Monday, August 31, 2009

A Mad Men sort of man, sort of

This man has been around for a while. The “Common Sense” Traveler’s Expense Book in which he stars has a 1989 calendar on its back cover and a 1970 copyright. The hat and overcoat and the line per day for telephone and telegram expenses suggest perhaps a still earlier origin.

In 2009, this wayfaring stranger is still making his way, still working for Beach Publishing Co., still with an automobile growing from his arm. His grandfather worked for Beach too. Grandson is now hoping for a small role in Mad Men.

What? There are no small roles? Only small actors? Then he’s your man, less than 2.5 inches tall. It’d be easy to find a place for him.

I found this “Common Sense” Traveler’s Expense Book some years ago in a stationery store, long after the 1989 calendar on the back cover was past its expiration date.

[This post is the sixth in an occasional series, “From the Museum of Supplies.” The museum is imaginary. The supplies are real. Supplies is my word, and has become my family’s word, for all manner of stationery items.]

Also from the Museum of Supplies
Real Thin Leads
Rite-Rite Long Leads
Mongol No. 2 3/8
Dennison's Gummed Labels No. 27
Fineline erasers

Saturday, August 29, 2009

For college students and their parents

Useful stuff from Lisa Belkin at the New York Times’ Motherlode Blog: Checklists for Parents of College Students.

I’m inordinately happy to see that in a comment on this Times piece, a fellow prof — Kara, no last name — has mentioned my post How to e-mail a professor. Kara also offers some good advice:

I would encourage all students to communicate with their professors in person as much as possible, and to ask for help when they need it. This sounds like it should be obvious, but I’m amazed that many students don’t realize that their professors are more than glad to meet with them. I think many of us turn to email to communicate because of the convenience, but I’ve found that even a short 5 minute conversation with a student can make an enormous difference in their experience in a class.
What Kara says — “This sounds like it should be obvious” — is true of so much of the advice that college students can benefit from hearing. It’s not obvious, that is, until someone says it.

A related post
How to talk to a professor

Friday, August 28, 2009

Reading Rainbow ends

After twenty-six years, Reading Rainbow is ending. NPR interviewed John Grant of Buffalo’s WNED, which produced the show:

The show’s run is ending, Grant explains, because no one — not the station, not PBS, not the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — will put up the several hundred thousand dollars needed to renew the show’s broadcast rights.

Grant says the funding crunch is partially to blame, but the decision to end Reading Rainbow can also be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming. The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration, he explains, which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling.

Grant says that PBS, CPB and the Department of Education put significant funding toward programming that would teach kids how to read — but that’s not what Reading Rainbow was trying to do.

Reading Rainbow taught kids why to read,” Grant says. “You know, the love of reading — [the show] encouraged kids to pick up a book and to read.”
My most vivid Reading Rainbow memories: LeVar Burton working the grill at Rosie’s Diner (in Little Ferry, New Jersey) and learning the mambo with Jackie Rio. Our whole family thought that Jackie and LeVar liked each other. Really liked each other. Like-liked each other. Lighthearted reverie aside, I feel real sorrow at the loss of Reading Rainbow.

Here, from a happier day, is LeVar singing the show’s theme:

LeVar Burton sings “Reading Rainbow” at Diggnation LA (YouTube)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Marcia Lebow (1919–2009)

From a beautifully written obituary for an extraordinary person:

Marcia was a person of strong passions — for music, family and friends —and strong convictions. The English language was not only her great joy, but an armada to be deployed at will.
Years ago in Boston, I knew Marcia very slightly, by way of her friendship with Elaine. Marcia had twice the energy and enthusiasm of people half her age. And her stories — imagine someone telling you about the time she went to visit Ira Gershwin. Yes, that Ira Gershwin. That was Marcia Lebow.

