Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or treat? Anyone?

If the Great Pumpkin looks down on my neighborhood tonight, he will weep. In three hours of municipally-sanctioned trick-or-treating, one butterfly and one pirate, accompanied by one mom, rang the bell. I fear that trick-or-treating is a dying art.

Anyone who likes Dum Dums and Smarties (Elaine's clever candy choices) is welcome to drop by.

A poem with Halloween in it

Or Hallowe'en. Good evidence that it’s not always happy poets who make happy poems:

"I Am Cherry Alive," the Little Girl Sang

                    For Miss Kathleen Hanlon

"I am cherry alive," the little girl sang,
"Each morning I am something new:
I am apple, I am plum, I am just as excited
As the boys who made the Hallowe'en bang:
I am tree, I am cat, I am blossom too:
When I like, if I like, I can be someone new,
Someone very old, a witch in a zoo:
I can be someone else whenever I think who,
And I want to be everything sometimes too:
And the peach has a pit and I know that too,
And I put it in along with everything
To make the grown-ups laugh whenever I sing:
And I sing: It is true; It is untrue;
I know, I know, the true is untrue,
The peach has a pit, the pit has a peach:
And both may be wrong when I sing my song,
But I don't tell the grown-ups: because it is sad,
And I want them to laugh just like I do
Because they grew up and forgot what they knew
And they are sure I will forget it some day too.
They are wrong. They are wrong. When I sang my
     song, I knew, I knew!
I am red, I am gold, I am green, I am blue,
I will always be me, I will always be new!"

Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966), from Summer Knowledge: Selected Poems (NY: New Directions, 1967)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Reticulating splines"

I see the cryptic status message "Reticulating splines . . ." whenever I use the wonderful online service Mozy to back up my hard drive (as I did last night). Thus Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day caught my attention this morning:

reticulate   \rih-TIK-yuh-lut\   adjective
1 : resembling a net or network; especially : having veins, fibers, or lines crossing
2 : being or involving evolutionary change dependent on genetic recombination involving diverse interbreeding populations
Reticulate is also a verb, transitive ("to divide, mark, or construct so as to form a network") and intransitive ("to become reticulated"). A spline is a curved element used in computer graphics. So what are "reticulating splines"? A programmer's joke.

Wikipedia's article on the computer-game Sim City 2000 explains:
SimCity 2000 was the first sim game to feature the semi-nonsensical phrase "Reticulating Splines," which means "to make a network of splines." [Game designer] Will Wright has stated in an interview that the game does not actually reticulate splines when generating terrain, and he just inserted the phrase because it "sounded cool."
And there are people who get it: one Mozy user gives the service "super huge geek bonus points" for "Reticulating splines."

If you need to back up your hard drive, you can't do better than Mozy, reticulating splines and all.

[All definitions from Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary.]

Monday, October 29, 2007

Elder, older, eldest, oldest

Listening to Évelyne Bloch-Dano talking about the Proust family, I noticed that she referred to Proust as an "older brother" and then excused and corrected herself: "elder brother." And there was I, a native speaker, wondering: What's the diff?

I checked my "Fowler's," H.W. Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern Usage (ed. Sir Ernest Gowers, 2nd ed., 1965), and found this compact explanation:

elder, -est. These forms are now almost confined to the indication of mere seniority among the members of a family; for this purpose the old- forms are not used except when the age has other than a comparative importance or when comparison is not the obvious point. Thus we say I have an elder (not older) brother in the simple sense a brother older than myself; but I have an older brother is possible in the sense a brother older than the one you know of; and Is there no older son? means Is there none more competent by age than this one? Outside this restricted use of family seniority, elder and eldest linger in a few contexts such as elders meaning persons whose age is supposed to demand the respect of the young, and as the titles of lay officers of the Presbyterian Church, the elder brethren of Trinity House, the elder hand at piquet, and elder statesman.
A check of Google Book Search reveals that the distinction between eld- and old- is preserved in the New Fowler's Modern English Usage (ed. R. W. Burchfield, 3d. edition, 1996).

Elder, older, eldest, oldest, let's call the whole thing off.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"If there are no human rights . . ."

"If there are no human rights, there is no value of a human."
Ashin Kovida, Buddhist monk, a leader of last month's protests in Burma, addressing a crowd in the Sule Pagoda in Yangon on September 19, 2007. Ashin Kovida escaped from Burma last week after dyeing his hair and donning a crucifix.
A crucifix on his neck, monk escapes Myanmar (International Herald Tribune)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Orange art, no crate

[Orange Cluster, linen postcard, a "Genuine Curteich-Chicago 'C.T. Art Colortone' Post Card," no. 5 in the series Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas]

Having our piano tuned this week meant rediscovering and removing all the items on the lid — sheet music, editions, and this postcard, which I'd long forgotten about. There's a copy for sale online with a 1946 postmark, but this card looks older, dowdier to me. Wikipedia reports that the linen postcard's heyday came to an end in 1945. The printed text on the back of the card reads: "AMERICA'S BEST GRAPEFRUIT AND ORANGES GROW IN TEXAS VALLEY — GATEWAY TO MEXICO."

