Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Barnes & Noble v. Amazon (2)

The New York Times reports that Barnes & Noble bookstores will not stock Amazon-published books.

A related post
Barnes & Noble v. Amazon

NYPL Stereogranimator

GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator - view more at http://stereo.nypl.org/gallery/index
[“Ivy Baldwin breaking the record for tight-rope walking-rope 580 feet high and 555 feet long, near Boulder, Colo. (c.1907).”]

You too can create animated GIFs and 3D images with the New York Public Library’s Stereogranimator.

January 31, 1971 (?)

John Ashbery on “the dictatorship of the months and years”:

On this Sunday which is also the last day of January let us pause for a moment to take note of where we are. A new year has just begun and now a new month is coming up, charged with its weight of promise and probable disappointments, standing in the wings like an actor who is conscious of nothing but the anticipated cue, totally absorbed, a pillar of waiting. And now there is no help for it but to be cast adrift in the new month. One is plucked from one month to the next; the year is like a fast-moving Ferris wheel; tomorrow all the riders will be under the sign of February and there is no appeal, one will have to get used to living with its qualities and perhaps one will even adjust to them successfully before the next month arrives with a whole string of new implications in its wake.

“The System,” in Three Poems (1972).
[Sounds like a parody of a sermon. In 1971, January 31 fell on a Sunday.]

Monday, January 30, 2012

From Gilbert Sorrentino’s final work

It begins:

Mundane things, pitiful in their mundane assertiveness, their sad isolation. Kraft French dressing, glowing weirdly orange through its glass bottle, a green glass bowl of green salad, a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, its paper wrapper still on. All are in repose, in their absolute thingness, under the overhead alarming bright light of the kitchen. They may or they should, they must, really, reveal the meaning of this silent room, this silent house, save that they won’t. There is no meaning. These things will evoke nothing.

In years to come, almost three-quarters of a century, they still evoke nothing. Orange, green, incandescent glare. Silence and loss. Nothing. There might be a boy of four at the table. He is sitting very straight and is possibly waiting for someone.

Gilbert Sorrentino, The Abyss of Human Illusion (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2009).
The back cover calls The Abyss of Human Illusion a novel. In fact it is a collection of fifty short pieces of doom and wit. I love Sorrentino’s writing. The details of his Brooklyn are the details of my Brooklyn.

Related posts
Bandbox (a word in a Sorrentino novel)
Gilbert Sorrentino (1929–2006)

[This book is available at a sadly low price from you-know-where.]

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Artist (and typography)

I can’t remember when I last saw a new comedy-drama as good as The Artist (2011, dir. Michel Hazanavicius). In these troubled times, The Artist offers the viewer a sweet escape into a world of laughter, music, and tears. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo are brilliant performers, and they look like the people they’re playing, actors from the 1920s and 30s. Everyone in the cast looks right: James Cutler and John Goodman in particular seem to be genuine time-travelers. (Contrast, say, Mad Men, in which everyone appears to be playing dress-up.) The film itself looks the part too, especially in outdoor scenes, which have the thin, watery light that suggests old. Three cheers for cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman.

There’s only one false touch in the film, and I’m not embarrassed to point it out: the intertitles use straight (“dumb”) quotation marks (" ") around dialogue, not curved (“ ”) quotation marks, aka “book quotes” or “curly quotes” or “smart quotes” or “typographic quotation marks.” Glance through an assortment of silent-film intertitles and it’s easy to see that proper quotation marks were the norm. Elaine and I are hardly typomaniacs: that we noticed the glitch makes me think that it will be widely noticed. (And perhaps corrected for the DVD, please?)

Umberto Eco says that Casablanca is “the movies.” So too is The Artist. Go see the movies!

March 6: Type designer Mark Simonson writes about The Artist and typography: The Artist vs. The Lettering Artist. Thanks to Daughter Number Three for the link.

[“In these troubled times”: yes, that’s a cliché. We saw The Artist at east-central Illinois’s best theater, The Art Theater.]

Barnes & Noble v. Amazon

From an article on Barnes & Noble and the future of the book business:

Carolyn Reidy, president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster, says the biggest challenge is to give people a reason to step into Barnes & Noble stores in the first place. “They have figured out how to use the store to sell e-books,” she said of the company. “Now, hopefully, we can figure out how to make that go full circle and see how the e-books can sell the print books.”

Barnes & Noble, Taking on Amazon in the Fight of Its Life (New York Times)
Alas, the logic here defies logic. Using the bookstore to sell e-books makes it unnecessary to go to the bookstore, except to use it as a library or life-sized catalogue, or to have coffee.

A related post
Whither Barnes & Noble? (“Bookstore survival-strategy seems to be premised on everything but books.”)

Saturday, January 28, 2012


At our friendly neighborhood multinational retailer, a tyke, maybe three, looking at the fishtanks:

“Dolphin! Dolphin!”

Related reading
All “overheard” posts (via Pinboard)
The iPad and dolphins (for real)

Blogger interface on the iPad

[“A blanker whiteness.” Click for a larger view.]

Blogger’s new interface is broken on the iPad. It’s been broken for at least two weeks. Open an existing draft that you’d like to edit: no text. The only fix for now is to use the old interface.

When it’s working, the new Blogger interface is hardly problem-free on the iPad: text is too faint to be easily readable. But faint beats invisible ink.

