Monday, October 31, 2011

Close-reading Herman Cain

The charge that Herman Cain sexually harassed two women when he headed the National Restaurant Association may indeed be false. But the candidate’s responses merit close reading.

“I never sexually harassed anyone,” Cain insists. Consider this statement in light of an exchange from Sunday’s Face the Nation (before the scandal broke), concerning an electric border-fence:

Bob Schieffer: You also said at some point that you might want to back that fence up with a moat and fill it with alligators. Was that a joke too?

Cain: That was totally in jest, Bob. Some people are getting used to my sense of humor and as I get more attention I will tone down this sense of humor until I become president because America needs to get a sense of humor.
Thus “I never sexually harassed anyone” can easily translate to “That was totally in jest.” And of course the women involved need to get a sense of humor, &c.

Consider too Cain’s “Nothing happened.” What does this assertion deny? It might mean that no mingling of bodies took place: “We just talked. Nothing happened.” This denial too seems to deny, uh, nothing. It depends on what the meaning of nothing is.

Given this candidate’s willingness to joke (?) with the American public about electric fences and moats, I think it’s reasonable to wonder what he might say in private.

Related reading
Herman Cain claims on cash settlement raise questions (CBS News)

7:42 p.m.: There’s already more — an odd story about commenting on a woman’s height, and this exchange:
Judy Woodruff: Was there any behavior on your part that you think might have been inappropriate?

Cain: In my opinion, no. But as you would imagine, it’s in the eye of the person who thinks that maybe I crossed the line.

Cain Confident He Can Win Nomination, Says Harassment Claims Are “Baseless” (PBS NewsHour)
Next day, 8:12 a.m.: And still more:
“I believe I have a good sense for where you cross the line relative to sexual harassment but you have to know the lady, the individual.”

Herman Cain Changes Story, But Tells FOX He’s Innocent (Talking Points Memo)
[In 1998, when Bill Clinton told PBS’s Jim Lehrer that “There is not a sexual relationship,” I immediately asked (yes, out loud), “But was there?” Would things have turned out differently had Lehrer asked that question?]

Happy Halloween

[Ellsworth Kelly, Untitled (orange and black), n.d. Yale University Art Gallery. Gift of Mrs. Henry J. Heinz, II. From the Yale Digital Commons.]

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Word of the day: foo fighter

The Oxford English Dictionary word of the day is foo fighter:

Any of various unidentified lights encountered by airborne forces during the Second World War (1939–45), interpreted variously as enemy weapons, natural phenomena, or alien spacecraft.
The term has its origin in the nonsense word foo, a staple of Bill Holman’s comic strip Smokey Stover (one of the great comic strips of my childhood). Alas, the OED misspells Stover’s first name.

More foo
Silence is FOO! (’t Is Goud)
Smokey Stover Online (full of foo and notary sojac)

[Do fans of Foo Fighters generally know the origin of the band’s name?]

Day & Meyer, Murray & Young

The New York Times reports on the storage warehouse of Day & Meyer, Murray & Young:

Behind the mute facade of a largely windowless neo-Gothic tower lies an ingenious system of steel vaults traveling on rails. Within those armored containers, which have been in continuous use since the Jazz Age, are stored some of New York City’s most precious objects and, presumably, a good number of its darkest secrets.

Storing the Stuff of Dreams (New York Times)
It all sounds like something from Steven Millhauser’s wonderful novel Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer (1996).

Saturday, October 29, 2011

VDP on “Wall Street” and Wall Street

From Van Dyke Parks’s commentary on his song “Wall Street” and current events:

The Creed Is Greed, in a nation dominated by stone-age fundamentalism — despite the fact that Christ admonished against greed and usurious interests repeatedly, raising valid questions about how Capitalism-run-amok can square with Christian precepts.

The “Occupy” movement, while indistinct and lacking a theme song, is emboldening an all-too patient middle-to-underclass seeking a higher moral ground. It’s about ethics.
You can read the commentary and listen to “Wall Street” by following the link: Van Dyke Parks on “Wall Street” (Los Angeles Review of Books Blog).

Heartlessness on parade

The New York law firm of Steven J. Baum, P.C. specializes in foreclosures. Joe Nocera of the New York Times has obtained photographs from the firm’s 2010 Halloween party: What the Costumes Reveal. What a riot. What a rotten lot.

November 22: The firm is shutting down. Thanks for the update, Gunther.

Reducing the number of
Cutting words

A New York Times article on college-application essays, edited to fit the 500-word limit of college-application essays: 500 Words About the Common Application.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Shape Type

Shape Type is a letter-shaping game by Mark MacKay, the maker of Kern Type. Shape Type is difficult: which is to say, I had no idea what I was doing.


Telephone exchange names
on screen

[Frank Bono (Allen Baron) places a call from ALgonquin 5–9859. Click for a larger view.]

The story is simple: hit man Frank Bono arrives in New York City at Christmas time to do a job, and things go wrong. What makes Blast of Silence (dir. Allen Baron, 1961) compelling is atmosphere, external and internal: a bleak vision of New York and the bleaker vision of human character that unfolds in Lionel Stander’s voiceover.

