Wednesday, August 31, 2005

High Water Everywhere

Oh Lordy, women and grown men drown
Oh, women and children sinkin' down
[spoken: Lord have mercy]
I couldn't see nobody's home
and wasn't no one to be found
From Charley Patton's 1929 recording "High Water Everywhere (Part II)," chronicling the catastrophic Mississippi flood of 1927.

Link: The American Red Cross

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


From the Daily Mail:

A secondary school is to allow pupils to swear at teachers--as long as they don't do so more than five times in a lesson. A running tally of how many times the f-word has been used will be kept on the board. If a class goes over the limit, they will be "spoken" to at the end of the lesson.

The astonishing policy, which the school says will improve the behaviour of pupils, was condemned by parents' groups and MPs yesterday. They warned it would backfire.

Parents were advised of the plan, which comes into effect when term starts next week, in a letter from the Weavers School in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.

Assistant headmaster Richard White said the policy was aimed at 15 and 16-year-olds in two classes which are considered troublesome.

"Within each lesson the teacher will initially tolerate (although not condone) the use of the f-word (or derivatives) five times and these will be tallied on the board so all students can see the running score," he wrote in the letter

"Over this number the class will be spoken to by the teacher at the end of the lesson."

Parents called the rule "wholly irresponsible and ludicrous."
Link: "You can use the f-word in class (but only five times)"

Monday, August 29, 2005

Getting the truth

Six months before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison broke into public view, a small and fairly obscure private association of United States Marine Corps members posted on its Web site a document on how to get enemy POWs to talk.

The document described a situation very similar to the one the United States faces in the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan: a fanatical and implacable enemy, intense pressure to achieve quick results, a brutal war in which the old rules no longer seem to apply.

Marine Major Sherwood F. Moran, the report's author, noted that despite the complexities and difficulties of dealing with an enemy from such a hostile and alien culture, some American interrogators consistently managed to extract useful information from prisoners. The successful interrogators all had one thing in common in the way they approached their subjects. They were nice to them.
From Stephen Budiansky's article "Truth Extraction," in the Atlantic Monthly, June 2005.

Link: "Truth Extraction"

Link: Sherwood F. Moran's "Suggestions for Japanese Interpreters" (available as a .pdf download from the page) The document is no longer available.

Friday, August 26, 2005

For freshpersons

Advice for college freshpersons, from college sophomores.

Link: "The keys to freshman success"

While my ukulele gently weeps

Below, a link to a Quicktime peformance of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"--on ukulele. Jake Shimabukuro's virtuosity must be heard and seen to be believed.

GH was a great ukulele devotee in his final years; he often has a uke in hand in the Anthology documentary. I wonder whether he ever heard JS.

Link: Jake Shimabukuro, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

April 24, 2006: While the above link is down, you can find the video clip here: Jake Shimabukuro, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"

[Thanks to Carrie Kourkoumelis, who sent the original link to Elaine Fine, who sent it to me.]

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Press Your Luck

Larsen was winning so much money that the running total on his digital contestant podium no longer had sufficient enough real estate to display the dollar sign character. Perspiration dripped from his face. Under the hot lights, surrounded by a bloodthirsty arena of screaming audience members, bracketed by two pissed-off players who hadn't won a goddamn thing, staring straight into the Guy Smiley face of an agitated, loudmouth host who'd long since run out of different ways to proclaim Michael's performance "incredible"--Mr. Larsen was experiencing a horrible secret side-effect of his plan which he could share with no one: he had failed to locate an exit strategy.

In order for Michael to keep his winnings, he'd have to remain trapped on the stage of Press Your Luck forever. His situation was an infinite loop from which there was no escape: he'd learned how to trigger only plunger-hitting patterns nailing a cash prize and a free spin. According to the game's rules, this "free" spin would eventually have to be spun. In other words, each plunger push would lead to another. Nobody else could play, and Larsen himself could never stop playing.
A scenario that sounds like something from a Steven Millhauser novel. You can read about the luck, good and bad, of game-show contestant Michael Larsen, by clicking on the link below.

