Saturday, February 28, 2015

New directions in sardines

I opened a can of skinless and boneless sardines for lunch. In olive oil. Sliced a onion. Made a little lump of Dijon mustard. Took out some bread. And then I thought: what about barbecue sauce?

We have a bottle of Memphis-style sauce, nearly empty, in the fridge. Elaine, encouraging, not warning: “Try just a dab.” I did. Many dabs followed. Many, many dabs.

Sardines and barbecue sauce are out of sight: delicious and no longer visible. I am a member of the Clean Plate Club, and I owe it all to sardines and barbecue sauce. As they used to say on television, Try some today.

Related posts
Alex Katz, painter, eater Sardines for lunch, every day
City for Conquest (and sardines)
End of the U.S. sardine industry
Go fish

[Matt, this could be the recipe you’re looking for.]

What’s relatable

Ira Glass gave teachers of lit an odd little gift with his fleetingly infamous comment that King Lear is “not relatable.” Oh yeah? When I teach the play later this spring, I’ll probably invite my students to bash that piñata argue against that point of view. I will first have to explain who Ira Glass is: This American Life, as I already know, is off my students’ radar.

Looking up Glass’s comment now, I found a terrific response by Rebecca Mead, The Scourge of “Relatability” (The New Yorker). It might be generally useful to teachers who want to resist the idea that a work of lit must somehow meet a reader on the reader’s own terms. An excerpt:

To appreciate King Lear — or even The Catcher in the Rye or The Fault in Our Stars — only to the extent that the work functions as one’s mirror would make for a hopelessly reductive experience. But to reject any work because we feel that it does not reflect us in a shape that we can easily recognize — because it does not exempt us from the active exercise of imagination or the effortful summoning of empathy — is our own failure. It’s a failure that has been dispiritingly sanctioned by the rise of “relatable.” In creating a new word and embracing its self-involved implications, we have circumscribed our own critical capacities. That’s what sucks, not Shakespeare.
Amen to that.

[“Later this spring”: as in spring semester. I’ve substituted italics for quotation marks in the excerpt.]

Friday, February 27, 2015

Domestic comedy

“What a crock of . . . baloney. Wait: can baloney come in crocks?”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Spartz / Bentham

Emerson Spartz, “Internet-media entrepreneur,” as quoted in The New Yorker :

“People have hoity-toity reasons for preferring one kind of entertainment to another,” he said later. “To me, it doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at cat photos that inspire you or so-called ‘high art’ that inspires you.”
And Jeremy Bentham, philosopher of utilitarianism:
Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. If the game of push-pin furnish more pleasure, it is more valuable than either. Everybody can play at push-pin: poetry and music are relished only by a few.
And everybody can play at clicking: 17 Secrets, 8 Crazy Ways, 3 Little Words. One difference between Spatz and Bentham is that Bentham wasn’t thinking of making money from distraction.

One more choice Spartz bit:
Asked to name the most beautiful prose he had read, he said, “A beautiful book? I don’t even know what that means. Impactful, sure.”
[Bentham’s famous words appear in The Rationale of Reward (1830).]

Thursday, February 26, 2015


“Marginalia are on the march”: and on display.

Related posts
The fate of marginalia
From the Doyle edition (How many words can fit on a page of Four Quartets?)
Note-taking at Harvard (With a Jim Doyle story)

Horizon Bookstore bookmark

The Horizon Bookstore had at least three homes in Urbana, Illinois, before disappearing — which happened sometime in the 1990s, I think. When its South Goodwin home and adjacent buildings were razed to make way for a University of Illinois Chemical and Life Sciences Laboratory, the bookstore moved to a second-story location on West Oregon Street. By 1996 the Horizon was on South Wright Street, with fewer and fewer books.

The South Goodwin store was very much an academic bookstore, something like a tiny downstate version of the Seminary Co-op: lots of university press books, and as I remember it, lots of “theory,” with austere covers and never no photographs. And the Horizon could order anything. Who else would have ordered Nelson Goodman books for me? Well, the Seminary Co-op, but I didn’t yet know about the Seminary Co-op. The West Oregon location had more small-press books and zines. (Remember zines?) I remember many children’s books at the South Wright location and not much else.

The discoloration on this bookmark — tucked into a Nelson Goodman book — is not a matter of sun damage. The top of the bookmark is in fine shape. The yellowing just below the top and down the edge is the work of paper eating paper. There is no permanence.

Elaine and I took count last night: since moving to downstate Illinois in 1985, we have seen twelve bookstores disappear. That’s not including Borders and Waldenbooks. There is no permanence.

Other bookstores, other bookmarks
Gotham Book Mart
Paperback Booksmith
Strand Book Store

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Toward or towards

From Bryan Garner’s LawProse blog: is it toward or towards? Short answer: in American English, toward. In British English, towards.

Fun, fun, fun

The greatest Downfall spoof of all time: Hitler learns about the Rolling Stone Greatest Albums List.

Thanks, Van Dyke!