Marcia Wilson Lebow (Los Angeles Times)

Search committee at work

An academic search committee at work:

At first the candidate’s own list of questions felt refreshing, but soon became counter-productive to the interview process. His spirit of inquiry masked an indifference to time constraints and a passive-aggressive need to dominate the conversation. As another candidate cooled his heels, the request for him to conclude his thoughts on the ideal society scarcely registered as we wondered if, then began to wish that, someone would spike his drink.
Read more from the evaluations of imaginary search committees:

Belagir M. Synkina, Unsuitable candidates (Times Higher Education)

A related post
Mozart and tenure

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Going to the meeting

Elaine and I went tonight to a “town hall meeting” on health care given by Congressman Tim Johnson (R, Illinois-15). It was a disappointing experience. Of the allotted sixty minutes, ten were lost waiting for Rep. Johnson to arrive. Nine were given over to introductory remarks. Rep. Johnson’s talking points in those remarks and thereafter remained consistent: we have the best health care system in the world (whoops and cheers); a public option is “socialized medicine” (whoops and cheers); it is time for people to “reclaim,” “take back” the government (more whoops, more cheers).

A public option, one audience member pointed out, is a prelude to, yes, communism. And speaking of things Russian, Rep. Johnson confessed to being troubled by the presence of an energy czar in the Obama administration. Johnson evidently has forgotten that czars are what communism did away with. But he has also forgotten that an energy czar was in place as far back as Richard Nixon’s administration.

I heard no clear arguments as to how to make health care more affordable in the absence of a public option. And as Elaine discovered, searching for health care on Johnson’s web page brings up the following:

[Click for a larger view.]

What most bothered me in Rep. Johnson’s remarks: his sneering references to President Obama, whom he twice called “our esteemed leader,” to general laughter. If that’s how he talks about the president in public, I can only imagine what he says in private.

Related reading
Lorem ipsum (Wikipedia article)

Orange Crate Art, a Google Reader pick

I just saw that my blog is one of Mark Frauenfelder’s picks for Google Reader. Mark is a founder and editor of Boing Boing (“A Directory of Wonderful Things”). Thanks, Mark!

(The BOING! BOING in the previous post: serendipity.)

A riddle

My son Ben created this page years and years ago in second grade. It appeared in a hors commerce edition, 2F Riddles, which I discovered while poking around in the family archives. I’ve reproduced this page with Ben’s permission. As he says, he still has plenty of “2F pride.” Thanks, Ben!

(Yes, it says Boing Boing.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

That shirt is [not] blue

[August 25, 2009.]

The color stylists at Hi-Lo Amalgamated are on strike.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts

Monday, August 24, 2009

A back-to-school post

Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bosnia And Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guam, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Palestinian Territory, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela, Virgin Islands:

Yes, all the world over, people want to know how to write e-mails to professors. Thus they come to a 2005 post on Orange Crate Art, How to e-mail a professor. The numbers rise big-time when semesters begin and end.

In June, I began looking at my StatCounter info to collect the locations of readers coming to that post. Hence the list above. I’m amazed, still, always, at the way the Internet erases distance across space and time. (It’s the world of tomorrow!) And I’m happy that my 2005 post continues to help faculty and students improve the quality of life online.

Okay, back to school.

Friday, August 21, 2009

You know you’re really an English major of a certain age when . . .

. . . you immediately recognize T.S. Eliot’s Complete Poems and Plays: 1909–1950 (1971) on the bookshelf behind the interviewees on MSNBC’s Hardball. That’s my copy, which I bought from the Book-of-the-Month Club as an earnest undergrad, and MSNBC’s copy, “as seen on TV,” perhaps also from the Book-of-the-Month Club.

Pop quiz: Why did English majors of a certain age join the Book-of-the-Month Club? What book were they looking to get?

[Photographs resized with ImageWell.]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Then and now

Joe Klein notes that things ain’t what they used to be:

It was a Republican, the lawyer Joseph Welch, who delivered the coup de grâce to Senator McCarthy when he said, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” Where is the Republican who would dare say that to Rush Limbaugh, who has compared the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler?
The GOP Has Become a Party of Nihilists (Time)

1,000 ukuleles

Now they know how many ukes it takes to fill the Albert Hall: 1,000.

[With apologies to “A Day in the Life.”]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Scrimping and printing

Hewlett-Packard’s not doing so well:

On Tuesday, H.P. showed how its printer business remained vulnerable to the recession when it reported third-quarter financial results. H.P.’s printing and imaging revenue fell 20 percent, to $5.7 billion, as sales of supplies tumbled 13 percent and sales of printers fell 23 percent.
Says Mark V. Hurd, Hewlett-Packard’s chief executive, “People are printing just as much as they did last year.” Hurd blames lower sales of supplies on currency fluctuations, inventory adjustments, and consumer reluctance to stock up.

