Out of hibernation?

July 3, 2019

Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson, via Reedsy. I miss this strip fiercely.

No, I didn’t take a vacation through May and June. Well, we did spend a few days on a trip to a graduation at the University of Arkansas, and to hunt diamonds, but that’s no excuse.

Haven’t posted a lot lately. Working to do better.

In the meantime, remember to fly your flag today, Idaho residents, for Idaho Statehood Day. And remember to post the colors tomorrow, for Kathryn’s birthday the 4th of July.

When Gerald Ford told the nation in an evening broadcast in August 1974, “Our long, national nightmare is over,” many of us realized we’d been through hell the previous couple of years, and didn’t know it. Now, we know it’s hell every day. God give us another Gerald Ford moment like that, soon.

(I’ll fly the flag for Kathryn’s birthday, too; you don’t have to.)

Peanuts, by Charles Shulz, via Broken Biro. I miss Peanuts, too.

Nate White’s stunning answer to the question: Why do many British people not like Donald Trump?

June 24, 2019

It was a question asked on Quora last February 12: Why do many British people not like Donald Trump?

Nate White is a London-based copy writer — that is, advertising guy. His Quora profile says, “Drinks coffee. Writes copy.” Nate took a swing at answering the question, and knocked that ball into orbit.

The 90 year-old Queen is forced to go around our idiot President,
who doesn’t even know how to walk properly.” (The Wow Report)

Sadly, for some reason the thread has been deleted from Quora (threats from Trump’s side?) Several people were inspired to preserve it on blogs and in other forms. Ronald Lebow (@RonaldLebow) posted the piece in a series of Tweets, a thread, recently, and I finally found the entire piece from which I had seen only parts quoted before.

Here is Nate White’s answer to the question, “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump.” It’s written so well, so strongly, that I wonder whether an intelligent rebuttal could ever be done.

A few things spring to mind…

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll.

And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think

‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’

is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:

Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.

You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form;

He is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit.

His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?’

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

Nate White, answering a question on Quora
Brits fly a Trump Baby balloon over London which makes the POTUS “feel unwelcome.”
(Photo, YouTube; T/Y Michaelam via The Wow Report)

Quora offers no explanation for why the question was taken down from its forums. I’ve found nothing to suggest Mr. White had pangs of remorse. If you have more details, please let us know, in comments.


Typewriter of the moment: Noir novelist David Goodis

July 7, 2014

Somerset Maugham at his typewriter.  Image from Jon Winokur's

David Goodis at his typewriter. Image from Jon Winokur’s “Advice to Writers”

What a writer’s desk!  A manual typewriter (Royal? I think so); a fountain pen and a bottle of ink; a solid cigarette lighter and a half-full ashtray.  Judging by the papers on the desk, I’d say he’s working on a screenplay (from the format), and the buildings outside the window look a lot like the Warner Bros. studio lot.

Jon Winokur’s Tweet with noir novelist David Goodis at his typewriter noted Somerset Maugham’s classic statement about writing novels:

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

Did Winokur think the photo was of Maugham? (I found the photo also at an article on Maugham at Oz.Typewriter; I left a comment for Robert Messenger.)

Who is David Goodis? He wrote Dark Passage, which is probably famous mostly for the movie version starring a young Humphrey Bogart.

David Loeb Goodis (March 2, 1917 – January 7, 1967) was an American writer of crime fiction, noted for his prolific output of short stories and novels epitomizing the noir fiction genre. A native of Philadelphia, Goodis alternately resided there and in New York City and Hollywood during his professional years. Yet, throughout his life he maintained a deep identification with the city of his birth, Philadelphia. Goodis cultivated the skid row neighborhoods of his home town, using what he observed to craft his hard-boiled sagas of lives gone wrong, realized in dark portrayals of a blighted urban landscape teeming with criminal life and human despair.

“Despite his [university] education, a combination of ethnicity (Jewish) and temperament allowed him to empathize with outsiders: the working poor, the unjustly accused, fugitives, criminals.” [1]

From 1939 to the middle of the 1940s, Goodis wrote perhaps 5 million words in stories for pulp fiction magazines, an output rivaled by few, if anyone.  Unlike his contemporaries, Dashiell Hamett and Raymond Chandler, Goodis’s work escaped reprinting.

During the 1940s, Goodis scripted for radio adventure serials, including Hop Harrigan, House of Mystery, and Superman. Novels he wrote during the early 1940s were rejected by publishers, but in 1942 he spent some time in Hollywood as one of the screenwriters on Universal’s Destination Unknown. His big break came in 1946 when his novel Dark Passage was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, published by Julian Messner and filmed for Warner Bros. with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall heading the cast. Delmer Daves directed what is now regarded as a classic film noir, and a first edition of the 1946 hardcover is valued at more than $800.

