Friday, March 30, 2012

Henry, getting things done

[Henry, March 26 and 28, 2012.]

Henry gets things done, and he lets the world know it by means of that ineffable gesture. Swipe swipe, done. Swipe swipe, done.

And he keeps moving forward (as must we all): another panel, or another day.

Swipe swipe, done.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Duke Ellington and erasers

I’m happy to report that Duke Ellington’s name no longer appears on the Blackwing Experience page. Thanks to Gunther and Sean for passing on the news.

Related posts
Duke Ellington, Blackwing pencils, and aspirational branding
Duke Ellington, Blackwing balalaika user
Duke Ellington, Blackwing sombrero user
Duke Ellington Blackwing Johnson’s Baby Powder user

Earl Scruggs (1924–2012)

“Earl was to the five-string banjo what Babe Ruth was to baseball”: Porter Wagoner, quoted in the New York Times obituary for Earl Scruggs, who died yesterday at the age of eighty-eight.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adrienne Rich (1929–2012)

The New York Times reports that the poet Adrienne Rich died yesterday at the age of eighty-two. From the poem “Seven Skins”:

What a girl I was then what a body
ready for breaking open like a lobster
what a little provincial village
what a hermit crab seeking nobler shells
what a beach of rattling stones what an offshore
what a gone-and-come tidepool

what a look into eternity I took and did not return it

From Midnight Salvage: Poems 1995–1998 (1999).

Regency-era slang

Having just typed eh wot? in a comment, I felt compelled to look and learn a little more, and found Simone Smith’s short guide to Regency-era slang.

Jeffrey Toobin on the ACA

Jeffrey Toobin’s March 26 New Yorker comment offers a clear exposition of the arguments concerning the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Duke Ellington, Blackwing
Johnson’s Baby Powder user

[Duke Ellington, Paramount Theater, New York, 1946. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb. Published in Down Beat, September 23, 1946. From the Library of Congress’s American Memory. Click for a larger view.]

Not a Blackwing pencil in sight, but this dressing-room scene is rich in detail. Notice the Johnson’s Baby Powder: another item that no doubt helped Ellington to create “timeless works of art.”

The context for this post, as explained in an earlier post: a pencil company’s choice to market its merchandise by using the Ellington name. The Blackwing is a celebrated pencil that California Cedar has recreated in replica form. The company’s choice to associate Ellington with its merchandise rests on a single photograph of Ellington with a Blackwing (the real thing, not the replica) that I posted on Orange Crate Art late last year.

We now have one photograph of Duke Ellington with Johnson’s Baby Powder, one photograph of Ellington wearing a sombrero, one photograph of Ellington playing a balalaika, and one photograph of Ellington writing with a Blackwing pencil. These single photographs do not support the conclusion that Ellington had any particular attachment to Johnson’s Baby Powder, sombreros, balalaikas, or Blackwings. In the absence of evidence of such attachment, capitalizing (pun intended) on the Ellington name seems to me a cynical way to sell pencils (or the other stuff).

California Cedar has removed Frank Lloyd Wright’s name from its marketing materials. It should remove Duke Ellington’s name as well.

March 29: I’m happy to report that Duke Ellington’s name no longer appears on the Blackwing Experience page. Thanks to Gunther and Sean for passing on the news.

Related posts
Duke Ellington, Blackwing pencils, and aspirational branding
All Blackwing posts (via Pinboard)
All Duke Ellington posts (via Pinboard)

[Some Ellington preferences: Beaujolais, Coca-Cola with extra sugar, coffee with lemon, hot water, Pall Mall cigarettes. These preferences are well documented.]

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Duke Ellington,
Blackwing sombrero user

[Photograph by Stanley Dance, 1968.]

The Ellington orchestra toured Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico in 1968. The album Latin American Suite followed in 1972. It stands to reason [crosses fingers] that a sombrero must have inspired the music therein. My claim rests on this one photograph, which appears in Derek Jewell’s Duke: A Portrait of Duke Ellington (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977).

Thus far: one photograph of Duke Ellington wearing a sombrero, one photograph of Ellington playing a balalaika, and one photograph of Ellington writing with a Blackwing pencil. “The state of facts and evidence” does not support the conclusion that Ellington had any particular attachment to sombreros, balalaikas, or Blackwing pencils. A pencil manufacturer’s association of the Ellington name with its replica version of the Blackwing pencil is a matter of very wishful thinking. Some might call such marketing cynical and misleading.

Why do I care? The balalaika post explains.

March 29: I’m happy to report that Duke Ellington’s name no longer appears on the Blackwing Experience page. Thanks to Gunther and Sean for passing on the news.

Related posts
All Blackwing posts (via Pinboard)
All Duke Ellington posts (via Pinboard)

[“Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence”: John Adams, Blackwing quill user.]

