Friday, October 31, 2008

Studs Terkel (1912–2008)

His books are browser's delights. In college, I read Working (1974) again and again. When I began teaching, I read from it to my classes. I still remember Dolores Dante and Joe Zmuda.

From the obituary: "'Curiosity never killed this cat' — that's what I'd like as my epitaph.”

Studs Terkel, Chronicler of the American Everyman, Is Dead at 96 (New York Times)

USA Arts

From WNET, NYC's Channel 13, streaming episodes of USA Arts: Willem de Kooning! Martha Graham! Vladimir Nabokov! Charles Olson! And many more.


April 8, 2014: Gone, gone. Now there’s only a trailer-like compilation.

A metaphor for painting

Barnett Newman, interviewed by Frank O'Hara for the public television show Art New York (1964):

Newman: I'm not in any way really involved in color as a love act. To me, color is an innate material, and I feel that it's — the proper description would be to call them colors, that anybody can buy and squeeze them out of tubes. And in that sense, it's my job to turn them into color. And I suppose my feeling towards colors is, well, it's more or less like the feeling that a baker has towards his material. I feel that it's like wheat, and my job is to turn the wheat into bread. If I don't have wheat, which might be blue, I use red, which is like rye.

O'Hara [laughing]: What about dough? It's white.

Well, you know, well, if you don't have rye, you use barley. But then of course, you — I suppose you can't make bread with barley, so I make whiskey. [Laughs.]
You can find the interview on the video page at

Ginsbergs, Ginsburgs

A correction in the New York Times:

An article in some editions on Wednesday about Fordham University's plan to give an ethics prize to Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer misspelled the surname of another Supreme Court justice who received the award in 2001. She is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, not Ginsberg. The Times has misspelled her name at least two dozen times since 1980; this is the first correction the paper has published.
The Times has often misspelled Allen Ginsberg's last name too.


Happy Halloween! Thumbtack holes and all.

[Purple marker, by Ben Leddy, from the family archives. Used with permission.]

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Teachers, students, humanity

From an essay by Liberal Studies professor Lynn Crosbie on teachers and students:

I realized that students were potentially terrifying, and potentially terrified — that one of the largest obstacles between teachers and students is a failure to recognize each others' humanity.
Reminding me of what I sometimes find myself saying in my classes: "I'm just trying to be a person."

Your first assignment: Read this (GlobeCampus Report)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


For reals? It seems so.

Cambridge University parking sign has spelling error (Telegraph)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

People, it's bad (Hi and Lois)

People, it's bad. The economy, yes, of course. But also today's Hi and Lois. You'll have to follow the link for this one — I won't have it here.

Is Hi working on a train? That would account for the changing cityscape behind him. The window changes position from panel to panel, true, but his desk may be on wheels.

In the first two panels, Hi's chair seems to be at about the height of a baby's high chair, but that makes a sort of sense if Hi is speaking to Trixie. The baby vibe might also explain why Hi becomes smaller in the second panel.

But there's no reasonable (or far-fetched) explanation for Hi's missing collar, or the missing piece of paper, or that telephone — or that "telephone." Here, from the family archives, is how to draw a telephone:

[Pencil and stick-on letters, by Ben Leddy or Rachel Leddy. Used with permission.]
Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Invisible-ink cigarette card

Reading Ask H&FJ recently, I was reminded of the browser's paradise that is the New York Public Library Digital Gallery (which I first looked into when it debuted in 2005). Here's one small item:

[Cigarette card, W.A. & A.C. Churchman, c. 1903–1907.]
The verso reads:
Invisible Ink for Writing Despatches.

Most scouts will be glad to know of a method of ensuring secrecy in the event of despatches falling into the enemy's hands. If the message is written in the juice of an onion and allowed to dry, it is then invisible to all unacquainted with the secret. When the despatch is warmed over a fire the writing stands out quite clearly.
I like the idea of writing with a metaphorical inkwell in hand. Yes, that's an onion in the scout's non-writing hand, and a penknife and piece of onion on the ground.

In kidhood, under the influence of Clifford Hicks' novel Alvin's Secret Code, I wrote several despatches with lemon juice and toothpicks. HTML makes invisible writing even simpler — and there's no onion smell! See?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Block that transition

"These are tough times not only for orangutans but for humans."
Public Radio International's The World this afternoon, segueing from endangered orangutans to AC/DC's new album, a "veritable banana for you if you're starving for good news."

. [dot]

Would you like a book about the dot? Would I? I plan to find out (but via the library!):

Despite the humble origins of its name (Anglo Saxon for "the speck at the head of a boil"), the dot has been one of the most versatile players in the history of written communication, to the point that it has become virtually indispensable. Now, in On the Dot, Alexander and Nicholas Humez offer a wide ranging, entertaining account of this much overlooked and minuscule linguistic sign.

