Friday, May 31, 2013

Completely Naked City

A twenty-nine-DVD set, Naked City: The Complete Series is available for pre-order, with all 138 episodes. List: $179. Amazon’s pre-order price: $99. Naked City has been an abiding interest in the Fine-and-Leddy household for well over a year. I am happy to see that the zeitgeist has straightened up and started listening to us.


August 24: As a commenter below notes, and as I learned last night, there is now a release date: November 5, 2013. Guy Fawkes Day is now Stirling Silliphant Day.

Other Naked City posts: GRamercy 7–9166 : GRamercy again : MUrray Hill 7-3933 : Naked Bronx : Naked City Mongol : Nearly plotzing : “Old Rabbit Ears” : Poetry and Naked City : Positively Naked City : TW8-4044 : “WE DELIVER”

W3, another controversy

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary is again a source of controversy: Some Say the Spelling of a Winning Word Just Wasn’t Kosher (New York Times).

Other W3 posts
E. B. White on W3 (also starring Dwight Macdonald and David Foster Wallace)
A review of The Story of Ain’t (on W3)

House for sale

“Commissioned in 1926 by Count Stefan de Poniatowski, once heir to the Polish throne, Gloria Crest was later occupied by the screen legend actress Gloria Swanson”: the Gloria Crest estate, in Englewood, New Jersey, is for sale. The asking price: $29 million, down from $39 million, it appears.

I learned about Gloria Crest on vacation last year. My dad did tile work there, after Gloria Swanson’s time.

From Wittgenstein’s Mistress

One more passage from David Markson’s 1988 novel, six pages from the end, from a litany of suffering that sounds like something from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy:

Well, and poor all the young men who died in places like the Hellespont, by which I mean the Dardanelles, and then died again three thousand years after that, likewise.

Even if I hardly mean the same young man.

But meaning poor Hector and poor Patroclus, say, and after that poor Rupert Brooke.

Ah, me. If not to add poor Andrea del Santo and poor Cassandra and poor Marina Tsvetayeva and poor Vincent Van Gogh and poor Jeanne Hébuterne and poor Piero di Cosimo and poor Iphigenia and poor Stan Gehrig and poor singing birds sweet and poor Medea’s little boys and poor Spinoza’s spiders and poor Astyanax and poor my aunt Esther as well.

Well, and poor all the youngsters throwing snowballs in Bruegel, who grew up, and did whatever they did, but never threw snowballs again.

So for that matter poor practically the whole world then, more often than not.
Wittgenstein’s Mistress is unlike any other novel I have read. That alone would not be reason to recommend it. The novel’s strange and baffling premise, its comic timing, its pathos: they clinch the deal.

[Mixed-up names from baseball are a minor element in the novel: Stan Gehrig, Campy Stengel, Sam Usual, Stan Usual. Spinoza liked to watch spiders fight. I’ll leave the rest to your curiosity.]

From Wittgenstein’s Mistress

From David Markson’s novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress (1988). Kate (can she really be called a narrator?) types:

Was it really some other person I was so anxious to discover, when I did all of that looking, or was it only my own solitude that I could not abide?

Wandering through this endless nothingness. Once in a while, when I was not mad, I would turn poetic instead. I honestly did let myself think about things in such ways.

The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me. For instance I thought about them like that, also.

In a manner of speaking, I thought about them like that.

Actually I underlined that sentence in the book, named the Pensées, when I was in college.

Doubtless I underlined the sentence about wandering through an endless nothingness in somebody else’s book, as well.
And a few pages later:
In spite of frequently underlining sentences in books that had not been assigned, I did well in college, actually.
And later still:
Actually, I did well in college, in spite of frequently underlining sentences in books that had not been assigned.

One is now forced to wonder if underlining sentences in Kierkegaard or Martin Heidegger might have shown more foresight, however.
And why does Kate handle these names as she does?
Incidentally, there is an explanation for my generally speaking of Kierkegaard as Kierkegaard, but of Martin Heidegger as Martin Heidegger.

The explanation being that Kierkegaard’s first name was Søren and in typing that I would repeatedly have to go back to put in the stroke.
I am very keen on Wittgenstein’s Mistress, having made it through 153 of its 240 pages in a day. The novel makes me think of Samuel Beckett’s play Happy Days (which I hadn’t thought of in years): Kate, like Winnie, is a voice filling a void. And I think of the organization of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and of a Wittgenstein aphorism: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” Kate is putting the world together, sentence by sentence by sentence. Trying out and correcting or qualifying or abandoning ideas, she resists solipsism even as she’s stuck in it.

The sources of Kate’s underlined sentences: Blaise Pascal (1623–1662): “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie.” Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900): “Irren wir nicht wie durch ein unendliches Nichts” [Do we not now wander through an endless Nothingness?], from Die fröhliche Wissenschaft [The joyful wisdom]. Tyler Malone traces both sentences to Markson’s copy of William Barrett’s Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy.

I once joked that for many years everyone who went to college owned a copy of Barrett’s book. I did, and still do.

