Sunday, October 31, 2010

Virginia Heffernan on the telephone

Virginia Heffernan mourns the disappearing analog telephone call:

You’d endure the long brrrings with a pleasant stirring of nerves, a little stage fright. As many as 10. To give the household a chance to rally. On “Hello?” you’d identify yourself and ask after the person whose voice in your ear you, having waited, now profoundly desired. In the absence of the grammatical spasm of “This is she,” you’d learn whether your friend was “in” or “out” or somewhere in between (weird parents sometimes said “indisposed”), while your patience was casually requested (“Hold on a sec; she’s in the den”). You’d express thanks for the answerer’s good offices. More waiting. Offstage noise. Voilà. Up would come the voice.
A telephone memory of mine, c. 1969–1970: spending hours on the line with my friend Chris, trading particularly ludicrous bits of commercial art from the Yellow Pages: “Page 347!” “Page 562!”

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mmm . . . arm

[Somewhere in east-central Illinois. Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wooden phone booths

Long may they stand: wooden phone booths, from Ephemeral New York.

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, October 29, 2010.]

“‘What?’” is right.

Has the kitchen sneaked into the living room, or is it the other way around? (’Cause that is indeed the dang living room in the first panel, and that is indeed the dang front door.)

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts
The all-in-one room

Thursday, October 28, 2010

“[A] great reality test”

The late Richard T. Gill, economist and opera singer:

“Performing is a great reality test. There’s no tenure in it and the feedback is much less complicated than you get in academia. When you go out on that stage, you put your life on the line.”
[Don’t miss Elaine Fine’s comment, in the, uh, comments.]

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

HTTPS Everywhere

If you use Firefox and log in to websites on open wireless networks, you should install the extension HTTPS Everywhere. The extension Firesheep will help you understand why (and leave you plenty scared).

As for Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari: the Electronic Frontier Foundation, developer of HTTPS Everywhere, has nothing available, at least not yet.

A “wheelchair dude” in our Macs

Our daughter Rachel brought to her family’s attention the item above, found in the digital version of the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (1st edition), standard software on a Mac. When I read the sentence that caught Rachel’s eye — “I observed this wheelchair dude in the vestibule waiting for me” — I was baffled. I wrote back: This is in our computers?! Sure enough, it is. Our son Ben said I should write about it.

Apple’s not responsible for this sentence of course. Oxford University Press is. As Rachel discovered, the sentence has been noticed before, in the spirit of ha! and WTF. But there’s nothing, really, that’s funny here, aside perhaps from the incongruity of dude and vestibule appearing in the same sentence. As Rachel points out, the phrase “wheelchair dude” is the exact opposite of what’s called person-first language, phrasing that takes care not to equate a person with a condition. (Consider, for example, the difference between “He’s LD” and “He has a learning disability.”) Contra Wikipedia’s article on person-first language (written or revised by an expert in ax-grinding), that kind of care in language is hardly a matter of “politically correct linguistic prescriptivism.” It’s really no more than respectful common sense.

What were those Oxford dudes smoking?


August 21, 2012: Now I wonder if David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest helps to explain this sentence, which has disappeared from the Mac’s OATW. Infinite Jest is filled with men, dangerous men, in wheelchairs. I’m thinking in particular of a scene in the novel in which Rémy Marathe, posing as a survey-taker, sits in a hotel hallway and knocks on a door. The only vestibules in IJ though are found at the Enfield Tennis Academy. Is this “wheelchair dude” waiting for Hal Incandenza?

Wallace contributed a couple of dozen notes on usage to the OAWT, at least some of which are available in the Mac’s version of the thesaurus.

September 18, 2012: It turns out that this sentence has nothing to do with Infinite Jest. Here is an explanation from Judy Pearsall, Editorial Director, Dictionaries, at Oxford University Press:
In answer to your question, the original quote comes from a 1983 memoir called Hey Cabbie, by Thaddeus Logan. It appeared, as you point out, as an example of usage of the word ‘observe’ in the first edition of the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. In the second and third editions the same sense is illustrated by two different quotations:
– every time he looked at her now, he observed something new
– other behavioral problems have been observed in our patient population
Oxford has the largest language programme in the world and we use real examples of use to illustrate how words are used in our dictionaries. Examples are selected for a range of reasons, including typicality of use, helpful illustration, and so on. We don’t aim to censor examples according to the view of the writer, political or otherwise. However, if an example is distracting because of unusual or colourful language, then it’s not really doing its job of illustrating the word in question, in this case ‘observe’. That’s why, when we reviewed it, we decided to change it.
She adds, “I like your hypothesis about DFW but the truth of it may be more prosaic.”