All "dowdy world" posts (via Pinboard)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hooking up in space

I'm not sure that the comedy in this AP article headline is inadvertent. Even I know what hooking up means.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Please Don't Smoke"

An unusual and unusually specific Google search brought someone all the way from Indore, India, to Orange Crate Art today:

no smoking points 5 or 8 lines poem or 8 lines song on no smoking for 7 yrs old kids
The search led to the archived page for October 2005, which contains a post marking my sixteenth year sans cigarettes. That page also contains references to kids, lines, poems, points, and songs, scattered among the month's posts.

I thought it would be fun to create a song that meets this searcher's need. I wrote the words; Elaine Fine wrote the music. If you click on the images below, you'll find larger, more readable, more singable, more playable, and perhaps more persuasive sheet music.


By my son, in a computer lab:

"Our PowerPoint says a lot more than the other PowerPoints."

Related posts
The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint
PowerPoint and the war

All "Overheard" posts (via Pinboard)
(Thanks, Ben!)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash?

Yes, Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash! They're performing "Blue Yodel No. 9," which Armstrong recorded with The Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers, and pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong, on July 16, 1930, in Los Angeles.

This recreation is from The Johnny Cash Show, first broadcast on October 28, 1970. According to Michael Minn's Louis Armstrong Discography, Armstrong's appearance on this show marked his return to the trumpet after a two-year health-related hiatus. Listen for the gently bouncing trumpet phrases from 4:43 to 4:47: that's the sound of a genius at work.

Blue Yodel No. 9 (YouTube)

Related posts
The day Louis Armstrong made noise
Invisible man: Louis Armstrong and the New York Times
Louis Armstrong, collagist
Louis Armstrong's advice

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Invisible man: Louis Armstrong and the New York Times

Perhaps I like Louis Armstrong because he's made poetry out of being invisible. I think it must be because he's unaware that he is invisible.

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
For many people, Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) was and is nothing more than a genial entertainer: a smile, a handkerchief, and, from 1967 on, the singer of the sentimental anthem "What a Wonderful World." Armstrong's genius as an improviser, his technical ability as an instrumentalist, his wholly original singing (he's the most influential singer in American popular music), his capacity for reimagining popular songs (his 1931 "Stardust" might be the greatest example): all these elements of his musical and cultural accomplishment remain largely invisible. I credit Armstrong with much greater self-knowledge than Ellison's philosophizing narrator will begrudge, but there's no gainsaying his characterization of Louis Armstrong as an invisible man.

Just how invisible? I decided a couple of days ago to check the New York Times online archives for the newspaper's first reference to Louis Armstrong. I was astonished to find that it came on October 5, 1935, in the day's radio listings:
By 1935, Louis Armstrong had been making records for thirteen years. Between 1926 and 1928, he had led the small-group performances known as the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, regarded as among the greatest jazz recordings. (Try "Weather Bird" or "West End Blues.") Performing in the pit band for Hot Chocolates in 1929 in New York, Armstrong had stolen the show night after night with a performance of "Ain't Misbehavin'." In 1932 and 1933 he had toured Britain, Denmark, Norway, and Holland. The Danes had the intelligence to film him performing "Dinah," "I Cover the Waterfront," and "Tiger Rag," performances that remain dazzling in their elegance and intensity. The Times had taken note of none of it.

October 19, 1935: The Times column "Night Club Notes" notes that Armstrong is performing at Connie's Inn in midtown Manhattan.

January 18, 1936: "Night Club Notes" reports that "Louis Armstrong, of course, continues" at Connie's Inn.

September 5, 1937: Armstrong has suddenly become an oldster, a precursor of "Swing." In "Swing: What Is It?" Gama Gilbert reports that "Swingsters speak with reverent breath of Buddy Bolden, master trumpeter, of 'King' or 'Papa' Joe Oliver, who admitted to his band a youngster named Louis Armstrong, a devil on the 'hot horn.'"

March 25, 1938: A little item noting an engagement at Loew's State Theatre calls Armstrong "a disciple of swing music." Precursor, or disciple? Who's following whom?

November 3, 1940: Howard Taubman's review of Columbia jazz and blues re-releases ("Bessie Smith, Beiderbecke, Henderson and Armstrong in 'Classic' Albums") reinforces the sense of Armstrong as a musician whose time has passed. Here Armstrong is said to be one of the "outstanding names of the Twenties," names familiar to the "connoisseur of hot jazz from way back," as familiar as the names of "the current leaders in the field." Armstrong is "still laboring in the vineyard," not dead yet (unlike Beiderbecke and Smith).

October 26, 1941: The first Times article devoted to Louis Armstrong appears, "Trumpeter's Jubilee: Louis Armstrong Rounds Out Twenty-five Years as a Hot Jazz Wizard," by jazz writer Leonard Feather. The occasion was a never-to-be-realized Orson Welles documentary on Armstrong.

