Friday, December 31, 2010

“[T]he city’s one big night”

One hundred years ago: “Thousands Turn Out in New Year Revels; Throngs of Merry Noisemakers Stretch from 23d Street to Columbus Circle,” New York Times, January 1, 1911.

Happy New Year to you, reader.

Van Dyke Parks on “Orange Crate Art”

The California Report interviews Van Dyke Parks about his song “Orange Crate Art.” A sample:

“It was in about 1995. I had a piano exercise in front of me; I loved it. It was in E flat. It reminded me of something I might have played as a child, like Schumann. So it was a beautiful song. I just determined to put some lyrics to it, and the first thing that came to mind was the word orange.”
Listen to it all:

Van Dyke Parks on “Orange Crate Art” (KQED)

Related reading
All Van Dyke Parks posts (via Pinboard)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Geraldine Doyle (1924–2010)

[Poster by J. Howard Miller.]

Cellist, metal presser, icon: Geraldine Doyle, Iconic Face of World War II, Dies at 86 (New York Times).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Amy Winehouse’s to-do list

From 2001, the work of a seventeen-year-old list-maker: Amy Winehouse’s to-do list.

Other posts with lists
“Ambercroombie & Flitch” (Ways to be cool)
Blue crayon (Supplies for an imaginary camping trip)
Johnny Cash’s to-do list (“Kiss June”)
Review: Liza Kirwin, Lists (Artists’ lists)
Whose list? (A found list)

Billy Taylor (1921–2010)

Sad news:

Billy Taylor, a pianist and composer who was also an eloquent spokesman and advocate for jazz as well as a familiar presence for many years on television and radio, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 89 and lived in the Riverdale area of the Bronx. . . .

Dr. Taylor, as he preferred to be called (he earned a doctorate in music education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1975), was a living refutation of the stereotype of jazz musicians as unschooled, unsophisticated and inarticulate, an image that was prevalent when he began his career in the 1940s, and that he did as much as any other musician to erase.

Dr. Taylor probably had a higher profile on television than any other jazz musician of his generation. He had a long stint as a cultural correspondent on the CBS News program Sunday Morning and was the musical director of David Frost’s syndicated nighttime talk show from 1969 to 1972.

Billy Taylor, Jazz Pianist, Dies at 89 (New York Times)
I think that Billy Taylor must be the first jazz musician I ever saw — on television, when I was a kid. Here’s a sampler of his art, courtesy of YouTube:

An unidentified blues
“Here’s That Rainy Day” (with John Lewis)
“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”
“In a Sentimental Mood”
“Three Blind Mice”

Miss E.Z. Peel

My supermarket (that is, the one where I do my “marketing”) is selling clementines for the ridiculous price of $4.11 a box (cheap!). These clementines (from Brazil) are selling under the name “Miss E.Z. Peel.” Here is the United States Patent and Trademark Office description of the Miss E.Z. Peel service mark: “The mark consists of a stylized image of a clementine peel with a silhouette of a lady holding a clementine.”

With a name like Miss E.Z. Peel, she’s no lady. And really, clementines are delightful as they are, with no need for sexualized hype. (One Chiquita Banana is already one sexualized fruit too many.) What is more disturbing about this branding gimmick though is that Miss E.Z. Peel strongly resembles a fetus-like, E.T.-like creature. What is meant to look like the seamless curve of chin, neck, and shoulder-length hair looks (at least to my eyes) like the gaping maw of the massive-headed creature, ready to devour the tender fruit now in its claw-like grasp. No joke: my wife Elaine had to explain this image to me before I could see it as its maker intended. When we first saw Miss E.Z. Peel in the store, all I could do was stare.

I’ve presented a stylized photograph of the Miss E.Z. Peel silhouette here, extra creepiness added via iPhoto’s Vignette effect.

[Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

A related post

“Why Is Illinois So Corrupt?”

Shane Tritsch of Chicago magazine gets some answers: “Why Is Illinois So Corrupt?”