Is it ever. It didn’t occur to me that this sentence might have had a source. Had I thought to check Google Books, I would have found it:

Thanks to Erin McKean for forwarding my query, and thanks to Judy Pearsall for the explanation and for permission to quote it.

A related post
DFW, thesaurus entries

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


From Life, July 21, 1941:

[Click for a larger view.]

Let’s read together. Yes, out loud:

There are enough troubles in this old world . . . enough chores . . . enough worries . . . enough things to frown about . . . What this country needs is more things to smile about.

Here’s one of those things — plump, homey, jolly looking sausage.

When a sausage smiles at you, you smile right back. When it’s on the table, noon or night, it makes the next joke laugh better, the time pass faster. You eat it because you like it, and you like it because it’s good.

Sausage products are good, wholesome meat foods, full of carefully selected meats expertly blended with delicate spices. Easy to serve as bread and easy to digest.

Sausage is a good source of the complete proteins and minerals of meat which your body does not store to any extent, hence are needed regularly.

And vitamins too — that good liver sausage (braunschweiger or liverwurst) is not only rich in the B vitamins but brings you vitamin A and vitamin D as well.

You’ve known liver sausage cold — now try it hot with bacon or grilled tomatoes.

Forget the troubles of the world — serve yourself some sausage — good liver sausage or friendly frankfurters; salami sausage or bologna, just so it’s sausage.

It’s a pleasure on a platter, pride of the picnic, center of a sandwich, and it’s a treasure in the refrigerator when you’re hunting for that midnight snack.

It’s friendly to look at. It’s friendlier to taste.

This is Sausage. This is Fun. This is Yours.
Those last three sentences are beautiful, no? I have a deep feeling for liverwurst, as I confessed in this post. But I must take issue with this one of this advertisement’s assertions: if and when a piece of liverwurst smiles at me, I will know that it’s time to ask for help — and not at a delicatessen counter.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Coming soon: fun

Coming later today soon: a 1940s advertisement for a product that promises fun, fun, fun for all. If anyone would like to play Twenty Questions in the comments, here are a couple three hints:

It’s not an alcoholic beverage.

It’s not a cigarette (or other tobacco product).

It may be enjoyed by adults and children.

Update, 9:32 p.m.: Questions are now piling up in the comments, so I’ll wait until tomorrow to reveal the ad. Ask away, if you dare!

Update: October 26, 12:18 p.m.: The mystery product is liverwurst, and it’s Gunther of Lexikaliker for the win. He guessed “sausage.” Thanks to everyone for playing.

[“A couple three”: that’s an Illinoism.]

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The New York Times Subway Issue

The Subway in Pictures, 1917–2010, from a special Subway Issue of the New York Times.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jane Austen’s punctuation

From the Guardian:
The truth universally acknowledged, that Jane Austen was one of the most pristine literary stylists of all time, has been exploded: her punctuation was erratic, her use of capital letters eclectic and her paragraph breaks often nonexistent.
The above passage, from the manuscript of Persuasion, makes me think of Emily Dickinson’s fascicles.

A related post
Strawberry stream of dialogue (From Emma, sounding like James Joyce)

Friday, October 22, 2010

“[S]omething to be tolerated”

John Dodig, a student at Connecticut College:

Our generation is wired and well connected — that’s not a bad thing. But we’re creeping toward a point where college life is more about being social and less about being intellectually engaged. The whole point of having a laptop in class should be to expand scholarship and increase efficiency, but I’ve found that they’re having the opposite effect. Strangely enough, classes have become something to be tolerated rather than the reason we’re here.
Read more:

A Look at Laptops in the Classroom (The College Voice)

(Found via University Diaries)

“Fonts” podcast

From Wisconsin Public Radio’s To the Best of Our Knowledge: “Fonts,” with Nicholson Baker, Matthew Carter, Kitty Burns Florey, Tobias Frere-Jones, Jonathan Hoefler, and Tracy Honn.

My favorite moment, Nicholson Baker’s comment on the Kindle: “I think that this machine was developed by people who weren’t really book people.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Five sentences about the driver

“Did you see that guy?”