Writing a decade before Invisible Man, Feather understands that Armstrong's genius may be invisible to the reader: "The widespread lack of understanding, and frequent misconceptions, of Louis' real place in jazz," he says, "seem to indicate the need for a general recapitulation of his past achievement," a recapitulation that distinguishes public persona from more significant matters: "Armstrong has been a public figure in the United States as a showman-comedian, a movie and stage star, rather than as a great trumpet player and inspired singer." Recounting Armstrong's influence on trumpeters, other instrumentalists, and singers, Feather avows that "Armstrong is a creator of unparalleled originality." Did Feather know that no one had said such things in the New York Times before?

[June 11, 2010: Be sure to read the comments, which consider two more Times references to Armstrong: as "an unnamed member of the orchestra" (1929) and as "Lou Armstrong" (1932).]
Related posts
The day Louis Armstrong made noise
Louis Armstrong, collagist
Louis Armstrong's advice
"Self-Reliance" and jazz

Louis Armstrong in Denmark, 1933 (not 1934)
"I Cover the Waterfront," "Dinah," "Tiger Rag"

Monday, October 22, 2007


From the world of "colledge," a partial conversation between two friends:

". . . got drunk."

"Open bar! How can you beat that?"

"Exactly!" [Laughs and thrusts clenched right hand in air.]

Related posts
Homeric blindness in colledge
Life in colledge

All "Overheard" posts (via Pinboard)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

"The Autumn of the Multitaskers"

From "The Autumn of the Multitaskers," an essay by novelist Walter Kirn in the November 2007 Atlantic:

"Where do you want to go today?" Microsoft asked us.

Now that I no longer confuse freedom with speed, convenience, and mobility, my answer would be: "Away. Just away. Someplace where I can think."

Related posts
Multitasking makes you stupid
Multitasking: "not paying attention"
On continuous partial attention
(Thanks to L. Lee Lowe, who pointed her readers to this essay.)

[Update, 1/22/08: The Atlantic has made its archives available to non-subscribers. Anyone may now read Kirn's essay online: The Autumn of the Multitaskers.]

Friday, October 19, 2007

Campaign e-mails (again)

I have greater and greater misgivings about the e-mails that Barack Obama's campaign is sending to supporters. The problems that I see in these messages suggest the difficulty of using a relatively new means of communication effectively. From October 18, a case in point:


I'm leaving the Tonight Show studio and I wanted to share something.
Am I expected to believe that as Barack Obama is leaving a television studio, he has stopped to fire up a laptop and e-mail me? At 3:35 AM? Yes, this message was sent at 3:35 AM, when I suspect everyone involved in the taping had long since left the studio, Senator Obama included.

A first name followed by a comma is an at least semi-plausible greeting. Sometimes the beginning is a bit too brusque:
Michael --

Last night each of the presidential campaigns reported their third-quarter fundraising numbers.
Worse still, the Obama campaign continues to use "Hey" as a greeting. If anyone from Obama '08 is reading: "Hey" is a terrible way to address someone in an e-mail. "Hey" is what college students are told not to write when they e-mail their professors. What makes campaign strategists imagine that voters and potential contributors want to be addressed in this way?

The sign-offs can be brusque as well:
I need you to make a donation to close the gap:

Not even a "Thanks"?

A stranger development is the use of supporters' names in follow-up messages. Thus I found a message in my inbox from Earnest Primous, "RE: Hillary's money." Earnest Primous, it turns out, is a retired postalworker who's contributed to the Obama campaign and is encouraging me to do likewise. If my son had not tipped me off, I would've deleted this message unopened as spam. The last thing most e-mail users want to do is open messages from unrecognized senders.

A further problem: the Obama campaign's use of follow-up e-mails creates some awkward complications. Consider this excerpt:
Obama is relying on you and me to make this happen. If I can give again, you can give too. Help Obama close the gap with Hillary so we can change politics:

Thank you,

Retired from Postal Service

----------Original message----------

From: Barack Obama
Subject: Hillary's money

Hey --

Last night each of the presidential campaigns reported their third-quarter fundraising numbers.
See what's happened? Mr. Primous, it would appear, is replying to the e-mail that I quoted at the beginning of this post. But that message addressed the recipient by name. Here it begins with "Hey." Mr. Primous' message is, of course, not a reply (in the e-mail sense) at all; it's an e-mail that quotes and makes generic some of the text of the previous Obama e-mail, with "Hey" replacing the previously personalized greeting.

I've telephoned the Obama campaign to voice three suggestions about e-mail strategy:
1. Use a consistent, recognizable sender name. "Obama '08" would be a good one.

2. Use a consistent, non-cryptic subject line. "A message from Obama '08" would be a good one.

3. Use a serious tone, neither falsely informal nor brusque.
The person I spoke with asked whether I realized that Earnest Primous is a real person (of course I did) and explained that the campaign was trying something new. But novelty in e-mailing is not a good strategy, not if one wants the recipient to open, read, and act. And the false informality of these e-mails is sadly at odds with the honest eloquence that draws people to the Obama campaign.
Related post
Campaign e-mail etiquette
Obama e-mail improvement


FreeRice is a novel humanitarian project: for every correct definition one chooses, a participating company donates ten grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program.