The Humez brothers shed light on the dot in all its various forms. As a mark of punctuation, they show, it plays many roles — as sentence stopper, a constituent of the colon (a clause stopper), and the ellipsis (dot dot dot). In musical notation, it denotes "and a half." In computerese, it has several different functions (as in dot com, the marker between a file name and its extension, and in some slightly more arcane uses in programming languages). The dot also plays a number of roles in mathematics, including the notation of world currency (such as dollars dot cents), in Morse code (dots and dashes), and in the raised dots of Braille. And as the authors connect all these dots, they take readers on an engaging tour of the highways and byways of language, ranging from the history of the question mark and its lesser known offshoots the point d'ironie and the interrobang, to acronyms and backronyms, power point bullets and asterisks, emoticons and the "at-sign."
If you're wondering, Wikipedia explains the irony mark, the interrobang, and backronyms.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mad Men and Frank O'Hara (not again)

What a tease: "Meditations in an Emergency," tonight's episode of Mad Men, made no reference to Frank O'Hara's poetry. Instead, O'Hara's title served as a nothing more than a metaphor for the anxieties of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (The emergency of O'Hara's 1954 poem seems to be love, or life itself.)

I wonder whether the prominent use of O'Hara's "Mayakovsky" in the season's first episode ("For Those Who Think Young") was designed to elicit a lit crit sort of interest in the series. If so, it worked, at least on me. I watched every episode, followed every stilted conversation, often wanting to tell these people to turn some lights on. (I know, the show is "dark.")

Here's a brief passage from Frank O'Hara's prose-poem "Meditations in an Emergency," presenting the poet as sunny anti-pastoralist:

One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can't even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there's a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.
Related posts
Frank O'Hara and Mad Men
Frank O'Hara and Mad Men again

"Uncle Barney Frank"

At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall is wondering why Sarah Palin is referring to Barney Frank as "Uncle Barney Frank." The context:

McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, said Saturday that an Obama presidency combined with Democratic control of Congress would lead to bigger government.

"Now they do this in other countries where the people are not free — government as part of the family, taking care of us, making decisions for us," she said during a rally in Sioux City, Iowa. "I don't know what to think of having in my family Uncle Barney Frank or others to make decisions for me."
My guess is that this odd bit of phrasing is a barely veiled swipe at sexual orientation. If the gummint is going to be our family, Frank would be an uncle, our gay uncle. It would seem beyond Palin's version of reality to imagine a gay man as a father or grandfather.

How low can they go? I don't think we've found out.


A further thought, two hours later: perhaps uncle is meant to suggest "Uncle Joe," Joseph Stalin, or "Uncle Ho," Ho Chi Minh.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


[Hi and Lois, October 25, 2008.]

I sometimes wonder whether the panels of Hi and Lois strips are a matter of piecework. (I've read that eight people "animate" the strip, whatever that means.) Composition by piecework is a plausible explanation of the odd continuity problems that vex the Flagstons, as in today's strip.

Or could it be that Hi and Lois is asking us to think about what happens in the strip's interstice? Are we to understand that while Hi ties, Lois makes the bed, rearranges the furniture, and adds depth to the headboard?

Nah, I didn't really think so either.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Friday, October 24, 2008

Oh, Lee—wan—do!

Elaine found and forwarded a link to an extraordinary Google Books find: several volumes of old Boston Symphony Orchestra programs. This ad for Lewandos, from the 1917–1918 season, spoke to me right away:

Yes, that's an illustration of a cat hanging out chicks to dry. (Yikes.) But what interested me is a Duke Ellington connection:
"[E]verything we used to do in the old days had a picture. We'd be riding along and see a name on a sign. We used to spend a lot of time up in New England, around Boston, and we'd see this sign, 'LEWANDO CLEANERS,' and every time we saw it we'd start singing:
'Oh, Lee—wan—do!'
Out of that came 'East St. Louis Toodle-oo.' Probably it would have gone better if we had called it 'Lewando' and got some advertising money from it."

Duke Ellington, quoted in Stanley Dance's The World of Duke Ellington (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970)
You can hear one of the first recordings of "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" on YouTube. The Boston Globe reported the disappearance of the last Lewandos in 2002.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Goodbye, local paper

I live in a town where people take — not subscribe to — the local newspaper. But after twenty-five years, I can no longer take it.

Our paper has never been very good, but it was until recently at least dependably mediocre. When I first began taking the paper, it was something of a print version of UHF television: a reliable source of strange and fleeting entertainments. Colorful personalities shared the streams of their consciousness in weekly columns, several of which became the stuff of tipsy reading with friends on New Year's Eve. The religion page featured helpful explanations of why all but a few readers would be going to hell. The paper was never big on reporting, investigative or otherwise: when a local state employee constructed a small palace of nepotism at taxpayers' expense, it was the college paper that told the story, in articles by an ace student-journalist (who has since established a national reputation). The local paper followed that student's lead, usually publishing the scandal's latest developments a day later. I long ago learned not to rely upon the local paper for much in the way of reporting on local reality.

