Wednesday, October 31, 2012

About those canned goods

They’re not helpful.

Brach’s Halloween Candies

[Life, October 17, 1960.]

In the 2012 edition of David Ng and Ben Cohen’s Candy Hierarchy, the bottom tier includes “anything from Brach’s,” right between black licorice and hard candy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The American Red Cross

From the American Red Cross website:

The American Red Cross is continuing a major relief operation throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast to shelter and assist people affected by Superstorm Sandy. Millions awoke this morning to power outages, fallen trees, scattered debris, and flooded neighborhoods and the Red Cross is working hard to get help where it is needed.
You can click on the image to make a donation.

To vote, or not to vote

After watching Errol Morris’s short film 11 Excellent Reasons Not to Vote? , take a few more minutes to read Robert Reich: If You Succumb to Cynicism, the Regressives Win It All. I found Reich’s post via the always excellent Daughter Number Three.

A related post
David Foster Wallace on voting

Change we cannot ignore

“Coming as it is just a week before Election Day, Sandy makes the fact that climate change has been entirely ignored during this campaign seem all the more grotesque”: Elizabeth Kolbert, Watching Sandy, Ignoring Climate Change (New Yorker).

Monday, October 29, 2012

Movies, free, good ones

From the Pratt Chat Blog at Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library: thirty-two films to watch online for free. If you’ve never seen it, I’d suggest starting with Carnival of Souls (dir. Herk Harvey, 1962). It’s unforgettable. Trust me, if you can.

A happy little Google doodle

From today’s Google homepage. Pocket squirrel: +1.

Pocket notebook sighting

[Dana Andrews and notebook.]

State Fair (dir. Walter Lang, 1945) is corny, goofy, and — I cannot tell a lie — delightful. With six Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, three love stories (two human, one porcine), and two judgings (mincemeat and pickles), there’s something for each member of the family to enjoy.

Another delight: seeing Dana Andrews in the role of the Iowa newspaperman Pat Gilbert. For me, Andrews will always be Mark McPherson, the detective who falls in love with a painting in Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944), and Fred Derry, the bombardier haunted by the horrors of war in William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Pat Gilbert is no McPherson or Derry: he seems to be a regular guy who rides the rides and joins in on “It’s a Grand Night for Singing.” But since he’s played by Dana Andrews, I can’t help thinking that Gilbert is in truth a tormented soul working hard to pass for well-adjusted. Thus a value-added viewing experience. Intertextuality FTW.

The little six-ring notebook seen above used to be everywhere. I can’t remember the last time I saw one being used in real life.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Cat People : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Extras : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The House on 92nd Street : The Lodger : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : The Sopranos : Spellbound : T-Men : Union Station

Sunday, October 28, 2012


[New Oxford American Dictionary.]

Stay safe, East Coasters.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Period Exclamation point

The Obama campaign slogan now has an exclamation point: Forward!

And yes, the word forward — followed by a period or an exclamation point, either one — makes a sentence. It’s an instance of the hortatory subjunctive.

I still prefer the understated seriousness of the period.

A face on my floor

[Diameter: 1.5 inches.]

I spotted this guy a couple of days ago on my office floor. He is old, or older. “Young fella,” he calls me, as in “Hey there, young fella.” His name? “Name o’ Mac.”

Smoking is not permitted in the building, but that doesn’t stop Mac: smoke drifts at all times from the cigarette in the corner of his mouth. A tiny Camel, as you might guess. The smoke makes him squint, and cough.

Busy, busier

At the Atlantic, James Fallows interviews David Allen:

Q. How will we handle “busyness” in the future? Better, because of technology? Worse, because of overload? Both?

A. I think the degree and depth of the “busy trap,” where you’re always distracted and trying to catch up, is going to increase, because more people will be affected by it.