Staedtler Norica pencil review

I am a hungry guppy, or just a guy with low morals. The invitation to write a review and get a $5 coupon from Staples was one I could not pass up. An added bit of incentive — write at least 400 characters and get “community points” (huh?) — felt like extra credit. I wrote about the Staedtler Norica pencil:

The Staedtler Norica pencil is a pleasure to write with. Its lead is like the woods in Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”: “lovely, dark and deep.” The Norica writes well, holds a point well, and sharpens easily (because the lead is centered in the wood). The eraser erases cleanly and decisively. I am not entirely sold on the pencil’s design: I’d prefer a painted ferrule. But the combination of black, white, and silver is pleasing, and the pencil is well finished. The price makes the Norica a great value in pencildom. Stock up!
The Norica is indeed a fine pencil. I bought a 36-pack months ago and used just a pencil or two now and then. Then I read a paean by father-son pencileers and thought I should give the Norica a chance. And soon I bought another 36-pack. I’m using Noricas to grade my students’ writing this semester. These pencils make the work more pleasant.

About “community points”: I realized, too late, that they will never turn into money. And that to get my $5 off, I will have to buy $50 worth of stuff. I take back my previous self-characterizations: I’m a gullible pup. And I’ve never much liked extra credit anyway.

[Pencileer is Sean’s coinage.]

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How to improve writing (no. 53)

“. . . publically showcase the work that they are doing.”

I hear the ghost of William Strunk Jr.: “Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!” And needless variants. The adverb is publicly. (Garner’s Modern American Usage and Merriam-Webster will confirm that.) A public showcase? A showcase is by definition open to some audience. But showcase is a tired word, too redolent of The Price Is Right. And “the work that they are doing”? Much better:

“. . . present their work.”

From eight words to three, from thirteen syllables to four. If sentences are, as Richard Lanham says, attention economies, they must respect a reader’s time and intelligence. Revision is courtesy.

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

[This post is no. 53 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Go fish

[“Women working in the sardine cannery factory.” Photograph by Bernard Hoffman. Portugal, 1940. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

On Saturday I posted a photograph of pasta aglio e olio and it spoke to at least two anchovy fans, maybe more. This photograph is for sardine connoisseurs, among whom I proudly number. Does that wording even make sense?

And speaking of making sense, or not: what is a “sardine cannery factory”? A place where they manufacture sardine canneries?

Related posts
Alex Katz, painter, eater Sardines for lunch, every day
City for Conquest (and sardines)
End of the U.S. sardine industry

[I proudly number sounds silly (which I knew) and makes sense. From the Oxford New American Dictionary: “include or classify as a member of a group.” Example: “the orchestra numbers Brahms among its past conductors.”]

Monday, February 23, 2015

Frank Bruni on college

Frank Bruni talks with his English professor Anne Hall about canons, the student as customer, and “the muscle of thoughtfulness”: College, Poetry and Purpose (The New York Times). Much of what’s here puts me in mind of my post Hoagies, pizzas, and English studies.

Recently updated

Ending a sentence with it More evidence that doing so is acceptable.

That post has been getting a surprising number of visits. Pseudo-rules are everywhere.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Clark Terry (1920–2015)

Clark Terry has died at the age of ninety-four. The Washington Post has an obituary.

From YouTube, Clark Terry with Red Mitchell. And with the Oscar Peterson Trio. And with Elaine’s old friend Leo Wright.


The New York Times now has an obituary.

A related post
Keep On Keepin’ On

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bread, milk, anchovies

[Click for a larger view.]

A new shopping list for a snowy day: bread, milk, anchovies, garlic, Italian parsley, &c. Above, pasta aglio e olio, a nice dish for being stuck inside.

Keep On Keepin’ On

Keep On Keepin’ On (dir. Alan Hicks, 2014) is a documentary film about the friendship between the trumpeter Clark Terry and the pianist Justin Kauflin. When the story begins, Terry is eighty-nine; Kauflin, twenty-three. It’s a beautiful, unusual film, with much suffering (hospital bracelets and tubes and worse) but much more happiness. And much to think on about life and music and what Terry calls “the plateau of positivity.” My favorite moment: the socks.

As his website has announced, Clark Terry, now ninety-four, is in hospice care. I am sending good and grateful thoughts in his direction.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Life at Gramercy Typewriter Co.

“‘There’s going to come a time where there are so few people repairing these things that they’re just going to have to say, that’s the end of it.’” Mary Pilon visits Gramercy Typewriter Co.: The Last of the Typewriter Men.

Related reading
All OCA typewriter posts (Pinboard)

Esther Greenwood on the eighteenth century

From Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963):

I hated the very idea of the eighteenth century, with all those smug men writing tight little couplets and being so dead keen on reason.
I found this passage on a scrap of paper between pages of a book. My paper, so it must be my handwriting. (As a student, I helped myself to stacks of bank-deposit slips for use as notepaper.)

It occurs to me now that Plath’s sentence could furnish a wonderful exam question for a course in eighteenth-century poetry. The student would of course be asked to argue against.

New directions in spam comments

Yesterday I received this comment on a post:

Many an afternoon has been enjoyed by a family, bonding over the discussion of [a random name]. Cited by many as the single most important influence on post modern micro eco compartmentalism, it is impossible to overestimate its impact on modern thought. It is an unfortunate consequence of our civilizations history that [a random name] is rarely given rational consideration by socialists, trapped by their infamous history. In the light of this I will break down the issues in order to give each of them the thought that they fully deserve.
Wow. The sentences are easy to find online, as they are here or with minor variations:
Many an afternoon has been enjoyed by a family, bonding over the discussion of Personal Injury Attorney in Atlanta.


