Monday, April 30, 2012


In a nearby restaurant:

Are you kidding? I have an eight o’clock final.”

Well played, young scholar.

Related reading
All “overheard” posts (via Pinboard)

[For clarity: the student was just saying no, to something.]

As exams approach

[“Student Vera Bogach of Massachusetts College, studying for exams in a bubble bath.” Photograph by Yale Joel. May 1951. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

Best wishes to all givers and takers of final examinations.

Related reading
How to do horribly on a final exam
How to do well on a final examination

[Sisters Olga and Vera Bogach were friends with and models for the painter William James Jr., a grandson of William James. Vera married a painter named Joe Gropper. That’s all I know.]

Sunday, April 29, 2012

On Duke Ellington’s birthday

[October 27, 1973.]

Edward Kennedy Ellington was born on April 29, 1899.

YouTube has some brief 1973 clips of Duke Ellington in Sweden. At the Duke Ellington Music Society, Sven Eriksson reports that this footage was shot for Finnish television (YLE) in the city of Umeå on October 27, 1973. The Westminster Abbey performance of the Third Sacred Concert, mentioned in the interview, took place on October 24.

I’d never before seen Ellington on film this late in his life. (He died on May 24, 1974.) His charm is on display in the airport scene, as he removes his hat to bow to the ladies. But Ellington here is impatient. To a reporter at the airport: “No, you listen. You talk too much; you don’t listen enough.” And to the reporter in the longer interview scene: “We don’t do tours. We do this fifty-two weeks a year.” (Don’t these people read the papers?)

The most revealing comments here concern what the reporter calls “the jazz scene” (Ellington hated the word jazz) and the business of music:
Jazz? Well, I mean, the word to me means freedom of expression. That’s what I think of it, that’s all. And if it is accepted as an art, it is the same as any other art. The popularity of it doesn’t matter, doesn’t mean anything, because when you get into popularity, then you’re talking about money and not music.

When you say “Well, young people,” that means that young people are dictating. They are the dictators or the dictatresses of the day as far as the arts is concerned, and this is not true. The young people are the people who are buying, because they are told to buy, and they cannot buy what is not pressed. And there’s a little man known as a sales manager who tells them how many million to press. And then they tell the little children, they say “Now you buy this million,” and they do it. It has no relationship to music, and it has nothing to do with taste.
Other posts for Duke Ellington’s birthday: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011.

[For fanatics only: Russell Procope is visible behind Ellington at 0:14, Harry Carney at 0:22. I think that’s Mercer Ellington on the far left at 0:15. Ellington’s hat looks like the one he wore when recording This One’s for Blanton with Ray Brown in 1972. Who else could pull off wearing a hat like that? Thelonious Monk, I guess.]

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Vegan phở

From Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times: recipes for vegan phở. Or pho.

[Elaine, take note.]

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rice and beans à la Hannity

Earlier this week, Sean Hannity explained to his radio audience why poor people needn’t go hungry:

I have friends of mine that eat rice and beans all the time. Beans: protein. Rice: inexpensive. You can make a big pot of this for a week for relatively negligible amounts of money for your whole family and feed your family. Look, you should have vegetables and fruit in there as well, but, you know, if you need to survive, you can survive off it. It’s not ideal. You can get some cheap meat too and throw in there as well for protein. There are ways to live really, really cheaply.
Hannity no doubt has no idea what he’s echoing. Here’s what John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) says in a chapter telling the story of industrial agriculture in California:
Now farming became industry, and the owners followed Rome, although they did not know it. They imported slaves, although they did not call them slaves: Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Filipinos. They live on rice and beans, the business men said. They don’t need much. They wouldn’t know what to do with good wages. Why, look how they live. Why, look what they eat. And if they get funny — deport them.
That reference to “cheap meat” also makes me think of The Grapes of Wrath, and of the Joad family’s staple diet: pork, potatoes, biscuits, coffee. No fruits or vegetables, except for the peaches that young Ruthie and Winfield eat while picking (and which give them horrific diarrhea). Almost no dairy products either: the family buys a bottle or can of milk just twice. The storekeeper who sells Ma Joad some hamburger would fit well in Hannity’s picture of things: “That hamburg is purty nice stuff. Use the grease that comes out a her for gravy. Purty nice. No waste. Don’t throw no bone away.”

And Hannity no doubt would nod in agreement when the storekeeper says “I ain’t guaranteein’ I’d eat her myself; but they’s lots of stuff I wouldn’ do.”

Blackwing Pages for the taking

I will phrase carefully: it appears that California Cedar, maker of the replica Palomino Blackwing pencil, may have used images from Blackwing Pages for commercial purposes with neither permission nor attribution.

Cal Cedar has previously claimed “fair use” concerning a photograph from Blackwing Pages that it used in a promotional video with neither permission nor attribution. Use is the key word, and this company’s business practices give new meaning to the term Blackwing user. Nobody likes to be used.

Related reading
All Blackwing posts (via Pinboard)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Inappropriate stock photo
accompanies news item

[Daily News, as seen on April 26, 2012.]

The New York Daily News’s version of a news item about a woman attempting to live on sunlight and dying in the attempt is accompanied by a stock photo whose infotip reads “Female healthy lifestyle.” You can mouse over the photograph at the Daily News to see the infotip in all its inappropriateness.


