Monday, March 31, 2008

Dell response to the MacBook Air

MacBook Air Parody (YouTube)

The music is "New Soul" by Yael Naim.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio with Hamiet Bluiett

[Photographs by Elaine Fine.]

Last night I was fortunate to hear an extraordinary musical performance by Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio with Hamiet Bluiett. If these names aren't familiar, there's a reason why: they belong to musicians associated with Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and St. Louis' Black Artists' Group, musicians dedicated to exploring new directions in music. At a time when what passes for contemporary jazz has grown ever more bland and feeble, a performance such as last night's is one to cherish.

El'Zabar is a percussionist, but "percussionist" doesn't begin to account for the range of sounds he brings to the bandstand. When he wasn't at his drum kit, he played an African drum, a wooden flute, or a mbira, stomping time with bells and shells strapped to one leg. He sang and preached a bit too, and provided wordless vocal accompaniment to the other musicians.

The other musicians: Ari Brown's piano recalled McCoy Tyner at times, and his tenor saxophone sound was rich and handsome, putting me in mind of Clifford Jordan. Hamiet Bluiett's sound on baritone saxophone is a wonder, the only baritone sound to rival that of Harry Carney of the Duke Ellington orchestra. Bluiett is fleet and full at the depths of his instrument's range, and he reaches into a piercing high register that Adolphe Sax could never have imagined on the baritone. Brown and Bluiett play both "outside" (atonally) and "inside" (tonally), moving with ease from one kind of playing to the other. And the bassist — I now regret not taking notes last night, as I cannot remember the name of the young bassist with the group. What I best remember of his playing though is the way he locked into deep grooves with El'Zabar, who stood just inches away playing mbira and bells. [February 2017: I now know the bassist's name: Sharay Reed.]

The tunes: "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," played freely and with a walking bass line. "Oof," "Big M," and "Malachi," three tributes to the late Malachi Favors, bassist for the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Ritual Trio, and El'Zabar's teacher. Ari Brown's "Where Do You Want to Go?," a particularly strong tenor solo. And for an encore, Miles Davis' "All Blues," with horns, bass, mbira, and bells.

The interplay among these musicians was profound — constant eye contact, constant encouragement, even an occasional request for help. Brown, laughing, to Bluiett: "Help me out," and the two horns began a dialogue. These four men formed a musical community, one that grew to include their listeners. I don't think I've ever seen as many members of an audience standing and waiting to thank musicians as I did last night.

The remarkable thing: this performance was free, offered in the lobby of the University of Illinois' Krannert Center.

[Note to Elaine: I'm so glad you enjoyed this concert.]

Kahil El'Zabar (Official website)

Related posts
Some have gone and some remain
World Saxophone Quartet on YouTube

All Orange Crate Art jazz posts (via Pinboard)

Poor Proust

"I saw, to my horror, an artfully worn, older-than-me copy of Proust by Samuel Beckett. If there existed a more hackneyed, achingly obvious method of telegraphing one's education, literary standards and general intelligence, I couldn't imagine it."
Augusten Burroughs, quoted in a New York Times article on reading habits and dating.

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The "Arts"

I received a mass-mailing yesterday asking me to write a check to support the "'Arts.'"

Do people who really care about music, painting, poetry, theater refer to the "'Arts'"?

(Why single and double quotation marks in these sentences? To make clear that quotation marks surround Arts in the original.)

Related reading
The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks

Robert Fagles, 1933-2008

From The Daily Princetonian:

Robert Fagles, the Arthur Marks '19 professor of comparative literature emeritus best known for his translations of Greek epic poems and other widely read classic texts, died in Princeton on Wednesday, March 26, after battling prostate cancer. He was 74.

Fagles' translations of Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey were both popularly and critically acclaimed. In 1991, the Academy of American Poets awarded him the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award for his translation of The Iliad, and his work on The Odyssey won him an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1996. . . .

"No translator of major writers in the Western literary tradition has ever met with the kind of success that Robert Fagles has enjoyed," Robert Hollander '55, professor of European literature and French and Italian emeritus, said in a statement issued by the University. "His 'trilogy,' both epics of Homer and that of Virgil, has brought these texts to life for over a million readers."
Robert Fagles, Translator of the Classics, Dies at 74 (New York Times)
Robert Fagles, celebrated translator of ancient epics, dies at age 74 (Princeton press release)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Xenía in the Bronx

New York social worker Julio Diaz turned a mugging into an opportunity for what the ancient Greeks called ξενία (xenía), hospitality:

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, "Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm."

