Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sylvia Sweets remembered

The Flickr page for Jack Delano's photograph of Sylvia Sweets Tea Room now includes a lengthy and evocative account of life at the restaurant from Elaine (Dayos) Liatsos, daughter of John Dayos, who began Sylvia Sweets in the 1930s. A sample:

I remember well the two ladies who worked at McCarthy’s in the fifties and would come in on Friday night, when the stores were open until 9pm and order Salmon Salad on plain dark bread and my father would enjoy making it extra special for them every week — cut in fours with toothpicks.
How wonderful that this picture of the gone world (thanks, Lawrence Ferlinghetti) should find so many old and new friends in this century.

Related post
Sylvia Sweets Tea Room

Domestic comedy

"Do you want chocolate chips in the cake?"

"No, just yellow."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Back-to-school shopping

Jana Pruden still wants to go back-to-school shopping:

I never even liked school very much, but the Back to School season was still something special. Back to School was a time of such great newness it always left me feeling that anything could happen.

With my school supplies laid out all clean and perfect in those final days before school started, I could always catch a glimpse of the better me that could possibly emerge that school year.
Ah, supplies. Thomas Merton has a wonderful passage with a similar feeling.

Shopping for supplies was a late-summer ritual when my children were in elementary school. El fanatico (that's me) insisted on the best — Dixon Ticonderoga or Faber-Castell or Mirado pencils. It was only years later that I learned that all supplies were pooled for class use. I think that my kids didn't have the heart to tell me.

The school supplies we now buy are (thank goodness) for personal use — books, computers, notebooks, pens.


The siding contractor has walked off the job.

You can see what the artist is after in the three Ernie Bushmiller panels at the top of this page. In Nancy, the result is elegant. In Hi and Lois, just clumsy. Time marches.

[Hi and Lois, August 29, 2008.]

Related posts
Hi and Escher?
Returning from vacation with Hi and Lois
Sunday at the beach with Hi and Lois
Vacationing with Hi and Lois

The Cupertino effect

I didn't know that there was a name for it. From Wikipedia:

The Cupertino effect is the tendency of spellcheckers to replace a misspelling with a completely inappropriate word.
Better: "to suggest a completely inappropriate word to replace a misspelled word," as it's the user who makes the decision to replace or keep the word. (I just edited the article.)

Someone just added to my revision:
The Cupertino effect is the tendency of spellcheckers to suggest a completely inappropriate word to replace a misspelled word, or a correctly spelled word that is missing from the spellchecker's dictionary.
That's better still. I just went back to condense the sentence:
The Cupertino effect is the tendency of a spellchecker to suggest inappropriate words to replace misspelled words and words not in its dictionary.
The Cupertino effect explains the Appellation Mountains, among other mysteries.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

August 28, 2008

From the prepared text of Barack Obama's acceptance speech:

This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that's not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

Instead, it is that American spirit — that American promise — that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours — a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty-five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could've heard many things. They could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead — people of every creed and color, from every walk of life — is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.
E pluribus unum.

Susan Eisenhower

Is it common knowledge that Susan Eisenhower is speaking at Mile High Stadium tonight? As in Eisenhower: she is Ike's granddaughter.

Google that

Just a few minutes ago:

"Thank you very much, Eric Google."
Tom Brokaw, at the Democratic National Convention, ending an interview with Eric Schmidt, CEO of you-know-what.

Yes, the television's already on, and I'm wound up, as I suspect Tom Brokaw is.

August 28, 1963

Forty-five years ago today:

Finishing his prepared remarks, he seemed ready to sit down, when Mahalia Jackson called out from behind him, "Tell them about your dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!"

James T. Patterson, Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945–1974 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 483
If you've never read or heard it, now's the time:

I Have a Dream (InfoUSA)
I Have a Dream (YouTube)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Fake following"

This is a little bit genius. One of the new features of FriendFeed (a Twitter-like thingie) is "fake following." That means you can friend someone but you don't see their updates. That way, it appears that you're paying attention to them when you're really not. Just like everyone does all the time in real life to maintain their sanity. Rex calls it "most important feature in the history of social networks" and I'm inclined to agree. It's one of the few new social features I've seen that makes being online buddies with someone manageable and doesn't just make being social a game or competition.
I read this paragraph from three times yesterday, trying to decide whether "a little bit genius" and the final sentence were meant ironically. An update seems to answer my question.

(Pretending to pay attention when you aren't is not a game of sorts? I guess I just wasn't made for these times.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


They're not solar panels, oddly placed: the client's reply — "Now show me something I can afford to heat!" — rules them out. What then are those things? (And how many floors does this house have? And where's the front door?!)

Your speculations are welcome in the comments.

[Hi and Lois, August 26, 2008.]

Related posts
Hi and Escher?
Returning from vacation with Hi and Lois
Sunday at the beach with Hi and Lois
Vacationing with Hi and Lois

"Hey Jude"

Forty years ago today: the American release of the Beatles' "Hey Jude" (b/w "Revolution"). The promotional clips are still exciting to watch:

"Hey Jude" (YouTube)
"Revolution" (YouTube)

Wikipedia has helpful background on both songs.

That's my 45 above (mono!). It still works.