In the past year or so though, our paper has begun a sharp and almost certainly irreversible decline. There is less local reporting than ever, with whole pages turning into press releases ("Chiropractor Honored") and photographs of people holding checks ("Wal-Mart Makes Donation"). With early voting having begun in Illinois, the paper has offered not one article detailing the positions of candidates in local elections. Doonesbury and Mallard Fillmore have disappeared from the editorial page, so that the paper's writers must digress and meander and pad to get the columns that they are writing to have enough words and be long enough to reach the bottom of the page and not leave empty space with nothing to fill it, which would be a problem and not look good. Photographs and headlines have grown larger, and the comics page has become a travesty of layout, with some strips arbitrarily enlarged, as the paper pays for fewer and fewer comics. Frequent full-page displays proclaiming the relevance and well-being of newspapers are reminders that there is no there there — no articles, no advertising.

And faced with declining revenue, our paper seems to have made a play for what it imagines to be its base, shading its selection of Associated Press articles with increasing obviousness. Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention received no coverage, while Sarah Palin's acceptance speech at the Republican convention received a front-page article, followed by a long personality piece with an extra-large photo of the governor, her husband, and their youngest child. This selective representation of reality has continued: a reader who depends on the paper alone for news would not know about John McCain's melodramatic campaign suspension. Nor would that reader know that polls of independent voters have given all three debates to Barack Obama. In August, the publisher gave press credentials to a non-journalist friend, who went to the Democratic convention to provide a Republican perspective on events. And still, no coverage of Obama's acceptance speech, or of much else from the convention. (In case it doesn't go without saying: there was no paper-sponsored Democratic observer at the Republican convention. And a friendship with a non-journalist offering a "Republican perspective" is exactly what the publisher acknowledged in a brief printed statement — to avoid, he said, any accusation of bias.)

But the worst move the paper has made is to "go interactive," with articles, editorials, and letters to the editor now online as bait to draw comments (pseudonymous or otherwise) and thus increase page hits and ad revenue. The result is ugly, very ugly, with anonymous attacks (from all quarters), name-calling (from all quarters), and thinly disguised displays of racism. While the paper claims to moderate comments, there's little evidence that it does so. One bright spot, sort of: with local news, one can often learn more from comments (what used to be called "town-talk") than from the articles to which they're appended.

So after twenty-three years, I'm out. I'll read obituaries and reports on City Council meetings online and follow all other usual sources for news and analysis (and comics). Goodbye, local paper.

Andy, Henry, Ron

Three for Barack Obama.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"The new narrative"

The upcoming New York Times Magazine story on the everchanging narrative of the McCain campaign is now online. An excerpt:

The new narrative — the Team of Mavericks coming to lay waste the Beltway power alleys — now depended on a fairly inexperienced Alaska politician. The following night, after McCain's speech brought the convention to a close, one of the campaign's senior advisers stayed up late at the Hilton bar savoring the triumphant narrative arc. I asked him a rather basic question: "Leaving aside her actual experience, do you know how informed Governor Palin is about the issues of the day?"

The senior adviser thought for a moment. Then he looked up from his beer. "No," he said quietly. "I don’t know."

The Making (and Remaking) of McCain (New York Times)

Trading places

I've asked my freshman composition students to read the 2007 National Endowment for the Arts report To Read or Not to Read, which is filled with thought-provoking bits of detail about the fate of reading in contemporary American culture. Here's an example, presented in the report without explication (the analysis that follows is mine):

[Click for a larger view.]
Notice how categories trade places over eleven years. The reading level of the 1992 high-school graduate (268) becomes that of the 2003 high-school graduate who has completed a post-high-school course of study (268). The reading level of the 1992 student with a two-year degree (306) becomes roughly that of the 2003 student with a four-year degree (314). And the reading level of the 1992 college graduate (325) is virtually the same as that of the 2003 college graduate who's had some graduate study (327).

These numbers suggest that acquiring genuine readerly competence is increasing a do-it-yourself matter: simply going to school, whether it's high school or college, guarantees less and less. For the prose literacy test cited above, proficiency equals a score of 340 or higher (out of 500). Thus by 2003, even students with graduate study were falling short as proficient readers.

That's why I'm asking my comp students to read words, words, words (and the occasional chart).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I early voted

Yes, I early voted. And I've proof.

(How odd early sounds before a verb.)

There were fifteen people in line when I arrived, late in the day. Most were students, registering and voting on the last day to register in Illinois. Go students!

