Monday, September 30, 2013

E-mailing professors

The New York Times reports on college students’ reluctance to use their school e-mail accounts. Says University of Iowa student Brittney Carver,

“I never know what to say in the subject line and how to address the person. Is it mister or professor and comma and return, and do I have to capitalize and use full sentences? By the time I do all that I could have an answer by text if I could text them.”
But you can’t, at least not for the most part.

You can, however, read the guidelines that all the cool kids are reading: How to e-mail a professor. They will answer all your questions. By they I mean the guidelines. The cool kids are too busy to answer any questions.

Thanks to Matt Thomas’s Submitted for Your Perusal, which again and again points me to Times articles I would otherwise miss.

Henry’s Magic Song Restorer

[Henry, September, 2013. Click for a larger view.]

I know that Henry now appears in reruns. But just how old are these strips? Magic Song Restorer goes pretty far back. Here is a page with Charles Bremer’s beautiful photograph of a tin (bottom left). And here, from Katherine C. Grier’s Pets in America: A History (2006) are two pages from the 1930s publication How to Take Care of Your Canary:

[Click for a larger view.]

Grier writes that How to Take Care of Your Canary includes “An Imprisoned’s Bird’s Daily Prayer.” It begins:

“Oh Captor, consider that I am your little prisoner, give me my daily food, consisting of pure and wholesome rape and canary seed, and pray do not omit to give me a small separate dish of MAGIC SONG RESTORER and GENERAL HEALTH FOOD.”

Related reading
All Henry posts (Pinboard)

Snoopy ceramic tile

[Peanuts, September 30, 1966.]

Snoopy’s doghouse (or should that just be house?) has burned down. Lucy tells him that it is because he sinned: “That’s the way these things always work!” To which Snoopy replies, “BLEAH!” Yes, it’s like the Book of Job. Which makes Charlie Brown — God?

Tile is my reason for posting this panel. My father Jim (Leddy Ceramic Tile) did work in the houses of many well-known people — Julia Barr, Hank Jones, Debbi Morgan, Gene Shalit, McCoy Tyner are those who immediately come to mind — but he missed out on this house. He trusts though that the contractor used American Olean tile.

A handful of other Peanuts posts
Clothespins and milk bottles
Linus in the fall
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Brown”
Schroeder’s Beethoven

[The September 30, 1966 Peanuts ran this past Friday, September 27.]

Happy anniversary

Elaine and I were married twenty-nine years ago today. We looked like this, only taller and three-dimensional. It doesn’t seem possible that so much time has gone by.

I remember our first date, January 17, 1984: my glasses fogged up when I walked into the Boston Thai restaurant The King and I. They have been fogged up ever since. I am an exceedingly fortunate guy. Elaine will have to speak for herself.

Happy anniversary, Elaine.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Word of the day: lucubration

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day is lucubration:

noun : laborious or intensive study; also : the product of such study — usually used in plural
The word comes with a helpful explanation:
Imagine someone studying through the night by the light of a dim candle or lamp. That image demonstrates perfectly the most literal sense of “lucubration.” Our English word derives from the Latin verb “lucubrare,” meaning “to work by lamplight.” (Yes, that Latin root is related to “lux,” the Latin word for “light.”) In its earliest known English uses in the late 1500s and early 1600s, “lucubration” named both nocturnal study itself and a written product thereof.
I immediately think of lines from John Milton’s Il Penseroso: “Or let my Lamp at midnight hour, / Be seen in som high lonely Towr.” That was grad school: up late, reading, writing, typing by the light of a desk lamp.

Friday, September 27, 2013

“Your Best Buy’s Mongol” (and other buys)

[Life, March 19, 1956. Click for a larger, even better buy.]

A full-page advertisement for my favorite pencil. I lIke the claim: “writers say it actually stimulates flow of thoughts.” So I am here to say, Yes, the Mongol actually stimulates flow of thoughts. Yes I say yes it does Yes.

The Mongol ad appears on page 64 in Life. Across from it:

[Life, March 19, 1956. Click for a larger view.]

Not all rubber bands are full of life. But these are. I will use one of them to secure a Mongol to my thinking cap. Flow, thoughts, flow!

And now that thoughts are flowing, I would like to say that I have never dabbled in psychedelics (I have trouble even spelling the word), but I’m sure that if I were so to dabble, I would see Pink Pearl erasers sprout little hands and feet and run with glee.

My attention to these matters is prompted by news of an illustrated history of Faber-Castell, as reported by Contrapuntalism and Lexikaliker. The Mongol ad is reproduced in the book, as I learned while Looking Inside at Thanks to Sean at Contrapuntalism for providing that link.

Other Mongol posts: Harry Truman with pencil : Jimmy Hoffa’s Mongol : Molly Dodd, Mongol user : Mongol No. 2 3/8 : Naked City Mongol : “Sound-testing a MONGOL” : Stolen Mongols

[Some years ago, I wrote (briefly) about the Mongol ad in a piece for Pencil Revolution.]

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Whither Wheaties?