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Adam Wheeler, prose stylist

The Boston Globe reports that Adam Wheeler’s Harvard application was filled with inconsistencies. His prose wasn’t that great either. The Globe quotes a sentence from an essay accompanying Wheeler’s application:

My belief is that the conceptual basis of the multidisciplinary and cross-cultural study of texts, traditions, and discourses must consist of a commitment to connectivity — in part for all the reasons that bombard us every day as virtual cliches.
Here is a perfect example of what Michael Harvey’s The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing calls “the pompous style.” Look past the abstractions (“conceptual basis”), the nominalizations (“My belief is that” for “I believe”), and the prepositional phrases (seven of them), and the sentence reveals itself as a laughable tautology.

E-mail and punctuation

In the news, a not-yet-published study of readers’ reactions to e-mails:

In one of the first studies of its kind, researchers [Frank McAndrew and Chelsea Rae De Jonge] have identified three commonly used e-mail elements as being highly influential in shaping how others perceive us — regardless of whether those conclusions are accurate.
The study looks at the effects of punctuation, typos, and voice on reader-response. Some of the conclusions confirm what common sense would suggest — that use of the first person adds intimacy, that typos aplenty signal a lack of care. The more provocative conclusions concern punctuation:
E-mails with no question marks or exclamation points were perceived as being sent by a superior, while those that included lots of question marks and exclamation points were interpreted as coming from a subordinate.

In general, question marks conveyed anger and confusion, while exclamation points, as you might expect, communicated happiness. The absence of both types of punctuation implied apathy, and a high frequency of such punctuation caused readers to assume the sender was female.

“I guess it's the old stereotype of women being more expressive and emotional. A text message or email that’s chock-full of question marks and exclamation points comes across as a little girlie, for lack of a better way to phrase it,” says McAndrew, adding wryly: “Real men don’t use punctuation; they use caveman-like direct, short sentences.”
Yipes. Notice that McAndrew’s final (publicity-seeking?) sentences make use of five different punctuation marks.

Related posts
E-mail etiquette
How to e-mail a professor
How to punctuate a sentence
How to punctuate more sentences

Monday, December 27, 2010

“The white stuff”

Re: journalism: I hereby call for an end to the use of that tired phrase “the white stuff” (as heard on the local news this evening). Cocaine? Dandruff? No. Snow.

And re: weather: I hereby call for an end to snow, at least for a while.

Related posts
“Ice and Snow Blues” (A blues lyric)
Inclement weather (John Milton and us)
“It’s spitting” (A weather idiom)
“It is snowing.” (A Pierre Reverdy prose-poem)
Snow, dirt, paint (A photograph)
Snowbound (A one-act play)

“25 Years of Christmas”

“Every year, our dad would tape us coming down the stairs. This is a compilation of all the videos I could find”: “25 Years of Christmas” (YouTube).

(Thanks to Rachel, who found it.)


[Marc Bennett (William Lundigan) tries to get through.]

The blinking sign caught my eye, near the end of The House on Telegraph Hill (dir. Robert Wise, 1951). Indestructo was the work of the National Veneer Products Co. of Mishawaka, Indiana. A Google search turns up several magazine advertisements for Indestructo from the early twentieth century. A sample:
With its still greater improvements for 1911, the Indestructo Trunk offers by far the greatest trunk value on the market. Made in a variety of styles, including Men’s, Women’s, Steamer Trunks, Hat Trunks, Trousseau Trunks, etc.
Among the materials then used in making Indestructo products: “Government Bronze” (“the same as specified by the U.S. Government”), red cedar, and walrus and seal skins. By 1951, Indestructo must have been a venerable — or was it dated? — name. Both Indestructo and the A. & J. Levin shop are now gone.

The House on Telegraph Hill is a good film (now misleadingly packaged as film noir), with strong performances from Richard Basehart, Fay Baker, Valentina Cortese, and William Lundigan. The story begins in a concentration camp and ends in a posh San Francisco residence. Along the way: a false identity, a love triangle, some murderous plotting, an off-the-hook phone, and an angry ancestor whose portrait looks down on it all.

A related post
Scriptos in Times Square (More signage in the background)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Two New York Santas

From the New York Times, two more New York Santa Clauses: Miracle on 22nd Street.

