Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Auld Lang Syne"

From 1964, the Beach Boys, channeling the Four Freshmen:

"Auld Lang Syne" (YouTube)

Goodbye, year.

Chocolate, wine, tea

Hail flavonoids:

According to Oxford researchers working with colleagues in Norway, chocolate, wine and tea enhance cognitive performance.

The team from Oxford's Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics and Norway examined the relation between cognitive performance and the intake of three common foodstuffs that contain flavonoids (chocolate, wine, and tea) in 2,031 older people (aged between 70 and 74).

Participants filled in information about their habitual food intake and underwent a battery of cognitive tests. Those who consumed chocolate, wine, or tea had significantly better mean test scores and lower prevalence of poor cognitive performance than those who did not. The team reported their findings in the Journal of Nutrition.

Chocolate, Wine And Tea Improve Brain Performance (Science Daily, via Lifehacker)
The article goes on to caution of course that it's moderate alcohol consumption that's associated with improved cognitive function — the sort of cognitive function involved in noticing that "chocolate, wine, and tea" are out of alphabetical order or that there's something amusing about the series "Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics and Norway."

A fifth Jane Austen character speaks

Miss Crawford, you play the harp. Do you know whether the Misses Owen are, any of them, musical?

"That is the first question, you know," said Miss Crawford, trying to appear gay and unconcerned, "which every woman who plays herself is sure to ask about another. But it is very foolish to ask questions about any young ladies — about any three sisters just grown up; for one knows, without being told, exactly what they are — all very accomplished and pleasing, and one very pretty. There is a beauty in every family. — It is a regular thing. Two play on the piano-forte, and one on the harp — and all sing — or would sing if they were taught — or sing all the better for not being taught — or something like it."

From Mansfield Park (1814)
Having come to the end of the novel, I realize that the amusing bits of dialogue I've posted are likely to mislead. Though a comedy ("happy ending"), Mansfield Park is a dark novel, encompassing despair, greed, infidelity, isolation, poverty, and (at a great distance) slavery. Troubling too is the novel's emphasis, in its strange final chapter, on contingency: while giving the reader the anticipated ending, the narrator also points out that nothing that has happened had to have happened — the characters' lives might have been worked out in other, equally satisfactory ways.

Related posts
A Jane Austen character speaks
A second Jane Austen character speaks
A third Jane Austen character speaks
A fourth Jane Austen character speaks

A fourth Jane Austen character speaks

The young people wanted to put on a play, Lovers' Vows. Sir Thomas came home and put an end to those plans. But Mr Crawford will never forget:

"It is as a dream, a pleasant dream!" he exclaimed, breaking forth again after a few minutes musing. "I shall always look back on our theatricals with exquisite pleasure. There was such an interest, such an animation, such a spirit diffused! Every body felt it. We were all alive. There was employment, hope, solicitude, bustle, for every hour of the day. Always some little objection, some little doubt, some little anxiety to be got over. I never was happier."

From Mansfield Park (1814)
And thinks Fanny Price, re: Mr Crawford, "'Oh! — what a corrupted mind!'"

Related posts
A Jane Austen character speaks
A second Jane Austen character speaks
A third Jane Austen character speaks

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is planning to appoint former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat:

The action comes despite warnings by Democratic Senate leaders that they would not seat anyone appointed by the disgraced governor[,] who faces criminal charges of trying to sell the post, sources familiar with the decision said.

Shortly after Obama's Nov. 4 victory, Burris made known his interest in an appointment to the Senate but was never seriously considered, according to Blagojevich insiders. But in the days following Blagojevich's arrest, and despite questions over the taint of a Senate appointment, Burris stepped up his efforts to win the governor's support.
I've added the comma and emphasis. I'll also add —

[here it is]

— a moment of baffled silence. After the arrest, after the disclosure of the content of Blagojevich's telephone conversations, Burris pursued the Senate appointment with greater fervor! I would like to doubt that he had much competition.

The Trib cites Burris as acknowledging that he has lost many Democratic primary elections but has "never lost to a Republican." If he is seated, I suspect that that loss will come in 2010.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Freddie Hubbard (1938-2008)

Sad news from the Associated Press:

Freddie Hubbard, the Grammy-winning jazz musician whose style influenced a generation of trumpet players and who collaborated with such greats as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, died Monday, a month after suffering a heart attack. He was 70.
Here, via YouTube, is a sample of Freddie Hubbard's musicianship, a performance of "Body and Soul," with McCoy Tyner (piano), Avery Sharp (bass), and Louis Hayes (drums). Keep listening: it's "Body and Soul," for real.


[Click for a larger view.]

These scans of aphorisms and precepts attributed to Thelonious Monk, now appearing online, are said to be from a notebook belonging to soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. I can find no explanation as to where these scans originated or when the pages themselves were written. (I latched on via a Google Alert.)

Lacy, a longtime interpreter of Monk's music, played with Monk for four months in 1960, and several of these texts appear, with slight alterations, in Lacy's foreword to Thomas Fitterling's Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music, trans. Robert Dobbin (Berkeley: Berkeley Hills Books, 1997). If these scans are the work of someone amusing himself at the expense of Monk fans, we can trust at least that the following aphorisms and precepts, recorded in Lacy's foreword, come from the source:

Thelonious would not tell me what to play, but he would stop me if I got carried away: "Don't play all that bullshit, play the melody! Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head, or play off the rhythm of the melody, never mind the so-called chord changes." Also, "Don't pick up from me, I'm accompanying you!" Also: "Make the drummer sound good!" These tips are among the most valuable things anyone has ever told me.

Some of T.'s other bits of wisdom:

"The inside of the tune [the bridge] is what makes the outside sound good."

"A genius is the one who is most like himself."

"It's always night, otherwise you wouldn't need the light!"

"Whatever you think can't be done, someone will come along and do it."

"Monk = know = 'Always Know' (where you are)."

"When you're swinging, swing some more!"

"You've got to know the importance of discrimination, also the value of what you don't play, the use of space, and letting music go by, only picking out certain parts."

"A note can be as big as a mountain, or small as a pin. It only depends on a musician's imagination."
If I learn anything more about these scans, I'll post it here.


March 15, 2024: Mick Wright informs me that in Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (New York: Free Press, 2009), Robin D.G. Kelley suggests in an endnote (page 531) that the document may be “a poor attempt at a forgery” or something that Lacy himself wrote long after 1960. Neither Mick nor I pretend to understand why someone would forge a document and pass it off as written by Steve Lacy. At any rate, this document’s provenance remains a mystery.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Jack Cella on decent bookstores

Today's Chicago Tribune has a column by Julia Keller on the Seminary Co-op Bookstores. My favorite bit, from the Sem Co-op's general manager Jack Cella:

"If you're in a decent bookstore, you can look at any shelf and realize how little you know."

Domestic comedy

"You like nice in that getup."