A related post
The new Blogger interface

[“A blanker whiteness”: Robert Frost, “Desert Places.”]

Friday, January 27, 2012


[“Man looking at film records containing social security numbers at the Social Security Board.” Photograph by Thomas D. Mcavoy. Baltimore, Maryland, 1938. From the Life Photo Archive.]

Thinking about Google’s new [Lack of] Privacy Policy reminded me of this photograph, which for some time I’d been planning to post.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Politics as infotainment

I turned on the television to watch a few minutes of the Republican debate and heard the voice of hard-hitting journalist Wolf Blitzer: “Stay tuned to find out why each man on this stage thinks his wife would be the best First Lady.”

That was enough.

“Fine-grained choices”

From Google’s Privacy Principles:

From Google’s new Privacy Policy:

So much for “fine-grained choices.” The choice now, as we used to say in Brooklyn: Like it or lump it.

Logic and porridge

When I teach ancient works, I like to point out that logical coherence is not always the point. For instance: if it’s the tenth year of the war, why is King Priam only now asking Helen to identify the various Achaeans laying siege to Troy? I think there’s only one good answer to such a question: “It’s a story.” For the purposes of the story, it makes sense to have Priam ask about these things, tenth year or no tenth year: his questions and comments let us understand his attitude toward “the enemy” (quite different from those that hold in our world). And in Iliad 3, it really is as if the war is just beginning, tenth year or no tenth year: single combat between Menelaus and Paris — now they think of it? — might settle the Helen question, until Athena breaks the armies’ truce and battle begins in 4.

When I raise or respond to this kind of logical question, I invoke the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. How can one bowl of porridge be too hot, one too cold, and one just right? Well, it’s a story. I am now happy (I think) to see that I am not the first person to have wondered about the temperature differences. Physicist Chad Orzel addressed the question in a 2009 blog post: The Faulty Thermodynamics of Children’s Stories (Uncertain Principles: Physics, Politics, Pop Culture). And there’s a 2007 novel that investigates the question (and many more questions), Jasper Fforde’s The Fourth Bear.

[Reader, have you read Jasper Fforde?]

Still drifting

Richard Arum and Jospia Roksa have been following the students of Academically Adrift into life after college. The general conclusion, as summarized by the Chronicle of Higher Education: “College graduates who showed paltry gains in critical thinking and little academic engagement while in college have a harder time than their more accomplished peers as they start their careers.” No surprise there, only a strong reminder: a credential alone is not enough.

Related reading
Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (my review)

Apple and China, continued

From the latest New York Times report on Apple in China:

“We’re trying really hard to make things better,” said one former Apple executive. “But most people would still be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from.”
The details are horrific.

In a related story, a nationwide Times survey found that owners of Apple products are largely unaware of where those products are manufactured. Only eighteen percent knew (or thought?) that Apple products are made abroad.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I envy Mary Richards

I have been watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Me-TV, and I must confess: I envy Mary Richards. Not her hair. Nor her cozy little part-of-a-house apartment. Nor her architectural-salvage M.

I envy Mary Richards the simplicity of her technology. The sum total: A table-top telephone. A Sony portable television, reception adjusted by built-in antenna. A Sony stereo system: a receiver/radio/turntable unit and two small speakers. A portable manual typewriter.

Mary never had to figure out how to get an old-phone ringtone into a cellphone. Her ring came with the phone, loud and clear. Mary never had to reprogram her television after getting a new cable box. She watched what was already “on” and reprogrammed by changing the channel. Mary did not have to buy a ground loop isolator to fix a problem with a humming turntable, only to find that the device failed to fix the problem. Her turntable was grounded. Mary did not to have to uninstall the software package that came with her HP printer and download a simpler and better package from Apple. She used Wite-Out.

Of course, Mary never made it past 1977.

Jokes for Murray Slaughter to insert in the above paragraphs:

“Cellphone? Sounds like something you’d use in prison.”

“Cable box? Sounds like what Marie uses for storing sweaters.”

“A humming turntable? Doesn’t it know the words?”

“Download? Sounds like what Lou’s gonna do to Ted in about ten seconds.”

March 2, 2022: Now that I’m watching the complete run, I know that Mary’s life in technology became more complicated. In the sixth-season episode “Ted’s Tax Refund” (November 29, 1975), Mary gets a new stereo system (components!), follows the set-up instructions, and has sound in only one speaker — Gladys Knight, but no Pips. Murray’s instructions fail — no sound at all, then just a weird noise. Lou hooks everything up.

[In my youth, I had the same all-in-one Sony system that Mary had in the show’s first give seasons, the HP-138. Here’s one on eBay. The simplest way to remove a turntable hum might be to get an extension cord and run all components to the same outlet. And Elaine got it out of me: I do kinda envy Mary her apartment.]

Infinite Jest and Liberal Arts

Josh Radnor directs and stars with Elizabeth Olson in the new film Liberal Arts:

“The screenplay is salted with a love of literature, and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest plays a key role. “That book really messes you up,” Radnor said. “But read it.”

Sundance Film Festival: Josh Radnor’s wry and touching Liberal Arts a major hit (77 Square)
Related reading
All David Foster Wallace posts (via Pinboard)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Last Mountain

[Click for a larger view.]
The mother of all environmental problems is the climate-change issue. It is very real; it is happening today; and at the core of the problem is coal.

