Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mark Trail revised

[Mark Trail revised, April 30, 2014.]

Look at Mark.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[If you don’t read music, go here and here.]

Ballpoints, not for writing?

Caught during the “Breaking Barriers” episode of the PBS series Pioneers of Television, Tom Willis (Franklin Cover) of The Jeffersons speaking to his wife Helen (played by Roxie Roker):

“Helen, I can’t find my fountain pen.”

“Use one of the ballpoint pens. There are lots of them on your desk.”

“Ballpoint pens are not for writing. They’re for making marks. I need a pen with a point. Now what have you done with my pen?”

“I don’t know, I might have taken it to do the marketing list.”

“You wrote with it?”
Some ballpoints are a pleasure to write with: writing with, say, a Parker T-Ball Jotter is a breeze. But I understand where Mr. Willis is, as they say, coming from. The clip begins at 47:33.

Related reading
A 1963 Jotter ad : A 1964 Jotter ad : A 1971 Jotter ad : Five pens

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mark Trail revised

[Mark Trail revised, April 29, 2014.]

I had to do it. Mark’s original thought balloon: “My shoulder!”

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

The end-of-paragraph transition

A strange element in the writing of many college students: the end-of-paragraph transition, a final sentence stating the main idea of the paragraph that will follow. This kind of transition creates two problems. One: the shift to something new at the end of a paragraph damages that paragraph’s unity. Two: the sentence that begins the new paragraph, identical or nearly identical to the sentence that ended the preceding paragraph, looks absurdly repetitious. For a reader seeing the end-of-paragraph transition for the first time, the effect must be baffling. In drastic form, it goes like so:

Achilles’s speech shows his clear rejection of his community’s belief in the value of tīme . . . . [The paragraph then develops this idea.] But Achilles also rejects his community’s belief in kleos.

Achilles also rejects a belief in kleos.
Many of my students tell me that they’ve been taught to organize their paragraphs in this way. Thus the end-of-paragraph transition is both a bug and a feature. Where it comes from, I don’t know. I’ve never seen a text that teaches it.

I try to counter this mistaken paragraph strategy by pointing to the work of professional writers (whose paragraphs don’t work in this way) and by appealing to logic: the best place to present a new idea is in a . . . yes, in a new paragraph. But I don’t want students to go just by what I say — that tends to reinforce a suspicion that writing instruction is a matter of quirks and whims, one instructor wanting things one way and another wanting the opposite. And I’ve never found an authoritative source that addresses the end-of-paragraph transition clearly.

Until now. Bryan Garner’s The Winning Brief: 100 Tips for Persuasive Briefing in Trial and Appellate Courts (1999) addresses the problem in tip no. 16:
Begin a paragraph with a topic sentence. Don’t end the preceding paragraph with what should be the next paragraph’s topic sentence.
Granted, this advice appears in a text for lawyers. But four of the five quoted passages on paragraph construction that accompany this advice come from non-lawerly sources (William Zinsser and others). Not all writing requires explicit statements of main ideas, and such statements need not appear (as Garner acknowledges) at the starts of paragraphs. No. 16 best applies to writing that argues and expounds — the kind of writing that college students do (or should be doing) all the time, with new ideas in new paragraphs.

Thanks, Bryan Garner.

Related reading
All OCA Garner-related posts (Pinboard)

[Here’s a discussion thread on the end-of-paragraph transition that makes for interesting reading. Oxford University Press will publish a third edition of The Winning Brief on May 1.]

On Duke Ellington’s birthday

[LPs. Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

I bought my first Ellington LP when I was in college: This One’s for Blanton, piano-bass duets with Ray Brown. I had read that Ellington’s piano style had influenced Thelonious Monk. That made me curious.

But where should you start? (And you should, really.) The answer, I think, is still The Great Paris Concert, now a bunch of files, and a ridiculously good buy from the usual sources.

Ellington plays all day today at WKCR.

Related reading
All OCA Duke Ellington posts (Pinboard)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Mark Trail revised

[Mark Trail, original and revised, April 28, 2014. Click for larger views.]

I thought of Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail”: “I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving.” I thought of “Whoopsie!” and “Oops!” I thought of putting this thought in two heads. But I like better what Elaine suggested.

