Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Then and now


That’s my wife, Elaine Fine, standing outside the Boston Children’s Museum in 1984. It was probably spring. We were being very arty with the black-and-white. Elaine and I were married on September 30, 1984. Holy wedlock, Batman! Or in our case, unholy, secular wedlock, courtesy of a justice of the peace. Thirty years: the best thirty years of our lives.

This past Saturday, after we visited a sewing-machine store and art-supply store in a faded mall, we stood in front of a mirror and took a picture to send to our children. I didn’t realize that the result would be a mirror image of the 1984 photograph.


Elaine has posted a drawing that I made before our wedding.

Happy Anniversary, Elaine!

[May marriage soon be for all partners.]

Monday, September 29, 2014

A thought about absence(s)

Monday is the new Friday.

A related post
Slackerism’s first cousin

Slackerism’s first cousin

[“‘Illegitmate absenteeism is a first cousin to slackerism’: Admiral Emory S. Land, U.S.N. Chairman U.S. Maritime Commission. Farrel-Birmingham Company, Inc., Ansonia, Conn., Derby, Conn., Buffalo, N.Y.” No date.]

I found this World War II-era poster in a collection of war posters in the University of Minnesota’s UMedia Archive. I suspect that Admiral Land’s declaration will amuse many who teach.

Emory S. Land is now also a ship.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Domestic comedy

“You’re like between a fugue state and frenzy.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[To the reader who tweeted a link to my blog: thanks for your interest, but I’m not quoting Van Dyke Parks in this post. Domestic-comedy posts are a matter of my wife Elaine, our children Rachel and Ben, and me. It’s all in the fambly. This one is me speaking.]

Friday, September 26, 2014

Demon bat-pepper

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

Green peppers? More like demon bat-peppers. This one is the scariest I’ve faced.

A related post
Peppers and eggs

Thursday, September 25, 2014

“Some Steinways”

At Contrapuntalism, Sean spots einege Steinways, “some Steinways.”

Word of the day: palaver

Merriam Webster’s Word of the Day is palaver. When I see that word, I think of James Joyce’s story “The Dead,” in which it’s spoken by Lily, the caretaker’s daughter:

The girl glanced back at him over her shoulder and said with great bitterness:

— The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you.
Other words, other works of lit
Apoplexy, avatar, bandbox, heifer, sanguine, sempiternal : Artificer : Ineluctable : Iridescent : Magnifico : Opusculum

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Netflix on the wane?

I too have noticed what Jon Brooks describes: For Cinephiles, Netflix Is Less and Less an Option (KQED Arts). I have forty-six DVDs saved with availability ”unknown.”

Something Brooks doesn’t mention: a college or university library can be an excellent source for films. Public schools often extend borrowing privileges to their communities.

[Found via Subtraction.com.]

Against “deep reading”

From Thomas Beller’s conversation with an unidentified woman who knew J. D. Salinger, about a teacher’s assertion that Salinger was a “symbolist”:

“I mean, you know, it means that when the guy is throwing an orange in the air in ‘The Laughing Man,’ it’s a sign of fertility. Remember that one?”

I did.

“Well,” she continued, “a symbolist means the teacher says that when the guy tosses an orange up in the air it means the orange is a symbol of fertility. Or you know how when the Chief’s girlfriend starts showing up to the baseball games and she insists she play, and then she hits a triple? It means she’s pregnant and in her third trimester.”

We spend a minute being dismissive and contemptuous of this approach. The primary objection is that it sucks all the joy out of the work. This is the ingenious and maddeningly effective technique applied by the humorless: Their interpretation always sounds plausible until you remember how essential, if unquantifiable, humor is to the equation. Humor is beyond their reach.

Thomas Beller, J. D. Salinger: The Escape Artist (New York: New Harvest / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).
The habit of teacherly misreading that Beller describes has ruined literature for many young people. When I was in high school, we called it “deep reading,” after a television commercial for a liniment that promised “deep heating.” “Deep reading” meant that nothing could be what it appeared to be: every element of a story had to stand for something else, quotidian details coming together to form something like an allegorical pageant. In the more rarefied quarters of academic criticism, “deep reading” turns, say, the s that begins and ends James Joyce’s Ulysses into “a code symbol” for syphilis.¹ In truth, there’s nothing deep about “deep reading” (thus my continuing use of quotation marks): it’s a reductive way of engaging works of the imagination, operating on every one of them in the same damn way.

