trying to figure out the writing conventions that apply in a field? Read “the best practitioners” and “maybe even copy down some of their sentences and paragraphs. Eventually you’ll get a feel for the expectations.” Tangled syntax? Just be mindful:
If, every time you put down a sentence, you go over it unhurriedly, you’ll learn to pick up on any ambiguities or confusion. To fix them, just shuffle and reshuffle the elements of the sentence, as if you were putting together a bouquet of flowers.And three pages from the end of the book, we’re told that the “key issues” we now must consider are “cadence or rhythm, variety, novelty, consistency, and transitions.” In the word of many a Brooklynite before me: Sheesh.
Though this book is marketed for use in writing courses, its design alone makes it an unlikely choice for that purpose. Yagoda suggests that a teacher direct a student to “the appropriate entry in the book” to solve a writing problem. But finding, say, II.B.4.d. will be easy for neither teacher nor student: the book has no chapter headings, no index, and only a sketchy table of contents. Section II.B.4., for instance, has five parts, a. through e., none of which are identified by page number or topic in the table of contents. It’s not surprising that Yagoda himself gets lost in this maze, directing the reader to the non-existent II.I.C.2., and referring to II.C.2.d. when he means II.D.2. Imagine the fun I’ve had working out the details of this paragraph.
How to Not Write Bad comes highly recommended, with Cynthia Ozick on the front cover and an unnamed Atlantic reviewer on the back, touting the book as appropriate for the “syntax-obsessed reader and writer” and “copy, grammar, and writing nerds.” But there is little that such readers will learn from this book. And for the student who wants to become a better writer, there are books far more helpful and trust-inspiring. They would include Claire Cook’s Line by Line, Michael Harvey’s The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences about Writing, and Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences. I remain on the lookout for books as good or better.
[Are college juniors and seniors “novice writers”? In most cases, yes. Their writing experience is limited. “Empty prose additives” is a lovely phrase I’ve borrowed from Claire Cook.]
By Michael Leddy at 8:17 AM
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
[Click for a larger view.]
Here’s an infographic (dire word) in favor of education, not training. It’s from an organization I trust, even it has someone like me as a member. That a link to this infographic arrived in my mailbox today (given the previous post) is serendipity.
What those of us in higher education can do to make this infographic’s assertions credible: drop the PowerPoints and (so-called) study guides and perfunctory course requirements and ask students to engage in significant reading and writing and discussion. The stuff college is made of, or should be.
[A study guide, I am told, is more or less the content of a test, distributed by a professor, to be read and memorized in advance.]
By Michael Leddy at 9:10 AM
Gaye Tuchman, on narratives of American higher education:
Here’s what matters: These and other treatments of grand trends insist that higher education is one of the last revered Western institutions to be “de-churched” ; that is, it is one of the last to have its ideological justification recast in terms of corporatization and commodification and to become subject to serious state surveillance. Universities are no longer to lead the minds of students to grasp truth; to grapple with intellectual possibilities; to appreciate the best in art, music, and other forms of culture; and to work toward both enlightened politics and public service. Rather they are now to prepare students for jobs. They are not to educate, but to train. To be sure, some of the great American private colleges and universities — such as Harvard, Yale, and the much younger Duke — still discuss past values when they define their current missions. But even when Nannerl Keohane, the liberal political theorist and past president of Duke University and Wellesley College, expresses her admirable vision for the education of students at research universities, she seems to be differentiating between the sort of education that may be offered at the elite private colleges and universities and the kind of training available to everyone else.Tuchman’s book is about life at the University of Connecticut. But it’s really about the University of Anystate. In other words, the story it tells has wide application. How best to keep the possibilities of genuine learning — not training — alive for all: that’s the question for American higher education in the early twenty-first century.
Wannabe U:: Inside the Corporate University (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).
By Michael Leddy at 8:56 AM
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day is ferrule:
ferrule \FAIR-ul\ nounFerrule is a word with special significance for pencil users. A superior pencil with an eraser will almost always have a distinctive ferrule. In these images from The House on 92nd Street, for instance, the Dixon Ticonderoga ferrule is instantly recognizable. And even in a blurry videotape transfer of The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, the Mongol ferrule is unmistakable. By their ferrules ye shall know them.
1 : a ring or cap usually of metal put around a slender shaft (as a cane or a tool handle) to strengthen it or prevent splitting
2 : a usually metal sleeve used especially for joining or binding one part to another (as pipe sections or the bristles and handle of a brush)
“A band of metal called a ferrule is glued onto the end of the pencil where a recess has been cut, while at the same time a plunger presses an eraser plug into the ferrule. When the glue dries, everything is bliss.” — From an article by Steve Ritter in Chemical & Engineering News, December 16, 2002
“Making a brush is as simple as knotting and gluing bristles to the handle, and holding them in place by slipping a tight metal ferrule over the bond between bristle and handle.” — From a post at swatchgirl.com on May 15, 2013
Did you know?