Suddenly, neither of the two “real” (not store-brand) supermarkets in my town sells Wheaties. Not only are there no Wheaties: there is no slot on the shelf for Wheaties. And now I see this news:

If brands get too small, retailers may drop them from the store shelves. So General Mills has good reason to devote attention to what it calls “brands that we haven’t supported as much over the recent past” — such as Wheaties, which enlisted Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to appear on the cover.
Cover? That would be the front of the box, no? Maybe in the cereal biz it’s called the cover. Either way, I want my Wheaties — or yours.

Other cereal posts
“Fancy-pants cereal” : Rewriting a Grape-Nuts box : Rewriting a Shredded Wheat box

Obviating elaboration

Claire Kehrwald Cook:

Long sentences aren’t necessarily wordy, not if every word counts. As good writers know, leisurely sentences have their purposes — to contrast with short ones, say, or to establish a desired tone. A sentence can be too tight. Sometimes you need a clause instead of a phrase, a phrase instead of a word. What you’re after is a supple style; you don’t want to compact your language, trading looseness for density. But you’re not likely to run that risk unless you’re a compulsive polisher. Condensing to a fault is so rare a failing that it needs only passing mention. Of course, if you'd like to change the last sentence to The rarity of overtightness obviates elaboration, you have something to worry about.

Line by Line: How to Improve Your Own Writing (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985)
A 2005 New York Times death notice describes Claire Kehrwald Cook as “A brilliant editor and teacher whose devotion to clear thinking and clear writing inspired everyone who was lucky enough to work with her.” I believe it. Line by Line is smart, witty, and likely to prove enormously helpful to a reader with the patience to follow along as Cook sorts out tangled sentence after tangled sentence. (It’s hard work.) The book is still in print, now subtitled How to Edit Your Own Writing.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fitzgerald, Lombardo, Mitchell

In the September 23 New Yorker : an excerpt from Stephen Mitchell’s forthcoming Odyssey, a passage from book 17 with the title “The Death of Argos.” The passage is a celebrated moment from the poem, as Odysseus’s long-suffering hunting dog hears His Master’s Voice and dies an easy death.

A translation of a poem as vast as the Odyssey rises or falls not in its treatment of great, memorable lines — such as those that describe Argos, lying neglected and bug-ridden on a pile of dung — but in its treatment of what might be called ordinary lines, those that go by in a way that invites no special attention from a reader. Someone walks into town; someone offers a greeting; someone serves a meal: the translator must attend to it all. Three lines from Mitchell got me making comparisons to my favorite translations of the Odyssey, those of Robert Fitzgerald (1961) and Stanley Lombardo (2000).

The scene: Odysseus, returned to Ithaca and disguised as an itinerant beggar, has been staying out in the country with the swineherd Eumaeus. Eumaeus is one of the most appealing characters in the poem; Homer even addresses him directly as a mark of affection. Eumaeus is something of an avatar of Odysseus himself: the swineherd is the son of a king and queen, a displaced person who lost his noble home in childhood. He was raised by Laertes and Anticleia alongside Odysseus’s sister and and has lived as a slave in Ithaca for many years. In book 16, Eumaeus welcomes Telemachus (who has returned from searching for news of Odysseus) in what looks like a father-son reunion (Telemachus even calls Eumaeus atta, father). Eumaeus is pious, loyal, righteously indignant, and stealthy (in 16 he speaks quietly to Penelope about her son’s return). And like Odysseus, Eumaeus is a figure of great versatility: though he seems never to have fought before, he will soon join Odysseus, Telemachus, and the cowherd Philoetius in a Special Forces unit to deal out doom to the suitors.

As our scene begins, Odysseus and Eumaeus stand before Odysseus’s palace. Odysseus has commented on the palace at length, praising its design and construction, and noting from smell (roasting meat) and sound (a lyre) that men are inside feasting. Eumaeus compliments Odysseus on his perceptiveness and, for a brief moment, shapes the story by posing the question of who should enter the palace first. Eumaeus is in distinguished company: Athena, Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus all work on the story, giving another character a role to play or setting up the course of events.

Here is Fitzgerald’s Eumaeus:

Numbskull is a wonderful touch, and it’s not twentieth-century slang either: the Oxford English Dictionary dates the word to 1697. “This action” is military in its sound, fitting in light of what is to come.

Here is Lombardo’s Eumaeus:

The rhetorical question is a good touch: the beggar’s intelligence is no surprise to Eumaeus. In 14, Odysseus told a story so as to finagle a cloak from Eumaeus: Eumaeus figured out what Odysseus was up to and was happy to oblige him.

And here are the lines from Mitchell’s Eumaeus that got me making comparisons:

I cannot hear Eumaeus’s voice — or anyone’s voice — in these lines, which sound to me like the translationese of bad subtitles. I’m sticking with Fitzgerald and Lombardo.