Things on your mind need to be externalized — captured in some system that you trust. You capture things that are potentially meaningful; you clarify what those things mean to you; and you need maps of all that, so you can see it from a larger perspective.
Read it all:

Busy and Busier (short version)
David Allen on How to Fix Your Life (long version)


A handy Mac tip from David Sparks at MacSparky: typing date:yesterday in Spotlight produces list of all apps and files that you accessed the day before. I can see date:yesterday being useful as a quick way to get back to some part of the day’s work.

My discoveries:

If you’ve cleared your browser’s cache, the browser doesn’t show up among apps used.

If you use Dropbox with more than one Mac, files you’ve worked with one computer will show up on another.

Typing date:today works too.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Jacques Barzun (1907–2012)

From the New York Times:

Jacques Barzun, the distinguished historian, essayist, cultural gadfly and educator who helped establish the modern discipline of cultural history and came to see the West as sliding toward decadence, died Thursday night in San Antonio, where he lived. He was 104.
Barzun’s pronouncements on present-day culture leave me cold, but I find his writing on education engaging, persuasive, and often eerily prescient.

All Barzun posts
Jacques Barzun on gadgets and education
Jacques Barzun on multiple-choice
Jacques Barzun, teacher
Rooms, radios, hurdles

Stepping in it

Talking with Rolling Stone, Barack Obama used a bad word with reference to “the other guy,” one Mitt Romney:

“You know, kids have good instincts,” Obama offered. “They look at the other guy and say, ‘Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell.’”
Here’s a passage that I posted without comment in August, from a philosopher’s consideration of bullshit:
When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).
Romney’s willingness to say anything, take any position, to suit his purpose makes him, in my eyes, a bullshitter. I can tell. Score a hit for Obama.

A related post
Mitt Incandenza

“I remember”

I remember “wine and cheese.”


The artist and writer Joe Brainard (1942–1994) gave the world a deceptively simple writing prompt: “I remember,” two words to begin a sentence or a paragraph. The above “I remember” dropped into my head yesterday morning, apropos of nothing. About “wine and cheese”: when I was in college, it seemed that every on-campus event promised, as added attractions, wine and cheese. Impossible now. But what a grown-up way for young adults to learn how to enjoy alcohol: a little food, a little wine, some conversation.

Do you remember “wine and cheese”? If not, what do you remember? You’re welcome to leave an “I remember” or two or three or more in the form of a comment. Why not?

Related posts
Beans Spasms returns
Good advice on looking at art
I remember Sgt. Pepper
I remember Thanksgiving

[Also: Joe Brainard loved Nancy.]

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

From The Waste Books

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742–1799) was a professor of experimental physics and a keeper of Sudelbücher, “waste books” filled with observations and opinions. Here are three non-consecutive entries:

I forget most of what I have read, just as I do most of what I have eaten, but I know that both contribute no less to the conservation of my mind and my body on that account.


Just as there are polysyllabic words that say very little, so there are also monosyllabic words of infinite meaning.


Nothing makes one old so quickly as the ever-present thought that one is growing older . . .

From The Waste Books. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale (New York: New York Review Books, 2000). Originally published as Aphorisms (1990).
One could do worse than be a reader of New York Review Books books.

A related post
From The Waste Books

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Madeline Kahn’s notebook

Bill Madison’s story about Madeline Kahn’s notebook rivals André Gregory’s story about browsing in a surrealist magazine. As Bill says: uncanny.

The New Yorker endorses Obama

The editors of the New Yorker have endorsed Barack Obama. An excerpt:

The reëlection of Barack Obama is a matter of great urgency. Not only are we in broad agreement with his policy directions; we also see in him what is absent in Mitt Romney — a first-rate political temperament and a deep sense of fairness and integrity. A two-term Obama Administration will leave an enduringly positive imprint on political life. It will bolster the ideal of good governance and a social vision that tempers individualism with a concern for community. Every Presidential election involves a contest over the idea of America. Obama’s America — one that progresses, however falteringly, toward social justice, tolerance, and equality — represents the future that this country deserves.
Watching last night’s debate (or most of it — I had to miss the first twenty minutes) confirmed for me that Mitt Romney is the political version of Infinite Jest’s Orin Incandenza, the pick-up artist who says, “Tell me what sort of man you prefer, and then I’ll affect the demeanor of that man.” I am hoping that American voters won’t get fooled.