“I’m gonna give you three seconds to put that violin down, nice and easy.”

Related reading
All “overheard” posts (via Pinboard)

[The television was on in the background, for “warmth.” It was Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) speaking. ¿Quién es más macho: David Janssen, Lloyd Bridges, o Jack Lord?]

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, April 26, 2012.]

There are five-string cellos, and there are left-handed cellists, Charlie Chaplin among them. And there may be, somewhere, a left-handed five-string cellist. But come on.

If there is an in-joke here, it remains very inner. To the average comics reader, or to me, today’s Hi and Lois will look merely goofy. I made a few improvements in about five seven ten minutes, using the open-source Mac image-editor Seashore. Nothing to be done about those F-holes though. Skritch.

[Hi and Lois, later that same day.]

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (via Pinboard)

[“Very inner”: after the poet Ted Berrigan: “There’s a great inner logic to this poem, which I try to keep very inner.”]

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tim Johnson on the line

My congressman made the New York Times yesterday: Tim Johnson (R, Illinois-15), who retires this year, was the subject of a short profile that emphasized above all his habit of telephoning his constituents:

“I am almost like a dinosaur,” said Mr. Johnson, who would agree to be interviewed only by, yes, phone. “I think people think I am unique,” he added, clearly embracing the notion of understatement. “My style makes you sufficiently out of the mainstream, and people can wonder how effective you are.”

He cuts a slightly disheveled swath through the Capitol at all hours, his calling often cited by colleagues as his chief accomplishment after a decade of service here. “Tim had his finger on the pulse of his district,” Speaker John A. Boehner said in an e-mail, “and always reminded members that at the heart of every democracy are representatives who will listen first, learn, and then lead.”
I’ve never understood what’s so extraordinary about this phone habit. According to the Times, Johnson calls 4,000 constituents a year. (His district has a population of 700,000.) Skip Thanksgiving and Christmas and the calls average eleven a day. Count only working days (251 in 2012), and the average jumps to sixteen, still not that many calls to make. Johnson has never called me, though he has sent long and thoughtful responses to several letters and e-mails. The one occasion on which I heard him respond to constituents, a 2009 “town-hall meeting” on health care, was deeply dispiriting. I wanted to hang up.

[If you click through to the Times article, don’t miss the lively comment thread.]

Infinite Jest in the App Store

To the left, the App Store rating for the iOS version of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The most hilarious element, for a novel with a halfway house as a principal setting: “Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References.” O RLY? No one who’s read the novel could possibly describe the drug use therein — or sexual content or violence, for that matter — as infrequent or mild. Unless, of course, they were on drugs.

That must be it: the App Store is on drugs.

I don’t mean to suggest that those under twelve not be permitted to read Infinite Jest. Nor do I mean to suggest that the novel should be available with a higher age restriction. I would salute any reader inspired to try Infinite Jest. But I don’t think a youngster would get very far. Matters of syntax, vocabulary, and range of reference would have something to do with it.

Related posts
All David Foster Wallace posts (via Pinboard)
The Daily v. NYTimes for iPad

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

More imaginary liner notes

My imaginary liner notes for the fifth and sixth 45s in Van Dyke Parks’s singles project are now available for your reading pleasure at Bananastan Records. Number five: “The All Golden” b/w “Sassafras,” with art by Klaus Voorman and Billy Edd Wheeler. Number six: “Missin’ Missisippi” b/w “The Parting Hand,” with art by Sally Parks and Stanley Dorfman. My favorite passage from the notes:

Journeying from Malibu to Paris to Madagascar to Wall Street to Trinidad to Galicia to Mississippi and beyond, these recordings are the work of a musician whose windshield is bigger than his rear-view mirror. Fare forward, traveller.
I feel honored to be part of the endeavor.

[The windshield may be found in this interview.]

Recently updated

Phones Are For People With another excerpt from the 1962 pamphlet manifesto of the Anti-Digit Dialing League.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Phones Are For People

[Hello, Atlantic readers. Yes, that’s my photograph over there. There’s more on the Anti-Digit Dialing League in this previous post.]

I am now the proud custodian of a copy of the Anti-Digit Dialing League’s pamphlet manifesto Phones Are For People (1962). This pamphlet seems to qualify as scarce: I found one copy for sale online. Thanks, SuburbanBooks.

The pamphlet is ten pages. The cover cartoon — “Hello, 274-435-4946? This is 483-235-5897” — is by Bob Bastian. A listing of the League’s Board of Directors appears on what would be the title page: Hiram Johnson III (1914–1992, attorney, grandson of a California governor-then-senator), Jack Block (1924–2010, professor of psychology at U Cal Berkeley), Bonnie Burgon (“editorial assistant,” associated at one point with ETC: A Review of General Semantics), Robert Carrow (1934–2008, attorney), S.I. Hayakawa (1906–1992, professor of English at San Francisco State, later a senator), Carl V. May (“public relations counselor”), and John D. Schick (“investments”).

Phones Are For People makes its case in Q. and A. format, entertaining possible objections and making clear the reasonableness of the case, as if to say, “We’re not, not — I repeat not — a bunch of crackpots.” It is 1962 after all, and they are Questioning Authority. Here is the group’s origin story:
The Anti-Digit Dialing League started over a cup of coffee in San Francisco when the conversation, quite by accident, drifted to the new Digit Dialing system. Both coffee drinkers had found the new system extremely confusing and difficult to use. They also wondered whether the change was really necessary. As a consequence they inserted a tiny notice in the classified section of a newspaper inquiring whether other people had experienced the same thoughts. They signed the ad, Anti-Digit Dialing League.