I mean, of course, that I still own a copy of the book, not that I am still going to college.

Markson’s books went to the Strand Book Store after his death in 2010.

By which I mean the books that Markson owned, not the books he wrote, although they or some of them could very well have been among the books that he owned.

A copy of Wittgenstein’s Mistress could very well have been among them.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

ZIP Code promotional film

“A ZIP Code morning, noon, and night, and everything will be all right.” From the Smithsonian National Postal Museum: ZIP Code, with the Swingin’ Six.

[Given the subject, shouldn't it have been the Swingin’ Five?]

New York 19

Postal zone numbers for large American cities were first used in 1943. ZIP Codes were first used in July 1963. This broken label is affixed to a mail chute in the stairwell of 724 Fifth Avenue, New York 19, N.Y., the home of the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.

Other postal posts
Letter box and lock
A mail box in Naked City
A mail chute In Molly Dodd’s building
Mail chutes and phone booths
Snail Mail

[Life, November 9, 1959.]

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Route 66 status check

Tod: “How’s my status now?”

Buz: “Quo, man, quo.”

From the Route 66 episode “Fly Away Home: Part Two,” February 17, 1961.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Things I learned on my summer vacation (2013)

People in cars with suspension problems look like bobbleheads. Really.


If you are faced with an endless tie-up on I-70 in Ohio, exit the highway and find U.S. 40, the old National Road, which runs parallel to 70. Works in Indiana too.


If, once on U.S. 40, you stop for gas at the BP station in Springfield, Ohio, and you need to use the facilities, just walk over to the Fazoli’s next door. They send people over there all the time.


Desktop Diaries is a wonderful part of the radio show Science Friday, heard on many NPR stations. (But not on mine.)


The work of cracking Linear B involved cigarette cartons, library slips, and stray bits of paper.


Snobs are always in some way clueless, and their snobbery blinds them to their cluelessness: “I, clueless?”


“CUOMO BEATS WEINER . . . and then goes limp”: a headline from the New York Post.


New Zealand prohibits certain names for newborns. Among them: Lucifer, Mafia No Fear, and Messiah, each of which has been proposed by at least one proud New Zealand parent in the past.


“I thought you meant breakfast bar.”

“No, I meant breakfast bar.”


Nora Guthrie’s 1967 recording “Home Before Dark” is a strange and beautiful piece of pop music. Yes, Woody and Marjorie’s daughter.


In the towns outside Boston, where streets and highways were never meant to accommodate the number of vehicles they now carry, traffic is worse than ever. It is dispiriting to see so many people driving into Boston on a workday morning. I imagine the earth, in protest, holding all these vehicles’ wheels, as in the Mahabharata.


The Glass Flowers Gallery in the Harvard Museum of Natural History is a wonder to behold.


A father to a child in the HMNH: “You don’t need anything. You have a houseful of stuff.”


In the Glass Flowers Gallery, a boy on a school trip: “Look at this! Look at this! Look at this! Look at this! It’s beautiful!”


Anyone puzzled by the Museum of Jurassic Technology could do worse than spend an hour or two in the HMNH. The information cards, some quite old, offer excellent examples of Proto-Museumese, the MJT’s native language.

[“Cultivated at the Botanic Garden of Glasgow, from seeds obtained by Mr. Tweedie in Tacuman, about 1830.”]


Cardullo’s still stands in Harvard Square, and the tea is still where it was thirty or so years ago.


Follow the Honey must be the best-smelling store in Cambridge. Friendly too, with unusual choices in music: Tommy James and the Shondells, Leadbelly. Honey seems as various as coffee, tea, or wine.


That the site of the Boston Marathon bombing shows no trace of destruction does nothing to belie what happened.


A mother duck and her young can manage to cross the Massachusetts Turnpike unharmed. Traffic was light, and drivers were attentive. Make way for ducklings!


In Chelsea Market, the Manhattan Fruit Exchange has a fine salad bar. Cheapest meal we had.


In Fort Lee, New Jersey, Bibby’s Mediterranean Café serves excellent food. I think of this restaurant as the North Jersey equivalent of Pittsburgh’s Leena’s Food — inexpensive, tiny, unpretentious, and great. A falafel throwdown seems in order.


Things I never imagined seeing: Federico García Lorca’s guitar, in the New York Public Library. Frank O’Hara letters and manucripts, in Tibor de Nagy’s exhibition Jane Freilicher: Painter Among Poets.


Lorca, in a letter: “New York me parece horrible pero por eso mismo me voy allí.” My translation: “New York seems horrible but that’s why I’m going.”


Step into a gallery, a museum, a store, and “the city” (that is, New York) seems to disappear. You have stepped away from the city.


Stand under a store awning, out of the rain, chat with others similarly stuck, and you become part of the city’s day.


Seymour Barab’s No Laughing Matter is a one-act opera for children to perform. A synopsis, from the composer’s website: “A king takes a young bride whose natural ebullience is suppressed by the dour Council of Ministers in the name of preserving dignity in the kingdom. When the tables are turned, rejoicing prevails.” We saw a lovely performance by fourth- and fifth-graders of the Philosophy Day School. Great kids. I’m sorry that their school — which seems by any standard extraordinary — is closing.