[Notice the New Yorker umlaut dieresis: reëlection.]

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, October 22, 2012 and May 24, 2009.]

Earlier this year, Dot was playing a left-handed five-string cello.

Sometimes I think the many hands at Hi-Lo Amalgamated just want me to make blog posts about them.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

George McGovern (1922–2012)

Words that are ever relevant:

“No man should advocate a course in private that he’s ashamed to admit in public.”

George McGovern, speaking in La Crosse, Wisconsin, July 31, 1971.
McGovern died on Sunday at the age of ninety.

[Source: Christopher Lydon, “M’Govern Seeks Wisconsin Votes,” New York Times, August 2, 1971.]

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dropbox, anyone?

From the website:

Dropbox is a free service that lets you bring all your photos, docs, and videos anywhere. This means that any file you save to your Dropbox will automatically save to all your computers, phones and even the Dropbox website.
Dropbox works with Linux, Mac, Windows, and mobile devices. It’s wonderfully useful for accessing your stuff and for sharing items (if you like) with others. The cloud makes flash drives seem so early-twenty-first-century.

If you’d like to try Dropbox, here is a referral link that will give you and me each an extra 500 MB of free storage.

TextWrangler replacement icon

[TextWrangler icon, left. Replacement, right.]

I am a happy user of the Mac text-editor TextWrangler. It’s my favorite writing app, and I like everything about it but its icon. For about five minutes last night, the most important thing for me to do was to find a replacement. And I did. Seth Lilly has created a beautiful one.

It’s easy to convert Seth’s .png file into an icon set with the free version of Img2icns. To replace TextWrangler’s icon:

1. Download Seth’s 512 x 512 .png image. Rename the file TextWranglerApplication.png.

2. Open Img2icns and create an .icns file from the .png file. (The app will show you how.) The new file will be named TextWranglerApplication.icns.

3. Go to the Applications folder and right-click on TextWrangler.

4. Choose Show Package Contents/Contents/Resources.

5. Find the file TextWranglerApplication.icns and rename it. For instance: TextWranglerApplication.old.icns.

6. Drag your new .icns file to Resources.

Related post
A better Notational Velocity icon
TextWrangler gutter removal

Friday, October 19, 2012

Spellings of the future

Here’s one, a misspelling so strange that it must in fact be a spelling of the future, traveling backward in time to give us a foretaste of our language’s evolution. Aww, as in “I stood in aww.”

What spellings of the future have you noticed?

Related posts
No job too small
Taco Bell’s Canon

Thursday, October 18, 2012

National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba

National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba
Enrique Pérez Mesa, music director
Guido López-Gavilán, guest conductor
Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera, piano

Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
University of Illinois, Urbana
October 18, 2012

Elaine and I had the good fortune to hear the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba last night, in the second performance of their first United States tour. The word that first came to my mind to describe the orchestra’s sound: metropolitan. The strings and winds were refined, urbane; the brass, bright and sharp. I felt that I was listening to a sound from the mid-twentieth century, nothing soupy or splashy about it.¹

The program: George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture and Rhapsody in Blue, Guido Lopéz-Gavilán’s Guagancó, and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4. The highlight for me was the Rhapsody: pianist “Nachito” Herrera made this piece as new and exciting as it must have sounded in 1924. (He and the orchestra took a few liberties, which I won’t reveal here.) Added delights: two national anthems (you can guess which ones) and three encore pieces.

Last night’s performance was one of the most memorable orchestral concerts I’ve heard. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen more good will between musicians and an audience. If the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba comes your way: go.

¹ Could it just be that my head is filled with images of mid-twentieth cars still moving through the streets of twenty-first-century Havana? No, I don’t think so.

[“Nachito” Herrera has a website. This page has the tour dates.]

