Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009, last sentences

My second post in 2009 followed a meme that I found at Robert Gable’s aworks: go through your 2008 blog entries and and collect the first sentence from each month. To end the year, I’ve collected the last sentence from each month of 2009. Doing so involves figuring out an answer to an odd question: what to do about December?

The first sentence below comes from a New York Times obituary for George Schneeman. The second, from David Frauenfelder at Breakfast with Pandora. The third, from a poster about the “r-word.” The others are mine.

He was known in an intimate New York circle for his long, fruitful collaborations with a flock of well-known poets, among them Peter Schjeldahl, Anne Waldman, Larry Fagin and Ted Berrigan. 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. Spread the word to end the word.

The group is called Canvas. Et cetera. As they say, “Developing.”

I’m happy to be part of a family in which everybody cooks. Supplies is my word, and has become my family’s word, for all manner of stationery items. Tickets are free. From the Life Photo Archive.

But how could he have left out “I’m Bugged at My Old Man”? But how could he have left out “I’m Bugged at My Old Man”?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bagatelle, bag of shells

A few minutes in Google Books this morning let me know that the comic confusion of “bagatelle” and “bag of shells” long predates The Honeymooners. One example:

Matthew M. Colton, Frank Armstrong at College (New York: Hurst & Company, 1914).

James Madison, Madison’s Budget (Washington, D.C.: Department of Dramatic Activities Among the Soldiers, 1918).
Yes, Madison’s Budget is a minstrel show, and my guess is that this play on words has its origins in minstrelsy. Perhaps it went on to a later life in vaudeville. Perhaps Jackie Gleason heard it in childhood, or as a young man in show business.

Would a mid-1950s Honeymooners audience have recognized Ralph Kramden’s “a mere bag of shells” as an old, old joke on “bagatelle”? Or were the shells just shells by then?

A mere bag of poloponies

Tuesday's New York Times crossword taught me something. The clue for 15-Across: “A ____ bagatelle!” I had the answer, MERE, but the words together made no sense to me. And I was puzzled: isn’t the expression “a mere bag of shells”? I’ve known that expression forever, from the television series The Honeymooners. It’s one of Ralph Kramden’s favorites, along with “Baby, you’re the greatest” and “Bang, zoom.”

The Times Crossword Blog helps out:

Bagatelle is a great word (French from Italian) that can mean a trifle, a billiardslike game or a short, light piece of music. In 1827, Alessandro Manzoni used the phrase “una piccola bagattella,” translated to “a mere bagatelle,” in his widely read novel, The Betrothed.
Aha. Ralph’s catchphrase, like Ed Norton’s poloponies for polo ponies, is a mistake, meant, I assume, to be recognized as such. It’s Ralph trying to appear blasé and looking instead slightly ridiculous. Still, I like “a mere bag of shells.” Suggesting brown paper and peanuts and street vendors, it fits the Kramden world well.

Why, you may ask, was Norton talking about polo ponies? He was reading a script while rehearsing a play for the Raccoon Lodge: “I don’t possess a mansion, a villa in France, a yacht, or a string of poloponies.”

A related post
More on “bagatelle,” “bag of shells” (An old, old joke)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Orange timer art

Elaine gave me this timer. It’s solid, solid as a rock, and accurate, with a mellow tick and stately ring. And perfect for practicing the Pomodoro Arancia Technique.

Thank you, Elaine.

[With apologies to Ashford and Simpson.]

Robert Frost, taking attendance

The city of Methuen, Massachusetts, is seeking a $3,000 grant to preserve an 1893 attendance register. Robert Frost kept the register while teaching at Methuen’s Second Grammar School.

Three details I notice:

The students’ ages appear to be marked in years and months — 12-3, 13-11. Common practice?

Absences appear to be marked by the half-day.

“T” must stand for good old “tardy.”

Methuen seeking $3,000 to preserve Robert Frost document (Boston Globe)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Clifford Hicks’s new Alvin Fernald novel

Clifford B. Hicks. Alvin Fernald’s Incredible Buried Treasure. Cynthiana, KY: Purple House Press, 2009. $17.95.