Margie King Barab can sing in Hungarian, beautifully. Something magical happens when, in the course of everyday life, a real singer begins to sing.


The Forbes Galleries (62 Fifth Avenue at Twelfth Street) are worth stopping for. Through August 3, the galleries are devoted to the work of artist and cartoonist Ronald Searle.


It is possible to live in the television series Naked City, sort of. I was amazed to learn that Jack Lee, the musical contractor for the series, played piano for the first performance of Seymour’s opera Little Red Riding Hood. In the West Village, Elaine and I went to West Fourth Street and visited the Music Inn, which turns up in one of our favorite Naked City episodes. I showed the owner his store’s television appearance. Later Elaine and I sat down in the Coffee Foundry at 186 West Fourth, the address that housed Bianchi & Margherita, another Naked City bit player. Biggest delight: 3 Sheridan Square, where Nancy Malone’s character Libby Kingston lives, is right off West Fourth Street. Who knew? Not us.


The NJ Transit worker I met years ago at Gate 212 in the Port Authority is still on the job, and he still — it’s obvious — loves his work. He keeps everyone posted on which bus is going where, and he can spot and help an out-of-towner (like me) at a glance. I hope he had a good Memorial Day weekend.


It feels so good to sit down on a bus after walking back to the Port Authority. (But I knew that already.)

Elaine has two three posts about our adventures: Lorca’s Guitar, No Laughing Matter, “No one looks at a flower, really. One hasn’t time.”

More things I learned on my summer vacation
2012 : 2011 : 2010 : 2009 : 2008 : 2007 : 2006

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

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day, 1913

[“Police Head Dies in Newark Parade: Chief Corbitt Collapses in His Saddle as Procession Is About to Start. Gave Up Auto for a Horse. ‘It May Be My Last Memorial Day Parade,’ Civil War Veteran Told His Associates.” New York Times, May 31, 1913.]

Such short distances: Michael Corbitt’s great-grandchildren — or even grandchildren — could be reading this post. My grandparents could have watched this parade.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Detropia on PBS

Tomorrow night on PBS’s Independent Lens, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's 2012 documentary Detropia. Check, as they say, your local listings.

I saw Detropia earlier this year and wrote about it in this post.

Commencement addresses

Re: the previous post: if you graduated from college and showed up for commencement, do you remember anything the commencement speaker said?

Alan Alda spoke at my commencement (Fordham College ’78). I remember one thing from his speech: he asked those graduating to ask themselves, every so often, this question: “What are my values?” Sounds trite, I know, but it works, or at least it’s worked for me.

If you remember something, anything, of what you heard at your commencement, fire away in the comments, please. Let the wisdom, or whatever, accumulate.

[Commencement : what a weird word. Alda is Fordham College ’56.]

“An eccentric, if not a subversive”

A wise observation from Bill Watterson, from a 1990 commencement address:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive.
[Found via Armand Frasco’s notebookism.]

Michiko Kakutani, messy watch

New York Times book-reviewer Michiko Kakutani is known for her frequent (some might say too frequent) use of the verb limn. Far more frequent is her use of the adjective messy. In February 2011 I wrote a post that tracked Kakutani’s use of messy from 1979 to 2010, from drizzle to steady rain to downpour and back to drizzle. The word appeared just once in 2011 and once more in 2012. The year 2012 also brought a conspicuously inappropriate use of the verb mess up. And now messy is back. From a review of NoViolet Bulawayo’s novel We Need New Names:

Once she is a teenager, she quickly adopts the habits of friends from school, even if she doesn’t exactly care for them — listening to Rihanna, trying on armfuls of clothing at the mall (and leaving them in huge messy piles in the dressing room) and watching pornography online.
Here messy seems to function like a tic: given the context, is there really a difference between piles of clothes and messy piles of clothes? If one leave clothes in huge piles, is neatness ever involved?

[Since 2011 and 2012 brought one messy each, it’s reasonable to speculate that this review might offer the only 2013 sighting.]

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ruskin takes flight

Just eight sentences, just one paragraph. Pick your favorite phrases:

The charts of the world which have been drawn up by modern science have thrown into a narrow space the expression of a vast amount of knowledge, but I have never yet seen any one pictorial enough to enable the spectator to imagine the kind of contrast in physical character which exists between Northern and Southern countries. We know the differences in detail, but we have not that broad glance and grasp which would enable us to to feel them in their fulness. We know that gentians grow on the Alps, and olives on the Apennines; but we do not enough conceive for ourselves that variegated mosaic of the world’s surface which a bird sees in its migration, that difference between the district of the gentian and of the olive which the stork and the swallow see far off, as they lean upon the sirocco wind. Let us, for a moment, try to raise ourselves even above the level of their flight, and imagine the Mediterannean lying beneath us like an irregular lake, and all its ancient promontories sleeping in the sun: here and there an angry spot of thunder, a grey stain of storm, moving upon the burning field; and here and there a fixed wreath of white volcano smoke, surrounded by its circle of ashes; but for the most part a great peacefulness of light, Syria and Greece, Italy and Spain, laid like pieces of a golden pavement into the sea-blue, chased, as we stoop nearer to them, with bossy beaten work of mountain chains, and glowing softly with terraced gardens, and flowers heavy with frankincense, mixed among masses of laurel, and orange, and plumy palm, that abate with their grey-green shadows the burning of the marble rocks, and of the ledges of porphyry sloping under lucent sand. Then let us pass farther towards the north, until we see the orient colours change gradually into a vast belt of rainy green, where the pastures of Switzerland, and poplar valleys of France, and dark forests of the Danube and Carpathians stretch from the mouths of the Loire to those of the Volga, seen through clefts in grey swirls of rain-cloud and flaky veils of the mist of the brooks, spreading low along the pasture lands: and then, farther north still, to see the earth heave into mighty masses of leaden rock and heathy moor, bordering with a broad waste of gloomy purple that belt of field and wood, and splintering into irregular and grisly islands amidst the northern seas, beaten by storm, and chilled by ice-drift, and tormented by furious pulses of contending tide, until the roots of the last forests fail from among the hill ravines, and the hunger of the north wind bites their peaks into barrenness; and, at last, the wall of ice, durable like iron, sets, deathlike, its white teeth against us out of the polar twilight. And, having once traversed in thought this gradation of the zoned iris of the earth in all its material vastness, let us go down nearer to it, and watch the parallel change in the belt of animal life; the multitudes of swift and brilliant creatures that glance in the air and sea, or tread the sands of the southern zone; striped zebras and spotted leopards, glistening serpents, and birds arrayed in purple and scarlet. Let us contrast their delicacy and brilliancy of colour, and swiftness of motion, with the frost-cramped strength, and shaggy covering, and dusky plumage of the northern tribes; contrast the Arabian horse with the Shetland, the tiger and leopard with the wolf and bear, the antelope with the elk, the bird of paradise with the osprey; and then, submissively acknowledging the great laws by which the earth and all that it bears are ruled throughout their being, let us not condemn, but rejoice in the expression by man of his own rest in the statutes of the lands that gave him birth. Let us watch him with reverence as he sets side by side the burning gems, and smooths with soft sculpture the jaspar pillars, that are to reflect a ceaseless sunshine, and rise into a cloudless sky: but not with less reverence let us stand by him, when, with rough strength and hurried stroke, he smites an uncouth animation out of the rocks which he has torn from among the moss of the moorland, and heaves into the darkened air the pile of iron buttress and rugged wall, instinct with work of an imagination as wild and wayward as the northern sea; creatures of ungainly shape and rigid limb, but full of wolfish life; fierce as the winds that beat, and changeful as the clouds that shade them.

John Ruskin, “The Nature of Gothic,” The Stones of Venice, Volume II (1853).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

This is your brain on tea

[Life, February 12, 1940.]

The schedule appears in an advertisement promoting not a brand of tea but tea itself, the work no doubt of the Tea Board or Tea Council or Tea House or some such industry group.

Related reading
All tea posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wise advice

A bit of dialogue from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s novel Kavanagh (1849), as seen on a poster in a middle-school hallway:

“Give what you have. To some one, it may be better than you dare to think.”

Bernard Waber (1921–2013)

He wrote and illustrated the Lyle books, favorites in our house: Bernard Waber, Children’s Author, Is Dead at 91 (New York Times).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


[Oklahoma state flag, 1911–1925.]

How to help (ABC News)
How to help (CBS News)
How to help (NBC News)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Henry David Thorough

I just picked up Walden — and couldn’t wait to put it down. Henry David Thorough is thoroughly crabby. He dislikes furniture. He dislikes houses. He dislikes railroads. He dislikes coffee, tea, and wine. He would certainly dislike this brief, breezy commentary on his work. Like I said, crabby.

Reading Walden, I realize that what I most dislike in E. B. White’s writing — the language of man and men — comes straight from Thorough: “If a man,” “When men,” “A man must.” The maleness is less a problem for me than the everybodyness: Yes, we all think and feel as you say we do. You are thoroughly correct.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Repetition Pears

A produce-crate label depicting three boys standing behind produce crates depicting three boys standing behind produce crates depicting three — that’s the Droste effect.

[“Repetition Pears: Produce of U.S.A., grown and packed by R. Wachsmith, Yakima, Washington.” Lithograph by Schmidt Litho. Co., Seattle. 1940–1949. From the Boston Public Library Flickr set Produce Crate Labels.]

“Repetition Pears” sounds like a title for a John Ashbery poem.

I didn’t realize until after writing this post that it nicely follows this one.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Lucien Bernhard poster

Cooper-Hewitt’s Object of the Day: a Lucien Bernhard poster for the Adler typewriter. You can’t go wrong following Object of the Day.