Related reading
All "domestic comedy" posts

Comics and newspapers

Stephen Pastis, creator of the comic strip Pearls Before Swine, is worried:

"Newspapers are declining," he says. "For a syndicated cartoonist, that's like finally making it to the major leagues and being told the stadiums are all closing, so there's no place to play."

The Comics Are Feeling the Pain of Print (New York Times)
Patsis sees online distribution as the future of comics. The Times also cites Brian Walker, part of the team behind Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois, who thinks that comics are best appreciated on paper.

(Thanks to Jason Scott for pointing me to this article. Thanks, Jason!)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Harvey Pekar, opera collaborator

Harvey Pekar is writing a libretto:

Pekar and former Cleveland Heights jazz saxophonist Dan Plonsey will premiere Leave Me Alone! on Jan. 31 at Oberlin College's Finney Chapel. The performance will be webcast. . . .

Pekar has a simple reason for accepting the job with the Real Time Opera Company, a New Hampshire-based performing-arts organization formed in 2002 to promote new opera.

"The Real Time Opera Company offered me money to write the libretto for an opera, so I figured 'Why not?'" Pekar said. "These days, I hate to turn money down."

Harvey Pekar teams with saxophonist to stage jazz opera (The Plain Dealer)
Read more:

Leave Me Alone! (Real Time Opera)

Related posts
Harvey Pekar on life and death
Harvey Pekar's The Quitter

[Note to the Real Time Opera webmaster: "Streamed Live 1/31/2009 8 PM" will leave many people wondering when to watch. Please, add the time zone. Thanks!]

[Update: It's 8 EST.]

Friday, December 26, 2008

Trixie? TRIXIE?? (Hi and Lois)

No doors? No mirrors? No seat belts? No problem! A hologram for a driver? C'est okay! But where's Trixie?

Trixie was last seen on Christmas Eve, playing with a box beneath a goth Christmas tree. But come Christmas morning, she was gone. "You don't cut back on Christmas," Lois said, but you do cut back on the number of characters in the strip, I guess. These are tough times, and we all must make sacrifices.

Is there a storyline shaping up here? I mean, one whose name is something other than Cher Carelessness?

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The New York Times on Christmas

If you look back at the photos of Christmas 50 years ago — not that long a time, really — you can see what a simple place it once was. What you wanted for Christmas was a very short list of possibilities, and what you got was usually the single most possible thing on the list, plus a few of the articles your mother thought you needed. The intent was the same as it is now, more or less, but the means were so much fewer.
From an editorial on Christmas then and now (or then and then again):

When Christmas Comes (New York Times)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Louis Armstrong Christmas

Here's Louis Armstrong reading Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" (aka "The Night Before Christmas"), at home in Corona, Queens, New York, February 26, 1971. It's Armstrong's last recording:

"The Night Before Christmas" (YouTube)

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

[Discographical information from The Louis Armstrong Discography.]

A third Jane Austen character speaks

Fanny Price, what think you of this shrubbery?

"This is pretty — very pretty," said Fanny, looking around her as they were thus sitting together one day: "Every time I come into this shrubbery I am more struck with its growth and beauty. Three years ago, this was nothing but a rough hedgerow along the upper side of the field, never thought of as any thing, or capable of becoming any thing; and now it is converted into a walk, and it would be difficult to say whether most valuable as a convenience or an ornament; and perhaps in another three years we may be forgetting — almost forgetting what it was before. How wonderful, how very wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human mind!" And following the latter train of thought, she soon afterwards added: "If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient — at others, so bewildered and so weak — and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond controul! — We are to be sure a miracle every way — but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting, do seem peculiarly past finding out."

From Mansfield Park (1814)
Fanny's slight revision — "we may be forgetting — almost forgetting" — carries great poignance. Her past life with her immediate family is something she would never want to forget. Her inferior status among the members of her extended family is something she is never allowed to forget.

Related posts
A Jane Austen character speaks
A second Jane Austen character speaks

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A second Jane Austen character speaks

Do, please, Mr Rushworth, continue:

"If I must say what I think," continued Mr Rushworth, "in my opinion it is very disagreeable to be always rehearsing. It is having too much of a good thing. I am not so fond of acting as I was at first. I think we are a great deal better employed, sitting comfortably here among ourselves, and doing nothing."

From Mansfield Park (1814)
A related post
A Jane Austen character speaks

Woolworths to close

Woolworths is closing its 807 stores in Great Britain. From the New York Times:

The simple act of walking inside the soon-to-be-gone Woolworths on Portobello Road in West London had a madeleine-like effect on a number of shoppers the other day, releasing a string of long-ago memories.

Woolworths, 27-year-old Nick Clinch said, was the treat he looked forward to more than anything on Saturday mornings as a child, clutching the precious 50 pence his parents gave him when they visited him at boarding school. Woolworths was where Tracy McManus's daughter, now a grown-up singer, bought her first hit single, "Into the Groove" by Madonna, having been introduced to it on the television show "Top of the Pops" that very day.

And it was where the young Lena Smith took her pennies and spent them on the luridly colored candy known as Pic 'n' Mix, feeling independent and flush with consumer power.

"All we had was Woolworths," said Ms. Smith, now 50 and carting around a basket stuffed with items, including a dozen polka-dot mugs and a horse-themed 2009 calendar. "It was the first big shopping place for us. It was our shopping experience."

The Doors Shut on an Emporium Offering a Hodgepodge of Essentials (New York Times)
The company website and the Woolworths Virtual Museum are both down, at least for now.

Thanks to my friend Stefan Hagemann for pointing me to this article. Thanks, Stefan!

A related post

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Jane Austen character speaks

Lady Bertram? We are ready for you. Go ahead, please:

"Mr Rushworth," said Lady Bertram, "if I were you, I would have a very pretty shrubbery. One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fine weather."

From Mansfield Park (1814)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Domestic comedy

"Is that what it's called, or did you just make that up?"


Related reading
All "domestic comedy" posts

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cliché gone wrong

Driving, listening to the oldies station, now a "holiday music" station, I heard the anonymous voice of a syndicated newsreader: ". . . winter storm cutting a wide swipe across much of the country."

The word the reader was needing is swath. Merriam-Webster OnLine explains:

Middle English, from Old English swæth footstep, trace; akin to Middle High German swade swath
Date: 14th century

1 a: a row of cut grain or grass left by a scythe or mowing machine b: the sweep of a scythe or a machine in mowing or the path cut in one course
2: a long broad strip or belt
3: a stroke of or as if of a scythe
4: a space devastated as if by a scythe
Winter of course might take (not cut) a swipe at us, but that would suggest a brief bit of bad weather, not unrelenting movement. "Wide Swipe" turns out to be the name of a spell in World of Warcraft, which might explain this cliché gone wrong.

In other clichéd news, "embattled" Governor Rod Blagojevich has vowed not to talk about his situation in thirty-second sound bites. Says Blagojevich, "I will fight, I will fight, I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong."