(Thanks, Ben!)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Philip Kolb on Proust

Philip Kolb (1907-1992), professor of French at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, edited the 21-volume edition of Proust's correspondence. He was working on the final volume when he died. Kolb's answer to the question of how he could have spent his lifetime "working on a single man":

[T]he answer to the question is that, when the subject of one's inquiry is Proust, a lifetime would scarcely suffice to permit exploration in depth of the innumerable facets of his universe. Nothing could be more captivating than to explore the mind of such a genius — an intellect of such capacity, an artist of such prodigious sweep and power, whose ability to move us, to make us feel the beauties of nature, and the warmth of human affection was so great — or to observe how he reacted when confronted with current events, how he judged his contemporaries, how his own ideas evolved with the passage of time, or simply to observe what inspired him, how he created his characters and episodes. In editing the correspondence of such a man, one should, of course, bear in mind that so modest an endeavor cannot constitute one's sole aim, but rather it should be a means of attaining a deeper comprehension of the work of the creative artist. In Proust's case, his correspondence represents a special kind of work, since he never intended its publication. For the reader, it offers a means of gaining a better understanding of his mind, his character, and, consequently, his great work. And to the editor, delving into his writings has meant an unending enchantment, an enrichment, and a widening of horizons.

Philip Kolb, "The Making of a Proust Scholar," The American Scholar 53 (1984): 512-13

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Now a major American university

"In other news tonight, scandal at a major American university. . . ."
Katie Couric, doing her bit for academic inflation, as she segued to the scandal at Oral Roberts University.

Read ORU's internal report of kleptocrats amok:
Scandal Vulnerability Assessment (via CBS News)

The Wilhelm scream


"Yeah, I'll just fill my pipe." [Over-the-top scream follows.]
One scream on screen, from 1953 to 1999. The compilation is hilariously good.
Wilhelm: The Man and His Scream, compiled by Pablo Hidalgo (YouTube)
Does That Scream Sound Familiar? (ABC News)
(Thanks, Ben!)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Évelyne Bloch-Dano on Mme Proust

Biographer Évelyne Bloch-Dano spoke yesterday at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Jeanne Weil Proust, Marcel's mother. Bloch-Dano is an engaging speaker; her affection for Mme Proust and her son was especially evident in the passages from family correspondence and In Search of Lost Time that served as stopping points in her talk.

Here's one such stopping point, a note in which Marcel gives his mother instructions for the next day's work on translating John Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture. I love the final sentence:

My dearest Mama,

From midnight to 12:15 I stood guard at the door, hearing papa blow his nose but not reading the paper, so I didn't dare come in.

Tomorrow morning, will you be good enough to translate for me on the large format paper I've left you, without writing on the back; without leaving any blank space, tightening up what I showed you from Seven Lamps . . .

Also, I'd appreciate it if you could copy the attached page circled in blue pencil (I started to circle the back of it in blue pencil, but that doesn't count). Start with the first word (which is: in our view), finish with the last word (which is: to find you, for) without worrying that the meaning is cut off; don't copy anything from the back. But keep your copy as well as the attached page for me, which I will need to consult.

I have the feeling I'm doing better and in any case I'm smoking a good deal less. I'm getting to sleep without taking anything. I'm the one who opened the bottle of Vichy water.

A thousand tender kisses,


[October 1899 (?), quoted in Madame Proust: A Biography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 207-208. Translation by Alice Kaplan.]
Something that surprised me in this talk: the details of a notebook in which Jeanne Proust chronicled the deaths of her mother, father, and husband. In a 1912 letter, Marcel mentions his finding the notebook. Philip Kolb, who edited Proust's correspondence while teaching at Illinois, made reference to the notebook in 1953, and one of its pages was reproduced at some later point in the catalogue of a Proust exhibition. The notebook is now lost.

Évelyne Bloch-Dano is visiting several American cities to talk about Madame Proust. I can't find a full schedule, not even at the author's website. But via Google, I've found announcements of talks at Berkeley (October 23) , Duke (October 25), and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (October 27).
Related post
Madame Proust

All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Met's shark

From a New York Times article on a shark in formaldehyde, on display for the next three years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

How does it look? Weird.

Will the shark attract a new audience to the Met? Maybe.

Is it worth the trip? Definitely.
Is the article worth reading? Kinda. But thinking about this sculpture makes me recall what someone in The World of Henry Orient asks: If this is music, what's that stuff Cole Porter writes?
Just When You Thought It Was Safe (New York Times)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Madame Proust

From Evelyne Bloch-Dano's biography of Jeanne Weil Proust, Marcel's mother:

For the young mother Jeanne, the stages in her sons' upbringing were well laid out. Children had their place in the life of a bourgeois family, but their situation was governed by rules and customs that went unquestioned. Indeed, the children's development could be measured by codified benchmarks: swaddling clothes for the infants, then a gown that made changing diapers easier; bottles, then pureed baby food; around age seven, a boy began to wear short pants instead of dresses, as if to differentiate him from babies and little girls. Before that, his curls would have been cut, another important rite of passage. A boy acquired his individuality by distinguishing himself from all that was feminine. Jeanne saw these stages as progress. Yet her optimism was occasionally mixed with the feeling that she was somehow losing her babies, that in growing older her sons were growing away from her. And while Robert went through his first stages energetically, hastening, like many younger brothers, to catch up with an older male sibling, things were very different for Marcel.

