Saturday, February 28, 2009

David Frauenfelder on fear and spending

David Frauenfelder at Breakfast with Pandora suggests that even as we cut back on expenses, we must also cut back on fear. I like the way he puts it:

Though no one's job is perfectly safe, if we all decide we must have two years' of savings in the bank before we spend again, eventually no one will have a job except the security guard at the bank.
[Apologies to David: I have corrected my misspelling of his last name in this post.]

Friday, February 27, 2009

Orange juice book

From an interview with Alissa Hamilton, author of the forthcoming book Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice:

What isn't straightforward about orange juice?

It's a heavily processed product. It's heavily engineered as well. In the process of pasteurizing, juice is heated and stripped of oxygen, a process called deaeration, so it doesn't oxidize. Then it's put in huge storage tanks where it can be kept for upwards of a year. It gets stripped of flavor-providing chemicals, which are volatile. When it's ready for packaging, companies such as Tropicana hire flavor companies such as Firmenich to engineer flavor packs to make it taste fresh. People think not-from-concentrate is a fresher product, but it also sits in storage for quite a long time.


So parse the carton for us. For example, what is the phrase "not from concentrate" really about?

In the '80s, Tropicana had a hold on ready-to-serve orange juice with full-strength juice. Then this new product, reconstituted orange juice, started appearing in supermarkets. Tropicana had to make decisions. Storing concentrate is much cheaper than full-strength juice. The phrase "not from concentrate" was to try to make consumers pay more for the product because it's a more expensive product to manufacture. It didn't have to do with the product being fresher; the product didn't change, the name simply changed. Tropicana didn't want to have to switch to concentrate technology.

Q&A with Alissa Hamilton (Boston Globe)

Dirty February

Grass, mud, leaves, afternoon.

It is, as Jane Austen says in Mansfield Park, "the dirty month of February."

[Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ways to anger professors

Useful advice for students, from Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman:

Nine Ways to Get on Your Professor's Bad Side (U.S. News & World Report)

The only item I'd take exception to is no. 9: "Plagiarize in super obvious ways." True, blatant plagiarism won't endear a student to a professor. But crafty, sly plagiarism is much, much worse, in part because its discovery may call for a significant investment of professorial time. Blatant plagiarism in contrast is merely pathetic, as its perpetrator assumes the professor to be a co-conspirator in cluelessness, someone who won't recognize the details of diction and syntax that so often make plagiarism instantly clear. Jacobs and Hyman's no. 5 — "Seem really stupid" — already covers blatant plagiarism.

A better no. 9: Be honest.

A related post
How to e-mail a professor

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Counting dropouts

Looking at my town's high school's 2007–2008 "report card" this morning, I see an overall graduation rate of 88.8% (62.1% for economically disadvantaged students) and a dropout rate of 3.1%. How to account for the missing 8.1%? I don't know. But a 2008 New York Times article makes clear that accurate numbers for graduation and dropout rates have been difficult to come by, with widespread undercounting of dropouts. Why? No Child Left Behind made possible a variety of ways to calculate graduation rates:

In 2001, the year the law was drafted, one of the first of a string of revisionist studies argued that the nation's schools were losing more students than previously thought.

Jay P. Greene, a researcher at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research organization, compared eighth-grade enrollments with the number of diplomas bestowed five years later to estimate that the nation’s graduation rate was 71 percent. Federal statistics had put the figure 15 points higher.

Still, Congress did not make dropouts a central focus of the law. And when states negotiated their plans to carry it out, the Bush administration allowed them to use dozens of different ways to report graduation rates.

As an example, New Mexico defined its rate as the percentage of enrolled 12th graders who received a diploma. That method grossly undercounts dropouts by ignoring all students who leave before the 12th grade.

The law also allowed states to establish their own goals for improving graduation rates. Many set them low. Nevada, for instance, pledged to get just 50 percent of its students to graduate on time. And since the law required no annual measures of progress, California proposed that even a one-tenth of 1 percent annual improvement in its graduation rate should suffice.