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Word of the day: sketchy

President Obama last night:

“Now, Governor Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, ‘Here, I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion, and then we’re going to pay for it, but we can’t tell you until maybe after the election how we’re going to do it,’ you wouldn’t take such a sketchy deal and neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn’t add up.”
A clear, concise pair of definitions of sketchy from Urban Dictionary: “iffy,” “questionable.” A more elaborate effort from the same site:
creepy, iffy, fairly unsafe, an air of uncertainty, not kosher, and just generally something or someone that you don’t want to be associated with (or really do want to be associated with, depending on who you are . . .)
I’ve almost never used the word sketchy to mean anything but “giving only a slight or rough outline of the main features, facts, or circumstances without going into details” (Oxford English Dictionary). Indeed, if I use the word when talking with a student about, say, an underdeveloped idea in an essay, I make it a point to distinguish my use from current slang. So I am amused to realize that last night I immediately understood sketchy to mean “iffy” and “questionable,” even though the word could have been taken to mean only that the deal was lacking in detail. It is lacking in detail, but it’s also sketchy.

Young Narcissus

[Henry, October 17, 2012.]

One can never have too many gum machines on the streets of one’s comic strip.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Live-blogging the debate

Barack Obama just characterized Mitt Romney’s mysterious tax-proposal as “a sketchy deal.” Too true. I am delighted to hear sketchy in its slang sense in a presidential debate.

[The post-title is mock-serious. I’m offering one observation, not a running commentary.]

Mitt Trail arrives for the debate

[Mark Trail, October 16, 2012. Click for a larger view.]

As dedicated Mark Trail readers know, facial hair is the mark of a villain. Long sideburns and a mustache are dead giveaways. (Guns are another clue.) The man in red must be a rogue town-haller who insists on doing things his way. Things do not look good for Mitt Trail in tonight’s debate.

As dedicated Orange Crate Art readers know, I have long suspected that D-list comic-strip hero Mark Trail and Mitt Romney are the same (two-dimensional) person. If you need more proof: more Mitt Trail posts.

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, October 16, 2012. Click for a larger view.]

Today’s Hi and Lois offers yet one more additional variation on a theme by Slylock Fox. Can you count the differences between the panels?

More disturbing than the panel-shifts though is the black slab on or outside the window. Monolith?

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Monday, October 15, 2012


I discovered this 2" x 1" inspection slip Saturday night in the inner right-hand pocket of a tweed jacket. It’s the kind of jacket my son Ben once called a “professor jacket.” (That term is now part of our fambly’s vocabulary.) This professor jacket is by Lands’ End, and is old enough to have been made in the United States. I’ve had it for well over a decade, perhaps closer to fifteen years.

Betty Tingle, if you’re out there: I finally got your message. The jacket was perfect at the start and has held up well. The inspection slip bearing your name has gone back to the inner right-hand pocket.

A related post
Found (a 1968 receipt)
The Old Trading Post, Lisbon, New Hampshire (a postcard in a book)
Thanksgiving night (a letter in a book)
Whose list? (in a 1967 paperback)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mitt Incandenza

The New York Times has a good editorial commentary today on the “moderate Mitt myth.” Quoth the Times:

The way a presidential candidate campaigns for office matters to the country. A campaign should demonstrate seriousness of purpose and a set of core beliefs, and it should signal to voters whether a candidate shows trustworthiness and judgment. Those things don’t seem to matter to Mitt Romney.

From the beginning of his run for the Republican nomination, Mr. Romney has offered to transfigure himself into any shape desired by an audience in order to achieve power.
Yep, Proteus. But Proteus didn’t aim to please an audience. I’m reminded less of the ancient shapeshifter and more of Orin Incandenza, the tireless seducer of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. In a letter that forms the content of a long endnote, a former friend describes one of Orin’s pick-up strategies: Orin would approach a woman in a bar or at a dance and say, “Tell me what sort of man you prefer, and then I’ll affect the demeanor of that man.” The difference between Governor Romney and Orin Incandenza: Orin acknowledges that it’s an act.

