Thursday, May 31, 2012

Plagiarism in high places

From a June 2009 post: “Plagiarism seems to be governed by a sliding scale, with consequences lessening as the wrongdoer’s status rises.”

May I introduce Arnaud de Borchgrave?

Jacques Barzun on
gadgets and education

I find in these observations a prescient defense of offline education:

It is idle to talk about what could be done by gadgets — gramophone disks or sound films. We know just what they can do: they aid teaching by bringing to the classroom irreplaceable subject matter or illustrations of it. The disk brings the music class a whole symphony; the film can bring Chinese agriculture to students in Texas; it could even be used more widely than it is to demonstrate delicate scientific techniques. But this will not replace the teacher — even though through false economy it might here and there displace him. In theory, the printed book should have technologically annihilated the teacher, for the original “lecture” was a reading from a costly manuscript to students who could not afford it. Well, why is it so hard to learn by oneself from a book? Cardinal Newman, himself a great teacher, gives part of the answer: “No book can convey the special spirit and delicate peculiarities of its subject with that rapidity and certainty which attend on the sympathy of mind with mind, through the eyes, the look, the accent, and the manner, in casual expressions thrown off at the moment, and the unstudied turns of familiar conversation.”

Jacques Barzun, Teacher in America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1945).
As Barzun goes on to say, “Teaching is not a process; it is a developing emotional situation,” mind to mind, face to face.

Related posts
Offline, real-presence education
Talk to the face

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Perry Mason and
Gilbert and Sullivan

I like the last few minutes of Perry Mason episodes, in which we find Mason (Raymond Burr), Della Street (Barbara Hale), and Paul Drake (William Hopper) gathered in at least somewhat lighter circumstances, enjoying a cup of coffee or a cigarette or a meal, sometimes by themselves (three musketeers), sometimes with a client or persons connected to the case. These are minutes in which, it seems, anything goes, including poetry and song. I caught Mason and Drake quoting Keats some time ago. Today, in “The Case of the Skeleton’s Closet” (first aired May 2, 1963), it was Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.

MASON (to man connected to the case)
    Things are seldom what they seem, Dave.

DRAKE (excited)
    Hey, I know how that one ends!
    “Things are seldom what they seem,
    Skim milk masquerades as cream.”
    How’s that?

STREET (slyly)
You’re right, Perry. Things are seldom what they seem.

DRAKE (says nothing, looks embarrassed)

These exchanges assume that at least many viewers will get the reference (which is left unexplained). Television wasn’t always so dumb. See also Naked City.

Tendered buttons

From an argument against attaching Like, Retweet, and +1 buttons to online content:

In a medium full of advertisement and self-promotion, every unnecessary pixel of noise and “click-me!”-begging should be avoided if it can be.

Oliver Reichenstein, Sweep the Sleaze (iA, via Daring Fireball)
Note the deft hyphenation: “‘click-me!’-begging.” I like that. But I have never liked buttons and have never added them to Orange Crate Art posts. To my eyes, buttons are a distraction. Rather than click, I prefer to leave comments, send links to relevant family members, friends, and associates, and write about items of interest here. As I just have.

[Yes, the post title is an unnecessary Gertrude Stein pun.]

Maira Kalman on her daily routine

The artist Maira Kalman, asked whether she has a daily routine:

Avoiding work is the way to focus my mind. There’s a lot of walking in the morning, and coffee, and reading the obituaries. And by that time, I’m probably ready to start working. And also a deadline is a really good thing. A deadline is probably the biggest inspiration to get going — more than anything else.

Maira Kalman: The Pursuit of Happiness (The 99 Percent)

Virginia Woolf on second-hand books

We are walking through the wintry streets of London:

But here, none too soon, are the second-hand book-shops. Here we find anchorage in these thwarting currents of being; here we balance ourselves after the splendours and miseries of the streets. The very sight of the bookseller’s wife with her foot on the fender, sitting beside a good coal fire, screened from the door, is sobering and cheerful. She is never reading, or only the newspaper; her talk, when it leaves bookselling, which it does so gladly, is about hats; she likes a hat to be practical, she says, as well as pretty. Oh no, they don’t live at the shop; they live in Brixton; she must have a bit of green to look at. In summer a jar of flowers grown in her own garden is stood on the top of some dusty pile to enliven the shop. Books are everywhere; and always the same sense of adventure fills us. Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world. There is always a hope, as we reach down some grayish-white book from an upper shelf, directed by its air of shabbiness and desertion, of meeting here with a man who set out on horseback over a hundred years ago to explore the woollen market in the Midlands and Wales; an unknown traveller, who stayed at inns, drank his pint, noted pretty girls and serious customs, wrote it all down stiffly, laboriously for sheer love of it (the book was published at his own expense); was infinitely prosy, busy, and matter-of-fact, and so let flow in without his knowing it the very scent of hollyhocks and the hay together with such a portrait of himself as gives him forever a seat in the warm corner of the mind’s inglenook. One may buy him for eighteen pence now. He is marked three and sixpence, but the bookseller’s wife, seeing how shabby the covers are and how long the book has stood there since it was bought at some sale of a gentleman’s library in Suffolk, will let it go at that.