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, "like what's going on here?" Diaz says. "He asked me, 'Why are you doing this?'"

Diaz replied: "If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me . . . hey, you're more than welcome."
Read the rest: A Victim Treats His Mugger Right (NPR, via Boing Boing)

Related post
Xenía in D.C.

Your name here U.

In yesterday's mail:

I even have a Latin seal (not readable in this scan):

[Intellectus: understanding; scientia: knowledge; sapientia: wisdom.]

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Confusing metaphor of the day

From the New York Times:

A headline on Saturday with an article about the increasing number of women who serve as chief investment officers for university endowments and foundations used a "glass ceiling" metaphor in a way that conveyed the opposite point made by the article. The headline should have said something to the effect that "The Glass Ceiling Is Lifting," not "The Glass Ceiling Is Edging Lower."
There'd still be a problem though: if the ceiling is lifting, breaking through it becomes even more difficult. The only way to remove the glass ceiling is with a metaphorical glass cutter or hammer.

The article's current headline is also less than ept: corner and climbing suggest to my mind that someone is climbing the walls. Yipes.

Corner of Finance Where Women Are Climbing (New York Times)
All metaphor posts (via Pinboard)

Garfield minus Garfield

It's been clear for some time that Garfield can be improved by removing Garfield's thought balloons. More recently, it's become clear that Garfield is better still — funnier, richer, stranger — when one removes Garfield.

Let us begin with familiar Garfield territory. A stupid man! A snarky cat!

Alas, the punchline self-destructs: if Garfield himself is indeed good at doing nothing, why must he imply that? Why must he even think? Remove the thought balloon and the scene changes drastically:

Now Garfield's eloquent silence tells us all we need to know about what it's like to be stuck in a comic strip with this man. There's no need for words. But remove Garfield and things are even better:

Now Jon is all alone with his thoughts, such as they are. He's Estragon without Vladimir, or a figure from The Waste Land. He seems to realize that in the final panel, "Looking into the heart of light, the silence."

Reader, try this strategy at home, and see if it gives you a value-added comics experience.

And to the creator of the Garfield-minus-Garfield reading strategy, wherever you might be: Thanks!

Related posts
Blondie minus Blondie

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Richard Widmark

December 26, 1914 - March 24, 2008

“Movie audiences fasten on to one aspect of the actor, and then they decide what they want you to be. They think you’re playing yourself. The truth is that the only person who can ever really play himself is a baby.”
Richard Widmark, Actor, Dies at 93 (New York Times)
Scene from Kiss of Death (1947) (YouTube)

[Above: Widmark as Tommy Udo, Victor Mature as Nick Bianco, in Kiss of Death.]


Elaine on the phone:

"Now my hair is back to its natural color: 6C."
L'Oréal: because you're worth it.

[Used with permission. Thanks, Elaine!]

All "Overheard" posts (via Pinboard)
Musical Assumptions (Elaine's blog)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

James Carville's metaphors

I've been collecting and commenting on inept and absurd political metaphors over the past few weeks, but I thought of letting James Carville's recent comparison of Bill Richardson to Judas go by. I still don't understand its supposedly transparent logic. Judas : Jesus :: Bill Richardson : Bill Clinton? Hillary Clinton? Both?

I'm interested though in Carville's defense of his statement as metaphor. He defended it in these terms four times in his conversation yesterday with CNN: "It's a seasonal metaphor I was using"; "I was using a biblical metaphor"; "I wanted to use a very strong metaphor"; "It was a metaphor I was using." Carville never says that it was just a metaphor he was using, but his comments carry that suggestion, as if metaphor were simply a way to underscore one's meaning, and not a statement whose implications are its maker's responsibility. Just words after all, right? Just politics.

Another metaphor in Carville's remarks yesterday had me puzzled:

I mean, you do these things, and people come up and say, you’re comparing and everything else. I wanted — I got one in the wheelhouse and I tagged it.
As I just learned, wheelhouse is (among other things) a metaphor for "a hitter's power zone," and, it seems, one of Carville's pet words. No home run for James Carville this time — just a foul.

Related posts
CNN and mixed metaphors
Dying metaphors of the day
Everything but the kitchen sink
Inept political metaphor of the day
Of prongs and pillars
Political tropes of the day
Puzzling political metaphor of the day
Strained political metaphors of the day
Times reporter on metaphorical spree

Monday, March 24, 2008

"Modern-Day Proust"

Meet Eric Dressler:

Much like the prolific 19th-century French novelist Marcel Proust, local claims adjustor Eric Dressler generates prodigious volumes of prose, chronicling the most minute details of his life and experiences in a seemingly endless stream of e-mails, friend Kevin Honig reported Monday.