In a 1990 documentary about this film, Allen Baron says that he had wanted Peter Falk to play Frank Bono. The role would have been a fitting followup to Falk’s performance as Abe Reles in Murder, Inc. (dir. Burt Balaban and Stuart Rosenberg, 1960). Baron though ended up doing the job himself: “We did the best we could with what we had. And I was the best actor available to me at the time, and I was the only one I could afford.”

Blast of Silence is available, beautifully restored, from the Criterion Collection. I think it’s one of the great low-budget films, along with Carnival of Souls (dir. Herk Harvey, 1962) and The Honeymoon Killers (dir. Leonard Kastle, 1970).

More exchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Baby Face : Born Yesterday : The Dark Corner : Deception : Dream House : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Murder, My Sweet : Nightmare Alley : The Public Enemy : Side Street : Sweet Smell of Success : This Gun for Hire

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Steve Jobs at college (and typos)

I like this brief exchange, Steve Wozniak visiting Steve Jobs at Reed College:

[Jobs] liked being at Reed, just not taking the required classes. In fact he was surprised when he found out that, for all of its hippie aura, there were strict course requirements. When Wozniak came to visit, Jobs waved his schedule at him and complained, “They are making me take all these courses.” Woz replied, “Yes, that’s what they do in college.”

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011).
I’ve only been able to take a few quick glances at this book. The index does not inspire confidence: Jonathan “Jony” Ive is identified therein as “Sony” Ive (page 612). There’s also an entry for Jobs’s “topography [read typography] obsession” (page 614). Imagine Jobs’s reaction to such errors.

[Grainy images from Amazon’s “Look Inside.”]

Write five sentences on the world

I’ve got the world on a string. Got the world in a jug, the stopper’s in my hand. I can show you the world, shining, shimmering, splendid. This is the world, which is fuller / and more difficult to learn than I have said. I’m thinkin’ ’bout a-this whole world.

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

[Ever since I wrote a post on a few sentences from Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, Google searches for five sentences (that is, for ready-made homework) have been ending up at Orange Crate Art. Write five sentences on the world is the latest such search. With apologies to Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler (“I’ve Got the World on a String”), Lovie Austin and Alberta Hunter (“Down Hearted Blues”), Alan Menken and Tim Rice (“A Whole New World”), Margaret Atwood (“You Begin”), and Brian Wilson (“This Whole World”).]

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


In the words of its maker, Vollkorn [German, wholemeal] is “quiet,” “modest,” with “dark and meaty serifs and a bouncing and healthy look.” The font is the work of typographer and type designer Friedrich Althausen and is available as a free download, licensed under the Open Font License. Me and Palatino, we go back a long ways, but Vollkorn is becoming my favorite serif font.

Support Creative Commons

Creative Commons has begun its 2011 fundraising drive:

The idea of universal access to research, education, and culture is made possible by the Internet, but our legal and social systems don’t always allow that idea to be realized. Copyright was created long before the emergence of the Internet, and can make it hard to legally perform actions we take for granted on the network: copy, paste, edit source, and post to the Web. The default setting of copyright law requires all of these actions to have explicit permission, granted in advance, whether you’re an artist, teacher, scientist, librarian, policymaker, or just a regular user. To achieve the vision of universal access, someone needed to provide a free, public, and standardized infrastructure that creates a balance between the reality of the Internet and the reality of copyright laws. That someone is Creative Commons.
I support Creative Commons and make Orange Crate Art available under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Olivetti exhibit

In Denver, through October 28:

Olivetti: Innovation and Identity showcases the Italian company’s groundbreaking approach to product design and promotion. After World War II, Olivetti’s quality office machines and distinctive advertising graphics helped establish Italy’s reputation as the cradle of modern design.
Read more:

Olivetti: Innovation and Identity (Denver Art Museum)
Olivetti Hit Keys for Success: Good Design (PBS NewsHour)

Related posts
Q.: “Where are you going to get a typewriter?” (New York’s Olivetti showroom)
Olivetti again (the showroom again)

Cambric, chambray

Any relation? The question came up at breakfast. It turns out that there is:

My one association for cambric: “Tell her to make me a cambric shirt, / Parsley, sage, rosemary,” &c. Chambray and denim were of course the hippiest of fabrics.

[Definitions from the New Oxford American Dictionary.]

Whither Barnes & Noble?

I went to a nearby Barnes & Noble last night to buy Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs — my first visit since Borders closed. I was surprised to see how large and empty the store looked. It’s not just that there were few customers: several aisles of books had been removed, and larger areas of floorspace were now given over to games and trinkets and just plain carpet. Is the handwriting on the wall for Barnes & Noble? Or better: are the pixels on the screen?

[Bookstore survival-strategy seems to be premised on everything but books.]

Monday, October 24, 2011

A school without technology

In Silicon Valley’s Waldorf School of the Peninsula, teaching and learning take place without computers. The school’s students include the children of Apple, Google, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and Yahoo employees:

Finn Heilig, 10, whose father works at Google, says he liked learning with pen and paper — rather than on a computer — because he could monitor his progress over the years.

“You can look back and see how sloppy your handwriting was in first grade. You can’t do that with computers ’cause all the letters are the same,” Finn said. “Besides, if you learn to write on paper, you can still write if water spills on the computer or the power goes out.”