Gus Speth, former dean, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, quoted in The Last Mountain


The epicenter of the climate-change battle in the United States is Appalachian coal, and the epicenter of the battle around Appalachian coal is Coal River Mountain.

Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council, also quoted in The Last Mountain
The documentary The Last Mountain (dir. Bill Haney, 2011) tells the story of West Virginians’ fight against mountaintop removal mining, a technology with catastrophic consequences for the environment and human health. In this film, the line between what’s wrong and what’s right is clear. Greed, corporate lobbying, and utter disregard for the well-being of West Virginia’s people are amply on display. (Meet Don Blankenship.) But there’s hope too, in the promise of wind power and in the efforts of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and a host of dedicated citizens and environmental activists. Among them: Susan Bird, Maria Gunnoe, Jennifer Hall-Massey, Lorelei Scarbro, David Aaron Smith, Bo Webb, and Ed Wiley. Their names are as important to note as those of the better-known figures. Watch Ed Wiley stand up to West Virginia’s then-governor Joe Manchin: we should all have such courage.

Read more
The Last Mountain (the film’s website)

[This film serves as a nice reminder that giving money to the candidate, not the party, can be a smarter choice. That a contribution to the Democratic National Committee might help the likes of Joe Manchin makes me cringe.]

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chrome and Flash

Chrome-and-Flash problems seem to be in the air. From Lockergnome: How To Fix Shockwave Flash Crashes in Google Chrome.

Serving suggestion

Gunther at Lexikaliker found an interesting Serviervorschlag [serving suggestion.] The picture is funny in any language.

Apple and China

From a New York Times article on why Apple products are made in China:

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work (New York Times)
Related listening
“Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” (This American Life)

National Handwriting Day

[“. . . Unit on Germs and one on Atoms or the Human Body. I think it was a very good idea to have Penmanship so that we can improve our handwritings. I also think that we should have . . . .”]

It’s National Handwriting Day. Because it’s the birthday of John Hancock.

Above, a sample of my 1967 handwriting, courtesy of my fifth-grade teacher Marcia Schorr. Thanks, Mrs. Schorr. And thank you for everything.

Related reading
All handwriting posts (via Pinboard)

[Yes, I always had trouble with the cursive capital I.]

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Now more than ever

On December 4, 2011, in an idle moment of amateur prophecy, I wrote:

If Romney becomes the nominee, look for Bain to become a familiar name in political discourse. I think though that it’ll be Gingrich, and that Obama v. Gingrich will resemble Clinton v. Dole. Gingrich seems well suited to play a cranky old guy.
I still think it’ll be Gingrich. And indeed, he seems well suited to play a cranky old guy. More specifically, a cranky old white guy. The next nine months will, I think, come to feel like a slog through toxic sludge. But I have little doubt about how the election will go.

[If I were a Republican voter, I’d have voted for Jon Huntsman. I guess I wouldn’t have a great career as a Republican voter.]

Recently updated

Hi and Lois watch: Things are back to normal on the Hi-Lo production line.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

An ism

What my friend Sara calls an “ism”:

Learning is the process of realizing you did not create the world.
It’s hers, and it’s one smart ism.

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, January 10, 2012.]

[Hi and Lois, January 16, 2012.]

Though its characters haven’t aged in years, the Hi and Lois world is ever in flux. Furniture disappears and windows change shape in the interstices; a neighbor changes his hair color and no one says a thing. I like the contrast between the speech balloons above: first Hi’s risqué suggestion, then the twins’ cheerful cure for Lois’s seasonal affective disorder.¹ I notice too that the windows have again changed shape.

But there’s a more fundamental difference (as Professor Gingrich might say) between the above panels. Notice how the art has changed: as of January 15, every character, every object, every speech balloon is enclosed by a thick Sharpie-like line. I’ve read that eight people “animate” the strip: it looks as if they’re taking turns.

Update, January 22: Things are back to normal on the Hi-Lo production line. (But that shadow?)

[Hi and Lois, January 22, 2012.]

¹ Re: seasonal affective disorder: that’s what Lois thinks is wrong. I suspect though that it has something to do with Hi’s clumsy attempt to “turn up the heat.”

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (via Pinboard)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Time Inc. notebook

[“Notebook of Time Inc. co-founder Briton Hadden with suggestions and ideas for new magazines.” Photographer unknown. 1929. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

I like the idea of a “letter mag” (right under “secy mag”) — I’d like to think that meant a magazine devoted to letters as in stamps and stationery, not letters as in literature.

[I’ve written two letters this year. How about you?]

Definitive Jest

Jarett Myskiw’s Definitive Jest: “a vocabulary-building and SNOOT-approved word-of-the-day blog centered around David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.”

Related reading
All David Foster Wallace posts (via Pinboard)

[In the essay “Authority and American Usage,” Wallace glosses SNOOT as his “nuclear family’s nickname for a really extreme usage fanatic.” The acronym stands for “Sprachgefühl Necessitates Our Ongoing Tendance” or “Syntax Nudniks Of Our Time.“ “Authority and American Usage” appears in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (New York: Little, Brown, 2005). The essay first appeared in Harper’s as “Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage.”]

Bands and punctuation

Some of what’s here is diacritics, not punctuation. But it would be pedantic to point that out: A Brief Guide to Band Name Punctuation.

[Don’t forget Tony! Toni! Toné!]

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I had to laugh when I saw the ID for this incoming call: was it the result of some new truth-in-dialing law? No. It’s the phone company doing its work. Do a search for 567-248-4400 and you’ll find endless reports of nuisance calls about lowering credit-card rates. Bravo, phone company.