A related post
“Coming Up Doubled Up”

“Coming Up Doubled Up”

[“The spirit of Christmas sometimes produces disquieting moments. In New York the Volunteers of America Inc. hires more than 50 men a day to dress up as Santa Claus and go out to the street corners around town soliciting contributions for the poor. When their posts are in the same vicinity, the men often travel together. Emerging through the sidewalk exits, they give New Yorkers the shattering, if brief, illusion that Santa Claus not only comes in pairs but comes on a crowded 15¢ subway ride at that.” “Coming Up Doubled Up,” from Life, December 27, 1954. Click for a larger view.]

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, from Santa Claus¹, Santa Claus², and me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Desperate Man Blues

[Joe Bussard in motion.]

Desperate Man Blues (dir. Edward Gillan, 2003) is a portrait of record-hunter Joe Bussard, whose collection of 78s — blues, jazz, and old-timey music — may be the largest in the world. Bussard is enthusiasm itself, a then-sixty-something man of astonishing energy and excitement. Playing a record in his basement, he is all fluttering hands and pumping legs. What he must have been like when younger? Says Elaine, “Exactly the same.”

Like any true enthusiast, Bussard has made his own deeply idiosyncratic map of the world. Among its key elements: Jimmie Rodgers (the greatest singer of all time), the year 1933 (the year jazz died), and the Barbara Fritchie Restaurant. And the map is dotted with the sites of Bussard’s finds — of records that in many cases would otherwise have remained unknown. “One of two known copies,” “the only known copy”: that’s Joe Bussard’s territory. Anyone who loves indigenous American music of the 1920s and ’30s is in his debt.

The DVD release of Desperate Man Blues is packed with extras: outtakes, photographs, a second shorter Bussard documentary, and some great footage of Son House.

[“Enthousiasmos, from enthous ‘possessed by a god, inspired’“: New Oxford American Dictionary.]

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Information and its discontents

The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary have been at work on information. From an essay by managing editor Michael Proffitt:

The adverse psychological impact of the information age manifests itself linguistically, in information overload (1962) and in the entry for information fatigue (1991). Although those two last phrases are simply the latest additions to OED’s coverage, for those engaged in any form of online research they could just as well describe the arc of a working day. Perhaps this is why the OED definition of information fatigue, while entirely accurate, also sounds faintly heartfelt:
Apathy, indifference, or mental exhaustion arising from exposure to too much information, esp. (in later use) stress induced by the attempt to assimilate excessive amounts of information from the media, the Internet, or at work.
In dictionaries, as elsewhere, a statement can be at once plainly factual and profoundly human.
I cringe a little when I hear students refer to college work as a matter of — dire phrase — “retaining information.” Pick a field, any field, and think of people who are competent in it: are they “retaining information”? No: they know stuff. They understand the contexts in which “information” may be meaningful and are thus able to draw relevant conclusions and solve problems.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

E-mail, slow and boring?

In the New York Times this morning:

The problem with e-mail, young people say, is that it involves a boringly long process of signing into an account, typing out a subject line and then sending a message that might not be received or answered for hours. And sign-offs like “sincerely” — seriously?
But seriously, does anyone expect that an e-mail close with sincerely? Wouldn’t such a close mark the sender as quaintly out of touch with the conventions of the form?

The important point here though has to do with expectation and attention — the expectation that you, no matter where you are or what you’re doing, are ready to pay attention to me: a customer-service model of human relationships.

A related post
E-mail etiquette (On closings)

Decaf tea again

A few months ago, Elaine and i tasted and rated six decaf black teas, with Tetley British Blend the surprise winner. We just tried Tetley against Typhoo Decaf, a venerable British brand widely reputed to be the best decaf black tea. Typhoo is very good, robust and satisfying, almost as dark as coffee. But Tetley, we agree, is better. Its flavor is mellower, more rounded, full of bright spots — more metaphorical too. And here in the United States, Tetley is considerably cheaper — $3 or so for forty bags v. $10 or more for eighty bags of Typhoo. So it’s Tetley FTW.

Monday, December 20, 2010

“[A]rt’s about limits”

Film critic Richard Schickel, in a DVD-release commentary on Side Street (dir. Anthony Mann, 1955):

If I may just say so, I am so irritated with young people who proudly claim never to have seen a black-and-white movie. They don’t understand: art’s about limits. It’s not about limitlessness.