A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute (New York Times)
[Found via Submitted for Your Perusal. Matt Thomas reads the Sunday New York Times far more thoroughly than I do.]

SafeLite, SafeLite, SafeLite

A commercial (or series of commercials) sometimes gets in my head — and my brain begins to dissolve. Case in point: commercials for SafeLite AutoGlass. Sing it with me: “SafeLite repair, Safelite replace.”

What gets me is the ritual that closes each windshield-repair vignette. The customer reaches for her or his wallet, only to be waved off: insurance has it covered. The customer then looks into the eyes of the SafeLite technician, each customer with a different response to this unexpected bit of good news. Behold, as SafeLite technicians Ray, Erik, and Pascal, and three unidentified customers perform the ritual. You can click each image for a larger view.

If these hands could speak, they would say, to a finger, “Your money is no good here.” But note the variety of responses.

Here we see earnest, mildly surprised gratitude. “Huh. We don’t see enough of your generosity in today’s world. Thank you, Ray. I will pay it forward.”

This fellow is too cocky for his own good, or anyone else’s. The money he’s saved will probably go toward larger and better mirrors. I’d like to remind him though that he will still be stuck with a less than perfect windshield.

This guy’s the best. He can’t believe his good fortune. “Really?” he asks. Yes, really. Pascal would not lie to you. Pascal shares his name with a great philosopher. Your insurance, sir, is covering the repair, which costs about a quarter of what a new windshield would cost. Yes, really.

You can see all three commercials, over and over and over, at YouTube: Ray, Erik, and Pascal.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


While out and about:

“’Cause they’re opinion-wise. Thank God! ”

What are they? Essays, I suspect (whose arguments in fact require support).

Opinion-wise reminds me of The Apartment (dir. Billy Wilder, 1960), which has -wise running through it: “Premium-wise and billing-wise, we are eighteen percent ahead of last year, October-wise.” In 1960, -wise was very much in the air. From the 1959 edition of William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style:

-wise. Not to be used indiscriminately as a pseudosuffix: taxwise, pricewise, marriagewise, prosewise, saltwater taffywise. Chiefly useful when it means in the manner of : clockwise. There is not a noun in the language to which -wise cannot be added if the spirit moves one to add it. The sober writer will abstain from the use of this wild syllable.
As you might suspect from the taffy and from the dry humor of that final sentence, the entry is White’s work.

Related reading
All “overheard” posts (via Pinboard)

At Zuccotti Park (6)

Photograph of protesters’ belongings covered with tarps
[Photograph by James Koper. Click for a larger view.]

Our friends Jim and Luanne Koper went to Zuccotti Park last Saturday and are sharing their photographs of the day. Here’s one more.

More photographs from Zuccotti Park
“I go to time out for cheating”
“Take the rich off welfare!”
Man with beard
Woman with sign
Man with flag

Friday, October 21, 2011

New from Homer

Here from The Economist is a review of a new edition of a venerable translation of the Iliad (Richmond Lattimore), two new translations (Stephen Mitchell, Anthony Verity), and a free adaptation (Alice Oswald): Winged Words. About Lattimore, the reviewer and I will have to disagree: the “certain grace” that he or she finds in Lattimore’s Iliad is missing from my copy. About Mitchell and Verity, I’m inclined to agree: the lines quoted offer little to recommend these translations. Oswald’s project sounds like an obvious imitation of Christopher Logue’s ongoing War Music: I’m surprised that the reviewer doesn’t mention Logue’s reimagining of Homer’s poem.

Mitchell’s bland admission to the Wall Street Journal — “I’ve never been able to read ‘The Iliad,’ actually, until I sat down to do this. . . . I could never get past book one in any translation. I found the language very dull” — raises an odd but relevant question: why might one sit down to translate a work one has never read, either in the original or in translation? Mitchell’s characterization of translations as “dull” makes me think that he must not have sampled Stanley Lombardo’s Iliad. It’s curious then that Mitchell’s colloquialisms — “Don’t talk to me of agreements, you son of a bitch“ — sound very much like the work of a poor man’s Stanley Lombardo.

For me, there’s one great Iliad in modern translation, and it‘s Lombardo’s. It’s the translation that made me understand Homer’s poem. I am interested though in browsing these new translations in a bookstore. (No samples at Amazon.)

Some related posts
Gilgamesh in translation (Stephen Mitchell and N.K. Sandars)
Whose Homer? (the Big Four: Lattimore, Robert Fitzgerald, Robert Fagles, Lombardo)
Translators at work and play (another line by the Big Four)
Three Virgils (Fitzgerald, Lombardo, Fagles)
Translations, mules, briars (Guy Davenport on Lattimore)

[“I could never get past book one in any translation”: why would Mitchell have been limited to reading the poem in translation anyway? Because he had no Homeric Greek? Did he thus invest time in learning a language to be able translate a poem he had never read? Very puzzling. Browse around and you’ll find that other readers have wondered whether Mitchell can read Homer’s Greek.]

At Zuccotti Park (5)

Photograph of a man wearing camouflage fatigues and  holding an American flag
[Photograph by James Koper. Click for a larger view.]