Daniel J. Losen, who has studied dropout reporting for the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, said he once pointed out to a state official that, at that pace, it would take California 500 years to meet its graduation goal.

"In California, we're patient," Mr. Losen recalled the official saying.

States Data Obscure How Few Finish High School (New York Times)
In 2008, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings began requiring states to use a common formula to calculate dropout and graduation rates. Read more:

U.S. to Require States to Use a Single School Dropout Formula (New York Times)

NEDAwareness Week

[Click to enlarge and read.]

NEDAwareness Week 2009: February 22-28

Things to Do (.pdf download, 112KB)
National Eating Disorders Association
NEDAwareness Week

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

No dropping out

These words must have made some younger viewers sit up straight. From President Barack Obama's address tonight to a joint session of Congress:

[D]ropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country — and this country needs and values the talents of every American.

Obama's "I"

Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman, in today's New York Times:

Since his election, the president has been roundly criticized by bloggers for using "I" instead of "me" in phrases like "a very personal decision for Michelle and I" or "the main disagreement with John and I" or "graciously invited Michelle and I."
Given the state of presidential English (aka "American") between 2001 and 2009, it seems a bit absurd to criticize the new president for a single pronoun problem. I too though would like to hear "me."

I've wondered: might Obama's "I" be intended to avert perceptions of error that might follow from the proper use of "me"? No, I don't really think so either. My guess is that the "I" is a matter of long-standing habit, which also explains why I still say "stove" for "oven."

Today's Hi and Lois

Today's Hi and Lois: where to begin?

With the Slylock Fox angle. Kids, can you find five differences between the two panels? (There are at least five, possibly six if you're a stickler.)

The semantic comedy reminds me of The Honeymooners episode "Head of the House," in which Ed Norton tells the Questioning Photographer that he is "an engineer in subterranean sanitation." Norton's joking; he helps out the mystified newspaperman with "I'm a sewer worker!"

But here the punchline is unfunny, partly because such a course would indeed likely be called "Suburban Archaeology." A slightly better punchline: "Yeah, but his students call it 'Garbage.'" Or "Otherwise known as 'junk science.'" Note that the punchline supplier appears to be carrying garbage toward the Flagston house. That's funnier than his punchline, and funnier too than either of mine.

The punchline supplier's name, by the way, is Fitch. The man in blue is Abercrombie. These terranean sanitation engineers have always had these names. Given what's become of the clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch since Hi and Lois began, it seems best that these men now work in the strip in relative anonymity.

Yes, terranean is a word.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bach branches

E.S.P. Bach, L.O.L. Bach, O.T.B. Bach . . . the gang's all here, or there:

Lost Branches of the Bach Family Tree (Musical Assumptions)

The American List

From A Continuous Lean, a list of 100+ companies whose stuff is made in the United States: The American List.

Fair warning: you might end up buying something. (Like, say, a Leatherman Multi-Tool.)

Real Thin Leads

[1 3/4" x 1 1/4".]

I admire this arrangement in ivory and black: the tilting balloon of "ONE GROSS," the lower-case "e's" and "l" of "Real Thin Leads," the jaunty cent sign, the chuckle-headed repetition. Real Thin Leads. Real Thin Lead. Ask for it by names! And I admire the cursive Autopoint, the forward-looking sort of cursive one might see on a home appliance.

And I like that this little package has been marked by history: at least three different writing instruments, green, red, and purple, have been tested on its surface. Just scribbles — no room to inquire Does this pen write? One side of the package has been resealed with tape in a hapless effort to honor a stern directive: "SEE THAT THIS SEAL IS NOT BROKEN." Ah, but it has been.

