Friday, September 30, 2005

Happy anniversary

Oh, how we danced on the night we were wed!
We vowed our true love, though a word wasn't said.
The world was in bloom, there were stars in the skies,
Except for the few that were there in your eyes.
"Anniversary Song" (Al Jolson and Saul Chaplin)

Happy Anniversary, Elaine!

More on e-mail

I added some thoughts this morning to what's become the most visited page on my blog.

LINK: "How to e-mail a professor"

Thursday, September 29, 2005


From BBC News:

An amateur British archaeologist says he has located Ithaca, the homeland of Homer's legendary hero Odysseus.

Robert Bittlestone and two experts say research shows the rocky island in The Odyssey was in the western part of Greek tourist destination Cephalonia.

Satellite imagery was used to match the landscape with descriptions in Homer's poem about the return of the man behind the wooden horse of Troy.
My immediate impulse is to say, It's a story. But Bittlestone and his co-authors have a book forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

LINK: " Study 'locates' Homer's Ithaca" (from BBC News)

LINK: Odysseus Unbound : The Search for Homer's Ithaca, by Robert Bittlestone, James Diggle, John Underhill, from

Continental Paper Grading Co.

This picture is me--I mean, I. (I graded eighteen papers in three hours last night and this morning.)

[Photo taken on an Amtrak train leaving Chicago.]

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Being productive in college

Various bits of advice from MetaFilter. I especially like the suggestion to use cds as units of studying time (study through one cd, then take a short break, then another cd, and so on).

LINK: "Being productive in college"

[Via 43 Folders.]

Monday, September 26, 2005

100 frequently misspelled words

a lot
From a list of "the 100 words most often misspelled," complete with explanations of why they're easy to misspell. An enterprising person could format these words into columns, print a page (or index card), and save many trips to the dictionary.

LINK: 100 Misspelled Words


Old and improved

I spent some time this weekend rewriting and streamlining a January 2005 post that's had a fair number of hits, "How to e-mail a professor." It's worthwhile reading for any college student.

LINK: "How to e-mail a professor"

Friday, September 23, 2005


The weaknesses of Microsoft Word's grammar checker are by now well known, via Sandeep Krishnamurthy's eye-opening demonstration. And the inherent weaknesses of any spellchecker should be obvious: the inability to distinguish between their and there, for instance, or to know that proof read should be written as proofread. Yesterday I found a further glitch when reading over a document: Word's spellchecker didn't flag the typo ands.

According to the online Oxford English Dictionary, ands is a word, at least sort of. AND, always in all caps, is a transitive verb, meaning "to combine (sets, binary signals, etc.) using a Boolean AND operator." Sample OED sentence: "The program for plot ANDs X with 7." It's also conceivable that someone might pluralize the conjunction: "This sentence uses too many ands." But wouldn't it make better sense to omit ands from Word's standard dictionary and allow users of Boolean operators to add the word to a custom dictionary? Just asking.

As my wife Elaine Fine has pointed out to me, Word's spellchecker also recognizes Julliard as correct. But the music school is Juilliard. The spellcheckers in both AbiWord and the Writer component of let ands go by, but they both flag Julliard as misspelled. Both programs are freeware, which in this case means that you get what you don't pay for--greater accuracy in spelling.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Raymond Carver's index cards

From Raymond Carver's essay "On Writing":

Isak Dinesen said that she wrote a little every day, without hope and without despair. Someday I'll put that on a three-by-five card and tape it to the wall beside my desk. I have some three-by-five cards on the wall now. "Fundamental accuracy of statement is the one sole morality of writing." Ezra Pound. It is not everything by any means, but if a writer has "fundamental accuracy of statement" going for him, he's at least on the right track.

I have a three-by-five up there with this fragment of a sentence from a story by Chekhov: ". . . and suddenly everything became clear to him." I find these words filled with wonder and possibility. I love their simple clarity, and the hint of revelation that's implied. There is mystery, too. What has been unclear before? Why is it just now becoming clear? What's happened? Most of all--what now? There are consequences as a result of such sudden awakenings. I feel a sharp sense of relief--and anticipation.