Viriginia Woolf, “Street Haunting: A London Adventure” (1930)
[The pencil-minded may want to know that this essay begins: “No one perhaps has ever felt passionately towards a lead pencil.” The pretext for the journey is the purchase of a pencil.]

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Doc Watson (1923–2012)

Sad news tonight in the New York Times: the guitarist and singer Doc Watson has died. This man was a giant — though it feels superfluous to say so. Here is a YouTube sampler of his art:

“House of the Rising Sun” (with Clarence Ashley) : “Deep River Blues” : “Southbound” (with Merle Watson) : “Summertime” (with David Grisman and Jack Lawrence) : “Black Mountain Rag” (with Jack Lawrence)

Fathers and sons and ringtones

I was waiting on line in Barnes and Noble. The lone cashier, thirty or so, was talking to the customer at the register about the Nook. The cashier said that he was resolved to acquaint himself with every new development in “technology” — which no doubt meant end-user digital technology. The one thing that he didn’t want, the cashier said, was to turn into his father. Why, it took his father a month to figure out how to add different Lady Gaga ringtones to his phone for different numbers.

Sigh. A good son would not let his father fumble for a month setting up Lady Gaga ringtones. A good son would at once dissuade his father from adding even one Lady Gaga ringtone to the phone. It’s so inappropriate.

[Waiting on line in a chain bookstore these days makes me sad. I hear the World of Tomorrow laughing at me.]

The Beach Boys in Newsweek

A member of Brian Wilson’s band speaks:

“When my friends hear I’m touring with the Beach Boys, they’re like, ‘Oh, so you’re doing fairgrounds and stuff?’” he says. “And I’m like, ‘No, we’re with Brian Wilson.’ But, you know, when we performed Pet Sounds and Smile, that was art. That was Brian. Now we are kind of at the fairgrounds.”
From Andrew Romano’s long report on the Beach Boys’ summer reunion tour: The Beach Boys’ Crazy Summer (Newsweek).

A related post
Beach Boys reunion dream

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

One hundred years ago. From “10,000 Will March on Decoration Day. About Fifty Posts Will Be Escorted by G.A.R. Regulars and National Guardsmen.” New York Times, May 29, 1912.

[G.A.R.: Grand Army of the Republic.]

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Misses Rheingold

The New York Times reports on a reunion of Misses Rheingold (or Miss Rheingolds). The reunion took place in conjunction with a New-York Historical Society exhibit on beer in New York City: Beer Here: Brewing New York’s History.

For New Yorkers of a certain age, Rheingold is synonymous with beer. I knew the jingle, or one version of it, as a child:

My beer is Rheingold, the dry beer.
Ask for Rheingold whenever you buy beer.
It’s refreshing, not sweet;
It’s the extra-dry treat.
Won’t you try extra-dry Rheingold beer?
Here is a ninety-three-year-old woman singing another version of the lyrics. And here is a commercial with a third version.

On the rare occasions when my parents split a can of beer with lunch on a Saturday or Sunday, I would have a sip in a Dixie. Cold cuts, potato salad, and beer still seem to me to constitute the Platonic form of lunch.

A related post

[I knew the Schaefer jingle too. Is it so wrong for a child to sing beer jingles?]

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ellington and an iPhone app

InstaCRT is an iPhone app that projects a photograph onto a CRT (cathode ray tube) in Sweden and returns a photograph of the resulting image. That’s nice.

What interests me more though is the music in the app’s demo video. “What is that music?” I asked myself. And a voice replied, “It’s a slowed-down loop of the first four bars of ‘The Brown-Skin Gal in the Calico Gown,’ by Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster.” Here is the 1941 Ellington recording, with Herb Jeffries singing.

Minimalist iPad stand

[Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

It’s a doorstop, or an iStop, two dollars or so at the hardware store. The minimalist-est stand I could get.

Other repurposed household items
Bakeware as laptop stand
Dish drainer as file tray
Tea tin as index-card holder
Wine cork as iPad stand

A mistaken bit of iPad folklore

Fraser Speirs demolishes a mistaken bit of iPad folklore about apps in the multitasking bar. John Gruber says Speirs is right.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mac recommendation: AppDelete

Helping Elaine with a computer problem yesterday made me remember how much I like Reggie Ashworth’s Mac app AppDelete. AppDelete removes apps and their associated files and folders — the bits and pieces left behind when one drags an app to the trash. AppDelete is modestly priced ($7.99), and its developer is a good guy. My only connection is that of a happily paid-up user.