Arriving in Hollywood, Goodis signed a six-year contract with Warner Brothers, working on story treatments and scripts. In 1947, Goodis wrote the script for The Unfaithful, a remake of Somerset Maugham‘s The Letter. Some of his scripts were never produced, such as Of Missing Persons and an adaptation of Raymond Chandler‘s The Lady in the Lake. Working with director Delmer Daves, he wrote a screen treatment for a film, Up Till Now, which Daves described as “giving people a look at themselves and their [American] heritage”. This film too was never made but Goodis used some of its elements in his 1954 novel, The Blonde on the Street Corner.[3]

Goodis is also credited with writing the screenplay to The Burglar, a 1957 film noir directed by Paul Wendkos that was based on his 1953 novel published by Lion Books. It was the only solely authored screenplay to be produced by him. The film was written and directed by Philadelphians, as well as being shot in Philadelphia. Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield were cast in the lead roles, and The Burglar still stands as one of the greatest heist films ever made. It was re-made in 1971 by Henri Verneuil as the French-Italian film Le Casse, starring Omar Sharif.

 


Typewriter of the moment: Bill Moyers

June 6, 2014

From Moyers's Facebook feed:  Happy 80th Birthday, Bill Moyers! Here he is at 16 years old as a cub reporter at the Marshall News Messenger newspaper in Marshall, Texas, the town (pop. 25,000) where he grew up

From Moyers’s Facebook feed: Happy 80th Birthday, Bill Moyers! Here he is at 16 years old as a cub reporter at the Marshall News Messenger newspaper in Marshall, Texas, the town (pop. 25,000) where he grew up

A newsroom Royal. A lot of good writers started out on those.

Moyers went astray after a while, and got a divinity degree and ordination in Dallas, at Southwest Theological Seminary — but Lyndon Johnson had been watching him before at the University of Texas and University of North Texas, and snatched him up as a press aide.

You probably know Moyers from Public Television.  Yesterday was his 80th birthday — he was born June 5, 1934, in Hugo, Oklahoma.

More:


Typewriter of the moment: E. B. White, in rural Maine

June 6, 2014

E. B. White writing in his boat shed overlooking Allen Cove, 1976, using a portable manual typewriter.  Photo by Jill Krementz, from  her book, The Writer’s Image.

E. B. White writing in his boat shed overlooking Allen Cove, 1976, using a portable manual typewriter. Photo by Jill Krementz, from her book, The Writer’s Image.

Someone much more familiar with typewriters may be able to identify the machine.

Don’t you love the way the water looks as though it’s a painting, a work of art, hanging on the wall?

Turns out White was very fond of Dachsunds.

E. B. White at work, with his Dachsund looking on.

E. B. White at work, with his Dachsund, Minnie, looking on.

More: 

Below the fold, the Tweet that inspired this post, from Jon Winokur.

Read the rest of this entry »


Quote of the moment: Education is knowing what you know, and what you don’t

March 31, 2014

Commenter Robert Lopresti mentioned a book assembled at the Library of Congress, to assist Members of Congress in creating speeches on important issues, with accurate quotes in accurate context: Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations.

One might wonder if anyone in Congress even knows the book exists.

You can buy the book, at Amazon, or from the Library of Congress Gift Shop, and Bartleby has it online (public domain already?).

My first use of the online version, I looked for education, and found this from William Feather (1889-1981), describing  just what “an education” is:

An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t. It’s knowing where to go to find out what you need to know; and it’s knowing how to use the information you get.

When and where did Feather say that?  Things get murky — according to the list at the Library of Congress:

Publisher and writer William Feather, photo by William Feather III

Publisher and writer William Feather, photo by William Feather III. Can we trust a bon mot attributed to such a jovial and scholarly looking fellow?

Attributed to WILLIAM FEATHER.—August Kerber, Quotable Quotes on Education, p. 17 (1968). Unverified.

An honest assessment that we don’t know for certain that Feather said exactly that. This book could be a valuable resource!

Who the heck was William Feather?

William A. Feather (August 25, 1889 – January 7, 1981) was an American publisher and author, based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Born in Jamestown, New York, Feather relocated with his family to Cleveland in 1903. After earning a degree from Western Reserve University in 1910, he began working as a reporter for the Cleveland Press. In 1916, he established the William Feather Magazine.[1] In addition to writing for and publishing that magazine, and writing for other magazines as H.L. Mencken‘s The American Mercury, he ran a successful printing business, and wrote several books.[2]

Feather’s definition appeals to me.  Educated people know where to find the facts they need, and they know when it’s important to search for those facts, rather than stand on ignorance.

