Friday, January 31, 2014

Making it work

From a New York Times interview with Elaine Stritch:

Now that you’ve been settled in Michigan for almost a year, do you find yourself missing New York?

No, I don’t miss places. I really don’t. I get up in the morning, the sun is out, I’m a happy clam. I’m not unhappy because I’m not in this bedroom or that bedroom, or this living room or that living room. I’m going to make it work wherever I go.
I like her perspective.

Three for one

The folkloric measure of college coursework: two to three hours for each hour in class. This measure does not apply in all cases: Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa recently found that an average student spends twelve hours a week studying, and that thirty-seven percent of students spend less than five. Thus it’s of more than passing interest to know that a two-for-one recommendation appears in federal guidelines for a credit hour, which state that a credit hour “reasonably approximates not less than”

(1) One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit, or ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time; or

(2) At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours.
Professors who don’t require students to do a reasonable amount of work conspire with their students in the creation of the vast simulacrum that I call “colledge.” Such professors make life more difficult for the rest of us.

Related reading
Program Integrity Issues; Final Rule (U.S. Department of Education)
OCA review of Academically Adrift

[The federal gummint appears to be short on hyphens, no?]

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Writing and belief

As a writer, what do you believe in?

I believe in black ink, yellow legal pads, Castell 9000s, Mongols, Ticonderogas, wooden pencils in general, mechanical pencils in general, erasers in general, Pelikans, Safaris, Uni-ball Signos, the T-Ball Jotter, index cards, Post-it Notes, pocket notebooks (Field Notes, IBM Think pads, Moleskines), a larger notebook that my daughter gave me (Moleskine), PocketMods, nvALT, Simplenote, TextWrangler, WriteRoom.

But also: any available paper, any available Bic.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


How like Arts & Letters Daily to take no notice of Pete Seeger’s death. (I didn’t think they would.)

Inequality v. disparity

The phrase income inequality — a phrase not in the State of the Union address, but a phrase that is everywhere in commentary on that address — makes me uneasy. In a capitalist economy, what could be the alternative to income inequality? People earn more or less, for many reasons. And indeed, some of those reasons are a matter of injustices woven deep into American life. But income, unlike rights, cannot be distributed equally to all.

Equal pay for equal work? Of course. But the phrase income inequality points to a larger matter: the great gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else. The problem there is not income inequality: it is income disparity.

A related post
Income disparity in higher ed

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger (1919–2014)

[“Pete’s banjo head.” Photograph of Pete Seeger’s banjo by Tom Davis (tcd123usa), via Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons License.]

The New York Times has an obituary.

Pete Seeger was the first musician I saw in concert. I was all of twelve: my dad took me on a Monday night, all the way from New Jersey to Queens. Years later I heard Pete Seeger sing from the porch of a house in Little Compton, Rhode Island.

Here’s a Joe Brainard-like post from 2009, when Pete Seeger turned ninety.

Thanks, Tom, for sharing your photograph. Thanks, Dad, for taking me to the Bronx. Thanks, Pete, for opening a world of music to me.

Related reading
All OCA Pete Seeger posts (Pinboard)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Naked City mystery guests

[From the Naked City episode “Sweet Prince of Delancey Street,” June 7, 1961.]

Can you identify the actors? One is making his first screen appearance.

“Sweet Prince of Delancey Street” appears as no. 93 on a 1997 TV Guide list of the hundred best television episodes, the only Naked City episode on the list. It’s a great episode, a variation on Hamlet that begins on a terrifying and disorienting note. But there are other Naked City episodes just as good. In truth, there are few episodes of Naked City that are less than compelling.

Making my way through the four seasons of the series confirms for me the Swiss-cheesiness of Steven Berlin Johnson’s claim that television past required little if any “intellectual labor” from a viewer. A Naked City episode (say, “The Deadly Guinea Pig”) can leave its viewer trying to figure out for twenty or thirty minutes what’s going on. Or, as at the end of the episode “The One Marked Hot Gives Cold,” what happened.

Related reading
All Naked City posts (Pinboard)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Income disparity in higher ed

Daughter Number Three has a thoughtful post on income disparity: How Much Is Too Much? Her recommendation: 30:1. In other words, the highest-paid employee in a company should earn no more than thirty times what the lowest-paid employee earns. Peter Drucker’s recommended ratio was lower still: 20:1.

I thought it would be instructive to see how these ratios might work in a college setting. The highest-paid employee at some schools is of course not the president but the football coach. In December 2013, Forbes named the University of Alabama’s Nick Saban as the highest-paid college coach in the country, earning $5.4 million this season. A contract extension is about to bring him more than $7 million per season. Let’s call it an even $7 million.

With a 30:1 ratio, the lowest-paid employee at the University of Alabama would earn a yearly income of $233,333. With a 20:1 ratio, $350,000. Given a forty-hour week, a 20:1 ratio translates to an hourly wage of $168. Plausible? No. But neither, to my mind, is the coach’s salary.

The Adjunct Project reports adjuncts at Alabama earning $2,500 to $5,000 per course. If the lowest-paid full-time adjunct at Alabama earns $20,000 a year, the high-to-low ratio is 350:1. (And service workers likely earn less.) Something is rotten — and not just in Tuscaloosa.

[I became interested in Peter Drucker’s work after reading his Managing Oneself. There’s an excerpt in this post. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that in 2011, Robert J. Zimmer of the University of Chicago was the highest-paid college president. Total compensation: $3,358,723.]