How to improve writing (no. 37)

From an NPR underwriting plug for OfficeMax: “offering Forever stamps, like at the post office.”

Like at the post office, like on NPR! The awkward “like at” aside, it makes little sense to tout the stamps sold (not offered) at OfficeMax as the same stamps sold at the post office.

Better: “selling Forever stamps, saving you a trip to the post office.”

[This post is no. 37 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Related reading
All How to improve writing posts

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Movie recommendation:
Jiro Dreams of Sushi

David Gelb’s Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) is a beautiful film about work and life and happiness. For Jiro Ono, an eighty-five-year-old sushi master, they are one: his work is his life and his greatest happiness. “I feel ecstatic all day,” he says to the camera. “I love making sushi.” Sukiyabashi Jiro, Ono’s ten-seat sushi bar, is the most modest of settings for the pursuit of ecstasy: it sits in a Tokyo subway station. It is nonetheless a Michelin three-star restaurant. Here, and in a son’s two-star restaurant, and in a fish market, we see Jiro and company patiently seeking perfection.

I’m no foodie, and this film, as I suspected, is no foodie affair. There are gorgeous close-ups of sushi, certainly, but the emphasis is on dedicated practice: the same tools, the same motions, put to use again and again with new supplies of the same materials (fish and rice). Ono is seeking “the top,” but as he explains, “no one knows where the top is.” So keep going. Is the fish a little tough? Marinate it longer. If you think rice is a simple matter — well, it isn’t, at least not for Ono and his rice merchant. The willingness to look more and more deeply so as to discover ways to improve or reinvent one’s work offers a model for every form of endeavor. I’d love to show this film to a class of writing students.

You can learn more about Jiro Dreams of Sushi at the film’s website (the source of the photograph above). If you watch the trailer, bear in mind that the film is far less busy and far more thoughtful.


From the Museum of Modern Art: Dial-a-Poem. Keep clicking the blue icon for more selections. Or call 347-POET001 repeatedly.

[The MoMA page may have problems in Chrome.]

More on “Kokomo”

Arkhonia, too, dislikes it.

A related post
A musical analogy

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A musical analogy

“Kokomo” : The Beach Boys :: “What a Wonderful World” : Louis Armstrong. Both songs hugely known, both songs woefully unrepresentative. The one is missing Brian Wilson’s participation as writer, arranger, or musician. The other is missing a trumpet. At least “Hello, Dolly!” had a trumpet solo.

How many musicians and writers are best known for some small unrepresentative part of their work? There’s William Butler Yeats and “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” There’s William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow.” “Williams, is he the one with the wheelbarrow?” someone once asked me. Well, yes and no.

[Could Louis Armstrong redeem “Kokomo”? It’s strangely pleasant to imagine.]

Beach Boys reunion dream

I dreamed last night that Elaine and I attended a Beach Boys reunion concert. This dream will never come true, as I have no interest in seeing the reconstituted group in my waking life.¹

We arrived a little late, which left me unfazed, and walked down a sloped floor to third-row center seats in a half-empty auditorium. Brian Wilson and Mike Love sat on armless office chairs downstage. Behind them a backing band played on a riser. The other members of the reconstituted group — Al Jardine, David Marks, Bruce Johnston — filled out the front line. Or must have: they were unrecognizable from where I sat. The group was performing “Do It Again,” with Brian and Mike chatting their way through the song. During an instrumental break, Mike leaned close to Brian to say “This doesn’t work anymore.” Brian nodded. At another point, Bruce declared “I don’t care what he says: Christmastime is the best time.” And the group played “Little Saint Nick.” I would like to know who he is: I suspect it must be Mike, with whom Bruce has toured for years under the Beach Boys name.

At intermission, we saw Dennis Wilson, looking young and healthy, more or less as he does on the cover of the album 20/20. He was pushing a grand piano up the aisle to the rear of the auditorium. Also during intermission: a short film showing a man staring at a woman’s breasts. This film was a commercial against breast cancer.

After intermission, the group began with “’Til I Die,” which might be the last great Brian Wilson song. The five Beach Boys and the members of the backing band spread across the stage in the manner of the cast of Rent singing “Seasons of Love.” Those standing stage right wore firefighting gear; those in the center, hazmat suits; those stage left, scuba gear. I couldn’t tell who was wearing what. Among those in scuba gear, a dwarf standing on a chair. I recognized him as an important figure in Beach Boys history.

Anyone who knows the Beach Boys story will likely make something of some of the odd details here. Me, I’m only the dreamer, who wrote it all down upon waking.

¹ Why no interest? I’ve seen Brian Wilson on the Pet Sounds and SMiLE tours. But the reunion tour seems to me to have more to do with money than art. I think that the art of the Beach Boys is now best enjoyed on record.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Things I learned on my
summer vacation (2012)

Q: Why did King Kong climb the Empire State Building?