Compare it with the Hubbard/Rogers advice, that it’s what we know “that ain’t so” that gets us into trouble.

How could any test, ever test for that?


The mighty pen, revisited

October 30, 2013

Before we completely forget about October 29, and events that occurred on that day of the calendar, let’s pause for a moment to remember the introduction of the ballpoint pen.  We do this because the ballpoint pen was such a symbol of modernity after World War II.  And we do this because hand writing utensils seem to be losing fashion, as does handwriting itself.

Let’s not lose all the history.  I wrote this first back in 2006, commemorating the ballpoint.

2006 was the 100th anniversary of the Mont Blanc company, the company that made fountain pens a luxury item even while fountain pens were still the state of the art of pens.

A Reynolds rocket; this is claimed to be the first version of the ballpoint pen sold, on October 29, 1945, in Gimbel's Department Store in New York City.

A Reynolds rocket; this is claimed to be the first version of the ballpoint pen sold, on October 29, 1945, in Gimbel’s Department Store in New York City.

October 29 is the 68st anniversary (according to CBS “Sunday Morning”) or 69th anniversary (see Wikipedia) of the introduction of the ballpoint pen in the U.S., at Gimbel’s Department Store, in New York City. (I go with 1945.)  It was based on a design devised in 1938 by a journalist named László Bíró. Biro produced his pen in Europe, and then in Argentina. But in the U.S., a businessman named Reynolds set up the Reynolds International Pen Company and rushed to market in the U.S. a pen based on several Biros he had purchased in Buenos Aires.

On October 29, 1945 (or 1946), you could purchase a “Reynolds Rocket” at Gimbel’s for $12.50 — about $130 today, adjusted for inflation.

1946 Reynolds Rocket ballpoint pen, from the collection of James P. Reynolds

1946 Reynolds Rocket ballpoint pen, from the collection of James P. Reynolds

Today I continue my search for a ballpoint or rollerball that will write in green, reliably, for grading.  (Turns out red marks panic a lot of kids; some write in blue, so blue won’t work, nor will black; green is a great grading color.)

I use a Waterman Phileas ballpoint, a Cross Radiance fountain pen, a Cross Radiance rollerball (Radiance was discontinued about a year ago), a full set of Cross Century writing implements, a lot of Sanford Uniballs in various colors, and a lot of Pentel Hybrid K-178 gel-rollers, and some Pilot G-2 gel pens (though the green ink versions are unreliable). I also keep several Marvy calligraphic pens for signing things with a flourish. I have a box of $0.10 ballpoints in a briefcase for students who fail to bring a writing utensil.  (Since 2006, I’ve added a Cross pencil similar to the old Radiance design, and another Cross ballpoint in black (the Waterman is blue); the most reliable green-ink pen I’ve found is a Pilot Bravo, but they are tough to find these days in any color, and green is even togher; plus, they are bold-line instruments.)

Jefferson probably wrote the Declaration of Independence with quills he trimmed himself. Lincoln probably used a form of fountain pen to write the Gettysburg Address, but he had no writing utensil with him when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. President Johnson made famous the practice of using many pens to sign important documents, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964; he made gifts of the pens to people who supported the legislation and worked to get it made into law.

And, who said it? Brace yourself.

Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Lytton, wrote that, in Richelieu, act II, scene ii, a play he wrote in 1839.

Yes, he is the same Bulwer-Lytton who wrote the novel Paul Clifford in 1840, whose opening line is, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

The first ballpoint pen was sold in the United States on October 29, 1945, a few weeks after the surrender of Japan that ended completely the hostilities of World War II.  It was a good year, and a good time to be writing.  Still is, today.

More:


MzTeachuh’s secret to getting to know students (a life hack everyone should know and use)

August 23, 2013

MzTeachuh posted this last year, and Tweeted it this year — it’s good on the first days of school.  Quoting the entire post (links added here):

A Writing Prompt to Really Get To Know Your Students

“Three Things I Want You To Know About Me.”

Jim Abbott of the Yankees, pitching a no-hitter.

I came up with this prompt while teaching high school, but it works with younger kids, too. It gives the students a choice of what to comment on, and allows them to use their own voice to tell it like it feels. You may learn a lot about music, sports, and their dog; but sometimes you will also learn about very serious topics like family crisis or illness. And at times the school can help the families. But you will know the students better, especially if you actually read the essays and comment on them. The kids feel very validated, and more willing to write the remainder of the year no matter what the topic.
Jim Abbott of the Yankees, pitching a no-hitter.