Thanks, Elaine, for your suggestion and for the use of your humormeter.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fun with Wikipedia

From a Wikipedia article: “The Four Square Writing Method is a simplified graphic organizer for teaching writing to children in school. While primarily used to teach persuasive writing, it has also been used to help teach deconstruction.”

Someone is having fun with Wikipedia. I think.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mark Trail revised

[Mark Trail revised, April 26, 2014.]

It’s now three days straight. But I’m not planning to make a habit of it. Not. I can stop at any time.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[Context here.]

VDP on American Routes

Nick Spitzer’s radio program American Routes has two hours of and with Van Dyke Parks and Tom McDermott. Listen here: Creole Eyes and Classical Ears: Van Dyke Parks and Tom McDermott.

A Parks thought:

“I would prefer to have recognition in my lifetime. The hell with immortality. Who needs it? I don’t. I would love to have the riches that come or the sustenance that comes from an easy life in the arts. But that is not to be. And at the age of seventy-one, all I can say is, I’ve had enough, and I’m grateful, because enough to me is plenty to go on.”
Related reading
All OCA Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

[I always thought it was roots. Heard, not seen.]

Friday, April 25, 2014

“No Figures of Speech”

A student pointed out the words left behind on the blackboard: “No Figures of Speech.”

“Bullshit,” said I.

Mark Trail revised

[Mark Trail revised, April 25, 2014.]

I don’t plan to make a habit of revising Mark Trail strips, but then no one plans to acquire a habit.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[Context, if it’s not obvious, here.]

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Mark Trail revised

Rushed by an bear, Mark Trail picks up a large branch and stuns the enraged creature. “It worked,” Mark tells himself. “The bear is stunned!” I couldn’t resist revising the aftermath.

[Mark Trail, April 24, 2014.]

[Mark Trail revised, April 24, 2014.]

Even Mark Trail deserves a break once in a while.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[Those shoes.]

Happy Anniversary

[Louise and Jim Leddy, 1954.]

My parents are celebrating the sixtieth wedding anniversary today. What a great-looking couple, then and now.

I am now ten years older than my parents’ combined ages when they married. Younger readers, take caution: these things become inexpressibly strange to think about as you get older. Or at least they do for me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Teachers and policemen

From the Naked City episode “A Horse Has a Big Head — Let Him Worry!” (November 21, 1962). Lieutenant Mike Parker (Horace McMahon) is speaking:

“Teachers and policemen — you don’t have much money, but on the other hand, you don’t have much fun.”
This episode must rank among the greatest Naked City episodes. Diahann Carroll’s performance as teacher Ruby Jay won her an Emmy. There’s an interview with her at the Archive of American Television’s Naked City page. Also in this episode: John Megna, who would soon appear as Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird. Two great actors.

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Literally is a Chrome browser extension that replaces literally with figuratively. Funny, yes. But a better choice when writing is to replace literally with nothing, nothing at all:

That meeting had me literally climbing the walls.
That meeting had me figuratively climbing the walls.
That meeting had me climbing the walls.
My friend Aldo Carrasco used literally with impunity. He must have gotten special permission. “Literally unbelievable” was a signature Aldo phrase.

[As you might imagine, the extension would turn this post into nonsense.]

Musicians and vocalists

From the introduction to a 60 Minutes segment on the Kinshasa Symphony: “We were surprised to find two hundred musicians and vocalists.” I know what that means: “We were surprised to find two hundred instrumentalists and singers.”

Musician can be a tricky word. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meanings “a person talented in the art of music” and “a person who performs music, esp. on a musical instrument; a professional performer of music.” So the word does tilt in the direction of those who play instruments. But ask someone in music the innocent question “What do you play?” and a someone who sings may be slightly offended. “My voice is my instrument” might be the chilly response.

Vocalist makes me think of a guy or gal sitting on a bandstand circa 1940. That guy or gal was a singer, probably a fine musician. Vocalist seems especially odd when applied to classical music. Elly Ameling, Janet Baker, Beniamino Gigli: vocalists? No, singers. Or a soprano, a mezzo-soprano, and a tenor.