Cited by many as the single most important influence on post-modern-micro-eco-compartmentalism, it is impossible to overestimate its impact on modern thought.


It is an unfortunate consequence of our civilizations history that spartan wars hack is rarely given rational consideration by global commercial enterprises, many of whom fail to comprehend the full scope of spartan wars hack.


Cited by many as the single most important influence on post modern micro eco compartmentalism, telephone marketing is featuring more and more in the ideals of the young and upwardly mobile. Inevitably feelings run deep amongst the aristocracy, trapped by their infamous history.


In the light of this I will break down the issues in order to give each of them the thought that they fully deserve.
I can imagine Bart Simpson writing on the blackboard: I will break down the issues in order to give each of them the thought that they fully deserve. I will break down the issues in order to give each of them the thought that they fully deserve. I will break down the issues in order to give each of them the thought that they fully deserve.

Related reading
All OCA spam posts (Pinboard)

[I’ve omitted the random name, which turns out to be the name of someone in Australia. The spam comment came from Pakistan.]

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Oliver Sacks on death and life

“Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life”: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer (The New York Times).

The Lamy Pen lifetime warranty would appear to be anything but

I have a Lamy Safari fountain pen that I’ve been using without incident for about seventeen years. Yesterday the Phillips-head screw-top button that holds the clip in place broke in two. I’ve seen it happen to other people’s Safaris, and it seems telling that newer Safaris have a redesigned button, without the Phillips-head design.

Here is how the Lamy USA website describes the company’s warranty:

Do Lamy Pens carry any sort of warranty?

All Lamy pens sold in the US carry the following warranty:

Lamy pen warranties its writing instruments for the life of the product**. If repair is required other than from abuse or misuse, then for a small handling and return postage charge of $9.50 per pen, Lamy products will repair, refurbish, and return any Lamy instrument. If other parts have been abused, there will be a special charge. Otherwise, there are no labor or parts charges.

**The Lamy warranty does not cover damage caused by misuse, abuse, unauthorized service and the use of other manufacturers refills or inks.
I called Lamy this morning to see if I could get a replacement cap. No. I could send the pen with $9.50 and pay $20 for a new cap. Or I could order a cap from The Pen Company, a British online retailer. I looked up the cost with shipping: $15.75. For a few dollars more, I can buy a new Safari on Amazon.

What I found more interesting than the $29.50 cap was the company attitude — or, at least, the attitude expressed by its representative, who immediately spoke of damage caused by “abuse.” As I told him, I do not abuse my pens. (This Safari still looks virtually new.) He also called attention to nineteen (I had said seventeen) years of use. I reminded him that the warranty is supposed to be for the life of the pen. But he was adamant: no replacement cap. I guess this pen’s life came to an end when the button broke. Lamy, you’ve lost a customer.

Contrast Pelikan and Sheaffer, companies that, in my experience, are happy to honor their warranties and make things right.

[A pen-discussion thread calls attention to the fragility of the Phillips-head screw-top: “The problem with the screw is that the screw head is thin and the slots are deep and fairly wide. That just doesn’t leave very much plastic actually connecting between the head and the threaded shaft. I think that’s why the newer pens just have a single slot in the head, so that the screw can be a little stronger.” My Safari fell apart on its own: no disassembly required.]

Hoagies, pizzas, and English studies

Remember the culture wars? Here’s a reminder, from Joseph Berger’s article “U.S. Literature: Canon Under Siege” (The New York Times, January 6, 1988):

There are those who continue to uphold a traditional standard of literary quality, arguing that students should essentially read works whose merit has been established over the years. But there is a rising number who contend the idea of an enduring pantheon of writers and their works is an elitist one largely defined by white men who are Northeastern academics and critics.

Choosing between Virginia Woolf and Pearl Buck, they hold, involves political and cultural distinctions more than esthetic ones.

“It’s no different from choosing between a hoagy and a pizza,” said Houston Baker, professor of literature at the University of Pennsylvania. “I am one whose career is dedicated to the day when we have a disappearance of those standards.”¹
I, too, like hoagies and pizza. But in literary study, as at lunch, one is making choices, all the time. Houston Baker’s analogy establishes an equality of foodstuffs, or writers. It’s all good. But what if one is offered a choice between a mediocre hoagy and a terrific pizza? Between a hoagy and a Twinkie? Between a pizza and a jar of Fluff? Surely some foods are more nourishing and satisfying than others. And surely some writers are more deserving of attention than others.

Baker’s analogy becomes even more tenuous if we keep to a single food. Since Buck and Woolf are novelists, why not regard them both as hoagies, or both as pizzas? How then is one to choose? In the world of food, of course, such matters are the stuff of endless debate: deep-dish? thin crust? And whose crust? Who has the best crust in town? And why should anyone sneer at Papa John’s? It’s curious that in seeking to remove aesthetic differences as a basis for choice, Baker should offer an analogy from a realm in which aesthetic differences are always and everywhere crucial.

