Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lois and refrigerators

[Hi and Lois, September 30, 2008.]

I'm not sure what's strangest: that the new refrigerator is smaller than the old one (yet fills the same space), that Lois left the family's artworks on the old fridge, that the deliverymen are browsing those works, that they took the fridge with those works still attached, that they haven't realized that the fridge cannot fit in their truck, that Lois' friend didn't see the truck, that Lois' friend doesn't know where old refrigerators go, that refrigerators old and new have wood-grained sides, that the new refrigerator has no handles, or that the new refrigerator has muntins. Follow the lines: they cannot represent doors. Which does make the absence of handles plausible, I suppose.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Leadbelly at the MLA

A story from Marybeth Hamilton's In Search of the Blues (New York: Basic Books, 2008):

[W]ord of Leadbelly had begun to spread. [John] Lomax's American Ballads and Folk Songs had been published in late October 1934, and it included many of the songs gathered from convicts and credited Leadbelly as an important source. The glowing reviews the book received provoked the head of the Modern Language Association to invite Lomax to unveil his discovery at its annual convention in Philadelphia in late December. Though Lomax claimed to be apprehensive — the idea, he said later, "smacked of sensationalism" — he, Alan [Lomax], and Leadbelly duly took the stage with lecture notes and guitar at the evening smoker in the Crystal Ballroom in the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, billed as "Negro Folksongs and Ballads, presented by John Lomax and Alan Lomax, with the assistance of a Negro minstrel from Louisiana," and sandwiched between a performance of Elizabethan madrigals and a sing-along of sea chanteys.
"[W]ith the assistance of"! The most important person on the stage is thus transformed into a personal assistant and a nameless representative of a type. (Yes, an invisible man.) It's no surprise to learn that John Lomax employed Huddie Ledbetter as a driver and valet.

Edward Sorel could turn this improbable MLA scene into a wonderful First Encounters illustration.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Quimby economics

Ramona Quimby speaks for us all:

"We are scrimping and pinching to make ends meet."

Beverly Cleary, Ramona and Her Mother (1979)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Jim Lehrer's Post-it Notes

Jim Lehrer's Post-it Notes delighted the "supplies"-minded viewer (me).

Barack Obama's authority and intelligence delighted me too.

[Image from MSNBC video.]

Related post
Twenty uses for a Post-it Note

Friday, September 26, 2008


In the hallway of an academic building, one student to another:

"Have you had a drink today yet?"
At 11:57 a.m. Ah, colledge.

Related reading
All "overheard" posts (via Pinboard)

Couric and Palin and Orwell

[Welcome, Daily Dish readers.]

Another unanswered question:

Couric: Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend 700 billion dollars helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas, and groceries, allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy rather than helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

Palin: That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, we're ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy. Um, helping, oh, it's got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief for Americans, and trade — we have, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as competitive, um, scary thing, but one in five jobs created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All of those things under the umbrella of job creation, this bailout is a part of that.
As George Orwell points out in "Politics and the English Language," one need not take on the responsibility of thinking when composing sentences:
You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connexion between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
Look at what we have here — ready-made phrases, stray bits of language, as if pulled together from some desperate cramming for an exam: back on the right track, health care reform, job creation, one in five jobs, opportunity, reform that is needed, reducing taxes, reining in spending, shore up our economy, tax reductions, tax relief, the trade sector, the umbrella of job creation.

You know no one's home when we're told that "reducing taxes . . . has got to accompany tax reductions, and tax relief."

Stop, look, and listen: Katie Couric interviews Sarah Palin (YouTube)

Related posts
George Orwell on historical truth
"Yeah, mocked, I guess that's the word."

Review: Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson, That Lucky Old Sun (Capitol, 2008)

That Lucky Old Sun : Morning Beat : Room with a View (narrative) : Good Kind of Love : Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl : Venice Beach (narrative) : Live Let Live / That Lucky Old Sun (reprise) : Mexican Girl : Cinco de Mayo (narrative) : California Role / That Lucky Old Sun (reprise) : Between Pictures (narrative) : Oxygen to the Brain : Can't Wait Too Long : Midnight's Another Day : That Lucky Old Sun (reprise) : Going Home : Southern California

Total time 38:07

Two nights before I bought this album, I watched Brian Wilson on the Tonight Show and got sad. There he was, conspicuously ill at ease, sitting at an unplayed keyboard, silent during group vocal passages, surrounded by musicians whose energy and dedication heightened the pathos of the situation.

When I first listened to That Lucky Old Sun, with that televised performance in mind, a line from "Midnight's Another Day" struck me: "All these people make me feel so alone." And I then remembered a passage from the music critic Derek Jewell's review of a less-than-great late-1973 Duke Ellington concert: "I'm in favour of him, at all seasons, you understand, and if he doesn't merit such warmth of attitude, who does?" That Lucky Old Sun may not be a great album: it's not Orange Crate Art or SMiLE (the twin peaks of Wilson's solo career). But it's good, very good, with several excellent songs and many beautiful instrumental and vocal touches. Most importantly, it's the work of the only Brian Wilson we have.

