Sunday, November 30, 2008

Orange train art

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

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

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

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year

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

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year 2008

Related post
Another Word of the Year

Friday, November 28, 2008

Uncle Mark Gift Guide & Almanac

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

Uncle Mark Gift Guide & Almanac

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving at Sing Sing, 1908

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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

Related post
Thanksgiving at Sing Sing

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Books as calendars (Proust)

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

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

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


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

(Thanks, Rachel!)

Related reading
All signage posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cutting costs at GM

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

Orange crate art (Brown)

[Illustration by Leonard Shortall.]

Encyclopedia Brown and Sally Kimball match wits:

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

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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Streets and alleys of the Depression

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

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

Channel flipping

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


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


Determined to break into show business, Lucy fakes amnesia.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hi and "Lois"

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

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Thursday, November 20, 2008


A hallway exchange:

"Where is the A?"

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

Related reading
All "overheard" posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


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

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

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

"The experiment is over"

Yes, thank goodness.

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Willa Cather and James Schuyler

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

Earphones and trolleys

In today's news:

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

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

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

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

Meme of seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Grace Hartigan (1922-2008)

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

The painter Grace Hartigan died yesterday in Timonium, Maryland:

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

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

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

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Plagiarism free"

Talk about an irony-deficiency!

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

E is for?

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

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

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

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Van Dyke Parks' Song Cycle

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

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

Scholastic madeleines

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

Nostalgia for the Scholastic Book Club

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mozy offer

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

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

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

Palin, Africa, Sudan, Darfur

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

The mess messens.

Ashbery Ashberies

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

REAL ESTATE (Hi and Lois)

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

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

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

November 11

Historian Alexander Watson considers November 11:

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

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

A Holiday to End All Wars (New York Times)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ye olde Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart selling Wal-Marts — very meta.

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

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Voting machine repair

From a letter to the Times (of London):

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

Friday, November 7, 2008

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

Africa is a country

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2008


[By Michael Leddy.]

Terrifying too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No exit (Hi and Lois)

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

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

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Obama thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

John Ashbery, "Infomercial 2"

The old mule delivers the goods.
Nugatory diddlings are on the decline.
Stateliness has its day.

There are indeed many encouraging signs
in the weather and in handshakes.
An excerpt from a John Ashbery Election Day poem: "Infomercial 2" (New York Times).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Three words

"[W]e will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation; and together, we will begin the next great chapter in America’s story with three words that will ring from coast to coast; from sea to shining sea":

[Words by Barack Obama, Nashua, New Hampshire, January 8, 2008. Images from the music video Yes We Can.]

CNN has called it.

Despite the problems we face, I've never been more hopeful about our country's future.

As Vigo goes?

From Talking Points Memo:

Democrats are cheered by early numbers showing that Obama holds a healthy lead in Vigo County, a place that one Dem described to us as "the most reliable bellwether county in the country."

"Vigo has only been wrong on president twice since 1892," this Dem enthuses.

A story in the Indy Star concurs, adding that of the most reliable bellwether counties in the country, Vigo "has voted closest to the national margin."

Right now, in Vigo County, Obama is up 57%–42%, with 80% reporting.
Elaine and I made three trips across the border to Terre Haute (the county seat) to knock on doors. I'm glad that we didn't know about Vigo's historical significance back then.

A family photograph

I like this photograph of Barack Obama and Stanley and Madelyn Dunham in New York. They're sitting on a Fifth Avenue bench, Central Park behind them (that must be Central Park), a sharp-looking young man and his dowdy-looking grandparents. Their happiness and love shine.

The Republican strategy in this campaign has been in large part to make voters think that Barack Obama is Not Like Us. There are two problems with that strategy. One is that Like Us no longer looks to many people like a compelling qualification for office. We're now wrapping up an eight-year-long lesson plan on that point.

But the second problem is that too many voters have already decided that Barack Obama is not exotic or foreign, that indeed he is Like Us, an ever more various Us that no longer thinks of the word color as followed by the word line.