"[T]hey're in charge of the United States Senate"

I'd say that the push to accept the use of they, their, and them with singular nouns just had a setback, in the form of Sarah Palin's reply today to a third-grader's question about the job of vice president:

"That's a great question, Brandon, and a vice president has a really great job, because not only are they there to support the president's agenda; they're like a team member, the team-mate to that president. But also, they're in charge of the United States Senate, so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom, and it's a great job, and I look forward to having that job."

Socialism! Communism!

These accusations — so ridic. I remember Eugene Chadbourne's hilarious rant "Bo Diddley Is a Communist":

It was Socialism!


Bo Diddley!

(from Chadbourne's 1987 LP Vermin of the Blues)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Frank O'Hara and Mad Men again

Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency reappeared last night in Mad Men, in Anna Draper's house, as the subject of four sentences' worth of conversation:

Dick/Don: "You read it?"

Anna: "I did. It reminded me of New York. And it made me worry about you."
Thus far, FOH's book seems to be a MacGuffin. But the series seems to be promising more, as the season's upcoming final episode is titled "Meditations in an Emergency." My guess is that what will prove relevant is the last line of the poem "Mayakovsky" ("perhaps I am myself again") or simply the book's title, serving as a metaphor for a moment of crisis and decision in Dick's/Don's life.

Related posts
Frank O'Hara and Mad Men
Mad Men and Frank O'Hara (not again)
Violet candy and Mad Men

Dave McKenna (1930-2008)

Dave McKenna was a brilliant, generous, and self-effacing pianist. I am fortunate to have heard him play at the Plaza Bar at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, in 1984 or '85. (That was where you went if you wanted to hear Dave McKenna.) I joined the handful of people close to the piano and asked McKenna if he'd play "About a Quarter to Nine," a tune from his 1982 LP The Dave McKenna Trio Plays the Music of Harry Warren (Concord). He obliged, and added "Would You Like to Take a Walk?" and "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me," which followed on the LP. How generous was that?

Dave McKenna, Pianist Known for Solo Jazz Work, Dies at 78 (New York Times)
Dave McKenna (A family-run site)
Dave McKenna on YouTube

If you've never heard Dave McKenna, try YouTube's "Nagasaki."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan

On Meet the Press this morning, Colin Powell addressed the claim that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim:

I'm also troubled by not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said: such things as "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is "He is not a Muslim; he's a Christian." He's always been a Christian.

But the really right answer is "What if he is?" Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion: "He's a Muslim and he might be associated [with] terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine.
Powell went on to describe this photograph, of Elsheba Khan at the grave of her son, Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, one of eighteen photographs in "Service," a photo-essay by the photographer Platon, in the September 29, 2008 New Yorker.

Thank you, General Powell

Colin Powell, talking to reporters this morning, answering a question about the part that "McCain's negativity" played in Powell's decision to endorse Barack Obama:

It troubled me. We have two wars. We have economic problems. We have health problems. We have education problems. We have infrastructure problems. We have problems around the world with our allies. So those are the problems the American people wanted to hear about, not about Mr. Ayers, not about who's a Muslim or who's not a Muslim. Those kinds of images going out on Al Jazeera are killing us around the world.

And we have got to say to the world, it doesn't make any difference who you are or what you are; if you're an American, you're an American. And this business, for example, of the congressman from Minnesota who's going around saying, "Let's examine all congressmen to see who is pro-America or not pro-America" — we have got to stop this kind of nonsense, pull ourselves together, and remember that our great strength is in our unity and in our diversity. And so that really was driving me.

And to focus on people like Mr. Ayers and these trivial issues, for the purpose of suggesting that somehow Mr. Obama would have some kind of terrorist inclinations, I thought that was over the top. It was beyond just good political fighting back and forth. I think it went beyond. And to sort of throw in this little Muslim connection, you know, "He's a Muslim and, my goodness, he's a terrorist" — it was taking root. And we can't judge our people and we can't hold our elections on that kind of basis.

So yes, that kind of negativity troubled me. And the constant shifting of the argument. I was troubled a couple of weeks ago when in the middle of the crisis, the campaign said, "We're going to go negative," and they announced it, "We're going to go negative and attack his character through Bill Ayers." Now I guess the message this week is, "We're going to call him a socialist. Mr. Obama is now a socialist, because he dares to suggest that maybe we ought to look at the tax structure that we have."

Taxes are always a redistribution of money. Most of the taxes that are redistributed go back to those who pay them, in roads and airports and hospitals and schools. And taxes are necessary for the common good. And there is nothing wrong with examining what our tax structure is or who should be paying more, who should be paying less. And for us to say that that makes you a socialist, I think is an unfortunate characterization that isn't accurate.

I don't want my taxes raised. I don't want anybody else's taxes raised. But I also want to see our infrastructure fixed. I don't want to have a $12 trillion national debt, and I don't want to see an annual deficit that's over $500 billion heading toward a trillion. So, how do we deal with all of this?