Musically, That Lucky Old Sun looks back in time: to the 1940s Haven Gillespie–Beasley Smith song that inspired the album, to the Four Seasons, "When I'm Sixty-Four," and Barenaked Ladies' "Brian Wilson," and to many moments of Beach Boys history: "Child Is Father of the Man," "Do It Again," "Don't Worry Baby," "Good Vibrations," "Heroes and Villains," "Passing By," "Sail On Sailor," "Surf's Up," "'Til I Die," "Wind Chimes." There is a tremendously exciting and too brief rendition of the Wild Honey-era "Can't Wait Too Long." Several songs — "Good Kind of Love," "Live Let Live," "Oxygen to the Brain" — evoke the genial and loopy material of the Beach Boys' 15 Big Ones and The Beach Boys Love You. At other points, notably in "Southern California," we're in the lush territory of Sunflower. Even the slighter songs here have wonderful moments: the chord changes in the chorus of "Mexican Girl," the parallel major sevenths in "Going Home."

Lyrically, the album is a very mixed bag. There are occasional bits of the preoccupation with "health" that runs through the Wilson canon, with lyrics that sometimes verge on outsider art:

I laid around this old place
I hardly ever washed my face ("Oxygen to the Brain")
Some of the least effective moments of That Lucky Old Sun present Brian Wilson as a figure of mythic autobiography:
A goddess became my song ("Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl")

Fell asleep in the band room
Woke up in history ("Southern California")
Yes, it's all true, but it's very difficult to make such material seem anything other than self-regarding (cf. "The Ballad of John and Yoko" or Frank Sinatra's Trilogy). Almost every song here lists bandmember Scott Bennett as co-composer, so it's difficult to know who's responsible for what, but I find it difficult to imagine Brian Wilson writing about himself in these ways.

That Lucky Old Sun is presented as a suite, its songs punctuated by reprises of the title piece and by four spoken interludes ("narratives") with words by Van Dyke Parks. The overall effect is compelling. It's helpful to remember that Brian Wilson has done spoken-word before, in the deeply personal and deeply strange "Mount Vernon and Fairway" (released with the Beach Boys' Holland). He reads Parks' hipster poetry with engagement and wit:
City of Angels
Be all you can be
Be movies
Be A-list
Be seen just to see ("Cinco de Mayo")
The most arresting song here is "Midnight's Another Day," a song of loss and renewal, and a worthy successor to "Surf's Up," "'Til I Die," and "Still I Dream of It." It is beautiful and heartbreaking, and its brief passage for voices and sleighbells is one more shining moment of Brian Wilson's pure and generous genius.

One suggestion: the supporting musicians deserve much more than the near-anonymity they're reduced to here. They are, after all, the musicians who brought us Pet Sounds and SMiLE as note-perfect live performances (I know; I was there for both). Photographs and clearer credits, please.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Yeah, mocked, I guess that's the word."

Katie Couric interviewing Sarah Palin:

Couric: You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign-policy experience. What did you mean by that?

Palin: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land — boundary that we have with — Canada. It, it's funny that a comment like that was — kind of made to cari — I don't know. You know. Reporters —

Couric: Mocked?

Palin: Yeah, mocked, I guess that's the word, yeah.

Couric: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.

Palin: Well, it certainly does, because our — our next-door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia —

Couric: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

Palin: We have trade missions back and forth. We, we do. It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where — where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to — to our state.

Katie Couric and Sarah Palin (CBS News)
As my dear friend Aldo Carrasco would have said, literally unbelievable.

Is anyone else beginning to think landslide?

Three questions

From ABC News, an item confirming Neil Postman's point that the question shapes the answer:

Three new poll questions on the government's response to the financial crisis underscore the power of words — not only in how we understand polls, but in how we choose to describe the events of our day. . . .

The first, from the Pew Research Center, asks about the government "potentially investing" (note: not "spending") billions "to try and keep financial institutions and markets secure." Fifty-seven percent like the idea.

Pew: "As you may know, the government is potentially investing billions to try and keep financial institutions and markets secure. Do you think this is the right thing or the wrong thing for the government to be doing?"

Result: Right 57 percent, Wrong 30 percent.

The second, from the new LA Times/Bloomberg poll, asks if the government should "bail out private companies with taxpayers' dollars." Fifty-five percent don't like the idea — almost the exact opposite of the Pew result.

LAT/Bloomberg: "Do you think the government should use taxpayers' dollars to rescue ailing private financial firms whose collapse could have adverse effects on the economy and market, or is it not the government’s responsibility to bail out private companies with taxpayers’ dollars?"

Result: Should do 31 percent, Should not 55 percent.

The last, our own ABC/Post question, asks what people think of the steps the Fed and Treasury have taken to try to deal with the situation. Answer: Even split

ABC/Post: "Do you approve or disapprove of the steps the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department have taken to try to deal with the current situation involving the stock market and major financial institutions?"

Result: Approve 44 percent, Disapprove 42 percent.
Read it all: Views on the Bailout . . . um, Investment (ABC News)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Elaine and I had a nice moment of laughter a few days ago about the word plethora. Why does anyone use it seriously? Because it adds a thin, cheap gloss to the plainest of statements:

Our students can choose from five concentrations in the major.

Our students have a plethora of options for concentration within the major.

[These sample sentences are not drawn from life.]
For those who aim to impress via pomposity, plethora will do.