A Homeric Faulkner simile

It’s in As I Lay Dying (1930). “Really a Homeric simile,” says my note in the margin. Darl Bundren is the narrator:

A feather dropped near the front door will rise and brush along the ceiling, slanting backward, until it reaches the down-turning current at the back door: so with voices. As you enter the hall, they sound as though they were speaking out of the air about your head.
It’s fitting that a Homeric simile should appear in this novel. As the 1990 Vintage edition of the novel notes,
When asked about source of his title, Faulkner would sometimes quote from memory the speech of Agamemnon to Odysseus in the Odyssey, Book XI: “ As I lay dying the woman with the dog’s eyes would not close my eyes for me as I descended into Hades.”
The woman is Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra. I’m unable to find a translation that matches Faulkner’s.

[Homeric simile, or epic simile: an extended comparison. It presents the unfamiliar (actions and things from days of old, the epic past) in familiar terms: a fallen warrior likened, say, to a young tree swiftly cut down. Homer’s similes invoke the world of the farm, the countryside, everyday realities. They are occasions for the poet to show his stuff: a student of mine (whose name I wish I could remember) once likened them to guitar solos.]

Thursday, January 23, 2014

National Handwriting Day

[Some of mine.]

Handwriting’s day has not yet passed: I believe in “the scrawl,” as E. B. White called it. Happy National Handwriting Day.

Related reading
All handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Five more punctuation marks in literature

Following yesterday’s post on punctuation marks in literature, five more, in order of increasing favoritism:

5. The forward slash (or solidus) that takes the place of the apostrophe in Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn: “I/ll see ya tomorrow.”

4. The apostrophes in line nine of William Shakespeare’s sonnet 116: “Love’s not time’s fool,” even if one of them is a later addition. The 1609 Quarto: “Lou’s not Times foole.”

3. The ellipsis that marks silences in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest:


‘. . .’

‘Hey Hal?’
4. The exclamation point that ends Rae Armantrout’s “Dusk”: “I’m not like that!”

5. The comma in the final line of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 6: “And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die.” Or rather, that comma — not semicolon — as it figures in Margaret Edson’s play Wit. See here.

My top ten, in order of increasing favoritism: Selby, Shakespeare, Pound, Faulkner, Wallace, Joyce, Armantrout, Dickinson, Sterne, Edson.

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)

[I’m aware of the charge that the apostrophe is a matter of spelling not punctuation. But I still think of it as punctuation. I’ve read somewhere that Wallace picked up the ellipsis from Manuel Puig. The Playbill for Wit read W;t: a beautiful touch of you-know-what.]

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Five punctuation marks in literature

Circulating on the Internets: Kathryn Schulz’s list of the five best punctuation marks in literature. It prompts me to make my own (Anglo-American-centric) list of favorites. I can’t claim “best.” But in order of increasing favor:

5. The colon that ends Canto I of Ezra Pound’s The Cantos: “So that:” Later used to end the first sentence of William Faulkner’s The Reivers: “Grandfather said:” And the rest follows.

4. The semicolons that end paragraphs in William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun:

The courthouse is less old than the town, which began somewhere under the turn of the century as a Chickasaw Agency trading-post and so continued for almost thirty years before it discovered, not that it lacked a depository for its records and certainly not that it needed one, but that only by creating or anyway decreeing one, could it cope with a situation which otherwise was going to cost somebody money;
3. The period that ends the “Ithaca” episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses:

2. Emily Dickinson’s dashes, any one or more of them: “Are you — Nobody — too?”

1. The long dashes in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, which I can only approximate here:
L--d! said my mother, what is all this story about?——

A COCK and a BULL, said Yorick —— And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard.
Reader, what are your favorite punctuation marks in literature?


I wrote a second post with five more.

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)

Telephone exchange names on screen

[From the Naked City episode “A Kettle of Precious Fish,” May 31, 1961. Click for a larger view.]

The precious fish are men held for ransom on a boat. The last column holds the price for each man, exactly half of what’s in the bank. Possible exchange names: ACademy, CApital, CAstle, CIrcle; STate, STerling, STillwell, STory; WIlliam(s), WIlson, WIndsor. These names may all found in a list of Ma Bell’s Officially Recommended Exchange Names.

Related reading
All Naked City posts (Pinboard)

More exchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : Born Yesterday : The Dark Corner : Deception : Dream House : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Modern Marvels : Murder, My Sweet : My Week with Marilyn : Naked City (1) : Naked City (2) : Naked City (3) : Naked City (4) : Naked City (5) : Nightmare Alley : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Side Street : Sweet Smell of Success : This Gun for Hire

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

“It's not the tool”

Hope, like they say, springs: New Leather-Bound Notebook To Really Unleash Area Woman’s Creativity (The Onion).

The photograph strongly suggests a Moleskine, though Moleskine notebooks are not leather-bound. I like Moleskines, though the mythology that surrounds (or surrounded?) them is a bit much. Further thoughts about legendary notebooks and creativity in this post and comment thread.

As Taking Note has observed, “It’s not the tool, stupid.”

Related reading
All Moleskine posts (Pinboard)

“Mistakes were made”

Roy Peter Clark on Chris Christie and the passive voice: How grammar helps craft governor’s image (The Record).

[The Record is the New Jersey newspaper that first reported on the Christie-Fort Lee story.]

Adam Gopnik on Duke Ellington

Ellington was a dance-band impresario who played no better than O.K. piano, got trapped for years playing “jungle music” in gangster nightclubs, and at his height produced mostly tinny, brief recordings.
Sounds like an Amazon troll, but it’s Adam Gopnik, writing about Duke Ellington in The New Yorker (December 23 and 30, 2013). This summary of Ellington’s accomplishments (followed by words of praise) suggests a writer who doesn’t understand Ellington’s accomplishments — as the leader of a highly idiosyncratic ensemble, as an instrumentalist, as a composer, as an early master of the recording studio. Though “tinny” might make sense if Gopnik’s experience of early Ellington is limited to major-label digital remastering.