I especially enjoyed when the students shared their dreams for their future. You would be amazed how many major league baseball players (of the future) were in my seventh grade classes. Far be it from me to say otherwise. Who knows, anyway? If Jim Abbott, who had only one hand due to a birth defect, became a major league pitcher, shouldn’t I be like his grown-ups and be filled with

– See more at: http://mzteachuh.blogspot.com/2012/09/a-writing-prompt-to-really-get-to-know.html?spref=tw#sthash.taTaa9nj.dpuf

I told MzTeachuh:

Stealing this in its entirety.

As a reporter, I got a lot of mileage from politicians, or anyone involved in a controversy, asking “what should readers know about [you/this issue] that most of us don’t know now?”

With grownups, it’s quite educational to find people who haven’t thought beyond the shouting.

Open questions are the best; open questions that get kids to write in class are the cream of the best. If not exactly the path to truth, it is clearing the path to knowledge that leads to truth.

More, maybe related stuff:


Quote of the moment: Rachel Carson, on why her nature writing sounds so much like poetry

June 14, 2013

Rachel Carson said:

“If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.”

Cover of The Gentle Subversive, by Mark Hamilton Lytle, for Oxford University Press.

Cover of The Gentle Subversive, by Mark Hamilton Lytle, for Oxford University Press.

Bug Girl wrote a fine review last year of an often over-looked book on Carson, The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement  (Mark Hamilton Lytle, 2007. Oxford Univ. Press.)  It’s worth your click over there to read a nice piece on Carson, on women in science, and on nature writing.

Bug Girl spends the necessary time and space answering critics of Carson, of Silent Spring, and those few odd but incredibly active and loud advocates who claim we can conquer disease if we can only spread enough DDT poison around the Earth.  Go see.

I find it impossible to stand in a place like Yosemite and not hear John Muir‘s voice — and it’s probably that John Muir found that, too.  Or stand on the shores of Waldon Pond and not hear Henry David Thoreau, or stand on sandy soil in Wisconsin and not hear Aldo Leopold, or sit on a redrock outcropping in southern Utah and not hear Ed Abbey.  They probably heard similar voices.  But they had the presence of mind to write down what they heard.

Writing wonderful prose, or poetry, must be easier when the subject sings of itself in your ears, and paints itself in glory for your eyes.

If Carson’s prose borders on poetry, does that add to, or subtract from its science value?

More:

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and n...

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and nature preservationist John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club , on Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. In the background: Upper and lower Yosemite Falls. Wikipedia image


March 4, National Grammar Day 2013

March 4, 2013

Are you motivated to do something about grammar?  If you’re lucky enough to subscribe to the Chicago Tribune and you read the paper today, you probably know where this is going.

Every year on March 4 (also known as march forth! which will make sense in a second), language-minded folks raise their grammartini glasses and drink to National Grammar Day.

Established in 2008 by author and editor Martha Brockenbrough, who also founded the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, National Grammar Day is a celebration of words in all their written, spoken, tweeted, texted splendor.

Grammar police

Grammar police visited this sign — for National Grammar Day? Photo: the_munificent_sasquatch

Probably the best place to start would be Motivated Grammar:

It’s National Grammar Day 2013, which has really snuck up on me. If you’ve been here in previous years, you know that I like to do three things on March 4th: have a rambling speculative discussion about the nature of grammar and/or linguistics, link to some people’s posts I’ve liked, and link to some of my posts. Unfortunately, I’ve been so busy with dissertation work lately that I’m a bit worn out on discussion and haven’t been adequately keeping up with everyone’s blogs. So I hope you’ll forgive my breach of etiquette in making this year’s NGD post all Motivated Grammar posts.

Well, not entirely. Everyone in our little community gets in on National Grammar Day, so let me mention a few good posts I’ve seen so far. Kory Stamper discusses her mixed feelings on the day, as well as on correcting people’s language in general. Dennis Baron looks at the abandoned, paranoid, wartime predecessor of NGD, “Better American Speech Week”. And from last year, but only better from the aging process, Jonathon Owen and goofy had posts asking what counts as evidence for grammatical correctness or incorrectness, and why we’re so often content to repeat grammar myths.

Yeah, yeah.  He said “snuck.”  You and I know he should have said “sneaked,” but he’s probably go the new dictionaries that caved on the issue.  I think this breach of common sense and moral standards of grammar is the cause of our present political trouble in Washington, the Stupid Sequestration, and the Great Gridlock.

The rest of the post is pretty good, though, especially the debunking of ten more myths of grammar.  Go see.