The strangest part: the name of Orin’s former friend is Marlon Bain.

Friday, October 12, 2012

“The necessary limitations
of our nature”

W. H. Auden:

Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.

From the essay “Reading,” in The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays (1962).
The ages might vary, but it’s sound advice. It reminds me — don’t laugh — of what management consultant Peter Drucker says in Managing Oneself (2008): that we must figure out our strengths and values and ways of working, and be who we are.

[“Peabody here.” Mister Peabody, at peace with the necessary limitations of his nature.]

When I was a much, much younger fellow, perhaps just a tad bookish, my so-called peers bestowed upon me the nickname Mister Peabody. Ugh. But now I celebrate the Peabodily elements of my style.

Other Auden posts
On handwriting and typing
Six lines from Auden


I was delighted beyond reason this past summer when a Scot called me mate. But I think I’ve typed my last cheers. The New York Times reports on America’s slippery slope into Britishisms.

Word of the day: malarkey

From a New York Times editorial:

Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. would not sit still for a parade of misleading and often blatantly untruthful descriptions of the state of the economy and the Republican prescriptions for it. Though his grins and head-shakes were often distracting, he did not hesitate to interrupt and demand an end to “malarkey.”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines it:
Humbug, bunkum, nonsense; a palaver, racket. (Usually of an event, activity, idea, utterance, etc., seen as trivial, misleading, or not worthy of consideration.)
One might say that malarkey is Irish for bullshit, but that would be malarkey. The OED notes that “A surname Mullarkey, of Irish origin, exists, but no connection is known between any person of that name and this word.”

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Live-blogging the debate

You go, Joe Biden.

Fall Peanuts

[Peanuts, October 8, 1970. Click for a larger view.]

I’ve had the October 7, 2004 reprint of this strip taped to the side of a reading carrel since, well, uh, 2004.

Other Peanuts posts
Milk bottles
Schulz’s Beethoven

Red Rose Irish Breakfast

An excellent tea with a deep, strong flavor and not a trace of bitterness. Better than Twinings Irish Breakfast, and cheap.

All tea posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bicycles, streetcars, annular systems

Justin Hollander cautions against ditching “good old paper,” pointing out that the merits of such once-passé technologies as bicycles and streetcars have of late been recognized anew. I’m reminded of the trope of the “annular system” in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. One example from the novel: telephone users who take to videophones return at last to “good old voice-only telephoning.”

And about words on paper: when Elaine and I were browsing in an excellent used-book store a couple of weeks ago, we noticed that every other customer — and there were many — was a young (or younger) adult, digging the pages.

Related reading
All paper posts (Pinboard)

Mitt Romney debates himself

Yes, the candidates disagree: Mitt Romney debates himself.

Word of the day: apotropaic

A wonderful word from the Greek: apotropaic. It has something to do with turning, yes? But what? Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate has the etymology: “Greek apotropaios, from apotrepein to avert, from apo- + trepein to turn.” That which is apotropaic is “designed to avert evil,” to turn it away. It’s curious and fitting that the thing averted forms no part of the word itself. Speak no evil.

Apotropaic got me thinking about apo-, which has a range of meanings: away from, off; detached, separate; formed from, related to. Thus for instance, apocalypse, to uncover, disclose. And I now see that word in a new way, as I recall that the name Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey is related to the verb kaluptein, to cover. Keeping Odysseus on her island, removed from human culture, Calypso is a concealer, a burier.

Wikipedia has a page on apotropaic magic, with photographs of painted eyes averting evil. I got thinking about apotropaic during a trip to a museum, where I saw the word in a description of an ancient Greek drinking bowl.

Sniffing out word origins

“I found myself wondering recently whether the word odor has negative connotations or not. This led me to write a list of other nouns pertaining to that sense we exercise with our noses”: Daughter Number Three investigates the origins of words that name smells and finds a clear pattern.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

An afterthought

If I were Boing Boing, the title of the previous post might’ve read like so: Hardee’s commercial likens young women, virgins to breakfast meat. No reply yet from Hardee’s or the advertising agency responsible for the commercial. (I’ve called them both.)