A: He was too big to fit in the elevator.


It is possible to get a Hi and Lois panel (or any online image) into Blogger using an iPad, like so: Take screenshot. Download TouchUp Lite (free image-editor) and crop screenshot. Upload resulting picture to Picasa. Add appropriate URL to draft.


In Pittsburgh, Leena’s Food is a tiny restaurant that serves great Middle Eastern food. Mohammed Issa’s claim to have the best falafel in the city — and perhaps anywhere — is easy to believe.


In Manhattan, Maharaja Palace has an excellent lunch buffet. But the restaurant is small and needs to turn its tables: if you linger over lunch and then decide to stay on for tea, you’ll be warned that the preparation will take a very long time. Or at least we were so warned. (Is it sun tea they’re making?)


For those on the road, Whole Foods is a good choice for a quick lunch or dinner. Go to the Prepared Foods sector and grab a cardboard receptacle and some cutlery.


William Buehler Seabrook’s The Magic Island (1929), a study of Haitian Vodou, has illustrations by Alexander King. Seabrook seems to have been a scary man. Our friend Margie King Barab was married to Alex.


By the way, Elaine has written several posts about the composer Seymour Barab (Margie’s husband). Elaine knew Seymour for several years (via correspondence and phone calls) before we all met face to face. (But I knew that already.)


Dorothy Wegman Raphaelson was one of the last two surviving Ziegfeld Girls. She was married to playwright and screenwriter Samuel Raphaelson (who appears in this 2009 post). A photograph of DWR on her hundredth birthday shows her elegant and joyful in Central Park.


At the theater, Al Hirschfeld sketched without looking, using a pad and pencil in his pocket.


Hirschfeld’s pink townhouse (122 East 95th Street) is for sale: $5,295,000. No, it’s sold.


The exhibition “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde” has two paintings I’ve long wanted to see: Juan Gris’s Flowers (1914) and Marie Laurencin’s Apollinaire and His Friends (1909). Gris’s painting (from a private collection) plays a part in William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All (1923). (But I knew that already.)


Seeing Flowers itself makes clear what reproductions barely suggest: the work is largely a collage; its flowers are cut and pasted. Now I better understand what Joseph Cornell might have seen in Gris’s work.


“The Steins Collect” is a reminder of the ugly, often despicable cultural and political attitudes of early-twentieth-century modernists. How did Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas manage to remain in France and get through the Second War? Here is a dossier on the matter, with various points of view. My two cents: calling Stein’s relationship to Vichy “complex” and “complicated” (words that appear and reappear in the work of Stein’s defenders) is not persuasive. That Stein was sympathetic to fascism and enjoyed the friendship and protection of the collaborator Bernard Faÿ seems to me to make it relatively easy to think things through.


“The Steins Collect” is also a reminder of the role money plays in art: Americans abroad, income from rental properties, things to buy. Money, money, money.


Roy Peter Clark’s The Glamour of Grammar (2011) looks like it might be a helpful book in teaching writing.


The bookstore where Harvey Pekar takes Anthony Bourdain in the Cleveland episode of No Reservations? Zubal Books.


Manhattan’s “secret bookstore,” Brazenhead Books, the subject of a short 2011 film, is a great used-book store, a store in which every book is a good one (or better than good). Our greatest finds: two books by Alex King, and a third that he illustrated. Talk about luck.


The arranger and composer Nelson Riddle attended Ridgefield Ridgewood High School in New Jersey. (Jonathan Schwartz got it wrong.)


New Jersey is benighted. In an effort to save money, the state has turned off many of its highway lights. It feels strange and at least slightly dangerous to be parsing overhead signage in the dark. I feel sorry for the unfortunate traveler who does not already know the way.


Elaine’s great-grandfather was a forest assayer in Russia and a presser in a tailor’s shop in Philadelphia.


The instruments in the Frederick Historic Piano Collection might change one’s sense of “the piano”: these instruments differ greatly in tone from the modern piano and from one another. The collection is the work of Elaine’s elementary-school music teacher and her husband. One piano’s sound reminded us of the massive Beckwith upright in our collection. (That piano is our collection.)


A corkscrew is also known as a “wine key.”


The Vinturi is a small device that aerates wine, making a marked difference in taste and aroma.


Winemakers use isinglass to clarify, uhh, wine.


Jiro Dreams of Sushi (dir. David Gelb, 2011) is a beautifully filmed meditation on work and happiness. In this film, they are one. Jiro Ono: “I feel ecstatic all day. I love making sushi.”


Gloria Swanson’s thirty-two-room Englewood, New Jersey villa was called Gloria Crest. The house was named not for Swanson but for the wife of the Polish noble who built it in 1926. My dad did tile work there, after Swanson’s time.