Beller is right that such interpretations are humorless, but I cannot agree that they always sound plausible. They never sound plausible to me, and not because they ignore humor: the horrors of “deep reading” may visit any work of literature, lighthearted or dour. “Deep reading” fails as a persuasive way to make meaning because it operates in only one direction, from details of a text to some arbitrarily divined meaning. Orange: fertility. Triple: third trimester. S: syphilis. But flip things, and we’re suddenly lost. What should a writer do to suggest fertility? Oh, of course: have a character toss an orange into the air.

I’ve talked about the illogic of “deep reading” on any number of occasions with students who have been subjected to it in high school. Many years ago a student worked out an ingenious reading of William Carlos Williams’s poem “This Is Just to Say”: the stolen plums symbolize the poet’s mistress; the poet’s wife has been waiting to confront him at breakfast about his transgressions; the mistress was on the wife’s mind (in the icebox, where you keep things) as she waited to talk to her husband. This student showed genuine insight into the element of transgression in the poem, and in positing a scene of adultery, he drew uncannily close to the sorrows of the Williams household. But if plums stand for mistress, what would Williams have to do to make a reader think plums? No, he wouldn’t toss an orange into the air. He would have to write plums.

Eudora Welty has a great comment on “deep reading” in her essay “Is Phoenix Jackson’s Grandson Really Dead?” (Critical Inquiry 1 (1974)). Its title is, alas, the question Welty most often heard from students, about her story “A Worn Path”:
It's all right, I want to say to the students who write to me, for things to be what they appear to be, for words to mean what they say. It's all right too for words and appearances to mean more than one thing — ambiguity is a fact of life. But it is not all right, not in good faith, for things not to mean what they say.
In Williams’s poem, plums are forbidden fruit, and an occasion of covert, solitary pleasure. But they’re plums. Plums is plums.

¹ Really.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Scott Pelley, man

Scott Pelley, on the CBS Evening News a few minutes ago: “. . . how man is attempting to restore bird populations threatened by climate change.” Man oh man. A better way to put it: “. . . the effort to restore bird populations,” and so on. Who but people — men and women — would undertake such work?

Pelley fell into the language of “man” last October too. How it grates.

Figures of speech

I’m not unwilling to discuss litotes. But I refuse to even mention paralipsis.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sentence-starting conjunctions

“From at least the time of Chaucer, expert writers have tended to begin 10–20% of their sentences with conjunctions”: Yes, Virginia, you can begin a sentence with a conjunction. Bryan Garner explains: Conjunctions as sentence-starters.

Students often tell me that in past classrooms, the sentence-starting and and but have been off limits. Because too. Good thing no one told Emily Dickinson.

[Orange Crate Art is a Garner-friendly zone.]

Nancy in autumn

[Nancy, 1967. From Brian Walker’s The Best of Ernie Bushmiller’s “Nancy” (1988).]

Mists, mellow fruitfulness — yes, it’s a nice season. Linus agrees, though for other reasons.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[I must admit: I have distorted Nancy’s position through selective quoting. In the second panel of this strip Nancy adds, “But not for bubble gum.” Falling leaves stick to her bubbles. The autumnal equinox strikes tonight.]

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Film recommendation: Another Year

Writing about Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater, 2014), Fresca recommended Another Year (dir. Mike Leigh, 2010). Elaine and I watched it last night and found it deeply thoughtful and moving. The less one knows about this film in advance, I think, the better: read a summary of its plot and you might never go near it. It’s a film for grown-ups, with some comedy and much pathos. It moves through the seasons, ending in winter. That is all ye need to know, and all ye are going to get. One more thing: the Hepples make me think of the Ramsays from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. But it’s been a long time since I’ve read To the Lighthouse.

Fresca has also recommended The Way We Get By (dir. Aron Gaudet, 2009), a documentary about three old Mainers on call to go to Bangor International Airport, any time, day or night, to thank American troops as they leave for and return from war. I too can now recommend this film.

[Fresca, what else should we put in our Netflix queue?]

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stellification, for the few

Elaine has written a terrific post about determining musical and artistic value. What she says reminds me of the last lines of John Ashbery’s poem “Syringa”:

[From Houseboat Days (New York: Penguin, 1977).]

Stellification is for the few, and for other people to decide, later. Or as T. S. Eliot said in East Coker (1943), “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

Friday, September 19, 2014

Woody Guthrie in New York

“He rode the rails of the BMT. He played (unhappily, but still) for the swells at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center. He married a Martha Graham dancer named Marjorie. He had Yiddish-speaking in-laws, the Greenblatts”: The New York Times reports on Woody Guthrie in New York. My Name Is New York is the title of a book and a 3-CD compilation documenting Woody Guthrie’s life in the city.