Let go my Hugo

A 19th-century novel and a 21st-century legal fight:

Victor Hugo's family loses battle to ban sequels (Telegraph)

Friday, December 19, 2008

How to make friends by Telephone

Teeming with expert advice: "Shouting distorts your voice and is not pleasant."

How to make friends by Telephone (via Good Experience)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Experts say

I enjoy almost any headline that ends with the words "experts say." Rising gas prices hard on commuters, experts say. No perfect gift for everyone, experts say. Experts: they're smart!

My local paper recently ran an article with tips from local experts on saving money: do full loads of laundry, lower the thermostat, turn off lights. Ordinary people could never figure out even a handful of these things on their own, experts say.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Glenn Gould chair project

The "Sole Official Replica" of Glenn Gould's famous chair ("a boon traveling companion," which served for almost thirty years) sells for €990.

But starting with a $35 chair from Costco, an enterprising pianist has created a functional equivalent (not replica) of the Gould chair. Here's how: Building a "boon companion."

Thanks, MPR, for letting me know about your project.

Related posts
Glenn Gould's chair
Glenn Gould's chair again

Mighty minimus

I like the idea of a New York Times article about the minimus:

The pinkie, the humble fifth finger, has long been viewed as a decorative accessory, something to extend daintily from a wine glass. So what would you lose if you didn’t have one?

Get Along Without a Pinkie? It’s Tougher Than You Might Think (New York Times)
Related post
Minimus, minimi

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Proust's letters to Céleste Albaret at auction

A number of Marcel Proust's letters and notes to his housekeeper Céleste Albaret are being auctioned in Paris today, including the last note that Proust wrote to her, a few hours before his death on November 18, 1922.

The note reads:

Céleste Odilon peut partir dans 10 minutes, et rentrer vers 6h1/2, 7 du matin. Approchez de moi la chaise.

[Céleste, Odilon can leave in ten minutes and come back about 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning. Pull the chair closer to me.]
Odilon was Mme. Albaret's husband. On the other side:
J'avais entendu fer au lieu de verre.

[ I heard "iron" instead of "glass."]
I saw a similar note last year during a visit to the Kolb-Proust Archive at the University of Illinois. The thing itself — in Illinois! I'll never forget it.

You can browse all twenty lots at Sotheby's.

(And if anyone sees something wrong in my translation, please let me know.)

[Update: Bloomberg has a report on the auction.]

PLaza, PLaza, PLaza

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (dir. Anatole Litvak, 1938) is an unusual vehicle for Edward G. Robinson, playing a doctor curious about the criminal mind. In the course of his research (which involves, of course, becoming a criminal), Clitterhouse discovers that (like Augustine) he enjoys crime for its own sake, reporting that it brings him "something like the effects of champagne — a high, heady reaction, a strange exhilaration." I'll leave the rest of the story to your imagination, potential viewer.

PLaza, the PLatonic telephone exchange name, plays a part in this picture. Here, safecracker Rocks Valentine (Humphrey Bogart) has jotted what turns out to be Clitterhouse's home telephone number. See that paper disc? Rocks has "translated" seven marks made by a bit of pencil lead that he affixed under the phone's dial. How does he know the sequence of numbers? He used a "little jigger to click it over a notch with every turn." Pretty clever, huh? (Huh? Click it over a notch? What?)

When we next see the matchbook, it's a bit worse for wear. (And yes, the handwriting is different, which makes the movie a bit like Hi and Lois.)

Dr. Clitterhouse's office too has a PLaza number. And dig that notepad and the snazzy Modern Medicine!

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse also offers the chance to see Robinson, Bogart, and Claire Trevor together, long before their powerful performances in Key Largo (dir. John Huston, 1948).

Another post with PLaza in it
A pocket diary and an exchange name

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rod Blagojevich's hairbrush

From the real news, making the work of The Onion more difficult:

Mr. Blagojevich, 52, rarely turns up for work at his official state office in Chicago, former employees say, is unapologetically late to almost everything, and can treat employees with disdain, cursing and erupting in fury for failings as mundane as neglecting to have at hand at all times his preferred black Paul Mitchell hairbrush. He calls the brush “the football,” an allusion to the “nuclear football,” or the bomb codes never to be out of reach of a president.

Two Sides of a Troubled Governor, Sinking Deeper (New York Times)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Henington Press

Three generations of the Harris family have run the Henington Press in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Printer David Harris:

"Mostly every corner that I turn here, I see something reminds me of my father, my grandfather, even my grandmother. Everything's here from them. And it — it hurts. It really does. But I've got to come to the realization that it's got to come to an end. It can't go on forever. . . . This place was our life, the Harris family life."
The business will close this winter. WNYC reports: After 96 Years, a Press Closes in Brooklyn (via Design Observer).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Store brands on the march

In the news:

As the economy plunges into a deep recession, grocery stores are one of the few sectors doing well. That is because cash-short consumers are eating out less and stocking up at the supermarket. And store brand products, which tend to be cheaper than national brands and more profitable for grocers, are doing especially well.

Store Brands Lift Grocers in Troubled Times (New York Times)
The article notes though that some name brands seem inimitable: "Grocers certainly sell store brands that look like Cheerios or like Heinz ketchup, but to many palates, the knockoffs do not taste the same." I'm glad it's not just me.

Related post
Name brands and Brand X

Friday, December 12, 2008

Elliott Carter on Proust

Elliott Carter turned 100 yesterday. From a New York Times article:

He wakes every day at 7 a.m., composes for two and a half hours, goes out for a constitutional with an aide, rests after lunch, composes again or receives visitors in the afternoon, and watches French satellite television in the evening, if he does not have a concert to attend.

He said he has gone back to reading the classics, including Hamlet. After starting a third bout with Proust in the original French, "I got a little sick of it two months ago," he said. "That's why I turned to Shakespeare."

Turning 100 at Carnegie Hall, With New Notes (New York Times)
As Elaine has pointed out, this week's Charlie Rose interview with Carter, Daniel Barenboim, and James Levine is great viewing. I especially liked seeing Barenboim and Levine turn into auxiliary interviewers toward the end — how could they resist asking questions of Carter?

Jimmy Durante, Beat poet?

[Photograph by John Loengard, 1962, from the Life photo archive.]

Note the cap, beret, and turtleneck: Jimmy Durante and Peter Lawford are doing a beatnik routine. (They're even wearing fake goatees.)

And now I'm imagining Allen Ginsberg's Howl, Durante-style: "I saw da best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starvin', hysterical, ha-cha-cha-cha!" "Mrs. Calabash! I'm with you in Rockland, or wherever you are."

Use Both Sides

"This campaign has a simple objective: to give paper another chance."

The campaign's website: Use Both Sides.

Related post
Change the Margins

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A pocket diary and an exchange name

Deception (dir. Irving Rapper, 1946) is a semi-wonderful movie whose three stars — Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains — make melodrama into grand art. Davis and Henreid play Christine Radcliffe and Karel Novak, musicians and reunited lovers; Rains is Alexander Hollenius, a jealous composer whose character is reminiscent of Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944). There are great concert scenes and two astonishing interiors — Radcliffe's ultra-modern apartment and Hollenius' palatial one.