The response was incredible. Over thirty-five hundred people responded within ten days in the San Francisco Bay Area alone. As word about ADDL spread throughout the country, people wrote in wanting to start chapters of ADDL in other cities across the country. It quickly became obvious that ADDL was expressing a deep but previously unorganized concern of telephone users that the telephone company had somehow forgotten about them. This is the reason that ADDL started; it was an expression of widespread concern.
Another excerpt:
Q. But isn’t all this fuss simply a tempest in a teapot? Aren’t the people opposing Digit Dialing really just opposing progress? Isn’t the present furor nothing more than an emotional reaction to any kind of change?

A. Most decidedly not! Most people, and certainly the members of ADDL, welcome constructive change. However, the telephone is an extremely important part of everyday life, and major changes in its use will have widespread effects.
And according to this pamphlet, the opposition to digit dialing finds strong support in science. The ADDL points to “numerous psychological experiments” confirming that it is easier to memorize letters and numbers than numbers alone, and easier still to memorize names and numbers. The ADDL points also to a 1955 finding that seventy-five percent of adults could not remember a sequence of seven digits. Why then the move to digit dialing? Not, according to the ADDL, because of a looming shortage of telephone numbers: by its calculations, more than 820 million numbers are available by means of exchange names and numbers. No, the reason for the switch is ease in achieving “internal automation.” Nice try, telephone company. The ADDL isn’t buying:
But automation is an advance only if it frees people and takes them away from what is undignified and better done by machines. Digit Dialing places an added burden upon people by requiring them to fulfill the needs dictated by accounting machines and computers.
I’m surprised and disappointed to see that the humble poetry of exchange names plays only a small part in the ADDL’s argument, mentioned in passing before the emphasis on utility starts up again:
The reasons for preferring such historic exchanges as KLondike or YUkon or BUtterfield or MUrrayhill are not simply sentimental or emotional. Because of their traditional value, such named exchanges are much easier to remember and to use.
So instead of a paean to exchange names, I found “numerous psychological experiments.” I would have joined anyway. The $2.00 membership donation got you a membership card and badge.

If, fifty years later, anyone from the ADDL is out there, I would love to hear from you.

[June 2019: Phones Are for People is copyrighted; I’m not in a position to share scanned copies. There’s a listing for the pamphlet in the WorldCat.]

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sherry Turkle on the flight
from conversation

Sherry Turkle writes about the flight from conversation:

I spend the summers at a cottage on Cape Cod, and for decades I walked the same dunes that Thoreau once walked. Not too long ago, people walked with their heads up, looking at the water, the sky, the sand and at one another, talking. Now they often walk with their heads down, typing. Even when they are with friends, partners, children, everyone is on their own devices.
I see the flight from conversation every day in college hallways: a dozen or more students waiting to enter a classroom, every student silent, sitting or standing against the wall and staring at a device. The students are, as Turkle would say, “alone together.” And yes, I talk with my students about this phenomenon, which, I admit, I find unnerving.

The saddest details in Turkle’s piece: a high-school student who “wishes he could talk to artificial intelligence program instead of his dad about dating,” and another who says, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”

Literary reading, standardized tests

Clair Needell Hollander, New York City teacher, on literary reading and standardized tests:

We cannot enrich the minds of our students by testing them on texts that purposely ignore their hearts. By doing so, we are withholding from our neediest students any reason to read at all. We are teaching them that words do not dazzle but confound. We may succeed in raising test scores by relying on these methods, but we will fail to teach them that reading can be transformative and that it belongs to them.

Teach the Books, Touch the Heart (New York Times)

The new Blogger interface, unliked

If you (too) use Blogger and have misgivings about the new interface, here’s a good place to voice them, a “problem rollup” post at Google Groups: I do not like the new Blogger interface because.

My main complaints: the text-box for composing and editing is much too large, and the new interface remains broken on the iPad. For Google to switch users to the new interface before getting the iPad problem worked out would be unconscionable. But it looks as though we’re headed toward unconscionable.

[Is Google’s non-reponse to the iPad problem related to Apple–Google hostilities? I wonder.]

Saturday, April 21, 2012

“Pineapples don’t have sleeves”

A Daniel Pinkwater story, adapted for a standardized test, is in the news.

[I discovered Pinkwater’s books in adulthood. My favorites: Aunt Lulu and Young Adult Novel.]

Mitt/Mark and the big trees

[Mark Trail, April 21, 2012.]

Too weird. Today’s Mark Trail sheds new light on what Mitt/Mark may have meant when he averred that the trees in Michigan are “the right height.” The right height for what, Governor Trail? What are you and they hiding?

Related posts
Mitt/Mark Romney/Trail
Mitt/Mark Romney/Trail, learning from experience

[Yes, Mitt Romney and Mark Trail are the same (two-dimensional) person. “Tom” would appear to be Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, who endorsed Romney earlier this week.]

Music Man Murray

Streaming at NPR: Music Man Murray, a 2011 film by Richard Parks. Murray is eighty-eight-year-old Murray Gershenz, seeking a buyer for the contents of his Los Angeles record store. With music by Van Dyke Parks.