Monday, March 26, 2012

Duke Ellington,
Blackwing balalaika user

[“Jam Session in the U.S.S.R., 1971.” From Duke Ellington’s Music Is My Mistress (1973). Photographer unidentified.]

Look: it’s Duke Ellington, and he’s playing a balalaika. Can we leap to the conclusion that this instrument helped him create “timeless works of art”? Sure we can. Can you prove that it didn’t happen?

If you’re tuning in late, the context for this post is a pencil company’s choice to market its merchandise by using the Ellington name. The Blackwing is a celebrated pencil that California Cedar has recreated in replica form. The company’s choice to associate Ellington with its merchandise rests on exactly one photograph of Ellington with a Blackwing (the real thing, not the replica) that I posted late last year.

Why I care: I’ve been listening to Duke Ellington for about thirty-six years, and I don’t like seeing his name used in a tacky commercial ploy. And I think that facts ought to remain stubborn things. John Adams, as quoted in David McCullough’s 2001 biography: “Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” The state of facts and evidence — a single photograph — does not support the conclusion that Duke Ellington had any particular attachment to the Blackwing pencil.

And if you’ve decided that you should really listen to some Ellington music, this post suggests the best place to start.

March 29: I’m happy to report that Duke Ellington’s name no longer appears on the Blackwing Experience page. Thanks to Gunther and Sean for passing on the news.

Related posts
Duke Ellington, Blackwing sombrero user
Duke Ellington, Blackwing Johnson’s Baby Powder user
All Blackwing posts (via Pinboard)
All Duke Ellington posts (via Pinboard)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tonight's Mad Men

[No spoilers here.]

Tonight’s Mad Men (the first episode of the show’s fifth season) was to my mind dreary and disappointing. I started watching Mad Men in its second season and grew disenchanted when Frank O’Hara’s poem “Mayakovsky,” which figured so importantly in that season’s first episode, turned out to be a MacGuffin, playing no significant role in the season’s story line, not even in its final episode, though that episode was named after O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency (1957), the book that includes “Mayakovsky.” Oh well. I came back in season four and found the show more engaging.

Tonight’s episode though was another matter. Watching Mad Men is not like watching a television show set in the 1960s; it’s like watching a television show that has been made to appear to be set in the 1960s. The markers of “the time” are so unartfully contrived: A protest scene equals “Negroes, priests, and cops.” A discussion of advertising for Heinz Beans includes a suggestion that an ad be pitched to college students “sitting in.” A journalist introduces himself by explaining that he writes for “underground papers, mostly.” Someone even speaks of smoking “tea.” Yes, something is happening here, and you do know what it is, don’t you, Mr. Jones, and you keep making sure that we know that you know too.

What most disappointed me in tonight’s episode though was the plodding, uninspired dialogue. My new experiment in watching Mad Men is to imagine that I’m reading its dialogue as subtitles, a trick that makes the show both more and less interesting. To modify a line from an old commercial: Try it. You might like it.

[With apologies to Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” and Alka-Seltzer.]

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Snatchel Project

“If they have their own, they can leave ours alone!” The Snatchel Project. Possibly NSFW.

[Thanks, Elaine and Carrie.]

“I think about my own kids”

President Obama has commented on the killing of Trayvon Martin: “When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.” Same here.

Duke Ellington, Blackwing pencils,
and aspirational branding

Sean at Blackwing Pages offers a playful and erudite response to the latest efforts of a certain pencil manufacturer to associate its product with great artists, composers, and writers who may have used the pencil that said manufacturer has now recreated in replica form. You can guess the pencil’s name, yes?

Of particular interest to me is California Cedar’s identification of Duke Ellington as someone who used the Blackwing pencil to create “timeless works of art.” The sole basis for this claim would appear to be a post that I made late last year with a photograph in which Ellington has a Blackwing in hand. There are any number of photographs of Ellington writing music. In just this one, to my knowledge, is he using a Blackwing pencil. More important: there appears to be no evidence that Ellington had any particular attachment to the Blackwing pencil, or to any writing instrument. If there is such evidence, California Cedar hasn’t offered it. (If there is such evidence, I’d like to know about it.) Given Ellington’s indiscriminate choice of writing materials — hotel stationery, menus, napkins — in other words, whatever was at hand, the possibility that he had a favorite brand of pencil seems remote. For all we know, the pencil in the photograph may be a borrowed one.

To paraphrase something I said to Sean: it’s curious that as Moleskine steps back from the abyss of aspirational branding (“the legendary notebook of Hemingway, Picasso, and Chatwin”), California Cedar has jumped in, head first, without even putting on a helmet.

March 29: I’m happy to report that Duke Ellington’s name no longer appears on the Blackwing Experience page. Thanks to Gunther and Sean for passing on the news.