Alvin Fernald, a brainy, excitable boy with a knack for adventure, is the hero of nine novels published between 1960 and 1986. The second, Alvin’s Secret Code (1963), was the formative book of my childhood. The news that Clifford Hicks, now eighty-nine, has written a tenth Alvin Fernald novel seems to me like news one gets in a dream, though the news came in an e-mail from Mr. Hicks to his many correspondents.

Alvin’s Secret Code seems to have helped inspire this new novel. Here as there, a visitor comes to Riverton, Indiana, with a story from the past. Here as there, a cryptic message points to the location of a Civil War treasure. In Alvin’s Secret Code though, the visitor’s story is contained within a chapter. Here, the past becomes the substance of the novel, in the form of a journal written by Caleb Getme, a (fictional) young man who escaped slavery and went on to live in the White House and later work as a printer. Caleb’s journal is a compelling invention, one that would bring many a young reader into contact with some of the brutality and bravery of the American past. The journal accounts for more than half the novel’s pages, which means that there’s less of Alvin, his family, and his friend Shoie here than a reader might have hoped for. I wondered whether Alvin’s father would still be smoking a pipe in 2009, but Mr. and Mrs. Fernald are nearly invisible. Alvin’s sister Daphne though is an especially bright and lively presence, doing yoga and displaying her knowledge as a dictionary reader. And the novel reveals how Alvin and Shoie met and became best friends, something I don’t recall reading about elsewhere.

What I like most about Alvin Fernald’s Incredible Buried Treasure is its author’s wise refusal to march his characters into the twenty-first century. Alvin’s room has an Inventing Bench, not a computer. No one owns a cellphone. Yet nothing seems to be missing. Mysteries are solved not online but with face-to-face interviews, visits to the local historical society, and kid power. Here's what Professor Liam O’Harra, whose visit sparks the story, says about Alvin, Shoie, and Daphne:

“Your father and several other residents of Riverton have told me you kids know more about the layout of the town and its surroundings than anyone else. You ride your bikes tirelessly around it from one end to the other, day after day.”
The heck with Google Earth. In Riverton, Indiana, kids on bikes still rule. Clifford Hicks thus reinvents both past and present in this novel. I hope that Alvin Fernald’s Incredible Buried Treasure finds its way to Alvin fans both young and nearly young.

Thanks, Rachel and Ben, for such a great gift.

Related posts
Clifford B. Hicks (1920–2010)
Out of the past (On reading Alvin’s Secret Code in adulthood)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Weekly World News in Google Books

I think of the Weekly World News as a contemporary Metamorphoses. (Sorry, Ovid.) In this newspaper, poodles turn into children; statues walk and talk. Can you prove that it didn’t happen?

Found by chance: many issues of the Weekly World News can be had at Google Books.

“Child Obeys Xmas Text.”

[New York Times, December 26, 1909.]

Brake-beam: “a horizontal beam or rod on a wagon or railroad car that operates the brake shoes” (Webster's Third New International). “Brake-beam tourists” were those riding the rails.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Rocking the home

Our family played music at a local nursing home this afternoon, as we have for many Christmases. I played guitar and soprano uke; Elaine, viola and sopranino recorder; Rachel, violin; Ben, cello. We use a book of Christmas music marked with Post-it Notes and play the songs we like, some sacred and some secular, ending late in the alphabet with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” As often as I've had this experience, I’m still always amazed to see nursing home residents grow more engaged and animated as they listen to music.

Today was an especially good day, and after playing what we thought was our last number, we had a request, for “Silver Bells.” We winged it (in D). And then we tried a number we had chickened out on earlier in the afternoon, “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree,” which Elaine calls as the most persistent holiday earworm of all. We had a blast, in, yes, a new old-fashioned way: uke, viola, slap-cello, and Rachel and Ben’s voices. I can say in all modesty that we rocked the house, or home.

A related post
Music memory

Merry Christmas

[From Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962).]

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, from Ebenezer, the Cratchits, and me.

Related reading
A 166-Year-Old Manuscript Reveals Its Secrets (On the Christmas Carol manuscript, New York Times)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Inappropriate metaphor

My son Ben caught it: “MSNBC just called the midwest ‘the nation’s midsection.’”