Our friends Jim and Luanne Koper went to Zuccotti Park on Saturday and are sharing their photographs of the day. Here’s one more.

More photographs from Zuccotti Park
“I go to time out for cheating”
“Take the rich off welfare!”
Man with beard
Woman with sign

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gaddafi? Kadafi? Qaddafi?

Gaddafi? Kadafi? Qaddafi? However you spell it, it seems that he’s dead.

Three little words

Herman Cain, at yesterday’s Western Republican Leadership Conference: “My strategy for China is three words: Outgrow China.”

[Thanks, Elaine!]

You and us

Ah, pedagogy. I’ve changed the way I ask a standard question in class, for the better, I think.

Old version: What in the poem (or story, or text) makes you think that? What in the poem shows you that?

New version: What in the poem makes us think that? What in the poem shows us that?

The old version puts all the weight on the shoulders of one student and can be misheard as a challenge: where did you ever get that idea? The new version suggests that whatever the student has said makes sense, that other readers would think so too, and that evidence is indeed there in the text. Getting students to argue from the text is a more difficult proposition than you might imagine, so I’m always asking for evidence, even if it’s to support what appears to be obvious. Close, and closer, reading.

At Zuccotti Park (4)

[“We the 99% are too big to fail.” Photograph by James Koper. Click for a larger view.]

Our friends Jim and Luanne Koper went to Zuccotti Park on Saturday and are sharing their photographs of the day. Here’s another.

It’s an interesting time to be teaching John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which I’ll be doing in a couple of weeks. “We’re the people that live,” says Ma Joad. “Why, we’re the people — we go on.”

More photographs from Zuccotti Park
1, 2, and 3

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Proust, Barthes, involuntary memory

Henriette Barthes died on October 25, 1979. One day later, her son Roland began a “mourning diary,” making notes on quarter-sized pieces of typing paper. Here is a note recording a moment of what Marcel Proust called involuntary memory:

                                                     May 17, 1978

Last night, a stupid, gross film, One Two Two. It was set in the period of the Stavisky scandal, which I lived through. On the whole, it brought nothing back. But all of a sudden, one detail of the décor overwhelmed me: nothing but a lamp with a pleated shade and a dangling switch. Maman made such things — around the time she was making batik. All of her leaped before my eyes.

Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary: October 26, 1977–September 15, 1979. Trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 2010).
The New Yorker has four of Barthes’s notes online, no subscription required.

[A footnote by Nathalie Léger identifies the film as 122, rue de Provence (dir. Christian Gion, 1978). Wikipedia explains the Stavisky scandal. Proust, as you might imagine, makes a number of appearances in Barthes’s notes.]

At Zuccotti Park (3)

[Photograph by James Koper. Click for a larger view.]

Our friends Jim and Luanne Koper went to Zuccotti Park on Saturday and are sharing their photographs of the day. Such an expressive face on this man.

Related posts
At Zuccotti Park (1)
At Zuccotti Park (2)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Orange Cain tax

“We are replacing the current tax code with oranges": Herman Cain, in tonight's debate.


“[M]yself am hell”

An Onion headline, no article attached:

Smooth Jazz Musician Forced To Listen
To His Own Song Over And Over While
On Hold With Time Warner Cable
If there’s a hell, smooth jazz is its soundtrack.

[“Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell”: John Milton, Paradise Lost.]

Bad! Yahoo! Mail!

For many years I’ve used a Yahoo! Mail account for blog-related correspondence. But no more. Lately there are problems: messages that won’t open (widely reported) and a redesign that keeps the mobile interface from automatically going to the Inbox (which is, after all, what you want to see when you check the mail). Instead Yahoo! is pushing bits of news, sports, weather, and what’s “Trending Now”:

[Trending now, or then: Herman Cain and SimCity.]

Worst of all: when I checked my Sent mail the other day to see when I requested a review-copy of a recently published book (opportunities to make such requests are a nice extra of keeping a blog), I discovered that Yahoo! Mail had turned my words into gibberish. My message began, “I’m writing to request a review copy.” But it came out like so:

Similar errors ran through the rest: blog turned into `b,og, from into `fpom. Yikes: my `credibikity was breaking into little pieces. The stranger part: Yahoo! Mail’s Preview still shows my e-mail error-free, just as I wrote it.¹ In Preview, the message begins,

It’s only in the sent message — where it counts — that everything’s a mess. I sent the publisher a second e-mail explaining what happened. No reply yet. No reply from Yahoo! either, to whom I reported the problem. In retaliation, I’ve created a Gmail account for blog-related matters: the address is in the sidebar if you need it.

¹ In other words, I don’t type when drunk. But also: I don’t get drunk. And also: I’m not joking. The gibberish is real, and embarrassing.

A related post
Word of the day: non-trending

At Zuccotti Park (2)

[“Take the rich off welfare!” Photograph by James Koper. Click for a larger view.]

Our friends Jim and Luanne Koper went to Zuccotti Park on Saturday and are sharing their photographs of the day. Here’s another.