April 10: Sigh. Ellington’s name still appears in what appear to be California Cedar press releases. Here’s an example. And the company now claims that John Lennon was rumored to use Blackwings. That’s nonsense.

Related posts
Duke Ellington, Blackwing balalaika user
Duke Ellington, Blackwing sombrero user
Duke Ellington, Blackwing Johnson’s Baby Powder user
All Blackwing posts (via Pinboard)
All Duke Ellington posts (via Pinboard)

[In Duke Ellington in Person (1979), Mercer Ellington describes the materials that came to form his father’s Music Is My Mistress (1973) as written on hotel stationery, menus, and napkins.]

Thursday, March 22, 2012

VDP on starting out in the arts

At the Huffington Post, the transcript of an interview with Van Dyke Parks, to be broadcast and streamed today (1:00 p.m. Central) on KRUU-FM. Here is VDP’s advice for those starting out in the arts:

I can only say to remember what Vic Chesnutt said: “There is no shelter in the arts.” It is uncertain by definition. It flies in the face of the five-year plan. But it must be pursued with a discipline, a willingness to learn stuff that seems irrelevant. In terms of music, music should be read to be believed. You can always abandon a page, but if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage. And that’s the truth. So it takes work of a disciplined sort, but it also takes an incredible power of forgiveness and a desire to serve, and openly, without any cosmetic advantage, stripped and bleeding, to bare your soul, so that someone else might feel exalted and able to rise for another occasion. You must learn to give if you want to pursue the arts.
[I’ve corrected the KRUU transcript and added a link to the Wikipedia aticle about Vic Chestnutt.]

Trudel’s Truth

Trudel’s Truth publishes the letters Trudel Adler began writing to her family in Germany after she came to the United States in 1934. Here’s an article about Leonard Grossman, Trudel’s son, who is putting his mother’s letters (in her translation) online: Blogging the past, one letter at a time (Chicago Tribune).

[Thanks to Music Clip of the Day.]

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Millennial wines

“I’m embarrassed that this is what they think people my age want”: Hopes of the wine industry rest on millennial shoulders (Washington Post).

Garner’s modern American music

From Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day, on rock ’n’ roll , rock-’n’-roll , rock’n’roll , rock and roll , rock-and-roll , and rock & roll :

Each of these is listed in at least one major American dictionary.

“Rock ’n’ roll” is probably the most common; appropriately, it has a relaxed and colloquial look.

“Rock and roll” and “rock-and-roll” are somewhat more formal than the others and therefore not very fitting with the music itself. The others are variant spellings — except that “rock-’n’-roll,” with the hyphens, is certainly preferable when the term is used as a phrasal adjective [the rock-’n’-roll culture of the 1960s].

Fortunately, the editorial puzzle presented by these variations has largely been solved: almost everyone today refers to “rock music” or simply “rock.” Increasingly, “rock ’n’ roll” carries overtones of early rock — the 1950s-style music such as “Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley and the Comets.
Garner must have had fun writing this entry.

[Bryan Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009), offers a free Usage Tip of the Day. You can sign up at Orange Crate Art is a Garner-friendly site.]

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Illinois political geography

The New York Times breaks it down for you: Cook County, “collar counties,” and “downstate.”

[It’s primary day in Illinois.]

Achilles in Afghanistan

In a PBS NewsHour discussion last night of the recent atrocities in Afghanistan, Jeffrey Johns, a former U.S. Air Force psychiatrist, mentioned Jonathan Shay’s Achilles in Vietnam (1994):

[T]here’s a phenomenon known as berserk or going berserk that has been reported throughout time in almost all wars. Homer wrote about an episode about in which Achilles went on a rampage and committed several atrocities following the death of his friend. So while this is a rare phenomenon, it has been reported. Jonathan Shay writes about his patients experiencing something similar in Vietnam.
What Dr. Johns didn’t explain is that Achilles in Vietnam focuses on a pattern of experience that culminates in berserking, a pattern Shay finds in the Iliad and in the accounts of Vietnam veterans. The pattern begins with a betrayal of “what’s right,” an act that violates the codes by which a community lives and fights. In the aftermath of that violation, the soldier’s “social and moral horizon” shrinks: his loyalty now lies not with the community or the cause but with a small number of trusted comrades. The “death of a special comrade” leads to feelings of “guilt and wrongful substitution”: I wasn’t there for him; it should have been me. And what follows is the berserk state, in which a soldier loses all restraint, becoming at once animal and god.

There’s no exact correspondence between what happened in Afghanistan and what happens in the Iliad. But details in a New York Times article about Robert Bales take on particular significance for anyone who’s read Shay’s work:
A year ago, according to a blog written by his wife, he was denied a promotion to sergeant first class, a rank that would have brought not just added responsibility and respect but also money at a time when his finances seemed stretched.