Some related posts
Gilgamesh in translation (Stephen Mitchell and N.K. Sandars)
Whose Homer? (the Big Four: Richmond Lattimore, Robert Fitzgerald, Robert Fagles, Stanley Lombardo)
Translators at work and play (another line by the Big Four)
Three Virgils (Fitzgerald, Lombardo, Fagles)
Translations, mules, briars (Guy Davenport on Lattimore)
New from Homer (Mitchell’s Iliad)

[Does Mitchell know Homeric Greek? It seems a reasonable question. He has said that he never read the Iliad before translating it because he could never get through book 1 in a translation. Did Mitchell thus learn Homeric Greek to translate a poem he had never read? It’s all very puzzling. See the discussion beginning here.]

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Domestic comedy

“‘Gadding about’?”

“Yes,‘gadding about.’”

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Kubrick remake

[Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

From 2013: A Space Odyssey.

A related post

Monday, September 23, 2013

Duke Ellington in Afghanistan

From the BBC: When Duke Ellington played Kabul, with a brief clip from a 1973 interview. The Ellington band visited Afghanistan in 1963 while on tour for the United States State Department. Impressions from the tour prompted the Ellington-Billy Strayhorn collaboration The Far East Suite (1967).

Related reading
All Duke Ellington posts (Pinboard)

The worst sentence in Salinger so far

I’m up to page 137 in David Shields and Shane Salerno’s Salinger, “the interminable official book of the acclaimed documentary film.” The following sentence, from Shields, appears on page 133. It is the worst sentence I have read so far:

This is the moment at which — amid war, champagne, and male bonding — Salinger revealed his anatomical deformity to Hemingway, according to Kleeman.
The “deformity,” as explained elsewhere, was an undescended testicle. Yes, a great secret of the book is that Salinger had an undescended testicle. Which supposedly explains his (Salinger’s, not the testicle’s) choice to avoid “the media glare.”

Revealed is an awkward word here. I hope that Salinger told Hemingway about it and didn’t — what with all the bonding — drop trou. And that closing “according to Kleeman”: not the way to end a sentence.

That a writer should shun publication and daunt biographers for years on end, only to fall into these hands: karma must indeed be a bitch. I remain on the lookout for a sentence still worse: I’m trying to get my money’s worth from this book.

Related reading
All J. D. Salinger posts (Pinboard)

[“Acclaimed documentary film”? The film was just recut after unfavorable reviews.]

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lands’ End misspelling

As seen on this page. Sheesh.


September 26: It’s been fixed.

Related reading
All misspelling posts (Pinboard)

[Yes, the company name has a misplaced apostrophe.]

Friday, September 20, 2013

PBS misspelling

IDEALOGICAL VOTE IN HOUSE: That was the caption on PBS’s Washington Week a few minutes ago. Sigh.


9:36 p.m.: And now it’s online, at the 9:52 mark.

Related reading
All misspelling posts (Pinboard)

[I know: it’s a variant. But on a nationally televised show, it’s a misspelling.]

Recently updated

&QuA? Now with correspondence from Guy Fleming’s daughter Faith Fleming.

Don’t open the yellow door

You don’t want to know what’s behind that door. You really don’t want to know what’s behind that door. You Really Don’t Want To Know What’s Behind That Door. YOU REALLY — was I shouting? Oh, sorry. But you really don’t want to know what’s behind that door.

I spotted this door “somewhere in east-central Illinois.” This post is for my friends Sara and Stefan and all readers of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

Related reading
All David Foster Wallace posts (Pinboard)

[You do not want to know what is behind that door.]

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Recently updated

Chrome New Tab page An extension solves the problem.

Death of an adjunct

The real face of higher education: Death of an adjunct (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

Chrome New Tab page

An update to Google Chrome has changed the New Tab page, which now shows a Google search box and thumbnails of the user’s most frequently visited sites. Delete the thumbnails and you’re left with stupid grey rectangles, at least for a while.

The changes are a poor choice, for two reasons:

1. Chrome’s address bar/search box, the so-called “omnibox,” makes an additional search box unnecessary.

2. There may be good reasons for a user to want to keep browsing history out of view. Obviously embarrassing websites: of course. But also: if you’re opening a tab to show, say, a news item to your spouse, the last thing you want on the screen is the browsing you’ve been doing for a birthday present. D’oh.

Google Support has more to say about these changes: Use the New Tab page. I’m looking for directions on how to Curse the New Tab page. For now, I will make up my own.


9:24 a.m.: An extension solves the problem: Empty New Tab Page.

Domestic comedy

“I believe I’ve seen this.”

“Maybe you’ve just seen the hair.”

“I’ve seen the makeup and the shoulder pads as well.”

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[The eighties: the horror.]

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Arne Duncan on Colbert

If you missed Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on The Colbert Report last night, you can watch here. It’ll take under six minutes.

One highlight: Duncan says that the best ideas in education come from “local teachers.” But hurrah for the Common Core.

And hurrah for replacing books with digital media, everywhere.

The most revealing moment: Duncan’s evasions when Colbert asks whether under the Common Core, students will read instruction manuals and memos instead of Shakespeare and Treasure Island. If students will be reading Shakespeare and Stevenson, Duncan’s claim that textbooks become obsolete “the day we buy them” falls apart. If anything, it is our devices that are instantly obsolete. But that never troubles a technocrat.