An actual National Grammar Day website exists, courtesy of Grammar Girl, I think.

Excited yet?  Go back to that Chicago Tribune article:

A highlight of the holiday each year is the haiku contest, in which contestants are urged to tweet grammar- or usage-based haikus. Judges include Ben Zimmer, the Boston Globe language columnist and executive producer of Visual Thesaurus, Martha Barnette, who hosts a nationally syndicated public radio program called “A Way with Words,” Bill Walsh, a copy editor at the Washington Post and author of “Lapsing into a Comma,” and, of course, Brockenbrough.

Last year’s winner was Larry Kunz, a technical writer from Raleigh-Durham, N.C.. His winning poem:

Being a dangler,

Jane knew it would have to come

out of the sentence

Runners-up included this gem from one Charlie MacFadyen:

Wanted: one pronoun,

To take the place of he/she

“They” need not apply

And this, from Tom Freeman:

People shouldn’t say

“I could care less” when they mean

“I could care fewer”

The holiday is not, planners says, an opportunity to scold.

I understand Grammarly runs an annual photo contest.  I haven’t found it yet.  Will you let us know in comments, if you find the photos?  (This isn’t it, though there may be overlap).

(But, no, Dear Reader, I had not been aware of National Grammar Day, either, until just about an hour ago.  March 4th/March Forth!, is the link, I suppose.  We’re ten days away from International Pi Day, too:  3.14.)

Also, let me interject one of my favorite sentences.  In a long, sometimes bitter discussion about grammar and social reform way back in 1957, there were people who argued that grammar is essential to meaning, and that correct grammar could carry the entire meaning.  To that idea, Noam Chomsky came up with a rebuttal in the form of a sentence that, though completely correct grammatically, means absolutely nothing.  Watching politics, life and organizations, you will discover Prof. Chomsky’s sentence applies in way more places than it should, or than you can stand.  Chomsky’s grammatically perfect, though meaningless sentence?

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

More:

 


Typewriters of the moment: Isaac Asimov’s astonishingly prolific career

December 22, 2012

Isaac Asimov remains one of my favorite writers.  He wrote well enough, and his curiosity took him to topics I often find interesting.  At one time having published more books than anyone else in history on a wide variety of topics from quantum mechanics to trivia in the books of the Bible (does he still hold that record?), it was a sure bet one could find at least one book in one’s area of interest penned by Asimov.

When I started the spasmodic feature, “Typewriter of the Moment,” years ago I did a search for Asimov with a typewriter.  I didn’t find an image I thought suitable back when the internet was still operated by steam, and somehow I just never got back to that.

The other night this image popped up on one of my Facebook feeds, from “the Other 98%”:

Painting of Isaac Asimov creating at a typewriter, an early IBM Selectric. Who did the painting?

Painting of Isaac Asimov creating at a typewriter, an early IBM Selectric. Who did the painting?

I appreciate the sentiment in the quote.  Asimov noted the Dunning-Kruger Effect, even if he didn’t have the advantage of Dunning and Kruger having named it yet, and he lamented the powerful undertone of anti-intellectualism that victims of the syndrome exhibit:

Anti- intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. (Asimov in an essay for Newsweek: “A Cult of Ignorance,” January 21, 1980, p. 19)

It’s an arresting image, a heckuva a quote, and it would make a good poster.  Plus, it’s an early IBM Selectric typewriter, marrying Asimov’s creativity with a great technological advancement in writing tools.

One boggles at the idea of Asimov with a great word processing program, a fast computer with great memory, and the internet at his disposal.  If Asimov were alive and creating today, we’d think Moore’s Law a great hindrance to the advancement of knowledge.

The painting delights me.  It’s almost photographic, and I like paintings that take great care to get small details right, photographically.  No dig at more spare or even abstract art, but this sort of painting takes great skill and great creativity.  Rising spirit-like from the typewriter’s platen we see a satellite (manned spacecraft, perhaps?), a flask of chemicals, and a leather-bound book, essential components in science fiction, and science.

So, who did the painting?  Was it done solely for that Facebook poster?

English: An IBM Selectric typewriter, model 71...

This is what that typewriter in the painting looks like, from the author’s angle. An IBM Selectric typewriter, model 713 (Selectric I with 11″ writing line), circa 1970. Wikipedia image

I’ve searched on TinEye, and Bing and Google, without success to identify the painter.

One version of the painting, before text was added, showed up at IO9, a site dedicated to science fiction, in an article discussing the writing habits of famous writers.

This does not appear to me to be the original, simply because data on the artist is not contained in the information section of the image.  The artist who did this illustration would be proud of it, and want to advertise her or his work.