Related reading
All metaphor posts (Pinboard)

Father Knows Best Christmas episode

From the first season of Father Knows Best, “The Christmas Story,” first broadcast on December 19, 1954. The Andersons’ strange encounter with old Nick becomes even stranger when you know that the actor playing Nick is Wallace Ford, probably best known as Phroso in Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932). Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Verizon data charges

I’ve been awaiting our Verizon bill, curious to see if it would include data charges of the sort that David Pogue has been writing about. The bill arrived today, with $5.97 of such charges, all from hitting a key on a new phone by accident. So I called Verizon and asked that the charges be dropped. I was told that accessing the Verizon Wireless Mobile Web homepage incurs no charge, though that’s just how we incurred these charges. A bit of argument back and forth, and our bill is now back to its usual amount.

Verizon’s number: 1-800-922-0204.

A related post
Verizon’s $1.99 typos

Corrections of the Times

From the New York Times Corrections column:

A stollen recipe last Wednesday misstated the amount of active dry yeast in ounces. It is a quarter ounce, equal to one package, not 1 3/4 ounces.

["Pioneer Women," I Love Lucy. March 31, 1952.]

Lucy’s recipe called for three — not thirteen — cakes of yeast.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fifty-seven business clichés

In an 11 X 17 illustration:

Visual business cliché find-it poster (EXPLANE)

For Seth: “Bandwidth” included.

A related post
Words I can live without

(Found via Coudal Partners)

Pogue v. Verizon, continued

New York Times technology columnist David Pogue responds to Verizon’s response to his recent criticism of the company’s business practices.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Illinois Central Railroad Pencil

Great pencil!


But you’re going to have to say an awful lot to match its length.

Don’t I know it. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Wait a minute — you’re an English teacher. Aren’t you supposed to avoid clichés?

Ordinarily, yes. But rules are made to —

Just stop right there. So what’s the story on this pencil?

Wish I knew. I found and bought it at a used-furniture and junk store in an Illinois village some years ago. My guess is that this pencil was made for railroad use. The odd designation “FORM NO. 520” does not suggest a traveler’s souvenir.

And there’s no eraser. Not a very friendly pencil.

Perhaps that’s a reminder not to make mistakes. “Service with safety,” after all.

The Illinois Central — is that important to you as an Illinoisan?

Sort of. Elaine and I —


Excuse me: my wife Elaine. Elaine and I and our daughter Rachel rode on the Illinois Central line (or what once was the I.C.) when we spent a summer in Chicago’s Hyde Park some years ago. And Elaine and I have traveled to Chicago on The City of New Orleans, formerly an I.C. train, now Amtrak. But what really interests and excites me about the Illinois Central Railroad is its place in music.

Yes, of course. [Begins to sing, slightly offkey.] “Good mornin’, America, how are —”

Yes, that’s a great song. But I’m more interested in the role that the I.C. plays in blues lyrics. Here, listen to this podcast about it.

[Twenty-one minutes later.]

That was a good show. I didn’t know that Casey Jones was an Illinois Central engineer.

Well, you learn something new every day. Let me add one more song, full of train effects: Bukka White’s “The Panama Limited.” The Panama was another I.C. train.

Who knew that a post about a pencil would turn into a post about railroads and music?

Not me.

[This post is the seventh 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
Dennison's Gummed Labels No. 27
Fineline erasers
A Mad Men sort of man, sort of
Mongol No. 2 3/8
Real Thin Leads
Rite-Rite Long Leads

More on the Illinois Central
The Illinois Central Railroad, Main Line of Mid-America (American Rails)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

SMiLE, #1

Metacritic lists SMiLE (2004), music by Brian Wilson, words by Van Dyke Parks, as the best-reviewed recording of the aughts (2000–2009). Read all about it:

The Best Music of the Decade (Metacritic)
SMiLE reviews (Metacritic)

Stealing books

From a Margo Rabb essay on book theft:

“It’s mostly younger men stealing the books,” Zack Zook, the general manager of BookCourt in Brooklyn, suggested. “They think it’s an existential rite of passage to steal their homeboy.”

Steal These Books (New York Times)
Even in my little town, the barely solvent bookstore had to keep Charles Bukowksi and Jack Kerouac at the front desk.

Reader, have you ever stolen a book? Me, never.