Related posts
Bernhard’s cat (Cat’s Paw logo)
A Manual for Writers of Dissertations (Bernhard Gothic)

The New Yorker on MOOCs

The May 20 New Yorker has a long article by Nathan Heller on Harvard University and MOOCs (massive open online courses): Laptop U. The article suggests, at least to me, imperial ambitions. Here is Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s president:

“Part of what we need to figure out as teachers and as learners is, Where does the intimacy of the face-to-face have its most powerful impact?” She talked about a MOOC to be released next academic year, called “Science & Cooking.” It teaches chemistry and physics through the kitchen. “I just have this vision in my mind of people cooking all over the globe together,” she said. “It’s kind of nice.”
This article also suggests, at least to me, the reluctance of some in prestigious positions to speak frankly about the effect that MOOCs will have on the academic job market. Michael Smith, Harvard’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences:
“I think oftentimes this question is oversimplified,” he said. “We’re working very closely with our graduate school and our graduate students to think about how they can be involved in this process.” Job offers today, he said, will necessarily “be different from the ones I saw when I finished up graduate school.” Some Ph.D. students are being trained in MOOC production as “HarvardX fellows.”
It’s not an oversimplification to say that growing reliance on MOOCs will further diminish the already diminished possibilities for tenure-track teaching. That Harvard would employ its doctoral students in audio-visual production, call those students “fellows,” and cast the matter as the unfolding of an inevitable “process” speaks volumes, at least to me, about academia and self-deception.

Here, from the HarvardX job listings, is a description of the work of a HarvardX Fellow:
The HarvardX Fellow plays a key leadership role in the development and delivery of high quality, high impact online learning experiences for HarvardX, part of Harvard’s partnership with MIT in the edX online learning initiative. Working closely with faculty and as part of a community of HarvardX Fellows, the HarvardX Fellow ensures innovative course development and integration with new technologies and educational research across HarvardX, and plays a key role in the organization’s mission to enhance teaching and learning on campus and worldwide.

This is a 2 year term position, with the possibility of renewal contingent on funding, university priorities and satisfactory job performance.
There are two such positions now available.

Orson Trail

[Mark Trail, May 8, 9, 16, 2013.]

Once is bad enough. Now this comic strip is beginning to resemble The Lady from Shanghai.

Related reading
Other Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)
Other Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)
Other Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

“Make My Jotter Quit!”

If I didn’t already have several Jotters around, this advertisement would inspire me to buy one, no joke. Charles Newman was right, and remains right: a Jotter refill lasts a long time. How long? As yet I do not know: my black and blue Jotters still have their original cartridges. But given this circumstance, this as-yet-unknowing, it is appropriate to ask: are these “original” cartridges themselves refills? And if so, of what? Which is to ask: what is the nature of the now-lost plenitude that they attempt to re-fill? And the Jotter in my hand: was it itself a pen as such before it came to possess a point? These questions take us to the boundary, beyond which we cannot proceed. Yet if we remain on this side of that line, it is nonetheless permissible to ask: how does one tell the difference between the so-called refill and the cartridge whose place the refill takes, the “original” cartridge, the pen’s “point,” as it were, imperial, serene, solitary, or so it would seem, yet always to be displaced by a New-man, an identical impostor, one in a series of impostors, each claiming the work of inscription as its own? We “miss the point,” we say, but the point at the same time misses us, eluding our grasp, leaving us to scrape and scratch like an inferior writing instrument — some not-Jotter — against metaphysics’ corrasable bond. [Translated from the imaginary French.]

Other T-Ball Jotter posts
Five pens
Last-minute shopping (A 1964 ad)
Parker T-Ball Jotter (A 1963 ad)

Related reading
Eaton’s Corrasable Bond

[Advertisement from Life, August 27, 1971.]

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Primates and screwdrivers

From Christine Kenneally’s The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language (New York: Viking, 2007):

There is a saying among primate keepers . . . that if you give a screwdriver to a chimp, it will throw it at someone. If you give a screwdriver to a gorilla, it will scratch itself. But if you give a screwdriver to an orangutan, it will let itself out of its cage.
The First Word is a disappointing book: oddly organized, with much textbookese and many cumbersome sentences. (How many times can you begin with For example before catching yourself and breaking the habit?) I had to correct an error in the text (“give a give a screwdriver”) to share this passage, which is well worth sharing.

A related post
Note to self re: bookbuying (I need to follow my advice)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Another Route 66 mystery guest

Television viewers of a certain age have most likely seen this actor many times. In his Route 66 guest turn, he plays a West Coast trumpeter who bears a strong resemblance to Chet Baker. This trumpeter plays (as did Baker) in a pianoless quartet. In low light he even looks something like Baker in his later years, especially in the first of these images. Do you recognize the actor?

The episode in which this actor appears is full of music and talk about music. Dig the dialogue between Buz (George Maharis) and Not Buz (Martin Milner) as the two discuss a nightclub singer. Not Buz (aka Tod) has foolishly averred that the singer is his type. Buz, self-proclaimed “music buff,” begs to differ, and he explains how he plans to approach the woman:

“With a chick like this, you gotta play it glissando.”