One reason for the general collapse of English studies in recent years is, I believe, the tacit, never argued-for assumption that Baker’s position is the correct one, that it is inappropriate to deem some works more deserving of attention than others, that all cultural productions are worthy material for the mill of critical practice. Thus departments drop requirements that students study x, y, and z, whichever names those variables might represent. What’s so often missing from English studies is a sense of reverence for necessary texts — “not,” as Diana Senechal writes, “the reverence of calling an author ‘great’ just because everyone else does, but the reverence of treating the work, for a little while, as the most important thing in the room and mind.” In the absence of reverence, the object of critical inquiry can serve only to allow its exegete a false feeling of mastery, as he or she dissolves binaries and exposes ideological assumptions and comes away (yet again) feeling smarter than that unsuspecting sap, the text.

A claim to offer entry to great works of the literary imagination (which need not mean “dead white men”) is English studies’ distinctive claim to a place in the endeavor of liberal learning. As far as I can see, it’s the only claim, the one thing that distinguishes English from “communications” and media studies. To return to the realm of food: when someone is in town for a few days and wants to know where to eat, we have to be able to reply with conviction: You must go here. You can’t pass up the chance.

Related posts
Moby-Dick at Harvard
Verlyn Klinkenborg on the English major

¹ In a 1992 interview with Michael Bérubé, Baker points out that the Woolf–Buck comparison was Berger’s:
in the homology that came out, the first two terms were his own terms. I never mentioned the names of those authors at all. He made those up.

“Hybridity in the Center: An Interview with Houston A. Baker, Jr.,” African American Review (1992).
So Berger must have posed a question with Buck and Woolf as examples, and Baker replied with hoagies and pizza. As Bérubé points out, the two foods suggest the course of Baker’s career (Yale, Penn). “Yes! I like that!” was Baker’s response.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

More “some rocks”

At Dreamers Rise, Chris has collected “some rocks.” Just great.

Mary Norris on New Yorker style

“What if all these commas and hyphens and subtleties of usage prove to be the products of a benign delusion?” Mary Norris of The New Yorker writes about the house style: “Holy Writ.”

[Mary Norris’s Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen is forthcoming from W. W. Norton. Want.]

Gotham Book Mart bookmark

[Slightly faded, slightly stained. Heck, it’s just a bookmark.]

A Gotham Book Mart bookmark, probably from somewhere in the 1980s. Leave it to the Gotham to advertise itself by using an exchange name — PLaza 7-0367 — long after the days of exchange names. The art is no doubt the work of Edward Gorey.

On what must have been my last visit to the Gotham’s 47th Street location, my fambly and I ascended to the second floor (I’d never been), to see an exhibit of Edward Gorey’s work. My son the cartoonist was pretty excited. Ben, do you remember that time?

Other bookmarks
Paperback Booksmith (now Brookline Booksmith)
Strand Book Store

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dubble trubble

To enjoy yesterday’s Henry, we must remove from our cultural archives all traces of The Boys from Brazil, The Shining, and Village of the Damned. We must place ourselves in a world in which jobs are advertised on pieces of paper taped to store windows. Also, a world without an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Also, without photocopiers. In the Henry world, copies are made with an A. B. Dick Mimeograph or some second-rate duplicating machine. Perhaps a Dubble?

Here is a wonderful advertisement for A. B. Dick. I like its clarity and conviction:

[Life, November 11, 1940. Click for a larger view and greater conviction.]

A related post
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)
Mimeograph duplicator (another Life ad)

Railing against vogue words

I recently read someone railing against the words insight and insightful. Vogue words! The writer was probably channeling the third (1979) or fourth (1999) edition of The Elements of Style, which says of insightful :

The word is a suspicious overstatement for “perceptive.” If it is to be used at all, it should be used for instances of remarkably penetrating vision. Usually, it crops up merely to inflate the commonplace.
My railer’s ace in the hole: insightful is not in his (1970) dictionary — which might mean that he needs more dictionaries. Webster’s Third had the word in 1961. The Oxford English Dictionary records its first appearance in a 1907 John Galsworthy novel: “As if she had been guilty of thoughts too insightful, Mrs Pendyce blushed.” But widespread use is relatively recent: Google’s Ngram Viewer shows a significant increase in the word’s use between 1960 to 2000. As for insight, it first appears in Middle English circa 1200, as insiht. That’s one long vogue.

When I read or hear this sort of railing against words, I have greater sympathy for the exasperation with which linguists regard prescriptivist attitudes toward language. But not all careful thinking about one’s words is nonsense.

Words I can live without
Bluesy , craft , &c.
Delve , -flecked , &c.
Expressed that
That said
Three words never to use in a poem

[Searching OCA, I find that I’ve used perceptive just once in ten years. Insightful turns up only in an observation that E. B. White’s preference for perceptive seems arbitrary. I appear to have little affection for either insightful or perceptive. That’s a different matter from an uninformed insistence that a particular word is a newfangled convenience or without lexicographic reality.]

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ellington sings!

The Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine has an article about Duke Ellington’s “Moon Maiden,” a piece written for the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. “Moon Maiden” is to my knowledge the only singing Ellington ever did on record. I know the tune from the 1969 solo version released on the 1977 Pablo LP The Intimate Ellington. There Ellington plays celeste and speaks the lyric. YouTube has a full band version with Ellington singing, most likely also from 1969. Above, Ellington playing and singing as part of ABC-TV’s Apollo 11 coverage. That’s Rufus Jones at the drums.