A related post
I remember Sgt. Pepper

Monday, August 25, 2008

Penguin's not so great idea

I was surprised to receive today a reply from Penguin to my question about the availability of the third series of Great Ideas paperbacks in the United States. Says Penguin, "We do not have plans at the moment to publish the Penguin Great Ideas series in the USA."

Chicago's Seminary Co-op (God's bookstore, as I called it the other day) thinks that it can get the books through a distributor, without undue shipping costs (1-800-777-1456). (If, by the way, you've thought of ordering from, the cost of shipping from Canada to the States doubles the price of a Great Ideas volume, to about $20.)

If you'd like to encourage Penguin to bring the third series of Great Ideas to the States, you might want to leave a message on the publisher's Ask a Question page.

Habana notebooks

[Orange notebook art. Click for a larger, orange-ier view.]

4" x 6 7/8", 96 sheets, 27 lines per page
6 1/4" x 9 1/4", 80 sheets, 25 lines per page

When Quo Vadis offered interested parties the chance to evaluate its Habana notebooks, I promptly raised my hand. As a regular reader of Orange Crate Art already knows, I love "supplies," a primal love that goes back to my childhood interest in my dad's art materials.

My acquaintance with Quo Vadis products goes back to my grad school days, when a Quo Vadis page-a-day planner became my tool of choice in the neverending battle to stay organized. ("That's what all the yuppies use," a saleswoman in a Boston stationery store told me when I looked at a Quo Vadis. I bought one anyway.) Quo Vadis planners have always been well made, with superior paper sewn in signatures and flexible but sturdy covers. So it's not surprising that these Habana notebooks are beautifully designed and made (in the U.S.). Their soft, leather-like, scuff-resistant covers (black, orange, red) are a wonder. (Any further description will have to sound like adspeak: buttery, rich, sumptuous.) The Habana's paper is by Clairefontaine, what Quo Vadis confidently calls "the best paper in the world for writing." Writing on Clairefontaine with a fountain pen is a pleasure: the paper takes ink without feathering or bleeding through. The Habana stays flat when open, so that one can write and ponder and ponder and write. The elastic band that keeps the notebook closed leaves no bumps beneath the back cover — a very nice trick. And there's a secret compartment — well, an envelope — on the inside back cover, to hold a spare bill, receipts, tickets, and a sentimental paper item or two. My review notebooks are without placemarking ribbons, though online descriptions of the Habana mention a ribbon.

Anyone who cares enough about notebooks to be reading this post is likely wondering how the Habana compares to the "legendary notebook of Hemingway, Picasso, and Chatwin" (none of whom used the notebooks made by Moleskine Srl). The Habana is not a Moleskine knockoff. The notebooks differ in size from Moleskines; the covers extend beyond the paper's edges; and there's that unmistakable Quo Vadis insignia (front cover, bottom right). Anyone who buys a notebook for its mythology ("Here I am, in a café, just like Hemingway") will be disappointed. (Imagine buying a typewriter to be like Kerouac, or a pencil to be like Nabokov!) But anyone who regards a notebook as a handy tool of thought will be delighted by the Habana. It's built for thinking and writing.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday at the beach with Hi and Lois

In Hiandloisville, offshore drilling has begun.

What is happening to this comic strip?

[Hi and Lois, August 24, 2008.]

Related posts
Hi and Escher?
Returning from vacation with Hi and Lois
Vacationing with Hi and Lois

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Springfield Daily Gazette

7:30 a.m. Leave the house. Buy water, an extra umbrella, fruit and oatmeal bars.

8:00 a.m. Drive to Springfield. Get lost (briefly) — a back road is involved. There is no simple and direct route to Springfield.

10:00 a.m. Arrive in Springfield. An instant parking space in a downtown lot! It's open to the public today, courtesy of Horace Mann Insurance. Why are there easy-to-find spaces? Where are all the people?

10:05 a.m. An answer to the first question never materializes, but the people — many, many people — are already waiting in line, an astonishing line that already wraps around a city block and snakes back and down several other streets. (NPR later reports a crowd of 35,000.)

10:05 a.m.–11:00 a.m. Elaine and I stand in line. We talk with people around us, some from Chicago, some from Springfield. One of our cohort is a blues fan from way back. He and I begin to talk about Canned Heat and the Incident at Kickapoo Creek. The line is getting longer and longer. It moves a little now and then, into and away from shade. Vendors move past selling buttons, shirts, and towels (towels?) with Obama's likeness. None of these items are official campaign merchandise, which is available at a handful of white tents. (Hint: look for the union label.)

11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. Things move more quickly. We round two corners, cross a street, walk another block or so, and present ourselves for security checks. No bottles, umbrellas, or folding chairs. We are glad that we left our umbrellas in the car. We sip a little water before surrendering our bottles. Everything comes out of pockets for inspection. My compact Zebra pen arouses some interest. "It's a pen," I say, and demonstrate by uncapping it. It's okay.