Applying the word musician to both instrumentalists and singers can be awkward: am I comfortable calling, say, Britney Spears, a musician? Yipes. But that’s where the word’s earlier meaning kicks in: “a person talented in the art of music.”

[The Kinshasa Symphony is the subject of a 2010 documentary. Its Netflix availability: “unknown.” About the “chilly response”: don’t ask me how I know that.]

Monday, April 21, 2014

Georges, Formby and Harrison

As you may already know, British Pathé has made an archive of 85,000 films available through YouTube. I’m not sure how I found my way to this one. From 1940, it’s George Formby singing one of his signature songs, “The Window Cleaner”:

Did you notice what was going on in the first two seconds? Those are the ukulele chords at the end of The Beatles’ “Free as a Bird,” played a half-step down. That tag also appears at the end of the Formby favorite “Mr. Wu’s a Window Cleaner Now” (in the proper key of D: B♭7, A7, D). I knew that the end of “Free as a Bird” was a tip of the hat to Formby, but I didn’t know that the hat fit so perfectly.

It’s not a Formby sample at the end of “Free as a Bird”; by all accounts, it’s another George, Harrison, Formby fan and devoted ukuleleist, who plays those chords. According to the George Formby Appreciation Society, the man on stage at the end of the “Free as a Bird” video is Formbyite Alan Randall.

And as every Beatles fan should already know, the voice at the end of “Free as a Bird” that sounds as if it’s saying “Made by John Lennon” is John’s voice in reverse, speaking the Formby catchphrase “Turned out nice again.” That phrase is the title of a Formby film. And “It’s Turned Out Nice Again” is a Formby song.

Here’s a page with a link to George Harrison playing and singing a Formby song. And here’s George at home, playing Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz’s “A Shine on Your Shoes,” ending with the tag. And here’s a clip of George and Jeff Lynne on banjo-ukes. The tag’s at 2:54.

I love the Internets.

[“Mr. Wu’s a Window Cleaner Now” is not nearly as offensive as I had feared. But proceed at your own risk. How do I know that the George-at-home clip is in fact George? The footage is included in an iPad app about his guitars. At iTunes, the clip is visible at the top of the Video Vault screenshot.]

Friday, April 18, 2014

“Pat talks to teenagers”

Three finds at a library book-sale: a selection of entries from Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, a Webster’s Third New International with marbled edges, and Pat Boone’s 1958 book of advice ’Twixt Twelve and Twenty. “Pat talks to teenagers,” says the cover. From the chapter “April Love”:

Kissing for fun is like playing with a beautiful candle in a roomful of dynamite! And it’s like any other beautiful thing — when it ceases to be rare, it loses its value and much of its beauty. I really think it’s better to amuse ourselves in some other way. For your own future enjoyment I say go bowling, or to a basketball game, or watch a good TV program (like the Pat Boone Chevy show!), at least for a while.
I would like to imagine a lost original for ’Twixt Twelve and Twenty, the print equivalent of “Tutti Frutti”: Little Richard Talks to Teenagers. That would be quite a book.

“’Twixt Twelve and Twenty” is also a song. Alas, it can be taken as an argument for kissing: “Don’t they know love is ageless when it’s true?”

[Small-world department: In April 1959, Boone’s book was fourth on The New York Times list of nonfiction bestsellers. In first place: Alexander King’s Mine Enemy Grows Older. Who is Alexander King, you ask? This page by Margie King Barab explains.]

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Imaginary word of the day

The imaginary word of the day is plutonic:

plutonic |plo͞oˈtänik|
(of a relationship) formerly of great importance but now of little or no importance: their relationship is strictly plutonic.
Elaine hit on the word and together we worked out the meaning.

Pluto plays a small part in the OCA archives:

“Chin up, Pluto” : Educated mothers and pizza : Pluto Day : Pluto in Illinois : Venetia Phair (1918–2009)

[Imaginary dictionary-entry modeled on the entry for platonic in the New Oxford American Dictionary.]

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Cooper-Hewitt’s Object of the Day yesterday: a 1958 Rolodex.

I have still not seen anything similar to this Rolodex-like design.

A related post

Mark Trail, from a distance

[Mark Trail, April 16, 2014.]