My friend Linda pointed me to this beautiful story:

Boy Lifts Book; Librarian Changes Boy’s Life (NPR)

(Thanks, Linda!)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Geo-B’s art

Geo-B, a longtime reader of this blog, was in the hospital recently with a broken leg. He turned his stay into sixteen pictures. Take a look:

Two and a Half Weeks at the Rehabiliation Hospital

I especially like the grilled cheese and the ramp.

To George, I offer Duke Ellington’s wishes in such situations: Merry mending.

A related post
“Editor’s Lament” (A poem by the artist)

Domestic comedy

“I wonder how the word nut came to refer to people like me.”

The Oxford English Dictionary has the answer:

7. colloq. (orig. U.S.).

a. A mad or crazy person; an eccentric, a crank.

1908 H. C. FISHER in San Francisco Examiner 23 Nov. 6 (comic strip) They’ll just think I’m some old nut.
Related reading
All “domestic comedy” posts

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gingerbread film

A short film by Eric Slatkin and Blake Smith: A Gingerbread Home for the Holidays. Very sweet.

(Found via Coudal Partners)

YouTube download script

“Lightweight and unobtrusive,” as its creator says: YouTube Video Download.

This script is the best tool I’ve found for saving YouTube clips. It works with Greasemonkey, Chrome 4, and Opera 10.

Related resources
Greasemonkey (Firefox add-on)
How to run Greasemonkey scripts in Safari (Simple Help)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Library slip (1941, 1992)

Such slips aren’t easy to find: even neglected books (stenography, typewriter repair) seem to have shiny new slips, with no stamped due dates. Library staff no doubt replace the old slips when crawling the stacks.

I’d like to think that the 1992 borrower gave this slip’s book a reprieve from the DISCARD stamp.

A related resource
Catalog Card Generator

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dylan, Cooder, Parks

From the History Channel’s The People Speak, Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, and Van Dyke Parks performing a Woody Guthrie song:

“Do Re Mi” (YouTube)

Aunt Maud’s clippings

Commentator Charles Kinbote notes several items in poet John Shade’s Aunt Maud’s room:

Among these was a scrapbook in which over a period of years (1937–1949) Aunt Maud had been pasting clippings of an involuntarily ludicrous or grotesque nature. John Shade allowed me one day to memorandum the first and the last of the series; they happened to intercommunicate most pleasingly, I thought. Both stemmed from the same family magazine Life, so justly famed for its pudibundity in regard to the mysteries of the male sex; hence one can well imagine how startled or titillated those families were. The first comes from the issue of May 10, 1937, p. 67, and advertises the Talon Trouser Fastener (a rather grasping and painful name, by the way). It shows a young gent radiating virility among several ecstatic lady-friends, and the inscription reads: You’ll be amazed that the fly of your trousers could be so dramatically improved. The second comes from the issue of March 28, 1949, p. 126, and advertises Hanes Fig Leaf Brief. It shows a modern Eve worshipfully peeping from behind a potted tree of knowledge at a leering young Adam in rather ordinary but clean underwear, with the front of his advertised brief conspicuously and compactly shaded, and the inscription reads: Nothing beats a fig leaf.

I think there must exist a special subversive group of pseudo-cupids — plump hairless little devils whom Satan commissions to make disgusting mischief in sacrosanct places.

Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (1962)
Used to be a reader went to the periodical stacks in a library to find those advertisements (as I did, last century). But now they may be had via Google Books.

Aunt Maud’s room also holds a clipping of the newspaper headline “Red Sox Beat Yanks 5–4 On Chapman’s Homer.” Yes, Chapman’s Homer.

Pale Fire, a novel in the form of a critical edition of a poem, is one of my favorite novels.

[Pudibundity: bashfulness; prudery.]

Monday, December 14, 2009

Library book returned after fifty-four years

Frank Lancellotti has returned the New Spanish-English and English-Spanish Dictionary to the Jersey City Free Public Library. He borrowed the book as a college student fifty-four years ago — on another patron’s card.