The "2H" correction — made in the store, I assume — is a reminder that some people are persnickety about their pencil leads. The potentially misleading "Extra" won't do when the unambiguous "2H" is at hand.¹

I found these Real Thin Leads circa 1998 during a going-out-of-business sale at a downstate Illinois stationery store. The store alas had been quietly going out of business for many years before having a sale about it.

¹ In grading lead, B signifies blackness; H, hardness. 2B lead is darker than B; 2H, harder than H. HB is the familiar "No. 2 pencil."

[This post is the first in what will be an occasional series, "From the Museum of Supplies." The museum is imaginary. Supplies is my word, and has become my family's word, for all manner of stationery items.]

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dave McKenna, playing, talking

Chris Lydon has put together eighty-seven minutes of private recordings of pianist Dave McKenna playing and talking. Available for online listening or for download as a 40MB mp3:

Dave McKenna: My Private Collection of the Master (Open Source)

A related post
Dave McKenna (1930-2008)

(Thanks, Timothy!)

Subways singing "Somewhere"

Since 2000, some subway trains in New York City have been singing the first three notes of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen's Sondheim's "Somewhere" while leaving a station. Sort of:

The sound is a fluke. Newer trains run on alternating current, but the third rail delivers direct current; inverters chop it into frequencies that can be used by the alternating current motors, said Jeff Hakner, a professor of electrical engineering at Cooper Union. The frequencies excite the steel, he said, which — in the case of the R142 subway cars — responds by singing "Somewhere." Inverters on other trains run at different frequencies and thus are not gifted with such a recognizable song.
Stop, look, and listen:

Under Broadway, the Subway Hums Bernstein (New York Times)

(Thanks to Stefan Hagemann for making sure that I saw this article.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Creamsby's Sheaves

Stationery in the "news":

Loan officers at the First National Bank of Kansas City defended their decision to lend local man Tim Creamsby $650,000 to open a small stationery store Monday, explaining that, while the business's long-term prospects were poor, the idea was "simply too pathetic and heartbreaking" not to sign off on. . . . Several factors reportedly contributed to their generous offer, most notably having to watch the kind-faced old man pull from his pocket a small, dog-eared slip of paper—worn soft as felt from years of repeated handling—on which he had written a number of potential store names, including "Notable Notes," "The Jottery," and "Creamsby's Sheaves." "I was about to suggest that he consider a more practical business, like a coffee shop or a hat store, but then he brought out that list of names," bank vice president Nathan Bergeson said while attempting to remove some dust that had gotten into his eye. "I think the bank's going to have to eat this one." Plan To Start Little Stationery Store Too Sad For Bank To Deny Loan (The Onion)

Richard Feynman on honors

"I don't like honors. I appreciate it for the work that I did, and for people who appreciate it, and I notice that other physicists use my work. I don't need anything else. I don't think there's any sense to anything else. I don't see that it makes any point that someone in the Swedish Academy decides that this work is noble enough to receive a prize. I've already got the prize. The prize is the pleasure of finding the thing out, the kick in the discovery, the observation that other people use it. Those are the real things. The honors are unreal to me. I don't believe in honors. It bothers me; honors bothers me. Honors is epaulettes; honors is uniforms. My poppa brought me up this way. I can't stand it; it hurts me.

When I was in high school, one of the first honors I got was to be a member of the Arista, which is a group of kids who got good grades — hmm? Everybody wanted to be a member of the Arista. And when I got into the Arista, I discovered that what they did in their meetings was to sit around to discuss who else was [in a lofty tone of voice] worthy to join this wonderful group that we are. Okay? So we sat around trying to decide who it was who would get to be allowed into this Arista. This kind of thing bothers me psychologically for one or another reason I don't understand myself. Honors — and from that day to this — always bothered me.

I had trouble when I became a member of the National Academy of Science, and I had ultimately to resign. Because there was another organization, most of whose time was spent in choosing who was illustrious enough to be allowed to join us in our organization. Including such questions as 'We physicists have to stick together, because there's a very good chemist that they're trying to get in, and we haven't got enough room for so-and-so.' What's the matter with chemists? The whole thing was rotten, because the purpose was mostly to decide who could have this honor. Okay? I don't like honors."