Mark Trail has a new artist: Jack Elrod has passed the ball to longtime assistant James Allen. And Mark is back home after catching a poacher. Mark has been driving about in a jeep, taking in the sights and sounds of Lost Forest. He has been driving since Saturday. In the panel above, he is talking to his wife Cherry.

As any Mark Trail reader knows, Mark’s relationship with Cherry is non-existent. The strip’s pattern: Mark heads out on an adventure, comes home, sits at the table with his family, and heads out again. It’s like the Odyssey without book 23. But the dialogue in the panel above marks a new intimacy between the Trails. What better way to show affection than to call as you drive alone and aimlessly, avoiding your partner’s company?

Is James Allen having fun with his own strip? I think it’s too early to tell.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[Jack Elrod’s final daily strip ran on April 10. A Sunday strip appeared on April 13. In Odyssey 23, Odysseus and Penelope tell each other stories and make love.]

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The dictionary as commercials

Here’s why Merriam-Webster recycled madeleine as its Word of the Day yesterday: this week’s words are a form of advertising, “dreamy” words promoting the DVD release of the 2013 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The Wall Street Journal explains it all for you:

The [Word of the Day] page and email are peppered with banner ads for the DVD release — a more typical form of web advertising — but the text itself reads like “sponsored content,” ads meant to look and feel like the publishers’ original content.
The Journal quotes Merriam-Webster editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski: “People take us as a public service,” he said. “Nevertheless, we are a business.”

Yes, Merriam-Webster, Inc. is a business. But it never occurred to me that the Word of the Day was promoting anything other than Merriam-Webster itself. I miss so much by using an ad-blocking extension in my browser.

Favorite documentaries

Online at The New Yorker, the film critic Richard Brody’s list of “The Best Documentaries of All Time.” I’ve seen just three of ten. Reading Brody’s list prompted me to write my own, a list not of what’s best or greatest but of ten documentaries I could watch again and again:

Jazz on a Summer’s Day, dir. Bert Stern, 1959
Crumb, dir. Terry Zwigoff, 1994
Être et avoir, dir. Nicolas Philibert, 2002
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of
    Robert S. McNamara
, dir. Errol Morris, 2003
Helvetica, dir. Gary Hustwit, 2007
The Art of the Steal, dir. Don Argott, 2009
How’s Your News?, dir. Arthur Bradford, 2009
Bill Cunningham New York, dir. Richard Press, 2010
Cave of Forgotten Dreams, dir. Werner Herzog, 2010
Jiro Dreams of Sushi, dir. David Gelb, 2011
What’s missing? (Especially between 1959 and 1994.)

[“All time”: I’m surprised to see that phrase in New Yorker environs.]

Monday, April 14, 2014

DFW, “Your Liberal-Arts $ at Work”

Jason Kottke linked today to a post concerning a David Foster Wallace handout on punctuation and usage. Alas, the handout is full of errors, as I showed in this 2013 post. I’ll quote what I wrote there: “Pedantry is always tiresome, but it’s especially tiresome when the pedant doesn’t know what he is talking about.”

[I know: correcting mistakes is tiresome too.]

Rachel and Seth

[Rachel and Seth. Los Angeles, April 12, 2014. Click for a larger view. When I find out who took the photograph, I’ll add a credit.]

It was a beautiful wedding. Elaine has two more pictures.

[Excitement, excitement, excitement.]

M-W recycling

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day today is madeleine. It is a word that brings back memories, memories of September 26, 2006, when madeleine was also the Word of the Day.

Naked City monkeys

[From the Naked City episode “Kill Me While I’m Young So I Can Die Happy,” October 17, 1962. Click for a larger, more primatial view.]

Detective Frank Arcaro (Harry Bellaver) has decorated a wall of the detectives’ room with these monkeys. When Lieutenant Mike Parker (Horace McMahon) looks askance at that wall, Frank explains that the monkeys came from Coney Island. Frank went there with Ruth Curran (a newly retired city employee). Frank, who still lives with his mother (strong Marty-esque overtones), is dating. I would say that this Naked City episode is an unusual one, but every episode in this series is in some way singular.