“Ferrule” is a word for a simple metal band or cap of great versatility. The ferrule is ubiquitous. It is the cap at the end of a cane or crutch, a chair or table leg; it is the point or knob at the hub of an umbrella; it fits together tubes and pipes and binds paintbrush handles to bristles and pencils to erasers. In Middle English this universal thingamajig was called a “verrel.” That word commonly referred to the strengthening bands or rings of iron used to prevent the splitting or wear of the wooden shafts of implements. The name evolved from Middle French “virelle” and Old French “virol” and ultimately from Latin “viriola,” meaning “small bracelet.” The “f” spelling of today's “ferrule” was influenced by “ferrum,” the Latin word for “iron.”
By Michael Leddy at 2:48 PM
[Zippy, December 9, 2013.]
From a rock, the spirit of Ernie Bushmiller speaks to Zippy of an infinite number of rocks. Giordano Bruno fans, take note.
Other posts, other rocks
A search for “some rocks” : Zippy : Zippy : Zippy : Zippy : Zippy : Lassie and Zippy : Conversational rocks
[Zippy cartoonist Bill Griffith often pays homage to Bushmiller’s rocks.]
By Michael Leddy at 8:10 AM
That’s a new photograph in the sidebar. Elaine took it a couple of weeks ago in New Jersey. I think it might be the nicest picture anyone has ever taken of me (baby pictures excluded). If you’re reading this post in a reader, you’ll just have to click on through to see it.
I wish I could say something good about the diner that surrounded me. Alas. Not long after getting our coffee, I noticed an employee at the counter dislodging jelly from a spoon with a bare finger. I thought he might have been fixing himself some crackers. When he shifted position, I saw that he was filling paper cups with jelly for customer use. And then an employee behind the counter coughed into a bare hand and began cutting a cantaloupe. And what a coincidence: at that very moment we got a mysterious message, so deeply mysterious that my phone remained silent all the while. The message said to get the hell out of that diner. So we paid for our coffee and left a dollar on our table. Good riddance.
I am reluctant to name this establishment. I will just say that it’s in northern New Jersey, though its name might make you think otherwise. Jerseyan or Jerseyite, take warning.
By Michael Leddy at 7:48 AM
Monday, December 9, 2013
Van Dyke Parks has a new single out on the Bella Union label (also available from iTunes): “I’m History” b/w “Charm School.” “I’m History,” a lament for John F. Kennedy and lost hope, is a brilliant and moving song. It begins with a scene of Kennedy at the height of his Kennedyness, hosting a White House dinner for forty-nine Nobel Laureates:
When John F. Kennedy dined at the White HouseThe song’s end, “in the dark before dawn,” evokes the 1932 Bonus Army and (less literally) the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign and the 2011 Occupy movement:
he summoned the brightest and Nobel elite,
and he recalled the collection of talent
when Jefferson sat down alone there to eat.
He threw the laughter aside, said it can’t be denied,
there are those with no food at our feet.
That is history, brother and sister, to me, that’s
And in a city of tents those with no recompenseThe people, yes? Well, maybe. A voice says “Move on,” and the singer folds up:
are encamped on the broad White House lawn.
And I could paint you from old DeuteronomyThere is an imperfect but intensely exciting live performance of “I’m History” on YouTube — voice, piano, and bass. The recording though gives us what might be called the Full Parks — the song scored for strings and woodwinds. I’d like to see a single with both conceptions: call them “I’m History” and ”I‘m History Too.”
a richer picture to fix your economy,
but I’d offend you my friend, I surrender, the end.
“Charm School” (written with Ira Ingber) suggests tropical and western vistas. It is a instrumental full of delights — steel drums, strings playing piano-like figures, snatches of slide guitar. According to Van Dyke’s tweets, “Charm School” has been kicking around for twenty years. Like all worthwhile music, it knows no time but its own and sounds like nothing but itself.
[“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone”: John F. Kennedy, April 29, 1962.]
By Michael Leddy at 9:22 AM
Friday, December 6, 2013
Mille trecento ventisette, a puntoIn 2013, at exactly the eight hour of the sixth of December, I am entering the labyrinth, and I too see no way out — at least not before Monday. I am entering the grading zone. See you next week.
su l’ora prima, il dì sesto d’aprile,
nel laberinto intrai, né veggio ond’esca.
In 1327, at exactly
the first hour of the sixth of April,
I entered the labyrinth, and I see no way out.
Petrarch 211, from a poem on first seeing Laura (my translation)
By Michael Leddy at 7:59 AM
Thursday, December 5, 2013
We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.
