Saturday, June 29, 2013

Zippy and The Little King

[“Slices of Life,” Zippy, June 29, 2013.]

Today’s Zippy pays homage to Otto Soglow’s The Little King. I recognized His Majesty at once. But I didn’t know that he began his reign in the pages of The New Yorker.

Related reading
Cartoon Monarch: Otto Soglow and the Little King (The Comics Journal)
Otto Soglow and The Little King (Austin Kleon)
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Feedly v. Feedly

The same post: top, Feedly in the Chrome browser; bottom, the Feedly app for iOS. The app shows the image correctly (it’s meant to suggest a drop-capital), but Feedly in the browser gets it wrong. Feedly, what’s up with that?

As I’m reminded every time I look at my posts, Feedly takes too many liberties with images. Images get relocated and resized, and when a post merely links to a YouTube clip, Feedly adds an image from that clip to its Magazine and Card Views:

[The post Jazz on Route 66 has eleven images. But it also has a link to a YouTube clip, and it’s an image from that clip that Feedly uses.]

And as I just discovered, Feedly in the browser loses images too, as it did when handling this post. The iOS app again gets it right:

My e-mails to Feedly about its image problems (which I first noticed earlier this month) have had no replies. I’m puzzled as to why I seem to be the only person on the Internets who thinks that these problems are worth writing about.


June 29: Feedly dropped the second image from today’s post too.

King of Corona

A very short film about The Lemon Ice King of Corona: Birth of the Cool (via Coudal).

[The only king is the king of lemon ice.]

M was for Metropolitan

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art website: “The current button design features the Museum’s distinctive letter M logo, adapted from the 1509 book De divina proportione by Luca Pacioli (Italian, d. ca. 1514), the first known publication to treat the construction of the alphabet and to discuss the shapes and proportions of classical Roman letters.”

On Monday, July 1, the Met ends the use of metal admission buttons.

[I am happy to have two such buttons that I can account for.]

Mad breakfast skillz

Without measurement or calculation, I make breakfast disappear bit by bit in proper proportions, ending up with one spoon of Grape-Nuts, one blueberry, and one bite of toast.

The things we humans can do!

Velveeta for breakfast

“I don’t like to golf. I love to golf. That’s why I eat Velveeta at breakfast. It’s made with delicious ingredients, and carefully baked —”


I was listening, not looking, and this commercial made me look, which in some way marks it as successful. But belVita is strangely named, especially in light of the consonant sounds b and v en español. I see the potential for significant, persistent confusion, and a block of cheese for breakfast.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

At State and Lake (Route 66 )

Chicago’s State Street makes a brief appearance in the Route 66 episode “Voice at the End of the Line” (October 19, 1962). I put together two Route 66 screenshots to make a Google Maps-like composite.

[Click for larger views.]

Seno Formal Wear (“since 1919”) is still in business in Illinois and Indiana but no longer has a store in Chicago. Bob Elfman’s Sandwich Shop (“famous for corned beef since 1933”) closed in 1985. I cannot figure out what sits between Seno and Bob Elfman’s, and I can find no record of State & Lake Fruit and Nut, named of course for the two streets that meet at this corner. That’s the business I most want to know about too.

Moving upward: I like the second-story signage for the beauty school and beauty supplies. I admired such signage often on the Bronx’s Fordham Road. Arthur Murray Dance Studio, are you still there?

The clanking that comes from the 2009 Google Maps image is the sound of chains: Johnny Rockets and the Halsted Street Deli form what is called a “co-branded fast casual restaurant.” The delis, named for a Chicago street, can be found in twelve more Illinois cities. There is no Halsted Street Deli on Halsted Street. The company website lists no Johnny Rockets now on State. On June 20, a Chick-fil-A opened at its address.

Yelp says that the Triple 1 Chinese Restaurant (which occupies the second-story corner in the 2009 photograph) is closed. In 2009 the second story also housed a Montana tourism office: the URL is visible on the window, though not in this photograph. Is the office still there? The Chicago Tribune took note of MT’s marketing in 2011 and just last month.

The one constant in these photographs: the Chicago Theatre, now with a smaller marquee. We saw Brian Wilson there on his 2002 Pet Sounds tour.

I like watching the crowd watching the famous Corvette driving down the famous street.


September 6, 2013: Last night I received an e-mail from Katina Callas, whose father, Spyros Papagiannis, owned the State & Lake Fruit and Nut Shop. Katina says that her father was “a very kindhearted man”:

I have many memories growing up and going there. He used to sell his fruit baskets to Marshall Fields. Sometimes he would make me walk down State Street with two baskets one in each hand to make the delivery if his employee didn’t show up. I would have to go back and forth until all baskets were delivered.

He had the best and largest fruit you can imagine. When I go to fruit markets now I never see the quality that my dad had at his store. He had customers from Fritzel’s come in and purchase after their dinner.
Fritzel’s, as I learned last night, was a celebrated State Street restaurant.

Katina had no photographs of the store’s sign. So now she has one to share with her family. The Internet: it’s wonderful.

[E-mail used with permission.]

Related reading
All Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

Bert Stern (1929–2013)

Yes, he photographed Marilyn Monroe. But also: with Aram Avakian, he created the film Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959), a documentary about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. It makes 1958 look like the coolest year in history.

Bert Stern, Elite Photographer Known for Images of Marilyn Monroe (New York Times)

[A jazz fan looking at the program for the 1958 festival will wince upon discovering who’s missing from the film.]

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

E-mail widget betterment

A reader suggested adding a widget to allow for e-mail subscriptions. So I’ve added one to the sidebar. But I couldn’t resist tinkering with Google’s prose. Before and after:


12:33 p.m.: Blogger’s e-mail widget looks like this in iOS:

I thought that deleting the word here might allow me to shrink the text box and fix Subm-it. No luc-k. So I’ve changed Subm-it to Go. Little details like this one remind me how little interest Google seems to have in the iOS-user experience. For a while it was impossible to edit Blogger drafts in iOS.