[I can’t bring myself to refer to him as just “Guthrie.” It just doesn’t work.]

Janis Joplin in Sing Out!

A photograph of Janis Joplin by David Gahr appears (in tinted form) as a beautiful Forever stamp from the United States Postal Service. You can see the photograph and stamp at David Gahr Photographs.

When I first saw this stamp, I felt a shock of recognition: I knew the photograph right away. It appeared in the September / October 1970 issue of Sing Out! (“The Folk Song Magazine”), the twentieth-anniversary issue, as part of a two-page feature, titled “David Gahr photo essay” and ”for a painted heart.”

[Does anyone else know this?]

Thursday, September 18, 2014

“Some stars”

At Lexikaliker, Gunther reaches for einige Sterne, “some stars.”

The logic of “some” seems to be everywhere. In Homer’s Iliad, action comes in threes: three times Patroclus storms the wall of Troy, three times Hector and Achilles run around the sacred city. Some storming, some running. The fourth time, things change.

Bribery is a crime.

[From the Naked City episode “Barefoot on a Bed of Coals,” May 29, 1963. Click for a larger view.]

That’s Dustin Hoffman, in the final episode of Naked City. It was Hoffman’s second appearance on the show, his third on television. What interests me more though is that sign to the left. It taunts the viewer — or at least this viewer, who knows New York City police stations only from outside — through episode after episode. In this final episode, it’s finally readable.

[From a second screenshot: “Bribery is a crime. A person who gives or offers a bribe to any employee of the City of New York, or an employee who takes or solicits a bribe, is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for 10 years, or by a fine of $4000, or more, or both.”]

The line at the bottom of the sign? It must read “Click for a larger, blurrier view.”

There are now fifty-two Naked City posts in the Orange Crate Art archives. A full deck. But there’s one more to go.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Marion Dougherty’s index cards

[Click any image for a larger view.]

The casting director Marion Dougherty, in the documentary Casting By (dir. Tom Donahue, 2012): “I would keep the three-by-five card. I would put down anything that hit my mind.”

The card for Dustin Hoffman (whose first screen appearance was in an episode of Naked City) notes Bob Duval’s (Robert Duvall’s) judgment that Hoffman is “v.g.” — very good. Notice the name of Blair Brown in the third screenshot. The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd is an Orange Crate Art and Musical Assumptions favorite.

Casting By feels a bit scattered. The film focuses mostly on Dougherty and Lynn Stalmaster, but each is on screen for just seconds at a time. I’d like to see more of and about them, and fewer of the overly predictable sequences of talking directors and stars and brief clips from film after film after film. Even a ten-minute sequence of, say, Dougherty going through cards and talking about actors would have been a priceless addition. The things I took away from watching: the lack of institutional recognition that casting directors receive and the great regard that actors have for good ones.

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)
All OCA Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

[Bonus feature: notice the exchange name on Dustin Hoffman’s card. EN: ENdicott.]

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Academic Workforce Data

The Modern Language Association’s Academic Workforce Data Center allows the curious seeker to look at “staffing patterns at individual institutions of higher education.” The site shows the percentages of tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track faculty at a given school in 1995 and 2009. As you can guess, the percentages of tenured and tenure-track faculty at many schools drop sharply over that span.

One startling exception: Chicago’s Columbia College. In 1995, the school had 0% tenured or tenure-track faculty. In 2009, the percentage rose to 13.1%; with 86.9% of faculty non-tenure-track, almost all of whom (1,822 of 1,890) were employed part-time. (They now have a union: P-fac.)

The total cost for a Columbia undergraduate living on campus in the 2014–2015 school year: $42,122. Adjunct pay at Columbia, according to The Adjunct Project, whose numbers might be out of date: $1,400 to $6,360 per course.

Here’s a glimpse of the relationship between faculty and administration at Columbia College. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The exploitation of adjunct labor is the shame and scandal of American higher education.

Related posts
The Adjunct Project
Here’s just one reason why someone might reconsider adjunct teaching
What parents need to know about college faculty

If U2 want to remove U2

I find the idea of Apple’s U2 ”gift album” deeply creepy. I suspect that anyone whose love of music involves a “record collection,” whatever its contents, would feel the same way. They’re my records, Apple, not yours. You don’t get to choose for me.

To get rid of the U2 album: Remove iTunes gift album Songs of Innocence from your iTunes music library and purchases (Apple, found via Daring Fireball).