One might seek a cure though in looking at what the word means. The Oxford English Dictionary spills it:
1. Med. Originally: overabundance of one or more humours, esp. blood; an instance of this. In later use: excessive volume of blood (hypervolaemia or, now rarely, polycythaemia) or excessive fullness of blood vessels (now esp. as seen on X-rays); an instance of this.

2. fig. An unhealthy or damaging plenitude or excess of something; a state of surfeit or glut. Obs.

3. Usu. with of. Originally in pejorative sense: an excessive supply, an overabundance; an undesirably large quantity. Subsequently, and more usually, in neutral or favourable sense: a very large amount, quantity, or variety.
Thinking of bodily humors and bulging vessels might be enough to stop anyone's inclination toward plethora. Another reason to avoid this word: it's reputed to be, along with myriad, a favorite of those who score SAT essays. Reasonable to assume that it's a favorite too of those test-takers who likewise believe that one secret of good writing is farcical, pompous diction. A plethora of test-takers, if you will. (I hope you won't.)

National Punctuation Day

Yes, it's — not itsNational Punctuation Day.

Related posts
How to punctuate a sentence
How to punctuate more sentences

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Brian Wilson: Black Cab Session

"One song. One take. One cab": Brian Wilson, Scott Bennett, Nelson Bragg, Jeffrey Foskett, and Darian Sahanaja perform "That Lucky Old Sun" (Haven Gillespie–Beasley Smith) and a quick encore (Wilson–Mike Love) while riding in a London cab.

Stop, look, and listen: it's Chapter Fifty-Nine from the Black Cab Sessions.

Rules for computing happiness

Software developer Alex Payne offers twenty-five rules for happiness in Computerland. I wish I'd read such rules years ago. I especially like these two:

Use as little software as possible.

Use a Mac for personal computing.
(Found via Paper Bits)


Yes, it would be funny to walk down the street and see that window. [Hi and Lois, September 23, 2008.]

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Monday, September 22, 2008

Against knowingness

Mark Edmundson, in the 2008 College Issue of the New York Times Magazine:

Good teachers know that now, in what's called the civilized world, the great enemy of knowledge isn't ignorance, though ignorance will do in a pinch. The great enemy of knowledge is knowingness. It's the feeling encouraged by TV and movies and the Internet that you’re on top of things and in charge. You're hip and always know what's up. Cool — James Dean-style cool — was once the sign of the rebel. But the tables have turned: conformity and cool have merged. The cool character now is the knowing one; even when he's unconventional, he's never surprising — and most of all, he's never surprised. Good teachers, by contrast, are constantly fighting against knowingness by asking questions, creating difficulties, raising perplexities.
Read it all: Geek Lessons (New York Times Magazine)

Related posts
Mark Edmundson tells it like it is
Words, mere words

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Proust in the news

From an article in the London Sunday paper The Observer, "Bread sells like hot cakes":

Psychologists are putting it down to nostalgia, while pragmatists say it's the credit crunch. But whatever the reason, sales of part-baked bread have doubled in the past year.

Tesco says its part-baked bread sales have risen 47 per cent, while Asda has seen a 60 per increase. Asda attributes the rise to the increased trend for staying in to save money. 'People are cooking for themselves more and cooking for friends. Part-baked is a cheat's way to serve piping hot, fresh bread,' said a spokesman.

Tesco believes there is a deeper reason and drafted in a scientist to explain it. During a time of insecurity and uncertainty, it's all apparently down to the 'Proust effect', named after the 19th-century French author who suggested that the rich, heady smell of baking bread created feelings of nostalgia for mum's kitchen and an instant sense of homeliness.

"[T]he 19th-century French author": Yes, Proust did write and publish in the late 19th century. But he's a 20th-century writer. The first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu appeared in 1913.

"[T]he rich, heady smell of baking bread": No, it's the taste of a madeleine, or more precisely, a madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea, that brings back the narrator's past.

"[M]um's kitchen": No, the narrator's aunt Léonie would give him a bit of a madeleine in her room.

"[M]um's kitchen": No, the taste of the madeleine brings back "the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water lilies of the Vivonne, and the good people of the village and their little dwellings and the church and all of Combray and its surroundings": a world.

It's difficult to decide whether the mistakes here are the work of Tesco's scientist or the newspaper reporter. Did the scientist mention only the "Proust effect"? Did the reporter assume that it concerned bread? Was someone getting confused by a recollection of Anton Ego and Ratatouille?

[Passage from Swann's Way translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 48.]

Related reading
All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Domestic comedy

"That bathroom has a dearth of toilet paper. That's the opposite of a plethora — a dearth."

Related reading
All "domestic comedy" posts

Blogger "recent posts" feed

The community-college-based server hosting the service that has provided my "recent posts" feed seems to have gone kerflooey. So I found a better way to set up a "recent posts" feed: Feed2JS.

Feed2JS allows any number of posts in its display (Blogger's widget has a maximum of five). Feed2JS is a free service, coded by Alan Levine, hosted by Modevia Web Services. (Thanks!)

Friday, September 19, 2008


"Oil and coal? Of course, it's a fungible commodity and they don't flag, you know, the molecules, where it's going and where it's not. But in the sense of the Congress today, they know that there are very, very hungry domestic markets that need that oil first. So, I believe that what Congress is going to do, also, is not to allow the export bans to such a degree that it's Americans that get stuck to holding the bag without the energy source that is produced here, pumped here. It's got to flow into our domestic markets first."