And by the way, a Secretary of Education who refers to “less dropouts” needs to go back to school.

Related reading
Carlo Rotella, No Child Left Untableted (New York Times)

[“Less dropouts”: at 5:21.]

Delete and deleterious

The question came up in class: are delete and deleterious related? It seems possible, even plausible: what’s deleterious removes wellbeing, right? Wrong.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces delete to “Latin dēlēt-, participial stem of dēlēre to blot out, efface.” Deleterious goes back to “modern Latin dēlētērius, < Greek δηλητήριος [deleterios] noxious, hurtful, < δηλήτηρ [deletor] destroyer, < δηλεῖσθαι [deleisthai] to hurt.”

Well, if these words aren’t related, they should be.

[I’ve added the transliterations.]


When I was in grad school, in the mid-1980s, reading lots of “theory,” the Dickensian name Grice was much in the air: the philosopher H. P. Grice, whose initials-only name (Herbert Paul) only added to his mystery. No book then went with that name, but there was a crucial essay, “Logic and Conversation,” which appeared in a collection of essays by various hands, Syntax and Semantics: Speech Acts, edited by Peter Cole and Jerry L. Morgan (New York: Academic Press, 1975).

“Logic and Conversation” presents principles of conversation that have become known as Gricean maxims. Informing them all is a “Cooperative Principle”: “Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.” The maxims concern Quantity, Quality, Relation, and Manner:

Quantity: Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange). Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

Quality: Try to make your contribution one that is true. Do not say what you believe to be false. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

Relation: Be relevant.

Manner: Avoid obscurity of expression. Avoid ambiguity. Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity). Be orderly.

From Paul Grice’s Studies in the Ways of Words (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989).
Thinking of Grice now, after so many years, I think of the practical applications his work has. Consider how a healthy respect for Gricean maxims would improve the world of online discourse. One might add to these maxims, as Grice suggests, “Be polite,” though the Cooperative Principle seems to cover matters of both courtesy and rudeness. The “accepted purpose or direction” of almost any online discussion would preclude, say, comments whose primary purpose is to cross-examine, hector, raise extraneous issues, snipe, or drive “traffic” in the commenter’s direction. The purpose or direction of a discussion devoted to vulgar banter and insults, however, would require that one not be polite, or at least not too polite. The brief guidelines for Orange Crate Art comments — “Play fair. Keep it clean. And please be relevant” — now suggest to me, all these years later, Grice’s influence.

As I suspected, Gricean maxims have been of interest to those working on autism. Here’s one example.

Further reading
Paul Grice (Wikipedia)
Gricean maxims (Wikipedia)
Lifehacker’s guide to weblog comments (Lifehacker)

[The “avoid unnecessary prolixity” bit has to be a joke, à la “eschew obfuscation.”]

All the music in Casablanca

I’ve needed this list for years.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The libraries of Route 66

Route 66 abounds in physical labor and fisticuffs, but Tod (Martin Milner) and Buz (George Maharis) and, later, Linc (Glenn Corbett) still make time to use a local library. In “The Mud Nest” (November 10, 1961), Tod and Buz visit the Central Library of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library in search of information about Buz’s mother. This episode has an extraordinary cast: Ed Asner, Lon Chaney Jr., Betty Field, and three Maharis siblings. Chaney and Field never share a scene — a pity, given their work in Of Mice and Men (dir. Lewis Milestone, 1939). But if you watch the episode, you’ll understand why.

[That’s what they call “Doris Day parking.”]

[Click on any image for a larger view.]

In “Who in His Right Mind Needs a Nice Girl” (February 7, 1964), Tod and Linc visit the City Island Library, Daytona Beach, Florida. Hiding out in a bookmobile: Joe (Lee Philips), a murderer on the run. Lois Smith plays Lucy Brown, a lonely librarian who falls under his spell. The present-day City Island Library postdates this episode.

[Click for a larger view.]

Elaine and I love Route 66.

Related reading
All Route 66 posts (Pinboard)
The Wheel of Information (a Pratt resource)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Probably not from Calvin Coolidge

My friend Rob Zseleczky had in his apartment a postcard with these words:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and will always solve the problem of the human race.
This passage has been atttributed, famously so, to Calvin Coolidge, and appeared with his name in a Depression-era pamphlet issued by the New York Life Insurance Company, of which Coolidge was a director. But Coolidge scholars David Pietrusza and Amity Shlaes, the source of the information in the preceding sentence, make a strong case that the passage is “probably not Coolidge’s.” It’s good advice though, whoever its source. For me, its source is Rob Zseleczky.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Number nine, number nine

Orange Crate Art turns nine today. In the word of Timmy Martin, who is probably older than nine in the photograph to your left: Yippee.

I remember, one night after dinner, sitting and typing a first post at the fambly “terminal” — a Gateway available for everyone’s use. Rachel and Ben were coaching me. Rachel suggested what to say and gave me the title Orange Crate Art. Such angst I had.