Madame Proust: A Biography, translated by Alice Kaplan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 69-70
Madame Proust is a meticulously documented portrait of its subject and of Proustian family life. The relationship of mother and son is both touching and frightening in its mutual dependence. Evelyne Bloch-Dano visits the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign tomorrow to talk about Madame Proust:
Author to lecture about Proust's mother (UIUC)
Madame Proust: A Biography (Amazon)
All Proust posts (via Pinboard)
(Thanks, Odette!)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Bill and Virginia Youngren's house

Skimming a book this morning, with the television on for "warmth," I glanced up at This Old House to see a house that was instantly recognizable. The color, dark green, looked right. The size and shape looked right. The driveway was in its proper place. Seeing the kitchen's windows and cabinets and wallpaper confirmed my intuition: this old house was a house I once knew.

The house is in West Newton, Massachusetts, and once belonged to William and Virginia Youngren. Bill was a professor of mine when I was a graduate student at Boston College in the early 1980s. ("It's Bill!" he once wrote, replying to a deferential note I had addressed to "Dr. Youngren.") Like every professor I've ever admired, Bill negotiated university life on his own terms, refusing to limit his horizons, intellectual or social, to "the department." He was as knowledgeable about music (classical and early jazz) as he was about 18th-century literature and aesthetics. And he seemed to know, or have known, everyone, not as a collector and dropper of names, but as one who pursued his interests with such dedication that they inevitably led him to the appropriate people.

I spent many hours at Bill and Virginia's house when I was a graduate student. My visits would begin on a practical note — picking up a paper from a previous semester (Bill never graded work in a timely manner), dropping off a chunk of my dissertation. But conversation always took over, sometimes on the house's enormous porch, sometimes in the kitchen or a front sitting room. There would be Earl Grey tea (Twinings, loose) and ice cream (Breyers, vanilla). And often there'd be music, on reel-to-reel transfers of 78s. I remember sitting and listening to "After You've Gone" (James P. Johnson's Blue Note Jazzmen, 1944) and realizing that when you owned a house, you could play records as loudly as you wanted. Who would stop you?

Bill died in 2006, of an undiagnosed neurological disease, and with children grown, Virginia must have decided to sell the house. So here it is on television, a ceiling pulled down, a floor pulled up, a wall — in front of which the kitchen table once stood — knocked out. The difficulties of later life can be read in a detail on the screen: a handrail along the length of the front walk, which must have made it easier for Bill to get around. "It does nothing for the house," the landscaper is saying.

Newton Shingle-Style House Project (This Old House)

Related post
P.S. 131

Friday, October 12, 2007

"Local Norms" and "'organic' attribution"

The report of the faculty panel investigating charges of plagiarism against Glenn Poshard, president of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, offers a remarkable picture of life in a Department of Higher Education. Among the revealing bits:

1. When Poshard wrote his dissertation in SIUC's Department of Higher Education in 1984, the department did not require students to follow a standard style for documentation. "The citation style," says a member of Poshard's dissertation committee, "was agreed upon by the chair and the candidate, and accepted by the remainder of the committee."

2. Poshard claims not to have used a style manual for documentation and says that he would have done so "if anyone had said to do that." The faculty panel acknowledges though that Poshard's dissertation seems to follow Turabian style (what we now know as Chicago style, found in the Chicago Manual of Style).

3. Poshard claims to have followed what the panel calls "the common practices in his department" in citing and documenting sources. And here's where things get good:

4. The faculty panel reports that in the Department of Higher Education "at least one informal style" of documentation was in use. The panel explains that this style was a matter of "Local Norms" and dubs it the "'organic' attribution/citation style." The "informal style" involved presenting other people's words verbatim without benefit of quotation marks (i.e., the little thingamajigs I've been using in these sentences).

I don't think Glenn Poshard meant to deceive anyone when he wrote his dissertation. But I do think that he was content to do his work in a department whose standards of scholarship were frightfully low.

The report is worth reading in full:

Report of Review Committee to Investigate Plagiarism (.pdf, Southern Illinois University)
And for a sample of Poshard's dissertation and its sources:
Document comparison (.pdf, Daily Egyptian, SIUC)

Baron de Charlus, out of control

M. de Charlus, in five similes:

He was as boring as a scholar who can see nothing beyond his own subject, irritating as an insider who prides himself on the secrets he knows and cannot wait to give away, disagreeable as those who, in the matter of their own faults, let themselves go without realizing what offence they are giving, obsessive as a maniac and fatally rash as one who knows himself guilty.

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, translated by Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003), 281-82

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jeremy Wagstaff on Burma

From Jakarta, Jeremy Wagstaff writes about technology for the Wall Street Journal:

I would love to think that technology could somehow pry open a regime whether it pulls the plug or not. But Burma has, in recent weeks and in recent years, actually shown the opposite: that it's quite possible to seal a country off and to commit whatever atrocities you like and no amount of technology can prevent it.