From a 1981 BBC interview, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (my transcription)
[Richard Feynman was a joint-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.]

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Domestic comedy

"Remember when you were all pretzeled-out?"

Related reading
All "domestic comedy" posts

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

AE (academic entitlement)

From an article in yesterday's New York Times on college students' expectations:

Prof. Marshall Grossman has come to expect complaints whenever he returns graded papers in his English classes at the University of Maryland.

"Many students come in with the conviction that they've worked hard and deserve a higher mark," Professor Grossman said. "Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before."

He attributes those complaints to his students' sense of entitlement.
The Times also quotes Ellen Greenberger, professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California-Irvine, and lead author of "Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting, and Motivational Factors," a study exploring "AE" (academic entitlement), published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence in 2008.

I spent some time this afternoon looking at this study. Surveying 466 undergrads, Greenberger and her co-authors found 66.2% agreeing (i.e., slightly agreeing, agreeing, or strongly agreeing) with this statement: "If I have explained to my professor that I am trying hard, I think he/she should give me some consideration with respect to my course grade." 40.7% agreed that "If I have completed most of the reading for a class, I deserve a B in that course." 34.1% thought that simply attending "most classes for a course" merited that B. And 29.9% agreed that "Professors who won't let me take an exam at a different time because of my personal plans (e.g. a vacation or other trip that is important to me) are too strict." I've chosen these four revealing bits from a list of fifteen AE items that students were asked to evaluate. Another finding: students with a strong sense of AE report parents who give material rewards for good grades and compare their children's achievements with those of other children.

The AE attitudes revealed in this survey are likely to be familiar to anyone in American higher education, and they can make the project of maintaining teacherly integrity quite difficult. Indeed, much of what constitutes a professor's work every semester can be the ongoing effort to undo such attitudes, by asking more of students and by attempting to persuade students that they're capable of more. It doesn't always work. For many students, the ideal prof might be summed up in the word out: one who lets the class out early — always!, and who's ready to "help out" with some, uhh, consideration, as described above.

Think for a moment about the model of learning built into the idea of being "let out early" — as if the classroom were a prison, the professor a stern or genial warden. Your parole has come through! Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Awkward metaphor of the day

"I'm here to take my medicine": New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, at a press conference this afternoon concerning his steroid use.

Related reading
All "metaphor" posts (via Pinboard)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Louie Bellson (1924-2009)

Drummer, bandleader, composer Louie Bellson died on February 14, 2009.

Louis Bellson is the epitome of what Paul Gonsalves means when he says, "He's a beautiful cat, man!" For in spite of his outrageous beauty, Louis Bellson is truly a beautiful person. With never a thought about getting even or getting the better of any man, he has the soul of a saint. There is nothing too good for someone he likes, and I don't know anybody he doesn't like, or anybody who doesn't like him.

Duke Ellington, Music Is My Mistress (New York: Doubleday, 1973), 226
Louie Bellson Dies at 84 (All About Jazz)
Louie Bellson (Official website)
"Skin Deep" (Nat King Cole Show,1957)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Drugs and memories

In the news:

A widely available blood pressure pill could one day help people erase bad memories, perhaps treating some anxiety disorders and phobias, according to a Dutch study published on Sunday. . . .