Seeing these monkeys gave me a jolt: I had such a monkey in childhood. I wish I knew where he or she came from, and I wish I knew where he or she went.

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A very big day

[Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

It’s a very big day for our two families.

[i just realized: I was doing tile work.]

Friday, April 11, 2014

Jim Leddy at American Olean Tile

[Photograph by Elliott Photos. Click for a larger view.]

That‘s my dad on the left, Jim Leddy, Leddy Ceramic Tile, in a promotional photograph for American Olean Tile. On the back, the rubber-stamped names and addresses of the photographer and American Olean.

No one in my family remembers the circumstances that led to this photo. My guess is that it’s from the 1970s. I found it at the back of a file drawer in my office, stashed with various newspaper clippings and postcards. I had no idea it was there.

[Real men wear plaid.]

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A strange strawberry

It’s like two, two, two strawberries in one. The photograph is all that’s left of it. Are such strawberries common?

A related post
Brain-shaped Cracker Jack

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Domestic comedy

“‘Men’s Wearhouse’ is a pun.”


“They spell it w-e-a-r-h-o-u-s-e .”

[Hysterical laughter from both parties.]

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[To get the Men’s Wearhouse pun, one must be looking at the television as the commercial runs. No wonder we were in the dark for so long.]

Domestic comedy

On editorial authority:

“He makes it seem as if there’s a we — which is a he.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Microsoft ends Windows XP support

Microsoft: “As of April 8, 2014, support and updates for Windows XP are no longer available.” But it’s hard to think that the date marks the end of an era. As Marco Arment observes, “People just don’t care to upgrade.” XP users gonna use. XP is the best version of Windows I ever used: it was the arrival of Vista that prompted me to switch to OS X when I bought a new laptop in 2007.

I just looked at my blog stats: Windows 7 is in first place, with 31% of visits to this blog. In second place, OS X, with 24.3%. Windows 8.1 and 8 users together account 7.2% of visits. XP users account for 6.1% of visits. Those two percentages say something about Microsoft’s troubles: the thirteen-year-old Windows accounts for almost any many visits as the most recent versions. Other versions of Windows — Vista, 2003, 2000, 98, and NT — account for 2.3% of visits.

8.1, 8, 7, Vista, XP, 2003, 2000, 98, NT: do you notice the version of Windows missing from this sequence? Hint: It was later than 98 and earlier than XP.

Writing advice from Verlyn Klinkenborg

Wise advice:

You can almost never fix a sentence —
Or find a better sentence within it —
By using the words it already contains.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, Several Short Sentences About Writing (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).
I just quoted these lines in a reply to a thoughtful question about a troublesome sentence.

I’m high on (“enthusiastically in approval or support of”) Klinkenborg’s book. My students like it too. It’s one of the best books I’ve chosen for teaching a writing course.

Other Klinkenborg posts
More from Several Short Sentences : On the English major : On e-reading

[Defintion from Merriam-Webster.]

No points

Several years ago students began to ask me a question I’d never heard and didn’t know how to answer: “How many points is this worth?” I had, and still have, no good answer. I have no points.

My first attempt at an answer — “Well, everything’s out of 100” — sent one asker into a panic. And then I realized what was going on: an increasing number of college classes are organized by points, five for this assignment, ten for that. The work of the semester adds up to several hundred points. So a grade of 100 attached to a measly page-long piece of writing appeared to be cause for concern.

My next attempt at an answer was to point out (as my syllabus already pointed out) that all the writing in a course added up to, say, 60% of the semester grade. So an assignment of, say, four pages, about 20% of the writing, would equal 12% of the semester grade. But that isn’t entirely accurate (I would add), because the best writing grade would count more heavily. Thus the essay would end up counting for more or less than 12%.

As they say on Facebook, it’s complicated. And “12% of the semester grade” isn’t likely to signify much to anyone.

My most recent attempt at an answer is too simple but more satisfying: I average everything to make the writing part of the grade. The details are on the syllabus: writing is 60% of the semester grade, with participation and a final examination counting as 20% each. End of story.