"Proust devoted the last decade of his life to writing In Search of Lost Time, a massive, sprawling, 3,000-page semiautobiographical work that covers 13 volumes," said Honig, Dressler's best friend since college. "Well, the way he spends half his work day sending e-mails, Eric has probably turned out at least that much. I get, like, six or seven a day without fail."
Modern-Day Proust E-Mails Friend Six Times A Day (The Onion)

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Strained political metaphors of the day

Carpetbagging beaver! Drunken horse! Tired as dogs! From Erica Jong:

We have two great candidates — one a hard working, never give up eager beaver, and one an inspiring, heart-leapingly brilliant stallion. . . .

They're tired. Dog-tired. The stallion makes heart-stopping speeches. And the beaver just beavers along, remembering how she won over upstate New York when everyone called that impossible. And called her a carpetbagger. And the stallion is drunk on his own rhetoric. . . .

We need beavers and we need stallions. Beavers get the work done. Stallions inspire us. And they both have limitations. Stallions have fragile legs (think Barbaro). And beavers are nothing without their teeth.
A related post
Puzzling political metaphor of the day

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tristan und Isolde, Live in HD

The Metropolitan Opera's current production of Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde has had problems, problems, problems, problems. But today's performance, which Elaine and I were fortunate to see as a Live in HD broadcast, was a triumph in all ways — musically, visually, and emotionally. Elaine has already found a detailed review. [Update: She's now written her own.]

The Met's Live in HD might be the most remarkable experience you'll ever have in a multiplex. The broadcasts are available in sixteen countries and one U.S. territory (Puerto Rico). For more information:

The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD

I wish that my friend Aldo Carrasco were here so that I could tell him that I've finally seen Tristan.

Jackie Gleason on creating a character

[Photograph of New York City subway rider by Walker Evans.]

He once told me that the creation of a character "starts with looking at all the people on the subway, figuring out how they might have got that way."

Audrey Meadows, Love, Alice: My Life as a Honeymooner (NY: Crown, 1994)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring break explosion

Ah, college life:

Three spring breakers were arrested after an explosion rocked two hotel guests from their bed and shattered the windows of their Daytona Beach Shores hotel room around 2:30 a.m. Friday. . . .

"They're really nice guys, they were just really drunk yesterday . . . We saw 'em before dark and they were so wasted that I don't think they remember doing that."
Spring Breakers Arrested After Dynamite Explodes On Hotel Sundeck (WFTV)

Related posts
Homeric blindness in "colledge"
Overheard ("Open bar!")

Puzzling political metaphor of the day

From CNN, an overwritten behind-the-scenes account of Eliot Spitzer's resignation, with salivating journalists, thick air (thick with anticipation, natch), and a barking reporter. And then there's this sentence:

Spitzer had described himself as a political "steamroller." But in the end this proud politician had only crushed himself.
Related post
Political tropes of the day

Color and academia

A few years back, a faculty colleague, after expressing concern that his puppies would develop racist tendencies for lack of exposure to minorities, asked if he could bring the dogs to my house to play with my two sons, ages 1 and 3. My children — like their parents and unlike most everyone else at the college and in our town — are of the Negro persuasion.
That's the opening paragraph of Jerald Walker's witty, hopeful essay on color and academia:

Teaching, and Learning, Racial Sensitivity (Chronicle of Higher Education)


In a hallway:

"It starts and ends in a mailbox. What can it symbolize?"
Literary criticism, I suspect.

All "Overheard" posts (via Pinboard)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Borders Books and Music in trouble

From an article in tomorrow's New York Times:

Struggling against both online and big-box retailers, the Borders Group, the bookseller, said Thursday that it had hired two investment banks to advise it on a potential sale and had turned to its largest shareholder for additional money.

Borders said that it would take other measures to shore up its capital, including suspending its quarterly dividend.

The announcement, made at 1:31 a.m. Thursday and accompanying a report on a slight drop in first-quarter earnings, reflected the chain’s continued troubles. Buffeted by a tougher environment and a tighter credit market that has made borrowing more expensive, Borders has been left with few options.

"This will be a challenging year for retailers due to continued uncertainty in the economic environment," Borders's chief executive, George L. Jones, said in a statement.
I've been wondering about Borders for several months now — the coupons seem to come with greater and greater frequency, while the shelves at my nearby branch offer fewer and fewer new books and the CD racks grow bare.