And that’s the problem: Gopnik’s understanding of his subjects — Ellington and jazz — is limited. That’s a polite way of saying that Gopnik doesn’t know what he’s writing about.

Concerning Louis Armstrong:
He was not just a genius but an irresistible lion. Even the old complaints about his having sold out no longer seem credible: he simply went from making most of the best jazz records ever made to making some of best pop records.
“Most of the best jazz records ever made”: really? What’s glaringly wrong here though is the claim that Armstrong was charged with selling out. The surprise success of “Hello, Dolly!” was, if anything, a cause for celebration among those devoted to pre-rock-and-roll styles of music. (Armstrong dethroned the Beatles.) The real complaint about Armstrong (utterly mistaken, to my mind) was that he was an Uncle Tom, smiling and servile.

Concerning Ellington’s musicians:
The individual players he employed weren’t up-to-date urban players but, often, less sophisticated New Orleans musicians, whose great gift was a distinctly human tone, often achieved with the use of homemade mutes and plungers.
Ahh, primitivism. This claim is, by any measure, false. I can think offhand of just two New Orleans Ellingtonians: Barney Bigard (clarinet) and Wellman Braud (bass), both consummate musicians. Bubber Miley (cornet and trumpet) and Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton (trombone), whose mute and plunger styles were crucial parts of Ellington’s “jungle” sound, were from South Carolina and New York.

Concerning Billy Strayhorn’s contributions:
It’s long been known by fans that many of the most famous “Ellington” numbers are really the arranger Billy Strayhorn’s, including “Take the A Train” and “Chelsea Bridge.”
Strayhorn was a composer and co-composer. Ellington referred to him as his “writing and arranging companion.” The implication here is that knowledge of Strayhorn’s authorship was inside information. That’s nonsense. There are countless live recordings in which Ellington says something along these lines: “And now our theme, Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Take the “A” Train.’” And the A takes quotation marks.

Concerning the way in which Ellington musicians may have created phrases that became material for Ellington compositions:
What [the alto saxophonist] Johnny Hodges was doing in making those new melodies may have been more like the copying errors in ceaseless cell fission than like premeditated decision: as he set to playing the same chord changes over and over, night after night, a lucky error in a note may, one night, have touched another and become an innovation.
Well, Johnny Hodges didn’t make mistakes. But also: I doubt that any improvising musician would recognize in Gopnik’s imaginings a description of how improvisation and composition work.

It’s sad to see such ill-informed writing about music in the magazine that once gave Whitney Balliett a home.

Related reading
All OCA Duke Ellington posts (Pinboard)
Two Bands (The bit of Gopnik’s piece that’s not behind the New Yorker paywall)

[I haven’t yet read Terry Teachout’s Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington, the book that Gopnik is reviewing. The pages of Duke I’ve sampled in Google Books read like a pastiche of previous writing on Ellington. I am happy though to see Ellington holding a Mongol pencil on the book’s cover.]

From the local news

Rewriting history on the television this morning: “Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”

The fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom, the occasion of that speech, was August 28, 2013.

Related reading
Also from the local news
Also from the local news

Monday, January 20, 2014

Google, auto-enhancing images

[Peanuts, January 1, 1994, with “Auto Enhance” off and on. Makes whites greyer!]

I noticed a strange development a few months ago: images in new OCA posts did not match the originals in color. The problem was especially noticeable with white backgrounds, which turned dingy grey. The changed colors are the result of a Google feature (not bug!) called “Auto Enhance,” and auto-enhance (as I will call it) can be turned off only in Google+. In other words, one must sign up for Google+ to undo changes to photographs uploaded to Blogger (and stored in Google’s Picasa Web Albums).

I have no interest in Google+, and at some point I realized that auto-enhance affected only JPEGs, not PNGs. So I began uploading only PNGs. But yesterday a PNG came out with a sepia tint. I tried getting the image into a post via Flickr — doable but kinda cumbersome. So I reached for a cliché, gritted my teeth, signed up for Google+, and turned off auto-enhance.

The good news: you can delete a Google+ profile and auto-enhance will remain off. At least so far. My mantra: Sign up. Turn off. Drop out.

Note that deleting a Google+ profile does not mean deleting a Google Account. Google blurs the distinction by referring to a Google+ profile as “your entire Google profile.” To delete “your entire Google profile” sounds pretty drastic. But “your entire Google profile” is your Google+ profile. Deleting a Google+ profile deletes a Google+ profile.

Some relevant reading
Delete my Google+ profile (Google Support)
How to disable auto enhance (Picasa Resources)
Stop Google from “fixing” pictures that are loaded through Blogger (Blogger Hints and Tips)


[“Martin Luther King Jr. (L) greeting demonstrators at the Prayer Pilgrimage.” Photograph by Paul Schutzer. Washington, D.C., 1957. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

From Standford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute:

On 17 May 1957, nearly 25,000 demonstrators gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., for a Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, featuring three hours of spirituals, songs, and speeches that urged the federal government to fulfill the three-year-old Brown v. Board of Education decision. The last speech of the day was reserved for Martin Luther King’s “Give Us the Ballot” oration, which captured public attention and placed him in the national spotlight as a major leader of the civil rights movement.
The text of the speech is here. It makes for interesting reading in a time of increased efforts to suppress voting.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The compleaten angler

From the local news: “A festival in east-central Illinois will soon show off its best anglers and explain why it’s important to eat them.”

Thank you, local news.

Related reading
Also from the local news

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A joke in the traditional manner

Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies?

No spoilers. The answer is in the comments.

Related jokes
Santa Claus : Samuel Clemens : Hardy Mums : Bela Lugosi

[“In the traditional manner” means à la my dad.]