Stocking up, at least on ink-jet cartridges, is never a good idea — the carts dry out and become unusable. But it’s my printing (not buying) habits that make me doubt Hurd’s explanations. I suspect that many people are doing exactly as I am: printing less, not so much perhaps to save money as to not waste ink. I’m much more inclined now to tinker and tweak in pixels for a good long time before printing a draft to edit by hand.

The Times says that in response to lower sales, Hewlett-Packard “has been scrambling to raise prices.”

H.P. Tries to Keep the Ink Flowing (New York Times)

Repurposed dish drainer

I’ve used bakeware to cool a Vaio laptop. My desk is a kitchen table. And now I have a Rubbermaid dish drainer to hold working folders. It was Elaine’s idea. Thank you, Elaine.

Gertrude would approve

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose. Rose is a rose to pieces. That rose to the rose. It is up to. You can do it. You can do that. I can do. I can do.
[The Translation Party swings on. I’ve borrowed this post’s title from the lyrics of Nellie McKay’s song “Cupcake.”]

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Frank would not approve

I did it my way.

I had my way.

I have never had a way.

No way.

No way.
[More fun with Translation Party.]

Rob Zseleczky on clutter and stuff

My friend Rob Zseleczky shares an insight:

I need less crap, even if it’s great crap.
I know what he means: I pass up books that I would’ve bought without hesitation in years past. Can get from library, says my interior monologue. I too need less crap, even if it’s great crap.


Related posts
Good advice from Rob Zseleczky
“Wanting is big, having is small”

Lawrence Lucie (1907–2009)

“In show business it doesn’t always pay to tell your real age.”

Lawrence Lucie, Guitarist With Jelly Roll Morton, Dies at 102 (New York Times)

Monday, August 17, 2009

I am a California girl.

I wish they all could be California girls.

I’m a girl I’m jealous of all of California.

I have my daughter I California.

I’m a California girl.

I am a California girl.

I am a California girl.
[Fun with Translation Party.]

I have to be Proust.

I’d take Proust.

I do not have to Proust.

I need to Proust.

I have to be Proust.

I have to be Proust.
Watch words travel from English to Japanese back to English at Translation Party. I began with the last three words of a wonderful remark by 1950s quarterback Ronnie Knox: “If I had to make the choice between a month of playing football and a month of reading Marcel Proust, I’d take Proust.”

(via Boing Boing)

“Exercise boosts brain power”

The next time I’m tempted to skip exercising (because it’s too early, too late, too cold, too hot), I’m going to remember the above chart, from the website that supplements John Medina’s Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (Seattle: Pear Press, 2008). Medina’s conclusion:

Active people have half the risk of Alzheimer’s of sedentary people. It’s even less for general dementia.
My conclusion: To sit and read and write, one must keep moving.

“Exercise boosts brain power” is the first rule of Brain Rules, and for me it’s the most valuable lesson in the book. Thanks, Professor Medina.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


[Updated July 8, 2010: see below.]

Lately, we’ve been getting mysterious telephone calls from “CNG” at 702–554–1465. These calls have given us useful practice speaking into a void, repeatedly. Who is CNG?

Google 702–554–1465 and you might wonder for a moment if you've met up with the telephonic equivalent of a numbers station. Other people report odd calls from this number, with no one on the other end and a constant busy signal when they try to return the calls. The number can be tracked to Searchlight, Nevada. How’s that for a cornily mysterious location?

But tonight, CNG spoke to us at last, asking if we wanted to subscribe to a nearby city’s paper. So CNG would be a call center (and my guess is that N is for Newspaper). Now the question becomes how to get off the list.

[Update, August 22, 2009: 702–554–1465 is serviced by Pac-West Telecomm, Inc. Pac-West’s number is 1–800–511–9048. When I called, I was told that Pac-West would send CNG an e-mail asking that my number be removed.

After getting yet another call, I called the paper and spoke to someone who knew nothing about Searchlight, Nevada, but who promised to look into these calls. Today I received a call from “Mobility Services” in Elkhart, Indiana. I was told that the calls are part of an eight-week promotion for 185 newspapers. I asked that my number be removed from the list. My best advice: call your local or nearly local paper(s), describe what’s happening, and ask that your number be removed.

Update, August 29, 2009: No more calls from CNG.]