Palin Takes Questions at a McCain Town Hall (ABC News)
Not allow the export bans? What bans? Huh? (Here are some details as to where American oil exports currently go.)

What fascinates me in this stream of semi-consciousness is the word fungible. To which one might also say, Huh? But Merriam-Webster's on the case. I've added the pronunciation from the entry for the noun (which means "something that is fungible — usually used in plural"):
Pronunciation: \ˈfən-jə-bəl\
Function: adjective
Etymology: New Latin fungibilis, from Latin fungi to perform — more at FUNCTION
Date: 1818

1 : being of such a nature that one part or quantity may be replaced by another equal part or quantity in the satisfaction of an obligation < oil, wheat, and lumber are fungible commodities >
2 : interchangeable
3 : flexible
And that's my word of the day.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Neil Postman story

I heard Robert McChesney tell this Neil Postman story during a lecture earlier this week. The story appears to have originated with the psychologist Gordon Allport. Its point: there's no such thing as a neutral question:

The form of a question may ease our way or pose obstacles. Or, when even slightly altered, it may generate antithetical answers, as in the case of the two priests who, being unsure if it was permissible to smoke and pray at the same time, wrote to the Pope for a definitive answer. One priest phrased the question "Is it permissible to smoke while praying?" and was told it is not, since prayer should be the focus of one's whole attention; the other priest asked if it is permissible to pray while smoking and was told that it is, since it is always appropriate to pray.

Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage, 1993), 125–26

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Robert McChesney

I went to a talk by University of Illinois professor and media critic Robert McChesney the other night. McChesney spoke on various matters related to journalism, politics, and democracy: the Constitution's safeguards against imperial ambition, the distinction between freedom of the press and freedom of speech, the enormous decline in the numbers of professional journalists and D.C. bureaus, unreported stories (the growth of the American prison population), the roles of anonymous sources and public relations in journalism, the work of Free Press ("Reform media. Transform democracy."), the importance of Net Neutrality, the limited efficacy of political humor (the Soviet Union under Stalin, he noted, had great political humor), and an instructive story from Neil Postman about the importance of asking the right question.

One exact quotation about the present shape of things:

"Professional journalism makes politics a liars' paradise. . . . There's no accountability. It's a liars' paradise."


The delightful webcomic xkcd.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Quicksilver discovery

I came across a sentence somewhere online today celebrating the ability to drag and drop almost anywhere on a Mac. I wondered: can one drag and drop in Quicksilver? I decided to try. Yes, it works.

To move a file:

1. Activate Quicksilver.

2. Type to get the name of the destination folder or drive.

3. Drag the file's icon onto the left Quicksilver panel, the one showing the folder or drive.

To copy a file:

1. Activate Quicksilver.

2. Type to get the name of the destination folder or drive.

3. Hold down the Option key and drag the file's icon onto the left Quicksilver panel, the one showing the folder or drive.

This feature provides a nifty way to remove files from the desktop without opening the Finder or moving through spring-loaded folders. Who knew? (Not me.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Size is the answer"

Thomas L. Friedman, from a column in Saturday's New York Times:

Imagine for a minute that attending the Republican convention in St. Paul, sitting in a skybox overlooking the convention floor, were observers from Russia, Iran and Venezuela. And imagine for a minute what these observers would have been doing when Rudy Giuliani led the delegates in a chant of "drill, baby, drill!"

I'll tell you what they would have been doing: the Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan observers would have been up out of their seats, exchanging high-fives and joining in the chant louder than anyone in the hall — "Yes! Yes! Drill, America, drill!" — because an America that is focused first and foremost on drilling for oil is an America more focused on feeding its oil habit than kicking it.

Why would Republicans, the party of business, want to focus our country on breathing life into a 19th-century technology — fossil fuels — rather than giving birth to a 21st-century technology — renewable energy? As I have argued before, it reminds me of someone who, on the eve of the I.T. revolution — on the eve of PCs and the Internet — is pounding the table for America to make more I.B.M. typewriters and carbon paper. "Typewriters, baby, typewriters."
Me, I'm reminded of the William S. Burroughs routine about the dinosaurs:
Fellow reptiles, at this dark hour, I do not hesitate to tell you that we face grave problems . . . And I do not hesitate to tell you that we have the answer . . . Size is the answer . . . increased size . . . It was good enough for me . . . (Applause) [. . .] We will increase both in size and in numbers and we will continue to dominate this planet as we have done for three hundred million years . . . (Wild applause).

"The Hundred Year Plan," in The Adding Machine: Selected Essays (New York: Seaver, 1986), 122–23

Happy birthday, dear Art

My blog turns four years old later today.

Orange Crate Art began as an extension of my teaching, a place to collect items relevant to coursework and college. It soon became an extension of "me," moving in whatever directions seemed appropriate. My impulse always has been to notice — whether by introspection or looking around or reading — and to gather what might be delightful or useful to a reader.

I'm grateful to everyone who's read any or all of it, and especially grateful for the kindred spirits I've met only through written words (in comments here and in their writing elsewhere). Perhaps we'll meet in non-pixel form, somehow, someday, somewhere.