The findings published in the journal Nature Neuroscience are important because the drug may offer another way to help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems related to bad memories.
Egyptian researchers beat them to it. In Odyssey 4, as Menelaus, Telemachus, and Peisistratus grieve the sorrows of the Trojan War, Helen uses an Egyptian drug to make the men forget their troubles:
She threw a drug into the wine bowl
They were drinking from, a drug
That stilled all pain, quieted all anger
And brought forgetfulness of every ill.
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     
Helen had gotten this potent, cunning drug
From Polydamna, the wife of Thon,
A woman in Egypt, where the land
Proliferates with all sorts of drugs,
Many beneficial, many poisonous.
Men there know more about medicines
Than any other people on earth,
For they are of the race of Paeeon, the Healer.
This moment in the Odyssey is funny, sinister, and unforgettable. Helen must have suspected that it would be helpful to have such a drug handy for thought-control in a sorrow-filled post-war home. In her foresight, she resembles wily Odysseus, who carries strong wine when off to explore the cave of Cyclops Polyphemus. (Odysseus of course gets Polyphemus drunk before blinding him).

The Dutch study is here:

Merel Kindt, Marieke Soeter, and Bram Vervliet, Beyond extinction: erasing human fear responses and preventing the return of fear (Nature Neuroscience)

[Odyssey translation by Stanley Lombardo (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000).]

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day to all species.

[Photograph by James Kimberlin (valart2008), via Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons License.]

Friday, February 13, 2009

Montblanc "Yes We Can" pen

A press release announces Montblanc's "Yes We Can" Meisterstück 149 fountain pen. Ugh:

The finest brushstroke of a fountain pen has led to the foundation of our great nation, legacies of great leaders, and has ultimately led to many new chapters in our country's great history. Having been present when historical signatures were needed by royalty and heads of state, Montblanc's Meisterstuck [sic] 149 fountain pen has played a role in this historic journey.
Well, maybe kinda sorta. The fountain pen is a 19th-century invention. The Declaration of Independence was written with a quill. American presidents have traditionally used American-made pens, and I know of no evidence of an American president using a Meisterstück 149. Note that the press release implies such use without claiming it: what "heads of state" are we speaking of? Montblanc's marketing ploy is a bit too much like Moleskine's effort to associate its notebooks with Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso.

Presidential pens have been the stuff of some dedicated sleuthing. Barack Obama has been signing with Cross Townsends, as anyone who's been watching the news (and who knows pens) has seen.

Elaine posted yesterday on another effort to cash in: 'Tis the Gift to Be for Sale?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abraham Lincoln, getting things done

Browsing last night, I found this passage, in a piece that may date from 1850. Good advice for anyone, lawyer or not, wanting to avoid procrastination and get things done:

Leave nothing for to-morrow, which can be done to-day. Never let your correspondence fall behind. Whatever piece of business you have in hand, before stopping, do all the labor pertaining to it which can then be done.

From "Notes on the Practice of Law," in The Portable Abraham Lincoln, edited by Andrew Delbanco (New York: Penguin, 2009), 33
Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809.

Charles Darwin has a posse

Born February 12, 1809.

[Image created by Colin Purrington, Associate Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Swarthmore College.]

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Anthropologists of the future will perhaps inquire into the austere chambers consecrated to OTIS and SIO, twin gods of the upper and lower realms.

[Photographs by Michael Leddy. Thank you, Elaine, for holding the door.]

Buy peanut butter

A recent New York Times article notes that sales of peanut butter are down nearly 25%. Peanut-related articles from Google News show that pattern holding. The fragility of the American economy makes such obviously bad news even worse.

A simple suggestion that might do some good: buy a jar of peanut butter. The American Peanut Council (I never thought I'd type that name) has a list of brands not affected by the FDA recall. In our house, we like Smucker's Natural. We bought a new jar yesterday.

As for Stewart Parnell, owner of the Peanut Corportation of America, who took the Fifth Amendment when asked today if he'd eat his company's (bacteria-laden) products, Dante could devise a suitable punishment.


A tile sign in an IND Crosstown Line station in Brooklyn spells BROADWAY as BRODAWAY. According to Forgotten NY, the misspelling has stood since the line began in 1933.

This typo (or tile-o) seems to me to have earned its place on the wall (and in NYC lore). Wikipedia's entry on the IND Broadway station notes the venerable error. Please, city elders, stet.