Google’s Life Photo Archive broken

If you’re wondering, the search function for Google’s Life Photo Archive is broken. If you have a URL, you can get to a photo, but a search finds nothing.

Update, January 16, 2011: The archive is working again.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Don’t ask, don’t tell Don’t stall

From the New York Times:

Capping a 17-year political struggle, the Senate on Saturday cleared the way for repealing the Pentagon’s ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military.

By a vote of 63 to 33, with six Republicans joining Democrats, the Senate acted to cut off debate on a measure that would let President Obama declare an end to the Clinton-era policy, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which allows gay members of the armed forces to serve only if they keep their sexual orientation a secret. The vote indicated that there was easily enough support to push the measure to final passage.
I’m happy to see that Illinois senators Dick Durbin (D) and Mark Kirk (R) voted yea.

Update, 2:30 p.m.: The Senate has voted to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” 65 to 31.

A related post
Don’t ask, don’t tell Don’t discriminate

Adam Wheeler in the news again

Remember Adam Wheeler? Seven months after pleading not guilty, he has pleaded guilty to twenty misdemeanor and felony charges.

The stories below call attention, rightly so, to the ways in which Wheeler’s deceptions harmed others: with every opportunity he was given, every award he received, some truly worthy student — who? — lost out.

Student pleads guilty (Boston Globe)
Harvard Faker Adam Wheeler Pleads Guilty (Harvard Crimson)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Google and Caps Lock

At Slate, Christopher Beam writes about the Caps Lock key, gone from the new Google laptop. Pace Beam, I don’t think the absence of Caps Lock is a step toward the disappearance of capital letters — like, say, the G in Google. Caps Lock is just in an awkward spot, too easily hit when one goes for Shift or Tab. Replacing Caps Lock with a Search key, as Google has, seems to me to introduce a worse annoyance.

[To disable Caps Lock on a Mac: go to Keyboard & Mouse in System Preferences, click on Modifier Keys, and choose No Action for the Caps Lock key.]

Goodbye, Delicious

All Things Digital reports that Yahoo will be shutting down the social-bookmarking service Delicious. I’ve used a Delicious account for several years (starting back when the service was known as to create an index of sorts to Orange Crate Art.

What now? I’ve followed John Gruber’s recommendation and signed up for Pinboard. Doing so requires a small one-time fee, which rises as the number of users rises. Yesterday: $7.01. As I write, the fee has risen from $7.99 to $8.05: that means heavy traffic. Pinboard imported my Delicious links and tags with one very slight glitch: a link to a 2008 post appears near the top of the heap. And I’m still waiting for my tag cloud to take shape. Yes, heavy traffic in the wake of the news about Delicious.

Pinboard is the work of Maciej Ceglowski and co-founder Peter Gadjokov. I wish them well.

Update, December 18: I have a cloud.

[“I’m still waiting for my tag cloud to take shape”: what, oh what, would our ancestors make of us?]

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The twelve days of Christmas

[Concept by Ben Leddy. Click for a larger view.]

My son Ben made this Wordle from the words to “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It’d make a great card, no?

For all those stuck in the twelve days of exam week (well, it feels like twelve days), the end is near.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Word of the day: quincunx

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day is quincunx:

quincunx \KWIN-kunks\ noun
: an arrangement of five things in a square or rectangle with one at each corner and one in the middle

The tables were arranged in a quincunx, with the hosting family at the center table and guests at the four corners.

“As we walked along the geometric beds — many of them planted in an ancient Roman quincunx pattern — I made notes on the beautiful crops I had never grown.” — From an article by Anne Raver in the New York Times, June 30, 2010

Did you know?
As our second example sentence suggests, today’s word has its origins in ancient Rome. To the Romans, a “quincunx” was a coin whose name comes from the Latin roots “quinque,” meaning “five,” and “uncia,” meaning “one twelfth.” The weight of the coin equaled five twelfths of a libra, a unit of weight similar to our pound. The ancients used a pattern of five dots arranged like the spots on a die as a symbol for the coin, and English speakers applied the word to arrangements similar to that distinctive five-dot mark.
For a reader of English prose, quincunx means Sir Thomas Browne, whose 1658 work The Garden of Cyrus, Or The Quincunciall, Lozenge, or Net-work Plantations of the Ancients, Artificially, Naturally, Mystically Considered meditates on the quincunx and the number five as organizing principles of reality. A brief passage from the ending:
But the Quincunx of Heaven runs low, and ’tis time to close the five ports of knowledge; We are unwilling to spin out our awaking thoughts into the phantasmes of sleep, which often continueth præcogitations; making Cables of Cobwebbes and Wildernesses of handsome Groves.
[Browne glosses the “Quincunx of Heaven” as the Hyades, a group of stars “near the Horizon about midnight, at that time.”]