This version has a slightly higher resolution; click on the image and note the reflections of lights in Asimov’s glasses, the reflections on the desk, and even the dings on the edge of the desk facing the viewer — this is great stuff!

But still I wonder:  Who was the original artist?

Any ideas, Dear Reader?

Rowena Morrill's painting of Isaac Asimov, before posterization with a quote over his head.

Rowena Morrill’s painting of Isaac Asimov, before posterization with a quote over his head.

Did Asimov write on a Selectric?  Did he switch to the newer version, with a wider carriage, or stick with the old original?  Is there a photo upon which this painting is based?

Almost immediate update:  This site claims the artist is the same as the one at the bottom of the post, Rowena Morrill.  That’s a start.  Here’s more:  At Rowenaart, both pictures appear credited to Rowena.  Mystery solved?  Go buy a poster from her; this is great stuff.

First Amendment Update, January 2015: You will want to read Asimov’s entire essay.  He’s not just insulting ignorants and ignorance; he also urges that Americans, almost all Americans, do not read enough to keep freedom alive.  For example, on the “right to know”:

There are 200 million Americans who have inhabited schoolrooms at some time in their lives and who will admit that they know how to read (provided you promise not to use their names and shame them before their neighbors), but most decent periodicals believe they are doing amazingly well if they have circulations of half a million. It may be that only 1 per cent–or less―of American make a stab at exercising their right to know. And if they try to do anything on that basis they are quite likely to be accused of being elitists.

I contend that the slogan “America’s right to know” is a meaningless one when we have an ignorant population, and that the function of a free press is virtually zero when hardly anyone can read.

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English: This image is a reproduction of an or...

Hello! Could this be by the same artist? Caption from Wikipedia: This image is a reproduction of an original painting by renowned science-fiction and fantasy illustrator Rowena http://www.rowenaart.com/. It depicts Dr. Isaac Asimov enthroned with symbols of his life’s work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Encore typewriter of the moment: Mencken and the 1948 conventions

September 4, 2012


Mencken at 1948 Democratic Convention

Mencken at 1948 Democratic Convention

Photo from the collection of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, at the Park Library, University of North Carolina.

H. L. Mencken at one of the 1948 political conventions (Thomas Dewey was the Republican nominee, Harry S. Truman was the Democratic nominee). Obviously the photo is a copy from the National Press Club Library. The Park Library site describes the photo and Mencken:

H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) was a familiar figure at many national political conventions. This photo, taken at the one in 1948, was his last political convention. He is well known for his attacks on American taste and culture, or the lack of same. His magnum opus, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, was first published in 1919 and remains a classic. From 1906 to 1941, he worked chiefly as a reporter, editor, and columnist for the Baltimore Sun. (Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Sun Library.)

Assuming Mencken covered both conventions, this photo was taken at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in mid-July, 1948. We know it was taken in Philadelphia since both parties held their conventions there that year, the Republicans from June 21 to June 26, and the Democrats from July 12 to July 14.

Republicans nominated New York Gov. Thomas J. Dewey and California Gov. Earl Warren for president and vice president.

After a contentious convention that saw Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey propose a civil rights plank that got South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond to walk out of the convention and found his own States’ Rights (Dixiecrat) Party (with himself as the nominee for president), and former Vice President Henry Wallace walk out because the party platform was too conservative (Wallace ran on the Socialist Progressive Party ticket), Democrats nominated President Harry S Truman and Kentucky Sen. Alben W. Barkley for president and vice president. Truman narrowly defeated Georgia Sen. Richard B. Russell for the nomination. Had Thurmond not walked out, Truman may well have lost the nomination of his own party.

And the rest of the story?

Estes Kefauver on the cover of Time, with a coonskin cap

Sen. Estes Kefauver

  • Truman had a contentious second term, and was defeated in the New Hampshire primary in 1952 by Sen. Estes Kefauver; Truman ended his campaign for a second full term shortly after.
  • Earl Warren was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by Truman’s successor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in late 1953. Warren is remembered for engineering the 9-0 decision in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Educationwhich ruled “separate but equal” school systems to violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause, and for his chairing the commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