MTA spellers way off-off Broadway in Brooklyn (The Daily News)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Five sentences from Bleak House

A very quiet night. When the moon shines very brilliantly, a solitude and stillness seem to proceed from her, that influence even crowded places full of life. Not only is it a still night on dusty high roads and on hill-summits, whence a wide expanse of country may be seen in repose, quieter and quieter as it spreads away into a fringe of trees against the sky, with the grey ghost of a bloom upon them; not only is it a still night in gardens and in woods, and on the river where the water-meadows are fresh and green, and the stream sparkles on among pleasant islands, murmuring weirs, and whispering rushes; not only does the stillness attend it as it flows where houses cluster thick, where many bridges are reflected in it, where wharves and shipping make it black and awful, where it winds from these disfigurements through marshes whose grim beacons stand like skeletons washed ashore, where it expands through the bolder region of rising grounds, rich in cornfield, wind-mill and steeple, and where it mingles with the ever-heaving sea; not only is it a still night on the deep, and on the shore where the watcher stands to see the ship with her spread wings cross the path of light that appears to be presented to only him; but even on this stranger's wilderness of London there is some rest. Its steeples and towers, and its one great dome, grow more ethereal; its smoky house-tops lose their grossness, in the pale effulgence; the noises that arise from the streets are fewer and are softened, and the footsteps on the pavements pass more tranquilly away. In these fields of Mr Tulkinghorn's inhabiting, where the shepherds play on Chancery pipes that have no stop, and keep their sheep in the fold by hook and by crook until they have shorn them exceeding close, every noise is merged, this moonlight night, into a distant ringing hum, as if the city were a vast glass, vibrating.

Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1853)
Just five sentences:

"A very quiet night." Stage-setting. No verb, à la the first sentences of Bleak House.

"When the moon shines very brilliantly, a solitude and stillness seem to proceed from her, that influence even crowded places full of life." Repetition joins the sentences: "very quiet," "very brilliantly." Parallelism: "solitude," "crowded places"; "stillness," "full of life." Personification with a single brushstroke: "her."

And now the third sentence, a grand display of parallelism. Part of what makes the "Not only" sentence remarkable is that despite its heavy reliance on prepositional phrases — twenty-eight of them — it moves so easily from start to finish. Note the six in a row early on: "into a fringe of trees against the sky, with the grey ghost of a bloom upon them." How does Dickens keep those sentence elements from turning into inert clutter? Partly by means of sound: the quick iambs of "a fringe of trees against the sky," the alliteration and partial rhyme of "grey ghost" and "bloom upon them." But also by means of magic.

Note too the way the elements of the third sentence — the "not onlys" and "wheres" — lengthen and diminish before coming to "rest." There's nothing absolutely predictable about that movement: the first four "where" clauses lengthen before the series ends with "the ever-heaving sea," but the first "not only" clause is longer than the second. This sort of loose progression organizes the paragraph too, with the fifth sentence a bit longer than the fourth.

In the fourth sentence, a smaller display of parallelism. Its final element — "the noises that arise from the streets are fewer and are softened, and the footsteps on the pavements pass more tranquilly away" — seems almost biblical in its balanced phrasing.

The language in these four sentences surprises again and again with its variety: "pleasant islands," "cluster thick," "black and awful," "like skeletons washed ashore," "rich in cornfield, wind-mill and steeple," "this stranger's wilderness of London," "smoky housetops," "pale effulgence."

And in the fifth sentence, an extended metaphor bringing us into the world of law, with the siren song of the Court of Chancery, and legal shepherds fleecing their sheep. Dickens though lifts the passage up at its end into a loftier music and a more exalted sort of metaphor, turning the sounds of the city into "a distant ringing hum" and the city itself into "a vast glass, vibrating" — beautiful abstractions worthy of Wallace Stevens or John Ashbery.