Friday, January 17, 2014

Ph.D. debt

“A new crowdsourcing project provides an eye-opening glimpse into the hefty amounts of debt some graduate students take on to pay for their education and how hopeless many of them feel about their prospects for repaying it”: The Cost of a Ph.D. (The Chronicle of Higher Education). The project, in the form of a Google spreadsheet, is here: Ph.D. Debt Survey. It’s a sorrowful thing to read.

Something I said in a post last October: “Borrowing any amount of money to finance graduate work in the humanities is folly.” William Pannapacker’s advice about graduate work in the humanities is simpler: “Just don’t go” — unless you are well-heeled or well-connected or supported by a partner or are earning a credential and your employer is paying. Hard times here and everywhere you go. Times is harder than ever been before.

Winter, ookyook

Winter is ukiuq, or ookyook. Remember ookyook?

“One could have Timofey televised”

[Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin (1957).]

Nabokov seems to have imagined — if only as a horrible pipedream — the end of the classroom and the rise of something MOOC-like. Phonograph records and televisions for all!

Related reading
All Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, January 16, 2014


The January/February Atlantic asks a question: “What party would you most like to have attended?”

I am not a party person. But I would like to have attended the party given by Timofey Pnin in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pnin (1957). Partly to see Pnin (a mensch among men), partly to sample Pnin’s Punch (“a heady mixture of chilled Chateau Yquem, grapefruit juice, and maraschino”), partly to hear the dowdy conversation (“This beverage is certainly delicious”), partly to take in Nabokov’s satiric picture of life in a New England college town. I would volunteer to stay late and help Pnin with the dishes.

At the risk of repeating The Atlantic and myself: What party would you most like to have attended?

[Sad: The Atlantic asked this question of its readers on December 22 and has had one response. So I think it’s fine to ask the question here.]

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Word of the day: chinoiserie

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

chinoiserie \sheen-wah-zuh-REE\ noun
: a style in art (as in decoration) reflecting Chinese qualities or motifs; also : an object or decoration in this style
This word always makes me think of Duke Ellington: the Ellington-Strayhorn adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker turns the “Chinese Dance” into “Chinoiserie.” And The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971) begins with Ellington’s own “Chinoiserie,” a feature for the tenor saxophonist Harold Ashby. Here is the studio recording and, even better, a performance from a 1973 concert. That concert, released as Rugged Jungle (Lost Secret, 2003) is ample evidence that even in its last days, the Ellington band could be a force of nature.

Domestic comedy

“Let’s get Kleenex. It’s a name I’ve grown to trust.”

Cf. Einbinder Flypaper.

Related reading
All domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)


[“Coin operating coffee machine with 4 possible mixtures, each selling for five cents.” Photograph by Wallace Kirkland. February 1947. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

Why piping hot? “Because of the whistling sound made by very hot liquid or food,” says the Oxford English Dictionary. Its first citation is Chaucer’s “Miller’s Tale” (c. 1390):

He sente hir pyment meeth and spiced ale
And wafres pipyng hoot out of the glede.
In other words:
He sent her honeyed wine, mead, and spiced ale,
And cakes, piping hot out of the fire.
Also some coffee with cream and sugar, piping hot out of the machine.

[The OED gives pipinge and pipeinge as v.rr., variant readings, for pipyng. The ersatz Chaucer is mine.]

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

“[I]t made me to weep with delight”

From a spam comment left for my post on how to e-mail a professor:

I precisely needed to appreciate you all over again. I’m not certain what I might have sorted out without those pointers provided by you on this subject. Previously it was a frightful dilemma for me personally, but taking a look at the very specialized strategy you processed it made me to weep for delight. I am grateful for the information and even pray you comprehend what a great job you happen to be providing training some other people through your blog post. Most probably you’ve never got to know any of us.
No, because I never click on the skeevy URLs that end such comments.

A Google search for “a frightful dilemma for me personally” returns 28,600 results, with many variations:
It had been a frightful dilemma for me personally, however, being able to see this specialized mode you handled it forced me to weep for gladness.

It previously was a frightful dilemma for me personally, but noticing the very skilled avenue you resolved it made me to leap for gladness.

It previously was a frightful dilemma for me personally, however, taking note of a new expert mode you managed the issue made me to leap over contentment.

It was a frightful dilemma for me personally, however, understanding the specialised manner you solved the issue made me to jump for joy.
I cannot claim to jump for joy (or leap over contentment), but I do I take perverse pleasure in reading such stuff before deleting. O brave new world, that has such spammers in it.

Related reading
All spam-themed posts (Pinboard)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Pocket notebook sighting (Naked City)

[Detective Adam Flint (Paul Burke) and notebook. From the Naked City episode “Vengeance Is a Wheel” (March 15, 1961). Click for a larger view.]

Pocket notebooks are everywhere in Naked City. In a scene that now looks slightly comic, one police officer reads out license-plate numbers and a dozen others dutifully copy into their notebooks. But this notebook is ready for its close-up. The short word must be and, but I’m at a loss about the rest. Any guesses?

Related reading
All Naked City posts (Pinboard)

And more notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Cat People : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Extras : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The House on 92nd Street : The Lodger : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station : The Woman in the Window

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Outside Llewyn Davis

Elaine and I saw the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis yesterday. I thought more of it than she did (and still do), but the more we talked about the film, the less I liked it.

The film’s title is unmistakably ironic: Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) remains a cipher. How someone utterly insensate in his relationships can sing and play with such feeling is a question that the film leaves unexplored. Even in his devotion to music, Davis is unfathomable. What he hears in (so-called) folk music, how he found his way to it: we never know. There’s not one conversation about music, not one mention of the rural sources of the songs Davis and fellow urbanites are now making their own. The only character I can recall who speaks of music as music (and not as a business) is Roland Turner (John Goodman), a jazz musician whose monologue touches on the difference between music that uses the chromatic scale and music that uses three chords. He’s a more interesting cipher than Davis.