“He’s unbelievable!”

“What a lunatic!”


“––––––– ––––––– –––––––!”

[Ever since I posted a commentary on five sentences from Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, Internauts searching for five sentences (that is, their homework) have been ending up at Orange Crate Art. Five sentences about the driver is the latest such search. This post is rated “S” for salty language, or for the suggestion thereof.]

Other “five sentences” posts
Bleak House : The cat : Clothes : Life : Life on the moon : The past (1) : The past (2) : The ship : Smoking : The telephone

David Pogue reviews
Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac

“You knew about these bugs, but you’re selling this software anyway?”

Office for Mac Isn’t an Improvement (New York Times)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Students and books

“It wouldn’t be the same without books”: Faton Begolli, college sophomore. Read more:

In a Digital Age, Students Still Cling to Paper Textbooks (New York Times)

A few related posts
From the Doyle edition (A marked-up page from college)
No Kindle for me
Smell of Books™

“Stories from This American Life

My daughter Rachel passes on a fine parody of This American Life: “Stories from This American Life,” by The Kasper Hauser Comedy Project.

Thanks, Rachel!

Emily Dickinson’s gingerbread cake

From a recipe in the poet’s handwriting: Emily Dickinson’s gingerbread cake (Boston Globe).

As the recipe includes only a list of ingredients, the Globe adds prosaic instructions requiring the use of a whisk, mixer, bowl, pan, and oven. I would like to imagine though that making this cake properly involves tossing the ingredients from a swiftly-moving carriage into the mouth of a well-heated volcano.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

“This is the Anatomy of an Eagle”

From Life, May 28, 1956, a full-page ad marking 100 years of the Eagle Pencil Company:

[Click for a larger view.]

From the four corners of the earth we gather these rare ingredients for Eagle pencils!

Smooth, silvery graphite from Ceylon and Madagascar . . . jet black graphite from Mexico . . . slick, oily clay from Bavaria. Malayan rubber . . . straight-grained American cedar . . . pigments from nature’s secret storerooms everywhere.

Even the arctic seas yield spermaceti, the whale oil wax that helps make Eagle Mirado the smoothest-writing pencil you’ve ever used. And from the foundry’s inferno comes brass to make the gleaming tips with Eagle’s familiar Red Band trademark.

But the rarest ingredient of all is not shown in the picture. It is Eagle’s 100 years of experience . . . experience in refining, blending, assembling . . . in research, testing and quality control. That experience is the ingredient most important to you.

There is a specialized Eagle pencil for every purpose: Mirado, the world’s largest-selling writing pencil . . . Verithin, the strong-pointed colored pencil . . . Turquoise, the finest of drawing pencils . . . and hundreds of others. To find the most efficient of these for your kind of work, write for your copy of our full-color booklet, “The Pencil Selector.” It’s interesting, helpful, and free.
If you’re wondering . . . those cedar slabs are called pencil slats.

A related . . . post
Eagle Turquoise display case

Monday, October 18, 2010

Stefan Hagemann, guest writer:
How to answer a professor

[My friend Stefan Hagemann offers the following advice for students. Stefan and I have known one another for more than twenty-five years. When we met, he was a brand-new college student; I was a brand-new professor. Over the years, we have had many conversations, spoken and written, about books, music, teaching, and everything else. Stefan is as astute as it gets. He teaches English at Edgewood College, in Madison, Wisconsin.]

Some time ago in the comments section, a chat over Michael’s How to e-mail a professor post and its misappropriation by others on-line led to Matthew S’s suggestion that Michael write a sequel, “How to answer a professor.” I thought this was a great idea, one that might help students improve their ability to speak up in the same way that Michael’s previous effort has helped them compose winning e-mail messages, and I said so — with enthusiasm. Maybe I should have kept my head down — I know I didn’t raise my hand — because, to my surprise, Michael asked if I’d like to write such an essay. In view of the fact that I was a shy student, one who turned red, cleared his throat endlessly and seemed always to babble more than answer, I’m no doubt the perfect pick to pen such a piece, and although I doubt I can match the wisdom and clarity that Orange Crate Art readers find here every day, I’m hopeful that I can at least start a discussion about, well, discussions. What follows is surely incomplete, a skeletal set of suggestions, and if I’m delighted by this opportunity, it is at least in part because I’m excited to hear comments and suggestions from Orange Crate Art’s smart and knowledgeable readers.