[You might be surprised to find that even if you haven’t seen it, the album is indeed there.]

Clay Shirky bans devices

Clay Shirky has banned devices in his classes at NYU: no laptops, no tablets, no phones. A partial explanation:

There is no laissez-faire attitude to take when the degradation of focus is social. Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class  —  it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them.

Why I Just Asked My Students to Put Their Laptops Away (Medium)
I’m not especially impressed by Clay Shirky, who is, after all, the guy who declared that “no one reads War and Peace anymore (“too long, and not so interesting”). I’ve talked with many students who could have explained second-hand distraction to him a long time ago. But Shirky’s change of mind is noteworthy, at a time when at least some college faculty seek to encourage greater student use of digital technology in classrooms. Click. Click. Click.

I’ll invoke my mantra: Technology makes it possible to do things, not necessary to do them. That we can use devices in a class meeting doesn’t mean that we ought to. And the converse: Technology makes it possible not to do things, not necessary not to do them. That we can, say, replace office hours with Skype doesn’t mean that we should.

Ten angry men

A curious thing: eight members of the jury from 12 Angry Men (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1957) appeared on Naked City: Martin Balsam, Ed Begley, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, Joseph Sweeney, George Voskovec, Jack Warden, and Robert Webber. Klugman made six appearances, more than anyone else. Five of those eight jurors — Balsam, Begley, Sweeney, Warden, and Webber — also appeared on Route 66, as did Edward Binns and E. G. Marshall. Ten angry men.

These names, or at least many of them, point to the work of the casting director Marion Dougherty, a major figure in both series. The DVD of a documentary about Dougherty, Casting By (dir. Tom Donahue, 2012), is out today.

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)
All OCA Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

[It’s always a small success to manage one’s Netflix cue so as to get something on its release date. The missing jurors: John Fiedler and Henry Fonda.]

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mary Backstayge marigold seeds

[8½" x 7". Click for a larger view.]

I’m not sure how I caught on to Bob and Ray, but I did. From 1973 to 1976, Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding did a four-hour weekday-afternoon radio show on New York’s WOR. When I became a commuting college student, listening to that show was one of the perks of being stuck in traffic in the late afternoon.

“Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife” (a running spoof of a radio serial) was my favorite Bob and Ray bit. The show had its own writer, the Bob and Ray character Chester Hasbrouck Frisbee. The Backstayges, Mary and Harry, were theater people living in Skunk Haven, Long Island. They were best known for their work in Westchester Furioso. Other cast members: the stage doorman Pop Beloved, the Backstayges’ neighbor Calvin Hoogavin (played by Webley Webster, another Bob and Ray character), and Greg Marlowe (“young playwright secretly in love with Mary,” as he was always introduced). That just two people were responsible for all these characters — and for everyone else who might turn up in a given episode — was and is a wonder. Especially wonderful: hearing Ray Goulding as both Greg and Mary, out in the kitchen, Greg muttering and Mary giggling. Greg would always offer to help when Mary made cocoa.

In the spring of 1974 Mary offered free marigold seeds to her fans. I wrote in of course. I had no idea what had happened to Mary’s (mimeoed or photocopied) reply until I found it in the recently rediscovered file folder that’s been pulling me into the past.

Here, courtesy of YouTube, is a small sample of the WOR show in two parts — one, two — of the WOR show, the first with a “Mary Backstayge” cliffhanger.

From this same file folder
Aglio e olio
The Art Ensemble of Chicago in Boston
Coppola/“Godfather” sauce
Jim Doyle on education
A Meeting with Ludwig Wittgenstein
Tile-pilfering questionnaire

Happy tenth birthday, Orange Crate Art

Orange Crate Art turns ten later today. Running and jumping and playing, showing greater self-control and poise, enjoying social activities with peers, noticing increased body odor: yes, Orange Crate Art is at an exciting age. There is also more homework than ever.

Writing here (almost every day) brings me countless kinds of happiness. Thanks to everyone who’s reading.

[This post borrows details from two pages — one, two — about non-pixelated ten-year olds.]

Sunday, September 14, 2014

New Yorker fail

I hope it’s a long time before The New Yorker gives space to another piece as tasteless and witless as this one by Django Gold (to which Sonny Rollins has replied).

Related reading
All OCA Sonny Rollins posts (Pinboard)

[I’m late to the game. When it comes to reading Django Gold’s writing, never would have been better than late.]