I overheard the writer Geoffrey Wolff say "No cheap tricks" to a group of writing students. That should go on a three-by-five card. I'd amend it a little to "No tricks." Period. I hate tricks.
LINK: "On Writing"

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Listening to the radio during lunch, I thought that I heard these words:

The Tao is up four points.
Nope, it's the Dow that's up. I am sadly out of "the mainstream."

"The Search for Petula Clark"

[A]t that time, climbing fast on all the charts and featured hard upon the hour was an item called "Who Am I?" The singer was Petula Clark; the composer and conductor, Tony Hatch. . . . Released in 1966, and preceded the year before by "Sign of the Times" and "My Love," it laid to rest any uncharitable notion that her success with the ubiquitous "Downtown" of 1964 was a fluke. Moreover, this quartet of hits was designed to convey the idea that bound as she might be by limitations of timbre and range, she would not accept any corresponding restrictions of theme and sentiment. Each of the four songs details an adjacent plateau of experience, the twenty-three months separating the release dates of "Downtown" and "Who Am I" being but a modest acceleration of the American teenager's precipitous scramble from the parental nest. And "Pet" Clark is in many ways the complete synthesis of this experience. . . . She is pop music's most persuasive embodiment of the Gidget syndrome.
From Glenn Gould's CBC broadcast, "The Search for Petula Clark." Gould's over-the-top analysis of Petula Clark's art is funny, obsessive, both tongue-in-cheek and somehow deeply in earnest. Gould thought Clark better, far better, than the Beatles: "theirs is a happy, cocky, belligerently resourceless brand of harmonic primitivism." (And he said that in 1967!)

If you listen to this broadcast, you may at first wonder whether it's been mislabeled. But just keep listening: Petula Clark will soon turn up.

LINK: Glenn Gould radio broadcasts, from UbuWeb

[Correction: The correct title of the broadcast is "The Search for 'Pet' Clark," as I found when I checked page 292 of Kevin Bazzana's excellent biography, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould. The broadcasts have since disappeared from UbuWeb.]

Monday, September 19, 2005

"Slow down and think"

Kids' thoughts about writing with fountain pens:

Do you think writing with a fountain pen improves your penmanship? Why?

"My handwriting is usually bad with a ballpen, better with a pencil, but it is 100% better with a fountain pen. I can't rush with a fountain pen because I am left handed, and get ink all over my hand. But my teachers can understand my handwriting when I write with the fountain pen Mr. Socas gave me." Raul, 8th grade.

"With a fountain pen, you have to slow down and think. You can't be messy. My essays are much better now, because I think about what I am going to write before I write it. I think the teacher gave me a pen as a trick to make me think better. The pens make my writing look nicer too, but I hate to get ink on my hand. I have to carry wet wipes with me." Ingrid, 8th grade.
LINK: "Pens for Kids" [Scroll down to the heading "Pens for Kids."]

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Hobart Shakespeareans

Below, a link to a wonderful page about the documentary The Hobart Shakespeareans, which recently aired on the PBS series P.O.V. The Hobart Shakespeareans are the fifth-grade students of Rafe Esquith, a teacher at Hobart Boulevard Elementary, an "inner-city" school in Los Angeles. Each year Esquith's students (from disadvantaged backgrounds, many from families of recent immigrants) study and perform one of Shakespeare's plays, in its entirety. The students do a lot of other reading too (check out their recommended reading).

The story of the Hobart Shakespeareans and their teacher is a wonderful example of what becomes possible when one imagines learning as a genuine possibility. In Esquith's classroom, Hamlet isn't something to be feared, something to be "supplemented" with SparkNotes and movies or presented in simplified language. It's the real thing, to be approached with reverent attention. I especially like what fifth-grader Sol Ah says: "Even if the movies they make are good, they won't be as good as the book."