How to answer a professor

In the spirit of serious inquiry: It is usually okay to be playful, but don’t be silly when you are called on. Take a moment to think if you need to — consider any key terms in the question; make sure you understand its purpose — and if you are unsure, ask for clarification. When you are ready, speak confidently and if possible, with wit. Try to make eye contact when you answer, and try to avoid generalities (“his perspective changed,” “she wants us to think”) or obvious dodges (“it depends,” “I can see it both ways”). Instead, respond precisely and with plenty of specific detail. If the question involves a text, refer to the text to support your answer, just as you might in an essay. If others have spoken up already, consider linking your answer to theirs. This will help create an atmosphere in which the exchange of ideas is welcome, and as a bonus, it will show that you’ve been paying attention. Don’t simply agree, however, with what’s already been said. That’s the most obvious dodge of them all. Rather, try to move the discussion forward in some specific way, perhaps by offering a relevant example or an analogy that illustrates your point. If there is good reason to challenge a classmate’s comment, do it in a friendly, non-threatening way, one that suggests trying to get to the bottom of things rather than scoring points at the expense of a peer.

With honesty: If you have no idea, if you’ve been caught unprepared, it’s probably best to ’fess up. Be apologetic — I’m sorry; I’m not prepared for class today — and resolve (to yourself) to be prepared next time.

From a position of power: A good way to avoid having to ’fess up is to come prepared. The cliché about how knowledge is power applies here. If you read, think, and write (in the margins, in a journal, on a blog) ahead of class, you’ll be powerful in class. Your answers will be powerful. If you want to avoid embarrassment and to answer well, do your homework, all of it. Read assignments critically, more than once and with a pen. Don’t simply highlight interesting passages; engage them. Question them. If there is an introductory note or a brief author’s biography in your textbook, read it. Jot down ideas while you prepare, and try to guess what your professor might focus on in class. Write down the sort of questions that you’d ask if you were responsible for leading the discussion, and make sure that you have good answers to them. Prepare for class the way presidents (the good ones!) prepare for press conferences. And if you want really to shine, push yourself a little bit. Find out something about the books or films or songs that your professor mentions. If she puts a title or an author on the board, she is probably hoping that you will show some initiative and do a little legwork — or at least a Google search. This is doubly true if your professor puts books or other materials on library reserve. Search out those materials and skim them at least. She has put them on reserve because she knows they will help you better understand something. Don’t make her draw you a map. (Unless, of course, you don’t actually know where the library or the reserve desk is located. If that’s the case, please stop reading this immediately and go find out.)

Be interested in a lot of things: Some questions are designed to test your command of a set of facts, and some leave little room for interpretation. Once in awhile, a question might even permit a “yes” or “no” answer. But often you’ll be dealing with open-ended questions, ones about which there is much to say and from many angles. Recognize that most open-ended questions range across academic disciplines and areas of interest, and do your best to develop a good grasp of the world around you. Good question-answerers read widely, talk to their peers and professors, attend on-campus events such as plays and concerts, and (I’m guessing here) subscribe to PBS and NPR. Good question-answerers also listen. If you know a little bit about the world around you and make an effort to experience your immediate environment, you may be surprised by your ability to add outside knowledge to your answers. Broad experience equals (or at least increases the chance for) serendipity.

Pay attention to how others do it: Like most things in life, some people are better or worse than others when it comes to speaking in class.Some (theater kids, maybe, or only children) are naturally hammy and some (speech or communication majors) may have more experience than you do. Some, it turns out, just have the knack when it comes to speaking up. Notice these folks. What makes their comments seem more insightful than yours? What is it about their answers that you admire? It may be only their confidence and command of the material, but chances are, there is some other thing — enthusiasm, curiosity, a sense of gleeful, perhaps even mischievous purpose — that sets them apart from the pack. There is good reason to doubt the old saw about how “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” if only because flattery is by definition insincere, but the truth is, we learn much in life by imitation. Anyone who uses language to think about this claim will recognize its truth — that’s how you got that language in the first place — and any kid who has imitated his baseball hero’s batting stance or her tennis hero’s overpowering serve knows something of imitation’s upside. See who makes it look easy. Pick up on who seems to be having fun. Notice the ones who get the most positive feedback during class discussion. Try to determine what it is that they do. Do it too.