By holding the recent uprising as an example of citizen journalism and a turning point in the age of telecommunications we not only risk misunderstanding its true lesson, but we also risk playing down the real story here: the individual bravery and longtime suffering of the Burmese people who had, for a few heady days, a flickering of hope that their nightmare was over.
Read it all:
The Real, Sad Lesson of Burma 2007 (Loose Wire Blog)

Type terms

Is there a difference between a font and a typeface? Between a type designer and a typographer? Answers here:

Ask Hoefler & Frere-Jones (

Related posts
Typographic walking tour (Flickr)


[Helvetica film poster.]

A chance I didn't think I'd have: I got to see the documentary film Helvetica (2007) last night, a one-time screening at a nearby community college. Helvetica is of course the ubiquitous modern typeface. Helvetica a wonderful film: a chance to hear type designers talk about their work, their ideas of beauty, the history of post-WW2 type design, and Helvetica itself (some love it; some loathe it). Many shots of workspaces and work, with pencils, erasers, coffee cups, and Macs. (Not a single Windows machine in the film.)

Coming out of the theater, I saw Helvetica everywhere: signs on walls, announcements on a television monitor. Helvetica: we're soaking in it.

My favorite moments in the film: Matthew Carter's explanation of how he begins thinking through a type design, Michael Bierut's commentaries on corporate letterheads and Coca-Cola ads, and Erik Spiekermann's confession:

I'm obviously a typomaniac, which is an incurable if not mortal disease. I can't explain it; I just like looking at type. I just get totally out of it. They are my friends, you know. Other people look at bottles of wine or whatever, or, you know, girls' bottoms. I get kicks out of looking at type. It's a little worrying, I must admit. It's a very nerdish thing to do.
The film's site has several short clips, including one with Erik Spiekermann. The DVD arrives on November 6.

Helvetica (A documentary film by Gary Hustwit)

Related posts
Font haiku : Type terms : Typographic walking tour

["We're soaking in it": Readers of a certain age will recognize a reference to "You're soaking in it," from television commercials for Palmolive Dishwashing Liquid.]

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

24/7, 25/8

"24/7" and its noisier sibling "24/7/365" bother me. When used to describe individual activity, these expressions are ludicrous hyperbole: "24/7, I never slow down"; "I am thinking about my work 24/7/365." "24/7" may well apply to services that are always available, but in those cases, the dowdier "around the clock" might serve as well. "Around the clock" has the added advantage of placing us in an analog reality, governed by a 12-hour timekeeper.

There's worse though than "24/7." A couple of days ago, with CNN playing in the background, I heard someone refer to "25/8." More bigger! "25/8" doesn't seem to be in widespread use yet: only one of Google's first ten results is relevant, for a computer repair company with the awkward name "onCALL 25/8."

But what if one wants to press further? If one lives 25/8, what number ought to replace 365? If an ordinary person's year is made of 52 seven-day weeks and an extra day, the year of the eight-days-a-week achiever might be calculated like so: 52 × 8 = 416 days. Add an extra day, and one is busy 25/8/417. But since the 25/8 person's days and weeks are already longer than those of ordinary people, more elaborate calculations might be appropriate: 25 × 8 = 200 hours (one week). 52 × 200 = 10,400 hours in a year. Add one more day: 10,425 hours. And to translate those hours into ordinary days: 10,425 ÷ 24 = 434.375. So there it is.

I am thinking about stuff for my blog 25/8/434.375.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

How to improve writing (no. 16 in a series)

I thought the error in the following caption might be the work of my local paper, but no — the Associated Press gets the blame:

These undated handout artist renderings provided by the U.S. Mint shows four of the designs under consideration to replace the "tails" side of the Abraham Lincoln penny.
Yipes: renderings (plural) show (plural). Once the error in subject-verb agreement disappears, the sentence's awkward start and clutter become more obvious: what are "handout artist renderings"? And is it necessary to say that renderings show designs? Much simpler:
Four proposed designs to replace the "tails" side of the Lincoln penny. Source: U.S. Mint.
Note that the revision also manages to sound like a photo caption.

You can find the AP caption, error included, at many online news outlets. Here's the Yahoo News version. At MSNBC, the words "undated handout" are gone.

This post is no. 16 in a very occasional series, "How to improve writing," dedicated to improving stray bits of published prose.
All "How to improve writing" posts (via Pinboard)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Red-headed woman with reporter's notebook

[Lil Andrews (Jean Harlow) takes dictation.]

Red-Headed Woman (dir. Jack Conway, 1932) is another pre-Code film. The plot is similar to that of Baby Face: an enterprising woman (here without guidance from a Nietzsche-espousing cobbler) sleeps her way to the top in Renwood, Ohio, and then advances to points east. The screenplay is by Anita Loos, and it is said to tone down the serious elements of an earlier draft (by F. Scott Fitzgerald, from a novel by Katherine Brush). The result is engaging and odd, with Jean Harlow's Lil (Lillian Andrews, aka "Red") pursuing Chester Morris's William "Bill" Legendre, Jr., in a light sex comedy that nonetheless prefigures the stalking of Fatal Attraction.