Tod, ever the square, asks, “Translation?”

And Buz:

“Cool. Like I say to her, ‘Baby, I don’t dig the fuzzy stuff, but the hard bop really knocks me out.’ Now she tags for me the progressive type. How are you gonna gas her if you don't know the difference between the flatted fifth and raised seventh? That’s the style, fellow. You’ll find something else, I’m sure.”
Real glissando. Like crazy.


8:08 a.m.: As Elaine just learned, today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Chet Baker’s death.


12:43 p.m.: The answer is now in the comments.

Related reading
Other Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The waiting game

The New York Times reports on college applicants who have been waitlisted and what they’re doing about it:

When Amanda Wolfbauer, a high school senior, received the admissions verdict from Hamilton College, in Clinton, N.Y., she posted on Twitter, “What does one do once they’re on a college waitlist? #frustrated #worsethanrejection.”

A few minutes later she had gone from dejected to dogged: “Well, @HamiltonAdmssn prepare to be dazzled, because I’m determined to get off that waitlist.”
Don’t miss the accompanying sampler of applicants’ videos. I am happy to know that barring some exceedingly strange turn of events, I will never teach any of these students.

Happy Mother’s Day

[Photograph by James Leddy, July 21, 1957.]

My mom Louise and me, in a photograph by — who else? — my dad. When I looked at this photograph in boyood, I thought that the object in motion was a bird.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. (Hi, Mom.) And Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Texas teacher’s writing

If you haven’t seen the short clip of a Texas high-school student asking/telling his teacher to teach instead of handing out “packets”: watch.

Here, verbatim, is text from that teacher’s school webpage:

A man's reach should always exceed his grasp...Robt. Browning

Welcome to World History and Asian American Studies!  
As we go thru the year; you will discover alot of new things you never knew about not only about the world but the mysterious continent of Asia.  As you can see - I got to visit Great Wall of China  during the summer of 2011 as well as many other sights in China and Japan!

As I said ...a man's reach (or a woman's ;), should always exceed their grasp!  I meant it...and I want you to also!
Basic writing skills should never exceed a teacher’s grasp. How did this teacher ever make it into the classroom? Would you be happy knowing that she was teaching your child?

[The lines from Robert Browning’s “Andrea del Sarto”: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, / Or what's a heaven for?” I used non-breaking spaces to reproduce the two spaces after the exclamation point, the periods, and the first China.]

Route 66 mystery guest

The character is sobering up, or refusing to. If you are a television viewer of a certain age, you have most likely seen this actress, many times. But do you recognize her here? I didn’t.

If you know, or think you do, leave your answer in the comments. (Why not?)


3:34 p.m.: The answer’s now in the comments.

Related reading
Other Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Cheating at Barnard

Now in the news: a cheating scandal at Barnard College. As one commenter writes, “Cheating on a weekly reading quiz?? Are you kidding me?!”

Here is the difficulty in defending a traditional understanding of “college”: if all a course amounts to is a single two- to three-page paper and weekly quizzes on “basic poem identifications,” quizzes that the students themselves grade, what’s to defend?

[For those who do not recognize the name, Barnard College, affiliated with Columbia University, is one of the Seven Sisters.]

Recently updated

Farewell, 45 West 53rd A possible reprieve for New York’s American Folk Art Museum.

The Thompson twins

[Mark Trail, May 8 and 9, 2013.]

It’s common knowledge that Mark Trail reuses plots and artwork from old strips. It’s the American way: Use it up — wear it out — make it do! With today’s strip, “old” means “day-old.” Yesterday’s Wes Thompson is today’s Wes Thompson, reversed and tilted and combed. (May 8: stray lock of hair on forehead.)

Related reading
Other Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[Addicted? I can quit anytime.]

Words I can live without

I’ll name one: pedagogy. Its three possible pronunciations make it a stumbling block: with so many choices, whatever one chooses feels wrong. But look past the surface ugliness: pedagogy is ugly to the bone. The word derives from pedagogue: “A schoolmaster, a teacher; esp. a strict, dogmatic, or pedantic one.” In ancient Greece, the pedagogue, or παιδαγωγός , was “a slave who took children to and from school.” We can do better than a word that associates teaching with dogma, pedantry, and servitude. It is telling that Merriam-Webster illustrates the word’s use with this sentence from Alex Ross: “Some of the presentations, a few too many for comfort, lapsed into the familiar contortions of modern pedagogy.”

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of pedagogy
contains an apt alternative: “The art, occupation, or practice of teaching.” Where others speak of pedagogy, I prefer to speak of the art of teaching. Not best practices, not instruction delivery, not methods, not a science or a system, but an art, whose exercise requires compassion, intuition, and wit.

Worse than pedagogy are its evil relations pedagogical and pedagogically. The adjective and adverb are often superfluous: if one is speaking about teaching, it’s not necessary to describe a practice or strategy as pedagogically useful, no more than it would be to describe an element in a building’s design as architecturally useful. Pedagogy, pedagogical, pedagogically, good riddance.