What Inside Llewyn Davis offers is stuff to look at: well-kempt beards, browline eyeglasses, Gibson guitars, corduroy jackets, and crepe-soled shoes. I had hoped to do more than look at. But being kept on the outside looking at the outside seems a given with the Coens.

[Are we meant to hear Llewyn Davis’s music as something extraordinary? I think so.]

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Henry drawer

[Henry, January 11, 2014.]

The world of Henry is the world without drawer slides. I like the cartooned version of a dovetail joint (no trapezoids), and I like the orderliness of this room: a spotless carpet, a plant on the dresser, blinds and curtains on the window. Don’t all windows have both?

Henry is looking for a pair of binoculars to take to the movie theater. The picture is The Big Race, with horses.

Related reading
All Henry posts (Pinboard)

[There are also no books on the floor in the Henry world. It is a world without 積ん読 [tsundoku].]

Friday, January 10, 2014

Kurt Vonnegut on hometown jerks

Our friend Seymour Barab sent along a book of Kurt Vonnegut’s letters. How about that? Thank you (again), Seymour!

Here is a passage I especially like, from a Vonnegut letter to two old Indianapolis friends, Mary Jane “Majie” and William “Skip” Failey (June 21, 1982):

No — I will not be there for Vonnegut Week. Any American with common sense knows that if he was a jerk in high school he will be a jerk in his own hometown forever.

Letters, ed. Dan Wakefield (New York: Delacorte, 2012).
Other Vonnegut posts
Advice for high-school students
“[B]eautiful and surprising and deep”
E-mail from Stefan Hagemann
Kurt Vonnegut, Manager
Kurt Vonnegut on English studies

[Seymour Barab and Kurt Vonnegut collaborated on Cosmos Cantata (1995).]

Libby Kingston’s advice

From the Naked City episode “Bullets Cost Too Much” (January 4, 1961), a lovely exchange between Libby Kingston (Nancy Malone) and Adam Flint (Paul Burke):

“Whenever you want to know who you are, don’t ask anybody else. Just ask yourself.”

“Except you.”

“Well, of course, except me.”
This episode stands out for sheer density: numerous plot lines and a cast that includes James (credited as Jimmy) Caan, Frank Campanella, Bruce Dern, Betty Field, Paul Hartman, Al Henderson, Barbara Lord, Johnny Seven, Jean Stapleton, and Dick York. The context for this exchange: Adam has been in the papers, slammed as a “bad cop,” then hailed as a hero.

Related reading
All Naked City posts (Pinboard)

Coming soon from Google


If the Official Gmail Blog is to be believed, anyone using Google+ will soon be able to use Gmail to send e-mail to any other Google+ user. The sender will not need to know the sendee’s e-mail address. Notice the first choice in the drop-down list above.

I never thought that not-have-to-sign-up-for-Google+ would turn into a life goal. Hotmail looks, in retrospect, not bad at all.

[Though I’m forgetting about the years-ago debacle when Microsoft was silently deleting messages from Hotmail’s Sent folder.]

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Recently updated

Grammarly, WhiteSmoke There’s an open-source alternative.

Recently updated

How to be a student a professor will remember (for the right reasons) A reader points out what’s missing from this set of suggestions. Thanks, Steve.

Dr. Scat

[The 4 oz. size. Click for a larger bottle.]

I’ve had this bottle for a long time. I probably bought it at a going-out-of-business office-supply store, long after I stopped using a manual typewriter. I may have been channeling Charlie Brown: “I think it needs me.”

Dr. Scat Typewriter Platen Roll and Type Cleaner is powerful stuff. It is made of ten parts ool-ya-koo, five parts shoo-bitty-oww, and one part zot. Any more zot and the bottle would have exploded by now.

The company that produced this item is no longer known as the Dr. Scat Chemical Company. It’s now the Starkey Chemical Process Company, still in La Grange, Illinois. A page describing the company shows the Dr. Scat name on a brick wall and lists “Dr. Seat” as one of the company’s brands. Oops. Or better make that oopapada.

[This post is the fifteenth in an occasional series, “From the Museum of Supplies.” Supplies is my word, and has become my family’s word, for all manner of stationery items. The museum is imaginary. The supplies are real.]

Other Museum of Supplies exhibits
Dennison’s Gummed Labels No. 27 : Eagle Turquoise display case : Eagle Verithin display case : Faber-Castell Type Cleaner : Fineline erasers : Illinois Central Railroad Pencil : A Mad Men sort of man, sort of : Mongol No. 2 3/8 : Moore Metalhed Tacks : National’s “Fuse-Tex” Skytint : Pedigree Pencil : Real Thin Leads : Rite-Rite Long Leads : Stanley carpenter’s rule

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Recently updated

Farewell, 45 West 53rd The American Folk Art Museum will be demolished after all.

Harvey Pekar on record collecting

“At first, and for a long time, it was a healthy thing to do”: Harvey Pekar on record collecting (YouTube). Art by R. Crumb.

Related reading
All Harvey Pekar posts (Pinboard)

[Found via Mosaic Records.]

Hog Bay Software iOS apps

An e-mail from Jesse Grosjean announces that Hog Bay Software will no longer develop its iOS apps. PlainText, TaskPaper, and WriteRoom for iOS are available this week and will then disappear. PlainText has always been free. TaskPaper and WriteRoom are now free too.

I like WriteRoom for Mac, a lot. It was $24.95 when I bought it, and worth the price. Now it’s $9.99.