LINK: The Hobart Shakespeareans

Thursday, September 15, 2005

You say it's your birthday

Happy birthday to my blog, a year old today. It's brought me much pleasure, of various kinds. One is the pleasure of knowing that someone, somewhere, might be reading (and, I hope, finding value in) something I've written. Another is the pleasure of getting a response--my blog posts have brought more (and more varied) comment (here and in e-mails) than any of my "publications."

What I like most about blogging is that it gives me the occasion, as often as I like, to write--to get something said, as best I can, and get it done. (And, sometimes, go back and tinker.) A student asks, Are there really commas in ancient Greek? I can write about it. I happen to see my elementary school on television? I can write about it. I'm amused by an item in the Levenger catalogue? I can write about it.

"Orange Crate Art" has changed in various ways: my original intention, to make a blog relevant to the classes that I teach, has broadened considerably. Because I count some of my students among my readers, I've avoided political comment, until the unconscionable federal response to Katrina (which does seem to me to be a matter of murder by bureaucracy). I'm still devoted to looking outward, not so much at "me." And as I keep looking for interesting stuff, I think I've become a little less curmudgeonly, or at least less interested in calling attention to the spelling and grammatical errors of those who should know better.

I'd like to say thanks again to Rachel and Ben once again, without whom I'd have never learned the necessary HTML. And thanks again to Rachel, who suggested the title. Thanks to Van Dyke Parks, who was gracious and enthusiastic about my use of his song-title as "a place to start." And thanks to everyone who has read any of it, especially Louise, Norman, Sean, Stefan, and other "returning visitors." Y'all know who you are, even if I don't.

Total posts (including this one): 305.

Month with the fewest posts: May 2005 (17).

Month with the most posts: February 2005 (37). (It was cold out, I guess.)

Highest number of "unique" visitors on a single day: 205 (May 13 and July 13, via links from Moleskinerie).

Strangest Google search that has led to "Orange Crate Art": i keep my cocker spaniel tied 8 9 hours is this too long.

Yes, it is.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Great guitars

From the New York Times:

Al Casey, a guitarist whose playful acoustic rhythms and solos were a defining feature of Fats Waller's band in the 1930's and 1940's, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 89.
Clarence Gatemouth Brown, an eminent guitarist and singer who spent his career fighting purism by synthesizing old blues, country, jazz, Cajun and R & B styles, died on Saturday. He was 81.
The Times obituary for Al Casey makes no mention of the wonderful name of Fats Waller's small group: Fats Waller and His Rhythm.

LINK: "Al Casey Dies at 89; Early Jazz Guitarist"

LINK: "Guitarist Clarence Gatemouth Brown Dies at 81"

[To read NYT articles online, use mediajunkie as your name and password, or create an account of your own.]

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Saying it doesn't make it so

I recently learned that the website of the state college where I teach claims that the college is "referred to as the 'Harvard of the Midwest.'" An ill-advised epithet, for numerous reasons. Last week, the student paper offered a well-reasoned editorial calling for an end to this misguided public-relations effort. This afternoon, "referred to as the 'Harvard of the Midwest'" still appears on the college website.

A Google search for "harvard of the midwest" turns up roughly 850 results. Searching for "harvard of the midwest" and my college yields only 17 results, 5 of them from the college website. The other 12 point to a single sardonic reference on an alumni blog. In other words, the only pages that are in earnest in offering this characterization are those on the college website. The honorific, it turns out, originated with a lone state legislator some years ago. Was he joking? Just being fulsome? Who knows?

It'd make me happy if my college abandoned its delusion of grandeur and made a more honest effort when putting itself before the public. Saying it doesn't make it so.