Other words, other works of lit
Artificer : Bandbox : Ineluctable

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How to improve writing (no. 32)

In August 2008, I wrote myself a note re: bookbuying:

When you learn of new non-fiction that addresses matters of culture, education, language, or technology, wait. Read a sample online or in a bookstore. Consider whether you’re willing to take on several hundred pages of the writer’s prose. Look at Amazon reviews (which are occasionally far more discerning than those found in traditional media). And ask yourself, self, the crucial question: do you need to buy this book, or can you be happy getting it from the library?
Thus I borrowed Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus’s Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — And What We Can Do About It (New York: Times Books/Henry Holt, 2010). That ungainly subtitle suggests the quality of the prose within. Here is a sample paragraph, introducing descriptions of ten colleges that Hacker and Dreifus “like”:
Frankly, in a system this vast and varied, there are good people and good schools everywhere; the trick is to find them. What follows are a few places that caught our attention. The list isn’t comprehensive, but rather focuses on a few good colleges that strike the right balance. Some of the things the schools we liked had in common: they are student-centered, rather than driven by the whims of the faculty or by administrators’ ambitions. We liked schools led by idealists, the only kind of leaders with the courage to buck the conformity that cripples most corners of contemporary higher education. We were drawn to schools that had good core values, for want of a better term, which were genuinely adhered to. Most of all, we preferred schools that actively tried to keep fees low — or free. Confined by financial limitations, their leaders could keep their eyes on what really mattered, which is always the students. At the end of the day, any school must be about putting the “higher” back into education.
I see many problems here.

Frankly: like personally, it’s usually meaningless when prefacing a statement. And personally, I’ve disliked frankly since 1977, when I was interning at a publishing house and an editor told me, frankly, just what he was willing to pay me to do some part-time copywriting.

“[G]ood people and good schools”: the trick here though is to find the schools, not good professors scattered here and there.

“What follows are”: a clumsy juxtaposition of singular and plural. Singular and plural forms pose a strangely persistent problem in this book:
Kenyon is often the fallback choice when Jennifer or Jeremy fail to get fat envelopes from Dartmouth or Brown.

They are freed from committee chores and can keep their offices, although they may share it with a visitor during their off-semesters.
“The list isn’t comprehensive”: unneccesarily repetitious, as the preceding sentence refers to “a few places.”

“Some of the things”: the sentence goes on to state only one thing the schools have in common.

“[T]he conformity that cripples most corners”: a ghastly metaphor. What’s more, this sentence creates a deep contradiction in the paragraph: if “most corners of contemporary higher education” are crippled, how can it be that good schools are “everywhere”?

“[F]or want of a better term”: what’s wrong with “core values”?

“[V]alues . . . which were genuinely adhered to”: an awkward use of the passive voice, and another unnecessary adverb. But also: just as there is no difference between genuinely adhering to values and adhering to them, there is also no difference between having values and adhering to them. One’s values are those one adheres to.

“[W]e preferred schools that actively tried to keep fees low — or free”: actively seems meaningless here. (Can one try inactively?) And fees cannot be free. Notice too the shifts between the present and past that have begun to turn up in the paragraph. As the descriptions of colleges that will follow are meant to be current, the present tense, stating what is the case, would be appropriate.

“At the end of the day”: sigh.

“[A]ny school must be about putting the ‘higher’ back into education:” more precisely, putting the higher back into higher education.