Though “Moon Maiden” is Ellington’s singing debut, it isn’t his vocal debut. Ellington spoke on the 1934 recording “Saddest Tale.” And in 1951 he narrated “Monologue (Pretty and the Wolf).”

I wonder if Brian Wilson and Mike Love had something to do with the vi-i-i-i-brations in “Moon Maiden.”

Related reading
All OCA Duke Ellington posts (Pinboard)
Five sentences about life on the moon

A joke in the traditional manner

Q. Which member of the orchestra was best at handling money?

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?
What did the plumber do when embarrassed?
Why did the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels?
Why did King Kong climb the Empire State Building?
Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies?
Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. Everything here is his except the doctor and Santa Claus.]

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Voltaire on intolerance

[“The law of persecution then is equally absurd and barbarous; it is the law of tigers: nay, it even still more savage, for tigers destroy only for the sake of food, whereas we have butchered one another on account of a sentence or a paragraph.” A Treatise upon Toleration, translated by Tobias Smollett, Thomas Francklin, et al. 1764.]

Or a cartoon.

NPR reported this morning that Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance (1763) is a best-selling book in Paris.

[What Voltaire wrote: “Le droit de l’intolérance est donc absurde et barbare: c’est le droit des tigres, et il est bien horrible, car les tigres ne déchirent que pour manger, et nous nous sommes exterminés pour des paragraphes.” Roughly: The right to intolerance is thus absurd and barbaric: it is the right of tigers, and even worse, because tigers rip and tear in order to eat, and we destroy one another over paragraphs. Voltaire’s text may be easily found online.]

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine art

Elaine posted the Valentine drawing I made for her. I started with pencil and used a too-old gel pen for the finished drawing. When I tried to erase, the ink smudged. But I liked the way it looked. There’s a circle in the middle of my guitar because it’s a replica National. Okay, that’s enough explanation, he added self-consciously.

Valentine’s Day

[“Heart models.” Photograph by Fritz Goro. March 1948. From the Life Photo Archive.]

I tired of looking at tots on vintage cards and so went looking for something else altogether.

This photograph reminds me of the Webster’s Second definition of heart, which Nabokov quotes in Pnin: “a hollow, muscular organ.” Hollow: but may it be filled with happiness. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Friday, February 13, 2015

James Allen speaks

From an interview with James Allen, who draws and writes Mark Trail: “It’s like I’m dreaming, making a living doing this.”

Yes, that sounds about right.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Woodberry Poetry Room online

“This is Ted Berrigan reading today for the Poetry Room at the Lamont Library at Harvard College, Harvard University. And today’s date is August something or other. August 8th.” Online: selected recordings from Harvard University’s Woodberry Poetry Room. John Ashbery in 1951, a memorial service for Elizabeth Bishop, treasures galore. How amazing to hear, across so many years, what Robert Fitzgerald and Roman Jakobson sounded like. Copyright restrictions make some materials Harvard-only.

[And where’s T. S. Eliot?}

Tobias Frere-Jones explains

“[W]e read with our eyes, not with rulers, so the eye should win every time”: Tobias Frere-Jones is explaining how typefaces work: Typeface Mechanics: 001.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Strand bookmark

This bookmark is way before my time, or at least way before my bookbuying days. It must have been in the book when I bought it. Which book? I’m not sure. I pulled a few down from a shelf and was so spellbound by GRamercy that I forgot to make note of which book.

In my student days, I was a regular visitor to the Strand Book Store. I’d take the bus from New Jersey to the Port Authority, walk downtown, and schlep back with two enormous shopping bags full of books. Many of them used, many of them remainders, very cheap. I was in Accumulating Mode, which seems to still function well in young adults. Now that I’m deaccessioning, I realize that many of these finds have proved less than useful. That’s putting it mildly. But I’m happy to have the bookmark.

After extensive imagining, I have determined that this bookmark dates from November 1959. Ornette Coleman was playing at the Five Spot, half a mile from the Strand.


9:00 p.m.: November 1959 won’t work: my extensive imagining didn’t take the ZIP code into account. See the comments. And thanks, misterbagman.

A related post
Booksmith bookmark

[Did I really need three books on John Dryden? At one time I must have thought so.]


“Evelyn, you got any money?”

“I ain’t got none. I don’t want none. I don’t need none.”

This exchange between girls has been stuck in my head since kidhood. I heard it in Brooklyn, outside my school, P.S. 131. Being nine or ten, I didn’t know about William Carlos Williams’s idea of a vernacular language, “the American idiom,” or here, the African-American idiom. I think I just thought wow.

Related reading
All “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Some Rachs

From Sean at Contrapuntalism: Some Rachs.

“Some rocks”

[From James Sowerby‘s British Mineralogy: or coloured figures intended to elucidate the mineralogy of Great Britain (London: 1804). Made available through the British Library’s Flickr account. Click for a larger view.]

Amid architectural ornaments and decorative letters galore, the British Library’s Flickr has “some rocks.”

Related reading
All OCA “some” posts (Pinboard)

Some rock

[From Milano e il suo territorio, ed. Cesare Cantu (Milan, 1844). Made available through the British Library’s Flickr account. Click for a larger view.]