Monday, September 12, 2005

PocketMod again

PocketMod is now even better. From the webpage:

We have just uploaded many new page layouts. Dots game, 2007 calendar, food diary, tip tables, music staff sheets, story boards, and more. You can now also download an offline standalone version. We are also working hard on version 2.0. PocketMod designer 2.0 will allow editing of page content. upload pictures and custom layouts! Interactive mods and more! Messages boards, FAQ's, and other additions are also coming really soon! And of course it will always stay FREE!!!!!
LINK: PocketMod

Saturday, September 10, 2005

September 10, September 11

It's my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.
to Times Square, where the sign
blows smoke over my head, and higher
the waterfall pours lightly. A
Negro stands in a doorway with a
toothpick, languorously agitating.
A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
a Thursday.
                   Neon in daylight is a
great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET'S
CORNER. Giulietta Masina, wife of
Federico Fellini, é bell' attrice.
And chocolate malted. A lady in
foxes on such a day puts her poodle
in a cab.
              There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them?
And one has eaten and one walks,
past the magazines with nudes
and the posters for BULLFIGHT and
the Manhattan Storage Warehouse,
which they'll soon tear down. I
used to think they had the Armory
Show there.
                    A glass of papaya juice
and back to work. My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.
Frank O'Hara, "A Step Away from Them" (Lunch Poems, 1964)

I've loved this poem since I first read it. I love the way it depicts the desultory, haphazard, interrupted movement of the poet's attention ("And chocolate malted") and the way it captures the vibrant, sexy feeling of walking around Manhattan at lunchtime. And I love the poignant mystery in this poem: amid all the life around him, the poet is suddenly reminded of those who have died, after which the poem comes to a quiet and moving end, pondering things to be lost (the Manhattan Storage Warehouse) and things that remain (a book in a pocket). Was the volume of Reverdy's poems a gift from one of the people the poet remembers? We don't know. Frank O'Hara's heart is in his pocket, not on his sleeve.

This poem has come to have a more private significance for me: it's the poem that I taught in a freshman lit class on September 10, 2001. All of its details--the "beautiful and warm" day, the sudden fact of mortality--now look different to me, and the day that Frank O'Hara's poem memorializes now seems itself a memorial to that earlier New York, before September 11. I offer the poem here in memory of the lives brought to such a sudden and vicious end on September 11, 2001.

» "the sign / blows smoke over my head"
» "the waterfall pours lightly"

Thursday, September 8, 2005

"White-Collar Hell"

Q: Nickel and Dimed has become a standard reading assignment for undergraduates over the past few years, and some of that audience must now be entering the white-collar job market you describe in Bait and Switch. Is there anything in the new book intended as guidance for readers who will be facing that reality?

A: I'd like to reach undergraduates with Bait and Switch before they decide on a business career. I'm haunted by the kid I met at Siena College, in N.Y., who told me he was really interested in psychology, but since that isn't "practical," he was going into marketing, which draws on psychology--though, as this fellow sadly admitted, only for the purpose of manipulating people. Or the gal I met at University of Oregon who wants to be a journalist but is drifting toward PR so she can make a living.

Right now, business is the most popular undergraduate major in America, largely because young people believe it will lead to wealth or at least security. I want them to rethink that decision, or at least do some hard thinking about what uses they would like apply their business skills to.
From "White-Collar Hell," an interview with Barbara Ehrenreich about her new book, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream.

Link: "White-Collar Hell" (from Inside Higher Ed)

Sort of scary

When the real news sounds like what follows, I wonder: do we still need The Onion?

As President Bush battled criticism over the response to Hurricane Katrina, his mother declared it a success for evacuees who "were underprivileged anyway," saying on Monday that many of the poor people she had seen while touring a Houston relocation site were faring better than before the storm hit.

"What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas," Barbara Bush said in an interview on Monday with the radio program "Marketplace." "Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality."

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway," she said, "so this is working very well for them."
Link: "Barbara Bush Calls Evacuees Better Off"

[To read New York Times articles online, use mediajunkie as your name and password, or create an account of your own.]