And I'll say thanks (again) to Rachel, who suggested Orange Crate Art as a name, to Rachel and Ben for showing me that I could learn some HTML, and to Elaine, whose taste is ever discerning. And thanks (again) to Van Dyke Parks, who was generous and enthusiastic about my borrowing his title.

As a young professor-type, my idea of writing was to get on the shelves of libraries, where I would live forever. Writing here, now, brings me much better rewards.

And for Pete's sake, if you read this blog and have never listened to "Orange Crate Art" (the song) and Orange Crate Art (the album), please give them a try:

Van Dyke Parks, Moonlighting: Live at the Ash Grove
Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, Orange Crate Art


Previous birthday posts
You say it's your birthday (2005)
Birthday (2006)
Orange Crate Art turns three (2007)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"[A] blank page"

[From the 1962 film.]

In a post today, Andrew Sullivan pointed his readers to a Tim Shipman article from the Telegraph on those who are shaping a certain vice-presidential candidate to be their future. Sullivan's conclusion: "The goal is war against Iran and Russia. And a further deepening of the occupation of Iraq."

From the Telegraph:

[M]any believe that the "neocons", whose standard bearer in government, Vice President Dick Cheney, lost out in Washington power struggles to the more moderate defence secretary Robert Gates and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, last year are seeking to mould Mrs Palin to renew their influence.

A former Republican White House official, who now works at the American Enterprise Institute, a bastion of Washington neoconservatism, admitted: "She's bright and she's a blank page. She's going places and it's worth going there with her."

Asked if he sees her as a "project", the former official said: "Your word, not mine, but I wouldn't disagree with the sentiment."
The article offers some details of Sarah Palin's two-week education in Foreign Policy 101. It's scary stuff. Read it all:

Neoconservatives plan Project Sarah Palin to shape future American foreign policy (Telegraph)

And for longer reading, the New York Times has an investigation of Sarah Palin's way of governing. Its closing anecdote:
At a recent lunch gathering, an official with the Wasilla Chamber of Commerce asked its members to refer all calls from reporters to the governor's office. Dianne Woodruff, a city councilwoman, shook her head.

"I was thinking, I don't remember giving up my First Amendment rights," Ms. Woodruff said. "Just because you're not going gaga over Sarah doesn't mean you can't speak your mind."
Read it all:

Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes (New York Times)

John Ashbery's collages

From the New York Times:

A couple of them date from his college years in the 1940s. Most are from the 1970s and were recently rediscovered tucked away in a shoebox. "I lost those for a long time," he says. "Quite a few others got thrown out." Several more are hot off his apartment work table.
At eighty-one, John Ashbery is showing collages at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York.

Above, Poisson d'Avril (1972). Wikipédia explains: poisson d'avril (April's fish) is an April 1 children's custom that involves attaching a paper fish to a person's back without being noticed. The paperhanger then shouts "Poisson d'avril!" Or «Poisson d'avril!»

A slideshow accompanies the Times article. No catalogue yet at Tibor de Nagy's site.

The Poetry of Scissors and Glue (New York Times)
Tibor de Nagy Gallery

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Inara George and Van Dyke Parks on the air

Inara George and Van Dyke Parks visited Morning Becomes Eclectic at KCRW yesterday. Stop, look, and listen:

Inara George and Van Dyke Parks Visit MBE

Related post
Review: Inara George and Van Dyke Parks

Letters to the Times

Of London, that is:

Sir, The complexity of English spelling, grammar and punctuation has its advantages. The two phishing e-mails and the letter telling me I had won a Spanish lottery, all received in the past week, were readily identifiable as fakes because of their poor standards. Apparently, I would have had to pay the lottery agent 5 per cent of my wining fund.

Shaun Thorpe
London W12


Sir, Mr Francis suggests (letter, Sept 11) that if youngsters are not taught how to spell, they will not be able to enjoy the pleasure of a crossword.

I have often found it convenient to overlook spelling conventions when squeezing words into the inadequate spaces allowed.

Paul Adams
Westcott, Surrey
Related posts
If it's Wensday, this must be England

Friday, September 12, 2008

Martin Tytell, typewriter man

From today's New York Times:

Martin Tytell, whose unmatched knowledge of typewriters was a boon to American spies during World War II, a tool for the defense lawyers for Alger Hiss, and a necessity for literary luminaries and perhaps tens of thousands of everyday scriveners who asked him to keep their Royals, Underwoods, Olivettis (and their computer-resistant pride) intact, died on Thursday in the Bronx. He was 94. . . .

Mr. Tytell was proud of the rarity of his expertise, and relished the eccentric nature of his business. "We don't get normal people here," he said of his shop. And he was aware that his connection to the typewriter bordered on love.

"I'm 83 years old and I just signed a 10-year lease on this office; I’m an optimist, obviously," Mr. Tytell told the writer Ian Frazier in a 1997 article in The Atlantic Monthly, commenting on the likelihood that typewriters weren’t going to last in the world much longer. "I hope they do survive — manual typewriters are where my heart is. They're what keep me alive."
Ian Frazier's 1997 article is online:

Typewriter Man (The Atlantic)

Hi and Lois' dictionary

[Hi and Lois, September 12, 2008.]

Thumb-notches at the top! Not drawn from life.