That’s some rock.

Related reading
All OCA “some” posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Henry wall

[Henry, February 9, 2015.]

In the Henry world, all walls are lath and plaster. No drywall allowed.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

College as vodka

From a New York Times article on Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and the rise of George Washington University:

Mr. Trachtenberg convinced people that George Washington was worth a lot more money by charging a lot more money. Unlike most college presidents, he was surprisingly candid about his strategy. College is like vodka, he liked to explain. Vodka is by definition a flavorless beverage. It all tastes the same. But people will spend $30 for a bottle of Absolut because of the brand. A Timex watch costs $20, a Rolex $10,000. They both tell the same time.
O brave new world.

[The Times notes that the article is adapted from a forthcoming book by Kevin Carey, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere. Sounds like an argument for MOOCs, alas.]

Monday, February 9, 2015

CBS oops

Scott Pelley, on the CBS Evening News a few minutes ago: “a secret stash of momentos.” Oops. Stop playing with your eyeglasses, sir, and start proofreading.

I’ll post a link to the video when it becomes available.


And here it is. The story starts at 14:27.

[The broadcast clocks in at 15:14. Which means that the news is about half commercials?]

“The evolution of big sound”

[Illustration by Jim Flora. From the Life article ”The Sound Flowed Out of Old Musical Streams,” May 21, 1965. Click for a larger view.]

Found while looking, as usual, for something else. The text at the bottom right reads

This drawing shows the evolution of big sound. At bottom are the three major streams. Country and western continues to prosper, produced today’s star, Roger Miller. Gospel is not widely popular but has deeply influenced the blues. The blues spawned jazz, which has come a long cool way from hot Dixieland. All came together since since the 1950’s to form rhythm and blues and its successor, big rock ’n’ roll sound.
This picture of things is not perfect: the category country and western came long after Jimmie Rodgers; James Brown and Hank Williams and Chicago blues (Muddy Waters &c.) are missing; the idea of early blues (Skip James &c.) is largely a matter of 1960s white-blues-fanatic taste. But it’s remarkable how much this picture got right.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A joke in the traditional manner

Q: Why did King Kong climb the Empire State Building?

A: He was too big to fit in the elevator.

If my blog is to be trusted, I learned why in 2012. But yesterday on the phone I didn’t know why, and I think this silliness is worth sharing again anyway.

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

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. Kong, Lugosi, Clemens, Hardy, and the plumber are his. I have to take responsibility for the doctor and Santa Claus.]

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Recently updated

Smoke Smoke Smoke Smoke Now with some Couperin.

I bark for Mutts

[Mutts, January 19, 2015.]

I read only a handful of comic strips. Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts is the sweetest and most endearing. Fast friends (Mooch the cat, Earl the dog) who attempt to hibernate, squirrels who bonk pedestrians with acorns, a groundhog named Lamont (get it?): there’s something for everyone. And the strip is beautifully drawn, with strong George Herriman overtones.

The main page of McDonnell’s website has an observation from the painter Robert Genn: “Drawing is still the bottom line.” Read Mutts and you’ll see why.

I read Mutts via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Musical Assumptions turns ten

Elaine’s blog Musical Assumptions turns ten today. In the blog-o-sphere (which may no longer exist), ten years is a long time, and longer. Huzzah!

Friday, February 6, 2015


[Home alone, with the television on for “warmth.” ]

“I believe that my molecular polarity is exactly the opposite of other people’s.”

It’s like that with me sometimes too.

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

[It was Superman speaking.]


Esta mensagem tem como intenção a divulgação de nossos informativos e novidades.

Sigh. I mean, suspiro. Or just aah. It must be the hopeless romantic in me. But I like getting spam from Brazil.

Se você disser que eu desafino, amor and all that.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Another college president plagiarizing?

Trouble to the north:

Critics of a southern Minnesota college president have published what they say is evidence that she plagiarized parts of her dissertation for her doctoral degree.

Annette Parker has led South Central College in Faribault and North Mankato since July 2013. She received a doctorate in educational leadership from Western Kentucky University in December 2012.
The evidence, assembled by a former South Central instructor, an instructor’s spouse, and anonymous contributors, appears in a blog post, and it looks pretty damning.

Plagiarism in high places in a minor theme in Orange Crate Art. The presidents of Jacksonville State University, Malone University, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and Tennessee Temple University have appeared in earlier posts.


March 2, 2015: A second Minnesota college president has been accused of plagiarism.


April 8, 2015: The Star Tribune reports that Western Kentucky University has concluded that Annette Parker “‘did not intentionally commit plagiarism, and that a full investigation is not warranted.’” I’m reminded of what I wrote in a 2009 post: “plagiarism seems to be governed by a sliding scale, with consequences lessening as the wrongdoer's status rises.”


May 11, 2015: The second president, Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical’s Dorothy Duran, has been cleared, kinda sort of. A University of Texas at Austin investigation has concluded that Duran’s “behavior does not rise to scientific misconduct”: Second Minnesota college president cleared of plagiarism allegations (Minnesota Star Tribune). That quotation comes from Duran. What else the investigation had to say about her work has not been made public.