Saturday, September 13, 2014

From one generation to another

From a statement by Adrian Peterson’s lawyer Rusty Hardin:

Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son. He used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas.
Yes, but that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Especially chilling: Peterson is reported as having told police that if he had felt “‘really wrong for what I did, or had any ill intent, there’s no way I would have let him [Peterson’s son] get on that plane.’” Which means what, exactly? What would Peterson have done? His son had a doctor’s appointment coming up.

Damn it: we had Adrian Peterson’s smiling face in our house, courtesy of Wheaties. Peterson’s Wheaties profile is missing in action. Google still has a copy cached.

As such, as such

As such seems to be a favorite phrase of ponderous writers: “Recent developments have blah blah blah . . . . As such, I am writing to inform you,” and so on. The Chicago Manual of Style ’s online Q & A and Bryan Garner’s LawProse blog both caution against the misuse of the phrase, which doesn’t mean so or therefore or thus. As such, as such is often best avoided.

[Garner’s Modern American Usage covers it too. Orange Crate Art is a Chicago- and Garner-friendly zone.]

Friday, September 12, 2014

Letter-writing: on the wane?

A question from 1909:

Is letter writing, in the artistic sense, a lost accomplishment? There are plenty of people who would not linger long over a reply. It is often asserted that Rowland Hill and the penny post killed the old-fashioned style of letter. That is not true, however, for it survived in old-fashioned hands into the mid-Victorian era, when it received its coup de grâce by the invention of what our fathers, when in a superior mood, called that “modern abomination,” the ubiquitous post-card. Correspondence has since its advent grown pithy, brisk, prosaic. The majority of men have not the time in this cast-iron, express-paced age, with its telegraphs and telephones, and constant business and social demands, for the old elaborate letter of genial gossip and kindly compliment. Sentiment, some would even say, is at a discount, and whatever may be the cause, imagination and fancy, to say nothing of wit and humor, have grown curiously rare under a penny stamp. The world is too much with us now. Our interests are too many, our work too insistent, our mental indolence perhaps too great, for that expansive style of correspondence which has vanished for the most part with quill pens and sealing wax.

Stuart J. Reid, in the Introduction to Horace Walpole’s Letters (London: Cassell, 1909).
Damned post-cards! Nevertheless, Reid says, “letter-writing is not a lost art.”

This tiny volume of Walpole’s letters is one of the books I have from Jim Doyle. I took it off the shelf the other day, after not looking at it for many years.

Related reading
Other letter-related posts (Pinboard)
Rowland Hill (By weight, not distance)
William Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much with Us”

[Mac Dictation for “pithy, brisk, prosaic”: “pissy, brisk, Prozac.”]

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, September 11, 2014. Click for a larger view.]

Rotten kids, eh? Rotten arithmetic too. The problem with Dot and Ditto’s calculations: an eight-year-old will have lived through one or two leap years:

Let x = 365

4x + 1 = 1461

2(4x + 1) = 2922
Or if one was born after February 29 in a leap year:
4x + (4x +1) = 2921
Or if one was born before February 29 and leap year falls in the fourth year of one’s life:
(4x + 1) + 4x = 2921
I can think of three possible reasons for “2920”:
1. No Child Left Behind and the Common Core.

2. A cartoonist’s carelessness.

3. The absence of leap years from the Flagston world.
Which explanation do you think is most probable? Or have I missed one?

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[I do like the falling leaves in today’s strip. Hi and Lois digs fall. I hope I got the arithmetic right.]

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

From a file folder: aglio e olio

[From The Village Voice. Date unknown.]

It’s a recipe from Vladimir Estragon himself.

Aglio e olio, most often with zucchini and minus anchovies, has been a staple in our household for years. Garlic, parsley, and red-pepper flakes are the original power trio.

From this same file folder
The Art Ensemble of Chicago in Boston
Coppola/“Godfather” sauce
Jim Doyle on education
A Meeting with Ludwig Wittgenstein
Tile-pilfering questionnaire

From a file folder: Coppola/“Godfather” sauce

[From The Village Voice. Date unknown.]

I clipped the recipe many years ago and forgot all about it. This sauce is ridiculously easy to make and tastes plenty good, though it’s not nearly as varied in its flavors as a more elaborate sauce I’ve been making for the last four years.

After figuring out what a no. 303 can is — and deciding it would be much too small, I went with a twenty-eight-ounce can of Cento tomato puree. That turned out to be perfect for a box of pasta. I used most of a head of garlic and a lot of basil. (The unchopped leaves loosely filled an eight-ounce container.)