4:22 p.m.: Lo: it is possible to offer an e-mail subscription without Blogger’s semi-ugly widget. The correct link is all that’s needed. The sidebar now offers the feed and e-mail by using nothing but the English language (and HTML).

A related post


From this morning’s Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy writing for the majority:

DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.
Supreme Court Bolsters Gay Marriage With Two Major Rulings (New York Times)

[I’m glad he got this one right.]

Feeding time

If you are reading Orange Crate Art in Google Reader, you’d better choose a new reader before July 1, when Google shuts things down. Otherwise, we will be torn asunder posthaste. Of the 13,295 readers now subscribed to Orange Crate Art, 12,835 use Google Reader. That’s a lot of asunder.

It’s easy to keep reading all your feeds by exporting them from Google Reader and importing them to another app or service. To export from Google Reader, go to Settings (the gear icon), Reader Settings, Import/Export, Download your data through Takeout, Create Archive. Then use the Archive to import your feeds elsewhere. It’s quick and easy.

I would imagine that many Reader users are still wondering which way to go. I’ve settled on two alternatives: Feedly and The Old Reader. Feedly is slick; The Old Reader is dowdy. I use Feedly on my Macs (with a Chrome plug-in) and as an iPad app. The Old Reader is available from any device. My main misgiving about Feedly: it takes too many liberties with images.

Here, if you need it, is the feed for Orange Crate Art. The link is also available from the sidebar.


A reader suggested adding a widget to allow for e-mail subscriptions. There’s now one in the sidebar. Thanks, reader.


Nope, widget’s gone. All that’s needed for an e-mail subscription is the right URL to follow.

Shoeless scholarship

[“Girls w. their shoes kicked off as they sit at desks listening to lesson in classroom at New Trier High.” Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Winnetka, Illinois, June 1950. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

There’s something startling — to me, anyway — about the feet. If bare feet in class were ever a norm, the norm is long gone, I think.

Notice that no one is taking notes. That norm: not long gone. Perhaps the students are listening to a recitation. Or perhaps they’re just not taking notes. It’s June. No shoes, no notes, no problem. School will soon be out for the summer.

New Trier High School was the subject of a Life magazine article, “A Good High School” (October 16, 1950). The article describes what we see here as “shoeless scholarship,” “regularly indulged in, spring and fall.”

[In New York City and some other places, today is the last day of school. New Trier was done on June 7. The school is the subject of a Wikipedia article.]

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Grammar and writing resources

From the University of Chicago Writing Program, Grammar Resources, “an annotated collection of grammar and writing resources from around the web.”

Strawberry tips

From Oregon, tips on refrigerating and freezing strawberries.

Elaine and I have been eating locally grown strawberries from our farmers market like there’s no tomorrow — which there isn’t, as the season (we’re told) will be quite short. Any strawberries are better than none, but store-bought strawberries will be bitter fruit indeed after the real thing.


Stationery supplies, old and new, and a beautifully designed website: Present&Correct.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A poem for RZ

My friend Rob Zseleczky figured out his pantheons and stuck to them. Duane Allman, Mike Bloomfield, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, B. B. King. Geoffrey Chaucer, Robert Frost, John Keats, John Milton, William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Butler Yeats. I may have left someone out, but I don’t think so.

On June 13 Rob sent an e-mail with a sampling of Yeats poems to mark the poet’s birthday. So our last e-mails were about Yeats, his genius and his self-regard, both of which we both acknowledged. Rob loved Yeats more than I do, or at least with greater fidelity than I can muster. Yeats’s “The Song of Wandering Aengus” seems very Zseleczkyesque to me right now. I post the poem in memory of my friend, angler and poet.

Rob Zseleczky (1957–2013)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Manson H. Whitlock in the news

Manson H. Whitlock, ninety-six-year-old typewriter repairman, has suspended business while he attends to a medical problem. Says Mr. Whitlock of his shop, “It isn’t closed. It’s temporarily not open.” I like that distinction. Get well soon, sir.

In 2010, the Yale Daily News ran an interview with Mr. Whitlock. It makes for delightful reading.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Rob Zseleczky (1957–2013)

[Rob Zseleczky, August 2010. Photograph by Elaine Fine. The blur is accidental. I like it.]

I first met Rob on Fordham University’s Bronx campus. Was it 1978? We were a year or two apart in our trek through “English,” and I knew him as a fellow traveler in the field. Rob was a poet and the editor of Fordham’s student literary publication The Monthly (which was not a monthly), and he liked and printed the poems I offered. Our paths crossed again at Boston College, where we both ended up in grad school in 1980. I saw Rob at an orientation for new grad students, at the end of a row of folding chairs: a familiar face! After the orientation, we had a beer, and we became friends, for keeps. And we both became friends (again for keeps) with Luanne Paulter, another grad student in English (now half of the duo Jim and Luanne Koper).

In recent years, Elaine and I saw Rob every summer when we traveled east, always in the company of our hosts Jim and Luanne. There would be much food, much wine, much laughter. The nights would run very late. Rob and I would always play guitars for a while. Rob was a brilliant guitarist — beautiful tone, beautiful touch. And when he played something like, say, “Fire and Rain,” it was note-perfect. Yes, he liked that James Taylor stuff. Our common musical ground was blues. A, E: buy your vowel, or key, and we could go on forever.

Rob’s generosity went on forever too. It was there in e-mails, in letters, in mixtapes and CDs. When our son Ben took up the guitar, Rob gave him much encouragement. When Ben began tinkering with an electric, Rob gave him a Marshall amp. Just a couple of weeks ago, I got an envelope in the mail with a cartoon torn from The New Yorker, “24-Hour Blues Cycle”: “My woman done left me, ran off with my best friend. / Well, my woman done left me, said she ran off with my best friend. / Details are sketchy at this time, so let’s go to Jennifer Diaz standing by in Washington.” How had I missed that?