The movie also features a pocket diary and a telephone exchange name, both of which appear in the context of a cab ride.

["If you're really interested, I can tell you his exact words": cellist Bertram Gribble (John Abott) tells Christine Radcliffe what Alexander Hollenius said about Gribble's performance of the composer's new cello concerto.]

There are two other shots in which the "PLaza 1-2000" on Christine's cab is more prominent, but I like this one best, with the PLatonic ideal of a Manhattan exchange name framed by steps.

I like the neon cursive "Woolens" at Buell and Co. too.

More notebook sightings
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
The House on 92nd Street
Journal d'un curé de campagne
The Palm Beach Story
Pickup on South Street
Red-Headed Woman
The Sopranos

More exchange names
Baby Face
Born Yesterday
The Man Who Cheated Himself
Nightmare Alley

Carbon Copies

My friend Joanna Key alerted me to designer Nadine Jarvis' Carbon Copies, pencils "made from the carbon of human cremains." As Joanna says, "this is one type of pencil you do NOT want to collect."

It's only slightly reassuring that Carbon Copies seems to be an exercise in design, not retail marketing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rod Blagojevich, commuter

If you've seen the brief clip of Rod Blagojevich leaving his Chicago residence this morning, you may be wondering: Isn't Springfield the capital of Illinois? Wouldn't the governor be living in Springfield?

To which the answers are "Yes" and "You'd think so." But Governor Blagojevich doesn't live in the Illinois Executive Mansion in Springfield. He commutes to Springfield from Chicago. Wikipedia has some of the details.

Chuck E. Cheese's's fight club

In the news:

In Brookfield, Wis., no restaurant has triggered more calls to the police department since last year than Chuck E. Cheese's.

Officers have been called to break up 12 fights, some of them physical, at the child-oriented pizza parlor since January 2007. The biggest melee broke out in April, when an uninvited adult disrupted a child's birthday party. Seven officers arrived and found as many as 40 people knocking over chairs and yelling in front of the restaurant's music stage, where a robotic singing chicken and the chain's namesake mouse perform.

Chuck E. Cheese's bills itself as a place "where a kid can be a kid." But to law-enforcement officials across the country, it has a more particular distinction: the scene of a surprising amount of disorderly conduct and battery among grown-ups.

"The biggest problem is you have a bunch of adults acting like juveniles," says Town of Brookfield Police Capt. Timothy Imler. "There's a biker bar down the street, and we rarely get calls there."

Calling All Cars: Trouble at Chuck E. Cheese's, Again (Wall Street Journal)
I've not had the pleasure of dining (or fighting) at a Chuck E. Cheese's. But I'm wondering: say that you're Chuck, and you want to talk about the problems at some of your restaurants. What is the plural of "Chuck E. Cheese's"?

[This post's title includes my whimsical try at the possessive of "Chuck E. Cheese's."]

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Gubernatorial ethics test

From a 2004 press release:

Ensconced in the privacy of his office, long after his staff had left for the day, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich settled in front of his computer to test his personal ethics.

Scenarios rolled across his screen, offering up situations that any state worker might face: If a state contractor promises to put a new roof on his house in exchange for new business, can he take it? If a lobbyist wants to pay for a free weekend of golf, should he accept it? If a company seeking a government contract slips him season Cubs tickets, can he keep them?

Again and again, Blagojevich clicked on the "no" button.

Illinois Takes On Its Culture of Scandal (
The context: Illinois requires all state employees to take a yearly ethics test. Oh, irony!

If the above link fails to work, here's a cached version of the press release.

Related post
How do you pronounce "Blagojevich"?

How do you pronounce "Blagojevich"?

"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said in a statement. "They allege that Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of a United States senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism."

Feds take Gov. Blagojevich into custody (Chicago Tribune)
If you are not from Illinois, you may need help pronoucing the name. Wikipedia has the answer: /bləˈɡɔɪəvɪtʃ/.

I.e., "bluh GOY uh vitch."

Wikipedia also has an .ogg file that lets hear you someone pronouncing the name with a funny passive-aggressive tone.

In newspaper headlines, our governor's name is often shortened to "Blago." I have no idea how to pronounce that.

Related post
Gubernatorial ethics test

Monday, December 8, 2008

Four (no, six) gift recommendations

All modestly priced, all in time for upcoming holidays. My only connection to these items is as a happy user.

Field Notes 18-Month Calendar. Beautifully printed. Very dowdy. $8.95.

The Jimi wallet. A colorful, sturdy minimalist wallet, made of recycled plastic. A demo explains the design. I've been using a "Safety" Jimi (orange!) for two-and-a-half years. $14.95.

Republic of Tea Assam Breakfast and Earl Greyer. Assam is mighty and malty. Earl Greyer is the best bergamot-flavored tea I've tasted. Elaine and I are big tea-drinkers; these teas are our "good stuff." Fifty teabags for $9.50.

Zebra Mini T3 Ballpoint Pen and TS-3 Mechanical Pencil. Who can resist super-cool miniature writing instruments? What? You know someone who can? Oh. I was asking a rhetorical question. Oh well. $4.75 each.

Multiple-choice (Hi and Lois)

Choose the answer that best explains today's Hi and Lois:

a. The Flagstons have attached a handle to their refrigerator.
b. Spontaneous generation.
c. a. or b.
d. "Leftovers."
e. Who cares? Lois is going goth.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Lack of American Roots"

The Atlantic has online a sampling of memos from the Clinton campaign. From Mark Penn to Hillary Clinton, "WEEKLY STRATEGIC REVIEW ON HILLARY CLINTON FOR PRESIDENT CAMPAIGN," March 19, 2007, a passage concerning Barack Obama:

Lack of American Roots

All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light.

Save it for 2050.

It also exposes a very strong weakness for him — his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values. He told the people of NH yesterday he has a Kansas accent because his mother was from there. His mother lived in many states as far as we can tell — but this is an example of the nonsense he uses to cover this up.
Elsewhere in this memo (page four), Penn says that the right knows (as Penn of course knew) that Obama is "unelectable except perhaps against Atila [sic] the Hun." Read more:

The Hillary Clinton Memos (The Atlantic)
Mark Penn: The man who blew the presidency (The Independent)

From Lady Killer (1933)

[A cup and saucer have a proud moment on screen.]

In the pre-Code comedy Lady Killer (dir. Roy Del Ruth, 1933), Dan Quigley (James Cagney) rises from theater usher to criminal to movie extra to movie star. Myra Gale (Mae Clarke) is right there with him, sort of. Cagney and Clarke — who shared a grapefruit in The Public Enemy (dir. William A. Wellman, 1931) — are wonderfully dissolute partners. Lady Killer is very funny, rather racy, and now on DVD.

That's Cagney's hand sharing the screen with the china.

Related post
Dowdy cup and saucer

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mellotron demo

"It's a musical computer."