A related post
At Zuccotti Park (1)

Monday, October 17, 2011

“My children were raised”

My children were raised, you know they suddenly rise
They started slow long ago, head to toe
Healthy, wise, and wise

From “Heroes and Villains” (music by Brian Wilson, words by Van Dyke Parks)
I am happy to learn that the verb raised in this, one of my favorite songs, is okay by Bryan Garner. From Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day, on raise and rear:
The old rule, still sometimes observed, is that crops and livestock are “raised” and children are “reared.” But today the phrase “born and raised” is about eight times as common in print as “born and reared.” And “raise” is now standard as a synonym for “rear” — e.g.: “My mother raised me to be polite.” Mary Newton Brudner, The Grammar Lady 57 (2000). Indeed, “born and reared” is likely to sound affected in American English.
Bryan Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage (Oxford University Press, 2009), offers a free Usage Tip of the Day. You can sign up at Orange Crate Art is a Garner-friendly (and VDP-friendly) site.

My favorite Parks interpretation of “Heroes and Villains” comes from a 2010 NPR appearance. The introduction to the song starts at 26:57: Van Dyke Parks and Clare and the Reasons at the World Café.

At Zuccotti Park (1)

Photograph of family at Zuccotti Park. The little girl’s sign reads “I go to time out for cheating. I am the 99%.”
[“I go to time out for cheating. I am the 99%.” Photograph by James Koper. Click for a larger view.]

Our friends Jim and Luanne Koper went to Zuccotti Park on Saturday and are sharing their photographs of the day. Here’s one (not of Jim and Luanne). Thanks, guys.

On a related note: Elaine and I just watched Inside Job (dir. Charles Ferguson, 2010). Want to get angry, or angrier? Watch it. Most revealing to me were the interviews with three academics: John Campbell, R. Glenn Hubbard, Frederic Mishkin. Talk about arrogant.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Treasures of the Bodleian

Here’s an excellent rabbit-hole: Treasures of the Bodleian. Sappho, Dante, Shakespeare, Austen, Kafka, and much more. There’s even a telegram from the Titanic.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


[Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

Leaving the Saint Louis Art Museum yesterday, I had to take a picture of this sign just inside the front doors. The sign isn’t art, just a straightforward announcement of what I suppose had always been a tacit rule of museum-going.


At the Saint Louis Art Museum’s exhibit of Monet’s Agapanthus triptych, in a little room where some silent footage of the painter ran in a loop, accompanied by a recording of Debussy’s “Claire de lune,” a grandmother spoke loudly to her granddaughters, who might have been three and five:

“Smoking cigarettes is very bad for you. If he hadn’t smoked cigarettes, he would have lived a lot longer. You don’t want to smoke cigarettes.”
The footage was of Monet at work, a long-ashed cigarette hanging from his lips. He died of lung cancer at the age of eighty-six.

The Agapanthus triptych was a disappointment, though Elaine and I were happy that we shared in the disappointment. (“I’m so glad we have the same taste in art,” said she.) We saw so many far more vibrant and engaging paintings yesterday — by Kline, Motherwell, Pissarro, van Gogh, and Monet himself, among others. The triptych felt more like painting-by-the-yard, or background music. The dark-grey walls and dim lighting didn’t help matters. Nor did the array of merch that waited just beyond the triptych, everything from CDs of French pop music to Monet refrigerator magnets.

Related reading
All “overheard” posts (via Pinboard)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Zenith All-Speed Record Changer

[Life, August 28, 1950. Click for a larger view.]

There’s something poignant about the prepared-for-all-eventualities mindset that this turntable is meant to satisfy:
First and only changer that plays any speed record now made or yet to come, 10 R.P.M. to 85 . . . with two simple controls a six-year-old can operate.

Record lovers— here is the changer that sets you free forever from the nightmare of speeds, sizes, attachments and adjustments!

Zenith engineers, who revolutionized record reproduction with the world-famous Cobra® Tone Arm, have now brought you an automatic changer — the new “Cobra-Matic” — so unbelievably simple that you simply won’t believe it until you operate it yourself!

You touch one control knob — and set it for any size record — 7, 10 or 12 inch! You touch the other control knob — and set it for any speed! Yes, for 33 1/3, 45, 78, or any speed from 10 R.P.M. to 85 that the modern world may dream up! You can play them all — with one marvelous new Super-Cobra Tone Arm — not even a needle to adjust, not even one single attachment to fuss with!

And what a glorious outpouring of tone will greet your ears! Zenith’s new Super-Cobra, resting a mere 1/5 of an ounce on the record, brings out new tonal beauty against a background of velvety quiet. Reproduces music on a Radionic wave like no other method you have ever seen or heard!

Now — at last — you can buy a phonograph without fear that it will be obsolete. You can be sure that in a Zenith® you possess the last word in tonal magnificence and the simplest way ever devised for automatic record playing. See you Zenith dealer today, and see for yourself!

New “Cobra-Matic” Changer Now on All Zenith Radio-Phonographs and Television Combinations
Poking fun at this ad’s assumptions — that while speeds might vary, records would always come in three sizes; that an analog control knob would allow for precision in choosing a speed — seems tactless. I’d rather admire the mid-century confidence that a turntable would be forever. And in a way, it would be: there are still (for practical purposes) just three sizes and three speeds. The changes that the Cobra-Matic was meant to accommodate never showed up, though disruptive technologies did.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mitt/Mark Romney/Trail

I am increasingly certain that Mitt Romney is really D-list cartoon hero Mark Trail. Think about it: have you ever seen them together?