[It’s Record Store Day.]

Friday, April 20, 2012

Should I check e-mail?

A flow chart by Wendy McNaughton (via Coudal).

“It isn’t creative at all!”

Elizabeth Bishop, from a letter to anthologist John Frederick Nims, written on the last day of her life, October 6, 1979:

You can see what a nasty teacher I must be — but I do think students get lazier and lazier & expect to have everything done for them. (I suggested buying a small paper-back and almost the whole class whines “Where can I find it?”) My best example of this sort of thing is what one rather bright Harvard honors student told me. She told her room-mate or a friend — who had obviously taken my verse-writing course — that she was doing her paper with me and the friend said “Oh don’t work with her! It’s awful! She wants you to look words up in the dictionary! It isn’t creative at all!” In other words, it is better not to know what you’re writing or reading.

From Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose and Letters, ed. Robert Giroux and Lloyd Schwartz (New York: Library of America, 2008).

Related posts
Elizabeth Bishop at Vassar
Lines from Elizabeth Bishop

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Move that prepositional phrase

From the Huffington Post:

See also: Godwin’s law.

[Thanks, Elaine.]

Mitt/Mark Romney/Trail,
learning from experience

[Mark Trail, April 19, 2012.]

Mitt/Mark Romney/Trail is learning from experience. On his way to pick up Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, Mitt/Mark travels with his dog inside his vehicle, at least while being photographed, or drawn.

[Yes, one-percenter Mitt Romney and ninety-nine-percenter Mark Trail are the same person. There are no classes in America. No seat belts either.]

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dick Clark (1929–2012)

[“TV deejay Dick Clark, standing in the middle of his teenage fans who are swirling around him on the studio dance floor during rock ’n’ roll number on his weekly show American Bandstand.” Photograph by Paul Schutzer. Philadelphia, December 12, 1958. From the Life Photo Archive.]

Steve Soboroff’s typewriters

Steve Soboroff likes typewriters. And there’s a slide show.

LAX English

I found this jotting in a notebook, words that I heard or read at LAX last fall: “Please maintain visual contact with your personal property at all times.”

Simpler: “Watch your bags — always.”

From eleven words to four, from nineteen syllables to five. Is anything missing?

[If I saw a sign with these words, I’d have photographed it, no doubt. So I must have heard an announcement on the PA system.]

Recipes I stopped reading


3/4 cup reduced fat peanut butter
1 cup light corn syrup

Previously on Orange Crate Art
Another recipe I stopped reading

[This one’s from a box of Grape-Nuts.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gmail is down

Gmail appears to be down for many. Down for Everyone or Just Me says that it’s not just me. Google’s past-hour results for gmail suggest a widespread problem. Trying to sign into an account, failing, and clicking on Gmail’s link to Show Detailed Technical Info results in the following detailed technical info:

You can now type numeric code 93 into the search engine of your choice and find that many others are asking what “Numeric Code: 93” means. I think what it means is that Gmail, for now, is down.

12:40 p.m.: It’s back, at least for me.

Obvious typos

A recent Google search: hot to email professor. A typo? Must be a typo.

Another recent search: note to professor for missing class for birthday. And another bit of carelessness: typing birthday for surgery or trip to present paper at conference, I’m not sure which.

Both searches led seekers of wisdom and truth to my post on how — not hot — to e-mail a professor.

[With apologies to Frank Loesser.]

Introverts of academe

William Pannapacker on extroversion, introversion, and academic life: Screening Out the Introverts (Chronicle of Higher Education).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Best drugstore in the movies?

Tension (1949, dir. John Berry) is a great film noir, with Richard Basehart as the cuckolded pharmacist Warren Quimby and Audrey Totter as his three- or four- or five-timing wife Claire. Also on board: Cyd Charisse and (briefly) William Conrad. Basehart and Totter are terrific as a stunningly mismatched couple. The real star of the film though is the drugstore, an “All-Nite Service” establishment at the corner of St. Ann’s and Thirteenth, wherever that is.

[“Tasty Food.” Click on each image for a larger view.]

Tension begins with a monologue by Lieutenant Collier Bonnabel (Barry Sullivan):
You know, these stores have everything: raisins and radios, paregoric and phonographs, vitamin capsules and cap pistols. They’ll serve you a cup of coffee, sell you a pack of cigarettes or a postage stamp, and in a pinch they’ll even fill a prescription for you.
The store appears to have six main areas. Clockwise from the rear: a prescription counter, a lunch counter, a magazine rack, liquors and candy (both dandy), tobacco, and perfume.

[Warren Quimby fills a prescription. Notice, among other details, “Tomorrow’s Weather by Vicks.”]

[Quimby has a word with the loyal counterman Freddie (Tom D’Andrea).]

[Magazines, liquors, candy, and tobacco, as seen from behind the perfume counter. Mrs. Quimby has met her old friend Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough). He has a big car. She likes that. She’ll meet him outside.]

[Tobacco and perfume counters, as seen from behind the lunch counter. Notice the Eversharp Injection Blades display.]

My idea of a theme park: a dowdy-world drugstore, open all nite.

Further adventures in retail density
Harvey’s Hardware (Needham, Massachusetts)
Whelan’s Drug Store (a Berenice Abbott photograph)


March 28, 2015: Here’s one more post about Tension and a Culver City theater: A movie theater in the movies.