Conductor Eric Robinson (1908-1974) and magician David Nixon (1919-1978) introduce the Melltron:

Mellotron demo (YouTube)

Watch for the slightly crazed look on the face of the "professional pianist" at 2:41: "Mine! All mine!"

Friday, December 5, 2008

Auden and Ashbery

Jascha Kessler fires; John Ashbery fires back: two letters to the Times Literary Supplement concerning Ashbery, W.H. Auden, and the Yale Younger Poets Series. Scroll down for the letters.

(Kessler's real, not a Nabokov character.)

Good advice from Kenneth Koch

I like these lines from Kenneth Koch — the funny generalities ("something," "it"), the figurative railroads ("Internal tracks"), the sudden lapse into philosophy ("contemplated entities"), the simile joining Tristram Shandy and a church, and the shift (at what is the poem's end) from the sound of a kind, wise elder to a more ominous tone and a reminder of "what was" — and is? —"already there."

A sign in Kenya — One Train May Hide Another — inspired this poem. Flickr has photographs of such signs in French. You can hear Koch read the poem at PennSound.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Citation styles (PDFs)

Really useful for students at the end of a semester: three guides to citation styles, PDFs courtesy of the University of California at Berkeley Library:

APA Style Guide
Chicago-Turabian Style Guide
MLA Style Guide

Missing though are explanations of what do with multiple works by one author.

APA: If the works are from the same year, use a letter: (2008a), (2008b).

Chicago: Use a 3-em dash for the author's name: ———.

MLA: Use three hyphens for the author's name: ---.

These are the best guides in PDF form I've found. If anyone can recommend better ones, please do.

Thumb-notches and a ghost

There's something going on wrong (as we say in the blues) in today's Hi and Lois. Or lots of things: the shifting blackboard, the shrinking eraser, the swelling blackboard sill, the creeping W on Hi's jacket (or is that an upside-down M?), and the metamorphosing teacher. And in the second panel, on the far right: a ghost!

But it's good to see that the dictionary's three thumb-notches are where they ought to be. Perhaps this dictionary is a Teacher's Edition, made for use, not display.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Diane Arbus meets the Platters

Watching The Girl Can't Help It (dir. Frank Tashlin, 1956), I thought of an exchange from Ghost World (dir. Terry Zwigoff, 2001). Rebecca Doppelganger and Enid Coleslaw are attending a high-school graduation party:

Rebecca: This is so bad it's almost good.

Enid: This is so bad it's gone past good and back to bad again.
Those two descriptions cover most of the ninety-seven minutes of The Girl Can't Help It. But there are several minutes in the film that are plainly good — among them, those of a beautiful lip-synced performance by the Platters. As the group pretends to sings "You'll Never Know," there are two brief crowd shots of Diane Arbus-like strangeness:

[Click for larger views.]

These shots were no doubt meant for laughs. In my house, we screamed, "went back" (can't say rewind anymore), hit Pause, and screamed again. Aiee!

Here's a portfolio of Arbus' photographs (browse at your risk).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Another Word of the Year

The editors of Webster's New World College Dictionary have announced their Word of the Year, overshare: "to divulge excessive personal information, as in a blog or broadcast interview, prompting reactions ranging from alarmed discomfort to approval."

My suggestion for the word of the year? Change. What's yours?

Related post
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year

Autosave for Mac

Two new freeware programs add "autosave" to Mac:

EverSave (Mac OS X 10.5.5 or later)
SaveCircle (Mac OS X 10.4 or later)

I can't vouch for EverSave, but SaveCircle works as advertised.

Autosave is one feature of Microsoft Office that I miss in Apple's iWork. It's great to have — at last — a reliable autosave add-on.

[The English localization for SaveCircle seems a bit wobbly. To edit, control-click or right-click on the application, choose Show Package Contents/Contents/Resources/en.lproj folder, and open Localizable.strings in a text-editor.]

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Simpsons and Apple

The Simpsons razz Apple:

"Oh, such beautiful packaging! I never thought a company could be my soulmate."
[Update: the above link no longer works. Search YouTube for apple or mapple and simpsons and you might be able to find another fugitive appearance. Look for the 6:49 version.]

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Orange train art

I like this sort of downhome surrealism, which I found while looking for photographs of locations from Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt.

I'm not a postcard collector, so I can't comment on CardCow's selection and prices. But I'm impressed that CardCow allows today's Internet user to send, from the company's website, links to any of its postcards (along with personalized messages). That seems like a smart way to build good will and keep the casual visitor coming back.

So what are you waiting for? Amaze your friends and loved ones! Send them links to old postcards today! ("Vintage Postcards and Collectibles")

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year

It's bailout. Runners-up: vet, socialism, maverick, bipartisan, trepidation, precipice, rogue, misogyny, turmoil.

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year 2008

Related post
Another Word of the Year

Friday, November 28, 2008

Uncle Mark Gift Guide & Almanac

The 2009 edition of the Uncle Mark Gift Guide & Almanac is available as a free .pdf download from Mark Hurst, consumer-experience consultant and creator of Good Experience. As Hurst acknowledges, it's a strange time to be making recommendations about spending money, but as he adds, "any purchases we do make today should be as well-informed as possible." Hurst's guide offers single recommendations in various categories, along with some unusual and useful lifehacks. (All telephone users should read "How to leave a telephone message.") The Guide is a document whose clarity of content and design inspires readerly confidence. See for yourself:

Uncle Mark Gift Guide & Almanac

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving at Sing Sing, 1908

Roaming the New York Times archive on Thanksgiving last year, I found a 1907 report on Thanksgiving at Sing Sing. The Times was back in 1908:

"Minstrels in Sing Sing. Prisoners Provide Entertainment for Themselves — Get a Good Dinner," New York Times, November 27, 1908
My family's having black bean croquettes, sweet potatoes, twice-baked potatoes with garlic and spinach, wild rice and mushroom stuffing, roasted Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and Beaujolais nouveau. But no cigars.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

And to readers from India: please know that people everywhere grieve the barbarous violence in Mumbai.

Related post
Thanksgiving at Sing Sing

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Books as calendars (Proust)

There are no days of my childhood which I lived so fully perhaps as those I thought I had left behind without living them, those I spent with a favourite book. Everything which, it seemed, filled them for others, but which I pushed aside as a vulgar impediment to a heavenly pleasure: the game for which a friend came to fetch me at the most interesting passage, the troublesome bee or shaft of sunlight which forced me to look up from the page or to change my position, the provisions for tea which I had been made to bring and which I had left beside me on the seat, untouched, while, above my head, the sun was declining in strength in the blue sky, the dinner for which I had had to return home and during which my one thought was to go upstairs straight away afterwards, and finish the rest of the chapter: reading should have prevented me from seeing all this as anything except importunity, but, on the contrary, so sweet is the memory it engraved in me (and so much more precious in my present estimation than what I then read so lovingly) that if still, today, I chance to leaf through these books from the past, it is simply as the only calendars I have preserved of those bygone days, and in the hope of finding reflected in their pages the houses and ponds which no longer exist.