In the last two or three years Rob’s poetry got better and better and better. I saw “To the Coin Toss I Lost” in an earlier version in 2011. The finished version appeared last year in the Concho River Review (Spring 2012). I have typed out the poem — no mistakes.¹ I take the last two lines to heart:

Four related posts
A poem for RZ
Another poem for RZ
Good advice from Rob Zseleczky
Rob Zseleczky on clutter and stuff

¹ Rob worked as a copy editor and proofreader.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hi and Lois interstice fail

[Hi and Lois, June 20, 2013.]

Anything can happen in the Hi and Lois interstice: furniture can disappear, hairstyles can change (if they can be called hairstyles). I have seen these things with my very own eyes, and they make me feel like Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight.

No, wait: I now believe that I am Ingrid Bergman. The Flagstons have made me mad.

The best explanation I can manage for today’s strip: it’s the work of a two-man operation. Let not thy right panel know what thy left panel doeth.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Staying small

“To be small and to stay small”: words to live by for the protagonist of Robert Walser’s 1909 novel Jakob von Gunten.


“‘Big paintings sell and they fill space,’ he says, without a trace of disdain. ‘That's not my style. I’m trying to compose in an area I can defend’”: the photomontagist John O’Reilly, quoted in a 1995 New York Times article.

The Walser sentence is from Christopher Middleton’s translation (New York: New York Review Books, 1999). I’ve had the O’Reilly passage saved in a notebook for years. The Times article notes that O’Reilly’s then-recent works measured 5" x 3 3/4".

[Caution: Some of the O’Reilly works available from the link are NSFW.]

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Robert Walser, Microscripts

The Swiss writer Robert Walser (1878–1956) at some point abandoned pen for pencil and began to write in a tiny, nearly indecipherable script on small scraps of paper — business cards, calendar pages, envelopes. Microscripts presents a selection of these works in English translation, accompanied by the German originals and photographs of the manuscripts.

Reading these works for the first time, I think of Laurence Sterne, Franz Kafka, and Max Jacob, but Walser resembles only himself. His prose seems to veer between disarming plainness and parodic eloquence. To borrow Jacob’s terminology, Walser’s work has “style” and is “situated”:

[O]ne recognizes that a work has style if it gives the sensation of being self-enclosed; one recognizes that it’s situated by the little shock that one gets from it or again from the margin which surrounds it, from the special atmosphere where it moves.
Here are two small samples of Walser’s work. From “The Prodigal Son”:
Being happy, after all, surmounts and surpasses all frailty and strength. Happiness is the shakiest of things and yet also the most solid.
And from “Schnapps”:
What a lovely, thrilling impression a cinematic schnapps scene of excellent quality made one day upon my spectating imagination.

A marvelously handsome young ethicist spoke enlighteningly with the populace, calling on it with ingenious eloquence to turn its back on schnapps once and for all. As he combated this intoxicant, however, he was himself paying tribute to it, distinguishing himself in the consumption of that very thing he was abjuring with spark-emitting zeal, and when asked why he was participating in the practice of that which he was at such pains to avoid or eradicate in principle, he replied that he was most convincing as an orator when in his cups, and that he found this contradiction enchanting.

Here too a lady made her appearance on the scene, his betrothed to be precise, who addressed these words to the one whom in general she worshipped:

“Cut out the boozing!”

Never shall I forget the kind expression with which she framed her so earnest request.

And with this, my possibly somewhat unusual essay that nonetheless strives to fulfill in so far as possible the demands made by delicacy while at the same time aiming at solidity —containing as it does some words of warning — can no doubt be deemed to have come to an end.
The New Yorker has a slideshow of Walser microscripts.

[Both passages from Microscripts, trans. Susan Bernofsky (New York: New Directions / Christine Burgin, 2010). The Max Jacob passage is from the 1916 preface to The Dice Cup, trans. Zack Rogow, in The Dice Cup: Selected Prose Poems (New York: Sun, 1979).]

John Ashbery’s “The Skaters” online

Now online at Text/works: a “critical and genetic digital edition” of John Ashbery’s poem “The Skaters”: text, drafts, annotations, index.

Related reading
All John Ashbery posts (Pinboard)

Items from their catalogue

Here’s a nifty PDF catalogue from Profiles in History: Rare Books & Manuscripts, Auction 55. Among the items in the catalogue: an archive of John Ashbery works ($40,000–$60,000) an Ernest Hemingway typewriter ($60,000–$80,000), and a letter from Titanic survivor Elizabeth Nye ($12,000–$15,000).

[In 2005, the same Hemingway typewriter sold for $100,000.]

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ernest Borgnine reads

Ernest Borgnine reads Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish. Just lovely.

Orange Crate Art is a Borgnine-friendly site. One of my favorite posts imagines Marty Piletti’s life after Marty.

Thank you, Rachel, for pointing the rest of our fambly to this clip.

[I wish I’d known about The Rainbow Fish before deciding to slog through Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.]

Monday, June 17, 2013

“Give her a little Rimbaud”

Tod says that Buz’s date expects hair tonic and muscles. So he gives Buz a tip:

“Be the intellectual. Change of pace. She’ll never see it coming. It’ll dazzle her. Tell her you’re an existentialist.”

“That’s a tip?”

“Well, that’s very stylish. She’ll love it.”

“Well, supposing she asks me what it is?”

“Tell her you don’t talk about; you live it. And give her a little Rimbaud.”
And Tod begins to recite:
“I know the lightning-opened skies, waterspouts,
Eddies and surfs; I know the night,
And dawn arisen like a colony of doves,
And sometimes I have seen what men have thought
    they saw!

I’ve seen the low sun, fearful with mystic signs,
Lighting with far flung violet arms,
Like actors in an ancient tragedy,
The fluted waters shivering far away.