[Things abandoned on the way to the security check. Why an Altoids tin? Click for a larger view, though doing so won't answer the question.]
12:00 p.m.–1:40 p.m. Waiting outside the Old State Capitol, in the street beyond the Capitol grounds. We talk to people around us, with pauses to endure the sun now and then. National Guardsman on rooftops watch the crowd through binoculars. A woman from St. Louis wonders whether Bruce Springsteen will be a surprise guest (he's playing in St. Louis tonight). We decide that his presence would add too great an entertainment element and undercut Joe Biden. A student who worked for Biden during the primaries is especially happy to be here. Elaine and I talk at length with a lovely couple from Bogotá, Colombia. They came to Springfield in the 1950s, planning to stay for a year, and never left. They offer remarkable stories about the city's history, its better days and worse.

The well-mannered crowd insists on manners. There are several outbreaks of polite chanting to get a news cameraman and several civilians to step down from the fence surrounding the Capitol grounds. These anti-social climbers are obscuring what would otherwise be splendid views of the podium. "PLEASE MOVE THE CAMERA!" And the cameraman moves on! "DOWN FROM THE FENCE — PLEASE!" This chant doesn't work so well. One guy remains on the fence for the entire time. I think his name must be Dick. Yes, he is a Dick.

It's hot, with occasional overcast skies and blessed breezes, and no sign of rain. "Is that rain? Oh — I think my body is making its own rain."

Behind us, a choreographed outburst for Candy Crowley of CNN, spotted on the press risers: "WE LOVE YOU, CANDY!" It occurs to me that I have never seen Candy Crowley in profile before this afternoon.

1:40 p.m. The event begins. The father of a serviceman killed in Iraq leads the Pledge of Allegiance. Springfield's mayor, two campaign volunteers, a minister speak. The minister's invocation reads like a lengthy to-do list for God. (Why not?)

2:00 p.m. Illinois' senior senator, Dick Durbin, introduces Barack Obama, right on schedule (I think). Obama speaks and introduces Joe Biden. Biden speaks and introduces Michelle Obama and Jill Biden. The crowd is fired up and ready to go, applauding and roaring, and cheerfully booing every reference to the worst president in history and his policies.

Not far in front of us, a young woman becomes unsteady while Joe Biden is speaking, and those around her help her sit down in the street. The call goes out in all directions for water. A bottle is passed back; a cup is passed forward. She drinks from the bottle; someone suggests pouring water on her feet; she's soon able to stand. There's a quiet round of applause.

It's odd: watching such an event on television, it's so easy to concentrate on what's being said. The speakers are in your face, so to speak. In person, it's different: there's more to pay attention to. It's like the difference between listening to a recording and attending a concert. Make that a concert at which you can only rarely see the musicians performing. So I'm looking forward to watching some of the endless replays of this afternoon's speeches on cable news. But I'm very happy to have come, and to be able to say that I was here.

[The people, yes. Click for a larger view.]
When the speeches were over (circa 3:00 p.m., I think) and the Obamas and Bidens began to greet people close to the speaking platform, Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" came over the loudspeakers. Then some sort of rock and roll, and then the song I'd been waiting for, Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher." And then it was okay to leave.

[Barack and Michelle Obama and Joe and Jill Biden wave to the crowd. Click for a larger view.]
A related post
Great News from Springfield (from Elaine's blog)


In Google Maps, A not X marks the spot, the Old State Capitol.

(And we're off!)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Penguin's Great Ideas

From a review of Penguin's Great Ideas, third series:

These books are too beautiful. If I'm going to read a book, I want to be able to tote it around in a jacket pocket, to leave it in the bathroom to get warped by steam, or in the kitchen to get stained with ketchup.
Heinz, I hope.

Penguin's Great Ideas volumes are beautiful books indeed. You can see the covers from all three series (first, second, third) at designer David Pearson's website. No info available as to when these books will be available in the U.S. (I've asked.)

[Update, August 25, 2008: Penguin has no plans to publish the books in the United States. How to get them? More information in this post: Penguin's not so great idea.]

Proust in the New York Times crossword puzzle

[Welcome, syndicated-Times puzzlers!]

In today's puzzle, 36-Down, seven letters:

"Love is reciprocal       ": Marcel Proust
The answer is TORTURE (all caps, the crossword convention). The passage:
To be loved, one need not be sincere, nor even good at lying. By love, I mean here a kind of mutual torture.

The Prisoner, translated by Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003), 96
Yet another passage that won't soon appear on a Proust gift tag or note card.

My favorite clue in today's puzzle is 23-Across, "Field with bases" (four letters). Highlight the empty space between the colon and period if you want to see the answer: MATH.

Related reading
All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Review: Inara George
and Van Dyke Parks

Inara George with Van Dyke Parks, An Invitation (Everloving, 2008)

Overture : Right as Wrong : Accidental : Bomb : Duet : Dirty White : Idaho : Rough Design : Tell Me That You Love Me : Don't Let It Get You : Oh My Love : Family Tree : Night Happens

Songs by Inara George ("Family Tree" written with Mike Andrews)
Arrangements by Van Dyke Parks

Playing time 38:46

An Invitation is a collaboration across generations and a recording to treasure. Inara George and Van Dyke Parks go back a long way — to 1974, when Inara (daughter of Little Feat's Lowell George) was born.