[Update, July 8, 2010: A reader has passed on a name, telephone number, and e-mail address to which complaints should be directed. I’m uneasy about putting anyone’s name and e-mail address online. But here are the companies in this telemarketing venture:

Crossfire Newspaper Group: 888–852–7923
Jones Boys of Las Vegas: 702–732–4212

Thanks, reader.]

Friday, August 14, 2009


[“Experimental layout by Jan Tschichold, 1948 (assisted by Erik Ellegaard Frederiksen).” From Phil Baines, The Penguin Book: A Cover Story, 1935–2005 (London: Allen Lane, 2005), 56.]

Seeing it out of context, I’d guess “Andy Warhol.”

Related reading
Richard Doubleday, Jan Tschichold at Penguin Books


You might have been there too:

History of 19th-Century Oregon (xkcd)

(If this comic has you stumped: an explanation.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rashied Ali (1935–2009)

From the New York Times’ ArtsBeat Blog:

Rashied Ali, whose expressionistic, free-jazz drumming helped define the experimental style of John Coltrane’s final years, died Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 76.
When I was a teenager, I listened to Coltrane and Ali’s Interstellar Space (recorded in 1967, not released until 1974), again and again and again and again. Here’s a sample, via YouTube.

Julie & Julia & Russ

At a certain point in the wonderful new movie Julie & Julia, there is a plot twist so shocking the audience gasps. Julia Child does something that seems so totally out of character that even on the way out, people were still shaking their heads. “How could she?” Well, that’s one mystery I can solve. I was right there in the middle of it.
Food writer Russ Parsons tells all:

Julie, Julia and me: Now it can be told (Los Angeles Times)

A related post
Julie & Julia

Les Paul (1915–2009)

“A guitar is a great bartender, a great psychiatrist, a great mistress.”
That’s Les Paul speaking, in a years-old newspaper article that’s been sitting on my desk for a few weeks. Les Paul died today in New York.

Les Paul, Guitar Innovator, Dies at 94 (New York Times)

Health Insurance Reform Reality Check

President Barack Obama:

This isn’t about politics. This is about people’s lives. This is about people’s business. This is about our future.
The White House has created a website to combat the toxic legends in the air:

Health Insurance Reform Reality Check (

Whatever one thinks about health care reform (I support a single-payer system), the issues can only be debated and worked out with a reality-based citizenry.

Kirk Douglas is Ulysses, on DVD

Mario Camerini’s 1954 film Ulysses is now available on DVD. I am the proud custodian of a videotape copy, rescued from a going-out-of-business video-rental store.

The film’s a hoot in any format. Kirk Douglas is a plausible Odysseus, wily to the core, though his character lacks the grumbling moodiness that befits a man of constant sorrow. In an inspired bit of casting, Silvana Mangano plays both Circe and Penelope. And Anthony Quinn is the suitors’ ringleader Antinous. Hoo boy!

A related post
Kirk Douglas (1916–2020) (With a still from the film)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


A story in ten drawings and two photographs:

Dungarees (Caroline’s Crayons)

Walter Benjamin on readers and writers

It is a truth universally acknowledged, sort of, that we are all writers now. Walter Benjamin’s observations suggest that we were all writers “then,” too:

For centuries the situation in literature was such that a small number of writers faced many thousands of times that number of readers. Then, towards the end of the last century, there came a change. As the press grew in volume, making ever-increasing numbers of new political, religious, scientific, professional and local organs available to its readership, larger and larger sections of that readership (gradually, at first) turned into writers. It began with the daily newspapers opening their ‘correspondence columns’ to such people, and it has now reached a point where few Europeans involved in the labour process could fail, basically, to find some opportunity or other to publish an experience at work, a complaint, a piece of reporting or something similar. The distinction between writer and readership is thus in the process of losing its fundamental character. That distinction is becoming a functional one, assuming a different form from one case to the next. The reader is constantly ready to become a writer.

“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, trans. A.J. Underwood (London: Penguin, 2008), 22–23.
“The reader is constantly ready to become a writer”: as this post attests. Benjamin here, as at so many other points in this essay, is eerily relevant to our time. What he of course could not foresee was that publication itself would become the work of the everyday citizen online.

“Net yes”

Elaine and I have been volunteering at a soup kitchen this summer, serving hot lunches and making up takeaway sacks. Thus we have become acquainted with hairnets — one of us directly.