Hardee’s pigmeat commercial

How strange to hear the guitar and voice of Bo Carter (1892–1964) in a commercial for Hardee’s Bacon Bacon Biscuit (link’s gone). Carter, a member of Mississippi’s ultra-musical Chatmon family, was an exceptionally fleet guitarist, a capable singer, and a composer of what might be called single-entendre blues: “Ants in My Pants,” “Banana In Your Fruit Basket,” “Pin In Your Cushion,” “Please Warm My Weiner,” “Your Biscuits Are Big Enough for Me,” and many, many more. A few fragments of Carter’s 1931 recording “Pig Meat Is What I Crave” serve as the soundtrack for the Hardee’s commercial. But this song is not about bacon. Stephen Calt explains (and in the process, corrects the Oxford English Dictionary):

[Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009).]

Does Hardee’s understand what Carter was singing about? Given the company’s history of hyper-sexualized advertising, perhaps they do.

Hardee’s customer-response line: 1-877-799-7827.

[Bacon Bacon Biscuit: yes, we love our freedom.]

Monday, October 8, 2012

Parker T-Ball Jotter, 1963

[Life, September 27, 1963. Click for a larger view.]

The Parker T-Ball Jotter is the first pen I remember using with pleasure, back in childhood. Yes, I was precocious, in some ways if not others.

I have been writing for a month now with another Jotter, one that long stood unused in a cup of pencils and pens near my desk. It’s an excellent ballpoint, and a perfect pen for writing comments on student writing: the T-Ball (T for tungsten) has just enough tooth to slow the pen down a bit and give my hand a measure of control. Neatness counts, especially when more and more students have difficulty reading anybody’s handwriting. What I most like about the pen though is that its design is virtually identical to that of my childhood Jotter.

This 1963 Life advertisement recalls a gone world, when everyone wore a watch and close to half of American adults smoked cigarettes. (The Report of the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health would be published on January 11, 1964.) I’m amused to see that despite the association of the Jotter with grown-up stuff, Parker was also selling to the young. Perhaps my first Jotter come from a Doodle Depot.

Related posts
Five pens (Jotter, no-name, Uni-Ball, Mont Blanc, Pelikan)
Last-minute shopping (1964 Jotter ad)

Philip Hensher on handwriting

“I’ve come to the conclusion that handwriting is good for us. It involves us in a relationship with the written word that is sensuous, immediate and individual”: Philip Hensher, Why handwriting matters (Guardian).

Related reading
All handwriting posts

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Recently updated

Count von Faber-Castell on pencils Now with a link to a short clip of the Count talking about pencils with Martha Stewart. Thanks, Sean.

The Master

Elaine and I saw The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012) yesterday and were both disappointed. The film’s cinematography (Mihai Malaimare Jr.) is beautiful. As Lancaster Dodd and Freddie Quell, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix give great performances. The former suggests to me Charles Foster Kane; the latter, Neal Cassady.

The Master is worth seeing for its imagery and acting. But on many points — that’s all I’ll say, no spoilers — the film is vague and inchoate. I’m all for mystery and opacity. But vagueness, not so much.

Count von Faber-Castell on pencils

Count Anton Wolfgang von Faber-Castell is one of my three favorite counts. He recently spoke with the Wall Street Journal about pencils:

Q. Will the pencil go the way of the quill pen?

A. May I ask you a question? Have you ever seen a paperless office? People may not be writing things out on legal pads but they like to print out e-mail and make notations. Then pencils and pens disappear and you go grab another.
Yes, there are executive types who have their e-mail printed out for them, but e-mail annotation seems like a dubious basis for resisting extinction. And Faber-Castell pencils are hardly the semi-disposable supply-room products that disappear from desks in a workplace. I wish that the Count had spoken of the pencil as a tool for writing. People are indeed writing things out on legal pads, on music paper, and in notebooks. Why not proclaim the tactile joys of writing on paper?