An Invitation is much like a theater-piece, complete with overture and a closing "Good night, good night to all of you." The songs are beautiful and spare; George sings them in a strong, cool, unstagey voice that makes the meaning of every word register. Her poignant and witty lyrics offer varied glimpses of someone in love, desirous, self-abasing, jubilant, ruefully self-aware, still hopeful:

Want to be a kite
And fly above your house
And then drop down into your room ("Right as Wrong")

I'm like a pet salamander
Just cut a few holes for some air
Carry me everywhere ("Tell Me That You Love Me")

I could be
Your century
I want to settle down
I could be
Your baby tree
I want to settle down ("Family Tree")

You're coming out
You bought the ticket
This is the greatest ("Don't Let It Get You")

I can break my heart
Before we start
Before we even start ("Duet")

A state of mind
To intertwine
Now love is blind
A rough design
But still sturdy ("Rough Design")
Parks' arrangements for small orchestra are elegant and endlessly supportive. There's a marked Gershwin influence (including a moment of An American in Paris) and some Argentine and French touches, especially when Parks plays accordion.

The throes of love? Accordion? I fear that this account might make An Invitation seem anything but inviting. But inviting it is. I've listened to this CD five times in two days, and will be listening again and again. It's contemporary music of the highest order. You are invited to try before you buy, at the Everloving website.

Other Van Dyke Parks posts
A new VDP interview
That (In)famous Line
VDP interviewed
VDP and the present tense
VDP on verb tenses
VDP speaks

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Van Dyke Parks on verb tenses

From an interview with Inara George and Van Dyke Parks on the occasion of their collaboration An Invitation:

Interviewer: You said before you "stay out of the present tense." What's brought you back?

VDP: I meant in work — I don't mean psychologically. I'm in the prism of current understanding. I got the newspapers and I read them. But my reasons for that — "I stay out of the present tense." I think reverse is the most powerful gear. The torque! Things pass, and remembrance is the most instructive arena there is. It's wonderful because there’s nothing creative about it!
Related post
Van Dyke Parks and the present tense

Name brands and Brand X

In my supermarket life, I've been a sucker for name brands, having grown up in a family with a healthy respect for them. Our ice cream was Breyer's. Peas came from LeSueur. We shunned Brand X. This attitude was born not of affluence but of my parents' post-Depression intent to provide the best that it was within their means to provide.

Even as a frugal graduate student, I avoided Brand X. It never occurred to me to buy something other than, say, Skippy or Smucker's. Now things are different, and our kitchen is filled with store-brand items. But there are at least four name brands I can never forsake: Cheerios, Grape-Nuts, Gulden's, and Heinz.

As to the cereals: store brands don't compare. Oaty O's and their ilk are porous compared to Cheerios. Crunchy Nuggets and company lack Grape-Nuts', well, nuttiness.

And as to the condiments: Gulden's and Heinz are mustard and ketchup. I like Dijon too (store brand, way cheaper than Grey Poupon), but Gulden's is the Platonic ideal.

Reader, what name brands are you unwilling to forsake?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hi and Escher?

I thought first of Lucy's psychiatry stand, but the real inspiration here might be M.C. Escher.

[Hi and Lois, August 19, 2008.]

Related posts
Returning from vacation with Hi and Lois
Sunday at the beach with Hi and Lois
Vacationing with Hi and Lois

Monday, August 18, 2008


When keeping track of things to do, I prefer paper. But I still find NowDoThis an attractive and useful online tool. It has the virtue of extreme simplicity: a text area of unvarying size in which to enter and arrange an unlimited number of items (a scroll bar appears when needed). After you save a list, your items appear in large bold type, one at a time, waiting for you to click "done." No registration required.

NowDoThis might prove especially useful in managing time spent in front of the computer. I can imagine, for instance, making a list of everyday online reading —

NY Times obits
Arts and Letters Daily
Inside Higher Ed
and so on, so as to limit idle browsing. Putting such a list in the Firefox sidebar looks like an especially nifty way to stay on task. (Please be sure to include Orange Crate Art on said list.)

Related posts
Ta-da List
A timer to limit browsing

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Violet candy and Mad Men

A candy reference in Mad Men tonight: Don Draper describes his father as a man who liked "candy that tasted like violets, in a beautiful purple and silver package." That would be Choward's Violet Flavored Mints, still available today. Violet mints offer "a very unique candy experience," as the C. Howard Company puts it. I keep a package in reserve simply to look at. It's candy from the dowdy world.

When I was a little kid (in the Mad Men era), Choward's lavender gum and violet mints provided two of the curious fragrances that seemed to accompany old people. Cigarettes and Sen-Sen, too, went with old.

Will violet mints now join Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency as a new object of consumer curiosity?

Related posts
Gum, then, now
Frank O'Hara and Mad Men

Plagiarized comment-spam

I've received two unusual comments over the past two days in response to posts on the films Laura and The Street with No Name. In each case, something was off: neither commenter said anything to engage what I'd written. Think "parallel play." Two Google searches let me understand what was going on: these were not genuine comments at all but excerpts from unrelated (and smart!) online writing about these films.

The comment-spam strategy here is to look for a blog post with a key word or phrase and adding a pseudo-comment whose content is cut and pasted from elsewhere (in these instances, from film blogs). The commenters' URLs make it clear that the sole purpose of these phony comments is to drive traffic to commercial websites, one for bail bonds, one for fountain pens. I deleted both comments after previewing them.

I don't know if such comment-spam is automated or requires manual effort. Either way, I'm amazed that a spammer would expect a return on this investment of time and energy.