Okay, I'm done. Go back up and enjoy the sentences again.

[The "one great dome" is that of St Paul's Cathedral. The Court of Chancery, devoted to wills and trusts, is where such lawyers as Tulkinghorn shear their sheep "exceedingly close."]

Monday, February 9, 2009

Today's Hi and Lois

Scary eyeball? The mothership? Today's Hi and Lois seems to suggest a trend involving unrecognizable objects on walls. What's especially poignant here is that there's no need for a thermostat in the strip (yes, it's a thermostat) — Lois' brisk "BRR . . IT'S COLD IN HERE" sets the scene nicely. (Husband-tip to Hi Flagston: when your wife and kids shiver, do not stop to check the price of oil.)

The Honeywell thermostat, the work of Henry Dreyfuss and a masterpiece of industrial design, is the distant (very distant) ancestor of the Flagstons' thermostat. I saved a Honeywell thermostat when we had our furnace replaced several years ago. What was a Honeywell thermostat is now a Honeywell paperweight.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Hot water and the Great Depression

It was widely reported today that the Sun Journal newspaper in Lewiston, Maine, has begun publishing a daily money-saving tip on its front page. The paper promises a refund to any subscriber who doesn't save at least twice the cost of a subscription.

Reading this news item made me recall reading (somewhere) about the Depression-era practice of placing a bowl of water over a stove-top pilot light at night. In the morning: hot water for shaving.

Reader, do you know of other Depression-era practices that will still work in the 21st century?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Mmmm . . . starches

From a newspaper advertisement pitching a Valentine's Day menu:

So romantic! But I hope the diners don't get sand in their food.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Telephone exchange names on screen

[From The Public Enemy, dir. William Wellman, 1931.]

This exchange name is soon to vanish from the screen, as the doors are flung open and floral cargo tossed into the street to make room for cases of liquor. Why? Prohibition begins at midnight.

The Public Enemy is a great film, with far more than its famous grapefruit-in-face scene. The final moments, with Tom Powers (James Cagney) at the door as a record plays "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," shock even with repeated viewings. I wonder how audiences reacted in 1931. (The New York Times archive has, alas, no review.)

More exchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse
Baby Face
Born Yesterday
The Man Who Cheated Himself
Nightmare Alley

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Casinos, museums, and parks

What do museums and parks have in common with casinos? They are among the items in a series in Senator Tom Coburn's (R-OK) proposed Amendment No. 175 to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan (aka the "stimulus package"):

None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, arts center, or highway beautification project, including renovation, remodeling, construction, salaries, furniture, zero-gravity chairs, big screen televisions, beautification, rotating pastel lights, and dry heat saunas.
Senator Coburn may have had a traumatic experience or two involving zero-gravity chairs and saunas, but that's no reason to remove culture from the proposed legislation.

If you agree, here's a way to let your senators know:

Vote NO on the Coburn "Limitation on Funds Amendment No. 175" (American Arts Alliance)

(via Musical Assumptions)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Goodbye, Pages for All Ages

A bookstore's closing is reason for a special sort of sadness, as it's nearly certain that no other bookstore will be coming along to take its place. My family began buying books at Pages for All Ages in 1988, the year the store opened. Pages was for many years the bookstore in our corner of the world. My children spent hours in the children's section, which featured a nifty nook for reading and play. The kid-sized stools had legs that looked like giant pencils.

Along came Borders. Along came Barnes & Noble. (Or vice versa.) Pages moved to a new location and added CDs and coffee. And DVDs. The owner of a recently closed record store came on as the music manager, and the CD selections became a marvel of discernment. (Thank you, Morgan Usadel, for bringing so many good jazz recordings to central Illinois.)

In recent years (post-Amazon), the inventory — of all sorts — began to dwindle. Books that you'd think would be there weren't there. The CD shelves grew emptier, then empty. I'd go in and end up buying something, anything, to do my bit. I noticed last year that the store was not stocking 2009 planners — that seemed like a bad sign.