6:54 p.m.: Here’s the Count talking about pencils with, of all people, Martha Stewart. Thanks, Sean.

Related reading
All pencil posts (Pinboard)

[My other favorite counts: Basie and von Count.]

Friday, October 5, 2012

Why save PBS?

[Click for a larger view.]

A candidate who seeks to add $2 trillion to military spending while eliminating funding for PBS has a very strange sense of proportion and deeply mistaken priorities.

Sharking up

A phrasal verb has caught my eye and imagination: to shark up. In the first scene of Hamlet, Horatio reports that young Fortinbras has “Sharked up a list of lawless resolutes,” a band of desperados. The Oxford English Dictionary explains: “to collect hastily (a body of persons, etc.) without regard to selection.” The New Penguin Shakespeare text that I have at hand suggests that to shark up might be meant to suggest a shark “seizing its prey at haphazard.” The expression appears to originate with Shakespeare; the OED cites texts from 1827 and 1900 that echo the line I’ve quoted.

Clearly, the time has come to revive this phrasal verb. One might describe any quick and undiscriminating effort as a matter of sharking up. Put together an hour of music by pulling out ten random recordings: you’ve sharked up a radio show. Toss some arbitrarily chosen sources into a piece of writing (for a teacher who requires, say, the magical “five sources”): you’ve sharked up a Works Cited list. It’s better though to work hard, choose carefully, and not shark things up.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Planning on paper

At Plannerisms and the Quo Vadis Blog, some thoughts about the future of paper planners. I suspect that such planners will be around for many more years, if only from a smaller and smaller number of “specialty” retailers in larger cities and online. In that respect, the paper planner may come to resemble a fountain pen or phonograph needle.

I like paper. As David Allen says, paper is “in your face.” In my face, since 2007: the Moleskine page-a-day pocket planner. If it disappears, I will likely make DIY planners from plain old Moleskine notebooks.

[I long ago moved past the thought that there’s irony in writing about paper online.]


Silent Jim Lehrer.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Newton Minow’s advice

In the New York Times, Newton Minow’s advice for watching tonight’s presidential debate:

Let me suggest that after you watch the debate on Wednesday night, you turn off your television set and do your best to avoid the spin that will follow. Talk about what you saw and heard with your family, your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers. You are smarter than the spinners.
Minow has been involved in every televised presidential and vice-presidential debate.

A related post
Newton Minow, fifty years later

Words from Theodore
Roosevelt, sort of

On the September 28 page of my New Yorker cartoon calendar, words attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Every day, man, every day. But the words aren’t Roosevelt’s, though something close to them appears in his 1913 autobiography:

[“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”]

I like the informality of the contraction even better. This advice makes me think of Harvey Pekar’s “Keep on pushin’,” also good advice.

Here’s a page with the results of an effort to track down Squire Bill Widener.

A tip for debate-watching

I will quote advice that I offered on October 2, 2008:

The best choice for watching a presidential or vice-presidential debate is C-SPAN. Why? C-SPAN’s continuous split-screen lets you see both participants at all times, allowing for all sorts of observations about body language and facial expression.
I hope this advice still holds.

Some expect very little from Mitt Romney tonight. Not me. I expect both body language and facial expressions, visible at all times on a split-screen. And I expect that Governor Romney will deliver his “zingers” in a way that makes clear the month-plus of rehearsal he has put into them.

[From the New York Times: “Mr. Romney’s team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August.”]

A non-restrictive clause
in Mark Trail

[Mark Trail, October 3, 2012.]

Dialogue in Mark Trail is often stilted: contractions are few; every guy, even a bad guy, is a “fellow.” Today’s strip includes a stilted non-restrictive clause. If I were Cherry Trail, I think I’d say something like this: “Call the sheriff, Dad . . . these guys fellows are poachers, thieves, and kidnappers!”

If I were Cherry Trail, I would also be wondering where my husband is. He’s been missing from the strip for weeks now. Preparing, perhaps, for a debate.