I’ve dreamed green nights of dazzling” —
And that’s as far as he gets. Because it’s time for a fistfight, with angry David Janssen.

This moment of poetry comes from the Route 66 episode “One Tiger to a Hill” (September 21, 1962). Tod is reciting from Louise Varèse’s translation of “Le Bateau ivre” [The drunken boat], which appears in the 1961 New Directions paperback A Season in Hell / The Drunken Boat.

The best touch: Tod pronounces Rimbaud as Rimbo (rhymes with limbo).

Related reading
All Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

[In my house, it is the summer of Route 66.]

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father’s Day

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

The T-shirt was once a standard piece of outerwear for men, always blazing white, always tucked in, equally at home at a cookout, on a handball court, in a park.

James Leddy, my dad, is closing in on eighty-five. I still see this same smile in his face. Happy Father’s Day to him, and to all fathers.

Bloomsday and Father’s Day (2)

[From the “Circe” episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922).]

The scene: Bella Cohen’s brothel. Drunk, abandoned by his friends, Stephen Dedalus has insulted the king, and an English soldier has punched him in the face. Leopold Bloom, who knows Stephen's father Simon, has been following Stephen at a distance and comes to his aid. As Bloom assumes a fatherly role, he sees an apparition of his son Rudolph (Rudy), who died in infancy eleven years ago. Bloom : Stephen :: Odysseus : Telemachus. Father and son. This is one of my favorite passages in Ulysses.

Stephen is murmuring bits of William Butler Yeats’s poem “Who Goes with Fergus?” Bloom’s misunderstanding — “Ferguson, I think I caught. A girl. Some girl.” — is charming and quintessentially Bloomian.

Previous Bloomsday posts
2007 (S, M, P )
2008 (“Love’s Old Sweet Song”)
2009 (Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses)
2010 (“Bloom, waterlover”)
2011 (“the creature cocoa”)
2012 (Plumtree’s Potted Meat)

Bloomsday and Father’s Day (1)

[From the “Calypso” episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922).]

“There is a young student comes here some evenings named Bannon his cousins or something are big swells”: dig the run-on sentence. Milly Bloom is her mother Molly’s daughter. But it’s her father Leopold who gets a letter. Molly : Poldy :: Milly : Papli.

The song “Seaside Girls” runs through Ulysses. The song’s writer: Harry B. Norris, not Molly’s “suitor” Blazes Boylan or any other Boylan.

Previous Bloomsday posts
2007 (S, M, P )
2008 (“Love’s Old Sweet Song”)
2009 (Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses)
2010 (“Bloom, waterlover”)
2011 (“the creature cocoa”)
2012 (Plumtree’s Potted Meat)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A last-minute Father’s Day gift idea

It occurs to me to offer a suggestion: the Tweezerman Nail Clipper Set (about $9). Here’s a review. I’ve had a Tweezerman set for several weeks now, and I always look forward to using it, even if trimming one’s nails is a reminder of mortality.

Nicholson Baker has a wonderful essay about the nail clipper and its appeal to us men, “Clip Art.” Any dad would be thrilled to get a Tweezerman set tomorrow.

[About nails and mortality: I learned that in college.]

Upscale student housing

A New York Times article on upscale off-campus student housing in Columbia, Missouri, quotes a University of Missouri sophomore — I’ll call him Brenden — contemplating life at Columbia’s Grove apartment complex:

“It’s like a vacation, almost,” he said. “I’m not going to go to class — that’s how I look at it.”
Brenden, your parents just called. You’re staying in the dorms.


[“Taken for Granite,” Zippy, June 15, 2013.]

The Oracle at Dingburg.

There appear to be any number of frog-rocks available for consultation. Here’s a page for one in Connecticut. Bill Griffith, Zippy’s creator, lives there. (In Connecticut, not at the rock.)

I would like to ask the frog-rock-thing why I am consistently typing forg for frog.

Related reading
All Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Juvenile delinquents

[Click for larger, more menacing views.]

As a kid in Brooklyn, I believed, as did my peers, that there was something called a “J. D. card,” certifying you as a juvenile delinquent. You were supposed to carry the card with you — in an I. D. wallet, no doubt. It was rumored that a cigarette-smoking teenager on the block carried a J. D. card. Was there ever such a thing? I’m still not sure.

These lineups appear in the Route 66 episode “. . . And the Cat Jumped Over the Moon ” (December 15, 1961). The second delinquent from the left in the second photograph made his screen debut in this episode. He was the mystery guest in yesterday’s Route 66 post.

Related reading
All Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

[Does anyone else remember plastic I. D. wallets?]

“Happy Birthday” copyright fight

The New York Times reports that Jennifer Nelson, at work on a documentary about “Happy Birthday to You,” is seeking to have the song placed in the public domain. One of Nelson’s lawyers estimates that “Happy Birthday to You” brings its owner Warner/Chappell $2 million a year.

The Apostrophe Vigilante

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that people who use apostrophes incorrectly is just taking the proverbial biscuit.
The Apostrophe Vigilante had better watch out for the Subject-Verb Agreement Vigilante.

The plucky punctuators fighting against apostrophe catastrophes (The Independent)

[Vigilantes are tiresome.]


July 10, 2013: A comment on this post points out that the Twitter account @apostrophelaw is unrelated to the source of the above quotation. The Independent appears to have conflated the various vigilantes.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jack Byrd’s idea

This American Life has updated its 2011 story on patent trolls, “When Patents Attack!” The humble apostrophe plays a part in events recounted in the update, proving to be the crucial bit of evidence in a court case over patent rights. The question: does the apostrophe in the words Jack Byrd’s idea mean that the idea was Jack Byrd’s? (I know: well, duh.) The man who wrote those words and received a patent for the idea, Chris Crawford, explains:

“As I’ve written documents over the years, there are times when I use an apostrophe-s, and it seems like I’m supposed to use an apostrophe-s. But I have to say that my grammar is not strong enough to tell you right now with clarity when an apostrophe-s is used.”
What’s at stake goes far beyond Jack Byrd and Chris Crawford.