Man returns Jersey City library book 54 years late (Star-Ledger)

A related post
Reading and not reading in Jersey City (Another dictionary gone missing)

Sunday, December 13, 2009


My son Ben’s thoughts about structuring study time and my curiosity about the Pomodoro Technique prompted me to look closely today at Philippe Galmel’s Minuteur, a timer and stopwatch application for the Mac. Minuteur seems especially well suited for trying out the Pomodoro Technique, as the application allows the user to chain alarms in a sequence. Thus someone serving a long stretch at the computer could set up alarms for several Pomodoros: twenty-five minutes, four minutes, twenty-five, four, and so on.

Another nice feature: Minuteur can display time (remaining or accumulating) in the menu bar, as a bar, counter, or ruler. Want to check your stuff (as we say in my house) and spend just ten minutes online without beginning to drift? That timer ticking away (silently or with a tick-tock effect) can help.

[Tick, tick, tick: Minuteur in the menu bar.]

Minuteur is free to try for twenty-one days. The cost of a license: €5.90. My only connection to the application is that of a happy user.

Minuteur (Developer’s website)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

More finals advice

My son Ben passes on two suggestions:

First, I found this great free Timer application for the Mac. You can use it as a stopwatch, to countdown, or as an alarm clock. For instance, I can set it to run for forty minutes; when that time is up, the application starts up my iTunes visual screensaver and I know it’s time to take a break. I do the same thing to time my break. Here’s the link: Apimac Timer.

The second tip is a little alteration of your 45/15 rule about studying. I’ve found it’s fun to increase the amount of time you’re studying and reduce the amount of time you’re taking a break each time. So for instance, one of my first sequences ran like this: 50 minutes studying, 6 minute break. The next one was 55 minutes studying, 4 minutes taking a break. It’s a way to increase your productivity in a gradual way, and it’s very easy to do with the Timer application.
Thanks, Ben!

A recent post at TUAW will lead the curious reader to a variety of Mac (and Windows) timers.

A related post

For finals week

How to do horribly on a final exam
How to do well on a final exam

[Nancy panel by Ernie Bushmiller. Found while playing Five-Card Nancy.]

Friday, December 11, 2009

Harvard in Allston

Harvard University in the news:

Harvard announced Thursday that it would indefinitely suspend construction on a high-tech science complex in the Allston neighborhood of Boston because of money problems.

“The altered financial landscape of the university, and of the wider world, necessitates a shift away from rapid development in Allston,” Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s president, wrote in a letter released Thursday. . . .

In her letter, Dr. Faust said Harvard would step up efforts to revitalize Allston, a gritty neighborhood wedged between the Charles River and the Massachusetts Turnpike, even as it delayed the science center.
Correction: only part of Allston is wedged between the Charles and the Mass Pike. But all of Allston is gritty. I am happy to have spent three years in that famous ZIP code, 02134.

A related post
Its and it’s (Harvard, Allston, mistakes)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Walt Mossberg reviews the Nook

His conclusion: “It's not fully baked yet.”

Is Mossberg referencing Benjamin Braddock’s conversation with his father in The Graduate? (“Ben, this whole idea sounds pretty half-baked.” “No, it’s not. It's completely baked.”) Or is this metaphor (completely baked, fully baked, as opposed to half-baked) now just part of everyday language?

A Review of the Nook E-Reader (Wall Street Journal)

David Pogue reviews the Nook

His conclusion: Barnes & Noble has a “bad case of Ship-at-All-Costs-itis.”

Not Yet the Season for a Nook (New York Times)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buster Cooper

“It was almost like a marriage, really — you understand what I’m saying? It was always there.”
Trombonist Buster Cooper, on the closing of St. Petersburg’s Garden Restaurant, where he has played for fifteen years. Cooper, who spent most of the 1960s with Duke Ellington, is now eighty, and one of the last Ellingtonians. As the clip accompanying the article makes clear, he still sounds great.

Jazz legend Buster Cooper's Garden gig nearing an end in St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg Times)

Uncle Mark 2010

The 2010 edition of the Uncle Mark Gift Guide & Almanac is now available as a free PDF download from Mark Hurst, consumer-experience consultant and creator of Good Experience. The 2010 guide offers single buying recommendations in various categories, along with useful and sometimes surprising tips and tricks. (Turn your index finger into a magnifying glass!)

A related post
Review of Mark Hurst’s Bit Literacy

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

“Dissertation Writing Help”

My post What plagiarism looks like now draws spam comments offering shady URLs for “Dissertation Writing Help,” “Research Assistance,” &c. Sigh. Delete.