(Transcript from CNN.)

Rachel Maddow and sneakers

Rachel Maddow, asked to name a clothing item that a talk-show host needs:

For me, it is sneakers, which I can wear 80 percent of the time, secretly behind the desk. That reminds me who I am, even though I am dressed up like an assistant principal in order to meet the minimum dress code for being on television.

A Pundit in the Country (New York Times)
RM wore sneakers as a guest on Leno's show a week or two ago. Yes, we're Rachel Maddow fans at my house.

(Found via one of Matt Thomas' always choice New York Times Digest posts.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sarah Palin's first press conference

So Sarah Palin has finally held a press conference, though

(a) it was during a Saturday Night Live skit and

(b) she didn't take any questions.

But it's a start, right?


The Berkeley 1956 recording of Allen Ginsberg reading his then-unfinished poem "America" provides a nice demonstration of how hearing a poet read can alter one's sense of a poem. Lines that might seem grandiose or nostalgic on the page — "America save the Spanish Loyalists / America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die" — turn into one-liners in what comes close to a stand-up comedy routine. The audience cheers and laughs and stomps along the way.

"America" as Ginsberg reads it is looser and much longer than the poem as published in "Howl" and Other Poems (1956). One difference sent me to the dictionary today. In the poem as published, the poet recounts going to "Communist cell meetings" with his mother: "they sold us garbanzos a handful a ticket a ticket cost a nickel and the speeches were free." In the Berkeley reading, garbanzos is bubkes.

Before going to the dictionary, I knew that bubkes is Yiddish and means "nothing." My favorite instance of the word comes at the end of a song from Christopher Guest's film Waiting for Guffman (1997): "Bubkes ever happens in Blaine." So how did Ginsberg get from bubkes to garbanzos? Merriam-Webster Online explains:

Main Entry: bub·kes
Variant(s): also bup·kes or bup·kus \ˈbəp-kəs, ˈbu̇p-\
Function: noun plural but singular in construction
Etymology: Yiddish (probably short for kozebubkes, literally, goat droppings), plural of bubke, bobke, diminutive of bub, bob bean, of Slavic origin; akin to Polish bób bean
Date: 1942

: the least amount : beans < won't win bubkes this year — Ivan Maisel > ; also : nothing < received bubkes for their efforts >
It pleases me that the same metaphor is available in English, in another of my favorite films, the one in which "the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans." My guess is that Ginsberg revised to avoid the possible obscurity of a word that most readers were likely to know bubkes about (and would have had difficulty looking up).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Brad Pitt and Homer's Odyssey

From Variety:

After turning Homer’s epic poem "The Iliad" into the 2004 film "Troy," Warner Bros. and Brad Pitt are teaming with George Miller to adapt the Greek poet’s other masterwork, "The Odyssey."

Their intention is to transfer the tale to a futuristic setting in outer space.

Warner Bros. has quietly set up "The Odyssey," and the early hope is that Pitt will star and Miller will direct, with Pitt’s Plan B producing. Pitt played Achilles in the Wolfgang Petersen-directed "Troy," a global blockbuster that David Benioff adapted from "The Iliad."

Both Homer poems dealt with the Trojan War; "The Odyssey" focused on the exploits of Odysseus, who hatched the idea to build the Trojan Horse. "The Odyssey" deals with his long journey home after he declines to become a god.
Well, sort of.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Toothpaste we can believe in?

Strange to see design elements from the Obama campaign in a toothpaste. (It's not coincidence, is it?)

Sloppy dresser

Cursory attention to detail seems to account for the sloppy dresser behind Ditto — or is the open drawer a neo-cubist touch? I thought I was done with Hi and Lois posts. But just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Happy birthday, Noah Webster

Yale celebrates an alum: Noah Webster 250.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Joe the plumber

Joe the plumber. Joe the plumber. Joe the plumber.

Or is it Joe the Plumber?

As the son and grandson of tilemen, I note the patronizing way in which a tradesman was just made part of our political discourse. (He must be Joe Six-Pack's cousin.)

[Context: the final presidential debate, underway.]

[Update, October 16: The New York Times reports that Joe's first name is Samuel and that he's not a licensed plumber.]

George Orwell on totalitarian history

From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned. A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible. But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened.

George Orwell, in "The Prevention of Literature" (1946)
That Bridge to Nowhere? Thanks but no thanks. That ethics report? No abuse of power there at all.