Here’s my revised version, shrinking the paragraph from 175 to 94 words:
In a system this vast and varied, there are many good schools; the trick is to find them. Here we present a handful, all of them serving students, not faculty whims or administrative ambition. Idealists lead these schools, men and women courageous enough to resist the conformity that cripples much of contemporary higher education. We have chosen schools that adhere to good core values, and we give preference to schools that keep fees low — or eliminate them. Working with limited funds, focusing on students, these schools are putting the “higher” back into higher education.
What about the argument of the book? Hacker and Dreifus’s survey of higher ed is largely anecdotal, in the manner of an article in Newsweek or Time. There’s one story of professorial laziness (with a student using the notes that her mother took when she was a student) that’s almost certainly apocryphal. The depiction of pampered faculty working a handful of hours per week bears no relation to academic life as it’s lived in what profs sometimes call “the trenches.” And the book’s contradictions bespeak incoherence. Faculty research is a bad idea, Hacker and Dreifus say, but they make an exception for Arizona State, which they praise as a “research powerhouse.” And while Hacker and Dreifus acknowledge both the exploitation of contingent faculty and correlations between contingent instruction and student failure, they praise a community college where, as they acknowledge, 75% of faculty are part-time, without offices or even desks. Students in the know, they say, “plan their programs around full-time professors.” That’s core values for you.

For a far more perceptive and persuasive analysis of problems in American higher education, I’d recommend Marc Bousquet’s How the University Works.

[This post is no. 32 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

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

Happy birthday, Clark Terry

Trumpeter and flugelhornist Clark Terry turns ninety today. Happy birthday, sir! Many years ago, I interviewed Clark on my university’s FM station. It was an honor to talk with a great musician and Ellingtonian.

This Riverwalk Jazz hour is a good introduction to Clark Terry’s music. If you listen, you’ll hear Duke Ellington introduce Clark as “beyond category.” Which he is. At Clark’s website, his wife Gwen reports what he’d like for his birthday: “More birthdays.”

Monday, December 13, 2010

Caroline, yes

Caroline of Caroline’s Crayons is drawing again. Take a look: crayons encore.

[Post title with apologies to Tony Asher and Brian Wilson.]

A Van Dyke Parks simile

From Pasadena’s KPCC: Kevin Ferguson interviews Van Dyke Parks, in a conversation that runs from Spike Jones and “The Bare Necessities” to Song Cycle to SMiLE to VDP’s recent collaboration with Inara George. Here is VDP describing SMiLE — “a wonderful piece of work,” he calls it — via a simile:

I look at it not as a mural, as I’d hoped it would be, like muralistic. But in fact, it’s about as big as a postage stamp, I think, and about as worthy.

What do you mean by that?

Well, number one, it gets you somewhere. The work is of modest dimension. It’s a small thing. Like a stamp, it has a great deal of handiwork in it. It’s quiltwork; it is not pixelated information.
Listen: Van Dyke Parks interview (KPCC).

A holiday gift from
Clare and the Reasons

Frog Stand Records is giving away an MP3 of Clare and the Reasons playing Wham!’s “Last Christmas.”

“Last Christmas” (feat. Ella ‘The Cat’ Fitzgerald)

Don’t miss 3:56–4:11.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Richard Nixon on the Irish

From what seems to have been an ongoing series, “Richard Nixon’s Family of Man”:

“The Irish have certain — for example, the Irish can’t drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks. Particularly the real Irish.”
What’s he talking about, the Irish can’t drink? I’m only half Irish, and I’ll drink the sonofabitch under the bloody table.

Advice for procrastinators

As Fall 2010 deadlines loom, five ways to rethink habits of mind that can contribute to procrastination:

Replace “I have to” with “I choose to.”

Replace “I must finish” with “When can I start?”

Replace “This project is so big and important” with “I can take one small step.”

Replace “I must be perfect” with “I can be perfectly human.”

Replace “I don’t have time to play” with “I must take time to play.”

Neil Fiore, The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1989).
The Now Habit is an excellent book: I say that as a past master of procrastination. One caution: at the end of the Fall 2010 semester, play might mean nothing more than a walk, or a cup of coffee with a friend.

And now it’s time to make breakfast and get to work.

[A copy of The Now Habit resides in the David Foster Wallace archive at the University of Texas at Austin. Did DFW latch onto this book before Infinite Jest, or after?]

Advice for exam-takers

As Fall 2010 nears its end: How to do well on a final examination.

And for contrast: How to do horribly on a final exam, a tame version.