On my last visit to Pages, in late December, I was looking for a copy of Charles Dickens's Bleak House. No soap. When my daughter and I drove to Pages last week, the store was dark, and a sign on the front door announced a closing for inventory. That closing is now permanent, as the evening news just announced.

Goodbye, Pages.

Pages for All Ages a victim of recession (The News-Gazette)

Domestic comedy

"I'm so glad that you're not a fraud."

"Thank you."

Related reading
All "domestic comedy" posts

One doctor's bag

I wondered a while ago about the likely contents of the doctor's bag I remember from the housecalls of my childhood. The Life photo archive offers what might be the best answer I'll ever find.

[Photograph by W. Eugene Smith, 1948.]

Smith took this photograph while working on what became the September 20, 1948 Life feature "Country Doctor," a look at the daily routine of Dr. Ernest Ceriani, of Kremmling, Colorado. I'd like to know what someone in medicine might find interesting in the details of the full-size photograph.

[T., any thoughts?]

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Joe Ades

Watch the late Joe Ades in action and try to imagine resisting his sales pitch.

RIP, Joe Ades (

[The peeler is now available from Amazon.]

Monday, February 2, 2009

Review: Leave Me Alone!

[Harvey Pekar and Harvey Pekar.]

Leave Me Alone! A Jazz Opera in Two Acts
Streamed live from Oberlin College, January 31, 2009

Leave Me Alone! seems to me to add up to less than the sum of its parts, the parts being Harvey Pekar's libretto and Dan Plonsey's music (with additional words by the principals' spouses, Mantra Ben-ya'akova Plonsey and Joyce Brabner, and additional music by Josh Smith). Pekar's stated intention, to create an opera about the fate of the avant-garde and "the problems faced by turn of the 21st century artists in general," feels unrealized in performance: what I saw and heard on my laptop (in what appears to have been the opera's sole planned performance) is less an inquiry into artistic production and reception and more an examination of problems in the lives of Harvey Pekar and Dan Plonsey: day jobs, domestic quarrels over chores, opossums in the basement. The opera's final moments enact a squabble between the Plonseys over ibuprofen dosage. Earlier, a recorded telephone conversation between Pekar and Robert Crumb lets us hear Crumb's skepticism about whether the opera-in-progress is going to work. "A buck is a buck, man," says Pekar, who spends most of his time on stage sitting on a couch reading.

The four-singer cast works gamely, with movement and masks adding interest here and there. But the libretto — e.g., "Music is against system, even when employing systematic elements" — often leaves little room for expressive singing.

Bright moments: Dan Plonsey's music, with deep influences from Charles Mingus and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians; Joyce Brabner's monologue, offering another perspective on the Pekar-Brabner household; and the work of the instrumentalists, particularly the tenor saxophonist, who contributed a volcanic, voluminous opening solo. (Was it Josh Smith? The credits are vague.)

[Corrections: Co-Musical Director Daniel Michalak notes that Dan Plonsey played the opening solo. (I wish I'd been able to see that!) And there were five singers in all.]

Leave Me Alone! (Real Time Opera)
Dan Plonsey (composer's site)

Related reading
All Harvey Pekar posts

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Erica, Erika

The New York Times Corrections column makes for unpredictably enjoyable reading:

An article on Jan. 11 about the television show United States of Tara, whose protagonist has dissociative identity disorder (once known as multiple personality disorder), misidentified a soap opera character who has the illness and the actress who portrays her. Viki Lord Davidson, a character on ABC's One Life to Live played by Erika Slezak, has the disorder — not Erica Kane, a character on ABC's All My Children portrayed by Susan Lucci.

The Four (at Least) Faces of Tara (New York Times)
My friend Stefan Hagemann caught this mistake last month. Stefan, feel vindicated!

[The Times correction links to the wrong article; I've linked to the right one above.]