[Yes, they're thumb-notches. The alphabetical tabs are thumb-index tabs or index tabs. Thumb-indexing or thumb-notching goes back to at least the late 19th century. I wrote to Merriam-Webster years ago to ask what those thingamajigs are called, never guessing that the reply would be relevant to Hi and Lois.]

Related posts
The cabinet of Hi and Lois
Hi and Escher?
House? (1)
House? (2)
9 - 6 = 3
Returning from vacation with Hi and Lois
Sunday at the beach with Hi and Lois
Vacationing with Hi and Lois

George Orwell on historical truth

A thought for the day:

During the Spanish civil war I found myself feeling very strongly that a true history of this war never would or could be written. Accurate figures, objective accounts of what was happening, simply did not exist. And if I felt that even in 1937, when the Spanish Government was still in being, and the lies which the various Republican factions were telling about each other and about the enemy were relatively small ones, how does the case stand now? Even if Franco is overthrown, what kind of records will the future historian have to go upon? And if Franco or anyone at all resembling him remains in power, the history of the war will consist quite largely of "facts" which millions of people now living know to be lies. One of these "facts," for instance, is that there was a considerable Russian army in Spain. There exists the most abundant evidence that there was no such army. Yet if Franco remains in power, and if Fascism in general survives, that Russian army will go into the history books and future school children will believe in it. So for practical purposes the lie will have become truth.

This kind of thing is happening all the time.
George Orwell, "As I Please" (Tribune, February 4, 1944), in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters: As I Please, 1943-1945 (David R. Godine, 2000)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Broken pencil sharpener nets suspension

A ten-year-old has been suspended from school for having the blade from a broken pencil sharpener in his possession:

The problem was his sharpener had broken, but he decided to use it anyway.

A teacher at Hilton Head Island International Baccalaureate Elementary School noticed the boy had what appeared to be a small razor blade during class on Tuesday, according to a Beaufort County sheriff's report.

It was obvious that the blade was the metal insert commonly found in a child's small, plastic pencil sharpener, the deputy noted.

The boy — a fourth-grader described as a well-behaved and good student — cried during the meeting with his mom, the deputy and the school's assistant principal.

He had no criminal intent in having the blade at school, the sheriff's report stated, but was suspended for at least two days and could face further disciplinary action.

District spokesman Randy Wall said school administrators are stuck in the precarious position between the district's zero tolerance policy against having weapons at school and common sense.

"We're always going to do something to make sure the child understands the seriousness of having something that could potentially harm another student, but we're going to be reasonable," he said.
The most reasonable thing to do: cancel the suspension and apologize.

Given recent incidents in which pencils and ballpoint pens have served as weapons, the war on broken sharpeners seems — sorry — pointless.

[And I'm thinking now of my grade-school friend Henry Rothstein, who once wrote with a broken-off point rather than sharpen.]

[Update, 10:15 p.m.: According to the police report, the boy is a "very good student and has not been in any previous trouble." He used the blade to sharpen "his pencil" (his only pencil?), a pencil one inch in length — too short of course to sharpen with a sharpener.

The key words for this story? They would seem to be humiliation and poverty.]

WTC, 1985

A 1985 postcard, found in a bookstore.

Related posts
At the World Trade Center and St. Paul's Chapel
September 10, September 11
Words from Walt Whitman

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"[Y]ou feel sorry for them"

Maurice Sendak, eighty, on awards and honors:

"They made me happy, but at a certain point in your life, you see through them. You don't mock them, you don't hate them, you feel sorry for them."

Paper clips

I do my best to concentrate in my office, but sometimes it's difficult. Students I've never seen will stand at my door asking if I have a paper clip. I ask a friend: can you imagine when we were students asking a professor for a paper clip?

I can. I am standing at a door. A professor selects a paper clip from a desk drawer and shoots it into the air. The clip misses and flies past me, faster than light, into the hallway of the future, where it plinks against the floor. The plink travels at the speed of plinks to the ears of some students walking in that future, on that floor. A paper clip: just what they need.

And now I can get some work done.

I dream of Inara George and Van Dyke Parks

We were in a library. Inara George was waiting in line for the water fountain. "You're Inara George!" I said. "I really like your voice!" She thanked me. Van Dyke Parks was sitting at a table working on an arrangement, writing chord symbols on unlined paper. I noticed Cm7 and Gm7. "Is it hard to do that without a piano?" I asked. "I have one," he said, and produced a cardboard keyboard. We shook hands, and I left the library.

I should've asked where they were playing. The answer: Largo at the Coronet, Los Angeles, September 13, 8:30 p.m.

Related posts
I dream of Citizen Kane
I dream of Mingus
John Ashbery and Fred Astaire on The Mike Douglas Show
Proust was the next president
Review: Inara George and Van Dyke Parks

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ed Koch endorses Obama

I was hoping in a comment yesterday that some congressional Republicans would publicly express their dismay re: McCain-Palin. That hasn't happened (yet). But former New York City mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat who endorsed George W. Bush in 2004, has just endorsed Barack Obama. From Koch's statement:

Protecting and defending the U.S. means more than defending us from foreign attacks. It includes defending the public with respect to their civil rights, civil liberties and other needs, e.g., national health insurance, the right of abortion, the continuation of Social Security, gay rights, other rights of privacy, fair progressive taxation and a host of other needs and rights. If the vice president were ever called on to lead the country, there is no question in my mind that the experience and demonstrated judgment of Joe Biden is superior to that of Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is a plucky, exciting candidate, but when her record is examined, she fails miserably with respect to her views on the domestic issues that are so important to the people of the U.S., and to me. Frankly, it would scare me if she were to succeed John McCain in the presidency.
You can read Koch's full statement here: Koch backs Obama, calls Palin "scary" (Ben Smith's Blog, at Politico)

Monday, September 8, 2008


[Advice for students, at work perhaps on the first essays of the semester.]