Well, have you?

[Mark Trail, October 11, 2011.]

Well-punctuated wine

Dig the careful punctuation on the Smoking Loon label:

“Besides his bein’ kinda crazy, they called him the Smoking Loon ’cause he was so dam’ efficient,” Jake began, stubbing out his cigar. “He’d take care of business an’ get in an’ out before anybody’d see him comin’ … leavin’ no trace ’cept the lingerin’ sound of his eerie, loon-like cackle. No one was really sure who he was or who he worked for, but when word got out someone needed his services, the Smoking Loon just appeared on their doorstep, like outta thin air or somethin’.”
It’s the ’.” at the end that gets me. It’s good wine too.

[Thanks for the wine, Martha.]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Oxford typo

I know the text above is small: I scanned it so that there could be no question about the accuracy of my transcription, which follows:
18. In an article in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, June 18, 2007, by line Penny Wolfe. Brown was listed as House’s 77-year-old son-in-law, but he was his ‘step’-son-in-law having been married to one of Evie Goff’s daughters by her first marriage. Even that relationship is complicated since both of Evie natural daughters, Bea and Sally, moved to Detroit in the late forties.

Daniel Beaumont, Preachin’ the Blues: The Life and Times of Son House (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
How many ways does this footnote go wrong?

1. By line should be one word: byline.

2. “Brown was listed as House’s 77-year-old son-in-law, but he was his ‘step’-son-in-law”: slight pronoun trouble. A better way to manage it: “Listed as House’s 77-year-old son-in-law, Brown was in truth a ‘step’-son-in-law.”

3. It’s not clear where Brown is “listed.” If the period after Penny Wolfe’s name is supposed to be a comma, it would be more accurate to say that Brown is identified, &c.

4. Commas are missing after ‘step’-son-in-law and complicated. Punctuation is a problem throughout the book, with necessary commas often missing after introductory subordinate clauses, before and after non-restrictive modifiers, and from citations.

5. The apostrophe and s are missing from Evie natural daughters.

6. Commercial-Appeal might be a mistake. Every reference I’ve seen to the newspaper elsewhere (from the recent and distant past) has the name without a hyphen.

Carelessness runs through this biography of Son House; this footnote is just an especially glaring example. Ought a reader to expect more from a university press? From Oxford University Press? I would think so. Preachin’ the Blues has some good stories of Son House’s life and some excellent photographs. But the writing, the writing. And the editing, the editing. I’m glad I borrowed this one from the library.

If you’ve never heard Son House, here’s a great place to start.

[Post title with apologies to the Oxford comma.]

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kern Type

Great fun: Kern Type, a kerning game (via Coudal).

Hint: all letters except the first and last letters of each word can be moved.

[Now back to work.]

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, October 11, 2011.]

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark.

There are many ways to draw a plausible refrigerator, but they’re all missing from the above panel. Perhaps the beer is in a cooler in the basement?

The old can-I-borrow-a-cup-of-sugar routine isn’t very plausible either.

Related posts
All Hi and Lois posts (via Pinboard)
Lois and refrigerators (more problems)

[With apologies to T.S. Eliot’s “East Coker.”]

Monday, October 10, 2011

Goodbye, Qwikster

That was fast.

A related post
Netflix messes up

Missing the obivous

I miss the obvious all the time. See the typo in the title of this post? Obvious, isn’t it?

But on a more serious note: I just realized that I’ve been missing something in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) that now seems ridiculously obvious. I first saw Vertigo in 1984 and have seen it many times since. I’d say that Vertigo is my favorite film. But I think I’ve misunderstood the relationship between John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) and Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes), which has seemed to me a matter of close friends of many years standing. One line of dialogue makes me now think that I’m wrong: “How’s your love life, Midge?”

If Scottie is in the habit of dropping in on Midge, wouldn’t he know, at least sort of? This question could be a matter of awkward exposition, a way to introduce the subject of Scottie and Midge’s past relationship. But here’s what I think is going on. We know that Scottie and Midge were close in college. As Scottie recalls, they were engaged — for “three whole weeks,” as Midge adds. They later (I now think) drifted apart. The death of the police officer who falls from a rooftop in the film’s opening scene has made the news, along with Scottie, who clung to a gutter, paralyzed by acrophobia, as the man fell. Midge (I now think) has seen this news and gotten in touch, feeling tenderness and pity and hoping to rekindle their relationship. More dialogue from Scottie and Midge’s first scene:

“Aren’t you ever gonna get married?”

“You know there’s only one man in the world for me, Johnny-O.”
This exchange too is not what one would expect between close friends of long standing.

Later in the film, Midge leaves a note under Scottie’s door asking “Where are you?” When Scottie drops in, she explains: “I just thought that if I gave you a drink and fed you some dinner, you’d be so grateful you’d take me to a movie.” Awkward and self-abasing, she’s making a play for him. No soap: Scottie’s already in a movie. It is under the direction of Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) and stars a woman named Madeleine (Kim Novak).