“When Patents Attack!” (TAL, July 22, 2011)
“When Patents Attack . . . Part Two!” (TAL, May 31, 2013)

[I am usually on a two-week delay in getting to episodes of This American Life.]

Route 66 mystery guest

Can you identify this actor? Leave your best guess in the comments.


11:11 a.m.: That didn’t take long. The answer’s now in the comments.

Related reading
All Route 66 posts (Pinboard)
Another Route 66 mystery guest
One more Route 66 mystery guest

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

“Turn to Tea Today for Vitality”

[Life, November 15, 1937. Click for a larger, more vital view.]

Mrs. Martin Johnson and Captain Bob Bartlett agree: the Consonant of the Day is t. This advertisement will repay careful study. Read it and drink, in big city, dense jungle, or Arctic, as you choose.

Related reading
All tea posts (Pinboard)

[I’d never heard of Martin and Osa Johnson or Robert Bartlett until I read this ad. How about you?]

The plurals of Prius

A current television commercial for the Toyota Prius avows, aloud and on the screen, that ninety percent of “Prius” are still on the road. Toyota must be reluctant to use its chosen plural form, the ungainly Prii. Or as the New Yorker might put it, Priï.

I drive a Prius and will continue to say Priuses when necessary. Oh, look at all the Priuses on the road.

A related post
The plural of Prius, continued

[Driving from Illinois to Boston last month, we averaged 56.6 miles per gallon. YMMV.]

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Caffeine and mental disorders

From the Wall Street Journal :

The latest version of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . . . includes both caffeine intoxication and withdrawal. These conditions are considered mental disorders when they impair a person’s ability to function in daily life.
Some years ago I tried going cold turkey with caffeine, after drinking five or six cups of coffee a day. By mid-morning, I had a killer headache. My “ability to function in daily life” was gone by mid-afternoon, when I found myself stuck, literally, unable to get out of bed and unable to lie back down. It took a few days for things to get better. More recently, I quit caffeine without even trying. But I’ve been off the wagon for some time — I missed the taste of real tea. It’s tea through the day, and occasionally a cup of coffee.

A related post
This is your brain on tea

A style guide for the music biz

Now there’s a style guide for the music biz:

Don’t use ampersands when two artists collaborate, the guide cautions, unless they are as inseparable as Hootie & the Blowfish. Beware excessive description when identifying artists, such as “Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin,” or “Jimi Hendrix (Guitarist).” Avoid using “random capitalization” in song titles such as “a TIMe to love.”

Grammar Rocks: These New Punctuation Rules Are fo’ Realz (Wall Street Journal)
Despite the Wall Street Journal article’s title and opening reference to Strunk and White, the Music Metadata Style Guide makes no mention of grammar or punctuation. NONe. Or none. It covers the more mundane matters of capitalization, spelling, and metadata entry. See for yourself: fill out a form to get a free copy.

I especially like these sentences from the guide:
Genres must not be egregiously misclassified (for example, Hip Hop in place of Children’s Music). For a complete list of acceptable genres, contact your Digital Merchant Store.
Yep, it’s a business.

[Merriam-Webster spells hip-hop with an apostrophe.]

Monday, June 10, 2013

Pinker on Strunk and White

On September 12, 2012, Steven Pinker gave a lecture at MIT, “The Sense of Style: Scientific Communication for the 21st Century.” Much of what he says about good prose in this lecture is unobjectionable. And much of it is familiar:

§ “The Sense of Style” (also the title of a forthcoming book) acknowledges and draws generously from Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner’s Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose, whose exposition of “classic style” — embodying particular understandings about language, truth, and the purpose of writing — furnishes Pinker with a model for good scientific writing.

§ Joseph Williams’s Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace informs Pinker’s discussions of metadiscourse (writing about one’s writing) and sentence structure (“Push new, complex units of information to the end of the sentence,” as Williams puts it).

§ Longer versions of Pinker’s brief catalogue of unfounded usage rules (for example, don’t end a sentence with a preposition) can be had from many sources. Try a Google search for grammar myth as a start.

§ Pinker’s example of postmodern prose is the Judith Butler sentence that Dennis Dutton singled out for his 1998 Bad Writing Contest.

§ The closing tongue-in-cheek example of good prose, a child’s essay grounded in careful observation, may be found in Sir Ernest Gowers’s Plain Words

There is nothing new under the sun, as someone once said.

What most troubles me about Pinker’s lecture though is its opening discussion of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Why begin with The Elements? Because, Pinker says, it’s the book that his Harvard colleagues recommend to their graduate students for help with writing. In clearing a space for his own work, Pinker misrepresents The Elements, even as he acknowledges, briefly, the book’s “good sense and charm.”²

And so it is that I find myself writing once again in defense of The Elements, a book I do not use in my teaching, a book I hadn’t thought of for many years, not until Geoffrey Pullum’s 2009 fiftieth-anniversary appraisal prompted me to read it again. Whatever. I’m interested, always, in accuracy, and I don’t like misrepresentation, particularly when it comes from those who should know better. Pinker should know better. But his presentation of Strunk and White is an assemblage of misinformation, decontextualization, received ideas, and misunderstandings. For example:

“White had kept his professor’s course notes, turned them into a book with the permission of his estate, and it is now by far the best known manual on writing style.” One need only read the introduction to The Elements to get the story of the book’s making. That Pinker gets it wrong makes me wonder whether his remarks on The Elements come from an engagement with the text or from reading what others have written about it.