That next phase, the Baleses hoped, would take them to Germany, Italy or Hawaii. But the Army did not move Sergeant Bales from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Nor did it allow him to become a recruiter, though he was in training for the job. Instead, he was told he would go with the Third Brigade to Afghanistan in December.


About a week ago, Mr. Browne [John Henry Browne, Bales’s lawyer] said, Sergeant Bales saw a friend lose a leg to a buried mine. Soon after, according to Mr. Browne, he sent his wife a short message: “Hard day for the good guys.”


About a day later, Army officials said, Sergeant Bales walked out of the outpost and headed toward the nearby village.
The subtitle of Achilles in VietnamCombat Trauma and the Undoing of Character — makes a point that some readers want to resist: that good character provides no sure defense against the experiences of war, that good character can be destroyed by circumstance. Achilles, who embodies best character (caring for the whole community, sparing the lives of prisoners, respecting the enemy dead), is destroyed as a result of what Shay calls “catastrophic moral luck”: a betrayal by his commander and the loss of the beloved comrade who wears Achilles’ armor and fights in his place.

Robert Bales seems to have exhibited at least good character in the military. From an NPR report:
Early indications are that Bales was a good soldier. He signed up soon after Sept. 11, 2001. In the decade since, he served three times in Iraq, earning medals for good conduct and meritorious service.

In 2007, Bales took part in the battle of Najaf, an intense engagement later written up in a Fort Lewis newspaper called the Northwest Guardian. In the article, Bales is quoted saying he was proud of his unit, because “we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants.”

One officer who was there says Bales distinguished himself; he told the Seattle Times Friday night that when he learned the name of the alleged shooter in Afghanistan, “I nearly fell off my chair and had a good cry.”
The names of the dead in Afghanistan, missing from New York Times, NPR, the PBS NewsHour, and the Seattle Times:
Mohamed Dawood, son of Abdullah
Khudaydad, son of Mohamed Juma
Nazar Mohamed
Shatarina, daughter of Sultan Mohamed
Zahra, daughter of Abdul Hamid
Nazia, daughter of Dost Mohamed
Masooma, daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Farida, daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Palwasha, daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Nabia, daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Esmatullah, daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Faizullah, son of Mohamed Wazir
Essa, Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain
Akhtar, Mohamed son of Murrad Ali
And the wounded:
Haji Mohamed Naim, son of Haji Sakhawat
Mohamed Sediq, son of Mohamed Naim
Related reading
No one asked their names (Al Jazeera, found via TPM)
U.S. Soldier May Have Gone “Berserk” (Huffington Post, with a brief comment from Jonathan Shay)

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Interrupters

[Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, Eddie Bocanegra.]

The Interrupters (dir. Steve James, 2011) spans a year in the work of the men and women of CeaseFire, a Chicago-based organization that intervenes to de-escalate conflicts that threaten to turn violent. CeaseFire’s Violence Interrupters, all of whom bring a criminal history to their work, keep tabs on the doings in their Chicago neighborhoods, tracking the petty and not so petty disputes and grudges that so often precipitate violence.

The film focuses on the work of three Violence Interrupters — Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, and Eddie Bocanegra. We see them speaking to the camera about their lives and speaking to others in an effort to avert violence by the power of persuasion: cajoling, challenging, empathizing, flattering, reasoning, shaming. The film is at once a cause for despair and a cause for hope. The fatalism of so many of the film’s young people, captured in the words “I am next,” written on a wall of the dead, seems straight from the Iliad: “I know I will not make old bones,” as Achilles says. Yet the Violence Interrupters themselves have learned to live beyond criminality and violence, and we see them, armed only with words, convincing others to do the same. Perhaps the most powerful scene: Williams accompanying Lil’ Mikey as he apologizes to the beauty-shop owner he robbed two years before.

The Interrupters is available on DVD. Or watch online at PBS’s Frontline.

During this past weekend, ten people were killed and thirty-nine more wounded in Chicago. One of the dead was a six-year-old girl.

[“I know I will not make old bones”: from Christopher Logue’s War Music, a reimagining of the Iliad (1997). Images from the film’s Facebook page and press materials.]

Sunday, March 18, 2012

David Allen in the New York Times

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done , writing in the New York Times :

How do you think most workers would respond if you asked them, “Do you feel more productive now than you did several years ago?” I doubt that the answer would be a resounding yes. In fact, even as workplace technology and processes steadily improve, many professionals feel less productive than ever.

It may seem a paradox, but these very tools are undermining our ability to get work done. They are causing us to become paralyzed by the dizzying number of options that they spawn.

Is there a way out of this quandary?
Short answer: yes. Allen’s article is a crash course in the practices described at greater length in Getting Things Done .