With panache: In a pinch, ignore all of these suggestions, and answer with enthusiasm and the courage of your convictions. Answer in a way that trumpets your interest and broadcasts your sense of wonder. Make it clear that you are happy to answer, that you are present on this day, on this campus, in this class precisely to answer. Answer in a way that reflects your serious purpose and your desire to embrace the knotty ambiguities of life. Answer so that, joyfully, your answer poses many new questions.

[The unalterable footer — “By Michael Leddy” — does not apply to this post. The writer is Stefan Hagemann. Thanks, Stefan, for a great contribution! ]

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Van Dyke Parks on arranging and words

The guy is endlessly quotable:

“As I look back on these things I see myself as someone who was truly, centrally, obsessed with folk music and just wanted to take part in fancyfying it. That's what an arrangement does. It tries to capture what’s extempo, off-the-cuff, and not confuse it or obstruct it and, yet, give it enunciation.” Parks laughs. “I’ve always said, ‘Why use a small word when a diminutive one will suffice?’”
Read more:

Enigmatic Parks prepares for Moogfest (Knoxville News Sentinel)

Recently updated

Elections and misspellings (The misspelling of Illinois Green Party candidate Rich Whitney’s name as “Whitey” will be corrected.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sans approval

Alan Jacobs:

Almost everything I’ve done in my intellectual life that I now value I did because I was unconcerned about the approval of any officially designated authorities.
(Found via Submitted for Your Perusal)

An extra charge for Touch-Tone calling

[From my latest bill.]

Recent news about Verizon’s $1.99 key and various cellphone companies’ payment charges reminded me to be amused and annoyed that my land-line company charges a dollar a month for Touch Tone (or Touch-Tone) service. I have called on two occasions to inquire and have been told that the charge is a nationwide practice and that it’s Illinois-only. I have also been told that some people prefer to use pulse dialing and that there’s a little switch underneath the phone, &c. True, there is a switch. My response, sane as can be, is that in 2010, Touch-Tone is really the only way anyone dials a land-line telephone.¹ No, I am told; there is also pulse.

For a telephone company to charge for Touch-Tone in 2010 is, to my mind, comparable to a cable-television company’s charging for color. But absurdity can be profitable: with, say, 10,000 customers, this little charge would bring in $120,000 a year.

Reader, if you still use a land-line, do you pay extra for the privilege of Touch-Tone service?

¹ Unless perhaps one patronizes thrift stores or has wonderful children who do so.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Elections and misspellings

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

The last name of Green Party gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney is misspelled as “Whitey” on electronic-voting machines in nearly two dozen wards — about half in predominantly African-American areas — and election officials said Wednesday the problem cannot be corrected by Election Day.
Given the presence on the ballot of Green Party Senate candidate LeAlan Jones (whose overall numbers are low but who has significant support among African-American voters), and given the very close race for Senate between Alexi Giannoulias (D) and Mark Kirk (R), one must wonder whether this misspelling is accidentally-on-purpose, a way to steer African-American voters toward the Democratic slate.

Oh, and given that it’s Illinois.

October 16, 2010: The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the misspelling will be corrected. Says Election Board Chairman Langdon Neal,
“No one at the Chicago Board of Elections or a vendor would ever do anything to in any way negatively effect the integrity of the election, the integrity of this office or in any way influence any one candidate’s success.”

Movie recommendation: Ace in the Hole

[Lorraine Minosa (Jan Sterling) confronts Charles Tatum (Kirk Douglas): “I met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my life, but you — you’re twenty minutes.”]

Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole was a commercial flop when released as The Big Carnival in 1951. It’s easy to understand why: the film presents a world almost wholly corrupted by the desire for power, prestige, and spectacle. Kirk Douglas plays Charles Tatum, a once-prominent newspaper reporter now working in the “Siberia,” as he calls it, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (released one year earlier), Tatum longs to return to the world in which he was a star. He finds the means to do so in the story of Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict), who gets trapped in a cave while searching for Native American pottery. Tatum ventures into the cave and finds in the trapped man his ace in the hole, a story to be managed day by day, sold to the wire services, and parlayed into a return to big-city papers.