Prescient may be pronounced in surprising ways. The American Heritage Dictionary gives four pronunciations:

prĕsh′ ənt, -ē-ənt, prē′ shənt, -shē-ənt
I appreciate knowing (finally) that there’s a sh sound in prescient.


Did you know that you can listen to episodes of the radio serial Dragnet in podcast form?

Episodes — you mean whole ones?

That’s right, complete episodes.

Start to finish?

That’s right.

And you say they’re available as a podcast?

Yeah, that’s right, a podcast. Free too.

Well then, it seems that there’s only one thing to do.

What’s that?



It is a great gift to have friends from other generations. (But I knew that already.)

[Our friends Seymour Barab and Margie King Barab, waiting for the light to change. New York, May 2012.]

More things I learned on my summer vacation
2011 : 2010 : 2009 : 2008 : 2007 : 2006

[Summer: the time between the spring and fall semesters, regardless of season.]

Friday, May 18, 2012

Domestic comedy

“Did I ever tell you about the etymology of apple?”


[Discourse follows on Genesis, the pomegranate, and la pomme de terre.]

“But where does the word apple come from?”

“I don’t remember.”

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts (via Pinboard)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Telephone exchange names
on screen: Naked City (4)

According to Ma Bell’s 1955 list of recommended exchange names, TW signifies TWilight, TWinbrook, TWinoaks, and TWining. From the Naked City episode “Ooftus Goofus,” first broadcast on December 13, 1961. This episode stars Mickey Rooney as a prankster and crank letter-writer who grows more and more disturbed.

More exchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : Born Yesterday : The Dark Corner : Deception : Dream House : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Modern Marvels : Murder, My Sweet : Naked City (1) : Naked City (2) : Naked City (3) : Nightmare Alley : The Public Enemy : Side Street : Sweet Smell of Success : This Gun for Hire

Telephone exchange names
on screen: Naked City (3)

Anthony Scarzi (Jay Novello) hangs up after making an important phone call from a GRamercy pay phone. From the Naked City episode “Requiem for a Sunday Afternoon,” first broadcast on November 6, 1961. After watching a dozen or so episodes on DVD, I’ve seen nothing to dissuade me from saying that Naked City is one of the best television dramas ever made.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Poetry and Naked City

It’s Sunday. Detective Adam Flint (Paul Burke) is calling on his girlfriend, aspiring actress Libby Kingston (Nancy Malone). AF carries with him a salami. He presses the buzzer at 3 Sheridan Square, and he and LK talk on the intercom.

LK: Good morning.

AF: Good morning, fair lady. Come on, the lark is on the wing. God is in his heaven, and all is right with the world. And young Lochinvar has come to the West Side to bring you glad tidings and a fresh salami.

LK: Hail to thee, blithe salami-bringer! Bird thou never wert.

AF: Oh no? Well listen to this: cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo.


From the Naked City episode “Requiem for a Sunday Afternoon,” first aired November 6, 1961. Teleplay by Howard Rodman.
The sources:
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn:
God’s in his heaven —
All’s right with the world!

Robert Browning, “Pippa Passes” (1841)


O, young Lochinvar is come out of the west

Walter Scott, Marmion (1808)


Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
    Bird thou never wert

Percy Bysshe Shelley, “To a Skylark” (1820)
Two grown-ups, quick, allusive, and crazy in love. They don’t write dialogue like this anymore.

A related post
Perry Mason and John Keats

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, May 15, 2012.]

They’re learning — once again — how to write in a window.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (via Pinboard)

Kurt Vonnegut on English studies

Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage (New York: Delacorte, 1981).


Monday, May 14, 2012

An Old-Fashioned retronym?

Elaine and I wondered the other night: is the name Old-Fashioned a retronym, created after other cocktails came along?

No. The Oxford English Dictionary explains: “The old-fashioned cocktail is said to have been invented in the late 19th cent. at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. It was probably so named because of its similarity to early whisky cocktails.”

I make an Old-Fashioned (just one, thanks) with Early Times, Angostura bitters, sugar, water, and ice. No lemon or orange peel, no cherry. If I want fruit cocktail, I open a can.

[I’m trying to remember who made the quip about fruit just taking up space that could be better used for whiskey. I think it was Rachel Maddow, though she adds a sliver of lemon peel.]

College Debt

A New York Times feature on the rising cost of college: Degrees of Debt.

[My two cents: the present state of things cannot be sustained. I can easily — and uneasily — anticipate a future in which the four-year residential college becomes once again an opportunity for a relatively small number of students, while many others receive a diminished education, earning vocationally-themed degrees or certificates in more affordable ways.]

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

[Photograph by James Leddy. Click for a larger, more sentimental view.]