May 29, 2018: In 2013 a contributor to the SkyscraperPage Forum shared these screenshots and wondered where the drugstore was located. Another contributor replied and placed the drugstore at 3500 W. 6th Street, the southwest corner of W. 6th Street and S. Alexandria Avenue, Los Angeles. A third SkyscraperPage Forum contributor had already worked out the details in 2012. The drugstore exterior is that of the Chapman Park Pharmacy. To my eye, the drugstore interior looks too dense to be anything but real.

[Paregoric? Merriam-Webster explains: “camphorated tincture of opium used especially to relieve pain.” I know this word from reading William Burroughs.]

Friday, April 13, 2012

Rae Armantrout in NYT crossword

I’m giving away an answer, late in the day. If you do the syndicated New York Times crossword puzzle, please forget about this post within the next five weeks and six days.

I’m happy to see Rae Armantrout in the Times crossword. Years ago (1994) I wrote the first “scholarly” article on her work. Go Rae!

[And while I think of it: can we acknowledge that when in east-central Illinois someone refers to “the Times,” it’s only a persnickety snob who insists on asking “Which one?” Which one do ya think?]

Phone manners

[As seen in the 1940 New York City telephone directories. Click for a larger, clearer view.]

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Anti-Digit Dialing League

[Update: There’s now a post with excerpts from Phones Are for People.]

[Lewis Banci and Milburn Smith, The Ten O’Clock Scholar (1969).]

The Anti-Digit Dialing League was a short-lived movement that arose in 1962 and faded, it would seem, in 1964. Founded in San Francisco, the ADDL opposed “creeping numeralism” and fought a losing battle to preserve the use of telephone exchange names. I came across the group’s name while exploring the 1940 New York City telephone directories earlier this month. Among the ADDL’s members, the semanticist S.I. Hayakawa, a co-author of the group’s pamphlet manifesto Phones Are For People (1962). Here is what Hayakawa told Time (July 13, 1962):
“These people are systematically trying to destroy the use of memory. They tell you to ‘write it down,’ not memorize it. Try writing a telephone number down in a dark booth while groping for a pencil, searching in an obsolete phone book and gasping for breath. And all this in the name of efficiency! Engineers have a terrible intellectual weakness. ‘If it fits the machine,’ they say, ‘then it ought to fit people.’ This is something that bothers me very much: absentmindedness about people.”
The same Time article reported that the Bloomington, Indiana chapter of the ADDL had turned to a mild form of sabotage:
Interpreting the area code and seven digits as one huge number, they place calls by saying, “Operator, give me S.I. Hayakawa at four billion, one hundred fifty-five million, eight hundred forty-two thousand, three hundred and one.” Growls Chapter Leader Frederick Litto, “If they want digits, we’ll give them digits.”
I remember when grown-ups used to growl about automation and “computers.” I remember owning a button with the younger statement of those sentiments: “I am a human being: do not fold, spindle, or mutilate.” I salute the ADDL’s affection for exchange names. Sign me up.

[Life, February 8, 1963.]


Update: I have obtained a copy of Phones Are for People.

Related reading
Other exchange name posts

[Befuddled at memory frenzies? You can pick an exchange name for your telephone number from a 1955 list of Bell Telephone’s recommended exchange names, available from The Telephone EXchange Name Project.]

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

“[B]eautiful and surprising and deep”

Billy couldn't read Tralfamadorian, of course, but he could at least see how the books were laid out — in brief clumps of symbols separated by stars. Billy commented that the clumps might be telegrams.

“Exactly,” said the voice.

“They are telegrams?”

“There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you’re right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message — describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

Roger Ebert on memory and mortality

“Some years from now, at a funeral with a slide show, only one person will be able to say who we were. Then no one will know”: Roger Ebert, “I remember you” (Chicago Sun-Times).

[Do you know the song? Music by Victor Schertzinger, words by Johnny Mercer. Here’s a version by Doris Day.]

Domestic comedy

In a parking lot:

“If you’re looking for hinterlands, those are more hinter.”

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts (via Pinboard)

[Me, I like to park in the hinterlands. Elaine, she understands.]

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Noisy for Mac

Noisy is a free app (OS X 10.5 or later) that generates pink noise or white noise, masking background chatter and other distractions. Noisy is based on the old Mac app Noise, which never became a Universal Binary.

One can get the benefit of noise by running SimplyNoise in a browser or by downloading a SimplyNoise MP3. I have an hour of pink noise on my iPod, which has been a concentration-saver in coffeeshops. But I think it’s especially nice to get some noise by running a tiny app. To the anonymous developer who turned Noise into Noisy: thanks.

[Without pink noise, I’d get nothing done in my office.]

Dropbox invitation, anyone?

Dropbox now offers an extra 500MB of storage space to new users who sign up via an invitation. Thus a basic (free) account would now have 2.5GB. The inviter gets an extra 500MB as well. You can see where I’m going with this: here’s my referral link.