Madelyn Dunham (1922-2008)

Barack Obama, speaking about his grandmother yesterday, in Charlotte, North Carolina:

She's one of those quiet heroes that we have all across America, who — they're not famous; their names aren't in the newspapers. But each and every day, they work hard. They look after their families. They sacrifice for their children and their grandchildren. They aren't seeking the limelight. All they try to do is just do the right thing. And in this crowd, there are a lot of quiet heroes like that — mothers and fathers, grandparents who have worked hard and sacrificed all their lives. And the satisfaction that they get is seeing that their children and maybe their grandchildren or their great-grandchildren live a better life than they did.

Obama speaks about Madelyn Dunham

Monday, November 3, 2008

One day to go

I've switched from coffee to chai. I think that my body is making its own caffeine.

I lost the use of the word "Wednesday" earlier today. All I could muster was "the day after the election."

I didn't make a post pointing out the disappearing tie spots in today's Hi and Lois. Oh, wait — I just did.

"[T]he shade-tree problem"

A thoughtful take on the disadvantages of instant access:

Googling has become such a routine, comfortable, and seemingly effective part of everyday life, that it's easy to overlook its drawbacks. One of them is what [lawyer and natural-landscaping advocate] Bret Rappaport calls "the shade-tree problem." . . . Imagine, he says, a paralegal in a law firm asked to research case law relating to a Texas client's ire with a neighbor whose tree has grown to overhang the client's lawn, preventing part of the lawn from getting enough sun to survive. The paralegal would likely run to Lexis — the legal world's version of Google — and enter in the keywords tree, lawn, neighbor, and shade. A few cases pop up and are dutifully handed over, wrapping up the chore in five minutes. But thirty years ago, says Rappaport, the paralegal would have hit the Texas law books, running her finger over topic listings and indexes, perhaps intending to look up trees, but noticing there are also sublistings for tree houses, oaks, and bushes. In leafing through the book to check out some of the indicated cases, other cases leap out as interesting and possibly relevant. Perhaps it takes half an hour, but in the end the paralegal uncovers what turns out to be the most useful case in the books, one in which a vine invaded a neighbor's swimming pool, and in which the words tree and lawn never appear. What's more, this more prolonged and varied hunt has imbued the paralegal with a bit of perspective and even expertise in the subject that could come in handy in this case or another one. Over time and many such hunts, the expertise will extend to a range of topics. In other words, the very imprecision and inefficiencies of the conventional search process compared to Googling provides better results and a measure of enrichment, if at a cost in time.

Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder (New York: Back Bay Books, 2007), 237–38
A related post
Messy desk

Sunday, November 2, 2008

No on 8

Andrew Sullivan, writing in Time in 2004:

When people talk about gay marriage, they miss the point. This isn't about gay marriage. It's about marriage. It's about family. It's about love. It isn't about religion. It's about civil marriage licenses. Churches can and should have the right to say no to marriage for gays in their congregations, just as Catholics say no to divorce, but divorce is still a civil option. These family values are not options for a happy and stable life. They are necessities. Putting gay relationships in some other category — civil unions, domestic partnerships, whatever — may alleviate real human needs, but by their very euphemism, by their very separateness, they actually build a wall between gay people and their families. They put back the barrier many of us have spent a lifetime trying to erase.
If I were a California voter, I'd vote No on 8.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Picking them up and laying them down

Elaine and I went walking from door to door in a midwestern city today on behalf of a certain presidential campaign. The eighty-three-year-old woman who welcomed a yard sign and told us to put it wherever we thought it looked good made our afternoon.

The depth of planning in this campaign is a wonder. I don't like being cryptic, but that's all I can say.

Paintings and Proust

A new book by painter Eric Karpeles: Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time (Thames & Hudson, $45). Amazon has it for 34% off. The New York Times has a review.

I'd also like to see (and hear) a CD or two assembling Proust-related music: likely inspirations for Vinteuil's sonata, songs by Reynaldo Hahn, all in period recordings, if possible.

Related reading
All Proust posts

2:14 a.m.

What if he loses?

The stories friends have been telling me of waking up in the middle of the night —

they're true!