    Earl Warren on cover of Life Magazine

    Earl Warren on the cover of Life Magazine, May 10, 1948; copyright Time-Life

  • Hubert Humphrey moved on to the U.S. Senate, served as Vice President to Lyndon Johnson, and won the Democratic nomination for president in another contentious convention in 1968 in Chicago. Humphrey lost the election to Richard Nixon, and returned to the U.S. Senate two years later.
  • Strom Thurmond won election to the U.S. Senate in 1954, switching parties to Republican in 1964, and serving until his death in 2003.
  • Russell, who had served as Georgia’s senator since 1933, continued to serve to his death on January 21, 1971; he was a key member of the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Russell Senate Office Building is named in his honor, the oldest of the three Senate office buildings.
  • Barkley was the oldest vice president ever inaugurated, aged 71. He remarried in his first year as vice president (his first wife died in 1947). Barkley’s nephew suggested that he should be called “the veep” because “Mr. Vice President” was too long. The title was seized up on by headline writers. Considered too old to run for the presidency in 1952, Barkley won a U.S. Senate seat from Kentucky in the 1954 elections, serving from 1955 to his death in 1956. Barkley Dam on the Cumberland River is named in his honor, as is the lake behind it, Lake Barkley.
  • Henry Wallace finished a distant fourth in the 1948 election, behind Dewey and Thurmond. His political career was essentially over due to his inability or unwillingness to disavow communist support. He achieved success as a chicken breeder. In a daramatic turnabout, he wrote a book, Where I Was Wrong, disavowing communism and critical of Joseph Stalin, and endorsed Republican candidates in 1956 and 1960. He died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1965.
  • Dewey returned to his law practice. In 1952, Dewey helped engineer the nomination of Eisenhower over his old political nemesis Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, pushed Richard Nixon as the Vice Presidential nominee, and in 1956 first convinced Ike to run again, and then to keep Nixon on the ticket. Dewey politely refused offers of offices, including refusing a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, sticking to his law practice which made him very wealthy. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1971, at age 68.
  • Mencken suffered a stroke later in 1948 that left him unable to speak, or read, or write for a time. He spent much of the rest of his life working to organize his papers, and died in 1956. His epitaph, on his tombstone and on a plaque in the lobby of the Baltimore Sun, reads: “If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner, and wink your eye at some homely girl.”

This is an encore post.  Some new links have been added — though, as you can see, I don’t yet have a better photo of Mencken at the conventions.  More news sources, below.

More, Other Sources:


Pixar’s 22 rules for a good story (how do they fit your organization?)

July 30, 2012

Pixar logo, with flourishes

From The Pixar Touch, a set of rules for writing a good story to translate to the screen.

Good rules to keep in mind for composition of stories in English, no?  Good rules of writing to keep in mind for any essay writing.

Where else do these rules apply?

Pixar story rules (one version)

Sunday, May 15, 2011 at 03:39PM

Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Presumably she’ll have more to come. Also, watch for her personal side project, a science-fiction short called Horizon, to come to a festival near you.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Farnam Street, who adds:

Still curious?Watch as Kurt Vonnegut explains the different shapes that stories can take.

Where else can you use this?

Consider the project you’ve got to lead, with one person from each department in your company.  What is your vision (the hackneyed but apt word) for how the project ends up?  Storyboard it — and keep in mind these 22 rules.  What’s the essence of your view of the project?  Can you tell it in a minute?  Get the story down to 30 seconds.  What are the stakes, if you get this project done well?  What are the stakes if you fail?   Everybody on the team knows the stakes?  Is your plan on paper?  Have you revised it?

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Quote of the moment: Hemingway, writers need “shock-proof, [excrement] detector”

July 30, 2012

Ernest Hemingway and cat Cristobal, Cuba; JFK Library collection

Ernest Hemingway with his cat, Cristobal, at his home, Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula, Cuba.  Date unknown (circa 1955?) Photo from Ernest Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. (Copyright status unknown)

Was Ernest Hemingway the greatest writer in English of the 20th century?  Fortunately we don’t have to choose.  We can read Hemingway, and Faulkner (with whom he had a few bones to pick), and Hammett, and Parker, and Feynman, and Vonnegut, Bellow, Morrison, dos Passos,  Shaw, Kipling, Ford, Conrad and a dozen more, enjoying each for the gifts she or he demonstrated so well on a page.

Any way you stack it, though, Hemingway was a great one.

In an interview with George Plimpton, published in the Paris Review in 1958, Hemingway talked about what it takes to be a great writer.  Maybe it’s something one needs to be born with:

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.

If we could make a machine to substitute for that, a solid-gold, built-in, shock-proof [excrement] detector, we could improve writing, politics, government, business, and a hundred other fields of endeavor.

If we had a just and appropriately skeptical world, everyone would have one, a “solid gold, built-in, shock-proof [excrement] detector.”

What an enormous If.

Also at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:


Bathtub reading for the World Series, and autumn’s appearance (finally!)

October 20, 2011

Busy as a teacher with 450 papers to grade each week.