The figure to the left appears in Magic Marker on the kitchen’s box of hairnets (“Lightweight Nylon,” “144 / Ct.”) beneath a handwritten explanation, also in Magic Marker:

If your hair is shoulder length you must wear a net.
I like the way this illustration softens what might otherwise be mistaken for the voice of impersonal authority. Seeing this smiling, vaguely Mesopotamian figure has made me smile several times this summer.

What is it like to work at a soup kitchen? Tremendously and unpredictably rewarding — like all volunteer work, I’d say.

Ukulele Beatles Fun!

Yes, you too can learn the uke chords for Beatles songs, at Ukulele Beatles Fun! (“Self-improvement for free.”)

No “Revolution 9” though — I must search on.

[This post is dedicated to my favorite ukulelist and favorite banjoist.]

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

“Editor’s Lament”

The news of prisoners plagiarizing poems prompted Geo-B to comment via a poem of his own. I’ve added it to my previous post, but this poem should have a room of its own:

Editor’s Lament

Whose words these are I think I know
He’s not from cell block seven though
I heard it might be Bobby Frost
Who’s doing time up on death row.

We’re publishing a prison mag
With poems and stories in the bag
It’s “Prose and Cons,” so aptly named
Yet this seems pilfered as a gag.

I’ve read it someplace else I think
But I have plenty time to do
And miles to go before I fink
And miles to go before I fink.
Thanks, George!

Blogging rule of thumb

You need to post more than once a week to have any hope of attracting readers to your blog. Daily postings are even better.

Tom Parker, Rules of Thumb: A Life Manual (New York: Workman Publishing, 2008), 224.
Further reading
Rule of thumb (Wikipedia)

[Yes, this post is very meta.]

Monday, August 10, 2009

Joyce Brabner, writing, recognition

Joyce Brabner is a writer of comics. She occasionally collaborates with her husband Harvey Pekar, most notably in Our Cancer Year, with art by Frank Stack (New York: Four Wall Eight Windows, 1994). In a 1997 interview, Brabner comments on writing and recognition:

We’ve been on tour and the further away we are from Cleveland, the bigger the audience is, more or less. In Minneapolis we met more than a hundred people. In Oberlin, Ohio, maybe forty-five. At Bookseller’s in Shaker Square, which is next to Cleveland Heights, where we live: twenty. By the time we get up to our own door and inide the house, even we’ve forgotten that we’re writers.

Harvey Pekar: Conversations, ed. Michael G. Rhode ((Jackson: University Press of Misssissippi, 2008), 77.

Prisoners plagiarized poems

News from the UK:

The prisoners’ newspaper Inside Time has introduced strict checks on its poetry page because some contributors had copied out well-known poems and submitted them under their own names. . . .

The newspaper, which is published by a charity and distributed to jails across Britain, has warned its readers that each entry will now be vetted in a bid to flush out the cheats.

“We now check every poem selected before going to print,” the newspaper’s editors said in a warning printed in this month’s edition.
Among the items copied, in whole or in part: James Brown’s “King Heroin” and Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

Prison poets caught in plagiarism bid (Telegraph)

Update: Geo-B offers a poem about plagiarized poems (it’s also in the comments):
Editor’s Lament

Whose words these are I think I know
He’s not from cell block seven though
I heard it might be Bobby Frost
Who’s doing time up on death row.

We’re publishing a prison mag
With poems and stories in the bag
It’s “Prose and Cons,” so aptly named
Yet this seems pilfered as a gag.

I’ve read it someplace else I think
But I have plenty time to do
And miles to go before I fink
And miles to go before I fink.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mad Men yourself

You too can do the bidding of our retro overlords by turning yourself into a Mad Men person.

This image is a compromise: the beard color’s a tad optimistic, but hairwise, things look better than they do here.

Other Mad Men posts
Frank O'Hara and Mad Men
Frank O'Hara and Mad Men again
Mad Men and Frank O'Hara (not again)
Poetry and difficulty
Violet candy and Mad Men

[I didn’t say much better.]