A song for spring

From Thomas Nashe (1567-c.1601):

Spring, the sweet spring, is the year's pleasant king;
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing:
   Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The palm and may make country houses gay,
Lambs frisk and play, the shepherds pipe all day,
And we hear aye birds tune this merry lay:
   Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,
Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit;
In every street these tunes our ears do greet:
   Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!
      Spring, the sweet spring!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pocket notebook sighting: The House on 92nd Street

Pens, pencils, file folders, and so on: in my house we call them "supplies." The House on 92nd Street (1945, directed by Henry Hathaway) may be the most supplies-centric movie ever made. As the tools of spies and G-Men alike, office supplies are a given, appearing in scene after scene after scene. But the way in which the camera lingers on these objects suggests an devotion verging on fanaticism. The pocket notebook in this scene, found among the effects of an accident victim, turns out to be crucial in uncovering a Nazi spy ring.

"Hey, Doc, look at this — it's all in German."

"Stuff about ships, I think."

"Something funny about this."

When I first wrote about The House on 92nd Street and the dowdy world, I was working in Windows XP and unable to save screenshots while playing a DVD. Now I'm in OS X, where it's simple. There'll be more from this film in future posts.

More notebook sightings
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
Moleskine sighting (in Extras)
Notebook sighting in Pickpocket
Pocket address-book sighting
A pocket notebook in The Palm Beach Story
Pocket notebook sighting (in Diary of a Country Priest)
Pocket notebook sightings in Rififi
Red-headed woman with reporter's notebook

More from The House on 92nd Street
Is there a pencil in The House?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Barack Obama and Ralph Ellison

From Barack Obama's speech in Philadelphia today:

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners — an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts — that out of many, we are truly one.
In other words, e pluribus unum.

It's an interesting time to be teaching Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952), the story of an African-American man who tries to do the right thing, at college and in the shadowy Brotherhood. Ellison's narrator is a brilliant, compelling speaker who hires out his eloquence to an organization and pays heavily for finally speaking his own thoughts. At the end of his journey, he offers a powerful affirmation of the unity and multiplicity of American identity:
America is woven of many strands. I would recognize them and let it so remain. . . . Our fate is to become one, and yet many — This is not prophecy, but description.
An American culture that allows for difference — "one, and yet many" — is Ellison's alternative to the homogeneity of the melting pot, emblematized in the novel's magical "Optic White" paint, which absorbs darker liquids and renders them invisible. One, yet many; many, yet one: that's the possibility of a more perfect and more complex union.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Political tropes of the day

The campaign aides cited in this New York Times article do just fine. But watch the reporter overreach:

One aide wearily compared the campaign to a cross-country race whose finish line keeps creeping farther away. Another likened its current state to a game of chicken, where neither campaign can afford to slow down, lest the other side interpret it as a sign of weakness. But even enemies as bitter as the Germans and the French climbed out of the trenches during the Christmas truce of 1914 to sing carols together. (They went back to killing each other shortly afterward.)
Related post
Dying metaphors of the day

A few words from Buck Mulligan

"Today the bards must drink and junket. Ireland expects that every man this day will do his duty."

Buck Mulligan, in James Joyce's Ulysses (1922)
I've taken these words out of context: Buck Mulligan is speaking of June 16, 1904, and he's parodying Horatio Lord Nelson.

But all that aside: Happy Saint Patrick's Day.

(The name Leddy is Irish.)

Related posts
An Irish post

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dying metaphors of the day

From the main page of the New York Times online:

The Spitzer scandal, hot on the low heels of the Hillary heckling, is raising hackles.
If you're wondering, hackles are "erectile hairs along the neck and back especially of a dog."

Related post
Inept political metaphor of the day

Saturday, March 15, 2008


A quick test of awareness: DOTHETEST.

Greek diners on the wane

Dark prophecy:

“When Greeks get out of diners, there will no more be diners.”
Diners in Changing Hands; Greek Ownership on the Wane (New York Times)

Related post
Things I learned on my summer vacation ("New Jersey is a diner.")

Friday, March 14, 2008

Signage problem

Noticed on a state road, in front of a high school, nailed to telephone poles, two sets of signs celebrating, one word at a time, a team's journey to "state." It seems that the signmakers were working without a shared sense of message.

Five yellow signs:

WE    ARE    PROUD    OF    YOU.
And then five white ones:
HONK    IF    YOU    DO    TOO.
Yes, I honked.