Monday, April 9, 2012

“They mess you up”

For the first time in a long time, the word mess has appeared in a Michiko Kakutani book review. From a review of Philip Larkin’s Complete Poems:

Many American readers know Larkin chiefly from his more darkly funny lines: “Sexual intercourse began / In nineteen sixty-three / (Which was rather late for me) — / Between the end of the ‘Chatterley’ ban / And the Beatles’ first LP” (from “Annus Mirabilis”). Or: “They mess you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you” (from “This Be The Verse”).
“This Be the Verse” begins like so: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.” If the New York Times refuses to print fuck, couldn’t the reviewer have used asterisks to suggest the word? “They mess you up” is an exceedingly decorous and misleading paraphrase.

“This Be the Verse” may be read in its entirety at the Poetry Foundation.

Related posts
All instances of mess and messy in Kakutani’s writing for the Times, 1979–2010
One mess and one messy from 2011

The Palomino Blackwing pencil
and truth in advertising

California Republic Stationers, the division of California Cedar responsible for the replica version of the Blackwing pencil, seems prepared to go to any lengths to promote its merchandise. The company’s page on the Blackwing and popular culture now claims John Lennon as among those

who were just rumored to have used the Blackwing (if you have proof one way or the other, let us know!). When there’s controversy and rumors surrounding what kind of pencil a person used, you know you’re dealing with something big.
These assertions are — I’ll say it — bullshit: “stupid or untrue talk or writing; nonsense” (New Oxford American Dictionary). According to the same dictionary, to bullshit is to “talk nonsense to (someone), typically to be misleading or deceptive.”

The alleged rumor that John Lennon used Blackwing pencils seems to have its source in a comment on a Cal Cedar blog post, a comment naming Lennon as a Blackwing user. There is no evidence of a rumor about Lennon’s pencil use, and no evidence that John Lennon had a particular attachment to the Blackwing pencil. That Lennon’s pencil use is a matter of an alleged rumor hasn’t deterred Cal Cedar from giving a place of prominence to a photograph of Lennon (photographer uncredited) in its banner pantheon of Blackwing users. For a company to advertise its products by using the likeness of someone who could never have used those products — who was murdered before they were manufactured — is about as low as it gets.

The comment naming John Lennon as a Blackwing user names several other alleged users, including J. D. Salinger. Salinger’s name, I notice, is conspicuously absent from Palomino Blackwing publicity materials. No doubt the estate would pounce like a mad beast on anyone using Salinger’s name or likeness without permission for marketing purposes (not that such permission would ever be forthcoming).

In response to recent developments, Blackwing Pages has updated its Q. and A. page on the Palomino Blackwing: The Palomino “Blackwing Experience” as Cultural Vandalism.

California Cedar: please. Gimme some truth, as John Lennon might have said.

Related reading
All Blackwing posts (via Pinboard)

[The funny thing is that the Blackwing isn’t even my favorite pencil. That would be the Mongol. But I care about facts, and I don’t like seeing people’s names used in a shoddy marketing effort. A post at Blackwing Pages prompted Cal Cedar to silently remove Frank Lloyd Wright’s name from its marketing materials. Several Orange Crate Art posts led to the silent removal of Duke Ellington’s name. It is time for Cal Cedar to remove John Lennon’s name as well.]

To v. through

From the New York Times, a story about words and parking signs.

Lights out in the Piazza

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on Pooja Sankar’s Piazza, a website that allows students to ask questions about their coursework and allows both students and their professor to post answers:

At first blush, the service seems unnecessary. Students can already e-mail questions to professors or fellow students, and most colleges already own course-management systems like Blackboard that include discussion features. But Ms. Sankar feels that such options are clunky. She says professors are finding that Piazza can save them hours each week by allowing them to post answers to a single online forum rather than handle a scattershot of student e-mails.
Says the Chronicle, “Pooja Sankar may eliminate the need for professors to hold office hours, or to endlessly respond to student questions by e-mail.”

Perhaps. But would that necessarily be a good thing? I’ll invoke my mantra about technology: Technology makes it possible to do things, not necessary to do them. And its converse: Technology makes it possible not to do things, not necessary not to do them. That it might be possible to eliminate office hours and e-mail responses doesn’t mean that it’s necessary to eliminate them. Piazza holds no appeal for me, for exactly five reasons:

1. The Chronicle, paraphrasing Sankar: “students typically keep Piazza open on their screens as they work on homework, often staying on the site for hours at a time.”¹ That habit of work hardly fosters the sustained attention to a text appropriate to English studies.

2. Working with Piazza would also seem to do little to encourage self-reliance. As one mostly enthusiastic professor quoted in the article says, “I got the feeling that students were asking the questions because that was easier than thinking.” Imagine doing a crossword puzzle as answers (perhaps correct ones) are revealed in bits and pieces. How do you look away? And if doing work in an online study hall (Sankar’s metaphor) is anything like doing work in the study halls of my high school days, it’s an exercise in gleeful communism: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Whadja get for no. 3?

3. Piazza is also touted as a means by which “shy students” can “ask questions anonymously.” With a small class, the identity of an anonymous Piazza poster might be awkwardly apparent. But even if true anonymity were attainable, the inability to ask a question of a professor or fellow student (even by e-mail) suggests a crippling social deficit that might be better addressed with therapy.

4. And speaking of e-mail: it’s a Good Thing for students to have at least some practice in communicating with their professors by e-mail. Getting the hang of such communication — informal yet professional — is good preparation for the world beyond college. And speaking of communication: many professors (though hardly all) like talking with students during office hours. Talking to professors during office hours is another Good Thing, even better: a way to engage in genuine intellectual dialogue. I think that students need all the experience they can get in such dialogue, which is less about getting answers and more about exchanging ideas and trying to solve problems.