[I don’t have forty-three folders, and my label-maker has gathered dust for years, but Getting Things Done has helped me greatly in getting stuff done.]

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

What Irish capitol city (a dea o dea!) of two syllables and six letters, with a deltic origin and a nuinous end, (ah dust oh dust!) can boost of having a) the most extensive public park in the world, b) the most expensive brewing industry in the world, c) the most expansive peopling thoroughfare in the world, d) the most phillohippuc theobibbous paùpulation in the word: and harmonise your abecedeed responses?

James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939).
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day. I’m half Irish. Represent! Partly!

[Answers: a) Delfas, b) Dorhqk, c) Nublid, d) Dalway.]

Friday, March 16, 2012

“Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory”

This American Life has retracted its story “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” The short explanation: “many of Mike Daisey’s experiences in China were fabricated.” Or in the active voice: he lied.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

If I were Mitt Romney

If I were Mitt Romney, I’d announce a listening tour:

“You know, everyone’s talking as if these primaries and caucuses are about me, and Rick, and Newt, and Ron. But they’re not about any of us. They’re about you, about your hopes and dreams. And I want to prove that to you, not by getting up here and talking, not by making speeches, but by listening to what you have to say,” &c.
What might follow: Romney in conversation with so-called ordinary people, listening, commiserating, explaining how his policies would make things different. He could use Phil Dunphy’s line (from Modern Family): “I know, that’s so frustrating.”

Would it work? The picture of the rich man humbling himself in the company of the common folk might move some voters in Romney’s direction. But he’d have to stay on task (“I know, that’s so frustrating”) and not remind voters that he too is unemployed.

Other Mitt Romney posts
Mitt Romney and Mark Trail
Mitt Romney at Bain
Mitt Romney: the soul of a poet

[“As if these primaries and caucuses are”: my script avoids the subjunctive, which is not for red-blooded Americans. “Listening tour” for me means Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign, but the term seems to be everywhere: Google returns over a million results. I corrected Phil Dunphy’s line after checking the episode “Two Monkeys and a Panda.”]

Domestic comedy

Waiting in line at our friendly neighborhood multinational retailer, we wondered about the doings in the nail salon beyond the registers:

“Do they wash them first?”

“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never set foot in one of those places.”

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Avoiding CAPTCHA

Blogger’s updated, more difficult word-verification gizmos (aka CAPTCHAs) are tedious at best. At worst, they’re unreadable. As The Real Blogger Status points out, enlarging with Command-+ or Control-+ can make the CAPTCHAs more readable. But a Blogger user might do the reader a greater courtesy by turning off word-verification. That’s now possible only from the old Blogger interface: go to Dashboard, Settings, Comments, and scroll down to “Show word verification for comments?”

Just saying no might lead to an influx of automated spam comments. I turned off word-verification yesterday and have seen more spam comments in a day than in the past two or three years. But I moderate comments, so the spam never makes it to my posts. If deleting the junk saves a reader from having to work out something like the enigma below, I’m happy to do it. If the spam becomes unmanageable, I’ll no longer be able to avoid CAPTCHA.

[Say what‽]

The interrobang turns fifty.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Kerouac notebook page

[Click for a larger view.]

I was startled yesterday to see the name of our friend Seymour Barab in a post at Ordinary Finds for Jack Kerouac’s ninetieth birthday. My transcription of this 1953 (?) Kerouac notebook page, which analyzes Allen Ginsberg:
Ginsberg — intelligent enuf, interested in the outward appearance & pose of great things, intelligent enuf to know where to find them, but once there he acts like Jerry Newman, the photographer anxious to be photographed photographing —— Ginsberg wants to run his hand up the backs of people, for this he gives and seldom takes — He is also a mental screwball
*(Tape recorder anxious to be tape recorded tape recording) (like Seymour Barab anxious to have his name in larger letters than Robert Louis Stevenson, like Steinberg & Verlaine Rimbaud Baudelaire
I think I’ve put together the connections:

1. Jerry Newman was a friend of Kerouac’s, a Columbia University student and recording engineer. (“The photographer anxious to be photographed” seems to be a metaphor, followed by the more appropriate metonymy, “tape recorder anxious to be tape recorded.”) I recognized Newman’s name because of his recordings of jazz in Harlem clubs: Charlie Christian, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Art Tatum, among other musicians. Newman recorded Kerouac too.

2. Newman founded two record labels, Esoteric and Counterpoint. Russell Oberlin’s recording of Seymour Barab’s settings of poems from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses was released on Counterpoint in 1953. (It’s still available from Essential Media Group.)

3. Kerouac seems not to have understood that a composer often gets the more prominent credit when setting texts to music.