But not the end of my dismay about “points,” a system that fosters unhealthy attitudes toward coursework among students. A point system encourages academic gamesmanship — choosing opportunities for maximal and minimal effort. Students make such choices all the time: study harder for this exam, let this quiz go. But attaching a number to each bit of work explicitly demeans daily incremental effort, the effort that shows itself in quizzes and short assignments (and makes it more likely that a student will do well with larger assignments and examinations). Losing five points here, five points there — it’s too easy for a student to think, So what? I’ll ace the big test and win. Thus a point system demeans the work of learning, which is a matter not of picking targets and acing tests but of engaging a body of knowledge and practice, patiently, over time. How many points are, say, a musician’s daily scales and etudes worth? All of them.

[The worst use of points: as “extra credit” for attendance at an event, turning an occasion better experienced for its own sake into a trivial number. Bad alchemy.]

Monday, April 7, 2014

Billie Holiday, all day

Richard McLeese at Music Clip of the Day sent me the news that Columbia University’s WKCR is playing Billie Holiday all day. Holiday was born on April 7, 1915.

If you’re in a workplace minus iTunes, the free app VLC can stream WKCR.

Thanks, Richard.

Other Billie Holiday posts
In the Manhattan telephone directory : On December 8 : Portrait of Billie Holiday and Mister : “[T]hree days after Bastille day, yes”

[The music now: small group recordings from the thirties. Oh to be able to play the piano like Teddy Wilson.]

Mickey Rooney (1920–2014)

[“Actor Mickey Rooney scowls into telephone while sitting behind new curved desk with shelves containing ceramic animals (Ferdinand the Bull, Pluto, etc.) which his mother gave him as part of new bedroom/office for his birthday.” Photograph by Peter Stackpole. California, 1939. From the Life Photo Archive.]

Mickey Rooney’s came up three times in our household this weekend. We heard a Jeopardy contestant confuse Mickey with Andy Rooney. We talked about a New Yorker article that mentioned Norman Lear’s interest in Rooney for the role of Archie Bunker in All in the Family. Too risky, Rooney thought. And that led us to consider Mr. Yunioshi of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

I like musicals just fine. But I remember Rooney more for The Comedian (1957), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), and his strange turn in the Naked City episode “Ooftus Goofus” (1961).

The New York Times has an obituary.

“Warner’s” Trade Mark Super 8

[Photograph by Michael Leddy. Click for a larger, bristlier view.]

I’ve been using the Warner’s Super 8 to remove snow from a car for at least thirty-four years. This brush has traveled with me from New Jersey to Massachusetts to Illinois, always in the back of a car. The brush was already old when I carried it off from the family manse. How old? Old. The leather loop that was once attached to the handle is long gone.

What I like best about this brush: its name and logo. I like the very idea of a brush bearing a name. And such a name. And such a design. If my name were Warner, I’d trademark it and write it that way too.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Reinvention and wheels

“Never met a wheel I didn't want to reinvent”: designer and developer Shaun Inman, creator of the free Mac app Day-O.

There is great value in reinventing wheels. And Day-O is a nifty app. As Inman says, it “doesn’t do much of anything ” — just as it should do, or not do.

Spellings of the future

A spelling of the future: my term for a misspelling so strange that it must be traveling backward in time to give us a foretaste of our language’s evolution. Because language is always evolving.

[As seen in print.]

Is it okay to where khaki shorts in a classroom? No. Not ever.

Other spellings of the future
Aww : Bard-wired fence : Now : Off

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Plagiarism in the news

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman is defending himself against charges of plagiarism, saying that “obedience to technical procedural rules of quotations” has nothing to do with the quality of scholarship.

Bauman might better defend himself by taking his cue from Uncle Leo.

Related reading
All OCA plagiarism posts (Pinboard)

[See how easy it is to use quotation marks?]