Update: Elaine is now a Mad Woman.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Julie & Julia

Elaine and I went to see Julie & Julia today. It’s a wonderful film, full of cooking (really?), enthusiasm, friendship, high spirits, laughter, love, perseverance, and a few tears. It’s a surprisingly sexy movie, with Julia and Paul Child (Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci) and Julie and Eric Powell (Amy Adams and Chris Messina) sharing meals at their respective tables and falling (not graphically) into their respective beds. A few random thoughts:

Meryl Streep as Julia Child is fantastic. Nina and Tim Zagat, who knew Child, agree: “We knew Julia over the years and Streep captured her in every nuance — so much so that from now on, people are likely to remember Streep playing Julia as the real Julia.” Yipes!

As David Frauenfelder has pointed out, Amy Adams seems to be channeling Meg Ryan in this film. The computer-screen closeups with voiceovers (as Powell writes blog posts) recall You’ve Got Mail. Nora Ephron of course wrote and directed both films.

A great bit of dialogue about blogging that I wrote down in the dark: “It’s like being in AA. It gives you something you have to do every day, one day at a time.” Yes, it’s funny because it’s true.

A prediction: sales of Le Creuset cookware are gonna boom. In our kitchen we have a red French oven and equally red pan. They’re going on eight months old. Best cookware ever. And for anyone doing a Google search for brand of cookware used in julia child movie, that’s it, Le Creuset.

One more thought: I’ve read through a dozen or so posts from Julie Powell’s blog The Julie/Julia Project, and I’m not impressed. Chatty, slapdash, too LiveJournal for me. For instance:

We followed the strength of our convictions and went with the Chinese food, then took it back to the apartment and ate it on the floor in front of the TV while drinking vodka tonics and watching the first three episodes of Buffy on DVD.
Uh, no, thanks. I’m a good audience for Nora Ephron’s movie, not for Julie Powell’s blog (or book). Three cheers for Nora Ephron.

A related post
Cabbage soup (A “veganed” version of a Julia Child recipe)

[I’ve corrected the movie’s title, which has an ampersand, not and.]

Friday, August 7, 2009

“Lady Aberlin’s Muumuu”

Singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton:

I always picture her in this one particular blue dress with flowers on it, I have no idea if it’s a muumuu. But she’s pretty and has a pretty voice and she’s so nice to little Daniel Striped Tiger. I’m getting all flushed just thinking about it.
Here’s a lovely tribute in song to Betty Aberlin of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, “Lady Aberlin’s Muumuu.” Click, read, listen, and keep scrolling down for a comment from Lady Aberlin herself.

A related post
Lady Elaine’s can

Windows 7?

Many, many Microsoft XP users have resisted Vista. But perhaps they will move to Windows 7, coming in October?

Microsoft’s chart Upgrading your PC to Windows 7 doesn’t seem to offer much encouragement. As John Gruber says, “That’s a lot of blue boxes.” All upgrades from XP require a “Custom Install.” For some users, that will mean installing Windows 7 on a separate drive or partition to create a multi-boot system. Most users though will want a single operating system on an unpartitioned hard drive. They’ll need to do a clean install — backing up files and settings, wiping the drive, installing Windows 7, reinstalling programs, restoring settings, and moving back all files.

But first, they’ll need to decide which version of Windows 7 to purchase: Home Premium? Professional? Ultimate? Cool Mint?

At which point, they might decide that if there’s a move to make, it’s to a Mac.

Krugman on Rockwell

Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times on “town hall mobs”:

There’s a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom of Speech,” depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating F.D.R.’s “Four Freedoms,” shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don’t like what he’s saying, but they’re letting him speak his mind.
I don’t disagree with the analysis that follows Krugman’s opening paragraph. But just a glance at Rockwell’s painting shows that this description is off: there is no hostility, none, in the faces surrounding the speaker. What’s important in Rockwell’s painting is class: the speaker’s clothes and hands mark him as a “working man,” in clear contrast to the suits beside him and in front of him. He even looks a bit like Abraham Lincoln, which might help to explain why everyone’s paying close attention to what he says.

I wonder what Norman Rockwell would say about the chanting, the shouting, the death threats, all that is hateful and ugly in the “debate” (is it one, really?) over health care.

Reading and not reading in Jersey City

The only stolen object of Grandpa’s that I possess is a dictionary, a Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate edition, which he inscribed to my sister the year I was born: “From Grandpa. Hi Ya Paula. Year — 1965.” The call numbers on the spine and the blue stamp on a back page, which reads FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY JERSEY CITY, N.J., have been crossed out in blue indelible marker, his attempt to legitimize the gift. Grandpa obviously had his own interpretation of the phrase free public library.