Related post

Necker cube

Drawn in the margins of eleventyteen loose-leaf pages. Did you know that it has a name?

[Eleventyteen: "many," my father-in-law's coinage.]

Necker cube (Wikipedia)
Animated Necker cube (Mark Newbold)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wriggley's and Wrigley's gum

I don't know how long I've had this practical joke or where it came from. It's been sitting for some time in a box with other dowdy objects — a package of Blanco y Negro cigarette papers, a box of Dennison "Merchandise — 4th Class Mail" gummed labels, a Traveler's Expense Book (with an illustration of a hatted businessman, an airplane at his shoulder, an automobile emerging from behind his upper arm).

What I do know is that the chances for Wriggley deception will soon vanish, as Wrigley has moved to repackage its Spearmint gum and other "traditional" brands. The Chicago Tribune reports:

With the repackaging, Extra and the traditional brands [including Doublemint, Juicy Fruit, and Spearmint] will come in a flat, square pack rather than a bulkier rectangle. The "Slim Packs" are essentially the same as those for Wrigley's "5" brand, a sugarless gum introduced last year that's been a hit, particularly with younger consumers.

The new pack is aimed at being a better fit in a consumer's pocket or purse. It's also a way for Wrigley to showcase old brands in a trendier format.
The changes are a response to the success of what the Trib calls "a key gummaking rival," Cadbury, the maker of Dentyne and Trident.

[Update: I have a vague memory of my son getting this novelty from a friend in elementary school. Ben, may I offer you a piece of gum?]

Wrigley's Spearmint design, 1913-2004 (Wrigley)

Related posts
Gum, then, now
No smoking

All "dowdy world" posts (via Pinboard)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Inept political metaphor of the day

From an article on Eliot Spitzer's resignation:

"I go forward with the belief, as others have said, that as human beings our greatest glory consists not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall."

For Spitzer, that will likely be one toe at a time.
How does a person rise one toe at a time?

Related posts
CNN and mixed metaphors
Ept simile of the day
Everything but the kitchen sink
The Elements of Style
Inept political metaphor of the day
Mixed metaphors
Myth and mixed metaphors
Of prongs and pillars
Times reporter on metaphorical spree

Yes, they can

It hit me last night after I thought about Geraldine Ferraro's appalling comments: Hillary Clinton's emphasis on "a hiring decision" as a metaphor for the election now seems to have been a preparation for an increasingly overt effort to cast Barack Obama as an affirmative-action applicant and thereby draw upon the presumed resentments of economically hard-pressed white voters. Here's a job: are you gonna let the black guy take it away?

This effort of a piece with the claims that Obama's supporters are "latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing trust-fund babies" or, more concisely, "the latte-sipping crowd." "Us" v. "them," racial warfare and class warfare: what a way to run a 21st-century Democratic primary campaign. Every time I think that Clinton and her surrogates can't go any lower, I'm reminded:

Yes, they can.

Ept simile of the day

Elaine on some deer crossing the street: "They were walking single file, like the Beatles."

[Yes, ept is a word: "Used as a deliberate antonym of 'inept': adroit, appropriate, effective" (Oxford English Dictionary).]


An old man looking at a men's room door:

"Wheelchairs — why do they always put men in wheelchairs?"
All "Overheard" posts (via Pinboard)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Elaine and I watched Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) last night — it seems an appropriate movie to go back to in an election year. No, we haven't mistaken Jefferson Smith (James Stewart¹) for Barack Obama; there's a world of difference between the wide-eyed Boy Ranger from parts unknown and our senator. But there's much to ponder in the story of a man who stands on principle while those who hold and seek to continue holding power engage in, well, the politics of personal destruction. Here's what aide Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur) tells Smith as they sit in the dark in front of the Lincoln Memorial:

"Your friend Mr. Lincoln had his Taylors and Paines. So did every other man who ever tried to lift his thought up off the ground. Odds against them didn't stop those men; they were fools that way. All the good that ever came into this world came from fools with faith like that. You know that, Jeff. You can't quit now. Not you. They aren't all Taylors and Paines in Washington. That kind just throw big shadows, that's all. You didn't just have faith in Paine or any other living man. You had faith in something bigger than that. You had plain, decent, everyday, common rightness, and this country could use some of that. Yeah, so could the whole cock-eyed world, a lot of it."
And how.