4. I can make nothing of “Steinberg & Verlaine Rimbaud Baudelaire.” Did Saul Steinberg do a cover for a collection of their work? If so, I haven’t found it. [6:39 p.m.: Bent from Ordinary Finds offers the likely explanation in the comments: Steinberg’s drawings of pages from Rimbaud’s lost diary.]

5. Speaking of artists: the cover for A Child’s Garden of Verses is the work of William Steig. He and Seymour were friends and neighbors.

Elaine and I have learned so much from Seymour Barab and Margie King Barab. As Elaine puts it, Seymour and Margie are our “favorite inhabitants of the Upper East Side.” How fortunate we are to have their friendship. Seymour by the way never met Kerouac or Ginsberg, and he recalls no discussion of the billing on the album cover.

A related post
Jack Kerouac’s last typewriter

[I mark very few birthdays on Orange Crate Art: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Martin Luther King Jr., Van Dyke Parks, Marcel Proust — that’s all. Elaine took note of Seymour’s ninety-first birthday earlier this year.]

Re: Curator’s Code

Marco Arment’s “I’m not a ‘curator’” offers an excellent analysis of Maria Popova’s Curator’s Code, a project that I learned about from a New York Times article yesterday. Curator’s Code proposes that those who write online use two symbols to acknowledge online sources: ᔥ for via, “a link of direct discovery,” and ↬ for hat tip, “a link of indirect discovery, story lead, or inspiration.” Arment suggests that the ethics of attribution online are not best addressed by using symbols to acknowledge sources:

The proper place for ethics and codes is in ensuring that a reasonable number of people go to the source instead of just reading your rehash.
That’s exactly right.

One point to add: The Curator’s Code project seems to me to misunderstand the meaning of via. Here is the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate on via:
1 : by way of
2 : through the medium or agency of; also : by means of
One quotes from, not via: “To be or not to be” is from Hamlet, not via Hamlet. What I think of as via is what Curator’s Code calls hat tip: an acknowledgement that one has found something by means of someone else’s work. The confusion of via and hat tip seems to me a problem with Curator’s Code that can be solved only with new terms. How about from and via?

[I disagree with Marco Arment about hat tips (or what he also thinks of as via): I think it’s appropriate, whenever possible, to acknowledge how one has come across an item of interest. Many an OCA post contains a via. Everything in this post though I found on my own.]

Monday, March 12, 2012

Toddler recites Shakespeare

A two-year-old recites William Shakespeare’s sonnet 18. Even if he drops lines, he deserves at least as many views as a three-year-old reciting a Billy Collins poem.

Update, March 13: Summer’s lease hath all too short a date. The video has been removed from YouTube.

A related post
xkcd: “Compare and Contrast”

[Thanks, Stefan.]

A new website devoted to the work of the poet Kenneth Koch:

If you think Billy Collins is a good poet, read Kenneth Koch. Koch is the real thing. There, I said it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A “spect-op” in Los Angeles

From a New York Times article on Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass, a 340-ton boulder delivered to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art:

The scene on Miracle Mile was reminiscent of the excited and diverse crowd that has come out at night to watch the convoy as it zigged and zagged through the region. There were cameras, baby strollers, folding chairs, politicians and other people of every race and economic class. The was also a surfeit of rock puns: Someone was even playing “We Will Rock You” as the truck passed the La Brea Tar Pits.

In Long Beach the other night, people lined the streets and waited for hours to be rewarded by what Alexis Dragony praised as the “extraordinary and flawless maneuver of the rock” making a turn. “We cheered as it negotiated the corner — just flawless,” she said. “It was truly performance art.”
It was also a “spect-op.”

Related reading
All David Foster Wallace posts (via Pinboard)

Word of the day: wirra

It’s the Oxford English Dictionary ’s word of the day:

Irish English. Expressing sorrow, distress, or regret: “alas!” “woe!” Cf. wirrasthru int. Freq. reduplicated. Chiefly preceded by “Oh”; cf. the etymology. Chiefly in representations of Irish English speech.
The word derives from the Irish Mhuire: “in a Mhuire (broadly) /ə wɪrə/ < a , vocative particle +Muire, the name of the Virgin Mary.” My favorite of the OED ’s six citations, from S.J. Weyman’s Wild Geese (1908): “‘Oh, whirra, whirra, what’ll I do?’ the Irishman exclaimed, helplessly wringing his hands.”

Why is wirra my word of the day? Because after lo these many years, I remember it from a Little Rascals short that I saw in childhood (again and again) on television. Oh, wirra, wirra, wirra, someone said. I think it was Alfalfa in drag.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Separated at birth?

Conductor, organist, and harpsichordist Ton Koopman and neurologist and psychologist Oliver Sacks.

Related posts
Amsterdam Baroque
Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop
Elaine Hansen and Blanche Lincoln

[Photograph of Ton Koopman by Marco Borggreve, found here. The Oliver Sacks photo seems ubiquitous online.]