More words I can live without
A 2009 list (Bluesy, craft as a verb, &c.)
A 2012 list (Delve, -flecked, &c.)
“Some Enchanted Evening” (Words never to use in a poem)
That said, (Yes, I crossed it out.)

[All quotations from the Oxford English Dictionary except as noted.]

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Help for DARE

The Dictionary of American Regional English must be feelin’ its keepin’, having received two major donations (and many more smaller ones) in recent weeks. Context here.

How to improve writing (no. 44)

[Mark Trail, May 8, 2013.]

When Mark Trail and Wes Thompson went off in a plane to “look at sheep,” leaving “the girls” (Mark’s wife Cherry, Wes’s wife Shelley) alone at camp, trouble was sure to follow. Trouble, one might say, was in the air : the plane crashed, and Mark and Wes have been stuck in the mountains for many days’ worth of comics.

Trouble is also in this panel’s dialogue, in the form of the clunky however that begins Wes’s sentence. In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White offer good advice: “Avoid starting a sentence with however when the meaning is ‘nevertheless.’ The word usually serves better when not in first position.” That sounds like a matter of style. But Strunk and White then confuse matters by seeming to suggest a prohibition: “When however comes first, it means ‘in whatever way’ or ‘to whatever extent.’”

Bryan Garner’s Garner’s Modern American Usage takes up however with greater clarity:

It seems everyone has heard that sentences should not begin with this word — not, that is, when a contrast is intended. But doing so isn't a grammatical error; it’s merely a stylistic lapse, the word But or Yet ordinarily being much preferable. . . . The reason is that However — three syllables followed by a comma — is a ponderous way of introducing a contrast, and it leads to unemphatic sentences.
And re: today’s Mark Trail, I’d add that no one talks like that, especially not with a broken foot. I have revised the panel to eliminate the ponderous however and add a bit more drama:

[Mark Trail revised, May 8, 2013.]

How I wish I could travel back to student days and remove howevers from the beginnings of my sentences. But it’s what I was taught as an element of intelligent writing: independent clause – semicolon – conjunctive adverb, any conjunctive adverb – comma – independent clause. O ponderousness!

“Let’s go,” by the way, is an instance of the hortatory subjunctive.

Related reading
Other How to improve writing posts
Other Mark Trail posts

[This post is no. 44 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose. Cherry made tea this past Monday.]

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Spellings of the future

A spelling of the future is a misspelling so strange that it must be traveling backward in time to give us a foretaste of our language’s evolution. Today’s spelling of tomorrow, or vice versa:

A sample sentence: Yes, we have now bananas.

I have seen now for no three times in recent months. If now for no is a typo, it’s a mighty strange one. I think that the sound of know explains now.

Other spellings of the future
Aww : Bard-wired fence

Some more rocks

[“Seek and Ye Shall Mind,” Zippy, May 7, 2013.]

Sunday: Proust. Monday: some rocks. And today: some more rocks. Some rocks + some more rocks = really many rocks. But Zerbina’s rocks may be the very rocks Zippy was looking at yesterday, in which case they remain “some rocks.”

Monday, May 6, 2013

“Some rocks” (Zippy)

[“Victimless Crime,” Zippy, May 6, 2013.]

Two Zippy posts in two days: I hadn’t planned on it. But as they say, attention must be paid. By me, at least. To the mystical grouping known as “some rocks.” End of sentence fragments.

Some posts
Hommage à Ernie Bushmiller
“Bushmiller Country”
Landscape with some rocks

Route 66 wisdom

As Buz and Not Buz drive off to another episode, Not Buz recalls something his father told him:

“Whenever you reach an impasse, look at the third side of the coin. . . . The third side is the edge, the place the two sides come together, the meeting place of heads and tails. Dad used to say that was the best side because it welds opposites together. And it's a circle, a continuing circle, closed and perfect, as endless as understanding itself.”
Elaine and I continue to make our way on Route 66. Among the actors in our most recent episodes: Don Beddoe, William “Billy” Benedict, Donna Douglas, Joey Heatherton (her screen debut), Zohra Lampert, E. G. Marshall, Charles McGraw, Suzanne Pleshette, and Johnny Seven. People of the mid-twentieth-century, how fortunate you were to have this show.

[From “Three Sides,” Route 66, November 18, 1960. Series co-creator Stirling Silliphant wrote this episode. Extra credit for anyone who remembers William “Billy” Benedict.]

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Griffy, Zippy, and Proust

[“Dead White Cornflakes,” Zippy, May 4, 2013.]

I just went In Search of Lost Zippy: this panel is from yesterday’s strip. The Zippy archive has five more Proustian strips: “Proust Reduced,” “Forgetfulness of Things Past,” “Taste Is Everything,” “Proust Schmoust,” and “Within a Budding Grove.”

[Griffy: cartoonist Bill Griffith’s stand-in. Have you seen the word kidult before?]

Friday, May 3, 2013

Separated at birth?