Marcel Proust, "Days of Reading," in Days of Reading, translated by John Sturrock (London: Penguin, 2008), 49.
Days of Reading, from the third series of Penguin's Great Ideas paperbacks, reprints five short pieces from Against Saint-Beuve and Other Essays (London: Penguin, 1988), now out of print.

Related posts
All Proust posts (Pinboard)
Out of the past
Sem Co-op snags Penguins


As my daughter says, "Must be some good eggs!"

(Thanks, Rachel!)

Related reading
All signage posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cutting costs at GM

As part of its effort "to cut $15 billion in costs," General Motors no longer maintains the 562 clocks at its proving grounds, thus saving on replacement batteries and the labor required to reset for DST. Things are changing in the supply closets too:

At the proving grounds in Milford, Mich., where the clocks are now frozen in time, GM has switched to regular Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils instead of the more expensive mechanical pencils that used to be freely available in storage closets, known in GM-speak as "pull stations." Many of the moves have left employees scratching their heads. "Is this the best they can do to save money?" asked one engineer recently while checking the drawers at one pull station near his desk. "There's a lot of rubber bands but not much else — a handful of pens and Post-It Notes," he said.

Pencils? Wall Clocks? No Cost Cuts Are Too Small at GM (Wall Street Journal)
Yes, the Wall Street Journal, not The Onion.

General Motors is also cutting costs by selling two of its five corporate planes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Orange crate art (Brown)

[Illustration by Leonard Shortall.]

Encyclopedia Brown and Sally Kimball match wits:

The great battle of brains took place in the Tigers' clubhouse. The two champions, seated on orange crates, faced each other. The Tigers crowded behind Encyclopedia. The girls' softball team crowded behind Sally. That left just enough room in the tool shed to think.

Donald J. Sobol, Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1963) 24–25
Thinking about the Scholastic Book Club and reading some comments at Boing Boing made me want to read Encyclopedia Brown books. Yes, I'm reading Encyclopedia Browns. And I understand now why my daughter read so many of them when she was younger.

One element I especially like in these stories: irrefutable presentations of fact compel bad guys to confess, every time. Confronted with evidence of his dishonesty, Bugs Meany doesn't hit Encyclopedia over the head and run off. He owns up to his wrongdoing and returns stolen items to their owners. Con artists, kidnappers, and robbers admit their crimes on the spot. Truth is a powerful thing in the world of Encyclopedia Brown, more powerful perhaps than Sally Kimball's punches. (Sorry, Sally.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Streets and alleys of the Depression

On the telephone today, my mom and dad mentioned some bits of their Depression childhoods. My mom recalled an organ grinder and monkey at an entrance to the BMT elevated subway in Brooklyn. The monkey collected money from the audience. My dad recalled singers serenading apartment buildings from alleys (never streets) in Union City, New Jersey. What songs? "My Wild Irish Rose" and such. Sometimes a saxophonist or trumpeter would come by. People threw coins wrapped in pieces of newspaper.

Other familiar figures: the fish man, the ice man, the vegetable man, all with horse-drawn carts.

Channel flipping

A man has a chance to make positive changes by reliving Christmas Day over and over again.


A ten-year-old orphan spreads a rumor that an elderly man is really Santa Claus.


Determined to break into show business, Lucy fakes amnesia.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

How to improve writing (no. 23 in a series)

David Frauenfelder, whose Breakfast with Pandora is fine reading for anyone interested in language and myth and storytelling, wonders what I would do with the following sentence, from a Los Angeles Times article by Rachel Abramowitz:

Of all the major American artists, [Woody] Allen has experienced one of the cruelest and most violent whipsaws of fortune, of tumbling from audience adulation to mass approbation.
David notes the various problems with this sentence: "preposition abuse," "false genitive," "a terrible mixed metaphor," "and to top it off, a hilarious malapropism at the end."

Preposition abuse: check. Of all . . . , one of . . . of fortune, of tumbling . . . . The repetition is awkward; the final of could be cut with no loss.

False genitive: check. The genetive or possessive case "marks a noun as modifying another noun." "[A]udience adulation" should be "audiences' adulation." (I'm grateful to know the name for this problem, which I correct often in my students' writing.)

A terrible mixed metaphor: check. P.R. Wilkinson's Thesaurus of Traditional English Metaphors (London: Routledge, 2002) defines whipsaw as "A double disadvantage; bad dilemma; something that cuts both ways and is injurious whatever you do [Amer]." Nothing to do with tumbling, and nothing to do with what happened to Allen. The writer may have been thinking of whiplash or backlash, though those tired metaphors too don't go well with "of fortune" or "tumbling."

A hilarious malapropism at the end: check. Approbation is "an act of approving formally or officially." David suggests that the writer was in search of opprobrium: "something that brings disgrace," "public disgrace or ill fame that follows from conduct considered grossly wrong or vicious."

So what to do with the original sentence? I'd revise to give a clearer sense that Allen's relationship with Soon-Yi Previn generated more widespread interest than his movies. I'd also remove the pretension of "major American artists" and the melodrama of "fortune." Reversal of fortune is a trope that applies to, say, Oedipus or Lear. Such reversal follows from choices made with inadequate knowledge, by those who have no way to foresee what will befall them. It's reasonable though to anticipate disapproval when embarking on a relationship with the adopted daughter of one's long-time partner. My sentence:
Once celebrated by critics and fans, Allen is now a figure of scandal even among those who have never seen his films.
[This post is no. 23 in a very occasional series, "How to improve writing," dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose. And by the way, I like Woody Allen's films, or most of them.]

Related reading
All "How to improve writing" posts (via Pinboard)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hi and "Lois"

Today's Hi and Lois features another dictionary with thumb-notches at the tops of pages. I didn't expect to see one of those again. There's also an assortment of disappearing objects (collect them all!), an off-kilter wall, and a mutant iPod (the iPod enormo). But what's most disturbing here is the teacher, who looks an awful lot like Hi Flagston in drag. Yikes.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Thursday, November 20, 2008


A hallway exchange:

"Where is the A?"

"There is no A."
Creeping realism, I guess.

Related reading
All "overheard" posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


At Urban Dictionary, B. Kennison has posted a well-made word, clapathy. Its definition: "When an audience grows weary of clapping, either at a ceremony or musical performance."

As I write, clapathy is being voted down by UD's readers. If you like this word, you might want to visit its page and give it a thumbs-up. Browse the comments (and the rest of the site) at your own risk: Urban Dictionary contributors are a pretty salty and saucy group of neologists.

Prophylactic medicine: "Please hold your applause" helps prevent clapathy (I speak as both audience member and occasional emcee).

"The experiment is over"

Yes, thank goodness.

If you'd like to guess what happened to the man in this Alfred Eisenstadt photograph, leave your answer in a comment. When you give up, you can find the answer here.