5. And anyway, must every question have an answer? Education often involves grappling with questions for which there are no clear, immediate answers. The point is to do the thinking, the exploring, exactly the work that Piazza would seem to cut short. 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.
Two related posts
How to answer a question in class (guest-post by Stefan Hagemann)
How to talk to a professor

¹ What’s with “homework”? That’s a word better left in high school.

[Post title with apologies to Elizabeth Spencer. My five reasons is sardonic: on the Internets, five is a magic number.]

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Van Dyke Parks
at the Kennedy Center

Van Dyke Parks performs tomorrow at the Kennedy Center, a free concert that will stream online. Watch from the comfort of your Internet-ready device at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Recently updated

David Schubert, TR5-3718 Now with David and Judith Schubert’s 1940 census listing.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Technology, not always progess

Here’s a good post by Marco Arment on what it’s like to deposit checks — or is it “deposit” “checks”? — by iPhone. His conclusion: “Sometimes, new technology is not progress.” Which reminds me of something I’ve written in previous posts: Technology makes it possible to do things, not necessary to do them.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Van Dyke Parks in St. Louis

Van Dyke Parks played last night at the Luminary Center for the Arts in St. Louis with bassist Jim Cooper and percussionist Don Heffington. The three made beautiful music together. Here’s a set list, all compositions by Parks except as noted:

Jump! : Opportunity for Two : Come Along : Orange Crate Art : Delta Queen Waltz (John Hartford) : Danza (Louis Moreau Gottschalk) : Cowboy : Wings of a Dove : Sail Away : The All Golden

While the program is much as it was when I heard Parks in 2010 playing with members of Clare and the Reasons, a piano-bass-drums setting brings out different elements in these pieces. The 2010 performance was an elegant adventure in chamber music. Last night’s performance, while just as artful, was more driving, even swinging. What astonishes me again is that Parks is able to suggest the complex orchestrations of his recordings with relatively minimal instrumentation. My best analogy: the Modern Jazz Quartet’s For Ellington (1988), which conjured up an orchestra with piano, vibes, bass, and drums.

I know of no analogy for the mix of anecdotes, asides, one-liners, historical excursus, and plainspoken wisdom that VDP dispenses from the stage. One sample: “We live in a dark age. Now is the time to be forthright and beautiful and strong.” The audience, young and old, was listening.

Opening for Parks: The Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra, playing an original score to accompany the Buster Keaton film The Balloonatic (1923). They were a delight.

The Luminary Center for the Arts, housed in a former Roman Catholic convent, is a great space for art and music. Van Dyke invited Elaine and me up to the green room before the show, a room that looked as if it might have been a reading room or TV room in convent days. Van Dyke, Don, Elaine, and I sat at a small square table. Present at various points in the conversation: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Elton John, Buster and Eleanor Keaton, John Steinbeck, and Gregg Toland, all sitting on the sofa with a sister or two.

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

Thursday, April 5, 2012

David Schubert, TR5-3718

This listing comes from the 1940 Brooklyn telephone directory, available at Direct Me NYC 1940. David Schubert (1913–1946) is a great modern American poet, though his work is still little known. William Carlos Williams: “To sit down for a little while and reread some of Schubert’s rare and poignant verse is like opening a window in a room that had become stuffy without one’s realizing it.” John Ashbery: “I myself value Schubert more than Pound or Eliot, and it’s a relief to have an authority of the stature of Williams to back me up.” I found my way to Schubert by chance in 1994 when I picked up a used copy of the 1983 Quarterly Review of Literature volume devoted to his work. I remembered his name from a passing reference in Ron Padgett’s Ted: A Personal Memoir of Ted Berrigan (1993): “[he] was especially pleased to see David Schubert’s work collected and reissued.”

How do I know that Schubert D is the poet? Judith Schubert Kranes, quoted in the QRL volume: “We moved to Brooklyn Heights, David found us a one-room apartment in a neighborhood where Hart Crane had lived, and where many writers and artists were finding a haven.” And John Ashbery: “During the 1930s, they lived in a picturesque garret in Brooklyn Heights overlooking New York Harbor.” Pierpont is directoryese for Pierrepont Street, a street in Brooklyn Heights, not very far from the Brooklyn Bridge. If Google Maps may be trusted, no. 6 is indeed picturesque, garret and all. You can click on the picture for a better look at the tiny window at the top of the building.

And here, as transcribed by Allison Power, are four Schubert samples.

April 8: The 1940 census confirms that David and Judith Schubert lived at 6 Pierrepont Street. He: “writer.” She: “teacher.”

[The Ashbery and Williams quotations are from Ashbery’s Charles Eliot Norton lecture on Schubert in Other Traditions (2000).]

Recently updated

Larry David’s notebook Now with a link to a new source for little brown notebooks.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Charles Reznikoff, CH3-0065

This listing for the poet Charles Reznikoff comes from the 1940 Manhattan telephone directory. Yes, it’s the poet: Selected Letters of Charles Reznikoff, 1917–1976 (1997) includes several letters from 1939 and 1940 written from this West 24th Street address. By October 1940, Reznikoff had moved to West 18th Street.

A related post
Milk bottles (with a Reznikoff poem)

[Is anyone else playing? If so, whom have you found?]