Wilder’s plotting is inspired: Minosa’s plight is a spectacle that offers very little to the eye. As in Greek tragedy, the horror happens in imagination, here with the assistance of Tatum’s reportage and his photographs of the trapped man. As Minosa languishes day after day and news of the rescue effort spreads, people begin to gather and a carnival spirit takes over, with campgrounds and entertainment and Ferris wheels. Sightseers drop from special trains and run to this theater of cruelty. No wonder that the trucks pulling in bear the name of The Great S & M Amusement Corp. While drawing upon a past newspaper exploit — the story of caver Floyd Collins (who’s mentioned in the film), Wilder has anticipated the more lurid spectacles of our media-saturated world. But reporters don’t make events happen: they just report them, or so Charles Tatum tells himself.

As good as Douglas is in this film, Jan Sterling is even better. Her character is reminiscent of Cora Smith (Lana Turner) in The Postman Always Rings Twice (dir. Tay Garnett, 1946): Lorraine Minosa too is a frustrated wife stuck in a diner. Her cynicism and self-interest make her more than a match for Tatum, who is both attracted and repulsed by what he sees in her. Will anything develop between these two while Leo is stuck in the cave? You’ll have to watch to find out.

Ace in the Hole is available from the Criterion Collection, beautifully restored. I watched and wrote about this film in late July, before the Copiapó mining accident. I decided that I would post this review only if that story came to a happy ending, which it now has. Coverage of the miners’ ordeal, at least what I saw, seemed respectful and restrained — no Charles Tatums on the scene.

A los mineros: bienvenidos de nuevo, señores.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Procrastination, effort, reward

James Surowiecki on procrastination:

Procrastination is driven, in part, by the gap between effort (which is required now) and reward (which you reap only in the future, if ever). So narrowing that gap, by whatever means necessary, helps. Since open-ended tasks with distant deadlines are much easier to postpone than focussed, short-term projects, dividing projects into smaller, more defined sections helps.
Aha: granularity!

(Found via Good Experience)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Boycott Koch Industries

Charles and David H. Koch are the subjects of a recent New Yorker article by Jane Mayer. The brothers Koch, worth thirty-five billion dollars, are the owners of Koch Industries, ranked, Mayer notes, as “the second-largest private company” in the United States. Here is an excerpt from the article:

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry — especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies — from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program — that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.
Among the Kochs’ political front groups is the faux-grassroots organization Americans for Prosperity (a dark-roots organization, I’d call it). Some of the details in Mayer’s reporting are beyond appalling: see, for instance, Koch Industries’ efforts to block E.P.A. classification of formaldehyde as a human carcinogen, even as David H. donates large sums for cancer research.

Upon reading this article (which appeared a month ago — I know I’m late to the game), I searched for boycott koch and found this image, maker unknown:

[Angel Soft Toilet Paper, Brawny Towels, Quilted Northern Toilet Paper, Georgia-Pacific Paper Products, Dixie Products, Stainmaster Carpet, Sparkle Paper Napkins, Lycra Fiber, Zee Paper Napkins, Mardi Gras Products, Dacron Fiber, Vanity Fair Paper Napkins, Soft ’n Gentle Toilet Paper.]

For readers worldwide: the Koch Industries website offers a handy list of Koch products for African, European, and Middle Eastern markets.

I don’t like the idea of a worker in a Koch operation losing a job because of decreased sales. But I also don’t like the idea of abetting, even in the smallest way, the efforts of men who endanger American democracy and the well-being of our home (that is, Earth). In my house, we’re done buying Dixie Cups and Vanity Fair Napkins. How about you?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Eagle Turquoise display case

This display case sat — for how long? — in an office-supply store that finally surrendered to Staples. The store began in 1935; I would imagine that this case sat there from very early on. It’s now spending its retirement atop a small bookcase in my house. This case suffers from one work-related injury: the grade-B display pencil is missing from its slot. To avoid reflections, I’ve photographed the case without the piece of glass that fits in front of the display. With that piece in, the case is even more attractive.

The 178 pencils that came with this case (from 6B to 9H) are mostly recent production: Berol Turquoises, Faber-Castell Designs and 9000s, General Kimberlys. A few dozen older pencils are mixed in: Eagle Turquoises (unfaded, unlike the display pencils glued to their slots) and A.W. Faber 9000s. In the photograph below, the Turquoises sit in the seventh slot from the left and the fourth and fifth slots from the right, looking rather cerulean.

[This post is the ninth 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. Photographs by Michael Leddy.]

Also from the Museum of Supplies
Dennison’s Gummed Labels No. 27
Fineline erasers
Illinois Central Railroad Pencil
A Mad Men sort of man, sort of
Mongol No. 2 3/8
Real Thin Leads
Rite-Rite Long Leads
Stanley carpenter’s rule

Saturday, October 9, 2010

“Don’t look!”