Pinker quotes Strunk and White: “Write with nouns and verbs.” The MIT audience laughs hard at that. But in context, this sentence is sound advice that can also be had from many sources that postdate The Elements of Style : rely on nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs. (My homemade examples of the inanity Strunk and White seek to discourage: “the cold, round doorknob,” “wept sadly.”)

Received ideas
Yes, there are recommendations in The Elements that now look dated or merely odd. Pinker comments on Strunk and White’s warning against contact (as a verb), their preference for persons to people (with words of number), and their strange advice about the word clever as it applies to horses and people (or persons). Jan Freeman addressed these three matters in “Clever Horses,” a 2009 Boston Globe column on unhelpful advice in The Elements.

A received idea and a misunderstanding
Pinker repeats Geoffrey Pullum’s claim that this Strunk and White sentence contradicts its own advice: “The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not, as a rule, be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning.” Pinker sees the sentence as an example of “inept guidance”: I don’t believe this was ironic," he says. But it is. John Gruber pointed out the joke in 2009. There are whole paragraphs in The Elements (about the dangers of overstatement and qualification) that work the same way, cheekily, glaringly contradicting the advice they offer. These touches of wit acknowledge the reader’s intelligence and set The Elements apart from straightforward textbooks.

A received idea and a misunderstanding
Pinker repeats the canard that The Elements prohibits the use of the passive voice. Contra Strunk and White, says Pinker, “There is a need for the passive, if you understand what grammatical constructions are for.” But Strunk and White agree with him: “This rule [‘Use the active voice’] does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.” The Elements has sample sentences that show how the choice of active or passive voice shapes meaning: “The need to make a particular word the subject of the sentence will often, as in these examples, determine which voice is to be used.” In other words, Strunk and White say exactly what Pinker presents them as not saying.

Decontextualization, received ideas, and a misunderstanding
If you have followed the fortunes of The Elements of Style in recent years, you may have already guessed that Pinker, like Pullum, charges Strunk and White with grammatical incompetence: “They had a rather shaky grasp of basic grammatical constructions, such as the passive voice,” Pinker says. “Neither of them knew anything about linguistics or grammatical theory.” Pinker’s slides include this one, which follows Pullum in claiming that Strunk and White go wrong with three of four examples of the passive voice:

[Pinker’s slide follows the sequence in which Pullum quotes these sentences, not the sequence in which they appear in The Elements .]

As I wrote in 2009, Pullum ignores the sentences that precede these examples in The Elements. Pinker ignores them too.³ Those sentences establish without question that the four examples are not presented as four examples of the passive voice:

The habitual use of the active voice, however, makes for forcible writing. This is true not only in narrative concerned principally with action but in writing of any kind. Many a tame sentence of description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as there is or could be heard. [My emphasis.]
One more misunderstanding
A larger misunderstanding shapes Pinker’s presentation of The Elements of Style : the claim (following Thomas and Turner) that Strunk and White focus only on the surface features of writing, that they lack what Pinker calls a “principled understanding of how language and style work.” Much depends upon what one means by “principled understanding” and “how language and style work.” The claim, though, that Strunk and White focus only on surface features of language, on arbitrary dos and don’ts and pet peeves, is not one that The Elements supports. The book presents style as a matter of concision, transparency, and tact. Or to use White’s series, “plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity,” all of which is not far from Thomas and Turner’s model of “classic style.” Strunk thinks of good writing as a work of elegant design:
A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
White understands style, whatever form it may take, not as a matter of correcting errors or adding finishing touches but as something inseparable from writing:
Young writers often suppose that style is a garnish for the meat of prose, the sauce by which a dull dish is made palatable. Style has no such separate entity; it is nondetachable, unfilterable.
His most important addition to Strunk’s work, the chapter “An Approach to Style,” is as much a guide to conduct as to writing: “Do not overstate”; “Do not affect a breezy manner.”

It is ironic that a lecture promulgating the “classic style,” a mode of writing that, as Pinker puts it, points to “something in the world which the reader can see with his own eyes,” should offer such an inaccurate picture of The Elements of Style . I cannot find on my shelves the book that Pinker describes. I agree with him that The Elements is not the best choice for teaching writing in the twenty-first century. The book is temporally incorrect, badly dated. But I also find myself agreeing with Bryan Garner’s appraisal:
This little book has inspired hundreds of thousands of people to write better — partly by precept and partly by example. It continues to influence more writers than any other. It’s a force for good in the world.
Pinker will have to work hard to displace The Elements : as I write, the fourth-edition paperback is the top-selling book in three Education and Reference categories at Amazon.


December 20, 2014: I’ve written a review of The Sense of Style.

Related reading
All Strunk and White posts (Pinboard)
Another Elements error
The Elements of Style, one more time (A review)
Hardly (adverb) convincing (adjective) (Do Strunk and White prohibit adjectives and adverbs?)
Pullum on Strunk and White
Strunk and White and wit

¹ Perhaps Gower found it here.

² Perfunctory praise followed by extended criticism is a standard academic gesture. See also Stanley Fish’s comments on The Elements of Style in How to Write a Sentence . In clearing space for his own work, Fish too misrepresents Strunk and White.

³ There is a mistake to be fixed: as I pointed out in 2009, Strunk and White’s second improved sentence — “The cock’s crow came with dawn” — has an intransitive verb, not a transitive in the active voice. Whether that mistake signifies anything more than random oversight is another question. And if it doesn’t go without saying: understanding the passive and its appropriate uses does not require a background in linguistics or grammatical theory. See, for instance, the discussion for the general reader in John Trimble’s Writing with Style.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

New York cheesecake

Bill Madison presents the World’s Best Recipe for Authentic New York Cheesecake. Good reading for bakers and non-bakers alike.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Jonah Lehrer, Jonah Lehrer

Leopards, spots. Daniel Engber wonders: Is There Plagiarism in Jonah Lehrer’s New Book Proposal?