A related post
“Plagiarism free” (Purchase your own “plagiarism free” dissertation)

Dentistry at dawn

I like our dentist. He’s eighty years old, an ace, and he’s been our family’s dentist for twenty-five years. He is the only dentist our children have ever known. His workday starts early and ends early. When the phone rings at 6:30 in the morning, it’s his office, wondering if we’d like to come in earlier because a spot has opened up.

Elaine and I have been thinking about how to break it to certain other members of the family that our group visit to the dentist later this month has been scheduled for 7:00 A.M. And thus I have written this post. We’re sorry, kids. It was the best time we could get.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Harlem Children’s Zone

Last night 60 Minutes reported on the Harlem Children’s Zone. Watch here.

The Michigan Theater

Ozymandias alert: the Michigan Theater, a once-glorious theater in Detroit, now houses parked cars. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

The theater is the subject of a Flickr set by photographer James D. Griffioen.

Update, March 6, 2010: The New York Times reports an effort to save the building: Seeking a Future for a Symbol of a Grander Past.

Related reading and viewing
James D. Griffioen (the photographer’s website)
Michigan Theater (Wikipedia article)

(Thanks, Rachel! And thanks, Shelley.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Harry Potter and college

High-school senior Lauren Edelson objects to a cynical new strategy in college marketing:

Back when I was a junior, before I’d printed off an application or visited a campus, I had high expectations for the college application process. I’d soak up detailed descriptions of academic opportunity and campus life — and by the end of it, I’d know which college was right for me. Back then, I knew only of these institutions and their intimidating reputations, not what set each one apart from the rest. And I couldn’t wait to find out.

So I was surprised when many top colleges delivered the same pitch. It turns out, they’re all a little bit like Hogwarts — the school for witches and wizards in the Harry Potter books and movies. Or at least, that’s what the tour guides kept telling me.
Read more:

Taking the Magic Out of College (New York Times)

I’ll suggest an acronym for this sort of marketing strategy: TLC. Not “Tender Loving Care” but “Treat ’em Like Children.”

Saturday, December 5, 2009

William Meehan update

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that charges of plagiarism against Jacksonville State University president William Meehan have no place in a lawsuit over ownership of a plant collection. [Sic.]

Read all about it:

Court stops plagiarism claim against JSU president (Gadsden Times)

Related posts
Plagiarism in the academy
Boening, Meehan, plagiarism
What plagiarism looks like

Friday, December 4, 2009

Google Public DNS

Google at work: “Google Public DNS is a free, global Domain Name System (DNS) resolution service, that you can use as an alternative to your current DNS provider.” According to Google, Google Public DNS provides greater speed and security than the DNS resolution available from ISPs (Internet Service Providers).

I set up Google Public DNS on my MacBook this afternoon (it took no more than ten seconds) and have found that browsing is faster. Much faster. Much, much faster.

Read more:

Google Public DNS (Google Code)
Using Google Public DNS (Google Code)

Jim Lehrer’s journalistic guidelines

He read them tonight, the final night of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, which on Monday becomes the PBS NewsHour:

Do nothing I cannot defend.

Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.

Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.

Assume the viewer is as smart and as caring and as good a person as I am.

Assume the same about all people on whom I report.

Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.

Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label everything.

Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.

I am not in the entertainment business.
I found these guidelines online in a 2007 commencement address Lehrer gave at Wesleyan University. I’m imagining him reading these guidelines not to college graduates but to fellow journalists. They are for the most part not listening. But I’m looking forward to seeing Jim Lehrer on television again on Monday night.

A related post
Jim Lehrer's Post-it Notes

More on the PBS NewsHour
Launching the PBS NewsHour (PBS)
Stressing the Web, NewsHour Begins an Overhaul (New York Times)

Edward Tufte on PowerPoint in schools

The core ideas of teaching — explanation, reasoning, finding things out, questioning, content, evidence, credible authority not patronizing authoritarianism — are contrary to the cognitive style of PowerPoint. And the ethical values of teachers differ from those engaged in marketing.