There's plenty of Capra-corn in this film (think of Harry Carey as the president of the Senate, smiling and chuckling at Smith's boyish ways, or the Boy Rangers and their printing presses). But the "big shadows" are real and dangerous: a press that shapes opinion by manufacturing reality (reality is Taylor-made), a political machine that employs any means necessary to defeat its enemies, and politicians who are unapologetically cynical. "You can't count on people voting. Half the time they don't vote anyway. That's how states and empires have been built since time began," says the Silver Knight, Senator Joseph Harrison Paine (Claude Rains).

And there are several scenes of utter emotional desolation. This image of Smith, a drunk Saunders, and Saunders' also-drunk would-be husband Diz (Thomas Mitchell) in Smith's barely furnished office looks more like Gregg Toland's deep-focus than Capra:

And this shot of Saunders and Diz weaving down the hallway (and abandoning Smith) makes me think of the Empire Hotel (Judy Barton's building) in another Stewart movie, Hitchcock's Vertigo:

Okay, you can go rent the movie if you like.

¹ James, not Jimmy? Yes, that how he's billed.

Related post
Young woman with a pencil

New Ephemera

[From the brochure "Come to New Ephemera."]

Amanda Spielman's New Ephemera thus far exists only in brochure form:

Come Visit New Ephemera (.pdf download)

Young woman with a pencil

She's Jean Arthur, as Clarissa Saunders, in Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Her pencil appears to be an Eagle Mikado. (How can one tell? By the distinctive band on the ferrule, not quite visible in this soft-focus shot.) After Pearl Harbor, the Mikado was renamed Mirado.

Related posts
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Red-headed woman with reporter's notebook

Monday, March 10, 2008

"George Fox"

One must wonder about the sense of irony that might have gone into Eliot's Spitzer's choice of alias.

George Fox (Wikipedia)

Thin Air into thin air

It was safe at home — before it disappeared.

So what happened? In lieu of the presence of a poltergeist with techno-lust, I have developed a theory that I first viewed as remote, but now believe explains the fate of my Air.
Technology writer Steven Levy thinks he knows what became of his MacBook Air. Read all about it:

Gone, Without a Trace (Newsweek)

Back in January, when I read about a MacBook Air sleeve made to look like a manila envelope, the worrier in me imagined the worst.

Feature creep and the contemporary syllabus

From Paula Walsey's "The Syllabus Becomes a Repository of Legalese," in The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 14, 2008):

"[T]he syllabus gets longer and longer each time students think up something new that you wouldn't necessarily want them doing," says Susan R. Boettcher, an assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.

More than a third of her nine-page syllabus for a course on the Reformation is taken up by explanations of her policies on attendance, laptop usage, and how to round grades, and her availability to write letters of recommendation.

Her detailed policy on scholastic dishonesty includes a clause stating that "the rules of academic honesty also apply to extra credit." It was an addition that she made after a judicial board overturned her recommendation that a student fail her course for plagiarizing an extra-credit paper. Her syllabus had not explicitly stated that students could fail for cheating on extra-credit projects.
I'm both impressed and horrified by the nerve of the student who challenged Professor Boettcher's decision. As I point out when I teach the Inferno, plagiarists would likely end up in the tenth bolgia of the eight circle of Dante's hell, reserved for falsifiers (alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, impersonators), those who tamper with the integrity of things, words, and persons.

No link: most items in the Chronicle are available only to subscribers. But here's Wikipedia's article on creeping featurism.

Related posts
"Extra credit?"
Paper chase

In search of lost sound

Milk bottles, steam engines, typewriters: these and other sounds of the past are available from Marnix Koolhaas' Library of Vanished Sounds (aka the Museum of Lost Sounds).

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Larry David on the red phone

["The Lefty Call," Curb Your Enthusiasm (2007).]

Larry David has strong feelings about who should be answering the red phone:

On the Red Phone (Huffington Post)

Related post
Larry David's notebook

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Aqua Velva

From a television commercial:

"Through the years, many things pass from father to son, like Aqua Velva After Shave."
En mi casa, it's not Aqua Velva that has passed from father to son; it's a beard. Across generations, we heed the anonymous wisdom of these words (from 1879!):
Those who shave do well; but those who do not do better. If nature intended for men to shave, she would not have been so lavish in providing them with beards, and it is best for men not to shave at all, for nothing adds to the beauty of man so much as a full flowing beard.
Related posts
Perfect Etiquette (1879)

Friday, March 7, 2008


I'm amused to find do-over as a recurring term in discussion of the Florida and Michigan Democratic primaries. From House Democratic leader Dan Gelber, a sentence that could have come from The Onion: "I think we have to do a do-over."