This dopey-looking picture, from the SparkNotes website, may amuse readers of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. In case it’s not obvious, the caption is by SparkNotes.

There are, by the way, no SparkNotes for Infinite Jest. (Good.)

Some Infinite Jest posts
Attention : Description : Loveliness : “Night-noises” : Romance : Sadness : Telephony : Television

Friday, October 8, 2010

Van Dyke Parks and Clare
and the Reasons, on the radio

Van Dyke Parks and Clare and the Reasons perform “The All Golden,” “Heroes and Villains,” “Pluton/Pluto,” and “You Got Time,” on WNYC-FM’s Spinning on Air. Listen, listen, listen.

Related posts
Van Dyke Parks in Brooklyn
Van Dyke Parks in Chicago (1)
Van Dyke Parks in Chicago (2)

“A Toy Kitchen That Looks Like Yours”

My daughter Rachel passes on the news of a toy kitchen that looks nothing like our kitchen (real or toy):

We designed this upscale wood play kitchen to look like yours! Beautifully crafted, with espresso cabinets, “stainless steel” appliances, and faux granite countertop.

KidKraft Wood Play Kitchen: A Toy Kitchen That Looks Like Yours
(Thanks, Rachel!)

Related posts
This is not my beautiful house
Word of the day: tyke

Word of the day: tyke

Tyke is a happy word in our family: the dependent clause “when you were a tyke” has prefaced various recollections of our children’s early years. Just this morning, I said in an e-mail to my daughter Rachel and son Ben that I wished Chicago’s Puppet Bike had been around when they were tykes. The corporate respelling of tyke has an honored place in our family lore: a piece of videotape from 1988 has Rachel, then all of two and a half, speaking of her dream third-birthday present, a Little Tikes Kitchen:

What’s so special about a Little Tikes Kitchen?

Because I like it.

What do you like about it?

Because it has a telephone.

It has a telephone. What else does it have?

It has a lot of cooking.
I wondered this morning: where does tyke come from? I’m sort of sorry to have found out. The Oxford English Dictionary gives this etymology:
ON. tík female dog, bitch (Norw. tik, also she-fox, vixen, Sw. dial. tik, older Da. tig); also MLG. tike bitch.
And the word’s oldest meaning (dating to 1400):
A dog; usually in depreciation or contempt, a low-bred or coarse dog, a cur, a mongrel.
But as early as 1400, tyke applied to men and women:
Applied opprobriously to a man (rarely with similar force to a woman): A low-bred, lazy, mean, surly, or ill-mannered fellow; a boor.
And it later applied to children:
Also said in playful reproof to a child; hence (unreprovingly), a child, esp. a small boy; occas., a young animal (U.S.).
I’m reminded now that kid too applied first to an animal, “the young of a goat,” as the OED creepily puts it.

If you’re wondering, Rachel got her Kitchen.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

John Fahey on teaching and learning

Guitarist John Fahey, from a handwritten lesson on C tuning:

I like to teach guitar to people. People, or students who learn. Nobody likes to teach somebody who does not learn because that is not teaching & not learning.

In order to learn something, some use of


is required. Teaching & learning is not showing somebody the same thing over & over, ad infinitum.

Disappearing final exams

Change in higher education:

Across the country, there is growing evidence that final exams — once considered so important that universities named a week after them — are being abandoned or diminished, replaced by take-home tests, papers, projects, or group presentations.

Final exams are quietly vanishing from college (Boston Globe)
Related posts
How to do horribly on a final exam
How to do well on a final exam

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

XKCD map of online communities

I think I understand about half of this witty map: Online Communities (XKCD).


Not by me, by a friend who passes it on from afar. A teacher to students:

“A preposition simply tells the location of something. In the sentence ‘The boy is under the table,’ the preposition tells you where he’s at.”
Note that the other prepositions in these sentences — at, by, from, in, of, to — all work in exactly the same way!

Related reading
All “Overheard” posts

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jimmy Hoffa’s Mongol

[“James Hoffa fingering pencil while testifying before senator [sic] Rackets Committee.” Photograph by Paul Schutzer, August 1958, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Via the Life photo archive.]

Yes, that’s a Mongol.