Deciding to write in these pages is one of the best choices I have ever made: it’s opened worlds to me and has made the work of writing a daily or nearly daily pleasure. The “post” — a form that can hold content of any sort, any size — has become for me a highly congenial environment, the best possible form to accommodate everyday attention and curiosity.

Orange Crate Art, like so many nine-year-olds, is becoming more independent, but it still relies on me for every post, or almost every post. And it relies on you too, reader. To everyone reading: thank you.

The two guest-posts
Rachel Leddy’s tips for success in college
Stefan Hagemann’s advice on answering a question in class

[That’s Jon Provost as Timmy. He and Lassie loomed large in my childhood.]

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Another Big Lots tea find

Now, perhaps, at a Big Lots near you: Thompson’s Irish Breakfast tea, $3.50 for eighty bags.

Thompson’s must be the maltiest Irish Breakfast I’ve ever tasted. Big Lots continues to bring my oikos new and surprising possibilities in tea.

Other Big Lots tea finds
Barry’s Irish Breakfast and PG Tips : Good Strong Tea and Hedley’s : Typhoo : Typhoo and Wissotzky

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sherwin Cody wants to know

[Popular Mechanics, February 1942.]

If you suspect that Sherwin Cody stepped out of the nineteenth century to ask this question: yes, he did. And he asked it again and again and again, with great success, enough even to be in Wikipedia.


11:18 a.m.: From an earlier, lengthier Sherwin Cody advertisement (Popular Mechanics, October 1930):

Many people say “Did you hear from him today?” They should say “Have you heard from him today?”
Uh-oh, I’m in trouble.

Falling in love with words

I have an abiding and foolish affection for old mass-market paperbacks that promise to improve one’s vocabulary or writing. No doubt such books play upon a reader’s sense of intellectual and social inferiority. (Is your vocabulary holding you back?) Still, I like the idea that the ordinary citizen, long out of school, might step into a candy-cigarettes-newspapers store, walk over to the paperback rack, and pick out a book to become a better reader or speaker or writer. That effort seems to me a happy blend of self-knowledge, humility, and optimism.

Here is a wonderful passage from one such book, Wilfred Funk and Norman Lewis’s 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary. It was published by Funk & Wagnalls in 1942, became a Pocket Book paperback in 1949, and went through sixty-one printings before a 1971 revision. My copy, which my son Ben found for me, is from 1971:

From now on we want you to look at words intently, to be inordinately curious about them and to examine them syllable by syllable, letter by letter. They are your tools of understanding and self-expression. Collect them. Keep them in condition. Learn how to handle them. Develop a fastidious, but not a fussy, choice. Work always toward good taste in their use. Train your ear for their harmonies.

We urge you not to take words for granted just because they have been part of your daily speech since childhood. You must examine them. Turn them over and over as though you were handling a coin, and see the seal and superscription on each one. We would like you actually to fall in love with words.
Consider it done. Thanks, Ben.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to improve writing (no. 45)

The opening sentence of a New York Times obituary:

Robert R. Taylor, a serial entrepreneur who popularized hand soap from a pump, gambling $12 million to prevent competitors from duplicating it, and fragrances like “Obsession,” which he advertised with artful eroticism, died on Aug. 29 in Newport Beach, Calif.
To my eyes, the writer has crammed too many bits of information into one sentence — a problem one sees again and again in news writing. Notice especially how long it takes to travel from soap to “Obsession.” The abbreviated Aug. and Calif. (house style, I know) end up looking absurd when a sentence makes room for so much else.

A better start:
Robert R. Taylor, a serial entrepreneur who popularized hand soap from a pump and fragrances like “Obsession,” died on August 29 in Newport Beach, California.
Or better still:
Robert R. Taylor, a serial entrepreneur who popularized products as various as liquid soap and the fragrance “Obsession,” died on August 29 in Newport Beach, California.
Or again:
A serial entrepreneur who popularized products as various as liquid soap and the fragrance “Obsession,” Robert R. Taylor died on August 29 in Newport Beach, California.
The missing details can appear in the paragraphs that follow, where they will have a better chance to register.

Related reading
All How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 45 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Shaw’s Southern Belle Crab Cakes

It was the only item of its kind in the freezer case. Do you see what’s wrong? If so, you’re a smarter shopper than I was. But I won’t get fooled again.

If you see what’s wrong, or if you don’t, please leave a comment. I want to keep some mystery in the post itself.

Nora Johnson on falling in love at seventy-one

In The New York Times, Nora Johnson writes about falling in love at the age of seventy-one with an eighty-three-year-old man:

He seemed to have good health, except for a little diabetes. He had a cane and could still walk — a block or so. There were false teeth, identified by a golden stud that appeared at one side of his disarming smile. He had most of his hair. Best of all, when he talked, it was worth listening to.
Johnson is the author of the novel The World of Henry Orient and other works.

A related post
An excerpt from The World of Henry Orient

Beatlemania, flagged

I was typing up a page for a class:

Change Beatlemania? Never.

Find Next? Not happening.

Ignore? Impossible. The screaming!