Tuesday, September 6, 2005


I've been having problems with comment spam--strange to see it suddenly appear. I promptly deleted. More recently, there was an anonymous comment with copious, gratuituous obscenity, also deleted. I'm not sure if that comment was meant to be obnoxious or funny, but it doesn't belong on my blog. As for now, comments are turned off. All previous comments remain, all of which I'm grateful for.

Update: Comments are back on. Please keep them relevant and clean. Comment spam (commercial or non-commercial) and inappropriate stuff will be deleted.

The man with the blue guitar (Eddie Lang)

I was happy to run across a website (still under construction) devoted to the guitarist Eddie Lang. Who? Eddie Lang (1902-1933), born Salvatore Massaro, was the first jazz guitarist. Indeed, Lang made the acoustic guitar a solo instrument in jazz. We're fortunate that so much of his work was preserved on records before his early, unexpected death (after what was to have been a routine tonsillectomy).

What's so terrific about Eddie Lang? Anyone new to Lang's music will be immediately struck by his guitar sound. There's nothing light or jangly about it. It's thick, solid--the sound of an acoustic Gibson L-5 with heavy-gauge strings and high action (the considerable distance between the strings and the neck of the instrument). Lang's playing combines the percussive authority of the pick with complexities available only to a fingerpicker. Which is to say, he can do most anything. His sound is orchestral or pianistic (or, come to think of it, guitaristic): in his hands, the guitar is an instrument of numerous tones and colors (especially French impressionist harmonies), capable of far more than the endless single-string runs of eighth- and sixteenth-notes found in so much "modern" jazz guitar.

Lang is also set apart from more recent players via the variety of contexts in which he recorded. There are guitar solos, guitar solos with piano accompaniment, guitar duets with fellow masters, guitar-violin duets with his pal Joe Venuti, guitar accompaniments for singers, and many recordings with the tonally eccentric ensembles of late-20s white chamber jazz. Bass saxophone, violin, piano, guitar: that's one example of the instrumentation to be found in the Venuti-Lang studio groups.

But Lang's work was not limited to the company of his fellow palefaces. He was significant too as a player who crossed the color line to record with eminent African-American musicians: among them, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Bessie Smith, and Lonnie Johnson, with whom he recorded a string of brilliant guitar duets. Lang was, I'd venture, the first white bluesman, playing in the idiom with emotional and musical authority. Well before John Hammond "integrated" jazz by bringing Teddy Wilson into the Benny Goodman universe, Lang was on record as "Blind Willie Dunn." What did his colleagues of color think about it all? Lonnie Johnson called his duet recordings with Lang his "greatest experience."

If Lang has a shortcoming, it's a slight stiffness that's sometimes evident in his solo work. I'm not sure how to account for it, and I'm not even sure that other listeners would agree. But to my ears, he does sometimes sound more relaxed, more exuberant, less studied, when he's not out front. "I'm Wild About That Thing" with Bessie Smith is one example--Lang's obbligato practically dances it way off the record.

A few other bright moments in Lang's work: his solo guitar arrangement of Rachmaninoff's "Prelude," his breakneck duets with Venuti (try "Wild Cat" for starters), the solemn "Midnight Call Blues" with Lonnie Johnson, his beautiful fills on "I'm Coming, Virginia" and "Singin' the Blues" with Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer.

In Lost Chords, Richard Sudhalter recounts a Joe Venuti story. Someone asked Venuti, "Eddie Lang died 42 years ago. Do you ever miss him?" Venuti, usually a wise-cracking tough customer, replied, "Every day."

I try to avoid commercial links on my blog, but if you'd like to hear Eddie Lang, here are the best places to start:

Eddie Lang: Jazz Guitar. A single cd from Yazoo Records and a nice intro to Lang's work. Yazoo is known for getting excellent sound from 78s. (I've been buying their records since high school.)

Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti: The New York Sessions: 1926-1935. A 4-cd set from JSP, and a bargain (about $7 a cd). JSP always offers excellent remastering. (JSP's boxed set of Louis Armstrong's Hot Seven and Hot Five recordings puts CBS-Sony's efforts to shame.)

Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti: The 1920s and 1930s Sides. A 2-cd set from JSP.

The Columbia/OKeh Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang Sessions. An 8-cd set from Mosaic. All the Venuti-Lang duets, Johnson-Lang duets, small groups, Lang's work with Bessie Smith, Texas Alexander, and other singers, and much, much more.

Sunday, September 4, 2005

"The Mail Moment"

From a New York Times article by James Fallows, "Why the Internet Isn't the Death of the Post Office":

The most touching artifact among these mail studies is a survey conducted by the Postal Service and called "The Mail Moment."

"Two-thirds of all consumers do not expect to receive personal mail, but when they do, it makes their day," it concluded. "This 'hope' keeps them coming back each day." Even in this age of technology, according to the survey, 55 percent of Americans said they looked forward to discovering what each day's mail might hold.
As Fallows points out, personal letters "account for less than 1 percent of the 100 billion pieces of first-class mail that the Postal Service handles each year."

So here's a suggestion: Make someone's day, three or four days from today, by sitting down and writing a letter.

Link: "Why the Internet Isn't the Death of the Post Office"

[To read Times articles online, use mediajunkie as your name and password, or create an account of your own.]

Friday, September 2, 2005

Laughter and tears

From Andrew Sullivan:

"The good news is--and it's hard for some to see it now--that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house--he's lost his entire house--there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch." (Laughter). --president George W. Bush, today.

Just think of that quote for a minute; and the laughter that followed. The poor and the black are dying, dead, drowned and desperate in New Orleans and elsewhere. But the president manages to talk about the future "fantastic" porch of a rich, powerful white man who only recently resigned his position because he regretted the failure of Strom Thurmond to hold back the tide of racial desegregation.
Also worth reading: "The Rebellion of the Talking Heads," from Slate, on reporters' increasing impatience with official assurances and platitudes:
In the last couple of days, many of the broadcasters reporting from the bowl-shaped toxic waste dump that was once the city of New Orleans have stopped playing the role of wind-swept wet men facing down a big storm to become public advocates for the poor, the displaced, the starving, the dying, and the dead.

Last night, CNN's Anderson Cooper abandoned the old persona to throttle Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in a live interview.

"Does the federal government bear responsibility for what is happening now? Should they apologize for what is happening now?" Cooper opened.

As if campaigning before the local Democratic Ladies' Club lunch, Landrieu sing-songed back, "Anderson, there will be plenty of time to discuss all of those issues, about why, and how, and what, and if." She went on to thank President Bush, President Clinton, former President Bush, Senators Frist and Reid, and "all leaders that are coming to Louisiana, and Mississippi, and Alabama," for their help.

Her condescending filibuster continued: "Anderson, tonight, I don't know if you've heard--maybe you all have announced it--but Congress is going to an unprecedented session to pass a $10 billion supplemental bill tonight to keep FEMA and the Red Cross up and operating."

Cooper suspended the traditional TV rules of decorum and, approaching tears of fury, said:
Excuse me, Senator, I'm sorry for interrupting. I haven't heard that, because, for the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated.

And when they hear politicians slap--you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now, because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours. And there's not enough facilities to take her up.

Do you get the anger that is out here? …

I mean, I know you say there's a time and a place for, kind of, you know, looking back, but this seems to be the time and the place. I mean, there are people who want answers, and there are people who want someone to stand up and say, "You know what? We should have done more. Are all the assets being brought to bear?"
Landrieu kept her cool, probably because she's in Baton Rouge, while the stink of corpses caused Cooper to tremble in rage all the way to the commercial break.
Link: "The Rebellion of the Talking Heads"


Too cool for school: the PocketMod. This Flash program lets you design and print an 8.5 x 11 page that folds into a nifty 8-page booklet. It's great for keeping notes for the day in a pocket or wallet. The page templates include lines, grids, calendars, even tic-tac-toe. And it's all free.