Do-over is likely to be familiar to any veteran of schoolyard games. That at least is the context in which I'm familiar with the term: the world of odds and evens and two out of three and choosing up sides. Any matter of reasonable or unreasonable dispute could be decided by a do-over: whether the ball was out of bounds, whether the dribbler was traveling, whether the runner was over the goal line when tagged. I must have said and heard do-over hundreds of times as a kid, in a number of variations:

"That's a do-over!"

"We gotta do that over!"

"No way! Do-over!"
The Oxford English Dictionary doesn't contain do-over — yet.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Inept political metaphor of the day

From Joe Klein, writing for Time:

On the Friday before her resurrection, Hillary Clinton seemed exhausted, played out.
Yes, resurrection can mean "resurgence, revivial"; it need not refer to the dead rising. But the paragraph in which this sentence appears describes the "funereal" mood on a Clinton campaign plane, which strongly suggests the primary meaning of resurrection, whatever the writer's intent. So the metaphor fails: if the mood is "funereal" and there's a resurrection to come, you're dead, not "exhausted, played out."

But worse: for a thinking reader, theist or non-theist, there's something grotesque in the very idea of a sentence about the Friday before a politician's resurrection.

As the sign said, THINK.

Related posts
CNN and mixed metaphors
Everything but the kitchen sink
The Elements of Style
Mixed metaphors
Myth and mixed metaphors
Of prongs and pillars
Times reporter on metaphorical spree

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Of prongs and pillars

Once you begin reading and listening for inept political metaphor, it's everywhere. From a Wolf Blitzer blog post:

For years, Republicans have stressed a three-pronged platform in trying to win votes.
What would a three-pronged — or even one- or two-pronged — platform look like? Something designed by Dalí, I suppose.

Three sentences later, the prongs turn into pillars. If you want a good old dying metaphor, you need planks.

Come on, Wolf. As the IBM sign said, THINK, at least a little bit.

Related posts
CNN and mixed metaphors
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Times reporter on metaphorical spree

Times reporter on metaphorical spree

It's difficult not to suspect an element of parody in New York Times writer Patrick Healy's article on last night's primaries. Watch the metaphors change from sentence to sentence — and within sentences! George Orwell's comment on dying metaphors (which Stefan Hagemann cited in relation to the so-called "kitchen sink" strategy) is again apposite:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s victories in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday night not only shook off the vapors of impending defeat, but also showed that — in spite of his delegate lead — Senator Barack Obama was still losing to her in the big states.

Those two states were the battlegrounds where Mr. Obama was going to bury the last opponent to his history-making nomination, finally delivering on his message of hope while dashing the hopes of a Clinton presidential dynasty.

Yet then the excited, divided American electorate weighed in once more, throwing Mrs. Clinton the sort of political lifeline that New Hampshire did in early January after her third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

For Mrs. Clinton, the battle ahead is not so much against Mr. Obama as it is against a Democratic Party establishment that had once been ready to coalesce behind her but has been drifting toward Mr. Obama. The party wants a standard-bearer now to wage the war against the newly minted leader of the Republicans, Senator John McCain, who enjoys a head start with every day that the Democrats lack a nominee of their own.
The vapors: Hillary Clinton as 19th-century lady.

Battlegrounds: war.

Burying the last opponent: evidently a war metaphor, but one doesn't bury the enemy dead in wartime. Hit job might be a better metaphor here — killing one's enemy and burying the body.

Finally delivering, while dashing dynastic hopes: a courier service that also delivers violent blows to abstractions. Note that this courier service makes deliveries to battlegrounds.

Weighing in: boxing.

Lifeline: a rescue at sea (after a third-place finish).

Coalescing, drifting: matter in primordial space?

Standard-bearer: war (but a military leader wouldn't be bearing the standard).

Newly minted: coinage.

A head start: it's a race.

Yes, it's still a race after all.

Related posts
CNN and mixed metaphors
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The Elements of Style
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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

El Pico key ring

Reading Design Observer's occasional excerpts from Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance prompts me to write about this now-broken key ring. My friend Aldo Carrasco gave it to me in the 1980s in recognition of my taste for Cuban coffee. My guess is that the key ring was a giveaway for bodega and supermarket customers. I would like to think that the unintended Warholian overtones were not lost on us, but they were. El Pico was just a joke between friends.

Over many years, I kept this key ring in a box with various objects — foreign coins, pencils, a miniature Mona Lisa from an old professor's office. At some point in the late 20th century (how I love saying that), I decided that I would stop saving the key ring and simply use it, in memory of Aldo, who had died in 1986.