Link: Press Your Luck: The Michael Larsen Incident

[Thanks to Stephen Murphy for the link.]

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Paper chase

From Inside Higher Ed:

On the first day of classes, the ritual has been the same for decades: Professors hand out copies of the syllabus and walk students through it. But in most courses at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh this fall, the only thing professors may hand out is a URL.

That’s because the dean of the College of Letters and Science told professors that--for financial and educational reasons--they should put their syllabuses online, and stop distributing them on the first day of classes. If students want to print out copies, they can do so themselves, says Michael Zimmerman, the dean.

Zimmerman says that the Wisconsin system’s budget "has been cut relentlessly" and that deans have no choice but to try to save every penny. Zimmerman has been dean for 14 years, and his college’s budget (about $18.5 million) is down from where it was when he started. Not a single unit in his college is receiving more money now than when he started, despite inflation generally and huge increases in costs such as scientific equipment.

"We have to set priorities," he says.

The college never figured out the exact cost of printing syllabuses, he says. But copies cost the college about 2 cents a page, nearly all of the university’s 11,000 students take at least some classes in the college, and syllabuses run from a page to 15 pages.
How much money might Dean Zimmerman be saving? If one estimates 50,000 syllabi, five pages each, the college would save $5,000 by not xeroxing. I would think that there'd be better and easier ways to save $5,000. Then again, it's possible that the Dean has chosen this highly visible cost-cutting measure to call attention to the dire budgetary situation at his school.

Link: "The End of the Paper Syllabus"

Monday, August 22, 2005

Robert Moog (1934-2005)

From the New York Times:

Rock groups were attracted to the Moog as well. The Monkees used the instrument as early as 1967, on their "Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd." Album. In early 1969, George Harrison of the Beatles had a Moog synthesizer installed in his home and released an album of his practice tapes, "Electronic Sound," that May. The Beatles used the synthesizer to adorn several tracks on the "Abbey Road" album, most notably John Lennon's "Because," Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" and Paul McCartney's "Maxwell's Silver Hammer."

Among jazz musicians, Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer and Sun Ra adopted the synthesizer quickly. And with the advent of progressive rock in the early 1970's, the sound of the Moog synthesizer and its imitators became ubiquitous.
Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog synthesizer, has died at the age of 71.

Link: "Robert Moog, Music Synthesizer Creator, Dies"

[To read the New York Times online, use mediajunkie as your name and password.]

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Hemingway's typewriter

I'm reminded of the old Peterman catalogue, which affixed a famous name to most any object, but the following is for real--a typewriter used by Ernest Hemingway:

The typewriter, a Halda, was made in Sweden and is in excellent condition with the ribbon and keys intact. It is fully functional, in its original leather case with somewhat tattered transportation stickers from both the American Export Line and the French Line.
Only $100,000. Are replacement ribbons available?

[Update: It's been sold.]

Link: Hemingway's typewriter.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Ready or not

From a New York Times article, "Many Going to College Are Not Ready, Report Says":

Only about half of this year's high school graduates have the reading skills they need to succeed in college, and even fewer are prepared for college-level science and math courses, according to a yearly report from ACT, which produces one of the nation's leading college admissions tests.

The report, based on scores of the 2005 high school graduates who took the exam, some 1.2 million students in all, also found that fewer than one in four met the college-readiness benchmarks in all four subjects tested: reading comprehension, English, math and science.

"It is very likely that hundreds of thousands of students will have a disconnect between their plans for college and the cold reality of their readiness for college," Richard L. Ferguson, chief executive of ACT, said in an online news conference yesterday.
And what happens when a student experiences the disconnect? Disbelief, indignation, and complaints that "This teacher cannot teach."

[Use mediajunkie as your name and password to read the Times online.]