That blue color in GE Reveal™ lightbulbs that just turned 10 years old?  Neodymium.  Embedded in the glass, not a coating.  Who knew?  Need to learn a lot more about neodymium — where is it mined, how toxic is it, what else can it do?

How will Rand Paul work up a whine about Reveal lightbulbs?  What will he complain about?

While we’re trolling GE’s press releases, we note the Climate Denialist™ reports of the death of wind power suffer from exaggeration Mark Twain warned us against.

Chart showing effects of 9-9-9 tax plan of Herman Cain

Chart showing effects of 9-9-9 tax plan of Herman Cain, Washington Post

Chart shows Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan overwhelmingly benefits the very rich, while raising taxes on the poor.  Give the man some credit:  Cain’s business acumen was in serving unhealthy food to poor people; gouging money from the poor is probably something he can figure out in his sleep.

Physics fun:  See what you can do with a bunch of pendulums on different lengths of string.  Video at bottom of this post.  Same idea, but with bolt nuts, paper clips, and colored pieces of paper to make it flash in darker light.  Physics fun on the cheap.

Business Insider has charts showing the economic change and job troubles that justify the Occupy Wall Street people.  When Cicero spoke, the people said how well he spoke.  When Demosthenes spoke, the people said, “Let us march!”  Demosthenes seems to have the ear of those protesters.  How long was your last job search?  Is?

Republican super-strategist David Frum calls it quits from Marketplace radio commentaries:  Can’t voice the Republican tripe anymore.  Robert Reich, Frum’s “liberal sparring partner” at the show, eviscerates the philosophy behind the logic that Frum should quit because the Republicans have moved from where Frum feels comfortable — only good and bad politics, Reich says, not right or left politics.  Hate to see Frum go, especially for the state reasons.  Reich is right.  Maybe those Rhodes Scholars should get a good hearing once in a while.

You thought that might be accurate?  No, cosmic rays do not cause global warming — it’s still our fault, and we must act to stop it, if disaster is to be averted.  Yeah, that’s from 2007. Here cosmic ray/cloud expert, Jasper Kirkby explains that his paper does not claim cosmic rays cause clouds and thereby global warming as the Climate Denialists™ claimed.

Worse, as the Yale Climate Forum explains, warming is nearly forever (35,000 years is longer than I expect to live).

Norwegian study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that adequate supplies of folic acid to mothers, pre-natal, leads to normal language development in the baby three years out.  One supplement that keeps on working in study after study.

Washington Post’s Fact Checker looks like a useful tool to have around in an election year.  Glenn Kessler’s done a good job so far.

“Neanderthals still walk the Earth:  Climate deniers don’t believe in evolution, either.”  The National Center for Science Education takes on another goblin stunting our nation’s collective mental development.

Yale Climate Forum, again, takes on some misconceptions about carbon dioxide.

An entertaining post on lies your English teacher told you about writing.  Heck, this is about polishing writing — how do we get teenagers to write at all, today?

U.S.’s NASA and Japanese scientists teamed up to produce an even better, zowie-grosso topographical map of the world.  Scouts everywhere will be impressed.

Why is there gridlock in Congress?  Not sure, Bucky, but you’ll be excited to know that Sen. Jim DeMint  (R-SC) proposes to stop women from communicating with their physicians about abortion on the internet.  Jobs may be the top concern of Americans, but Sen. DeMint can’t be distracted from his task at hand dastardly work.  What?  First Amendment?  Doctor/Patient privilege?  Good health care?  Women’s health and rights?  Sanity?  No, those weren’t mentioned in the amendment.  I don’t think the good senator worries about such things.

Should have seen this one coming:  It’s the fastest growing industry in the U.S.  We export products from it to China.  It employs more than 100,000 people in 5,000 different companies, mostly small businesses.  It helps reduce carbon footprints of everyone, it contributes to making our nation energy independent.  If things continue as they are, there could be as many as 37,000 new jobs added in the next year, and continuing things as they are requires no new federal spending.  So, of course, the Republicans are trying to kill the solar energy industry.  Did someone strike them with a stupid stick?

Ungodly and unholy silence from conservatives and Christians about this terrorist-supporting claim from a pillar of right-wing thought.  No wonder Jesus weeps (not past tense).  On October 18, Limbaugh went back to the topic to laugh about it.  Cold blooded creature, isn’t he?

Update, 10/20:  Even the usually cluelessly callous Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe takes Limbaugh to task — but gently (see 1:45:00 into the C-SPAN video).

Occupy Sesame Street?

Yeah, that chart to the right goes on forever — big, big tax cuts to the richest Americans from Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 idea.

Scroll to the bottom to see the pendulum video.


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