A related post
Proust Was a Neuroscientist was disappointing

Chicago possessives

Sometimes it helps to look things up. Sections 7.17 and 7.18 of The Chicago Manual of Style will make my typing life a little simpler:

[The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (2010).]

In 7.19 and 7.20, Chicago allows exceptions for nouns that are plural in form but singular in meaning (such as politics and the United States) and for “a few for . . . sake ex­pressions used with a singular noun that ends in an s end in an apostro­phe alone, omitting the additional s” (for goodness’ sake, for righteousness’ sake). But for all other singular words and names: ’s.

And now I’m trying to remember who it was who proclaimed, not long ago, that nobody writes “Charles’s friend.” Anyone know? The context was most likely a Strunk-and-White bashing, as Charles’s friend is the first example illustrating the first rule of usage in The Elements of Style.

[That first rule: “Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ’s.” The Elements of Style also recommends the apostrophe-only for names from antiquity. Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009) retains that distinction: “Biblical and Classical names that end with a /zǝs/ or /eez/ sound take only the apostrophe.” I wonder whether Bryan Garner (who wrote the Chicago chapter on grammar and usage) will follow Chicago in any later GMAU.]

Domestic comedy

“You missed my joke.”

“You missed my getting your joke and ignoring it.”

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[A note to my fellow husbands: sometimes the only way to determine the line between charming and impertinent is to cross it.]

Thursday, June 6, 2013


An excerpt from a letter in the June 10 New Yorker, responding to the magazine’s article about Harvard University and MOOCs. The writer, Lori Isbell, teaches English at Yavapai College, a community college in Arizona:

After twenty years of teaching, I am confident that what makes the most difference in the learning and the lives of students is one-on-one instruction and the kind of human interaction that only traditional classroom settings can provide. MOOCs aren’t about democratizing and furthering education; they’re about saving money, making money, and keeping money in the corrupt marriage between business and academe.
Yes, exactly, and all the futurist rhetoric in the world won’t make it otherwise.

Related posts
“A fully-realized adult person”
The New Yorker on MOOCs
Offline, real-presence education
San José profs nix Harvard MOOC

Digital-naïf watch

A word to the unwise: it is ill-advised to post a photograph of your college ID, with your full name and student-identification number, as proof that you are now “officially” a college student. It is also uncool.

Related posts
Digital naïfs
Digital naïfs in the news
The F word (Find)

[As I wrote in the first of these related posts, “Many so-called digital natives are in truth digital naïfs. The natives’ naïveté is considerable.”]

Brooklyn Castle

[Rochelle Ballantyne.]

The documentary Brooklyn Castle (dir. Katie Dellamaggiore, 2012) tells the story of the chess team from Brooklyn’s Intermediate School 318, a team that has won more national chess championships than any other. We watched last night, having played and won with the Netflix Gambit (that is, having managed the queue so as to get the film the day after its release on DVD). The film reminded me of Mad Hot Ballroom : here too we get to see absolute dedication to an art, in a film that is funny, happy, poignant, and inspiring. May everyone at I. S. 318 go far.

The school’s chess teacher and coach Elizabeth Spiegel, speaking in the film:

“Learning chess and becoming good at chess and having to solve your own problems of how you teach yourself things is fantastic for kids. Maybe in this world in which more and more kids can only concentrate for ten minutes, in fact it’s exactly what we need.”
Rochelle Ballantyne, a 318 alum, is now headed for college and is likely to become the first African-American female chess master.

Here’s the film’s website.

[Brooklyn: represent!]

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

At the Dr. Grabow plant

[Popular Mechanics, September 1970.]

“The machines that make Grabows have no name outside the factory, and no use outside pipe manufacturing. The factory has its own lingo heard nowhere else: machines called frazers, procedures known as tripoling”: from a look at life in the Dr. Grabow plant in Sparta, North Carolina.

Fraise (that’s the correct spelling) and Tripoli (spelled with or without a capital) are nouns new to me. The OED has fraise: “A tool used for enlarging a circular hole.” The fraise isn’t limited to pipemaking: an OED citation refers to marble-workers using this tool. Fraise is also French for strawberry, which makes an image search for the tool amusing. (Search for fraise tool instead.)

As for Tripoli, this OED definition sounded plausible to me: “A fine earth used as a polishing-powder, consisting mainly of decomposed siliceous matter, esp. that formed of the shells of diatoms; called also infusorial earth or rotten-stone.” A trip to Google Books clinched it:

[William Augustin Brennan, Tobacco Leaves: Being a Book of Facts for Smokers (1915).]

Here too, use extends well beyond pipemaking. (Tripoli buffing compound, “for polishing aluminum, stainless steel, and wood”: as advertised here.)

The last time I saw someone smoking a pipe, the bowl had three or four inches of cigar in it. Before that? I can’t remember when I last saw someone smoking a pipe. But I do remember seeing the name Dr. Grabow back in my tobacco-stained past.

And speaking of the past, the OED dates fraise to 1874; Tripoli, to 1601. Old-time ways in Sparta.

Thanks to Mike at Brown Studies for passing on the link to the Grabow story.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Feedly it ain’t

[This post follows from Feedly it is.]

I wrote about Feedly last night in the heady excitement of infatuation. But I soon began to see problems that will keep me looking for a better reader. The interface is (to my eyes) beautiful, but Feedly takes too many liberties with content, as I discovered when I looked at a few recent Orange Crate Art posts with images. There’s nothing complex about these posts, and they render without problems in Google Reader. Watch what happens to the post How to improve writing (no. 44). Here’s Blogger:

And Feedly:

Yes, Feedly has a strange habit of pushing images to the right, where they can look, well, dumb. Feedly also seems to dicker with text, dropping “(no. 44)” from this post’s title in list view.

Worse is what happens to the post The Thompson Twins. Here’s Blogger:

And Feedly:

The sequence of images has been flipped, which turns the accompanying explanation into gibberish.