Illegibility and shopping

On the list:

plague rinse

sympathy carol

nuanced garlic

basmati nice
Yes, that was my own handwriting staring back at me. And National Handwriting Day is just days away. I better get in shape.

Jessica Mitford on
the Famous Writers School

From the July 1970 Atlantic, Jessica Mitford’s Let Us Now Appraise Famous Writers. Go, read!

[Correspondence schools: the original “distance learning.”]

Writing about writing

If you’re going to write about writing, write well. Someone at the Huffington Post didn’t:

“Twitter, with it’s unavoidable limitations . . . .”

[When is it its? When it’s not it is. When is it it’s? When it is it is.]

“”The logical steps your reader has to navigate to find the meaning of your sentence is more difficult if you use the passive voice.”

[Well, sometimes, sort of. But we don’t navigate steps in reading a sentence; we navigate the sentence. And we don’t “find the meaning” of a sentence; we understand a sentence (or don’t). Things are also more difficult when your subjects and verbs don’t agree.]

“Adverbs are inherently weakening.”

[I wondered whether the writer is joking about inherently, but nothing else in his presentation makes me think that he is. At any rate, this claim about adverbs is absurd: if I say I slept fitfully, the adverb is crucial to my meaning.]
[“When is it its?” is from Jessica Mitford’s Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking (1979). Does anyone still read — or listen to — Jessica Mitford? I was Huffington Post-free for weeks till (not ’til) a Google Alert pulled me back in, dammit.]

A related post
Its and it’s

Print as the new vinyl

From an e-mail by an “industry insider”:

Long-term there’s no future in printed books. They’ll be like vinyl: pricey and for collectors only.

Confessions of a Publisher: “We’re in Amazon’s Sights and They’re Going to Kill Us” (PandoDaily)
(Found via Daring Fireball)

Update, 9:48 a.m.: Apple has just announced iBooks Author, a free OS X app for destroying textbook publishers creating e-books.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

More imaginary liner notes for VDP

My imaginary liner notes for Van Dyke Parks’s latest singles are now available for your reading pleasure at Bananastan Records. The music — “Black Gold” b/w “Aquarium,” with art by Frank Holmes, and “Amazing Graces” b/w “Hold Back Time,” with art by Charles Ray — is terrific. “Black Gold,” a ballad of environmental catastrophe, is, to my ears, one for the ages. You can sample 1:30 of its 6:21 at iTunes.

I’m honored to have my writing be part of VDP’s singles project.

Related reading
All Van Dyke Parks posts (via Pinboard)

[The abbreviation “b/w” is from the previous century, the world of records: “backed with.”]

Susan Cain on “the New Groupthink”

Susan Cain is skeptical about too much togetherness:

Solitude is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.

The Rise of the New Groupthink (New York Times)
I’m reminded of an observation from Richard Mitchell in The Graves of Academe (1981):
The acts that are at once the means and ends of education, knowing, thinking, understanding, judging, are all committed in solitude. It is only in a mind that the work of the mind can be done.
[Introverts of the world, separate!]

Stop PIPA and SOPA

Yes, I am opposed to PIPA and SOPA and have let my representatives in Congress know that. As a Blogger user, I cannot “go dark.” I don’t want to either. I already have enough problems when I try to use Blogger on an iPad.

The images above are the work of Sam Anderson, found here.

Further reading
Stop American Censorship (Fight for the Future)
Stop the Internet Blacklist Legislation (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

“Rain umbrella”

So that’s what those thingamajigs are for. Useful today.

Why umbrella? The New Oxford American Dictionary explains: “ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Italian ombrella, diminutive of ombra ‘shade,’ from Latin umbra.”

Andrew Sullivan on Barack Obama

The cover story from Newsweek:

If I sound biased, that’s because I am. Biased toward the actual record, not the spin; biased toward a president who has conducted himself with grace and calm under incredible pressure, who has had to manage crises not seen since the Second World War and the Depression, and who as yet has not had a single significant scandal to his name.

How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics (Newsweek)
[I’d like to link to the single-page version, but it’s pretty unreadable. By design?]

“Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory”

“A lifelong Apple superfan, Daisey sees some photos online from the inside of a factory that makes iPhones, starts to wonder about the people working there, and flies to China to meet them.” From This American Life: “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.”

March 16, 2012: This American Life has retracted the story. The short explanation: “many of Mike Daisey’s experiences in China were fabricated.”

Monday, January 16, 2012


On wealth and poverty:

Jesus told a parable one day, and he reminded us that a man went to hell because he didn’t see the poor. His name was Dives. He was a rich man. And there was a man by the name of Lazarus who was a poor man, but not only was he poor, he was sick. Sores were all over his body, and he was so weak that he could hardly move. But he managed to get to the gate of Dives every day, wanting just to have the crumbs that would fall from his table. And Dives did nothing about it. And the parable ends saying, “Dives went to hell, and there were a fixed gulf now between Lazarus and Dives.”

There is nothing in that parable that said Dives went to hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. It is true that one day a rich young ruler came to him, and he advised him to sell all, but in that instance Jesus was prescribing individual surgery and not setting forth a universal diagnosis. And if you will look at that parable with all of its symbolism, you will remember that a conversation took place between heaven and hell, and on the other end of that long-distance call between heaven and hell was Abraham in heaven talking to Dives in hell.