From Verlyn Klinkenborg

Three short passages:

Most of the sentences you make will need to be killed.
The rest will need to be fixed.
This will be true for a long time.


Writing requires a high degree of inner alertness.
Especially when things are going wrong.


Finding flaws is how you learn to make better sentences.
Enjoy it.
You can’t prevent yourself from repeating a mistake you haven’t noticed.
You’ll have to read your work many, many times to find all the problems embedded in it.
Even experienced writers have to do this.
Some flaws do a wonderful job of hiding.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, Several Short Sentences About Writing (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).
I could do without the line breaks: they’re not needed, and in a book about writing prose, they seem a wrong choice. (Klinkenborg’s New York Times columns about writing are evidence that paragraphs suffice.) If there are to be line breaks, run-over lines should have indents, no?

Design aside, Several Short Sentences About Writing is one of the wisest and most humane books about writing I’ve read.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Mark Trail and frostbite

[Mark Trail, December 29, 1996.]

Mark Trail is helping the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with tips on preventing and treating frostbite.

I don’t know who’s camping with Mark. Rusty (who became Mark’s adopted son) entered the strip in 1999. Whoever the unidentified companion is, I like his guarded enthusiasm: “sort of fun.” Shoveling snow is sort of fun too. It’s kind of fun, sort of, in a way.

Okay, it’s not really fun. It is not fun at all.

Good fortune to all who must shovel, including me.

Related reading
All Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Chris Chase (Irene Kane)

The actress Chris Chase, who starred in Stanley Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss (1955), died last October. I don’t know how I missed that sad news. The New York Times published an obituary. As did The Hollywood Reporter. Neither obituary mentions the screen role that might have gained Chase more views than any other — as host of the public-television broadcasts of the 1972 Fischer-Spassky chess match. Chase introduced each broadcast, and her beauty and pizzazz made a wonderful contrast to the dorky all-male doings that followed.

Chase also appeared in two episodes of Naked City. As in Kubrick’s film, she was credited as Irene Kane.

Related posts
Naked City Mongol (Irene Kane and a pencil)
Scriptos in Times Square (from Killer’s Kiss)

Failure v. non-success

From the Naked City episode “A Succession of Heartbeats” (October 26, 1960), spoken by Andy Brent (played by Frank Overton):

“All my life I just missed. Always one step short of success. Not so much a failure as a non-success. You can learn to live with failure — most people do. It’s a lot rougher living with non-success.”
Nobody writes them like Stirling Silliphant.

Related reading
All Naked City posts (Pinboard)

Monday, January 6, 2014

In our little house on the prairie

How odd to be snowbound and find ourselves running low on — of all things — salt. It is like being stuck in a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel. And not just any Laura Ingalls Wilder novel: it is like being stuck in the one Laura Ingalls Wilder novel I’ve read. If the weather keeps up, I may have to burn its pages for fuel.

A related post
Snowbound (a very short play)

William Parker Quartet,
Wood Flute Songs

[Wood Flute Songs: Anthology/Live 2006-2012. The William Parker Quartet: Lewis Barnes, trumpet; Rob Brown, alto saxophone; William Parker, bass, reeds; Hamid Drake, drums. Guests: AMR Ensemble; Billy Bang, violin; Bobby Bradford, cornet; Leena Conquest; vocals; Cooper-Moore, piano; James Spaulding, alto saxophone; Eri Yamamoto, piano. AUM Fidelity, 2013. AUM080–87.]

This eight-CD set is a bargain, but that’s not a good reason to buy it. A good reason is that Parker’s quartet, together for thirteen years, is a great band. It is one of the great groups in jazz. Its closest analogues, to my mind: Ornette Coleman’s 1960 quartet, Charles Mingus’s 1964 sextet, Miles Davis’s mid-’60s quintet. The empathy among the members of the Parker quartet is uncanny, and the music — fueled by endlessly inventive bass and drums — is consistently beautiful and exciting and inspiring. It all makes me wonder: how do these musicians stand it when they can’t be making music?

Here is a track listing. Here are one, two short videos. Here is a twenty-minute sampler. And here is a post that I wrote after hearing the quartet last fall.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Winter weather wisdom

Courtesy of CNN, copied right from the screen:

Dress in loose layers

Wear a hat

Cover most of your body
That’s television as a PowerPoint slide, a slide that whose last eight words seem suitable for an audience five or six or seven years old. And on MSNBC yesterday, a reporter standing in the cold advised viewers to Be Prepared. Which meant — I’m not making it up — a coat, a hat, and gloves or mittens.

Fresca’s blog today shows shows many cold-weather battlers wearing plaid. I find in these photographs strong support for my belief that plaid really is warmer. My revised CNN slide:
Dress in loose layers of plaid

Wear a hat of plaid

Cover most of your body in plaid
Or better yet, stay inside if you can, also in plaid.

A related post
A passage from Proust with plaid
Phil Silvers in plaid

Linus, nauseated

[Peanuts, January 8, 1967, reappearing as today’s strip. The pink background is well chosen.]

Lucy has made a piece of toast for her brother and has extracted from him ever more fulsome expressions of gratitude: “Thank you, dear sister.” “Thank you, dear sister . . greatest of all sisters.” “Thank you, dear sister, greatest of all sisters, without whom I’d never survive!” If anyone in the comics is going to observe a distinction between nauseated and nauseous, it would be Linus van Pelt.

I learned about this distinction — if it is one — from David Foster Wallace: “Nauseous for nauseated” is one entry in the page-long catalogue of bad usage that prefaces Wallace’s essay “Tense Present.” In Infinite Jest, Kate Gompert speaks of feeling nauseous. Her doctor refers to feeling nauseated. The novel’s third-person narrator also distinguishes between the words.