By the way, if any reader needs a fountain pen recommendation: Lamy and Pelikan are excellent choices. As to bail bonds, I wouldn't know. I always make bail.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

99¢ plus

"The whole thing, now, is the 'plus.'"

A new direction in NYC retail: 99¢ stores in which everything costs 99¢ or more. Read all about it:

The Cost of Retail Survival: 99¢. Or Maybe 99¢ Plus. (New York Times)

Persian salad

Another recipe of daunting complexity, with several ingredients and several steps. But master it I did. Persian salad is an exciting alternative to coleslaw or potato salad when grilling or picnicking (and when not grilling or picnicking).

1. Peel and dice a large cucumber.
2. Dice a large tomato and ten to twelve scallions.
3. Combine the above ingredients in a bowl.
4. Add the juice of a large lemon, a teaspoon half-teaspoon of salt, a half-teaspoon of black pepper, and a generous dash of cayenne pepper.
5. Stir and serve.

If you're preparing this dish in advance, keep it in the Frigidaire, and hold off on the cayenne until serving.

This recipe came my way some years ago, without attribution, in a newsletter from a local car dealership. I've rewritten it and added the word generous in front of dash.


June 24, 2014: The salt now seems overpowering. I’ve cut it by half.

Other recipes
Adventures in grain
Cabbage soup
Pasta with spinach and lemon
Saturday night quesadillas

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ice cream vendor

From the Indiana University Archives:

Charles Weever Cushman, amateur photographer and Indiana University alumnus, bequeathed approximately 14,500 Kodachrome color slides to his alma mater. The photographs in this collection bridge a thirty-two year span from 1938 to 1969, during which time he extensively documented the United States as well as other countries.
The above photograph is dated September 4, 1950. The description reads "Ice cream vendor supplies 2nd story at Halsted & Cabrini Chicago." (More info on this photograph here.)

I'm about to make a lame joke about the vendor being a second-story man. So before I do, start browsing:

Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection (Indiana University Archives / Digital Library Program)

(Thanks to Michael at Brown Studies for pointing me to this collection.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Free advice for Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben's foreword to Maggie Jackson's new book Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age begins with predictable irony:

As I settled down at my desk to write this brief foreword, a light on the computer blinked to indicate that a new e-mail had arrived. This left me with a quandary that by now must afflict most Americans most days of their lives: continue with the train of thought that I'd begun to follow or see who was hailing me and for what purpose.
McKibben clicks, replies, talks on the phone with the e-mailer, loses half an hour. And as the foreword ends,
The inbox is flashing again, clamoring for my attention. Loving novelty, I head in its direction; craving depth, I do so with a tinge of regret.
I'm puzzled when people who are skeptical users of technology seem unaware that they can prevent at least many digital distractions. Some free advice for Bill McKibben:
1. Turn off automatic e-mail checking and notification. (I'm assuming that the "light on the computer" involves Microsoft Outlook or a similar program.) Check e-mail manually, less frequently.

2. Use distraction-free writing technology. (I'm guessing that McKibben was getting ready to open Microsoft Word.) A text-editor beats Word for composing. Dark Room and WriteRoom are good choices too: in full-screen mode they remove access to other programs. Writing a draft in pencil or pen removes all computer-based distraction.

3. Read Mark Hurst's book Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload. One reason McKibben is distracted: Jackson's book offers no practical advice for managing digital claims on our attention. Hurst's book does.
Bill McKibben's quandary need not be a quandary. We already have the means to remove many of the distractions that can come between attention and the digital task at hand.

Two related posts
Driven to distraction
Review of Bit Literacy

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Review: David Murray and Mal Waldron

David Murray and Mal Waldron, Silence (Justin Time, 2008)

David Murray, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone
Mal Waldron, piano

Recorded October 2001 in Brussels

Free For C.T. (Waldron–Max Roach) 10:44
Silence (Murray) 3:30
Hurray For Herbie (Waldron) 7:52
I Should Care (Sammy Cahn–Axel Stordahl–Paul Weston) 12:36
Jean-Pierre (Miles Davis) 10:03
All Too Soon (Duke Ellington–Carl Sigman) 7:08
Soul Eyes (Waldron–Kelly Beverly Wolfe) 14:17

This recording gives us two great and markedly different improvisers whose interplay bespeaks a deep musical and emotional connection. Had Murray and Waldron ever played together before making this recording? The one-page insert accompanying the CD gives no information about the circumstances of this collaboration.

Every track here is a standout, but I'm especially drawn to the last four (which twenty-five years or so ago might have formed the two sides of a perfect LP). Waldron introduces an ascending half-step figure in the seventh bar of "I Should Care" that reshapes (or Waldronizes) the melody, and he and Murray recast the first four bars of "All Too Soon" as a series of three-note phrases. "Jean-Pierre," one of the bright moments of Miles Davis' later years, is reharmonized into a gospel-funk extravaganza reminiscent of Murray's "Morning Song" (or Billy Preston's "Nothing from Nothing"). And finally, "Soul Eyes," whose lengthy coda suggests the joy these musicians found in playing together.

A bonus: sound quality is extraordinary. Three cheers for Michael W. Huon and Olivier Huillet, who did the recording, and Bill Szawlowski, who mixed and mastered.