Related posts
Couric and Palin and Orwell
George Orwell on historical truth

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Scholastic poll results

In the Scholastic Presidential Election Poll, open to voters in grades 1–12, Barack Obama has defeated John McCain, 57 percent to 39 percent. I like these details, from an article by Scholastic Kids Press Corps member Jack Greenberg:

Obama and McCain weren't the only vote getters. Four percent of the students voted for other people like comedian Stephen Colbert, and entertainers Miley Cyrus, and the Jonas Brothers. It was the highest percent of write-in votes in the history of the poll. Some even voted for themselves.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Little Baby Turtle

And that's the end of the story.

My family spent some time going through The Archives this weekend. This illustrated story is one item (among many!) that charmed us all.

[Pencil and crayon, by Rachel Leddy. Used with permission.]

Indian American English

In India, interest in speaking English with an American accent is growing:

The phenomenon has spread from the Indian offshore operations boom in the late 1990s to a wider cross-section of society, whether to help them get on in business, communicate with family State-side or just show off.

In Mumbai, arguably India's most cosmopolitan city, a number of language schools have sprung up offering accent coaching. Mumbaikars are also trawling the Internet looking for tutors to teach them to talk like Uncle Sam.

"About 50 percent of our students want American accents," Raj Oberoi, who runs the Just Talk Institute in the south of the city, told AFP.

Most of his students come from India's middle class, whose numbers have swelled on the back of the country's economic boom, and range in age from seven to 65, he added.

"People want to learn an American accent because they want to study abroad, perhaps they're going on a business trip or they think they'll be able to impress people if they talk with an American accent," he said.

The phenomenon marks a shift in attitude towards English, which was brought to India by its former British rulers and remains an official language, spoken by 90 million people.

Indians look to America for a new accent on English (Agence France-Presse)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dream with a typo in it

I dreamed last night of walking down a supermarket aisle and seeing shelves stocked with cans of "Columbain coffee." Where did that come from?

The supermarket aisle: I was shopping in my local supermarket last night. More relevant perhaps: I just taught Allen Ginsberg's poem "A Supermarket in California" and talked a bit in class about the rise of the supermarket in American culture.

The typo: I chanced last night upon a high-resolution photograph of Mitt Romney's hair. Romney is the former CEO of Bain & Company (a consulting firm whose "management tools" include Downsizing, yes, with a capital D). The typo might also carry some echo of Columbine. It's reasonable, I think, to fear that the hatred now evident at McCain–Palin rallies may find its release not only in violent words but in violent action.

Summer nostalgia

Gail Collins wants to get back to the summer:

I miss August. August was neat. The Dow was over 10,000 and nobody had ever heard of Sarah Palin.

Dear Old Golden Dog Days (New York Times)

Friday, October 10, 2008

From the Evergreen Review

Start reading, and you'll see the joke.

[Page 128, Evergreen Review 19 (July–August 1961).]

Related reading
Evergreen Review (now online)
Evergreen Review (Wikipedia article)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cindy McCain on PTSD

Cindy McCain, from an interview with Marie Claire:

MC: You met your husband after his POW days. To what extent is that still with you — or is it a part of history?

CMcC: My husband will be the first one to tell you that that's in the past. Certainly it's a part of who he is, but he doesn't dwell on it. It's not part of a daily experience that we experience or anything like that. But it has shaped him. It has made him the leader that he is.

MC: But no cold sweats in the middle of the night?

CMcC: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. My husband, he'd be the first one to tell you that he was trained to do what he was doing. The guys who had the trouble were the 18-year-olds who were drafted. He was trained, he went to the Naval Academy, he was a trained United States naval officer, and so he knew what he was doing.
If what Mrs. McCain says is true, she has inadvertently raised the question of what responsibility the United States government bears for the damage to those draftees who weren't "trained" and thus immunized against post-traumatic stress disorder. But her breezy theorizing about PTSD is of course contradicted by reality. As psychiatrist Jonathan Shay suggests in Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1994), anyone can incur the bad moral luck (as Shay calls it) that culminates in PTSD. To say, as Mrs. McCain does, that PTSD comes only to those who don't know what they're doing, is callous (or feigned?) ignorance. Shay knows better:
The most ancient traditions of Western culture instruct us to base our self-respect on firmness of character. Many popular melodramas of moral courage provide satisfaction through the comforting fantasy that our own character would hold steady under the most extreme pressure of dreadful events. A permanent challenge of working with those injured by combat trauma is facing the painful awareness that in all likelihood one's own character would not have stood firm. . . . We have powerful motives not to listen to the veteran's story, or to deny its truth.
As Achilles in Vietnam shows us, in Homer's Iliad and in the narratives of the veterans with whom Shay works, good character can be undone by the traumas of war.

Related posts
Gilgamesh travesty (the DoVA, Gilgamesh, and PTSD)
Jonathan Shay wins MacArthur grant

Hôtel (Apollinaire–Poulenc)

The poet Kenward Elmslie says somewhere in an interview that he has enough French to know that "Hôtel" is the most beautiful song ever written. That remark got me started listening to Francis Poulenc's music some years ago.