[Photograph by Michael Leddy. Click for a larger view.]

This sign (on the side of a tractor-trailer) reminds me of the Italian cookies I have known from childhood as stripes.

Do these stripes map out what’s packed in the trailer? Breaker one-nine, breaker one-nine, can someone explain these stripes?

Amsterdam Baroque

The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, under the direction of Ton Koopman, are on a short American tour, performing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Elaine and I were fortunate to hear them last night performing the Mass in B Minor. Such music, and such musicianship. I have no more words.

If you’re anywhere near Berkeley, Chapel Hill, Newark, New York, or Tucson and can go, go. Here’s a page with the touring schedule.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Media Matters on Limbaugh

Media Matters reports: Who’s Advertising On Rush Limbaugh? As of yesterday, forty-five advertisers had dropped out. Lots of PSAs in their place.

Media Matters also has a timeline of Limbaugh’s remarks re: Sandra Fluke. I think it’s fair to say that the sheer hatefulness of his remarks has been underreported.

3:25 p.m.: Now it’s forty-eight.

March 10: Now it’s ninety-eight.

Related posts
Homer and Limbaugh and epithets
Netflix and Limbaugh


In a distant grove — or was it hallway? — of academe, a student complaining about an essay assignment:

“I mean, she wants an introduction, a thesis statement. I’m sorry: this is, like, too much.”

What especially strikes me about this complaint: the assumption that an introduction and thesis statement are one despot’s demands, not elements of a college essay, made explicit for a student’s benefit. What will “she” demand next: sentences? paragraphs? a staple in the upper-left corner?

Related reading
All “overheard” posts (via Pinboard)

[Thanks, Michael.]

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Beetle Bailey watch

[Beetle Bailey, March 7, 2012.]

I don’t read Beetle Bailey very closely: I already have enough to do monitoring for problematic art and text in Hi and Lois. Today’s Beetle Bailey might be meant to remind us that group-living impinges upon one’s privacy. Or perhaps the Walkers have never seen a urinal. Guys, get it together.

Other Beetle Bailey posts
Beetle Bailey ketchup
Comic strip anachronisms
Missing bathrooms

xkcd: “Compare and Contrast”

Today’s xkcd:

[A secret message to my son: Ben, figurative language!]

Florence Wolfson Howitt

Florence Wolfson Howitt has died at the age of ninety-six. From the New York Times obituary:

Florence Wolfson, the daughter of well-to-do parents living in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, was 14 when she was given a little red diary with gold-edged pages. For the next five years, without skipping a day, she wrote four-line entries that evoked her passions.

“Have stuffed myself with Mozart and Beethoven,” she wrote on June 28, 1932. “I feel like a ripe apricot — I’m dizzy with the exotic.”
The diary, found years later in a dumpster, became the stuff of a Times article and a book, Lily Koppel’s The Red Leather Diary, which I wrote about in this post.

[What the diarist wrote: “Have stuffed myself with Mozart and Beethoven & music & Huysmans — I feel like a ripe apricot — I’m dizzy with the exotic.” The Times obituary reproduces the edited text of The Red Leather Diary.]

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

John Gardner, Nothing to say

John Gardner is a photographer living in Terre Haute, Indiana. I had the pleasure of seeing his work at the Swope Art Museum, where it is part of the exhibition “Reflecting Terre Haute” (closes March 10). Gardner is represented by a slide-show of his Nothing to say, black-and-white photographs of Terre Haute’s empty signs.

Elaine and I have grown to love the Queen City of the Wabash. It is faded, friendly, and unpretentious. It has several small museums— here’s a post on one — and its own Taj Mahal, an excellent Indian restaurant. Here’s a photograph of my favorite not-empty Terre Haute sign.

Netflix and Limbaugh

[See updates below.]

From The Atlantic (via Boing Boing), here’s a list of advertisers still doing business with Rush Limbaugh. The list includes Netflix.

I called Netflix last night to share my thoughts on the company’s Limbaugh connection and spoke with a friendly person who offered to type, word for word, what I had to say. She made it clear that Netflix is interested in what subscribers think about the matter. The Netflix toll-free number, open around the clock:

8:52 a.m.: The Atlantic now says: “Netflix emails to say it doesn’t advertise on Rush. We’re waiting to hear back whether the company just bought ads on the local radio station or what.”

2:29 p.m.: Netflix’s Director of Corporate Communications Joris Evers tells Boing Boing that
Netflix has not purchased and does not purchase advertising on the Rush Limbaugh show. We do buy network radio advertising and have confirmed that two Netflix spots were picked up in error as part of local news breaks during the Rush Limbaugh show. We have instructed our advertising agency to make sure that this error will not happen again.
A related post
Homer and Limbaugh and epithets

Recently updated

The Artist (and typography) Now with a link to a type designer’s take on the film. There’s so much to see when you know what you’re seeing.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A handy mnemonic

A handy mnemonic I am sharing with my students, with whom I’ll be watching King Lear in room 3290. How to remember the room:

Room 3290 sits at the northwest corner of the building. The northwest corner is the corner closest to Grant Avenue. Cary Grant starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. The title of that film comes from William Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote King Lear.