Especially disturbing is the introduction of PowerPoint into schools. Instead of writing a report using sentences, children learn how to decorate client pitches and infomercials, which is better than encouraging children to smoke. Student PP exercises (as seen in teachers’ guides and in student work posted on the internet) typically show 5 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation consisting of 3 to 6 slides — a total of perhaps 80 words (20 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Rather than being trained as mini-bureaucrats in the pitch culture, students would be better off if schools closed down on PP days and everyone went to The Exploratorium. Or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.

Edward Tufte, Beautiful Evidence (Chesire, CT: Graphics Press, 2006), 161.
This passage is revised from Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint (2003).

Related reading
Edward Tufte’s website

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Words I can live without

A spontaneous list: bluesy, craft (as a verb), critique (as a noun or verb, unless you’re Immanuel Kant in translation), eatery, gravitas (unless you’re a Roman), hereby, hone (as a metaphor), indicate, jazzy, quality (as an adjective), richly, subtle.

These words can annoy one at a time, as in a New York Times headline this morning: “Sundance Tries to Hone Its Artsy Edge.” Several of these words together can make things unbearable. A made-up example:

The poems are already richly crafted, but they still could benefit from subtle critique.
You are hereby invited to craft your own list in a comment.

A related post
Some Enchanted Evening (“words never to use in a poem”)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Christmas Carol manuscript online

[My own, and only MS of the Book / Charles Dickens]

The manuscript of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is online at the New York Times:

A Christmas Rewrite, as Dickens Edits Dickens
A Christmas Carol, the manuscript

A related post
Disney’s Dickens’s A Christmas Carol

How to try the new Google

Not a joke but a redesign:

How to Try the New Google Search (Gizmodo)

The sidebar is handy, but those blue buttons — yecch.

(Thanks, Rachel!)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Movie recommendation: Forever

directed by Heddy Honigmann
French with English subtitles
95 minutes

The simplest description of Heddy Honigmann’s Forever: a film about a cemetery, Père-Lachaise in Paris, resting place of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, among many others. But the film travels elsewhere, to the Louvre, to an apartment where three sightless friends take in a Simone Signoret film (yes, she’s buried in Père-Lachaise), to Stéphane Heuet’s study for a conversation about adapting Proust into comic books, to a mortuary to watch an embalmer at work. The film, Honigmann tells a visitor to the cemetery, is to be “about the importance of art in life.” But it isn’t always: it is sometimes about death, plain and painful. The film makes room for cemetery visitors who speak of their private losses, some with equanimity, one with grief so immediate and painful that one suspects Honigmann could not have anticipated it.

T.S. Eliot, in a preface to his translation of Saint-John Perse’s poem Anabasis (1930):

The reader has to allow the images to fall into his memory successively without questioning the reasonableness of each at the moment; so that, at the end, a total effect is produced.

Such selection of a sequence of images and ideas has nothing chaotic about it. There is a logic of the imagination as well as a logic of concepts.
Forever is a film that seems to have been constructed on that modernist principle of composition by juxtaposition of elements. The elements holding the film together are many: scenes of a pianist at work, first practicing, then performing; stories of exile, from Iran and Spain; stories of forgotten poets and singers; stories from daughters of their fathers; images of flowers and water bottles; contrasts of the famous and unknown. A preternaturally young-looking old woman appears and reappears, caring for the grave sites of those whom she admires (Guillaume Apollinaire, Sadegh Hedayat, Proust). An Ingres fan in the Louvre and an embalmer in the cemetery speak in identical terms of the relationship between paintings and reality. And Honigmann joins in uncanny ways women's faces — the pianist, an Ingres portrait, a Modigliani portrait, a woman being embalmed, life and death and art blurring together.

My favorite moment in Forever: Honigmann’s conversation with a student who has traveled from South Korea to bring cookies to Proust’s grave. Proust, he explains, has been food for his brain. He has been reading Proust for ten years, in Korean, it would seem. He has no French; Honigmann, no Korean. He struggles in English, and Honigmann asks him to talk in Korean about what Proust means to him. And the subtitles disappear. It’s the strangest moment in a strange and beautiful film.

Forever is available on DVD.

[In an interview that accompanies the film, Honigmann explains that she chose to omit a translation of the student’s remarks so that the Korean-less viewer must imagine what’s being said.]