Now Abraham was a very rich man. If you go back to the Old Testament, you see that he was the richest man of his day, so it was not a rich man in hell talking with a poor man in heaven; it was a little millionaire in hell talking with a multimillionaire in heaven. Dives didn’t go to hell because he was rich; Dives didn’t realize that his wealth was his opportunity. It was his opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus. Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. Dives went to hell because he maximized the minimum and minimized the maximum. Indeed, Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.

And this can happen to America, the richest nation in the world — and nothing’s wrong with that — this is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.

Martin Luther King Jr., “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., March 31, 1968.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Domestic comedy

[The television was on in the background.]

“Is that what I think it is?”


[Sometimes you just can’t get enough of the self-storage auction industry.]

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts (via Pinboard)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Logic and marriage

Rick Santorum’s recent performance in a sparring match with college students is one small moment in the evolving story of equal marriage rights. But it’s a moment that makes me mighty angry, for three reasons:

1. Santorum treats an urgent question about the dignity of human relationships as an occasion to score cheap debater’s points: “Well, what about three men?” He begins by moving right past the possibility of partnership to raise the specter of conjugal trios and quintets. Notice too his ham-fisted sarcasm: “I’m surprised I got a gay-marriage question in a college crowd. I’m really — that’s a shocker for me.” He is a clueless, tasteless smarty-pants who seems to have no understanding of why same-sex partners in a loving relationship might want to marry.

2. Santorum casts marriage as “the union that causes children to be created.” But men and women marry for many reasons. And they “come together to have a union” for many reasons, not necessarily “to produce children.” (Produce?)

3. Santorum’s slippery-slope logic is specious. Santorum says that “Reason says that if you think it’s okay for two, then you have to differentiate with me as to why it’s not okay for three.” Slippery slopes though have a way of tripping up those who argue from them. If we follow Santorum’s logic, it’s the institution of heterosexual marriage that is itself the cause of problems. For when we allow a man and a woman to marry, look what happens: same-sex partners want to marry too.

That Santorum is on the wrong side of history seems pretty clear to me. It’s telling though that even he pays some sort of lip-service to the dignity of same-sex partnerships by granting that “all relationships provide some good to society.” That must mean that same-sex relationships provide some good to society. So why can’t same-sex partners marry?

Related reading
The Flag of Equal Marriage (“An evolving protest flag for equal marriage rights in the United States”)

Webster's New Collegiate ad

[Life, November 17, 1961. Click for a larger, more readable view.]

I’m reading Herbert C. Morton’s The Story of Webster’s Third: Philip Gove’s Controversial Dictionary and Its Critics and teaching David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I have dictionaries on my brain. Thus this post.

It’s impossible to tell from the ad that Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (published in September 1961, lower left in the ad) was already the subject of heated (and often badly informed) criticism. This issue of Life has a letter from Gove defending the Third against a recent editorial:

The controversy over Webster’s Third is a remarkable moment in the so-called culture wars (resulting largely from an ill-conceived publicity campaign). I laugh to think that I used this dictionary for many years before learning that anyone found fault with it: to me, the Third seemed, and still seems, just fine. And I for one like the idea of Ethel Merman being quoted in a dictionary (or “the dictionary”): “Three shows a day drain a girl.”

A related post
-wise-wise (The Life editorial and -wise)

[Is that Rick Perry, time-traveler, smiling in 1961?]

Friday, January 13, 2012

Waterstones’s missing apostrophe

David Marsh, who created International Apostrophe Day, isn’t troubled by the disappearance of the apostrophe from the name of the British book chain Waterstones (was Waterstone’s). Nor am I. It’s tedious turning names ending in ’s into possessives. Consider Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Other apostrophe posts
Apostrophes and corn
Apostrophes and vandalism

Radio buttons

Jesse James Garrett, The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: New Riders, 2011).

I like this touch of comedy.

A vaguely related post
Ta-da List

[If your reaction is “Huh?” see here. Also here.]

Hazel Frederick

That’s her name.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Internets addiction

Apropos of the Chinese study of “Internet addiction” and brain structure, a measured response: Can you really be addicted to the internet? (Guardian).

[The “internet” is much scarier with a initial cap. And scarier still in plural form.]

Art imitates life imitates art (M*A*S*H)

M. Hugh Steeply’s father’s M*A*S*H addiction began when the show went into syndication:

“The show was incredibly popular, and after a few years of Thursday nights it started also to run daily, during the day, or late at night, sometimes, in what I remember all too well was called syndication, where local stations bought old episodes and chopped them up and loaded them with ads, and ran them. And this, note, was while all-new episodes of the show were still appearing on Thursdays at 2100. I think this was the start… .

“The fucking show ran on two different local stations in the Capital District. Albany and environs. For a while, this one station even had a M*A*S*H hour, two of them, back to back, every night, from 2300. Plus another half an hour in the early P.M., for the unemployed or something.”

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (Boston: Little, Brown, 1996).

Art imitates life: “this one station” sounds an awful lot like east-central Illinois’s WCIA, which for years offered ample servings of M*A*S*H after the early and late news (one episode early, two late). How many times did I hear it: “M*A*S*H is next.” Wallace, as you may know, grew up in east-central Illinois, in Urbana.