Yesterday, when I reached to open the front door and leave the house, my keys fell to the floor and I found myself holding nothing more than a coffee can: the plastic that tethered ring to can had split. I can't imagine a repair that would be more than temporary, and I can imagine keys falling in less forgiving circumstances. So my keys are still on the key ring my friend gave me, but El Pico now sits on my desk.

Related post
Letters from Aldo

Mac user experience

From Humanized, a blog post by Atul Varma on what it's like to plug a USB keyboard and USB mouse into a Windows machine and a Mac. Here's Windows:

Each wizard required 3 clicks to get through. I had to go through 8 wizards in all, so that's a grand total of twenty-four clicks required to unplug my keyboard and mouse from one side of my computer and plug them into the other side. I'm not actually installing brand-new hardware here.
Now the Mac:
The first time I had to plug this keyboard and mouse into my Mac, I was floored. In the best-case scenario, I expected it to think for a second or two and then give me a reasonably unintrusive message informing me that I could use my USB mouse and keyboard. That would have been pretty humane.

But it did one better.

The Mac didn't tell me anything, because my mouse and keyboard just worked the moment I plugged them in. When you plug in a power cable or a pair of headphones into a computer, you don't get some kind of confirmation message from your operating system, because it's obviously supposed to just work — why should plugging in a USB keyboard and mouse be any different?
I'm planning to read these paragraphs aloud the next time I'm waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for a classroom Windows computer to detect my USB flash drive and tell me that it's ready to use.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Moleskine datebook icons

I'm on my second page-a-day Moleskine datebook and only recently noticed a change in the 2008 edition: the addition of two small icons on the bottom two lines of each page, useful to anyone tracking the weather.

Like the small hour marks running down the first thirteen lines of each page (from 8 to 20), these icons are handy if you need them, and unobtrusive enough to ignore if you prefer. That's good design.

Related posts
iPhone alternative
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Moleskine datebook review

Pocket address-book sighting

[Murvyn Vye (Captain Dan Tiger) and Thelma Ritter (Moe).]

"Look, what do you want from me, Tiger? Do I personally raise the price on hamburger and pork and beans and frankfurters? Is it my fault that the cost of living is going up? These are the prices as of this morning."
Moe's referring to the prices for the names of the various criminals in her address-book. As of this morning, the price of a "cannon" (pickpocket) is $50.

Pickup on South Street (1953, directed by Sam Fuller) has four great performances (Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter, and Richard Kiley), three great fight scenes (in an apartment, a men's room, and a subway station), two great pickpocketings, and one address-book. The movie is available, beautifully restored, from The Criterion Collection.

More sightings
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
Moleskine sighting (in Extras)
Notebook sighting in Pickpocket
A pocket notebook in The Palm Beach Story
Pocket notebook sighting (in Diary of a Country Priest)
Pocket notebook sightings in Rififi
Red-headed woman with reporter's notebook

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The brain on jazz

Researchers have been studying at the brains of jazz musicians:

The scientists found that a region of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a broad portion of the front of the brain that extends to the sides, showed a slowdown in activity during improvisation. This area has been linked to planned actions and self-censoring, such as carefully deciding what words you might say at a job interview. Shutting down this area could lead to lowered inhibitions . . . .

The researchers also saw increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which sits in the center of the brain’s frontal lobe. This area has been linked with self-expression and activities that convey individuality, such as telling a story about yourself.
Read all about it:

This Is Your Brain on Jazz (Johns Hopkins Medicine press release)
Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation (PLoS ONE)

Related reading
"Self-Reliance" and jazz
All jazz posts (via Pinboard)

(Thanks, Elaine!)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Victoria's Secret "too sexy"

Not from The Onion:

Victoria's Secret likes to ask in its marketing, "What is sexy?" Now the lingerie chain is trying to figure out, "What's too sexy?"

The chief executive of the brand known for its provocative televised fashion shows and alluring stores made an admission yesterday. In her mind, the brand has become "too sexy" — or at least the wrong kind of sexy.

"We have so much gotten off our heritage," CEO Sharen Jester Turney said in a conference call with analysts.
Read the rest: Apparently, You Can Be Too Sexy (Wall Street Journal)

More "Not from The Onion" posts
Jesús Malverde
Outsider outsider artist
Reality trumps The Onion
Reality trumps satire
Reality trumps satire (again)
University of Wisconsin sues over W