This photograph is one of several million (?!) from Life magazine, now hosted by Google in its Life photo archive.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Willa Cather and James Schuyler

From James Schuyler's "Hymn to Life" (1974): "Willa Cather alone is worth / The price of admission to the horrors of civilization."

Like James Schuyler, I like Willa Cather. (Also James Schuyler.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Earphones and trolleys

In today's news:

A 21-year-old man wearing earphones walked in front of a Green Line train and was struck by a trolley near Boston College, according to an MBTA spokesman.

The Boston College student suffered head injuries and facial lacerations and was taken to Brigham and Women's Hospital, said Joe Pesaturo, the spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. He was conscious and talking as he was transported to the hospital, Pesaturo said. . . .

Witnesses told investigators that the man was wearing headphones when he walked across the trolley tracks. "The trolley operator attempted to get his attention by blowing the horn, but it was to no avail," Pesaturo said.

T: Student wearing earphones hit by Green Line trolley (Boston Globe)

Meme of seven

My wife Elaine has tagged me with with the meme of seven. Thank you, dear. The rules:

1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog.

2. Share seven facts about yourself on your blog — some random, some weird.

3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blog.

4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

5. If you don't have seven blog friends, or if someone else already took dibs, then tag some unsuspecting strangers.
Like Elaine, I'm reluctant to tag people. But if, reader, you would like to explore the meme of seven, consider yourself tagged. Here are my facts:

I am a distant relative of Tess Gardella, an actress and singer who performed in blackface under the name "Aunt Jemima." Tess Gardella was Queenie in the original 1927 production of Show Boat. (Miss Gardella had no connection to pancakes.)

As a fourth-grader, I had the lead role in a school play. I was Cos, a visitor from outer space who arrives in a department store at Christmastime. On the night of the performance, I had a very high fever and did the play anyway. I remember the beginning of the play, when I was hiding under a table in the store, with a foil-covered box (i.e., helmet) on my head.

For an elementary-school talent show, I sang George and Ira Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm": "Oh, how I long to be the boy I used to be! Fascinating rhythm, oh, won't you stop picking on me?"

I love liverwurst, a food from childhood and delicatessens, whose arrays of cold cuts, salads, breads, and rolls I always found fascinating (more interesting than supermarkets, more "city" too). I still buy liverwurst once or twice a year, but now even the people behind the supermarket's deli counter make faces about liverwurst, so I buy it pre-packaged.

I once tried to see how many steps of our Brooklyn stoop I could span by jumping up from the pavement. I believe the limit was two. The bruising on my leg was a wonder to behold.

Once, in my eagerness not to be late to a poetry reading by Gwendolyn Brooks, I ran into a glass door (which had been locked in the open position just a moment before). Nothing was broken, on the door or me. I applied a cold can of Coca-Cola to my head and went to the reading with my fellow grad students.

I have received only one ticket for speeding, in my early twenties, on the Massachusetts Turnpike. I was flagged for going 80 (the speed limit was then 55). That I have received no tickets since attests not to my ability to avoid capture but to saner driving habits.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Grace Hartigan (1922-2008)

[Salute: The Canal to the Sky, from The Salute Series. Screenprint, 1960.]

The painter Grace Hartigan died yesterday in Timonium, Maryland:

For many years, she also mixed with poets of the period in New York — John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch and Frank O'Hara, with whom she was a confidante. . . .

"The air was electric," she told a Sun reporter in 1963 of the New York art scene. "We were each other's audience, meeting for coffee because no one could afford a drink, and all were talking about art. It was pure. There were no temptations because there was no money in it."

Grace Hartigan dies at age 86 (Baltimore Sun)
Frank O'Hara's poem "In Memory of My Feelings" is dedicated to Grace Hartigan. It contains these lines: "Grace / to be born and live as variously as possible."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Plagiarism free"

Talk about an irony-deficiency!

I found the above (I won't link to it) via a Google Alert. Google Alerts are sometimes good "for to" learning.

Friday, November 14, 2008

E is for?

Today's Hi and Lois offers an exploration of discord across generations, pitting the smugness of the young against the seething rage of the old(er). Rage! — sing, goddess, the rage of Hiram Flagston!

The bookcase sums up the imaginative impoverishment of these characters: it functions as a display surface for a baseball, the bookends keeping three books from toppling to ruin. And yet the same bookcase is a goad to the reader's imagination: for what's up with that E?

It might stand for Elaine, who suggests that it fell from one of the books. I thought it might be a note to the colorist, though the bookcase isn't ecru. Or is E for enigma? I may never know.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Van Dyke Parks' Song Cycle

Van Dyke Parks' extraordinary first LP Song Cycle turns forty this month. And now in a college newspaper article comes the news that Song Cycle will be re-released, probably in spring 2009. Says Parks: "The world is not holding its breath. Still, I'll breathe easier as an artist, once I’ve finished this custodial duty."

As Song Cycle is still available (on CD and LP), I'm guessing and hoping that the re-release will present the recording in a super-deluxe edition.

Scholastic madeleines

Scholastic Book Club members emeriti will feel a pang when looking through this Flickr set:

Nostalgia for the Scholastic Book Club

I was surprised to find Rosamond du Jardin's Wait for Marcy, a "girls' book" that I read for my seventh-grade English class. I was more surprised to find the book's title still in my head.

(Yes, the girls in the class had to read a "boys' book" too — it was all an experiment).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mozy offer

Mozy, the wonderful online backup service, is offering users twice the usual bonus space with every referral.

If you'd like to try Mozy, with a free 2GB account or a larger paying account, e-mail me (my address is in the sidebar, under the photograph), and I'll send you my referral code, which will give each of us another 512MB for free. After November 30, the bonus reverts to 256MB.

My only connection to Mozy is as a happy user. I'm deeply impressed by the company's tech support, and I like its sense of humor.

Palin, Africa, Sudan, Darfur

I've added an update to my post on Sarah Palin and Africa. Palin's latest defense against the "Africa is a country" story contradicts a claim that she made during the vice-presidential debate about divestment and Sudan (a claim that was itself contradicted by reality). And Palin now refers to Darfur as a country ("investment in Darfur," not Sudan).

The mess messens.

Ashbery Ashberies

From an AP article on John Ashbery, whose "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" will claim much of my day:

Ashbery is a longtime breaker of rules, but he has so far honored the boundaries of his own name. Ashbery remains just Ashbery, a proper noun, the last name of one of the world's most admired poets. But why not pretend that the poet is an adjective, Ashbery-like, or a verb, "to Ashbery." The poet even offers a definition.

"To confuse the hell out of people," he says.