I've gone as long as I can without saying it: what a record!

Samples of the first five tracks are available here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Domestic comedy

"I haven't watched any Olympics tonight."

"What do you want, a medal?"

Sylvia Sweets Tea Room

[Sylvia Sweets Tea Room, corner of School and Main Streets, Brockton, Massachusetts, December 1940 or January 1941. Photograph by Jack Delano (1914–1997). Click for a larger view.]

Another beautiful photograph from the Library of Congress. It would be grand to cross the street (we have the light) and stand hatted and overcoated outside Sylvia Sweets.

What makes this photograph's 21st-century existence especially exciting is that Brocktonians have filled in some of the history of Sylvia Sweets and environs in their comments on the photo's Flickr page. (The Library of Congress information as to location was simply "industrial town in Massachusetts.") The Flickr contributors include William Wainwright, son of George L. Wainwright, whose law office was on the second floor of the building. (William practices law in Brockton in what is now a three-generation family firm, Wainwright and Wainwright.)

Don't miss the photograph in its original size, with the window signage at least partly readable. Fried clams, 40¢!

This photograph is one of the 4065 photographs that the Library of Congress has made available via Flickr. Wikipedia has an article on photographer Jack Delano.

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Library of Congress photographs
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Monday, August 11, 2008

Note to self re: bookbuying

Many times in the past two years, I've bought just-out hardcover non-fiction and been hugely disappointed, sometimes by the ideas, sometimes by the writing, sometimes by both. So listen up, self:

When you learn of new non-fiction that addresses matters of culture, education, language, or technology, wait. Read a sample online or in a bookstore. Consider whether you're willing to take on several hundred pages of the writer's prose. Look at Amazon reviews (which are sometimes far more discerning than those found in traditional media). And ask yourself, self, the crucial question: do you need to buy this book, or can you be happy getting it from the library?

And remember, self, if you buy the book in hardcover, it might be out in paperback by the time you get around to reading it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Returning from vacation with Hi and Lois

The Flagstons returned home today, with plans aplenty and little Trixie still riding in the front seat. What can be done to get some real seatbelts for these characters?

Related posts
Hi and Escher?
Sunday at the beach with Hi and Lois
Vacationing with Hi and Lois


Elaine, replying to a television commentator on the Summer You-know-whats:

"It's not poetry; it's diving!"
All "Overheard" posts (via Pinboard)

Little Gap of horrors

What happened to the poor guy on the floor? Perhaps he fell over from the weight of all those layers. His headless peeps are unperturbed, as was a Gap employee who was working (and kept working) at a display of merchandise just ten feet away while my family marveled at this display.

Ukulele fever

The New York Times takes note of the ukulele's renewed popularity:

Suddenly there's something irresistible again about ukuleles.
Again? The ukulele has never been resistible.

The Times article suggests several reasons for renewed interest in the uke, including Jake Shimabukuro's virtuoso performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Oddly though, the Times doesn't mention George Harrison's own possible influence. The scenes of George with uke in hand in the documentary The Beatles Anthology (1995) prompted me (and, I suspect, others) to pick up the instrument. (George's uke can be heard at the end of the Beatles' "Free as a Bird.")

And in case you're wondering: yes, it's possible to play "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the ukulele.

Related post
While my ukulele gently weeps

Friday, August 8, 2008

Capital "I"

Caroline Winter wonders why we capitalize the first-person singular pronoun:

Consider other languages: some, like Hebrew, Arabic and Devanagari-Hindi, have no capitalized letters, and others, like Japanese, make it possible to drop pronouns altogether. The supposedly snobbish French leave all personal pronouns in the unassuming lowercase, and Germans respectfully capitalize the formal form of "you" and even, occasionally, the informal form of "you," but would never capitalize "I." Yet in English, the solitary "I" towers above "he," "she," "it" and the royal "we."
Read all about "I":

Me, Myself and I (New York Times)

Love and imperfections

One more observation from Gordon Livingston:

To know someone fully and love them in spite of, even because of, their imperfections is an act that requires us to recognize and forgive, two very important indicators of emotional maturity. More important is the fact that, if we can do this for other people, we may be able to do it for ourselves.

Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart (New York: Da Capo, 2004), 146
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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Thrift-store telephone

This telephone announced its presence in our house with a bright, merry ring. "Dad, it's your phone," said Ben. Our cell has an old phone ringtone, but this ring wasn't the cell's. Surprise! Thanks, Rachel and Ben! [Photograph by Ben Leddy.]

If it's Wensday, this must be England

Genevieve, who writes wonderfully about agrarian life, WPA architecture, and other matters at Prairie Bluestem, sent this news from the world of spelling and misspelling (or mispelling):

Dr Ken Smith is urging colleagues to turn a blind eye to the 20 most common slips — such as 'Febuary', 'ignor' and 'speach' — and view them instead as variants of standard spellings.

Writing in the Times Higher Education magazine, the senior lecturer in criminology at Buckinghamshire New University said: 'Teaching a large first-year course at a British university, I am fed up with correcting my students' atrocious spelling. Aren't we all?

'But why must we suffer? Instead of complaining about the state of the education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, I've got a better idea.

'University teachers should simply accept as variant spellings those words our students most commonly misspell.'
Among Smith's proposed variants: thier and there for their and Wensday for Wednesday.