Life imitates art: two cable channels now offer three hours of M*A*S*H on weekdays: 5:00–7:00 p.m. Central (TV Land) and 6:00–7:00 p.m. Central (Me-TV), six different episodes. On Sundays, TV Land runs M*A*S*H from 4:00 to 7:30 p.m. Central. Check your local listings. Or don’t.

Related reading
All David Foster Wallace posts (via Pinboard)

[It’s a good thing I never got started watching M*A*S*H.]

Telephone exchange names
on screen: KLondike

Sean at Blackwing Pages sent this screenshot, from an episode of Modern Marvels — Engineering Disasters. He writes that this telephone appeared in a depiction “of the office of a U.S. Navy radar installation in the ocean (much like an oil platform) that went down in rough seas.”

KLondike (55-) is of course the imaginary exchange name of movies and television. But the Telephone EXchange Name Project notes that in 1955, 55- “was reserved for radio telephone numbers.” That might make this KL a recreation of the real thing.

More exchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : Born Yesterday : The Dark Corner : Deception : Dream House : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Murder, My Sweet : Naked City (1) : Naked City (2) : Nightmare Alley : The Public Enemy : Side Street : Sweet Smell of Success : This Gun for Hire

Thanks, Sean.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Teacher misspells words
in fake jury-duty letter

From the New York Daily News:

Mona Lisa Tello was busted after she allegedly submitted a fake jury duty letter rife with bone-headed misspellings to get out of class for two weeks.

Tello spelled “trial” as “trail,” wrote “sited” instead of “cited,” and “mange” instead of “manager,” officials revealed Tuesday. . . .

“I have nothing to say,” Tello said when reached by telephone.
Spoken like a true Mona Lisa.

“Evening after evening, weekend after weekend, holiday after holiday”

Edward Artin went to work at G. & C. Merriam in 1930. He began as a proofreader, later joined the pronunciation staff, and worked on Webster’s Third New International Dictionary:

It was the inadequacy of the historical files and a lack of confidence in the research underlying some of the Second Edition pronunciations that led Artin to embark on his extraordinary effort to record as completely and systematically as he could the actual pronunciations prevailing in different parts of the country and different English-speaking nations from the 1930s through the 1960s.

Extraordinary indeed:

His wife Dorothy L. Artin, an editorial assistant for the Second Edition, recalls that “we were married in 1931, and I soon learned that much, indeed most, of our ‘free’ time was to be dedicated” to his consuming interest in how people pronounce words. “During the ensuing forty-three years … evening after evening, weekend after weekend, holiday after holiday, he listened to representative speakers, on radio, television, or face-to-face, all the while making … citations on three-by-five slips.”

Herbert C. Morton, The Story of Webster’s Third: Philip Gove’s Controversial Dictionary and Its Critics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
Morton’s book is a great introduction to the world of lexicography.

[“Evening after evening, weekend after weekend, holiday after holiday”: What tone do you hear in this phrasing? Amused tolerance, or disbelief?]

Word of the day: kudos

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day:

kudos   \KOO-dahss\   noun
1 : fame and renown resulting from an act or achievement : prestige
2 : praise given for achievement

Did you know?

Deriving from Greek, “kudos” entered English as slang popular at British universities in the 19th century. In its earliest use, the word referred to the prestige or renown that one gained by having accomplished something noteworthy. The sense meaning “praise given for achievement” came about in the 1920s. As this later sense became the predominant one, some English speakers, unaware of the word’s Greek origin, began to treat it as a plural count noun, inevitably coming up with the back-formation “kudo” to refer to a single instance of praise. For the same reason, when “kudos” is used as a subject you may see it with either a singular or plural verb.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


[Click for a larger view.]

Executive Suite (dir. Robert Wise, 1954) is a must-see film for would-be residents of the dowdy world. The film is a wonderland of mid-century technology: calendars, card files, clipboards, desk blotters, desk sets, dictation machines, file cabinets, in-boxes, intercoms, notepads, rocker blotters, switchboards, telegraph machinery, telephones, time clocks, typwriters, and one Wheeldex, which was, it’s clear, more than ready for its close-up.

The Wheeldex preceded the better-known Rolodex. Back at the office, this Wheeldex was the envy of its co-workers.


October 2, 2014: This post is suddenly useful. Hello, comics fans!

A related cameo
Card-file steals scene in TV debut

Recently updated

Going to the movie: Now with links to theaters recommended by OCA readers. Thanks, readers.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Figuring things out with Twitter

Twitter can help you figure out that it’s not just you. Or that perhaps it is. I searched for nytimes login, and yes, it seems that there’s a general problem. The Zeitgeist has spoken.

8:43 p.m.: The login problem seems to be resolved. Or at least my login problem is.

Executive Suite

Executive Suite (dir. Robert Wise, 1954) tells the story of the battle for the presidency of an American furniture company, the Tredway Corporation. The film has a great ensemble cast, with Louis Calhern, Paul Douglas, Nina Foch, Fredric March, Walter Pidegon, Barbara Stanwyck, and Shelley Winters, among others. Of greatest interest are the Wallings, McDonald (William Holden) and Mary (June Allyson). Don is a Charles Eames-like industrial designer whose plans for innovative products are stopped again and again by Tredway’s cost-cutting, chart-making controller Loren Shaw (March). Mary is no Ray Eames: we see her not as a collaborator but as a patient partner, appalled by the way Tredway frustrates her husband’s creativity. Avery Bullard, the company’s late president, hired Don with a promise that he could design and build whatever he wanted. But Don’s work on a “new molding process” has been stopped at Shaw’s directive. And the company’s most profitable merchandise is its Shaw-approved K-F line, cheap stuff with cracking finishes and legs that come loose.