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

Friday, December 10, 2010

Emily Dickinson’s birthday

Emily Dickinson was born 180 years ago today.

You ask of my Companions Hills — Sir — and the Sundown — and a Dog — large as myself, that my Father bought me — They are better than Beings — because they know — but do not tell — and the noise in the Pool, at Noon — excels my Piano. I have a Brother and Sister — My Mother does not care for thought — and Father, too busy with his Briefs — to notice what we do — He buys me many Books — but begs me not to read them — because he fears they joggle the Mind. They are religious — except me — and address an Eclipse, every morning — whom they call their “Father.” But I fear my story fatigues you — I would like to learn — Could you tell me how to grow — or is it unconveyed — like Melody — or Witchcraft?

From a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, April 25, 1862.
(Thanks to Music Clip of the Day for the reminder.)

James Moody (1925–2010)

Alto and tenor saxophonist, flutist, singer, and architect of the solo that became “Moody’s Mood for Love.”

James Moody (Official website)
James Moody, Jazz Saxophonist, Dies at 85 (New York Times)
WBGO 2008 tribute

Thursday, December 9, 2010


My friend Rob Zseleczky reminded me that today is Milton’s birthday. As in John Milton, as in

Milton! thy name effulgent speaks to men,
As ever thus the poet truth proclaims.
I just made up those lines.

I like “Lycidas” best.

Other posts with John Milton
Inclement weather
“[S]omething carelessly solid”

At the Continental Paper Grading Co.

Fourteen down, forty-two to go. Best wishes to my fellow graders, and best wishes to to the employees of the Continental Paper Writing Co., who make our work possible.

[The Continental Paper Grading Co. was founded in 1919. Elaine and I spotted the building on a train ride to Chicago a few years ago.]

Dik Browne’s Christmas cards

The Christmas Card Art of Dik Browne: forty-eight cards from the man who drew Hi and Lois (beautifully).

March 2013: All gone, but there are still cards by Mort Walker to be seen.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

“[W]e were a couple who laughed”

Yoko Ono in the New York Times today:

They say teenagers laugh at the drop of a hat. Nowadays I see many teenagers sad and angry with each other. John and I were hardly teenagers. But my memory of us is that we were a couple who laughed.

Thought for the day

Viewer discretion is always advised.

[Infinite Jest-inspired.]

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Infinite Jest diagram

[Detail from “A diagram of nearly all the characters in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, with connections and relations shown thereamong”: a PDF and poster by graphic designer Sam Potts.]

I did something similar by hand teaching Charles Dickens’s Bleak House last spring. I’m teaching Bleak House and Infinite Jest next spring, two big novels, two big diagrams mapping the relations among characters.

Infinite Jest: A Diagram (Sam Potts)

Some Infinite Jest posts
Attention : Description : “Don’t look!” : Loveliness : “Night-noises” : Romance : Sadness : Telephony : Television

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Depression psalm

The so-called 1932nd Psalm:

Depression is my shepherd; I am in want.

He maketh me to lie down on park benches; He leadeth me beside the still factories.

He restoreth the bread lines; He leadeth me in the paths of destruction for his Party’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the Valley of Unemployment, I fear every evil; for thou art with me; the Politicians and Profiteers they frighten me.

Thou preparest a reduction in mine salary before me in the presence of mine creditors; Thou anointest mine income with taxes; my expenses runneth over mine income.

Surely unemployment and poverty will follow me all the days of the Republican administration; and I shall dwell in a mortgaged home forever.

Published in the Weatherford Democrat, June 10, 1932. Collected in Donald Whisenhunt’s Depression in Texas: The Hoover Years (New York: Garland, 1983).
Politicians who are willing to lead us in the paths of destruction for their party’s sake frighten me too. Mitch McConell (R-KY): “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

This psalm seems to have begun its life during Warren Harding’s administration:
[Amalgamated Sheet Metal Workers’ Journal, March 1922.]

[Locomotive Engineers Journal, June 1922.]
The Democrat is still publishing in Weatherford, Texas.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Each: singular, or plural?