John Hammond, GR7-7967

John Hammond (John Henry Hammond Jr. or John Henry Hammond II) was a critic and music producer who played a significant role in the careers of Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Bob Dylan, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and many other musicians. From his 1977 autobiography John Hammond on Record: “Living on Sullivan Street I found myself in a circle of young people concerned with all sorts of causes, prepared to involve themselves at any risk.”

This listing comes from the 1940 Manhattan telephone directory, available at Direct Me NYC 1940.

A related post
Demythifying John Hammond

Billie Holiday, ED4-4058

This listing comes from the 1940 Manhattan telephone directory, available at Direct Me NYC 1940. Stuart Nicholson’s 1997 biography Billie Holiday confirms that Holiday and her mother Sadie lived for a time together at 286 West 142nd Street, in Apartment 2E.

Related posts
Billie Holiday, 1957
Portrait of Billie Holiday and Mister

Rudy Burckhardt
and Edwin Denby, CH2-5097

The photographer Rudy Burckhardt and the dance critic and poet Edwin Denby moved into 145 W. 21st (a warehouse building) in 1935. Willem de Kooning lived nearby. Denby lived at this address until his death in 1983. These listings come from the 1940 Manhattan telephone directory, available at Direct Me NYC 1940.

Related reading and viewing
“[A]s Edwin Denby would / write” (on lines in a Frank O’Hara poem)
“The Climate of New York” (Burckhardt–Denby collaboration)
Feature: Edwin Denby (Jacket 21)

Helen Cornell, FL7-7653-J

Mrs. Helen S. Cornell: the mother of the artist Joseph Cornell. Cornell lived for most of his life at 37-08 Utopia Parkway in Flushing, Queens. This listing comes from the 1940 Queens telephone directory, available at Direct Me NYC 1940.

[If I had an address on Utopia Parkway, I wouldn’t move either. If I had a J at the end of my number, I would wonder what it meant.]

Coleman Hawkins, ED4-2697

St. Nicholas Place, once the home of the tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, is up on Sugar Hill in Hamilton Heights in Harlem. Number 80 was and is an apartment building. This listing comes from the 1940 Manhattan telephone directory, available at Direct Me NYC 1940.

Dwight Macdonald, GR3-0835

Yes, it’s “the” Dwight Macdonald who lived at this address. This listing comes from the 1940 Manhattan telephone directory, available at Direct Me NYC 1940.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Thomas Merton, CH2-0476

Looking for musicians and writers in 1940 New York City telephone directories, I have had almost no luck. Did these people not have telephones?

But I have made one find. In 1939 and 1940, Thomas Merton, then a graduate student, lived in Greenwich Village at 35 Perry Street. And he had a phone. By September 1940 he was living at St. Bonaventure University. In December 1941 he left for the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery in Kentucky.

A related post
Thomas Merton and a snapshot

[The Perry Street address is well known to readers of Merton’s work. By the way: you don’t have to be Catholic or Christian or even a theist to love Thomas Merton.]

Billy Wilder in an Eames chair

[“Multiple exposure of film director Billy Wilder sitting in chair designed by Charles Eames made of plastic; one can easily jump around while watching television.” Photograph by Peter Stackpole. United States, August 1950. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

Related reading
All Eames-related posts (via Pinboard)
Elizabeth Taylor (a Peter Stackpole photograph)
Olivetti showroom (a Peter Stackpole photograph)

Monday, April 2, 2012

No longer avoiding CAPTCHA

I’ve had to turn word-verification for comments again: too many spam comments, and just looking at them reminds me of vast stretches of the Internets I’d rather avoid.

If a CAPTCHA is difficult to work out, enlarging it with Command-+ or Control-+ can make it more readable. I think though that Blogger’s new CAPTCHAs have become more readable than they were at first. (Tell me if I’m right, or wrong.)

A related post
Avoiding CAPTCHA

Welcome to college

Or some people’s idea of college: Inside Dartmouth’s Hazing Abuses (Rolling Stone).

[Don’t read it on a full stomach.]

Blackwing Q. and A.

The best friend the Blackwing pencil has ever had considers facts, fiction, and the “Blackwing Experience.”

Sunday, April 1, 2012

National Poetry Month

[Poster by Chin-Yee Lai.]

Hey, everybody, it’s April, National Poetry Month. The Academy of American Poets’ FAQ explains that April was chosen because it “seemed the best time within the year to turn attention toward the art of poetry.” I wish there were more to it than that, but the choice of April appears to be unrelated to Geoffrey Chaucer (“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote”) or T.S. Eliot (“the cruellest month”). To choose April without even acknowledging these poets’ contrary representations of the month (which after all might remind us of the great variety of perspectives on reality that poems afford) seems an odd gesture indeed.

I also wish that the representation of Poetry on this poster were less — what? precious? sentimental? greeting-card-like? If you cannot make the words out, they read: “. . . wait on the wind, catch a sense of salt, call it our life.” Okay, I will do that. You can find the words in context here, forming the last line of Philip Levine’s poem “Our Valley.”

This post is for my friend Sara, who too will be exasperated.

[“The best time within the year”: within as opposed to what? Why not “the best time of year”? I saw a signboard outside a thrift store yesterday proclaiming March National Poetry Month, but that must have been an April Fools’ joke.]