The film’s interiors, by Emile Kuri and Edwin B. Willis, are rich in meaning: in the Tredway Tower, all is marble, stone, and carved wood — a contrast to the shoddy materials and workmanship of the company’s products. The Wallings’ house is modernity itself.

[The coffeemaker looks like a Cory.]

[That’s Mary coming through the door.]

[“If it hadn’t been for this room the past few months, you couldn’t have lived.”]

Compare photographs of the Eames house and office. If you look closely at the second photograph of the Eames house, you can see a dried desert plant, a signature Eames element, hanging in space. There’s something similar on the wall in Don’s studio, behind Mary’s shoulder. The 3 on Don’s wall is another Eames reference: it’s an Eames 3, or nearly one. And the reference to an unexplained “molding process” recalls of course the molded plywood of the Eameses’ chairs.

The most exciting moments in Executive Suite come in the film’s final boardroom scene. You can guess, I suspect, who gets to be president. The excitement in the scene comes from the clash between two different ways of thinking about the work of a corporation: one which seeks to cut costs, maximize profit, and pay stockholders a dividend; the other which bears in mind the need to build a future. As Don tells Shaw,
“We have an obligation to keep this company alive, not just this year or next or the year after that. Sometimes you have to use your profits for the growth of the company, not pay them all out in dividends to impress the stockholders with your management record.”
Don’s dream, to make low-priced furniture “that will sell because it has beauty and function and value,” will now come true. As did the Eameses’ dream: “getting the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least.”

[“Getting the most”: Charles Eames, quoted in Life, September 11, 1950. Executive Suite is mentioned briefly in the PBS American Masters episode Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter.]

Eames-related posts
Eames on reams (On reams of paper)
Eameses in the air (Ice Cube, PBS)
Twine and yarn (From an Eames exhibit)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The elements of my style

As I prepare for the spring semester, I face a crisis. In their efforts to look all folksy and down to earth, certain candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have — I’ll say it — stolen the elements of my style. My sweater-vests: gone. My signature look of button-down shirt and jeans: gone. Snatched, swiped, purloined.

I have prepared a sharp and decisive response: come Monday, I’m wearing a tie.

[If you haven’t been following fashion: Rick Santorum stole my sweater-vests; Mitt Romney, my signature look.]

Friday, January 6, 2012

California cubism

[Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles. November 2011. Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

On my first visit to Los Angeles last November, I paid a lot of attention to the signage. Signage, signage, every where. The intersecting planes suggested to me a twenty-first-century California cubism. Compare the composition above to, say, Juan Gris’s Still life with bottle of Bordeaux.

[I’m happy to know that Gris is pronounced just as I’ve always pronounced it: \ˈgrēs\. Dropping the s seems to be a mistaken affectation, like speaking of Gertrude Schtein.]

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Going to the movie

Roger Ebert’s recently offered six reasons for the drop in movie ticket sales in 2011. His general conclusion: theaters “are losing their charm.” Yes, they are. Going to the movies at our nearby multiplex means going to the movies, literally: you can hear the crashes and explosions from whatever is playing next door along with the movie you paid for. It’s like living in an apartment building.

There are still great theaters though. Close to home, my favorite place to see a movie is The Art Theater in Champaign, Illinois. The Art offers intelligent programming, atypical and well-priced snacks and drinks, appropriate pre-movie music, minimal advertising, and a terrific sound system. There’s one screen, and the audience comes to pay attention: what a difference that makes. I also recommend the more majestic Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts. For one lovely year in the mid-1980s Elaine and I lived a couple of blocks from the Coolidge Corner and got to see a different double-bill two or three times a week. Now we try to see a movie there when we visit Boston.

I would hate to see independent theaters go the way of so many record stores and bookstores. You too? If you know of a great theater, please, write about it in a comment. And encourage your family and friends to go to the movie, not the movies.

Update, January 10: Here are links to theaters recommended by readers in the comments:

Los Angeles, California
Landmark Theatre

Chicago, Illinois
Doc Films

Cambridge, Massachusetts
Brattle Theatre
Harvard Film Archive

Traverse City, Michigan
The State Theatre

Columbia Heights, Minnesota
Heights Theatre

Minneapolis, MInnesota
Riverview Theater
Uptown Theatre

St. Paul, Minnesota
Mann Theatres

[Theater, or theatre? Garner’s Modern American Usage: “The first is the usual spelling in AmE, the second in BrE.” So I have no problem calling the Coolidge Corner Theatre a theater.]

Woody Guthrie’s to-do list

A list of thirty-three “New Years Rulin’s.”

Other posts with lists
“Ambercroombie & Flitch” (Ways to be cool)
Amy Winehouse’s to-do list (“When I do recorddeal”)
Blue crayon (Supplies for an imaginary camping trip)
John Lennon’s to-do list (“H.B.O. Guy coming between 3–5”)
Johnny Cash’s to-do list (“Kiss June”)
Review: Liza Kirwin, Lists (Artists’ lists)
Whose list? (A found list)

Thanks, Trent.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Recipes I stopped reading

“1. Fold each licorice piece in half and push ends through centers of 12 marshmallows. Set aside.”

I stopped there.