In the above still, Lil has just begun the chase, having brought her ailing boss's mail to his house, hoping that she'll be asked to stay and "take dictation." That's one enormous stationery item Lil has brought with her. The words REPORTER'S NOTE BOOK are readable on the cover. I've flipped a cropped image from another still to make the words easier to see. Could someone stop thinking about Jean Harlow and try to read the rest?

Like Baby Face, Red-Headed Woman is available (no pun intended) on a DVD compilation, Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 1.

All "dowdy world" posts (via Pinboard)

Other notebook sightings
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
Moleskine sighting (in Extras)
Notebook sighting in Pickpocket
Pocket notebook sighting (in Diary of a Country Priest)
Pocket notebook sightings in Rififi
(Welcome, Moleskinerie readers!)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Early writing

From the family archives:

[Crayon on paper, undated.]

Many of these early works have the date and the name of the maker added in light pencil. Here it's a matter of guesswork. Elaine and I both think that Rachel wrote the first three names and then had Ben write his name at the bottom. Rachel and Ben now write papers on Frank O'Hara poems and Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times.

And now I'm thinking of a line from Frank O'Hara's "Ode (to Joseph LeSueur) on the Arrow That Flieth by Day": "the unrecapturable nostalgia for nostalgia."

Related posts
Blue crayon (A packing list for an imaginary camping trip)
Happy birthday, Ben! (A family portrait)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

News from 1984

The New Light of Myanmar is a government-owned newspaper, published by the Ministry of Information in the country formerly known as Burma. Yes, the above page is dated September 28, 2007. But at the Ministry of Information in "the peaceful and stable country," it's 1984.

I'll let the text speak for itself. One note though: if you click for the larger version, be sure to read the last paragraph, concerning Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai, shot at point-blank range. Note the passive voice: he was killed. But by whom?

The New Light of Myanamar (.pdfs for download)
The New Light of Myanmar (Wikipedia)
Video shows Japanese journalist "being shot deliberately" (Times Online) (Graphic content)
"Politics and the English Language" (George Orwell's essay)

Friday, October 5, 2007

Harold Nicolson meets Proust

Here's Harold Nicolson's account of meeting Proust (the story behind "N'allez pas trop vite"). Nicolson is describing the work of the Paris Peace Conference:

Proust is white, unshaven, grubby, slip-faced. He puts his fur coat on afterwards and sits hunched there in white kid gloves. Two cups of black coffee he has, with chunks of sugar. Yet in his talk there is no affectation. He asks me questions. Will I please tell him how the Committees work? I say, "Well, we generally meet at 10.0, there are secretaries behind. . . ." "Mais non, mais non, vouz allez trop vite. Recommencez. Vous prenez la voiture de la Délégation. Vous descendez au Quai d'Orsay. Vous montex l'escalier. Vous entrez dans la Salle. Et alors? Précisez, mon cher, précisez." So I tell him everything. The sham cordiality of it all : the handshakes : the maps : the rustle of papers : the tea in the next room : the macaroons. He listens enthralled, interrupting from time to time — "Mais précisez, mon cher monsieur, n'allez pas trop vite." [March 2, 1919]

From Peacemaking, 1919 (1933)

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)
Harold Nicolson (Wikipedia)
(Thanks, Google Book Search!)

[This post is the 1000th post to Orange Crate Art.]

Proustian advice for students

My friend Stefan Hagemann has observed that so many students on a college campus seem to be elsewhere. As I walk around my university's campus, I understand what he means: phone conversations, text-messaging, and iPod management can take precedence over attention to one's surroundings. Even without the distractions of a gadget, the sidewalks and quads of a campus sometimes turn into nothing more than empty yardage to be traversed, as quickly as possible, on the way from one class to the next.

I like Marcel Proust's words: N'allez pas trop vite. Don't go too fast. It might not be practical to slow down when one has ten minutes to get from one end of a campus to the other. But a college student might benefit in numerous ways from slowing down and looking at and learning about her or his surroundings. Here are five suggestions:

1. Learn about a building, your residence hall perhaps, or a classroom building. How old is it? Who designed it? What style of architecture does it represent? For whom was it named? Did it serve another purpose in the past? What if anything once stood where it was built? A neighborhood? A cornfield? These kinds of questions might spark more general ones: What's the oldest building on your campus? What buildings retain significant original elements? Noticing old light fixtures, old doorknobs, old signage (painted by hand on doors and walls), and old staircases (their steps worn from generations of shoes) can help you recognize the history that you're walking through every day.

2. Give some attention to the monuments and portraits that most students (and faculty) walk past. Commemorative plaques, presidential portraits, class gifts (sometimes in the form of a fountain or gate), memorials to alumni in military service: all these can help you to recognize that as a college student, you're a member of a community that spans generations of endeavor. I remember studying, as an undergraduate, a stained-glass library window with the university seal, and realizing that students could have been looking at the same seal in the same window fifty years before.