The Oxford English Dictionary takes care of a definition: “addiction to the Beatles and their characteristics; the frenzied behaviour of their admirers.” Again: the screaming!

Related reading
All Beatles posts (Pinboard)

[I was typing the first paragraph of Colin Fleming’s “1963: The Year the Beatles Found Their Voice” (The Atlantic, June 2013), useful for showing how a writer might create a genuine thesis statement for an essay. But 1963? I can’t agree.]

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11

[Thornton Dial, Looking Out the Windows. 2002. Metal grating, fabric, plastic toys, stuffed animals, rope carpet, wire fencing, carpet scraps, metal, corrugated metal, metal screening, wire, nails, paint cans, Splash Zone compound, enamel, and spray paint on carpet on wood. 100 x 50 x 13 in. Collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.]

In 2011, I posted another Thornton Dial work made in response to the events of September 11, 2001: Interrupting the Morning News.

[Image here. Description here.]

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gum machines, comics, Kubrick, chins

[Henry, September 10, 2013.]

Streetside gum machines live on in the panels of Henry. Every day, this strip offers pictures of the gone world.

And here is a gum machine in a New York City subway station, photographed by Stanley Kubrick for Look. Thanks, Ezra, for passing it on.


To: Henry

From: Michael

Re: Chin

When you grow up, grow a beard.
More gum machines
Henry : Henry : Henry : Perry Mason : Henry

Rachel Toor’s writing tricks

“It’s taken me a long time to feel secure enough to admit to such simple and obvious practices”: Rachel Toor explains what’s in her little bag of writing tricks. The Find command and ugly fonts: especially useful tricks.

A related post
The F word


At Contrapuntalism, Sean announces an astonishing discovery: there really is a Pencildom.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Marxism for the young

Readers under, oh, say, thirty: Do you know who the Marx Brothers are? Have you ever seen a Marx Brothers movie?

If you think that these questions are insulting, please believe that I have good reason to ask. So please, leave a reply in the comments. Thanks.

A small bit of good news

From The New York Times:

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that if President Bashar al-Assad wants to avert an attack on Syria he should hand over all of his chemical weapons within one week. Russia, the Syrian government’s most important backer, quickly welcomed the idea.
The United States has had ample experience of what can happen when limited military engagements, premised on “high confidence,” begin to play out. The choice, to my mind, is not between doing nothing and bombing; the choice is between bombing and seeking alternatives to bombing.

Space cadet

[Messrs. Kramden (Jackie Gleason) and Norton (Art Carney).]

I noticed a fascinating bit of language use in “TV or Not TV,” an episode of The Honeymooners that aired on October 1, 1955. Ralph and Norton have chipped in to buy a television. They disagree of course about what to watch. It’s been nothing but “space shows, westerns, cartoon frolics, and puppet shows,” Ralph says. Indeed, Norton has just been watching Captain Video and His Video Rangers. And Ralph wants to watch a movie. But Norton keeps changing the channel. And Ralph, in exasperation: “Look. Look, you . . . space cadet.”

The Oxford English Dictionary dates space cadet (“a trainee spaceman or spacewoman”) to 1948 and dates other meanings of the term (“a person regarded as out of touch with reality, esp. (as if) as a result of taking drugs; a person prone to flights of fancy or irrational or strange behaviour”) to 1973. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate dates such meanings (“a flaky, lightheaded, or forgetful person”) to 1979. But here from 1955 is a use of space cadet that seems to convey such meanings perfectly. As Ralph points out again and again, Norton is a maniac, a nut. From “Something Fishy” (December 17, 1955): “The only thing out of order here is your head.”

But then again it may be my head that’s out of order, and that I’m hearing more in Ralph’s words than they could have meant in 1955. What complicates matters is another 1950s television series, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. In 1955, calling Norton a space cadet may have been no worse than calling him a Junior G-Man or a Mouseketeer. The insult might speak only to Norton’s delight in children’s fare, not to a lack of contact with reality.

Elaine wondered if this episode of The Honeymooners, playing through the years in reruns, might have kept space cadet alive as an insult and played a part in the term’s later meanings.

And now we blast off for Pluto and the moon.

Related reading
All Honeymooners posts (Pinboard)

[The trick by which Ralph gets the television in his apartment is always worth a try: “Head I win, tails you lose.”]

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A very special guest (TNYT)

Had I looked at my stats more carefully, I would have realized that something was up: The New York Times has an obituary today for typewriter repairman Manson H. Whitlock.

I am amused that someone from our newspaper of record should be stopping by here in the course of work. O seasoned, trained gatekeeper, if I knew you were comin’ I’d’ve baked a cake.

If the cake puzzles you, here’s the explanation.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

No pioneer!

The New York Times crossword puzzle appears in syndication five weeks after publication in the Times. My blog stats today suggest that August 3’s 46-Down baffled many solvers. The clue: “Cool jazz pioneer.” The answer: TORME.

Mel Tormé was many things — a singer, a songwriter, a drummer, a pianist, an actor, a writer — but he was not a cool jazz pioneer. My August 3 post, popular today, suggests how the puzzle may have come to include this far-fetched characterization.