In Jersey City, people were actively illiterate and proudly went around saying things like “I never read a book in my life.” They boasted that they had managed to get so far without reading a single page. I wanted to say, Well, good for you, you idiot. Look where you are. You’re still in Jersey City.

Helene Stapinski, Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History (New York: Random House, 2002), 4, 107–108.
Part memoir, part ancestral scrapbook, part cultural history, Five-Finger Discount assembles stories of theft — petty and grand — and violence over several generations of family life and political life in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Jersey City : Helene Stapinski :: Dublin : James Joyce — a city to escape and hate and love.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Budd Schulberg (1914–2009)

From my favorite scene in On the Waterfront (dir. Elia Kazan, 1954), a conversation between Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) and Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint), my transcription:

Terry: Boy, the way those sisters used to whack me, I don’t know what. They thought they was gonna beat an education into me, but I foxed ’em. [Shrugs.]

Edie: Maybe they just didn’t know how to handle you.

Terry: How would you’ve done it?

Edie: With a little more patience and kindness. That’s what makes people mean and difficult — people don’t care enough about them.

Terry: [Long pause.] Aah, what are you, kiddin’ me?

Edie: No.

Terry: Come on, I better get you home. There’s too many guys around here with only one thing on their mind. [Pause.] Am I gonna to see you again?

Edie: [Pause.] What for?

Terry: [Pause.] I don’t know.

Edie: [Pause.] I really don’t know.
Budd Schulberg, who wrote the screenplay, died yesterday.

Budd Schulberg, Screenwriter, Dies at 95 (New York Times)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

“About three lines” again

David Frauenfelder has also posted regarding a choreographer’s assertion that Penelope has “about three lines” in the Odyssey:

Penelope’s three lines — or more (Breakfast with Pandora, “for a diet rich in mythos and logos”)

A related post
“About three lines”? Wrong.

Country, country, or country

Some localites have expressed unhappiness with the variety of musical entertainment offered at summer events. What displeases them is not a lack of variety; rather, they feel that there is too much variety, too many different kinds of music filling the air and ears. One letter to the newspaper suggests that event organizers allow the public to vote on entertainment: “For example three choices of country music.”

Good grief. Even Bob’s Country Bunker (in The Blues Brothers) has both kinds of music, country and western. I have nothing against either. I’m just amused by this localite’s idea of choice.

And I love the word localite, which I picked up from Stephen Calt’s biographies of Skip James and Charlie Patton. I’m happy to get to use it in this post.

Hannah Montana Linux

Q : how did you make such a great OS ;

A : I Thought what would attract young users to Linux and i used that idea and i lot of reading and work ;
Not a joke, though it could be mistaken for one: Hannah Montana Linux. Download and install at your own risk!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Radio Shack renaming

Matthew Shaer comments on Radio Shack’s (ill-advised, I’d say) decision to rename itself The Shack:

“Outhouse,” apparently, was taken. And so was “shanty.”
In other news, Pizza Hut may change its name to The Hut. (No joke.)

“Tests,” “tears”

This morning I made a biennial visit to the eye doctor, where I read the following line, the smallest print on the handheld reading sample:

Reading with my right eye, I aced it. But with my left, it came out like so:

But it makes sense, no? — what with those drops about to be dropped in.

A related post
Signage, misread

Monday, August 3, 2009

“About three lines”? Wrong.

Dance critic Mary Brennan on The Royal Ballet of Flanders’ The Return of Ulysses:

Its choreographer, Christian Spuck, comments wryly that in Homer, which is the inspiration for his clever, witty modern ballet, the faithful Penelope only rates about three lines in the entire Odyssey.
“About three lines”? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Penelope appears in ten of the poem’s twenty-four episodes (and is quoted by the soul of a dead suitor in one more). Like her husband, she is a figure of tremendous resourcefulness and metis [craftiness, cunning, trickery]. She has, after all, resisted for many years the patriarchal imperative that she remarry, puting off her suitors by weaving and unweaving a burial shroud for Odysseus’s father Laertes. Penelope’s colloquy with Odysseus in book 19 is for many readers the poem’s greatest moment, a dazzling and poignant episode-long display of these partners’ homophrosunê [likemindedess]. And in the ancient world, Penelope almost had the last word: some commentators thought 23.287 the fitting end of the poem. It’s Penelope who speaks to Odysseus that line and the one preceding it:
“If the gods are going to grant you a happy old age,
There is hope your troubles will someday be over.”