"Hôtel" is Poulenc's setting of a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire, from the five-song sequence Banalités (1940):


Ma chambre a la forme d'une cage
Le soleil passe son bras par la fenêtre
Mais moi qui veux fumer pour faire des mirages
J'allume a feu du jour ma cigarette
Je ne veux pas travailler je veux fumer


My room is shaped like a cage
The sun puts its arm through the window
But I who want to smoke and make smoke dreams
I light my cigarette with daylight
I don't want to work I want to smoke

[My translation.]
Poulenc wrote "Hôtel" for the male voice (baritone), but women now sing it too. Here's a beautiful performance, alas anonymous: "Hôtel" (YouTube). Bernard Kruysen's recording (with Jean Charles Richard, piano, on an old LP) is my favorite.

Nineteen years after I stopped smoking, I have cigarettes on my mind. Mais je ne veux pas fumer.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Nineteen years later

You must be hard up for material if you're making yet another post about quitting smoking.

Not really. The day I smoked my last cigarette — October 8, 1989 — still sticks in my head. October 8 has become an anniversary of sorts.

Ah. So do you remember the day you began smoking?

No, but I remember my first cigarette. It was a Viceroy, smoked in a friend's backyard during a lull in a wiffleball or soccer game in said backyard. My friend had taken up smoking under the influence of his sister's boyfriend, an older guy who smoked, yes, Viceroys. The cigarette was horrible, but I was determined to master this strange ritual of what I thought was adultdom.

It's interesting that you remember not the game that was taking place but the brand of cigarette.

I suppose it is. I've always been brand-conscious. As a cigarette smoker, I developed strong associations with my favorite brands: Camels, Lucky Strikes, and Pall Malls; and Drum and Old Holborn, tobaccos for rolling one's own.

Rolling your own? Isn't that likely to look suspicious?

Maybe, but I never had any problems. I think I probably appreciated whatever clouds of suspicion the practice gathered around me, as I did almost nothing to attract such clouds otherwise.

So nineteen years later, are you sorry that you ever started?

I would be lying if I said that I am. I loved smoking, and many of the cigarettes I smoked were deeply satisfying experiences — ritualized moments of introspective selfhood. In other words, Here I am, sitting with a cup of coffee and a cigarette, thinking, thinking, alone.

Hey, those are my italics.


Related posts
Cigarettes and similes
No smoking
"Please Don't Smoke"
Thank you for not smoking

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Domestic comedy

"I don't see McCain or his tow-headed wife."


"Doesn't that mean 'blonde'?"

"I don't know. Does it?"



9:48 p.m., post-debate: C-SPAN shows audience members crowding around Barack ("that one") and Michelle Obama. John and Cindy McCain are nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they are surrounded by an even larger crowd, but it seems that they've left the stage.

[Update: Yes, they left the stage shortly after the debate's end.]

Related reading
All "domestic comedy" posts

Fear and hope

From one of Andrew Sullivan's readers:

What this horrible McCain/Palin campaign is doing is reminiscent of the worst of the 1930s. Whipping uneducated, mindless acolytes into a violent — perhaps literally — frenzy, stirring fear and playing our citizens against themselves and each other. . . .

I've never been an alarmist nor someone to lean towards the melodramatic, but am I wrong in feeling as though our governmental system and very freedom could be at stake in the coming weeks? This terrifies me, and has prompted me to act.
And Sullivan's response:
I have faith in the American people. They'll see through this to what we need, and make the best choice available. They made the right choice in the 1930s, unlike many other nations. They will make the right choice again. If I didn't have that faith, I wouldn't have the hope I feel.

The only response to this fear-mongering is hope-mongering, a pride in America's resilience, a confidence in her inventiveness, and a determination to get to the ballot box. This is not an election you can sit out. This is an election where we all have to take a stand, including the press. Too much is in peril for a false neutrality.
When cries of "Terrorist!" and "Kill him!" can be heard at political rallies, I know that our country is in great danger. But I think I know who'll be elected next month.

Enough with the sinks

One news outlet now reports that "the sinks are ready." An analyst wonders whether John McCain's kitchen sink strategy will work. Yes, a dying metaphor again rears its head, like Vladimir Putin, I guess.

As I wrote back in the primary season,

The idiom though involves everything but the kitchen sink, the point being that the kitchen sink cannot be removed and hurled through the air, even when one is intent upon throwing everything at hand.
The best place to watch everything but at tonight's debate: C-SPAN.

Related post
Everything but the kitchen sink

Monday, October 6, 2008

Who is the real Barack Obama?

That's easy: he's the guy who was just endorsed by bluegrass master Ralph Stanley, in a radio commercial airing in southwest Virginia.

(When I saw Ralph Stanley perform in April, his car bore a John Edwards bumper sticker. Times change.)