By Michael Leddy at 8:43 PM
David Foster Wallace and Bryan A. Garner. Quack This Way: David Foster Wallace & Bryan A. Garner Talk Language and Writing. Dallas: RosePen Books, 2013. 137 pages. $24.95 hardcover. $18.95 paper.
When it comes to language and usage and writing, there are two kinds of people: those who care, and those who could care less.
Yes, could care less is an infelicity. And here, a joke. As Bryan A. Garner explains in Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009), couldn’t care less is “the correct and logical phrasing.” Garner’s entry for this phrase gives an example of could care less in print (from George Will), addresses the dubious claim that the infelicity is a matter of purposeful sarcasm, and cites two scholarly articles in support of a likelier explanation: that the two dentals of couldn’t have blurred into the one of could.¹ That kind of patient, thoughtful attention to language is evident on every page of GMAU. Garner, you see, is the first kind of person. So was David Foster Wallace. This book is for their kind.
Quack This Way is the transcript of a sixty-seven-minute interview recorded in a Los Angeles hotel room in February 2006, the last lengthy interview that Wallace gave. Garner and Wallace might best be described as friends in the art of writing: they met in person just twice (the first meeting followed Wallace’s 2001 Harper’s essay “Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage”); they appeared together as guests on a Boston radio show, phoning in from separate locations; they kept in touch through the mail, e- and real, before Wallace slipped into silence.²
We now know that at the time of this interview, Wallace was in difficulty with The Pale King: as he says here, without further explanation, “I have no idea what to do. Most of what I want to do seems to me like I’ve done it before. It seems stupid.” It is easy to sense his inveterate unease with the prospect of an interview, as he deprecates his responses and checks for Garner’s approval (“Is that an example of what you want?”). Garner strikes just the right note, responding with enthusiasm (“That’s great,” “I love this”) feeding question after question, and (mostly) hanging back. And it works, as Wallace becomes increasingly expansive and animated. By my estimate, he speaks four-fifths of the words in these pages.
And what words. The model of good writing that Wallace expounds is founded on clarity and concision: “the fewest words, each of which is the smallest and plainest possible.”³ Such writing calls for attention, to one’s habits of language and to the person on “the end of the line”: writing as communication, not self-expression; an act of regard for another, for whom the content of the writer’s mind is not just given. Anyone who has read Wallace’s Kenyon commencement address will hear its overtones in this interview.
Along the way, there are glimpses of Wallace’s snoot childhood (“Mom’s brainwashing”), remarks on the advantages of writing by hand, a description of work habits (“time and drafts and noodling”), and good-natured dissings of airport language, ungainly nominalizations, and “crummy, turgid, verbose, abstruse, abstract, solecism-ridden prose.” Wallace casts in homely and appealing terms his advice for becoming a better writer:
[W]e’re training the same part of us that knows how to swing a golf club or shift a standard transmission, things we want to be able to do automatically. So we have to pay attention and learn how to do them so we can quit thinking about them and just do them automatically.Improvement, on Wallace’s terms, is a matter not so much of intellect or verbal skill as of spirit:
And the spirit means I never forget there’s someone on the end of the line, that I owe that person certain allegiances, that I’m sending that person all kinds of messages, only some of which have to do with the actual content of what it is I’m trying to say.What I didn’t expect to find in Quack This Way: so many exchanges relevant to academic life and teaching. Wallace suggests why so many academics write badly (because they are preoccupied with showing that they know the ways of a professional community), and he diagnoses a problem endemic to writing classrooms: responses to a text that leave the text behind for a reader’s autobiographical revery. (How exasperated he must have become in such circumstances.) Wallace offers a clear-eyed but compassionate appraisal of teachers who enforce unfounded rules of writing, and he gives good advice about writing for an academic audience: write well and trust that the reader will recognize and appreciate good writing, even if he or she is unable to produce it.
Garner’s introduction is an affectionate account of a friendship that never had the chance to flourish. The book’s unlikely index — slang, snoot, snuff-dipping, social climbing — would no doubt have delighted Wallace. It too is a fitting memorial to a friend. All royalties from Quack This Way go to the Harry Ransom Center (University of Texas at Austin) to aid in the preservation and further collection of Wallace’s work.
¹ Steven Pinker offers the sarcasm hypothesis about could care less (without evidence) in The Language Instinct (1994): “The point of sarcasm is that by making an assertion that is manifestly false or accompanied by ostentatiously mannered intonation, one deliberately implies its opposite.” A dental is a consonant “pronounced with the tip of the tongue against the upper front teeth (as th) or the alveolar ridge (as n, d, t)” (New Oxford American Dictionary).
² The essay, a review of Garner’s A Dictionary of Modern American Usage (1998), is available online from Harper’s. The essay appears in much longer form as “Authority and American Usage” in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (2006). Wallace praises Garner for recognizing that in our time a work on usage can no longer be assumed to carry authority. Such a work must be persuasive, attaining authority by establishing its author’s credibility.