Elaine thought this sauce was better the first time around. I liked it equally well across two meals. But the basil did lose some of its zing over time. Maybe things would have been different earlier in the season: our basil plant is on the wane.

The IMDb lists a Bill Poplar who worked on Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1979). I think it likely that this letter is his.

From this same file folder
The Art Ensemble of Chicago in Boston
Jim Doyle on education
A Meeting with Ludwig Wittgenstein
Tile-pilfering questionnaire

[As “Vladimir Estragon,” Geoffrey Stokes wrote a column on food for The Voice, “Waiting for Dessert.” Was pasta ever a “thing,” a craze? Must have been.]

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

No e-mails, ever, almost

Spring-Serenity Duvall, who teaches at Winston-Salem’s Salem College:

For years, student emails have been an assault on professors, sometimes with inappropriate informality, sometimes just simply not understanding that professors should not have to respond immediately. In a fit of self-preservation, I decided: no more. This is where I make my stand!

As quoted in Don’t Email Me (Inside Higher Ed).
The only e-mails Duvall will countenance are those requesting face-to-face meetings outside of office hours. She reports wonderful results. But I wonder: the rhetoric of “assault” and “self-preservation” feels a tad melodramatic. And, yes, “inappropriate informality” abounds, online and off-. But person-to-person e-mail is an inherently informal form of communication. Better that students should learn to use it with appropriate measures of informality and patience than not use it at all.

What surprises me is that Duvall encourages telephone calls during office hours (when of course she might be talking with students who have come in to ask questions). Calls would seem to me like much greater interruptions.

For guidance on how to e-mail professors who are willing to read e-mails, see How to e-mail a professor. Its numbers are nearing the half-million mark. More recent and less widely read: How to e-mail a student.

[I would like to link to Duvall’s blog post, but it’s no longer online.]

Who owns Vivian Maier?

“A court case in Chicago seeking to name a previously unknown heir is threatening to tie her legacy in knots and could prevent her work from being seen again for years”: A Legal Battle Over Vivian Maier’s Work (The New York Times).

A related post
Darger and Maier

[I’ve always been puzzled that the discovery of Henry Darger’s work didn’t prompt similar legal action.]

Monday, September 8, 2014

Nancy revised

[Nancy and Sluggo and “some rocks.”]

[Nancy and Sluggo and kur.]

Mesopotamia: Bushmiller Country

[Photograph by Sluggo Smith. As seen at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.]

We drove up to Chicago to see our friends Jim and Luanne Koper and make a visit to the Oriental Institute. Luanne was the first to spot this sign, on a placard showing the evolution of cuneiform. It’s the proto-cuneiform of kur, mountain. I took a picture. Some rocks!

If you have any doubt that ancient Mesopotamia was Bushmiller Country, I give you this excerpt from a chart:

[“The origin and development of selected cunieform signs from c. 3000 to 600 BC.” Steven Roger Fischer, The History of Writing (London: Reaktion Books, 2004). Click for a larger view. And here’s the full chart. See? It’s real.]

The later stylized kur maintains the logic of ”some”: not two (a pair), not four (one more than “some”). Ernie Bushmiller would be pleased. “Bushmiller Country” is cartoonist Bill Griffith’s name for the Nancy-and-Sluggo world, which is a region of Griffith’s own Dingburg — but which now also includes Mesopotamia.

Here is an explanation of “some rocks,” along with the search for same.

Related reading
“Some rocks” in a 1556 woodcut (Lexikaliker) : “Some rocks” in paintings by Carlo Crivelli and Romare Bearden (l’astronave) : Zippy and rocks : More rocks : Still more rocks : Yet another post with “some rocks” : What? More rocks? : Lassie and Zippy and some rocks : Conversational rocks

Friday, September 5, 2014

Colleges and bakeries

A college that offers more online classes to remedy its financial woes? That’s like a bakery opting to sell Twinkies and Wonder Bread. Each move gives the public less reason to believe in the value of the real thing. Each move endangers long-term well-being for the sake of short-term gain.

[I tried to get the right comparison: fine luggage and cheap knockoffs? No. Elaine thought of a bakery and Wonder Bread. The Twinkies are on me.]

The Art Ensemble of Chicago in Boston

[The Art Ensemble of Chicago. Front: Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman. Back: Famoudou Don Moye (behind a cymbal), Malachi Favors Maghostut. Lulu White’s, Boston. Probably 1981. Photographer unknown. Click for a larger view.]

I found this newspaper clipping in a file folder that I rediscovered earlier this week. If you look carefully, you can see the tape that held this clipping to an apartment wall long long ago. The photograph most likely appeared in Boston’s Real Paper, an alternative newspaper. Remember alternative newspapers?