According to a 2006 survey developed by OfficeTeam, 84% of executives polled consider one or two typos in a résumé sufficient to remove a job-candidate from consideration. Translated into academic terms, one or two typos in a paper would equal a failing grade.

I'm not sure how much I want to trust this poll: the sample is small (perhaps only zealots chose to reply), and NO TYPOS ANY TIME might apply only in some Platonic ideal (or nightmare) of a workplace. Still, this poll is a reminder: the world beyond "school" is tough, with standards sometimes far more stringent than those of the strictest professor. Here are a few details to get right, always, when you're writing in college. They might be details that no professor or teaching assistant will ever take time to comment on. But they're important, even if no one seems to be watching.

One: Use one space after a period.

Two spaces were the norm when everyone produced monospaced text with a typewriter. Using one space is a good way to show that you’re at home in print (where additional space after a period now looks like an unnecessary gap) and in HTML (where the second tap of the spacebar doesn’t register). If you were brought up with "two spaces" and find it a difficult rule to break, use search-and-replace in your word-processor to find and eliminate extra spaces.

Two: Two hyphens equal an em dash.

On a Mac, the em dash is a cinch: just press Option-Shift-hyphen. Off a Mac, set up your word-processor to replace two hyphens (--) with a dash (—). In print, the em dash—a really useful mark of punctuation—does its work without additional spaces, as in this sentence. In HTML, proper dashes (like proper quotation marks) don't display properly on all systems and sometimes make a mess of line length and word-wrap, so double-hyphens preceded and followed by spaces -- see? -- seem to be fine.

Three: Take care with your titles.

Use the same point-size that you're using in your essay (a jumbo title looks silly). Type your title without quotation marks (unless the title includes a quotation), and don’t capitalize entire words. Capitalize articles, prepositions, and coordinating conjunctions only if they’re first or last words. If you're using a quotation, type the words just as they appear in the source, adding an initial capital letter in brackets if necessary. If you need more than one line, break your title across the lines in a logical way. Not

"To be or not to be": Hamlet's Soliloquy and Modern
"To be or not to be":
Hamlet's Soliloquy and Modern Introspection
Four: Take care too with the titles of works you're referencing.

Titles of longer works that stand on their own — a long poem, for instance, or any book — should be underlined or italicized; titles of shorter works such as a short poem, a short story, or a song go in quotation marks: Homer's Odyssey, Marcel Proust's Swann’s Way, William Blake's "The Tyger," Eudora Welty's "Why Live at the P.O.," Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo." For more complicated title questions, consult a standard source (Chicago Manual of Style, MLA Handbook, Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association). One more small but important point: novel is not a synonym for book. The Chicago Manual of Style, for instance, is not a novel. Swann's Way is.

Five: Take care with spelling proper names.

If you're writing about, say, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, keep the author's last name handy to copy and paste, or add it to your AutoCorrect entries, so that you can have it appear by typing its first few letters. You especially don't want a misspelling or typo in your professor's name or your own name. (I've seen both, many times.)

Bonus advice: Staple! Or use a paper clip if you're asked to.

Some professors and teaching assistants will not notice or correct these sorts of details. Others might notice and grumble. And with some academics, anything goes. So why bother? Because in doing so, you cultivate a habit of careful attention that will serve you well in the world beyond the classroom, where anything won't go.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

"The fright begins"

Andrew Sullivan has been tracking John McCain's vice-presidential pick at The Daily Dish. From a post today:

Whatever is to come in the Palin story, the fundamental truth that will remain true is that John McCain made this vital decision in such a reckless, cursory, cynical way that his candidacy really should be over. If this is what he promises in executive decision-making, then no one can be comfortable voting for him this November.
And from a column in The Times:
If you thought a president who went to war on flawed intelligence with no plan for the aftermath was reckless, then I have news for you. You haven't seen anything yet. Imagine the kind of decision-making McCain has just demonstrated applied to life-and-death decisions with respect to Iran and Russia.

Yes, you have permission to be afraid.
I am.

Read it all:

Andrew Sullivan, The fright begins (The Times)

Sonny Rollins is 78

Our Man in Jazz turns 78 today. There's a "multimedia celebration" at his website, including a facsimile of an elegant 1962 letter to Coleman Hawkins. Happy Birthday, Sonny Rollins!

Related posts
Sonny Rollins in Illinois
Sonny Rollins on paying the rent

(Thanks, Elaine, for pointing me to this news.)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

9 - 6 = 3

[Hi and Lois, September 6, 2008.]

Shouldn't that arithmetic problem be on the blackboard, where it belongs?

The levitating oval and triangle on the dresser must be a perfume bottle. But it took me several long looks to figure out the objects stuck in the door. Fishhooks? Safety pins? Darts? If you give up and would like to see my best guess, highlight the empty space following the colon: perspiration.