[“We were engaged once, weren’t we?” Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge Wood.]

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Butch Ballard (1918–2011)

“I was asleep, and my wife said, ‘Daddy, you have a call from a Mister Duke Ellington.’ I said, ‘Who?’”
The drummer Butch Ballard has died at the age of ninety-two. He was one of the few musicians to have played with both the Count Basie and Ellington bands. Ballard can be heard to advantage on the Ellington trio recording Piano Reflections (Capitol).

The above quotation is from a 2006 interview with Victor Schermer: Butch Ballard: Legendary Philadelphia Drummer (All About Jazz).


[Photograph by Michael Leddy. Brookline, Massachusetts, May 2011.]

The writing was on the wall, an interior wall of the defunct Pleasant Coin Wash. My last cigarette was on October 8, 1989, which must be what made me think of posting this photograph today, before I’d even remembered the no-smokin(g) anniversary. (Thanks, subconscious.)

A related post
Nineteen years later (a self-interview re: smoking)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Domestic comedy

My son the aphorist:

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land in the vast emptiness of space.”

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts (via Pinboard)

[Thanks, Ben.]

Friday, October 7, 2011

Offline, real-presence education

From a defense of — what can one call it? — offline, real-presence education:

The goal of bringing students to campus for several years is to immerse them in an environment in which learning is the highest value, something online environments, no matter how interactive, cannot simulate. Real learning is hard; it requires students to trust each other and their teachers. In other words, it depends on relationships.

Johann Neem, Online Higher Education’s Individualist Fallacy (Inside Higher Ed)
I’m reminded of what Jacques Barzun wrote in Teacher in America (1945): “Teaching is not a process; it is a developing emotional situation.”

[Yes, “real-presence education” is my irreverent pun on a theological doctrine. No, I don’t think the teacher is God.]

Proust’s Armchair

One expensive chair:

One of the most iconic and important post-modernist designs, Proust’s Armchair, by Italian designer and architect Alessandro Mendini, is to be sold at Bonhams as part of its Contemporary Two sale on 19 October 2011. Designed in 1978, and executed in 1981, for a performance based exhibition entitled Robot Sentimentale, it has attracted a pre-sale estimate of £20,000–30,000.
A related post
Glenn Gould’s chair

[Thanks, George.]

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bill Cunningham New York

Bill Cunningham, smiling while speaking:

“You see, if you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do, kid. That’s the key to the whole thing. Don’t touch money: it’s the worst thing you can do.”
Bill Cunningham New York (dir. Richard Press, 2011) is a documentary about the New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham. I have no interest in fashion, so I’m not sure why I was intent on seeing this film. It’s a wonderful portrait of an ascetic, cheerful, funny, modest, utterly dedicated man who negotiates life on his terms: traveling through Manhattan on a bicycle, eating in cheap restaurants, living in a tiny room in Carnegie Hall with the dozens of file cabinets that hold his work. (The cabinets’ handles hold the hangers that hold his few clothes.) A few minutes late in the film are painful: they hint at complexities that an attentive audience can most likely work out for itself.

The sentences I’ve quoted concern Cunningham’s association with the magazine Details: not wanting to be “owned,” he refused to take money for his work.

Bill Cunnigham New York (the film’s website)
Times Topics: Bill Cunningham (New York Times)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs (1955–2011)

From the Los Angeles Times:

Steven P. Jobs, the charismatic technology pioneer who co-founded Apple Inc. and transformed one industry after another, from computers and smartphones to music and movies, has died. He was 56.

Apple announced the death of Jobs — whose legacy included the Apple II, Macintosh, iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad.

“We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today,” Apple said. “Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.”

Steve Jobs dies; Apple’s co-founder transformed computers and culture (Los Angeles Times)
A good way to remember Steve Jobs: read the prepared text of the commencement address he gave at Stanford University in 2005. The address is made of three stories: about trust, work, and mortality.

Dale Carnegie 2.0

Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People has been updated as How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age. A ghastly sample sentence:

Today’s biggest enemy of lasting influence is the sector of both personal and corporate musing that concerns itself with the art of creating impressions without consulting the science of need ascertainment.

Dwight Garner, Classic Advice: Please, Leave Well Enough Alone (New York Times)
My sector of personal musing has consulted need ascertainment, and it has been determined that it would be interesting to read the original book. Elaine just found a copy at a library book-sale.

“You've got to find out
what's eating them”

Success in a carnival’s mitt camp (fortunetelling booth) requires close-reading skills:

“Sometimes they come for a lark and you can always spot that kind. But more often, even though they’re keeping up a bold front, they are worried deep down. If you’re going to be a mitt reader you’ve got to find out what’s eating them. Take the other day, a girl about thirty-five comes in. I spotted the mark on her finger where she had taken off her wedding ring — often they’ll do that to try and fool you. I could tell she was married, all right — an unmarried woman is looking out, this one was looking in. I figured she had at least two small children — she had that hunted look. Her clothes had been good last year, but this year they’d been made over and she was no seamstress. To me, that meant less money this year than last. She had no servants — I got this from her hands. I spotted her as conservative and unimaginative, from her clothes and hair-do. And timid from the expression of her mouth and eyes. Also some anxiety and self-pity. Anxiety alone might have indicated worry over illness in the family — husband, children or herself. Anger, either on the surface or boiling underneath, would mean another woman. But anxiety and self-pity together work out as a rule to money worries.