[Post title with apologies to Willa Cather and Walt Whitman.]

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, September 7, 2013.]

The workers at Hi-Lo Amalgamated must have had great fun coming up with that “edgy” band name. I think they had so much fun that they forgot how car and driveway go together: like so.

Related reading
All Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Salinger review

A. O. Scott reviews the documentary film Salinger (dir. Shane Salerno) for The New York Times:

It does not so much explore the life and times of J. D. Salinger as run his memory and legacy through a spin cycle of hype. Salinger moved to the woods of New Hampshire partly to escape the intrusions and indignities of American celebrity culture. Salinger is that culture’s revenge.
It sounds dreadful. The biography, on its way to my door, sounds dreadful too. But to borrow a memorable line from John Williams’s novel Stoner : What did you expect?

Related reading
All J. D. Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

At State and Lake (Route 66 ) Now with an e-mail from the daughter of the man who owned the State & Lake Fruit and Nut Shop, seen for a fleeting moment in a 1962 episode of Route 66.

The Internet will always amaze me.

A thought about writing

From Wilson Follett:

Wherever we can make twenty-five words do the work of fifty, we halve the area in which looseness and disorganization can flourish, and by reducing the span of attention required we increase the force of the thought. To make our words count for as much as possible is surely the simplest as well as the hardest secret of style. Its difficulty consists in the ceaseless pursuit of the thousand ways of rectifying our mistakes, eliminating our inaccuracies, and replacing our falsities — in a word, editing our prose.

Modern American Usage (1966)
I like that near-rhyme: “the force of the thought.”

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Borges manuscript found

Found, in Argentina’s National Library, an unpublished bit of writing by Jorge Luis Borges, an alternate ending for the 1944 story “Tema del traidor y del heroe” [Theme of the traitor and the hero]. The Latin American Herald Tribune offers this speculation:

Borges may have planned for the manuscript to be discovered, since in “Tema del traidor and del heroe” the protagonist’s great-grandson discovers a handwritten article in the National Library’s archives.
Well, no. The great-grandson himself, a man named Ryan, is the protagonist and the narrator of the story whose plot the narrator of “Tema del traidor y del heroe” describes. Ryan finds a manuscript in “the archives,” but Borges’s story does not say where they are located.

Still, I like the speculation.

[The story appears in translation in Labyrinths (1962) and Collected Fictions (1999). I missed hearing Borges read at Columbia University in April 1980, during a New York City transit strike, and I’ve never forgiven myself for not at least trying to get there.]

King’s Row, wet ink

[Parris Mitchell (Robert Cummings) writes home. Click on any image for a larger view.]

My dad has told me again and again that I should see King’s Row (dir. Sam Wood, 1942). I finally did. It’s a terrific film. That Ronald Reagan is one of its stars was no recommendation to me, but the principal players — Cummings, Betty Field, Claude Rains, Reagan, Ann Sheridan — are uniformly excellent. Another star of this film: James Wong Howe’s cinematography. King’s Row is one of the most luminous films I’ve seen. Look at the glistening ink above.

There’s a moment in King’s Row in which Howe pays tribute to fellow deep-focus stylist Gregg Toland. Here, from Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles, 1941), is Susan Alexander’s bedroom, foreground, middle ground, and background all in focus:

And here, from King’s Row , is Parris’s grandmother’s bedroom:

And now I want to see Transatlantic (dir. William K. Howard, 1931), Howe’s early effort in deep focus.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A deportee memorial

Sixty-five years later, there is a memorial for those who died in the 1948 plane crash that inspired Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” and whose names are now, all, known. In articles on the Labor Day dedication of the memorial, neither the Los Angeles Times nor The New York Times reported those names. The Los Angeles Times did include the names in an article earlier this summer:

Miguel Negrete Álvarez, Tomás Aviña de Gracia, Francisco Llamas Durán, Santiago García Elizondo, Rosalio Padilla Estrada, Tomás Padilla Márquez, Bernabé López Garcia, Salvador Sandoval Hernández, Severo Medina Lára, Elías Trujillo Macias, José Rodriguez Macias, Luis López Medina, Manuel Calderón Merino, Luis Cuevas Miranda, Martin Razo Navarro, Ignacio Pérez Navarro, Román Ochoa Ochoa, Ramón Paredes Gonzalez, Guadalupe Ramírez Lára, Apolonio Ramírez Placencia, Alberto Carlos Raygoza, Guadalupe Hernández Rodríguez, Maria Santana Rodríguez, Juan Valenzuela Ruiz, Wenceslao Flores Ruiz, José Valdívia Sánchez, Jesús Meza Santos, Baldomero Marcas Torres.
There’s much more about the crash and the memorial on this page from KNXT-TV.

If you’ve never heard “Deportee,” or if you have, here’s a version by Arlo Guthrie and Emmylou Harris. Words by Woody Guthrie, music by Martin Hoffman.