Andrew Sullivan on self-esteem

The above post made me think of Andrew Sullivan's essay "Self-Esteem: Why we need less of it," which touches on the disconnect between student expectations and reality:

Self-esteem can also be an educational boomerang. Friends of mine who teach today's college students are constantly complaining about the high self-esteem of their students. When the kids have been told from Day One that they can do no wrong, when every grade in high school is assessed so as to make the kid feel good, rather than to give an accurate measure of his work, the student can develop self-worth dangerously unrelated to the objective truth. He can then get deeply offended when he's told he's got a C-grade in college, and become demoralized or extremely angry. Weak professors give in to the pressure--hence grade inflation. Tough professors merely get exhausted trying to bring their students into vague touch with reality.
You can read Sullivan's essay by clicking here.


In a bank in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a mother talking to her young daughter:

It's a bank, but it's a very cold bank. It's the Bank of America.


From Merriam-Webster's Word-of-the-Day service:

The Word of the Day for August 18 is:

meme \MEEM\ noun
: an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture

Example sentence:
"Blogs are an interesting way... of seeing which ideas, memes, trends and news events are getting the most comment." (Clive Thompson, quoted in the Sunday Tribune, February 6, 2005)

Did you know?
In 1976, British scientist Richard Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene, and in his book he defended his new creation, the word "meme." Having first considered, then rejected, "mimeme," he wrote: "'Mimeme' comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like 'gene.' I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate 'mimeme' to 'meme.'" The suitable Greek root was "mim-," meaning "mime" or "mimic." Dawkins's "mimeme" was formed from "mim-" plus "-eme," an English noun suffix that indicates a distinctive unit of language structure (as in "grapheme," "lexeme," and "phoneme"). "Meme" itself, like a good meme, caught on pretty quickly, spreading from person to person as it established itself in the language.

Monday, August 15, 2005


From an Ellen Goodman column, "A snail mail tale":

How do you describe the times we live in, so connected and yet fractured? Linda Stone, a former Microsoft techie, characterizes ours as an era of ''continuous partial attention." At the extreme end are teenagers instant-messaging while they are talking on the cell phone, downloading music, and doing homework. But adults too live with all systems go, interrupted and distracted, scanning everything, multi-technological-tasking everywhere.

We suffer from the illusion, says Stone, that we can expand our personal bandwidth, connecting to more and more. Instead, we end up overstimulated, overwhelmed and, she adds, unfulfilled. Continuous partial attention inevitably feels like a lack of full attention.

But now there are signs of people searching for ways to slow down and listen up. We are told that experienced e-mail users are taking longer to answer, freeing themselves from the tyranny of the reply button. Caller ID is used to find out who we don't have to talk to. And the next ''killer ap," they say, will be software that can triage the important from the trivial e-mail.

Meanwhile, at companies where technology interrupts creativity and online contact prevents face-to-face contact, there are now e-mail-free Fridays. At others, there are bosses who require that you check your BlackBerry at the meeting door.

If a ringing cell phone once signaled your importance to a client, now that client is impressed when you turn off the cell phone. People who stayed connected 10 ways, 24/7, now pride themselves on ''going dark."

''People hunger for more attention," says Stone, whose message has been welcomed even at a conference of bloggers. ''Full attention will be the aphrodisiac of the future."
These thoughts remind me of the words from Simone Weil taped to my office door: "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity."

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The language of stamps

From tomorrow's New York Times:

Every other day, when Janie Bielefeldt writes to her husband, who is deployed in Afghanistan, she places her stamps upside down and diagonally on the letters as a way to say "I miss you." Susan Haggerty says "I love you" by putting her stamps upside down on letters to her son, stationed in Iraq.

Noma Byng does the same thing with the letters she sends to her husband when he is serving abroad as a way of trying to convey what words cannot. "You do everything you can to make the letters seem like more than a piece of paper," Mrs. Byng said.

For most people, the front of an envelope is simply a place for addresses and postage, and a crooked stamp indicates little more than that the sender was in a hurry. But for others, this tiny sliver of real estate is home to a coded language, hidden in plain sight, that has been passed down through the generations for more than a century.
You can read "From Love to Longing to Protest, It's All in the Tilt of the Postage" by clicking here.

[Use mediajunkie as your name and password to read the Times online.]