“You can see from this how closely you can peg them before they even sit down; but you’ve got to have good eyesight and be pretty quick to observe. After all, I pay fifty a week to the carny management for this spot on the midway and when we hit the fair dates it goes up to a hundred. When you have to get up ‘the nut’ that way every week, you’ll really sharpen up your brains if you have any.”

William Lindsay Gresham, Monster Midway: An Uninhibited Look at the Glittering World of the Carny (New York: Rinehart, 1953).
A related post

Van Dyke Parks’s windshield

“My windshield is bigger than my rear view mirror”: Van Dyke Parks, responding to a question about whether music was more fun forty-five years ago. From an interview with the Louisville Eccentric Observer. VDP opens for Fleet Foxes tonight in Louisville.

[I know: the URL reads van-dyke-parkss-mirrors. I’m not sure what I was thinking.]

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Word of the day: non-trending

I was happy yesterday to think up the word non-trending as a way to describe what one hears on WKCR-FM (mostly classical music and jazz). It turns out though that non-trending is — dang — already a word. In which case, I’ve repurposed it to mean not “unpopular” but “of permanent interest.” Homer and Sappho are non-trending.

The verb trend means “to show a tendency,” “to become deflected.” Trending, which comes us to us via Twitter, involves only one tendency: toward short-lived popularity. The word itself seems marked for a short life. As Jesse Kornbluth writes, “This time next year, I won’t be at all surprised to read that trending is ‘just soooo 2011.’”

[I found Kornbluth’s piece via Submitted for Your Perusal. Matt Thomas reads the Sunday New York Times far more thoroughly than I do.]

Brown October

[Life, October 3, 1955.]

When I found this ad (by chance, natch), I suspected that there’s more to an Ann Page Bean Bake than meets the eye. And I don’t mean the dish’s invisible ingredients (onion, oregano, and “salad oil”). I mean the phrase “brown October.” It comes from John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1866 poem “Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl”:
The mug of cider simmered slow,
The apples sputtered in a row,
And close at hand the basket stood
With nuts from brown October’s wood.
This poem of course was once beloved, wildly popular stuff. (And no doubt still is, here and there.) I assume the ad involves an allusion, meant to be recognized. You can keep brown October’s Bean Bake, but pass the cider and nuts, please.

Related posts
Alkalize with Alka-Seltzer (and James Russell Lowell)
Blue October (and Helen Hunt Jackson)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Jo Jones Centennial Festival

[“Closeup of percussionist Jo Jones at cymbals at recording session for film Jammin’ the Blues, being directed by photographer Gjon Mili.” Photograph by Gjon Mili. Hollywood, California. October 10, 1944. From the Life Photo Archive.]

Now playing, and playing until noon, October 8: the Jo Jones Centennial Festival on WKCR-FM. Papa Jo Jones, drummer extraordinaire, was born on October 7, 1911.

WKCR-FM is one of the great resources for non-trending music. The station is hurting: throw some money its way if you like what you hear.

[Thanks to Music Clip of the Day for spreading the news.]

Blue October

[Poster by Albert M. Bender. Made by the Illinois WPA Art Project for the WPA Statewide Library Project. Stamped August 30, 1940. From the Library of Congress’s online archive American Memory.]

“October’s Bright Blue Weather” is the title of a poem by Helen Hunt Jackson. It begins,
O suns and skies and clouds of June,
    And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
    October’s bright blue weather
What are you reading as bright blue October begins? Me, William Lindsay Gresham’s Monster Midway (1954), on carnivals and carnies.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

“Dear Blogger”

Lisa Hirsch at Iron Tongue of Midnight has something to say to Blogger:

You will have to tear my current template from my cold, dead fingers before I replace it with the unreadable, photo-blog-oriented crap you're currently pushing. What is wrong with you?
“Unreadable, photo-blog-oriented crap” is another name for Blogger’s new Dynamic Views templates, which look to my eyes like a self-parodic exercise in distraction. Dynamic Views might bring a temporary increase in page loads, as people click on snippets out of curiosity, but I suspect that the novelty would soon wear off and become off-putting. Why? Because the design doesn’t respect the reader’s investment of time and attention. See for yourself:

[The Official Gmail Blog in Mosaic view. Click for a larger view.]

I’ve clicked on the “Send feedback” button on the Gmail Blog (bottom-right corner) and added my 2¢. You might want to do the same.

A related post
The new Blogger interface

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Domestic comedy

“I never met a substitute chord I didn’t like.”

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts (via Pinboard)

[Elaine and I were playing pre-dinner-party music, violin and guitar, for a good cause (the Y): “Autumn Leaves,” “Lullaby of the Leaves,” “On a Little Street in Singapore,” “Pennies from Heaven,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Mood Indigo,” “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”, and “When Day Is Done.” If you’re wondering about substitute chords, this Wikipedia article should leave you thoroughly confused.]

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Kindle Fire kindles fears: Amazon’s response to the question of whether it will track browsing and alter its offerings accordingly: “no.”