I was fortunate to see the Art Ensemble five times between 1980 and 1985: at a midnight concert at New York’s Town Hall, at Lulu White’s in the South End (twice), at Jonathan Swift’s off Harvard Square, and at the Berklee School of Music. Every performance but the last was staggeringly great, some of the most exciting and inspiring music I’ve ever heard. And talk about intimacy: at the club dates an early bird could end up sitting less than ten — or five? — feet from the bandstand.

I remember being admitted to the band’s dressing room in Town Hall and noticing the mix of cigar smoke and pot. I remember standing in the street at three o’clock in the morning talking with Malachi Favors as instruments went onto a truck. Other moments of conversation too, before a show at Lulu White’s, after a show at Jonathan Swift’s. As I said: fortunate.

To the best of my knowledge, this photograph is unavailable elsewhere online.

Related reading
Lulu White, the woman (Wikipedia)
Lulu White, the club (On Troy Street)
Some have gone and some remain (on revisiting Jonathan Swift’s)

Also from this file folder
Jim Doyle on education
A Meeting with Ludwig Wittgenstein
Tile-pilfering questionnaire

[Lester Bowie died in 1999; Malachi Favors in 2004. The Art Ensemble has continued to perform, at least intermittently, as a trio, as a quartet, and as a quintet with trumpeter Corey Wilkes and bassist Jaribu Shahid. For an introduction to the group, I’d recommend Nice Guys (ECM, 1978) or Full Force (ECM, 1980). If you have a little patience, People in Sorrow (Nessa, 1969). There are hours of filmed performances at YouTube. Here’s a good sample.]

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What parents need to know about college faculty

Instructor to campus-tour guide:

“I’m not mad at you; I’m just curious: Your class knows I’m a graduate student, not a full-time professor with tenure. I don’t even have my doctorate yet. Why did you tell that parent all university faculty were full time?”
The guide’s reply:
“That’s what the university wants us to say to parents.”
Ex-adjunct Joseph Fruscione offers some guidance of his own: What parents need to know about college faculty (PBS NewsHour).

A joke in the traditional manner

Why did the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels?

No spoilers here. The answer is in the comments.

More jokes in the traditional manner
How did Bela Lugosi know what to expect?
How did Samuel Clemens do all his long-distance traveling?
Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies?
Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

[“In the traditional manner” means à la my dad.]

From a file folder

[Questionnaire by Jim Leddy, on a 3" x 5" index card. Click for a larger view.]

My dad sent me this questionnaire probably not long after I moved to Boston. You know what they say about apples and the trees from which they fall.

I refer to humor, not criminality. The vintage tiles in my possession (great paperweights) are unstolen goods. My dad saved them when tearing out walls.

Also from a file folder
Jim Doyle on education
A Meeting with Ludwig Wittgenstein

[Ceramic tile trim. 6" x 1¼". Click for a larger tile.]

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Pagan signage

A nearby Christian center must have been taken over by pagans: why else would its signboard now advertise (in all capitals) SUN WORSHIP?

Related reading
Other OCA signage posts (Pinboard)

x + 1

At 21st-Century Stoic, William B. Irvine explains how to increase the value of x to x + 1.

Related posts
I can’t get no satisfaction
Stoic-colored glasses

From a file folder

On a scrap of paper, words from my favorite teacher Jim Doyle, most likely an offhand remark in class:

Education is instilling relativism in the pretentious mind.
I will be posting further bits of paper (or transcriptions of bits) from a file folder long out of sight and mind. Now it’s back.

Also from a file folder
A Meeting with Ludwig Wittgenstein

[Relativism? I would have sworn that the noun was humility. That sounds more Doyle-like to me.]

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Arum and Roksa on life after college

The Chronicle of Higher Education has two articles — one, two — on Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s new book Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates, the sequel to Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (2011). The news is not good.

And here, also from this week’s Chronicle, are Arum and Roksa themselves:

We find it implausible that in a globalized knowledge economy, the current state of affairs will continue indefinitely. Not just because the growth in college costs is unsustainable, but also because legislators, families, and students will have difficulties justifying why resources are increasingly allocated not to improving instruction but to building new dormitories, student centers, and athletic facilities. While this might be an effective institutional strategy for attracting 17-year-olds as consumers and keeping them satisfied with “bread and circuses” once enrolled, it has produced a competition to provide the best amenities and student services money can buy and the least challenging academic demands and expectations.
I think of the reading list I created when I first taught a garden-variety freshman-lit class: Barthes’s Mythologies, The Turn of the Screw, Dubliners, A Confederacy of Dunces, The Blue and Brown Books — oh, and Don Quixote, all of it. Today that list would look like the dark dream of some horrible outlier.