[Three detectives: Hopper, Derrida, Falk.]

The funny thing is that William Hopper (Perry Mason’s Paul Drake) and Peter Falk (Lieutenant Columbo) look nothing like one another. But each in some way looks like Jacques Derrida. I think that this is what they mean by différance. I would prefer a white-haired Hopper to deepen the Derrida resemblance, but I couldn’t find a suitable picture. I think this is what they mean by absence.

Other long-lost siblings
Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop
Steve Buscemi and John Davis Chandler
Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt
Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov
Ted Cruz and Joseph McCarthy
Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln
Harriet Sansom Harris and Phoebe Nicholls
Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks

Thursday, May 2, 2013

San José profs nix Harvard MOOC

The Philosophy Department at San José State University has decided not to make use of Harvard professor Michael Sandel’s MOOC [Massive open online course] JusticeX. The department has explained its decision in an open letter to Sandel. An excerpt:

In spite of our admiration for your ability to lecture in such an engaging way to such a large audience, we believe that having a scholar teach and engage his or her own students in person is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her students.
I’d be proud to knew these faculty as colleagues. Their principled stand for (what I call) real-presence education and against its cheap simulacrum should prove a model for faculty in similar circumstances.

More from the Chronicle of Higher Education
Why Professors at San José State Won’t Use a Harvard Professor’s MOOC
The Philosophy Department’s open letter
Michael Sandel’s response

Thanks to Stefan Hagemann for catching these developments before I did. If you care about teaching and learning, take the time to read Stefan’s post about how to answer a professor’s question in class.

Mina Shaughnessy on error

Anyone who has read, say, a comma-free student essay (comma-free for fear that using commas might mean making mistakes), will see the wisdom in Mina P. Shaughnessy’s observations about error. From Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing (1977):

The discovery by a student that he can do something he thought he couldn’t releases the energy to do it. Students who make many errors feel helpless about correcting them. Error has them in its power, forcing them to hide or bluff or feign indifference but never to attack. The teacher must encourage an aggressive attitude toward error and then provide a strategy for its defeat, one that allows the student to count his victories as he goes and thereby grow in confidence. . . .

The alternative course of ignoring error for fear of inhibiting the writer even more or of assuming that errors will wear off as the student writes more is finally giving error more power than it is due. The “mystery” of error is what most intimidates students — the worry that errors just “happen” without a person’s knowing how or when — and while we have already noted that some errors can be expected to persist even after instruction, most of them finally come under the control of the writer once he has learned to look at them analytically during the proofreading stage of composition. Freedom from error is finally a matter of understanding error, not of getting special dispensations to err simply because writing formal English is thought to be beyond the capabilities or interests of certain students.
Shaughnessy is sometimes criticized as reducing students to their errors, or patterns of error. I can’t agree with that criticism: understanding patterns of error is what makes it possible to move beyond them.

[A new habit for the end of a semester: pulling out a handful of books I haven’t looked at in years.]

Bob Brozman (1959–2013)

Bob Brozman was the best friend the National guitar ever had. Here is the obituary from his hometown newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

A YouTube sampler: “Highway 49 Blues,” “Minnie the Moocher,” “Moana Chimes,” “Ua Like.” The last two are duets with Ledward Kaapana.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

NYT cursive debate

In the New York Times, four responses to this question: Should schools require children to learn cursive?

Suzanne Baruch Asherson thinks that cursive matters. Kate Gladstone thinks that handwriting matters, not cursive. Jimmy Bryant sees cursive as a way to carry on the tradition of the handwritten letter. (A little optimistic, that.) All three (wisely) avoid using writing and wall in the same sentence. Only Morgan Polikoff looks forward to a future without handwriting. Says he, “The writing is on the wall.”

Sigh. A Google search for cursive “writing is on the wall” yields 379,000 results. The joke should be allowed to die, or at least to retire.

As you may already know, Orange Crate Art is a handwriting-friendly zone. My thoughts on the advantages of writing by hand may be found this post.

Related reading
All handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Who’s who on Route 66

[George Maharis as Buz Murdock and Martin Milner as the other guy, “The Swan Bed,” October 21, 1960.]

When Route 66 aired on Nickelodeon some years ago, we were never able to keep track of the other guy’s name. You know, the one played by Martin Milner, who later starred in Adam-12. Elaine came up with the name Not Buz.

We are now watching Buz and Not Buz on DVD, with more than cursory attention. Among the actors in the first four episodes: Lew Ayres, Whit Bissell, Keir Dullea, Betty Field, Henry Hull, Patty McCormack, and Everett Sloane. Mind, boggle.

Elaine has now come up with a name for the series: Naked Country. Like Naked City (also filmed on location), Route 66 was the creation of Stirling Silliphant and Herbert B. Leonard.

Related reading
The end of the trail (Route 66, Santa Monica)
Naked City posts

[It’s a shame that George Maharis never got to play Jack Kerouac, though in a way, as Buz Murdock, he did. Not Buz’s real name: Tod Stiles.]