My mom Louise, me, and some dumb bunny, photographed by my dad at my grandparents’ house in Brooklyn, New York, probably in 1958. This photograph captures a fairly formal version of the city activity known as sitting on the stoop.

One thing I never had to worry about in childhood: perishing from exposure to the elements. Freedom from such worry was, I believe, common among children of the time and place. Our parents were watching out for us. “Warmly dressed” doesn’t begin to capture it.

Happy Mother’s Day to all.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bicycle safety, 1954

[“Children participating in a bicycle safety program run by the police.” Photograph by Yale Joel. New York, New York, June 1954. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Shoe repairmen in the news

Shoe repairmen are the new typewriter repairmen: in other words, shoe repairmen too have become the subjects of human-interest stories tinged with vague nostalgia. Here is an example. And another. And one — no, two — make that three more.

I can remember as a boy sitting in a stall-like structure with a swinging door, waiting while new heels were put on my shoes. Was that common?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

At last

“At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
It’s a sentence full of uneasiness — lots of padding (“At a certain point,” “I’ve just concluded,” “it is important,” “to go ahead and affirm”) and unnecessary qualifications (“for me personally,” “for me”). But look at the last ten words: “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” I am happy to see President Obama on the right side of history, at last.

Three great strip-mall restaurants

One of Tyler Cowen’s six rules for dining out: “Get out of the city and into the strip mall.” In that spirit, I want to recommend three strip-mall restaurants that offer great food for vegans, vegetarians, and ominvores alike. If ever you’re in the appropriate strip mall:

Cedars Mediterranean Kitchen, 1206 E. 53rd Street, Chicago. I can recommend the hummus, stuffed grape leaves, red-lentil soup, eggplant stew, and seafood kebab.

Golden Harbor Chinese Restaurant, 505 S. Neil Street, Champaign, Illinois. Two menus: one American and one Chinese, the latter also available in English translation. The Chinese-menu dishes are drier and tend to showcase one ingredient. The Chinese-menu shrimp with garlic, for instance, has bamboo, water chestnuts, and red pepper but no broccoli, carrots, pea pods, or brown sauce. One revelation: the Chinese-menu hot and sour soup, which is lighter and hotter than the American version, and teeming with egg, pork, scallions, and tofu. It might be a meal in itself. The Chinese-menu dishes and round tables with Lazy Susans make the Golden Harbor ideal for large groups.

Istanbul Café, 1450 W. 86th Street, Indianapolis. I can recommend the appetizer sampler (babaganoush, dolma, fried eggplant in tomato sauce, ezme, hummus, tabouli), stuffed cabbage rolls, shish kebab, and Turkish coffee. The Turkish coffee is especially nice if you have a long drive home from Indianapolis.

If you know a great strip-mall restaurant, please, share it in the comments.

[I played Tyler Cowen at a chess tournament in Passaic, New Jersey, almost forty years ago. He should have won, but I managed to eke out a draw. You’ll have to take my word for it.]

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Blogger reprieve

Yesterday the Blogger dashboard still warned of a “new look” arriving in April. Today the announcement has changed:

An optimistic reading of this new message: Google knows that the new interface has many problems and is working to fix them. Yet the company still encourages users to Upgrade Now.

No Thanks. A half-baked cake is no upgrade over a fully baked cake. I will be sticking with fully baked until the new cake is done.

Related posts
Blogger, a mess
Blogger interface on the iPad
The new Blogger interface, unliked

[My choice for the biggest problem with the new Blogger interface: it is impossible to edit existing posts with an iPad. A blank screen is all that results.]

Maurice Sendak (1928–2012)

[Illustration from Ruth Krauss’s A Hole Is to Dig (1952).]

Maurice Sendak, Children’s Author, Dies at 83
(New York Times)

William H. Chace
on plagiarism in college

“The arguments protecting or even championing plagiarism fall before the palpable evidence of originality, modest and grand, ephemeral and enduring, as it has existed in writing everywhere”: William H. Chace, writing about plagiarism in college. Read it all:

A Question of Honor (The American Scholar)

Monday, May 7, 2012


“This is a general-interest weblog, so long as you are generally interested in music, music theory, wood-cased pencils, philology, and related topics.” And, I’d add, beautiful photography. It’s by the creator of Blackwing Pages, and it’s called Contrapuntalism.

Indy serendipity

The unexpected highlight of a day in Indianapolis: talking and singing (“Mairzy Doats”) with a guide at the Indiana Historical Society. What a guy. He radiated good humor and warmth.

Only after the fact did we learn that we had met Hal Fryar, Harlow Hickenlooper of Indianapolis children’s television. Hal hosted the city’s Three Stooges Show. As a native Brooklynite, I’d put it this way: Harlow Hickenlooper : Indianapolis :: Officer Joe Bolton : New York City. Both men appeared in the 1965 Three Stooges film The Outlaws Is Coming.