A related post
A review of Academically Adrift

[Did the students read and get something from those works? They sure did. And Cervantes and Toole went together well.]

From a file folder

A Meeting with Ludwig Wittgenstein

E. George Wilson

I recall was great fondness and a measure of sadness my meeting with Herr Wittgenstein. One spring afternoon I was in my rooms reading for my exams when I heard a noise in a nearby tree. Curious, I rose from my chair, looked out the window, and beheld a preternaturally young-looking man descending from the boughs in a brisk no-nonsense fashion. I hurried outside to inquire of him as to the meaning of his action and was in turn asked, ‘What do you mean by “meaning”?’ I found myself unable to answer and straightaway admitted the foolishness of my question. Wittgenstein laughed (I had the curious feeling that he was laughing both with me and at me), presented me with a dish mop, and asked in a low tone if I would care to take in a ‘flick’ with him that evening. I realized at once that I was in the presence of the finest philosophical mind of the twentieth century.

The years dim my memory, and with the passing of time I find I have only faint recall of the film itself (I remember only a darkish woman with citrus fruits arranged on her head), but I can still vividly picture Wittgenstein as I called for him in his rooms. Upon my knock, he removed the door from its hinges and set it against the wall. ‘This,’ he smiled, ‘illustrates the method of philosophy.’ His rooms bespoke a spartan nature, utterly devoid of a desire for useless ornament. A paint-by-the-numbers set, later to prove of inestimable value in his work on color, rested on the one table; a toy duck and rabbit and several dish mops sat in an open safe. I noticed that his rooms contained not one of what I, in my greenness, thought of as philosophical works; the one bookcase held three or four comic books, a monograph on toothache, and the piece of string that served as the model for several of the amusing diagrams contained in his works. The only other objects visible were a small bottle and a number of dead flies.

I was by this point frankly in awe, and Wittgenstein’s conversation during our walk to the cinema served only to confirm me in my feeling. ‘We say that penguins have no conception of time,’ he observed, ‘but then why do we say of a particular penguin that he’s always late for his dental appointments?’ I confessed that I could not explain the contradiction. The talk continued in this matter, with Wittgenstein posing questions that left me unable to respond. There was a brief interlude during which he busied himself looking for a particular grouping of trees that formed, he said, the ‘big W.’ I jested that, my name being Wilson, I should like to contest his claim to such a group of trees. Wittgenstein smiled and asked me another question.

After the flick we were both feeling famished, and Wittgenstein suggested that we visit a small restaurant noted for its cold pork pies. I almost wish I had not agreed to this plan, for it was to give me a glimpse of the dark forces the tormented this brilliant soul. After we had consumed our pies, Wittgenstein called for the waiter and calmly announced that he had no money to pay the bill. ‘But Herr Wittgenstein,’ I exclaimed, ‘I would be only too glad to pay for our pies!’ ‘I would not hear of it,’ he said seriously, and proposed to the waiter that he might wash dishes as a means of paying for our meal. The manager was consulted and the proposal accepted. Wittgenstein rose from his chair, extracted a dish mop from his coat pocket, and walked off in the direction of the kitchen.

Thus ended my meeting with Ludwig Wittgenstein. Holding my gift mop in my hands, I have wrestled with my conscience for many an hour, debating whether I should disclose my knowledge of his dishwashing mania. Since no member of the Wittgenstein circle has come forward, I find it my duty to make my experience public. I can only hope that my honesty will prompt others to follow my example. At this point we need not fear for Wittgenstein’s reputation: his place in the realm of philosophy is secure; his light shines with ever increasing brightness in these dark times.

[Found recently in a file folder. I wrote this piece as a graduate student in 1983. Norman Malcolm’s Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (1958) was my inspiration. Yes, I was deeply under Wittgenstein’s spell. The imaginary “E. George Wilson” was of course British, as his diction and punctuation should suggest.]

Related reading
Other OCA Wittgenstein posts (Pinboard)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day

[“Second Floor, East Corridor. Mosaic of Minerva by Elihu Vedder, with restorer at work. Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.” Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith. Between 1980 and 2006. Click for a larger view.]

All trades, their gear and tackle and trim. Including tiny brushes.

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

[Hopkins’s poem: here.]