Ralph Stanley endorses Barack Obama (YouTube)

Five desks

The kitchen table was grey formica, or something like formica, in what could be called a linen pattern, thin crosshatched lines. I did my schoolwork at this table after dinner, first grade through sixth. I remember the groove where the table halves joined — dark, mysteriously sticky, a local line of longitude.

The dining-room table was from Ethan Allen, a colonial-furniture store that gave away little bottles of maple syrup. I worked at this table through high school, college, and two years of graduate school. I seldom saw the surface, which was protected by table-pads and a tablecloth, dark green or dark blue.

Boards and cinderblocks saw me through almost five years in a Ph.D. program. The holes in the cinderblocks held stationery supplies, correspondence, and light-bulbs. When I think of this desk, I think of tea, cigarettes, and typing at all hours in a bathrobe.

[As you may by now suspect, I've never had a desk.]

A utility table, made in Alabama, purchased from an office warehouse. It's the sort of table at which you might find a volunteer group in a mall, but it's much sturdier, with a better finish and no valley. This table once held an Apple //c and now holds the terminal (anybody's) computer in our house.

A second kitchen table, but it's in a room we call "the study," perhaps the only study in the world with "We love Randy Rhoads" written on its ceiling (courtesy of the previous owners' son). Elaine assembled and finished this "farmhouse" table, which is as close to a farmhouse as I'm going to get. What this table makes me think of is not a farmhouse but a library, though unlike a library's tables, this table is always already covered in books, papers, index cards, pens, pencils, and bits of life.


Here’s a 2015 view of my desk.

Related posts
El Pico key ring
Five pens
Five radios
Messy desk

Exuviation in progress

My daughter Rachel sends news of plans to remove twenty-four words from the Collins English Dictionary to make room for "up to 2,000 more."

24 Words the CED Want [sic] to Exuviate (Shed) (Time)

(Thank you, daughter!)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Arthur Parker on "East-Central Illinois"

"I got a bad territory, see? East-central Illinois. God help me."

Sheet-music salesman Arthur Parker (Steve Martin), in Pennies from Heaven (dir. Herbert Ross, 1981)
Sarah Palin's wink did nothing for my posture, but this line from Pennies from Heaven made Elaine and me both sit up a little straighter. I wonder how "east-central Illinois," a term that only east-central Illinoisans seem to use, found its way into Dennis Potter's screenplay.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Thinking with pens and pencils

[See correction below.]

Dutch psychologist Christof van Nimwegen has written a dissertation arguing that pens and pencils are crucial in the development of creativity and intelligence:

In "The Paradox of the guided user: assistance can be counter-effective," van Nimwegen asked two groups to perform the same tasks. The first was allowed use a computer; the second group only got a pen and pencil. The second group executed all tasks faster and performed substantially better. In addition, their solutions to complicated problems were more creative.
What's crucial of course is not ink or graphite (or paper!) but self-reliance—trusting one's mind rather than the machine.

Paper and pencil, not computer, boosts creativity (eNews 2.0)

[Correction, October 8, 2008: I received an e-mail from Christof van Nimwegen stating that he has never investigated the use of pens, pencils, and paper. The description of his work and the quotations attributed to him in the eNews piece thus appear to be wholly inaccurate.]

John, also

Word Face-Off fed a transcript of last night's debate into Wordle, the word-cloud generator.

Joe Biden's most frequently used word (well, name): John, as in John McCain.

Sarah Palin's most frequently used word: also.

(Found via a comment at Boing Boing.)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sem Co-op snags Penguins

I'm happy to report that the Seminary Co-op Bookstore is able to obtain the third series of Penguin's Great Ideas paperbacks (which Penguin does not plan to publish in the United States). The four books I ordered came in the mail today, same shipping costs as with any other books. Go Sem Co-op!

My favorite cover is this one.

Related posts
Penguin's Great Ideas
Penguin's not so great idea

Thursday Night Live

Says CNN, "You won't want to watch the debate anywhere else." Yes, you might.

The best choice for watching a presidential or vice-presidential debate is C-SPAN. Why? C-SPAN's continuous split-screen lets you see both participants at all times, allowing for all sorts of observations about body language and facial expression.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dying metaphor of the day

It's "Main Street." As in "Main Street, not Wall Street."

The Main Streets that I know best are largely beyond help, having devolved into lonely stretches of consignment shops, pawnshops, taverns, empty storefronts, empty second-story apartments, more empty storefronts, and the occasional law office or tanning salon. The retail action has gone elsewhere.

Watching CNN today, I caught a sentence about the bailout benefiting "Elm Street." A metaphor in the making?

Related reading
All metaphor posts (Pinboard)
The dowdy world goes shopping (on Main Street, Hackensack, NJ)
Main Street (Wikipedia article)