Just wondering: how long can a Blogger post title run? I mean, at what point does Blogger just shorten what’s there into something more manageable? Or does Blogger not do that? If it doesn’t, a title could conceivably go on for the length of a screen, or more. Which makes me wonder whether anyone has tried to work out an answer to this question. To do so, you’d have to type and post a really, really long title. You’d have to have some genuine content to it; otherwise, you’d just be running at the mouth — or the fingers — to see how long, or how far, things can go. Such an exercise would be in some way pointless, and yet it might be the only way to answer the question. Of course, any garden-variety advice on making post titles runs counter to the spirit of this inquiry: the usual advice is to make things short, so as to “grab” the attention of readers and make it easier for them to “share” what you’ve written. But, I mean, come on: a short title may be nothing more than merely calculating and predictable, built from “key words” to maximize search-engine attention. OED! Squee! Twerk! And sharing a post with a long title takes no great effort: the words weigh next to nothing, and the URL will exclude all but a fraction of the post’s title. At any rate, I’m not convinced that a short post title is the “key” to anything. I’m still not sure though how long Blogger will let a post title run.

But I think I’ve answered the question to my satisfaction.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Funny because it’s true

This could be my house. Yours too?

A vocabulary quiz

From Bryan Garner, a “20-question vocabulary exam based on Johnson O’Connor’s 1948 book English Vocabulary Builder.”

[I think I should get partial credit for no. 18.]

Nine questions about Syria

From The Washington Post: Nine questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask. The tone is sometimes horribly off (“Oh man, it gets so much worse”), but this beginnerly Q. and A. might be useful.

[WaPo, can’t your writers write for younger readers without patronizing them?]

From the -wise world

Thinking they saw criminals, Beaver and Gilbert called the cops, pretending to be Ward Cleaver. But the criminals were only Lumpy Rutherford and a pal, masked for a costume party. Indignant Fred Rutherford calls the Cleaver residence to vent:

“Ward, this comes as quite a blow to me, friendship-wise.”

In 1962, that line would have struck an alert viewer as obviously funny, an acknowledgement of -wise on the rise. The Elements of Style mocked the suffix; Life mocked it; Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond mocked it.

And now? Garner’s Modern American Usage allows for useful neologisms (taxwise ) and playful constructions but cautions:

Generally, avoid -wise words or compounds when the suffix means “regarding” or some other frame of reference. They typically displace a more direct wording, and they’re invariably graceless and inelegant.
That’s wise -wise advice.

Related posts
“They’re opinion-wise”
-wise wise

[From the Leave It to Beaver episode “Beaver’s Long Night,” February 3, 1962.]

Monday, September 2, 2013

Murray Gershenz (1922–2013)

Murray Gershenz, the used-record dealer known as Music Man Murray, has died at the age of ninety-one. From the Los Angeles Times obituary:

The store attracted entertainers like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and B. B. King looking for their own earlier work, as well as ordinary lovers of hard-to-find music, such as Richard Parks, who made a documentary about Gershenz and his records.

“I started collecting old hillbilly music in high school and Music Man Murray was on the list of places you had to go to find that kind of stuff,” said Parks, whose Music Man Murray came out in 2012. “He was the godfather of the used-record store.”
Here is the film’s website.

[Found via Van Dyke Parks’s Twitter.]

FeedBurner FeedBlitz FeedBurner

After a two-day dalliance with FeedBlitz, I am again using FeedBurner to feed the Orange Crate Art feed to feed readers. Why? I found that FeedBlitz returns the same up-and-down stats as FeedBurner. FeedBlitz is not to blame: the source of the problem is the flickering ghost of Google Reader. But I can’t see paying a monthly fee when I can get flaky numbers for free.

If you want to read Orange Crate Art in a reader, subscribe via FeedBurner. That’s the link.

Zinsser on work

William Zinsser on the work of writing and other kinds of work:

I’ve never defined myself as a writer, or, God forbid, an author. I’m a person — someone who goes to work every morning, like the plumber or the television repairman, and who goes home at the end of the day to think about other things. . . .

It may seem perverse that I compare my writing to plumbing, an occupation not regarded as high-end. But to me all work is equally honorable, all crafts an astonishment when they are performed with skill and self-respect. Just as I go to work every day with my tools, which are words, the plumber arrives with his kit of wrenches and washers, and afterward the pipes have been so adroitly fitted together that they don’t leak. I don’t want any of my sentences to leak. The fact that someone can make water come out of the faucet on the 10th floor strikes me as a feat no less remarkable than the construction of a clear declarative sentence.

“Life and Work: Why Plumbers Are Good Role Models for Writers,” in The Writer Who Stayed (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2012).
Related posts
Crocodile (With our plumber’s wisdom)
William Zinsser, listening
William Zinsser, writing advice

Labor Day

[“Warehouse worker wheeling colorfully printed flour sacks which housewives use to make dresses because the labels wash out, at Sunbonnet Sue flour mill.” Photograph by Margaret Bourke-White. Kansas, 1939. From the Life Photo Archive.]

Previous Labor Day posts
2010 : 2011 : 2012