Related reading
All Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Domestic comedy

“How did you know to get the grass seed in right before it rained?”

“I am connected to the earth.”

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts

[Used with permission.]

Yes, we can

UNKNOWN CALLER called last night with a recorded message from a group looking “to defeat Barack Obama.” Sorry, wrong number. But I listened out of morbid curiosity, and when the invitation came to speak to a person about donating, I pressed “1.” The reading-from-a-script began immediately: “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan,” &c. I jumped in: “Could you please remove me from your lists and not call again?” The reply: “Yes, we can.”

The reply was most likely automatic. But if I were working in telemarketing and had to field calls for Romney and Ryan, that’s exactly the secret message I’d give a fellow Obama supporter.

Related posts
New directions in nuisance calls
Three words (Yes, we can.)

[UNKNOWN CALLER’s number is listed as belonging to a Washington, D. C. architectural firm. But the number has been disconnected. Caller-ID spoofing, I suppose.]

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mike Love gets served

Mike Love has explained that he and Bruce Johnston will continue to tour as the Beach Boys, without Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and David Marks, so as “not to get overexposed.” He has drawn an unflattering comparison to the Eagles, who “found out the hard way when they went out for a second year and wound up selling tickets for $5.” Love just got served:

“Since 1994 when the Eagles reunited, they have performed more than 600 shows worldwide,” the letter continued. “Neither the band nor its reps are aware of any promoter accusing them of being ‘overexposed.’ Regarding Mr. Love’s statement about Eagles tickets being sold for $5, according to our records that did happen on June 21, 1975, when the band performed at Wembley Stadium with the Beach Boys.”
I am happy to have missed the Beach Boys’ (so-called) reunion, a gathering of five musicians who had never before played as a group. Given the Boys’ history, an ugly end may have been fated.

The Financial Times has a review of the next-to-last show, which featured Love making fun of Darian Sahanaja’s name. Stay classy, Mike Love.


1:02 p.m.: In the comments, Andrew Hickey suggests that Love wasn’t making fun of DS’s name. Having listened, I agree with him. I think though that my final sentence still applies.

8:19 p.m.: Andrew Hickey has written a detailed review of the tour’s last show.

[Careful “not to get overexposed”? Every time I step into my friendly neighborhood multinational retailer, the Beach Boys are playing.]

Five prepositions

One more from E. B. White to Jack Case, March 30, 1962:

The next grammar book I want to bring out I want to tell how to end a sentence with five prepositions. A father of a little boy goes upstairs after supper to read to his son, but he brings the wrong book. The boys says, “What did you bring that book that I don’t want to be read to out of up for?”

And how are YOU?

Letters of E. B. White, ed. Dorothy Lobrano Guth (New York: Harper & Row, 1976).
Related reading
All Elements of Style posts (Pinboard)

An Elements error

Nobody’s perfect. In his neverending battle against The Elements of Style, Geoffrey Pullum has overlooked one genuine mistake in the book, or at least in the book’s 1959 edition. E. B. White writes about it in a July 13, 1962 letter to the book’s editor, Jack Case:

You chose a real whiz (“Whizzer White,” they call me) when you picked me for your grammarian. A man named Betz, in Riverside, Connecticut, has turned up the best boo boo yet. Look on P. 52, first paragraph. “There is no . . .”

There is no inflexible rules, all righty!

Someday I shall make a trip to the attic, examine the original manuscript, and find out whether I really wrote that. Meantime, I plan to burn my typewriter and scatter the ashes over Lower Fifth Avenue.

Letters of E. B. White, ed. Dorothy Lobrano Guth (New York: Harper & Row, 1976).
Here is the problem sentence:

Changing is to are would not help here: the only way out is to recast the sentence. From the second edition (1972):

I snagged a hardcover copy of the second edition of The Elements of Style for a modest price in a used-book store this past weekend. The cover alone was worth it.

Related reading
E. B. White on another Elements error
All Elements of Style posts (Pinboard)