3. Learn some legends. Stories, natural and supernatural, abound on college campuses. Learning some local lore (perhaps through clippings or microfilm in the library) might brighten (or darken!) your experience of campus life. If you're interested in historical research, looking into such stories might lead you to material for a paper, a thesis, or an article in a campus publication.

4. Browse through some old yearbooks. They're likely to be available in the library, and they make for fascinating reading. Yearbooks offer an easy and sometimes poignant way to come close to the lives of earlier generations of college life. Those students who look so young, perhaps younger than you: how old are they now? What did professors (perhaps your professors) look like twenty years ago? Where did everyone go before Starbucks and Subway? A yearbook can help you begin to think about such things.

5. Journey into the unknown. Look into an unfamiliar part of the campus, an unfamiliar building, an unfamiliar part of the library. Academic buildings, especially older ones, are filled with nooks and crannies. You might find a great, unexpected place to study by exploring an unfamiliar part of your campus.

And by that time, it might be time to get back to work.

[Proust's remark N'allez pas trop vite was recorded by British diplomat Harold Nicolson, who met Proust at a party in 1919. Proust asked Nicolson to slow down and add detail to his account of the post-war peace conference. You'll find the story in this post: Harold Nicolson meets Proust.]

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Thomas Merton and a snapshot

I love reading Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and writer extraordinaire. (You don't have to be Catholic or even Christian to love reading Thomas Merton.) In his journals, he is unguarded, funny, impatient, and introspective, always open to the possibility of discovery as he thinks aloud on the page. Here's Merton at the age of fifty, looking at an old photograph:

A distant relative sent an old snapshot taken when he and his wife visited Douglaston thirty years ago. It shows them with Bonnemaman [Merton's grandmother] and myself — and the back porch of the house, and the birch tree. There is Bonnemaman as I remember her — within two years of dying. And there am I: it shakes me! I am the young rugby player, the lad from Cambridge, vigorous, light, vain, alive, obviously making a joke of some sort. The thing that shakes me: I can see that that was a different body from the one I have now — one entirely young and healthy, one that did not know sickness, weakness, anguish, tension, fatigue — a body totally assured of itself and without care, perfectly relaxed, ready for enjoyment. What a change since that day! If I were wiser, I would not mind but I am not so sure I am wiser: I have been through more, I have endured a lot of things, perhaps fruitlessly. I do not entirely think that — but it is possible. What shakes me is that — I wish I were that rugby player, vain, glorious, etc. and could start over again!! And yet how absurd. What would I ever do? The other thing is that those were, no matter how you look at it, better times! There were things we had not heard of — Auschwitz, the Bomb, etc. (Yet it was all beginning, nevertheless.)

And now what kind of a body! An arthritic hip, a case of chronic dermatitis on my hands for a year and a half (so that I have to wear gloves); sinusitis, chronic ever since I came to Kentucky; lungs always showing up some funny shadow or other on x-rays (though not lately); perpetual diarrhea and a bleeding anus; most of my teeth gone; most of my hair gone; a chewed-up vertebra in my neck which causes my hands to go numb and my shoulder to ache — and for which I sometimes need traction; when you write it down it looks like something, and it is true, there is no moment any more when I am not aware that I have something wrong with me and have to be careful! What an existence! But I have grown used to it — something which thirty years ago would have been simply incredible. [December 21, 1965]

From The Journals of Thomas Merton: Volume Five, 1963-1965, ed. Robert E. Daggy (NY: HarperCollins, 1998) 325-26

Related posts
Movie recommendation: Into Great Silence
New year's resolutions
Odes to autumn
To educe

Monday, October 1, 2007

Tool to limit browsing

Here's a free tool to limit browsing: open the page (from the link below), decide how long you'd like to browse, and you'll see a timer counting down in your browser's title bar or, if you use tabbed browsing, in a tab. Granted, a kitchen timer works just as well, as do freestanding virtual timers (I like Minuteur and Tiny Alarm for the Mac). Having the time ticking away right in the browser though might add some incentive to finish up and get back to work.

Okay, I'm getting back to work. But reader, please feel free to continue reading Orange Crate Art. You can always try a timer sometime tomorrow.

Timer (The Insomniac Society, via Lifehacker)

Life in colledge


. . . so as to end up flaccid, immobile, alone on the carpet of a dorm room, shirtless, wheezing, intellectually menopausal, cutting lines on an iBook with a pre-paid Discover card, watching consecutive hours of user-generated porn, in the dark, in a hoodie, apolitical, remorseless, eating salt-and-vinegar potato chips from a bag without a napkin: like some hero, pretending to be otherwise, on a Wednesday, during discussion section.
That's the text of a sign created by Adam Delehanty, a Brown student, as a comment on life in college, or in what I call colledge, "the vast simulacrum of education that amounts to little more than buying a degree on the installment plan."

As University Diaries has pointed out, the model for this catalogue is likely Allen Ginsberg's Howl. With, I would add, this difference: Howl is a chronicle of endless, frenzied action, while Delehanty's catalogue is a chronicle of torpor.
Sign of the Times? (Inside Higher Ed)

Related post
Homeric blindness in colledge