Something tells me that Smith's modest proposal must be tongue-in-cheek. But in light of other recent news from England, I can't be sure.

[Post title with apologies to this movie.]

Mediterranean fatalism

Over five nights in late July and early August, I made my way through the twenty-one episodes of the sixth (final) season of The Sopranos on DVD. No spoilers, if you haven't watched: I'll say only that there's much time spent in hospitals, "facilities," "centers," and funeral homes. It's a season of sickness and violence and death.

As a semi-Italian Brooklyn native and former New Jerseyan, I take great pleasure in the show's dialogue, which sounds, from my experience, remarkably true to life. (The exceptions: when Tony Soprano is made to say things like "I'm miffled" and "Rick Sanatorium," à la Archie Bunker.) One bit of dialogue that I noticed returning with some frequency in this season:

"What are you gonna do?"
That's Mediterranean fatalism itself, in five words.

"What are you gonna do?" is a rhetorical question that suits a variety of circumstances: Somebody's wife ran off? Somebody has cancer? Somebody has Alzheimer's? Somebody died? What are you gonna do?

In the world of The Sopranos, this rhetorical question marks the temporary surrender of illusion. Tony and company would like to believe that they're in control, of their lives and the lives of others. But sometimes there's nothing they can do, because life is difficult and unpredictably painful.

The Greek warrior Achilles expresses this sense of life's mystery and suffering in his words to the Trojan king Priam in Iliad 24. Achilles explains that Zeus keeps two jars, one filled with "good things," the other "a jar of woe." Some human beings get things from both jars. Some get only woe. And it's not fair:
"Yes, the gods have woven pain into mortal lives,
While they are free from care."
What are you gonna do?

[Iliad translation by Stanley Lombardo.]

Another Sopranos post
Angelo Bucco's notebook

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Angelo Bucco's notebook

Artie Bucco's Nuovo Vesuvio is hurting. The problems: tired menu, tired decor, and Artie himself. He's a "warm" and "convivial" host, the guidebooks say, but people want to be left alone to eat and talk; they don't want to listen to his line of patter. One night, with the kitchen closed and some late arrivals wanting a meal, Artie takes out a notebook of his grandfather's recipes and rediscovers the vocation of cooking.

The people at The Sopranos have done a fine job of distressing, but — all due respect — it's easy to recognize this composition book as the kind that one can buy in any big-box store. An old, truly old, book would have a hard, thick cover, and something other than the single sans-serif word Compositions. I'm thinking of the Royal "Vernon Line" composition books of my elementary-school days, with varnished covers and watermarked paper. (Alas, I cannot find a single image of such a composition book online. But I recently saw a reproduction of a Royal inside-rear-cover in R. Crumb's Crumb Family Comics [Last Gasp, 1998].)

Artie is about to prepare coniglio (rabbit), with an animal he shot in his garden. Enjoy!

[Images from "Luxury Lounge," The Sopranos (sixth season, seventh episode). Click for larger views, and note the metric measurements.]

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Obama and inflation

Time considers inflation:

How out of touch is Barack Obama? He's so out of touch that he suggested that if all Americans inflated their tires properly and took their cars for regular tune-ups, they could save as much oil as new offshore drilling would produce. Gleeful Republicans have made this their daily talking point; Rush Limbaugh is having a field day; and the Republican National Committee is sending tire gauges labeled "Barack Obama's Energy Plan" to Washington reporters.

But who's really out of touch? The Bush Administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 bbl. per day by 2030. We use about 20 million bbl. per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now. Meanwhile, efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage 3%, and regular maintenance can add another 4%. Many drivers already follow their advice, but if everyone did, we could immediately reduce demand several percentage points. In other words: Obama is right.

In fact, Obama's actual energy plan is much more than a tire gauge. But that's not what's so pernicious about the tire-gauge attacks. Politics ain't beanbag, and Obama has defended himself against worse smears. The real problem with the attacks on his tire-gauge plan is that efforts to improve conservation and efficiency happen to be the best approaches to dealing with the energy crisis — the cheapest, cleanest, quickest and easiest ways to ease our addiction to oil, reduce our pain at the pump and address global warming. It's a pretty simple concept: if our use of fossil fuels is increasing our reliance on Middle Eastern dictators while destroying the planet, maybe we ought to use less.

"The primary goal of parenting"

The primary goal of parenting, beyond keeping our children safe and loved, is to convey to them a sense that it is possible to be happy in an uncertain world, to give them hope. We do this, of course, by example more than by anything we say to them. If we can demonstrate in our own lives qualities of commitment, determination, and optimism, then we have done our job and can use our books of child-rearing advice for doorstops or fireplace fuel. What we cannot do is expect that children who are constantly criticized, bullied, and lectured will think well of themselves and their futures.

Gordon Livingston, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart (New York: Da Capo, 2004), 124
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Monday, August 4, 2008

Vacationing with Hi and Lois

I like the Flagstons, but what century do they drive in? From the NHSTA: "Children age 12 and under should ride properly restrained in back."

[Hi and Lois, August 3, 2008.]