[Second-guessing: that could be an Ad Reinhardt, not a blackboard.]

Related posts
The cabinet of Hi and Lois
Hi and Escher?
House? (1)
House? (2)
Returning from vacation with Hi and Lois
Sunday at the beach with Hi and Lois
Vacationing with Hi and Lois

Corrections of the Times

I like the straight-facedness with which the New York Times makes corrections:

The Well column on Tuesday, about the potential dangers to children who focus early on one sport, misstated the coach-to-athlete ratio recommended by Dave Peterson, the owner of a sports center in California. Mr. Peterson suggested a coach-to-student ratio of 1 to 6 in preschool and about 1 to 8 for older athletes, not 6 to 1 and 8 to 1.
Related posts
A correction
Fit to print

Friday, September 5, 2008

Word Clock

[Click for a larger view.]

The most beautiful and functional screensaver I've ever seen: Word Clock by Simon Heys, a free download for iPhone, Mac, and Windows. [Via kottke.org.]

Five bloggers blogging

Five bloggers, posting pretty regularly, and always interesting to me:

Musical Assumptions Elaine Fine (yes, Mrs. Orange Crate Art) on music and culture.

Notes of an Anesthesioboist T. is an English major turned anesthesiologist turned oboist, writing about medicine with great compassion and insight.

Relative Esoterica Trombonology's astute, evocative commentary on film, jazz, and popular song.

Submitted For Your Perusal Matt Thomas' New York Times digests almost always point me to items I'd otherwise overlook.

(what is this?) Angela has a great eye for ephemera. From her Blogger Profile list of interests: "flea markets, memory, ruins."
And one more:
The Daily Dish Andrew Sullivan's day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and sometimes minute-by-minute commentary on culture and politics.
[On the Internets, five, like ten, is a magic number, right?]

[Update, September 9: Save for a reader-contributed photograph, there's been nothing posted to The Daily Dish since Sunday night. I hope all's well with Andrew Sullivan and that he's back soon.]

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Community organizer

From campaign manager David Plouffe's e-mail to Barack Obama supporters:

Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin specifically mocked Barack's experience as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago more than two decades ago, where he worked with people who had lost jobs and been left behind when the local steel plants closed.
Indeed. Giuliani:
On the other hand, you have a resume from a gifted man with an Ivy League education. He worked as a community organizer. What?
And Palin:
I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities.
Community organizer. Ha ha.

Has it occurred to these people that Jesus (among others) might be described as a community organizer — and one who worked among the poor?

[No, I'm not comparing Barack Obama to Jesus. I'm only pointing out the absurdity of last night's ridicule.]

Mac writing tools

The Unofficial Apple Weblog has posted a three-part series on writing tools for the Mac: word-processors, text-editors, utilities. Helpful to anyone who's recently switched to a Mac or is thinking about it:

"Back to School: Writing tools": Parts 1, 2, 3

Of the programs covered in this series, I'm partial to Bean (word-processor, free), Pages (word-processor, part of Apple's iWork), TextExpander (keystroke saver), and WriteRoom (full-screen text-editor). I also like TextWrangler, a free text-editor. There's life beyond Microsoft Word.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How to improve writing (no. 22 in a series)

Novice writers often want their writing to "flow," mistaking result for process. Sentences whose movement seems inevitable and right usually result not from easy spontaneity but from careful rethinking. Here for instance is a sentence that could be greatly improved with a little more thought. From a library's monthly newsletter:

For those people who live outside the city limits, even if it is only by one house, two feet, etc., they have to pay an annual fee of $45 for their library card.
What's wrong with this sentence? The "one house, two feet" details are unneeded, and seem to hint at a history of argument with cranky residents. There's also a problem with agreement: people need to pay for their library cards. The main problem with the sentence though is the clumsy syntax: "For those people," "they have to pay." Better:
Anyone who lives beyond the city limits must pay a $45 annual fee for a library card.
From 33 words to 17: almost 50% off!

[Update: There's a better way, and so obvious:
Anyone living beyond the city limits must pay a $45 annual fee for a library card.
From 33 to 16: over 50% off!]

[This post is no. 22 in a very occasional series, "How to improve writing," dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

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

Domestic comedy

"Have we ever seen John Malkovich in a movie that was any good?"

"Being John Malkovich."

"Besides that one: he was just playing himself."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The cabinet of Hi and Lois

I don't want to keep going with Hi and Lois, but I must. (If nothing else, close-reading Hi and Lois offers a break from the looniness of the real.)

Today's strip reminds me of the children's game of spotting the differences between pictures. Did the same hand draw both panels?

[Hi and Lois, September 2, 2008.]

The curtains shorten.

The window panes widen.

The glazing bars shrink. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

The painting (a Cy Twombly?) shrinks and moves up and away.

Lois's shirt is on backwards. (Kidding.)
Note too that the window sill does not follow the slant of the wall — more disturbingly so in the second panel. The Flagstons must be living in a German Expressionist suburb, next door to the Caligaris.

Related posts
Hi and Escher?
House? (1)
House? (2)
Returning from vacation with Hi and Lois
Sunday at the beach with Hi and Lois
Vacationing with Hi and Lois

Monday, September 1, 2008

Red Cross

The American Red Cross
[September 1, 2008 is the day Hurricane Gustav made landfall.]