Related posts
Mongol No. 2 3/8
“Sound-testing a MONGOL”

Verizon Wireless refunds

The New York Times reports that Verizon Wireless will be paying up to $90 million in refunds to customers who have mistakenly pressed the infamous $1.99 key.

Related posts
Verizon’s $1.99 typos
Pogue v. Verizon, continued
Verizon data charges

Monday, October 4, 2010

Eric Schmidt on the future

Google CEO Eric Schmidt, on the future:

“We don’t need you to type at all, because we know where you are, with your permission. We know where you’ve been, with your permission. We can more or less guess what you’re thinking about. Now is that over the line? Is that right over the line? Is that right over the line?”
This model seems to confuse the unpredictable play of idea and association and memory (what I would call thinking) with a crude stimulus-response model, in which restaurants mean eat and stores mean shop. I begin to wonder: what sorts of humanities courses did Schmidt take in college? Someone who’s read Emily Dickinson or James Joyce or Frank O’Hara would have more complex ways to think about what it means to think.

Oh, and yes, it’s over the line.

(via Daring Fireball)

Van Dyke Parks in Brooklyn

From his stage patter: “Be kind to one another. Or I’ll kill ya!”

Van Dyke Parks Threatens Violence At The Bell House (Village Voice)

Related posts
Van Dyke Parks in Chicago (1)
Van Dyke Parks in Chicago (2)

Giant scissors, giant pencil

[“Movie stagehands pushing a 400-pound pair of gigantic scissors on a dollie next to two men carrying a 21-ft. pencil, just some of the props that created the illusion of a dwindling hero for the movie The Incredible Shrinking Man at Universal Studios.” Photograph by Allan Grant, September 1956, Hollywood, California. Via the Life photo archive.]

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pete Seeger’s Sunday routine

It includes breakfast:

“I usually have a pickup breakfast. I could have cereal and milk, fruit. Sometimes I simply finish up whatever leftover is in the ice box. You can tell my age; I still use the words ‘ice box.’”

Letters to Answer, and Logs to Split (New York Times)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Clifford B. Hicks (1920–2010)

Word comes from North Carolina that the writer Clifford Hicks has died. Clifford Hicks wrote sixteen children’s books, one of which, Alvin’s Secret Code, was the most important book of my childhood, the book that taught me to love reading, and re-reading, again, and again. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about rediscovering Alvin’s Secret Code in adulthood and writing a fan letter to its author. I still have Mr. Hicks’s reply, framed, hanging on a wall about ten feet from where I’m typing. That letter is the only piece of correspondence I have ever framed.

Last year came the announcement of a new novel, Alvin Fernald’s Incredible Buried Treasure. That Clifford Hicks had one more Alvin novel in him — at the age of eighty-nine — was a piece of great good fortune for his readers. My children gave me the book as a gift. (Thank you, Rachel and Ben.) The chance to write about a new Alvin book in adulthood was another gift, and a modest way to honor the gift that Clifford Hicks’s work (via the Boro Park Public Library) gave me. Thank you, Mr. Hicks.

Van Dyke Parks in
The Honeymooners

Here and there I’ve read that Van Dyke Parks played the role of Tommy Manicotti in the television series The Honeymooners. He doesn’t appear in the “classic thirty-nine,” the episodes shown through years of reruns on New York’s WPIX-TV. And there’s no Honeymooners credit for him at the IMDb. But VDP does appear, as I just discovered, in at least one of the “lost episodes,” “The Hero” (February 19, 1955). He was all of twelve. The episode is at YouTube in five parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. So yes, Van Dyke Parks is Tommy Manicotti. Correction: Tommy Borden. See below.


January 3, 2018: The episode is back, at Dailymotion. Gone again. I’m glad I took a screenshot to guard against future disappearances.


May 12, 2023: Thanks to the reader who shared the correct name in the comments. Van Dyke’s character is named Tommy Borden. The episode is back at YouTube. You can hear the teacher refer to Tommy Borden at 14:34.

No, it’s gone again.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Joe Mantell (1915–2010)

[Ernest Borgnine and Joe Mantell in Marty (dir. Delbert Mann, 1955).]

“Whaddaya you feel like doin’ tonight?””

Joe Mantell was from Brooklyn, Greenpernt. The New York Times has an obituary. Ernest Borgnine, ninety-three, is now the only surviving member of the cast of Marty.

A related post
Happy birthday, Mr. Piletti (Marty after Marty)