Related reading
All OCA plagiarism posts (Pinboard)

X does not mark the spot

It happened again: holding a MacBook Pro in front of me to show some photographs to students, I ended up touching the screen to close out the slideshow. Stupid screen!

Stupid indeed — or in tech terms, dumb. And how remarkable that touching a screen should become so intuitive. I wonder whether my mistake is a common one.

Thompson’s General Store

Elaine and I finally got around to visiting a store we heard about some years ago: Thompson’s General Store, in Camargo, Illinois. It’s a small store, with main staples, some household goods, beer and wine, and a meat counter. We went for the meat, having heard that it was good. It is really, really good. Jack Thompson weighed out hamburger (which he grinds himself), pork chops, a ham hock (one of us makes soup), and a few slices of liverwurst. Meat-eaters within driving distance would do well to visit Thompson’s General Store.

From 2011, here is one fortunate traveler’s photo tour of the store. And here is my photograph of a vanishing reality:

[Liverwurst, sliced to order. I cannot remember when I last got to see someone write a price on butcher paper. Bliss.]

Recently updated

Grammar brawl The brawler has been — no pun intended — sentenced.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ceci n’est pas une caissière

Elaine and I were checking out at our local multinational retail corporation. We always skip self-checkout for the company of a fellow human being.

This fellow human being handed our string bags back to us. “It’ll be faster if you do this,” she said. Elaine and I looked at each other and started bagging. Very puzzling. I asked Elaine, “Is there some reason we’re doing this?” I thought I might have missed something while checking my phone. Elaine didn’t know what was going on either.

I had to say something: “I’m a little puzzled,” said I. “No one cashiering has ever asked us to bag our own stuff.”

“I’m not a cashier,” the cashier replied. Slightly icy. And then I noticed her badge, which read

        SUZY Q
I couldn’t tell if she had noticed that I had noticed.

“Well, you look like a cashier!” said I. I was friendly about it. No response from Ms. Q. No Have a Nice Day. No nothing.

In my college years I worked in retail as a stock clerk, and I sometimes cashiered. Punching in prices, hitting Subtotal and Total, making change: that’s cashiering. When I was cashiering, I was a cashier.

As Elaine observed, this brief encounter felt like something from Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Roger Angell FTW

Roger Angell’s essay “This Old Man” has won a National Magazine Award for The New Yorker in the category of Essays and Criticism.

I read much of “This Old Man” again last night. It’s a great essay.

“Comprised of”

Sounds like something from The Onion: Man’s Wikipedia Edits Mostly Consist of Deleting “Comprised Of.”

Word of the day: quotidian

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day is quotidian (it’s a word in the previous post).

I like the word quotidian. The word dailiness too. I associate both words with the poetry of the (so-called) New York School. “It is 12:20 in New York a Friday / three days after Bastille day, yes.”

A page-ninety test

The page-ninety test, applied to Joanna Rakoff’s My Salinger Year (New York: Knopf, 2014). The book is about Rakoff’s year working as an assistant at the dowdy literary agency that represented J. D. Salinger, identified only as “the Agency” (in truth, Harold Ober Associates):

And yet my boss — and all the older agents — still regarded me as something akin to a piece of furniture, perhaps even more so than when I’d first started. Parked in front of my desk, Carolyn and my boss could while away an hour discussing the quotidian details of their lives: the roasted chicken at such and such restaurant; Carolyn’s attempts to quit smoking by putting her cigarettes in the freezer so they wouldn’t taste as good; the rerouting of the bus that ran through their neighborhood; the perennial troubles of Daniel, who was still adjusting to some new medication. One day in the middle of May — I turned twenty-four the week before with little fanfare — as I typed and typed, Carolyn began talking about friends of hers named Joan and John, and their daughter, who had an odd name, an odd name that sounded oddly familiar to me. I’d heard her discuss Joan and John before, but now I realized, with a jolt, that she was talking about Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. These were Carolyn’s intimates, the people whose pedestrian travails — bathroom renovations and missed flights — she chattered about. “Who is she?” I asked James the next day. “What’s her story?”
This first paragraph of page ninety at least has the virtue of being about life at the Agency. (The first paragraphs of ninety-one, ninety-two, and ninety-three are about bills, student loans, and credit-card debt, respectively.) But I find nothing here that would make me want to read this book. The writing is sometimes wobbly: I don’t know what it would mean to regard someone “even more so” as a piece of furniture. “First started” should be ”started,” and “quotidian details of their lives” could just be “quotidian details” or “details of their lives,” no? What I find more offputting is a tone of self-regard (turning twenty-four “with little fanfare”) and faux-naïve surprise: “an odd name that sounded oddly familiar to me.” (That name would be Quintana, and it is difficult to imagine the name not being instantly recognizable to Rakoff, who tells us early on of her interest in Didion’s work.) And why the jolt anyway? When you’re working at a literary agency, it should be no surprise that people there might be close to a writer or two. This contrived scene smacks of something written for the movies (and yes, the rights have been sold). And speaking of the faux-naïve and contrived: it strains credibility to think that Rakoff had never ever read a word of Salinger before taking a job at the Agency and answering his fan mail.