VDP fills out the Bullett questionnaire

[“Contented, I know that I’m 20 feet from the spotlight, where I’m able to see the stars.”]

Van Dyke Parks fills out the Bullett questionnaire. The page is a little difficult to negotiate: click the arrows for the full-page view and do the best you can.

Rick Santorum and Wal-Mart

Watching Rick Santorum on television last night, I felt that I was watching a satellite transmission from Htrae. I was struck especially by Santorum’s explanation of why manufacturing jobs have gone overseas: “It’s because government made workers uncompetitive, by driving up the cost of doing business here.” And then: “When Republican purists say to me ‘Well, why are you treating manufacturing different than retail?’ I say ‘Because Wal-Mart’s not moving to China and taking their jobs with them.’” Wal-Mart: keeping jobs on Htrae!

Browsing around this morning for santorum and wal-mart, I found this page. Suddenly the Iowa caucuses seem to make sense:

[A reality check: in June 2011, Time reported that the average manufacturing wage in China is $3.10 an hour. In the United States: $22.30. According to Time, rising wages in China are driving manufacturing to Cambodia, Laos, India, Vietnam, and the United States.]

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mitt Romney, job creator?

At the Washington Post, Greg Sargent looks at Mitt Romney’s claims about job creation. The conclusion: Romney’s claim to have helped create 100,000 jobs is “at best unsubstantiated.” And the number of jobs created by Bain Capital may be surpassed by the number of layoffs resulting from the firm’s work.

Related posts
The Los Angeles Times on Mitt Romney and job creation
Mitt Romney at Bain
Mitt Romney: the soul of a poet


Ben Proudfoot’s Ink&paper is a short film about Aardvark Letterpress and McManus & Morgan, the last letterpress printer and the last paper store in downtown Los Angeles.

A related post
The Henington Press (A press closes in Brooklyn)

Thanks, Lisa, for pointing me to this film.

Happy birthday, VDP

Van Dyke Parks turns sixty-nine today. Happy birthday, Van Dyke.

[Sixty-nine is the new fifty-two. The explanation: the special theory of relativity.]

Monday, January 2, 2012

Pinboard is was down

At least they have a sense of humor about it, as was the case in June 2011.

I am a big fan of Pinboard, which I use to make an index of sorts for Orange Crate Art.

12:19 p.m.: Pinboard is back.

Moleskine stickers

When I tore the wrapper from my 2012 Moleskine datebook, I was surprised to find three pages of tiny stickers with which to decorate the pages. These three stickers caught my eye, and I looked closely to make sure that I was seeing what I thought I was seeing: tiny-sticker-sized evidence of large-scale cultural change. These stickers, most likely meant to mark the name and telephone number of a beloved, acknowledge that love comes in assorted varieties. Everyone gets a sticker.

[Can anyone use some stickers? I’m kind of old for this stuff. Besides, I have my wife’s name and our number memorized.]

The name of the year

Ben Zimmer on what to call the new year: Twenty-what? Two thousand who? (Boston Globe ).

For much of the twenty-first century, the appropriate way to say the name of the year has been the subject of ongoing talks in my family. And as they say in the world of diplomacy, the talks have been frank. Me, I’ve been starting with twenty- since 2001.

James M. Cain on Los Angeles

A catalogue of signage, from James M. Cain’s “Paradise,” a 1933 essay on Los Angeles, just reprinted in the Los Angeles Times :

Rabbit Fryers, 50¢; Eggs, Guaranteed Fresh, 23¢ Doz.; Canary Birds, 50¢, Also Baby Chix, Just Hatched; Car Mart, All Makes Used Cars, Lowest Prices; Orange Drink, 5¢; Eat; Drink Goat Milk for Health, Drive Right In; Pet Cemetery 300 Yds., Turn to Right; Finest English Walnuts, 15¢ Lb.; $100 Down Buys This Lot, Improvements Installed, No Assessments; Eat; Scotty Kennels, 100 Yds.; Pure Muscat Grapejuice, 35¢ Gal., We Deliver; Eat.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Homemade music

Yesterday morning, half an hour before we had to leave for the airport, Rachel and Ben began trying out this song. Just enough time for Elaine and me to learn it. It’s “Half-Acre,” by Hem. For added realism, watch with a mirror.

2012 calendars

I’m a sucker for a good free calendar.

Compact Calendar 2011 David Seah’s calendar-in-the-form-of-a-spreadsheet fits a year to a page.

PDFCalendar This customizable calendar is great for the student or teacher who wants to map out a semester on one page.

TM Micro-Mini Calendar I’ve never had occasion to use Claude Pavur’s ultra-minimal calendar, but my inner child finds the idea of it irresistible. The Micro-Mini is no doubt the choice of ten-year-old secret agents everywhere.

UNIX calendar command The UNIX command cal is handy for making a three- or four-month calendar to tape into a notebook. Thanks to Hawk Sugano for sharing his knowledge.

One more: I’ve made a plain and dowdy 2012 calendar, three months per 8½ x 11 page. That’s a sample to the left. The font is Gill Sans Bold; the colors are Licorice and Cayenne (otherwise known as black and dark red). If you’d like a PDF, send me an e-mail. (If you’re reading in a reader, click on through: the address is in the sidebar.)

And still one more: Elaine in Arkansas suggests Patrick Merrell’s 2012 calendar, directions included: “1. Cut out. 2. Use.” Thanks, Elaine.