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Telephone exchange names on screen (no. 4)

"ATwater 0-2390, please": Janet Cullen (Lisa Howard) tries to get in touch with her detective husband Andy (John Dall). She's calling from their arty basement apartment. ATwater, I am happy to report, appears in the Bell System's 1955 listing of recommended exchange names.

(Says my daughter: "Your blog is becoming a shrine to the telephone.")

The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950, dir. Felix E. Feist) offers the moviegoer some unusual opportunities:

1. The opportunity to see Lee J. Cobb and John Dall (thrill-killer Brandon Shaw from Alfred Hitchcock's Rope) play brothers.

2. The opportunity to see Jane Wyatt (Margaret Anderson from the television series Father Knows Best) smoke cigarettes and kill someone.

3. The opportunity to tour San Francisco's desolate Fort Point in a long final scene.

Lisa Howard's post-movie life took a remarkable and remarkably sad turn.

Related posts
Telephone exchange names on screen
Telephone exchange names on screen (no. 2)
Telephone exchange names on screen (no. 3)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

It is the correction that matters

A correction in today's New York Times addresses the question of who said "It is the journey, not the arrival, that matters":

An article on July 20 about the economy's effects on Americans' vacations misattributed the saying that it is the journey, not the arrival, that matters. Although it has been attributed through the years to T. S. Eliot — as the article did — Leonard Woolf, the author and the husband of Virginia Woolf, in his autobiography, "Downhill All the Way," cites Montaigne, the 16th-century essayist, as having written, "It is not the arrival, but the journey which matters."
The Times did better than me (as well it should, right?) by tracking down the work in which Woolf attributes the statement to Montaigne (I just confirmed it via Google Book Search). The correction makes no reference to Woolf's own The Journey Not the Arrival Matters and (perhaps wisely) avoids the question of whether Montaigne is the source of this aphorism.

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From Eliot to Woolf to Montaigne

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Joanna Newsom's items in a series

From an interview with Joanna Newsom:

Do you love your country?

I love William Faulkner, Dolly Parton, fried chicken, Van Dyke Parks, the Grand Canyon, Topanga Canyon, bacon cheeseburgers with horseradish, Georgia O'Keeffe, Grand Ole Opry, Gary Snyder, Gilda Radner, Radio City Music Hall, Big Sur, Ponderosa pines, Southern BBQ, Highway One, Kris Kristofferson, National Arts Club in New York, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Joni Mitchell, Ernest Hemingway, Harriet Tubman, Hearst Castle, Ansel Adams, Kenneth Jay Lane, Yuba River, South Yuba River Citizens League, “Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore”, “Hired Hand”, “The Jerk”, “The Sting”, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, clambakes, lobster rolls, s'mores, camping in the Sierra Nevadas, land sailing in the Nevada desert, riding horseback in Canyon de Chelly, Walker Percy, Billie Holiday, Drag City, Chez Panisse/Alice Waters/slow food movement, David Crosby, Ralph Lauren, San Francisco Tape Music Center, Albert Brooks, Utah Phillips, Carol Moseley Braun, Bolinas CA, Ashland OR, Lawrence KS, Austin TX, Bainbridge Island WA, Marilyn Monroe, Mills College, Elizabeth Cotton, Carl Sandburg, the Orange Show in Houston, Toni Morrison, Texas Gladden, California College of Ayurvedic Medicine, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Saturday Night Live, Aaron Copland, Barack Obama, Oscar de la Renta, Alan Lomax, Joyce Carol Oates, Fred Neil, Henry Cowell, Barneys New York, Golden Gate Park, Musee Mechanique, Woody Guthrie, Maxfield Parrish, Malibu, Maui, Napa Valley, Terry Riley, drive-in movies, homemade blackberry ice cream from blackberries picked on my property, Lil Wayne, Walt Whitman, Halston, Lavender Ridge Grenache from Lodi CA, Tony Duquette, Julia Morgan, Lotta Crabtree, Empire Mine, North Columbia Schoolhouse, Disneyland, Nevada County Grandmothers for Peace, Roberta Flack, Randy Newman, Mark Helprin, Larry David, Prince, cooking on Thanksgiving, Shel Silverstein, Lee Hazlewood, Lee Radziwill, Jackie Onassis, E.B. White, William Carlos Williams, Jay Z, Ralph Stanley, Allen Ginsberg, Cesar Chavez, Harvey Milk, RFK, Rosa Parks, Arthur Miller, “The Simpsons”, Julia Child, Henry Miller, Arthur Ashe, Anne Bancroft, The Farm Midwifery Center in TN, Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Clark Gable, Harry Nilsson, Woodstock, and some other stuff. Buuuut, the ol' U S of A can pull some pretty dick moves. I'm hoping it'll all come out in the wash.

Friday, August 1, 2008

People and the rest of us

Another passage from Gordon Livingston:

Our attention spans are notoriously short. Events move past us with great rapidity. Our memories are consequently limited and we focus on the foreground. We pay attention to a limited number of mostly young, good-looking, and wealthy persons who fill the pages of one of our aptly named magazines: People. If they are the people, who are the rest of us? What does it signify to be obscure in a world preoccupied with fame, however earned or unearned? As long as we measure others and ourselves by what we have and how we look, life is inevitably a discouraging experience, characterized by greed, envy, and a desire to be someone else.

Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart (New York: Da Capo, 2004), 85
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