³ Wallace describes this model as a default. It certainly doesn’t fit the semantic and syntactic extravagances of his fiction. And what would a review of a Wallace book be without a few footnotes? HTML codes limit me to three.
An excerpt from the taped interview
Wallace on prior to
[Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of the book.]
By Michael Leddy at 8:13 AM
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
The New York Times visits Count Anton-Wolfgang von Faber-Castell, resulting in an article and a short film. I’m not sure what this kind of attention means. Are pencils the new typewriters?
Earlier this year, Sean at Contrapuntalism chronicled his journey to Faber-Castell headquarters in a great, photograph-filled post, The Stein Way.
[Count Basie had the better band, but Count Anton has the better pencils.]
By Michael Leddy at 5:39 PM
[An interior, from El espíritu de la colmena. Click for a larger view.]
With Vermeer in the air, in the air, I thought it fitting to post an image that I’ve been saving for close to a year.
El espíritu de la colmena [The spirit of the beehive] (dir. Victor Erice, 1973) is a beautiful film. Like The Night of the Hunter (dir. Charles Laughton, 1955), it dwells on a magical and frightening world of childhood. Laughton’s film looks and feels like a dream. Erice’s looks and feels like paintings. See above.
The film is available from — who else? — The Criterion Collection.
[Thanks to Sean at Contrapuntalism for the first Vermeer link.]
By Michael Leddy at 6:30 AM
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
This post has been getting visits from the British Isles in a way that made me wonder what’s up. I turned to the Google, and a search of the past twenty-four hours brought the news that John Williams’s novel Stoner has been named Waterstones’s Book of the Year. Stoner was published in 1965 and quickly went out of print. New York Review Books issued a reprint in 2006. Stoner is a great novel. I’m beginning to fear that it will become a movie.
Waterstones is a British bookstore chain that dropped its apostrophe in 2012.
By Michael Leddy at 8:56 AM
[Life, February 12, 1940.]
I think that the fellow in this advertisement must have been a dolt even by 1940 standards. He is making the kind of goofy adolescent utterance that I associate with, say, Leave It to Beaver.
I had hoped that something in this issue of Life would show up the athlete/girl dichotomy as unfounded. No soap. The closest this issue comes to showing a female athlete: a feature about roller-skating socialites, which is not very close.
All tea posts (Pinboard)
By Michael Leddy at 8:05 AM
Monday, December 2, 2013
In last night’s 60 Minutes segment on Jeff Bezos and Amazon, Charlie Rose described the way Amazon workers pick and pack items:
Those bins eventually wind up in front of a packer, who knows exactly how big of a box to use based on the weight and amount of items . . . .Elaine and I said it simultaneously: number.
The Chicago Manual of Style explains the distinction:
Amount is used with mass nouns [a decrease in the amount of pollution], number with count nouns [a growing number of dissidents].And there’s another problem: “big of a box.” Sheesh. That’s an instance of what Garner’s Modern American Usage calls “intrusive of,” as in “not that big of a deal.” Corrected:
Those bins eventually wind up in front of a packer, who knows exactly how big a box to use based on the weight and number of items . . . .But the more I look at this sentence, the more ungainly it becomes. The phrasing — “exactly how big a box to use based on” — is just awkward. And there is a weird asymmetry in what follows, with weight applying to the items collectively; number, individually. And is number the issue anyway? Isn’t the size of an item the crucial element in choosing a box? One more time:
Those bins eventually wind up in front of a packer, who knows which box suits the size and weight of an order . . . .That’s better, with size and weight referring perhaps to a single item, perhaps to items in the aggregrate. But simpler still:
Those bins eventually wind up in front of a packer, who knows the right box to use for each order . . . .Because what basis is there for choosing a box other than the size and weight of the order? The word right takes care of everything.
And before I change the channel: has there ever been an interviewer more worshipful of power and wealth than Charlie Rose? Last night’s interview was an embarrassment, partly for its lack of pointed questions, partly for its uncritical delight in the prospect of drone deliveries (it’ll help to live next to a big empty field), partly for its blatantly commercial timing (on Cyber-Monday Eve). Boo, hiss, CBS.
Charlie Rose and David Foster Wallace
Charlie Rose, The Week
All How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)
[This post is no. 47 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]
By Michael Leddy at 1:31 PM
Alex Katz on food: “American cheese on white is the ultimate. To me as a kid it represented the straight world.”
Here’s a fellow who, as they say, has made it, who could have anything he wants for a meal. And what does he want? Oatmeal for breakfast. Sardines for lunch. Day in, day out. I love it. Read more: Artist’s Cookbook: Alex Katz (Design Observer).
By Michael Leddy at 8:41 AM