Someone who comes to this book for its Salinger content will be disappointed: a few telephone conversations, one brief meeting. The Salinger who appears here is courteous, genial, fairly deaf. Someone who comes to this book for a picture of a dowdy work-world — IBM Selectrics and carbon paper — will likely be disappointed as well. A third of the way in, I ended up skimming for the scant Salinger details, pretty sure that I wouldn’t be missing much. Whoever this book’s intended reader might be, it wasn’t me.

And yes, it is page-ninety, not ninety-nine. The first paragraph on page ninety-nine of My Salinger Year is an inventory of credit-card debt.

[Thanks, interlibrary loan.]

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

AdBlock Plus and corporate money

Another reason to use µBlock: Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are paying to get around Adblock Plus (The Verge).

There’s nothing wrong with creating an adblocking extension that whitelists advertisers of the coder’s choice. But charging companies to get on that whitelist is another matter. John Gruber likens AdBlock Plus’s business model to an extortion racket.

[AdBlock Plus does give the user the choice to block all ads. But the whitelist is on by default.]

Hank and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, February 3, 2015.]

Context: Thirsty just bought Hi a beer.

The only person I can think of who would call a glass of wine “a wine” is Charles Bukowski: “Back at my place, I undressed, climbed onto my cot, leaned against the wall, lit a cigarette and poured a wine.” “I walked back to my room and poured myself a wine.” “I walked over and sat in a chair, poured a wine.” “We sat down and had a wine.”

Sunday’s trip to the “bowling alley” seems to be ending up in the gutter.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)
Read Charles Bukowski 4 what?
Zippy and Bukowski

[Henry Charles Bukowski went by “Hank.”]

Monday, February 2, 2015

New Yorker singular and plural forms

A sentence from an article in The New Yorker:

On test days, I sat next to Bob Isner or Bruce Gelfand or Ted Chapman or Donny Chamberlain — smart boys whose handwriting I could read — and divided my attention between his desk and the teacher’s eyes.
There are four singular nouns (Bob, Bruce, Ted, Donny), a plural appositive (smart boys whose handwriting I could read), and a singular pronoun (his). Because the antecedent of his seems, if only for a moment, to be boys, the sentence is mildly confusing. (Confusing enough that I read it again and again and decided to write this post.)

Can a singular appositive help? Not really:
On test days, I sat next to Bob Isner or Bruce Gelfand or Ted Chapman or Donny Chamberlain — a smart boy whose handwriting I could read — and divided my attention between his desk and the teacher’s eyes.
The sentence still sounds off, and now it might seem that smart boy refers only to Donny. Better would be a slight rewriting:
On test days, I sat next to Bob Isner or Bruce Gelfand or Ted Chapman or Donny Chamberlain — any smart boy whose handwriting I could read — and divided my attention between his desk and the teacher’s eyes.
Any avoids the plural while making it clear that all four boys were worthy assistants. Problem solved.

In college there was a guy who had me pegged as one of the “smart boys.” He would sit behind me and nudge and nudge. I would inch my desk forward and hunch over my exam booklet, thinking Leave me the . . . .

[By the way, the article, about a mathematician, is worth reading.]

A joke in the traditional manner

What did the plumber do when embarrassed?

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 the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels?
Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies?
Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. Lugosi, Clemens, Hardy, and this one are his. I have to take credit for the doctor and Santa Claus.]

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, February 1, 2015.]

I would prefer “Neither of our teams is playing.”

Bryan Garner’s Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009) explains:

As a pronoun, neither is construed as a singular. That is, it should take a singular verb, and any word for which neither is an antecedent should also be singular. Thus, neither of the offers was a good one is grammatically better than neither of the offers were good ones.
GMAU acknowledges that some sentences can be tricky: the plural form in neither of my parents worked for themselves avoids a certain awkwardness. Garner’s suggested recasting: neither of my parents was self-employed.

But Thirsty’s sentence gets a pass from two grammarians. Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey Pullum, A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar (2005):
Subjects with any, no, and none occur freely with either singular or plural agree­ment. With neither, and even more with either, singular agreement is usual; plural agreement is informal, and condemned by prescriptivists.
For Huddleston and Pullum, Neither of them seems valid and Neither of them seem valid are both valid.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (1994) advises the reader to just be (cough, cough) themselves:
If you are writing something in a highly formal style, you will probably want to use formal agreement throughout. Otherwise, follow your own inclination in choosing singular or plural constructions after neither.
Such guidance seems to me only to muddy the waters. Is an essay for a freshman comp class likely to be written in “a highly formal style”? I doubt it. Would it be smart in writing that essay to use singular forms with neither? Absolutely.

Even Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style (2014) pulls back from okaying plural forms:
Neither means “not one of the two,” and it is singular: Neither book was any good, not Neither book were any good. The same is true of either, even when it picks one item from a pair: Either of the candidates is experienced enough to run the country, not are.
It’s interesting to see Pinker agreeing with Garner and not with Pullum. But it is impossible to imagine any of these observations as useful to Mr. Thurston. When you’re a comic-strip character, subject-verb agreement is out of your hands.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Artwork labels

At Oscar’s Portrait, an exhibition of artwork labels.

[This cartoon makes me remember an exhibit at the Whitney some years ago. Among the art objects on display: a bathtub filled with printer’s ink. The ink on the walls was getting more attention.]