Why did we visit the Indiana Historical Society? We were walking along the city’s canal, and the building was there. The best adventures are unplanned, no?

Kurt Vonnegut, Manager

I took this photograph at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis. I like the letterhead, and yes, I was happy to see the telephone exchange name.

Kurt Vonnegut managed one of the first Saab dealerships in the United States. He wrote about the Saab in a 2004 essay: Have I Got a Car for You! And here, from 2009, is an article on the dealership’s uncertain history.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

But also across time

A series of events:

In 2006, I wrote a post about a piece of ephemera I found at a flea market, an invitation to a 1927 Chicago dance.

In 2012, I found online a 1925 newspaper photograph of the orchestra providing the music for that dance, A. Pellegrino and His Original Alabama Syncopators. I made a post with the photograph and a transcription of the caption, which included the names of the group’s seven musicians.

This past Friday and Saturday, I heard from trombonist Pasquale Venuso’s son Pat Jr. and Pat’s daughter Michelle. I was hoping when I transcribed that caption that someone searching for a relative’s name might find it there. Michelle did, and got in touch. Pat Jr. and I exchanged e-mails too. (He writes a beautiful e-mail.)

In 2007, when Orange Crate Art turned three, I wrote this:

The deepest and most unpredictable rewards of keeping this blog have come in the form of comments and e-mails. The responses to posts about my friend Aldo Carrasco and my professor Jim Doyle have shown me the ways in which the Internet can bring people together, not only across space but also across time.
It’s still true.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

E-mail in the air

U.S. Army and UC Irvine researchers have found that not checking e-mail at work reduces stress and yields greater productivity:

E-mail “vacations” decrease stress (UC Irvine)
Taking E-Mail Vacations Can Reduce Stress (New York Times)
The Latest “Ordinary Thing That Will Probably Kill You”? E-mail (The Atlantic, via The Subliminal Mr. Dunn)

Wendy McNaughton’s flow chart may be helpful here: Should I check e-mail?

Speaking to the Times, Irvine professor of informatics Gloria Mark suggests that organizations rethink their use of e-mail, sending “once or twice a day, rather than continually,” so that employees not feel compelled to check the in-box again and again and again. I am amused by the possibility of the in-box turning into a good old-fashioned mailbox, with a regularly scheduled delivery.


And at The Atlantic Wire, Rebecca Greenfield calls for an end to exclamation points in e-mail. I’ll stick by what I wrote in a 2011 post: “sparing use of the exclamation point in work-related e-mail can be a good thing.”

What I noticed immediately in Greenfield’s piece: she’s using HTML-formatted e-mail. To my mind, that’s worse than a dozen exclamation points. Plain text, please. Plain text is better. The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center wants you to use plain-text e-mail.

[I’ve added a hyphen to an unhyphenated e-mail in the Irvine and Atlantic headlines. The word email looks silly to me, especially when capitalized. I can’t do much about the hype in the Atlantic headline though.]

Friday, May 4, 2012

Eponym of the day: satyr

The Greeks have nearly swept A.Word.A.Day’s week of eponyms, with mentor, nestor, hector, and now satyr. And from Latin, tartar, whose Latin source derives from Greek.

[Yes, Hector was a Trojan, but his name comes from a Greek word.]

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, May 4, 2012.]

Reading Hi and Lois sometimes reminds me of reading the work of a student who makes the same dang mistakes, essay after essay. But it’s my job. And I love it.

The wrong-way-window-writing glitch has come up before. Maybe it’s an in-joke, like a left-handed five-string cello. Maybe.

Here’s how you write in a window:

Not that difficult!

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (via Pinboard)

Arkhonia on the Beach Boys

Arkhonia cares about the Beach Boys’ musical legacy and writes about that legacy at length. There’s life beyond “Kokomo.”

[It’s hard out here for a Beach Boys fan. You’re always having to explain yourself to people. The “reunion” doesn’t make that any easier.]

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Time-saving formulas

Several semesters ago I made the switch from the tedious work of calculating grades by hand to the semi-tedious work of using a spreadsheet. As for online grading systems, I just wasn’t made for these times: I often assign very short pieces of writing as seems appropriate (playing it by ear, as my dad would say) and thus cannot devise a grading system in which every piece of work fits into some pre-established scheme of percentages. So I have no answer the eternal question “How many points is this worth?” Every piece of writing counts toward the percentage of the semester grade that goes to writing, with longer work and the best work counting for more.

The formula above will save me perhaps an hour of calculating grades for one class. D1 is the average of several very short pieces of in-class writing. E1, F1, G1, and H1 are three-page essays. I1 is the best of those three-page grades, counted as an extra page, as it were. These grades, added together, get divided by the total number of pages: /14. Multiply the result by six, add participation times two, the final exam times two, divide by ten, and there’s the semester grade.