This distinction — if it is one — has a long history for snoots and sticklers. There’s no entry for it in the original Fowler’s. Nor is there one in the 1959 edition of The Elements of Style. But Theodore Bernstein’s The Careful Writer (1965) has it:

A thing is nauseous if it makes one sick to the stomach; the unfortunate victim of this malaise is nauseated. The common misuse of nauseous appears in this passage: “When he sits too long, turns his head too abruptly, or walks any distance, he gets dizzy, loses balance, and becomes nauseous.” He doesn’t become nauseous unless he turns other people’s stomachs; he becomes nauseated. A person who feel sick is no more nauseous than a person who has been poisoned is poisonous.
Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage (1967) makes a brief mention:
When, for example, we have two adjectives, nauseous and nauseated, it should be clear that the first applies to the substance that causes the state named in the second. To call oneself nauseous except in self-depreciation is to ignore the point of view of the word.
I wonder: could the language of advertising have prompted attention to these words? Were people in mid-’60s Pepto-Bismol commercials proclaiming themselves to be nauseous? I have a vague memory of such commercials — “I . . . feel . . . nauseous.” Or was it “I . . . feel . . . awful”? Did such commercials precede these books? I don’t know.

E. B. White caught up in the third (1979) edition of The Elements of Style:
Nauseous. Nauseated. The first means “sickening to contemplate”; the second means “sick at the stomach.” Do not, therefore, say, “I feel nauseous,” unless you are sure you have that effect on others.
And Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009) says that the use of nauseous for nauseated
is becoming so common that to call it an error is to exaggerate. Even so, careful writers tend to be sickened by the slippage and to follow the traditional distinction in formal writing: what is nauseous makes one feel nauseated.
And examples of careful use follow, the first of which comes from — yes, from David Foster Wallace. In Bryan Garner’s Language-Change Index, nauseous for nauseated is at Stage 4, meaning that use is “virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (die-hard snoots).”

The repeated if it is one in this post signals my skepticism about this distinction. There are many -ous words that can describe people (cantankerous, flirtatious, generous, outrageous); nauseous is easily at home among them. And we do have nauseating to describe whatever makes one nauseous.

The curious thing, which I find in no discussion of this distinction: the Oxford English Dictionary has this earliest (now obsolete) meaning for nauseous (1613): “Of a person, the stomach, etc.: inclined to sickness or nausea; squeamish.” Look at that: the word first described people. And according to the OED, nauseous in American usage has applied to people since 1885: “affected with nausea; having an unsettled stomach; (fig .) disgusted, affected with distaste or loathing.” That makes the nauseated/nauseous distinction — if it is one — look tenuous indeed. There are other matters of usage more deserving of attention. Some of them have me climbing the walls. Literally!

This post is an instance of what can happen when I read the comics.

[“Thank you, dear sister . . greatest of all sisters”: not a typo. Just as many a cartoon hand has only four fingers, a cartoon ellipsis may have only two dots. The first edition of the OED gives the earliest meaning of nauseous as “inclined to nausea; fastidious” and does not address American usage.]

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sentences and economics

A memorable, thought-provoking statement:

Sentences are attention economies.

Richard Lanham, Revising Prose (New York: Pearson Longman, 2007).

How to improve writing (no. 49)

One way to improve writing: when you’re composing a bulk e-mail, never forget that you’re composing a bulk e-mail. Here’s the start of a bulk mailing from my union:

An improvement:

Dropping Arial and boldface and the unnecessary first and would like to would also improve things. This e-mail’s first sentence might require all of six words: A Happy New Year to you. I think capitals are better with this wish.

Related reading
All How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[It may have been possible to address Walt Whitman as “each and every one of you.” He was large and contained multitudes. This post is no. 49 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

A Times Square record store

[Click for a larger sale.]

A Times Square record store, as seen in the opening montage of the Naked City episode “Turn of Events,” May 12, 1959. Colony Records? King Karol? Dunno.

Elaine and I continue to make our way through Naked City, pausing and “rewinding” at will. Great stories, great cinematography (Jack Priestly), great acting. Is that so-and-so? Yes, it is!

Related reading
All Naked City posts (Pinboard)
New York, 1964: record stores

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Two hundred blog description lines

The first words of Van Dyke Parks’s song “Orange Crate Art” — “Orange crate art was a place to start” — long appeared on this blog as what Blogger calls a blog description line. In May 2010, I found myself unexpectedly caffeine-free and made a new line, keeping the quotation marks that had surrounded Van Dyke’s words. At some point I returned to being caffeinated, mildly so. And I kept changing the line (and saving to a text file), always choosing some word or words or element of punctuation from a post then on the front page. These lines now look like bits of found language, detached from contexts, amusing, banal, evocative, opaque. I like that. Here are the first two hundred:

“Orange crate art was a place to start”
“Now caffeine-free”
“Half the pressure, twice the speed”
“It's my duty to remember”
“An informal atmosphere prevails”
“May vary daily”
“Brooklyn is not expanding”
“Checklists prevnt mistakes”
“Eleventyteen human heartstrings”
“Do your own homework”
“Closer to being Aunt Bee’s age”
“Do externals tend to distract you?”
“Mints, whiskey, a company guitar”
“Hey, whaddaya know? Keats”
“Anacin and tooth powder”
“The museum is imaginary”
“Please keep out ’til 1974”
“Please quote”
“A metaphor for analogy”
“Way too much time studying”
“Hellaciously unfun”
“But this is Monday”
“As omnipresent as phone booths”
“Simply friendly areas”
“Vertical blending”
“Nooks and crannies”
“A relatively small part of the whole”
“You’re gonna be late for bowling”
“Way before my time”
“Schooldays, schooldays, schooldays”
“I’d walk a mile for a Blackwing”
“It’s — well, exhilarating”
“No spoilers here”
“ Have fun”
“We have regional dialects”
“Hello, central”
“Through the customary horn”
“Perfectly grammatical”
“Just some of the props”
“It has a lot of cooking”
“Bienvenidos de nuevo, señores”
“Refining, blending, assembling”
“This is fun”
“Always sauce, never gravy”
“Chin up, Pluto!”
“Darn it all”
“How are you. I am all o.k.”
“Thin drawers in snowy weather”
“Viewer discretion is always advised”
“The Continental Paper Grading Co.”
“Almost certainly apocryphal”
“Waiting for my tag cloud”
“Capital letters”
“The only known copy”
“New structures all around”
“Out of red”
“There is one for every purpose”
“See how nice?”
“Definitely, emphatically, yes”
“Contains soybean, wheat”
“Uses no batteries”
“And how”
“15 times faster”
“Makes sense, really”
“Neatly folded”
“Pixels gone wrong”
“Feed your head”
“Served on a classic bun”
“Full of pep”
“Insert imprecations here”
“Er, no, not yet”
“Sheer racket”
“Special offers”
“Fittingly modest”
“Only more so”
“Brief intervals of concentration”
“Not exhaustive”
“Irresistible, homemade flavor”
“Vague and sophisticated”
“Not for the fainthearted”
“It’s a gathering camp”
“Thanks. Thanks!”
“Fake handwriting”
“Completely unobjectionable”
“Unduly so”
“Ain’t Maxwell House all right!”
“As is”
“With flurries”
“A mirror here and there”
“Stalwart worker”
“A well-stocked kitchen”
“Every fret works”
“Must know what he's talking about”
“Locks in flavor”
“That’ll fool ’em”
“Many things at once”
“Woke up this morning”
“Bright blue weather”
“Brown October”
“Missing the obivous”
“I go to time out for cheating. I am the 99%.”
“With oranges”
“Notary sojac”
“Remote encoding center”
“Are we there yet?”
“Another fine vaudevillian”
“Insignificant little speck on the map”
“Recreational reading”
“Set aside”
“Like living in an apartment building”
“Beauty and function and value”
“Check your local listings”
“Fine-grained choices”
“Figurative and literal”
“Activity of thought”
“The picky one”
“Sentences? Paragraphs?”
“Oh, wirra, wirra, wirra”
“Getting stuff done”
“You might like it”
“Eh wot?”
“Is anything missing?”
“Sufficiently out of the mainstream”
“Upgrade now”
“Bird thou never wert”
“It’s the extra-dry treat”
“Random miscellaneous company”
“Still working”
“Open to public”
“Like they say”
“Highly mistaken”
“Motuweth frisas”
“‘Hep’ or ‘with it’”
“Words and phraseology”
“All that”
“No embarrassing ink spills”
“Not word-processing”
“Seems to make sense”
“Repeat as necessary”
“To out of up for”
“Not a trace of bitterness”
“Pocket squirrel: +1”
“Things ⁓ what they used to be”
“Write things down”
“Void where prohibited”
“No purchase necessary”
“Fugiad diughiuwr”
“Where things are”
“Noun phrase”
“Real time”
“The weather”
“Very important things”
“Oooh, cutdown”
“Distractions and such”
“The life of my mind”
“We deliver”
“Now what?”
“What a relief”
“Fun, indeed”
“Dubious company”
“Making our own pies now”
“Filmed on location”
“Not best practices”
“Quo, man, quo”
“Egregiously misclassified”
“Delicious, vitalizing”
“Spark-emitting zeal”
“Now with a smaller marquee”
“Felt and tonic”
“I write everything in here”
“It’s nice to leave the shop”
“Expressing skepticism about the Beloit Mindset List
    since 2010”
“Tomorrow’s spelling today”
“Obviates elaboration”
“I don’t eat light bulbs”
“What is there still to discuss?”
“Alphabetically, it’s autumn”
“Courson Blatz”
“Today’s dizzyingly overfull, warp-speed Internet”
”Not that big of a deal”
“It’s rally, rally, rally cold”
“Surplus energy on the dancing floors”
And as one of these lines asks, “Now what?”

Reading, before and after

I want my children to learn how to learn one thing after another, to accept that there is a before and an after in life. I think reading books is still one of the best ways we have of reminding us of this fact. As Goethe once remarked, “It would be a lowly art that allowed itself to be understood all at once.”

Andrew Piper, Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).
A related post
Reading surveilled

Oscar's Day, no. 500

George Bodmer has posted the five-hundredth installment of Oscar’s Day today. Oscar’s Day began on August 21, 2012: that’s five hundred days, five hundred cartoons. In a 2012 post, I described George’s art as funny, pithy, poignant, silly, and smart. It’s still all that. Draw on, George.

[Hundredth: a great name for an Anglo-Saxon comic-strip character, no?]

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A 2014 calendar

Once again I have put off real work by creating a yearly wall calendar. With three months to a page, it’s perfect for keeping track of time past, present, and near future. Printed four pages to one (the year on a sheet of paper), it’s helpful for keeping track of trash and recycling days. The calendar is dowdy as heck in black and red — or according to my Mac, licorice and cayenne. What a pleasant surprise that those flavors work so well together.

I have placed this calendar in a Dropbox folder for downloading. The file is a mere 35 KB. Your ISP will cheerfully cover the cost of shipping.

For heightened dowdiness, staple in the upper corners and punch a hole for hanging.

Happy New Year

[Peanuts, January 1, 1994. Click for a larger view.]

Happy New Year, everyone.