Or just write down 3290.

Does anyone have a good mnemonic for seven o’clock?

A related post

[“I am only mad north by northwest” (Hamlet II.2). It’ll be the Great Performances production of Lear, with Ian McKellen.]

Friday, March 2, 2012

Homer and Limbaugh and epithets

Surely Rush Limbaugh is not so deranged as to believe that the epithet slut applies to Sandra Fluke, the law student who testified before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on contraception coverage in the Affordable Care Act. No: Limbaugh’s purpose is to intimidate by letting women know the price they may expect to pay if they speak publicly about affordable access to contraception.

Limbaugh’s language has a peculiar resonance for me, as I just taught book 22 of Homer’s Odyssey. In that episode of the poem, a dozen women of Odysseus’ household are executed by hanging. Their crime: sleeping with the enemy, Penelope’s suitors, the young men who have taken over the household in Odysseus’ absence. Odysseus’ son Telemachus calls for the women’s execution, not, as Odysseus has directed, by sword (a “clean” death) but by hanging. And in three prominent translations (Robert Fitzgerald, Robert Fagles, Stanley Lombardo), Telemachus explains his decision by calling the women “sluts.” There’s no equivalent to slut in the Greek. In Richmond Lattimore’s highly literal Odyssey, these women “have slept with the suitors.”

A chilling recognition that might arise in a careful reading of the Odyssey : by the end of the poem, these women are forgotten. When Zeus and Athena work out a resolution to the conflict in Odysseus’ kingdom, they decide that all memory of the dead suitors will be removed from the minds of their surviving relatives. But the women of Odysseus’ house are never even remembered before being forgotten: in the ancient economy of persons, their lives and deaths do not count. The poem, we might say, does not care for them.

I’ve stumbled three or four times in writing this post, not sure what point I want to make about this ugly synchronicity of epithets. Homer’s poem is elsewhere deeply attuned to difficulties of women’s lives, and Odysseus and Penelope’s homophrosunê [like-mindedness] offers a startlingly modern way to think about the meaning of marriage. But in Odyssey 22, it is men who have the final word over women’s choices. Current events are all too reminiscent of that scenario.

Related reading and viewing
Sandra Fluke’s testimony (C-SPAN)
Rush Limbaugh’s remarks (Media Matters)

[The translations: Robert Fitzgerald (1961): “you sluts, who lay with suitors.” Robert Fagles (1996): “You sluts — the suitors’ whores!” Stanley Lombardo (2000): “the suitors’ sluts.” Margaret Atwood’s reimagining of Homeric narrative, The Penelopiad (2005), creates a voice for these women.]

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mark Bauerlein on learning

Mark Bauerlein on what makes education possible:

For education to happen, people must encounter worthwhile things outside their sphere of influence and brainpower. Knowledge grows, skills improve, tastes refine, and conscience ripens only if the experiences bear a degree of unfamiliarity — a beautiful artwork you are forced to inspect even though it leaves you cold; an ancient city you have to detail even though history puts you to sleep; a microeconomic problem you have to solve even though you fumble with arithmetic. To take them in, to assimilate the objects intelligently, the intellectual tool kit must expand and attitudes must soften. If the first apprehension stalls, you can’t mutter, “I don’t get it — this isn’t for me.” You have to say, “I don’t get it, and maybe that’s my fault.” You have to accept the sting of relinquishing a cherished notion, of admitting a defect in yourself. Poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s simple admonition should be the rule: “You must change your life.”

From The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2008).
Bauerlein’s insulting title makes me wince. His sub-subtitle — Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30 — makes me cringe. My thoughts about poetry and difficulty are far different from his. But I like what he says in this passage about persistence and humility in the face of the unfamiliar.

“You must change your life”: “Du mußt dein Leben ändern,” from the last line of “Archaïscher Torso Apollos” [Archaic torso of Apollo].

Related posts
John Holt on learning and difficulty
Learning, failure, and character

“In March read”

[“In March read the books you’ve always meant to read.” Poster by the Illinois WPA Art Project for the WPA Statewide Library Project. Stamped March 25, 1941. From the Library of Congress’s online archive American Memory.]

What are you planning to read this March that you’ve always meant to read? Me: Euripides.

Other reading posters
“October’s Bright Blue Weather”
“January: A year of good reading ahead”
“The Vacation Reading Club”

[Always: loosely meant.]