I received an e-mail this morning from a reader asking about each: does it take a singular verb, or plural? Garner’s Modern English Usage has the answers. I’ll paraphrase:

1. Each usually takes a singular verb. A sample sentence from an earlier post: “Each of these issues becomes a non-issue with handwritten work.”

2. When each is not itself the subject and the subject is plural, the verb should be plural. Another sample from an earlier post: “‘We each have an opposable thumb,’ I said.”

[Reader, my e-mails to you bounced back. I hope you see what you’re looking for here. In the sentences you asked about, the verbs should be singular.]

A related post
If I were , if I was

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mississippi John Hurt

Guitarist and singer Mississippi John Hurt (1892–1966), listening closely. From an episode of Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest television series with Hurt, Paul Cadwell, and Hedy West, first broadcast on Monday, November 20, 1967. I still remember watching episodes of Rainbow Quest on New York’s Channel 13 (educational television). Hearing and seeing Seeger and company — I remember Reverend Gary Davis, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, and Doc Watson — was like picking up audio and video transmissions from a distant planet, or at least a planet far from the suburbs of New Jersey. Little did I know that Rainbow Quest was taped on planet Newark.

My debt to John Hurt is great: like many other young guitarists, I learned to fingerpick by listening to his records.

There are one, two, three clips from this Rainbow Quest on YouKnowWhat. I found the broadcast date via the New York Times archives.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

“Lights-On Map”

At, an Edward Tufte-designed map and graph track moneys distributed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Points of light, indeed.

Steve Martin at the 92nd Street Y

Steve Martin talked about art — not the funny — at the 92nd Street Y. Audience members complained. So the Y offered refunds credit for an evening did not meet the usual “standard of excellence.”

Steve Martin on the Y’s “standard of excellence”: “it can’t be that high because this is the second time I’ve appeared there.”

Comedian Conversation Falls Flat at 92nd Street Y (New York Times)

Update, December 5: In the comments, a reader points to a first-hand account of the evening.

Update, December 6: Steve Martin comments in the New York Times.

Sentence for orange

A search for a single sentence: give me sentence for the word orange. Seeing as you asked politely:

Orange was the color of her dress, then blue silk.
If you want to hear the Charles Mingus composition whose title is that sentence, here’s one version.

[Context: ever since I posted a commentary on five sentences from Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, Internauts searching for sentences (that is, their homework) have been ending up at Orange Crate Art. Give me sentence for the word orange is the latest such search.]

Other sentence posts
Bleak House : The cat : Clothes : The driver : Life : Life on the moon : The past (1) : The past (2) : The ship : Smoking : The telephone

Other Mingus posts
Charles Mingus at Cornell
Charles Mingus defies bomb threat
I dream of Mingus

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

“It’s spitting”

It was snowing, barely, yesterday afternoon, and twice in two hours, I heard someone say “It’s spitting.” The word spitting was apt: snow was coming down in dribs and drabs — ptooey, ptooey, ptooey.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives this definition for the verb spit: “Of rain or snow: To fall in scattered drops or flakes. (Usually with it as subject.)” Here are the illustrative sentences that follow:

1778 [W. H. MARSHALL] Minutes Agric. Observ. 129 To sprinkle (or spit), to rain slow in largish drops. 1818 S. E. FERRIER Marriage vii, “And“ —putting her hand out at the window — “I think it’s spitting already.” 1836-7 DICKENS Sk. Boz, Tales vii, It had been “spitting” with rain for the last half-hour. 1860 TYNDALL Glac. I. xxv. 189 The fine snow . . . was caught by the wind and spit bitterly against us. 1887 SERVICE Life Dr. Duguid 171 Feeling that it was spittin’ through the win’, I quickened my step.
The OED entry for the participial adjective spitting has a phrase from Thomas Drant’s 1567 translation of Horace’s Epistles: “A linnine slop in spitting snow.” Or as Christopher Smart’s 1755 prose translation puts it, “thin drawers in snowy weather.”

[Slop: “An outer garment, as a loose jacket, tunic, cassock, mantle, gown, or smock-frock.” Thanks, OED.]

Related posts
“Ice and Snow Blues” (A blues lyric)
Inclement weather (John Milton and us)
“It is snowing.” (A Pierre Reverdy prose-poem)
Snow, dirt, paint (A photograph)
Snowbound (A one-act play)