Humanists: if you’re still doing grades by hand, you might want to look into creating a spreadsheet. It’s always good to learn new skills, and the savings in time can be considerable. The one caution I’d offer: proofread car fully! A single mistyped cell name = disaster.

May 4: In the comments, a much easier way to create a formula to do the work of the one above, courtesy of The Arthurian.

A related post, sort of

[Yes, proofread car fully.]

Eponym of the day: hector

“Hector is a brave and dutiful character, but unfortunately his name is now sullied in the language.” His name is the eponym of the day, from A.Word.A.Day.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Marjorie Perloff
on the “well-crafted” poem

Writing in the Boston Review, Marjorie Perloff inventories the qualities of the “well-crafted” poem:

1) irregular lines of free verse, with little or no emphasis on the construction of the line itself or on what the Russian Formalists called “the word as such”; 2) prose syntax with lots of prepositional and parenthetical phrases, laced with graphic imagery or even extravagant metaphor (the sign of “poeticity”); 3) the expression of a profound thought or small epiphany, usually based on a particular memory, designating the lyric speaker as a particularly sensitive person who really feels the pain, whether of our imperialist wars in the Middle East or of late capitalism or of some personal tragedy such as the death of a loved one.
Check. Check. And check. To my mind, such stuff gives poetry a bad name. There’s an awful lot of it around.

I don’t think it’s necessary though to embrace the aesthetic of appropriation that Perloff poses as an alternative to the poetry of the “I.” Even if it were necessary, there’s a world of difference between, say, the “uncreative writing” of Kenny Goldsmith and the work of a poet such as Susan Howe. Not all appropriation need be of equal interest. A sad irony of the “well-crafted” poem is that its maker appropriates the elements of hundreds (or thousands) of other poems, without a trace of self-consciousness.

Good poets though are always appropriating, and they know it: they know that the words they use are and aren’t their own. The “true voice of feeling” (to use a phrase Perloff gives to a hypothetical opponent) is always accompanied by other voices, of the living and the dead. And je, as Arthur Rimbaud wrote, est un autre. Bob Perelman makes this point in the poem “My One Voice”:
At the sound of my voice
I spoke and, egged on
By the discrepancy, wrote
The rest out as poetry.

From Primer (Berkeley: This Press, 1981).
Three related posts
National Poetry Month : Six “well-crafted” lines : Words I can live without (craft as a verb)

Blogger, a mess

[As seen on May 2, 2012.]

The “new look,” the new Blogger interface, which renders Blogger more or less useless on the iPad (among other problems), was to be imposed on all accounts in April. That hasn’t happened, nor has there been an update to the message seen above. Is the delay prompted by the problems users have identified? Is anyone home? Hello?

Google, please be advised that better communication would make it easier to believe (even if mistakenly) that you care about Blogger users.

Nancy is here

[Nancy, January 18, 1943.]

I loved Nancy in childhood, and I love Nancy now. The accuracy and economy of Ernie Bushmiller’s art and the genial simplemindedness of his humor make an irresistible combination. So I am happy that Fantagraphics at last has published Nancy Is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943–1945. Coming later this year: 1946 to 1948.

I like the panel above for its demonstration of depth in a small space: a cartoon version of Gregg Toland’s deep focus technique. I like the variety of textures and objects: upholstery, baseboard, heels, printed matter, bowtie, two-tone vest, curtains, glass, cap, hair bow. And that radiant nail. I also like the unashamed delight that Nancy and Sluggo take in their pain-inducing prank. Mr. Gripe’s suffering though has an element of rough justice in it: several panels back, Nancy and Sluggo were looking a poster exhorting the reader to “PICK UP NAILS AND SAVE YOUR COUNTRY’S TIRES.” They saw a nail fall from the board in Gripe’s hand. They told Gripe that he should pick up that nail. He scoffed: “Shut up! — It won’t hurt anyone.” So Nancy and Sluggo took a short-cut to his house. Willya look at him jump! Hahahaha.

Justice, thy name is Nancy. And Sluggo.

A related post
No (a Nancy panel)

[People were always taking short-cuts back then, weren’t they? “Hey, I know a short-cut.” Yes, the nail looks more like a tack. Nancy is, after all, a comic strip.]

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The three sons

[From The Book of Genesis, illustrated by Robert Crumb (New York: Norton, 2009). Click for a larger view.]

In the introduction to this volume, Robert Crumb describes his Genesis as “a straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” And it is a straight illustration job, a brilliant one. But at least one joke has slipped in. Do you see what I see in the above panel?

A week of eponyms

Anu Garg’s A.Word.A.Day has a week’s worth of eponyms lined up. The Greeks lead, 2-0, with mentor and nestor.