And still worse is what happens to the post Orson Trail. Here’s Blogger:

And Feedly:

Here too the sequence has been flipped (though May 9 is back where it belongs). Small potatoes, sure, but what if these images illustrated, say, a before-and-after comparison or a how-to post? The potential for confusion seems vast, and it makes Feedly a service I cannot yet trust. Now I’m trying The Old Reader, which has its own frustrations, one of which is its limited access to older posts: “No posts below this line. Probably you have read them all.” Shopping around makes it clearer than ever to me just how well designed Google Reader is, and how great its loss will be to its users.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Feedly it is

Time is running out for Google Reader: the service ends on July 1. I have been waiting and watching, looking for evidence of some clear consensus about what to use instead. The choice seems to be Feedly. Seems to be Feedly: this is the impression I get from my online reading. I just took the plunge, and so far the water is fine.

Here’s a recent David Pogue column about Google Reader and Feedly. It played no part in my decision: I found it only after making the switch. LOL.

Reader, if you use Google Reader, what switch are you making?


11:44 p.m.: Feedly it ain’t. More tomorrow.


June 4: Here’s a reconsideration: Feedly it ain’t.

Sad sight of the day

At the front end of my local multinational retail corporation, two employees stood inviting customers to try the self-checkout. In other words, the store is paying some of its employees, at least for now, to get customers to do the work that those same employees could do. The long-term goal: more self-checkout use, fewer employees.

[I mean, of course, associates, not employees.]

Jazz on Route 66

A first-season Route 66 episode features a Chet Baker-like trumpeter. The second-season episode “Goodnight Sweet Blues” (aired October 6, 1961) is even more jazz-centric. Ethel Waters plays Jenny Henderson, a retired singer in failing health who commissions Tod and Buz (the latter a self-identified jazz “buff”) to find and bring to her the members of the Memphis Naturals, the band she performed and recorded with thirty years earlier. She shows our heroes a photograph:

[The fictional Naturals: Snooze Mobley, Hank Plummer, King Loomis, A. C. Graham, Horace Wilson, Lover Brown.]

Two of the Naturals, Jenny says, became famous: Snooze Mobley and A. C. Graham. You may, however, recognize three familiar faces in this photograph. The first: Coleman Hawkins as clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Snooze Mobley. Buz (George Maharis) tracks him down in San Francisco, where he’s leading a quartet.

In keeping with his sleepy nickname, Snooze is virtually speechless. This open-eyed nod from the bandstand signals that he will come to Pittsburgh. When he later says “Mmhmm,” Jenny tells him he’s becoming a blabbermouth.

The second familiar face: the trumpeter Roy Eldridge, who plays A. C. Graham, now a busy studio musician in New York. He has to check his datebook and get someone to cover four upcoming jobs before telling Tod (Martin Milner) that he can visit Jenny.

The third familiar face: the drummer Jo Jones as the Naturals’ leader Lover Brown. Lover is doing a short stretch in Kansas City for yet another act of bigamy. Tod arranges a furlough so that Lover can visit “a sick sister.” Along for the ride: a prison official, whom Lover introduces as his manager.

[Notice that Jones is wearing a toupee for the prop photograph above.]

The Eldridge-Jones instrument switch was meant as an inside joke, I suppose, though the joke must have been obvious to a good many viewers. What just a few viewers may have known is that Eldridge indeed played drums, and Jones played piano and trumpet.

As for the other Naturals: Banjoist Hank Plummer died in Philadelphia. His guitarist son Hank Jr. (Bill Gunn) comes in his place. Bassist Horace Wilson (Frederick O’Neal), the scholar of the group, has become a lawyer in Chicago and lost his calluses. And trombonist King Loomis (Juano Hernandez), now a shoeshine man living in East St. Louis, has pawned his horn, lost his lip, and feels great misgivings about even picking up an instrument.

What happens as the story unfolds is fairly predictable: the episode’s title should give you an idea of where things go. What’s unexpected is the opportunity to see great musicians in speaking roles. And seeing Ethel Waters and Jo Jones sing a duet is, really, a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

Waters and Jones are reputed to have been “difficult” personalities. You’d never know it here: they radiate good will and joy. (Perhaps that’s why it’s called acting.) Waters received an Emmy nomination for her performance in this episode (Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role), the first Emmy nomination for an African-American. She lost to Julie Harris (as Queen Victoria, Hallmark Hall of Fame).

[The Naturals minus one. Brown’s manager in the background.]

[King Loomis joins in. Buz on the right.]

A strange detail: the recording of “I’m Coming Virginia” that plays as Tod and Buz visit Jenny is not by Waters but by Marni Nixon. She explained in a 1996 interview:

[Stephen Bourne, Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather (2007).]

Related reading and listening
Ethel Waters, “I’m Coming Virginia” (YouTube)
Other Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Jean Stapleton (1923–2013)

[“‘My husband doesn’t have the male chauvinist attitude that the woman’s place is in the kitchen,’ she says of her personal life. ‘He likes to be married to a woman who has more interests outside the home.’” From a New York Times article, “Jean Stapleton Hopes Most Wives Aren’t Like Edith,” May 17, 1972. Photograph by Jack Manning.]

The Times has a lengthy obituary: Jean Stapleton, Who Played Archie Bunker’s Better Angel, Dies at 90. The 1972 article adds: “‘He can cook and he can take care of the children. In that way, he is liberated too. Yes, he really gets a high mark from me.’” Stapleton’s husband William Putch died in 1983.

Some recent comments

The Anti-Digit Dialing League Now with the logic of area codes, explained in three comments — 1, 2, 3 — from S F Pete and Neal McClain.

San José profs nix Harvard MOOC Now with a comment from San José State’s Tom Leddy (no relation).

The more I read and write, the more I subscribe to Elaine Fine’s theory of knowledge: “What I know is rivaled only by what I do not know.”