John Ashbery — movie fan and canonical poet (International Herald Tribune)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

REAL ESTATE (Hi and Lois)

At Hi and Lois, Quality suddenly seems to be Job One. Five fine strips have followed last Thursday's mistake-fest: a densely rendered streetscape, a problem-free living room, a Sunday spectacular (the large display panel, which newspapers often cut, is especially nice), a dining-room scene with proper French accents (though the usual French for leftovers is restes), and today's look at life in the workplace. Behold: Lois now works in an office that hired a proper sign-painter:

[Hi and Lois, September 23 and November 11, 2008.]
Will the streak continue? Keep watching.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

November 11

Historian Alexander Watson considers November 11:

Today is the 90th anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War, and it will be commemorated very differently on each side of the Atlantic and across the borders of Europe. It's a reminder that not all "victors" experience wars in the same way, and that their citizens can have almost as much difficulty as those of the vanquished states in coping with the collective trauma of conflict.

For Americans, Veterans Day celebrates the survivors of all the nation’s 20th and 21st century wars. In France and Britain, by contrast, the mood is altogether more somber. In these countries, it is the dead who, since 1919, have been the focus of the ceremonies.
Why? Keep reading:

A Holiday to End All Wars (New York Times)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ye olde Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart selling Wal-Marts — very meta.

I found this Wal-Mart in the Christmas section — "seasonal," we ex-stock clerks would call it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Voting machine repair

From a letter to the Times (of London):

I hope those who wish to mechanise our voting methods had observers at the US elections. I once had a voting machine fail on me. It took the presiding officer about 30 seconds to repair it with his pencil sharpener.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A website documenting the presidential transition: What strikes me at a glance is that Gotham, the signature font of the Obama campaign and website, has gone missing (or largely missing), replaced by a serifed font. A smart choice, marking the distinction between a political campaign, party-specific, and the work of running the country.

Africa is a country

A blog, est. 2007: Africa is a Country. Sean Jacobs writes about media attention to Africa and about his life as a South African in the United States.

The blog's About page notes that "Africa is a country" is a common mistake. Jacobs even catches New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in it:

Walking through the Olympic Village the other day, here’s what struck me most: the Russian team all looks Russian; the African team all looks African; the Chinese team all looks Chinese; and the American team looks like all of them.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


[By Michael Leddy.]

Terrifying too.

Bill O'Reilly's response: "You can tutor people, and you can get people up to speed." Yes, if you are teaching an elementary-school geography class.

Sarah Palin hasn't exactly denied not knowing that Africa is a continent and not a country (or that Canada, Mexico, and the United States are the countries involved in NAFTA):

"That's kind of a small, evidently bitter type of person who would anonymously charge something foolish like that, that I perhaps didn't know an answer to a question."
Yes, you'd have to be pretty small to find it disconcerting that someone ready to assume the presidency doesn't know that stuff. Details!

I wonder whether Palin's various colleges will be awarding honorary degrees any time soon.

[Update, November 8: A further Palin non-denial:
“If there are allegations based on the questions or comments that I made in debate prep about NAFTA and about the continent versus the country when we talk about Africa there, then those were taken out of context."]
[Update, November 12: An explanation:
"So we discussed what was going on in Africa. And never, ever did I talk about, well, gee, is it a country or is it a continent. I just don't know about this issue. So I don't know how they took our one discussion on Africa and turned that into what they turned it into," said Palin.

"I don't know, because I remember the discussion about Africa, my concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue, as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska's investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars, I wanted to make sure that that didn't happen anymore."
Note: "I wanted to make sure that that didn't happen anymore." During the vice-presidential debate, Palin claimed to have called for divestment of Alaksa's Sudan-related investments. That claim, as ABC News pointed out, is contradicted by reality. The Palin administration had in fact killed a bill requiring such divestment.

Note too: "investment in Darfur." Sudan, not Darfur, is a country.]

No exit (Hi and Lois)

The protean shrubbery in today's Hi and Lois — shifting shape from "picket-fence" to "curly hair" — doesn't surprise me. The shifting part in Hi's hair doesn't surprise me. The expanding muntins don't surprise me. The second panel's Escher-like front door doesn't surprise me.

But the missing doorknob — well, that's a surprise.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Obama thoughts

I got an e-mail from a friend yesterday — subject line: "You were right" — reminding me that in 2004, after hearing Barack Obama speak at a community college, I said that he'd be president one day. I'm grateful for the reminder.

I didn't think back then that it would happen in 2008. In 2004, Obama was running for the Senate. Michelle Obama came to "east-central Illinois" that June, and Elaine and I heard her speak in the back room of a local restaurant. That Michelle Obama was here was in itself extraordinary: candidates for statewide office virtually never show up here. Everyone in our family heard Barack Obama speak at a nearby community college that August. The people we met then are the same people we've seen countless times since on our screens: graceful, knowledgeable, passionate, serious, and very, very smart. Seeing a crowd of downstaters moved and inspired by a "Chicago politician," much less one who's African-American, was surprising indeed. Obama's huge victory in 2004 didn't surprise me. Nor did it surprise me that he came back to our area in 2006 to talk about what he had accomplished and hoped to accomplish in the Senate.

In February 2007, we cheered Obama's announcement of his presidential candidacy from our cozy living room. Hillary Clinton seemed the inevitable nominee, but our hopes were with Obama. As the campaign developed, we found ourselves with an ever growing stake in the outcome. Elaine and I made calls before the Iowa primary. We signed up for e-mail messages. We began making small donations and soon lost track of how many we had made. Little windfalls — publishing royalties and such — went straight to the Obama campaign. I called the national office to explain why the campaign needed to rethink its e-mail etiquette. (It seems to have worked — I know at least that my suggestions were bumped upward.) Our son Ben volunteered with the campaign during the summer. Elaine and I knocked on doors in Illinois and Indiana. For every voter who closed the door ("I don't need that shit," one told us), there were others who not only supported Obama but were eager to talk with us — at length — about him. Their human variety undid any assumptions I might have had about midwesterners.

This election marks the first time I've ever done anything for a candidate beyond casting a vote. And I've realized over the past few days that the last two years have been my immersion course in the political life of my country. My daily online reading now includes at least a half-dozen or so sources for political news and commentary. The blue and red projection map at is tattooed on my brain. I know details of House and Senate races across the country. I have followed (with disappointment) the apparent success of Proposition 8 in California. I understand the significance of "bellwether counties" and am slightly dizzied to know that I went canvassing in one. And I've come to feel that I can comment with some intelligence on a small subset of matters relevant to political life, particularly those concerning ready-made phrases and sinks.

For me, the history that happened yesterday is still sinking in. The "first black president," yes, but also, as Colin Powell says, a president who "also happens to be black." I think that Obama's election is also historic in putting to rest, at least for a while, the absurdly swaggering, masculinist version of a leader that for so long has been compelling in American culture. (I still remember the idiotic chant from Reagan–Mondale, 1984: "Fritz is a wimp.") Obama is brainy, skinny (as he jokes), a member of Hyde Park's Seminary Co-op Bookstore. And he's a wonderful example for young people — of any color — of what a man might be: a gentle, loving husband and father and grandson.

When our family met Barack Obama in 2004 — yes, reader, we each shook his hand — my daughter Rachel told him that she was too young to vote. "I'll have to give you another chance," he said. I am very happy that this election gave my daughter and my son their first chance to vote for a president.