Sophocles and the news

The terrible events in the news yesterday make it a strange time to be teaching Sophocles’s Ajax.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Adjuncts, baristas, and bookstore cashiers

Writing for The Atlantic, Elizabeth Segran suggests that the prospects for PhDs in the humanities aren’t as bad as all that. Consider the opening sentences:

There is a widespread belief that humanities PhDs have limited job prospects. The story goes that since tenure-track professorships are increasingly being replaced by contingent faculty, the vast majority of English and history PhDs now roam the earth as poorly-paid adjuncts or, if they leave academia, as baristas and bookstore cashiers.
Notice how by moving to an absurd and unsupportable contention — that the majority of English and history PhDs labor as adjuncts, baristas, and cashiers, Segran manages to move right past what is undeniably the case — that tenure-track positions are disappearing, that a majority of college instructors are now adjuncts, that the percentage is rising, and that many (if not most) adjuncts are poorly paid. At any rate, the news in this piece is that “between a fifth and a quarter of [humanities PhDs] go on to work in well-paying jobs in media, corporate America, non-profits, and government. Humanities PhDs are all around us— and they are not serving coffee.”

What Segran fails to acknowledge is that the very telos of doctoral study in the humanities is a life of teaching and scholarship on the tenure-track. That’s what grad school is supposed to be for. And while it may be the case that PhDs are hired outside academia for, as one of Segran’s interviewees says, “their process skills: the ability to do excellent research, to write, to make cogent arguments,” it is far from clear that doctoral study is necessary or even practical in developing such skills. Five or seven or ten years in training to learn how to make a cogent argument? No.

If graduate programs are producing more PhDs than will ever be hired for tenure-track positions (given current institutional priorities in American higher education), the prospect of seeking a PhD looks ever more dubious. That some degree-holders have been able to find worthwhile employment outside academia (usually “through their own networks, without the support of their departments,” Segran says) does little to make graduate study in the humanities more appealing. Imagine going to medical school when the odds are slim that you’ll ever practice. Ladies and gentlemen, start your networks.

A website I discovered not long ago, aimed at audiences in the humanities and social sciences: 100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School. It is a voice of experience. To quote from reason no. 86: “Of course, you look forward to a career — a career in academe. But graduate school can only offer the hope of an academic career. It’s an extraordinarily costly roll of the dice.”


3:13 p.m.: To the reader who tweeted that the words “the very telos of doctoral study in the humanities is a life of teaching and scholarship on the tenure-track” sound like “bitter, dusty tweed” and make her “want to vomit”: please, read those words in context and not in the form of someone else’s tweet. The words form not a sentence but part of a sentence. And the sentence expresses a sad truth that Segran doesn’t acknowledge: that doctoral study in the humanities prepares students for a future that many of them will never attain. There’s nothing of tweed (or pipesmoke) in my words: rather, there’s a recognition that “the profession” is for many doctoral students unattainable. None of what I wrote suggests that PhDs should not seek work outside academia. But I think that a doctorate is hardly a necessary preparation for being able to reason and write well.

[I follow The Chicago Manual of Style in typing PhD without periods.]

Butterick’s Practical Typography

“Ty­pog­ra­phy mat­ters be­cause it helps con­serve the most valu­able re­source you have as a writer — read­er at­ten­tion.”

That’s Matthew Butterick writing, from the book-as-website Butterick’s Practical Typography. You may already know Butterick’s name from Typography for Lawyers.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

LegalZoom exploits Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death to promote its services

From a LegalZoom e-mail with the subject line “Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Last Will: What We Can Learn”:

[“Change is a part of life. But sometimes, people forget that when it comes to estate planning. Let the late Philip Seymour Hoffman's case serve as a prime example of how important it is to keep your will up-to-date to ensure your wishes can be fulfilled when you pass on.”]

This sales ploy is beyond tasteless. It is in truth obscene: “offensive to moral principles; repugnant” (New Oxford American Dictionary). Shame on LegalZoom for seizing upon Hoffman’s terrible end as a way to market its services.

LegalZoom offers no way to explain the choice to unsubscribe from its e-mails. If you call to give feedback (1-800-773-0888), you’ll be directed to a “Contact us” page. It’s possible to leave a written message there.

[And sending this e-mail on April 1: what were they thinking?]

Pelikan FullForever cartridges

New from Pelikan, FullForever ink cartridges: “Due to a special chemical process, the ink ‘regenerates’ overnight so the fountain pen is constantly ready for use. And remains so.”

My favorite pen is a Pelikan fountain pen. I start any piece of writing of any length with that pen. I can’t wait for this ink to appear in bottled form.

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