[Translation by Stanley Lombardo (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000).]
None of these matters have been lost on contemporary classicists, who have devoted considerable attention to Penelope’s role in Homer’s poem. Only someone sans real familiarity with the Odyssey could make the claim that “Penelope only rates about three lines” — or think such a claim wry. Homer’s poem is a far more complicated matter than smug 21st-century assumptions about antiquity and gender might allow.

And speaking of the 21st century, here is a sample of the production’s official description:
Poseidon wears flippers, goggles and a giant tutu while the goddess Athena becomes a tour guide equipped with a megaphone. And as the music of [Henry] Purcell blends effortlessly into Doris Day, tightly choreographed corps-de-ballet becomes revue-style dancing.
Odysseus, help!

Related reading
All Homer posts (via Pinboard)

Tolls and M&M’s

“Soon I had acquired a whole constituency of regular customers”: Fred Kimmerly recounts what happened when, as a toll collector on Connecticut’s Merritt Parkway, he began giving out M&M’s.

Mysteries of the tollbooth

In a comment last month, I wrote that the streetside green boxes where United States Postal Service stores mail are “mysterious in the way that, say, a tollbooth’s interior is mysterious — most people haven’t seen what’s in there.”

I did some searching yesterday, and I stand by my analogy, having failed to find a single photograph revealing a tollbooth’s interior. The Life Photo Archive comes close — but the man talking on the telephone in this photograph is a chief, not a toll collector, and the photograph doesn’t reveal the booth’s contents, at least not to my satisfaction.

The mysteries here are ultra mundane, I know. But still I wondered: What’s the floor like? Is there a pad to ease standing? A step on which to rest one leg? In what sort of chair do sitting toll collectors sit? Is there heat? A clock? What keeps the booth from filling with exhaust fumes? And where, while I’m at it, where do the ducks go when the lagoon in Central Park freezes?

Via Google Book Search, I found answers to some of these questions on page 35 of Albert E. Schaufler's Toll Plaza Design (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1997). Three excerpts:

Booths typically are framed with a plate/rolled steel, stainless steel, or aluminum exterior and interior skin. Most walls are insulated. Most booths are equipped with electric under-the-counter heaters or hot water units. Air conditioning units are distributed equally between booth-mounted units and central systems. . . . Of 21 facilities that reported use of positive ventilation systems (systems that provide pressurized air to a booth to prevent contaminated air from being drawn into the booth), 15 draw fresh air from a remote location. . . .

The booth floor usually consists of concrete poured after the booth is installed in the toll island, covered by a rubber mat to cushion the hard surface, serve as a static protector, and reduce dampness. . . .

In some instances, unusual fixtures or furnishings can be found in booths such as chairs, portable TVs, toilets, sinks, and refrigerators. These booths are generally single-attendant facilities with no utility building. Such a booth, therefore, is sized and equipped to be a “toll house” rather than a toll booth.
I hope that you found yourself uttering the occasional ah or huh while reading these excerpts. Electric under-the-counter heaters: ah. Toilets: huh.

As you may already suspect, Toll Plaza Design does not provide a photograph of a tollbooth interior, much less a photograph of “unusual fixtures or furnishings.” No — all that the book offers is Figure 20, "Typical single-ended toll booth (for collection in one direction of travel)":

[Click for a larger view.]

The veil remains unparted.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


On the New York Times’ online front page:

A man with a fake bomb hidden in a bag tried to board a flight at La Guardia Airport’s central terminal, crippling operations for hours and irritating vacationers.
Irritating? Other participles seem more apt. But take a look at Merriam-Webster’s discussion of irritate and related words.

Mark Trail channels Dante

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

I should read Mark Trail more often.

A related post
When comics collide

Blogger search broken

See the search box at the top left? It’s now broken, at least for many Blogger blogs. Results are often spotty and sometimes non-existent. The problem has become a known issue.

Until the problem’s fixed, you can search a Blogger blog by doing a Google site search, like so: keyword keyword
You can search for individual words or for phrases in quotation marks, as with any Google search.