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Barbara Bel Geddes

From Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958):

[Scottie has been balancing a cane on his fingertip. It falls and he bends forward to retrieve it.]

Scottie: Ouch! Ouch.

Midge: I thought you said no more aches or pains.

Scottie: It's this darned corset. It binds.

Midge: No three-way stretch? How very un-chic.

Scottie: Ah, you know those police department doctors. No sense of style. Well, anyway, tomorrow'll be the day.

Midge: Why? What's tomorrow?

Scottie: Tomorrow--the corset comes off tomorrow. I'll be able to scratch myself like anybody else tomorrow. I'll throw this miserable thing [the cane] out the window. I'll be a free--a free man. Midge, do you suppose many men wear corsets?

Midge: Mmm, more than you think.

Scottie: Really? Well, do you know that from personal experience, or--

Midge: Please.
Barbara Bel Geddes, who played Midge, died this week at the age of 82.

Link to the New York Times obituary.

[To read New York Times articles online, use mediajunkie as your name and password.]

Dorris Bowdon

From John Ford's film The Grapes of Wrath (1940):

Rose of Sharon: It seems like we wasn't never doin' nothin' but movin'. I'm tired.

Connie: Women is always tired.

Rose of Sharon: You ain't--you ain't sorry, are ya, honey?

Connie: No, but--but you seen that advertisement in the Spicy Western Stories magazine. Don't pay nothin'. Just send 'em the coupon and you're a radio expert. Nice clean work.

Rose of Sharon: But we can still do it, honey.

Connie: I ought to a done it then, not come on any trip like this.
Dorris Bowdon, who played Rose of Sharon in The Grapes of Wrath, died this week at the age of 90.

Link to the New York Times obituary.

[To read New York Times articles online, use mediajunkie as your name and password.]

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Some have gone and some remain

I wrote a few weeks ago about the consolation of knowing that places from one's past are still as they were. On vacation with my family last week, I was happy to see the schoolyard fence at P.S. 131, same as it ever was. But other things were different.

On my old block in Brooklyn, the two-family house where my grandparents lived has been torn down, replaced by a brick multi-family fortress. On the other side of the street, rowhouses are being torn down to make way for further behemoths.

In my parents' town in New Jersey, tidy one-family houses are being replaced by enormous villas. As in Brooklyn, the plots are small, so the new structures look ridiculously out of place. Think of an outsized SUV, barely wedged within the yellow lines of its parking space, making life miserable for anyone parked on either side.

And on Cambridge's John F. Kennedy Street (formerly Boylston Street), the great basement nightclub Jonathan Swift's is gone, replaced (at least for now) by a non-profit thrift store called Planet Aid. Looking through Planet Aid's open door and down the stairs, I thought that I must have hit upon the location of Jonathan Swift's (which I only vaguely remembered). The twentyish employee wasn't familiar with the club, which apparently folded some years back. But he pointed out that there was still a stage at one end of the room. And as I turned to look, the shape of the place came back to me--the low ceiling, the bar along one wall, the small step up to the stage, the door to the backstage area off to one side.

The stage now holds racks of coats and dresses and a sofa. I stepped up and thought of the musicians I'd seen at Jonathan Swift's, almost twenty-five years ago, and where they'd stood. Koko Taylor, front and center, her lead guitarist to her right, just behind her. Son Seals (now dead) singing "How Blue Can You Get" and bringing down the house by adding twenty to the familiar seven: "I gave you twenty-seven children, and now you wanna give 'em back!" And two or three times, the Art Ensemble of Chicago: Famoudou Don Moye in one corner, surrounded by his "sun percussion." Bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut (now dead) in the other corner, a tray of the AEC's "little instruments" next to him. Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell at opposite ends of the stage, vibes and whole saxophone families to their sides. And Lester Bowie (now dead) sitting in the center, trumpet in hand, head tilted, Perrier on the floor within easy reach.

Related posts
P.S. 131
P.S. 131, 44th Street, Brooklyn

P.S. 131 class photographs
1962–1963 1963–1964 1964–1965 1965–1966 1966–1967