Saturday, October 27, 2012

No Y today

The collage before the next advisory before the storm.

Bruno Munari collage, circa 1951
[ collection of the MoMA ]

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


From Jeff Eugenides's speech at theWhiting Awards yesterday evening. He was advising the award winners to "stay within yourself":

Equally insidious is to adopt a bien pensant manner, to make sure that everything you say is earnest and well meaning, the kind of thing Bono might put in a lyric. Piety can be another form of censorship.

I so appreciated hearing this, about piety. Piety can be so tyrannical, bopping sentient adulthood on the head with a cudgel.

The Whiting Awards are probably the coolest awards going. They have a very simple ceremony and the award winners don't deliver remarks or speeches of their own. They simply step up near the podium, stand while Jeff Eugenides introduces them (reading from a wedding-invitation-sized card of prose), receive their check from Peter Pennoyer, shake hands, and return to their seats. 

Then afterwards, hors d'oeuvres and a pretty full bar, including good wine. 

I think of staying within oneself to mean stopping one's ears and eyes to the world's noise.

Images courtesy of Centre De Recherche 
en Mathématiques de la Décision, 
Université de Paris – Dauphine 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


If you read last night's post, you know already that tonight's post is about marbly. It so happens that I wouldn't have selected marbly without having passed velleity at the end of the summer. That's when I leafed through the New Yorker and marveled at the lushness and clarity of a book review about a "biography" of the novel The Portrait of a Lady, and returned several times to this sentence:

How does one hope to pay homage to such complications: to all those hops and holes in the text, those worrisome velleities? 

It sent me to the OED to look up velleity ("The fact or quality of merely willing, wishing, or desiring, without any effort or advance towards action or realization.") and then got me thinking about how seldom I pass this word. I really like passing words that are rare and yet not obsolete. 

However: I didn't really like the word. I like its meaning, but as far as ear and eye sense go: No.

Marbly, by contrast, is already in the finalist's circle for this year. It's handsome and stands out in its context, in Nick Paumgarten's Talk of the Town piece, "Less Europe," in the October 22, 2012 issue of the New Yorker:

He has a smoker's marbly laugh and tawny skin, and, as he credibly claims, "relatively hollow legs," into which, at the reception, he poured a fair amount of gin.

The cliché about smoker's laugh is that it's throatycroakyhoarse. Full of oas. Sandpapery. There's the idea of congestion--whether sexy or no--and a furring, a roughness, on the audio output. And so marbly wins on contrast points. Coolness, stillness, smoothness? No . . . and yet: it fits. 

I think of a smoker, and the time-worn grooves of a smoker's habit, and a smoker's fidelity to her or his tobacco, and the word makes meaning.

Mostly, though, I like the way it makes its unexpected impression. 


Monday, October 15, 2012


Okay, it's in Nick Paumgarten's Talk of the Town piece in this week's New Yorker, but I'm going to get to it tomorrow. Because this is my blog, and it's important to keep everybody in suspense.

Until those thoughts, then, I give you this:

The Writing Center at Hunter College plucks its speakers from many paths of life. Tonight Daniel Rose, of Rose Associates, delivered the Jack Burstyn Memorial Lecture on the subject of the art of public speaking.

Though the dapper Mr. Rose, standing at a wooden podium, had something to say about Martin Luther King’s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," and held forth about the importance of ethos, logos, pathos and that non-os, decorum, he really had a lot more to say about the first debate. 

On Mitt Romney’s performance: “His crisp, authoritative manner and his eye contact with the audience did much to overcome the weaknesses of his argument, which was disgraceful.”  The argument, that is, was disgraceful.

Twice Mr. Rose quoted verbatim, much to his own consternation, the responses of David Axelrod, Obama’s senior campaign adviser, as to how and why Obama was so unprepared. Rather than repeat Mr. Axelrod’s tepid and clueless remarks (honestly, hearing them made me wonder if he's being secretly paid by the Romney campaign), I share with you Mr. Rose’s opening and closing statements for our President.

Mr. Obama’s opening statement should have been: “Mr. Romney cares about some of us; I care about all of us.”

Mr. Obama’s closing statement should have been: “We have started the recovery from the disaster we inherited, and with your help and with your support [Mr. Rose, his hand pumping, shouting -- from his diaphragm -- projecting past the back wall of the room], we will finish it.”

Bonus advice: What Michelle Obama should have said -- not whatever "I love my husband" thing she said, but: “My husband looks calm, but he spends sleepless night worrying about military casualties in Afghanistan, about students who can’t pay their student loans, about people who don’t have health insurance.”

And why—why, why, why?—Mr. Rose wondered, his fingers touching his temples, why didn’t Mr. Obama mention that he kept the automobile industry alive? Who are these ninkempoop advisers?, he seemed to be saying. Why aren’t they doing a better job of appealing to the heads of 50 per cent of the American populations and the hearts of the other 50 per cent?

This is not the time to be unprepared on national television. Not while the Koch brothers are slinking to state after state using their money to elect Neanderthal judges – yes, buying their way into the laws of states that could use the extra money. Not while people (the high IQ people and the low IQ people? Difficult to say) are fixated on and paralyzed by this image of “the cliff” we’re going to fall over come December 31.

And how come doesn't the President better distinguish between expenditures for consumption and expenditures for investment (i.e., infrastructure, education, and scientific research)?

And why is Obama failing to push, to embarrass, to attack Congress?

And what about a VAT tax? We are, said Mr. Rose, the only developed country without one. What gives?

And elected officials should wear the names of their biggest donors across their backs, so it’s evident whom they work for.

By the end of the presentation, I wanted to put Mr. Rose (a winner of national Cicero Speechwriting awards, according to his online c.v.), on the next plane to Mr. Obama’s side. Instead I asked him about the future of the Chrysler building and Midtown, recently reported by Charlie Bagli in the New York Times. What does Mr. Rose think about the Chrysler Building? There it was, I indicated, off to the left of the glass windows.

“Forget single buildings,” was Mr. Rose’s final word on the subject.

Before that he waxed about the ecological, fewer-cars future of high-density life that will become the norm in this and other cities. “High-density relationships are going to be the model of the future,” he said, adding that there are people who believe "the denser the city, the more vital, creative, entrepreneurial, and innovative.” Also: mass transit. Mass transit, mass transit, mass transit.

Hm. I think about the Chrysler Building, quite a bit. The Chrysler and the Empire State, and their place in the skyline. I look at the Chrysler Building and the Empire State, and I think of men and women like Mr. Rose, and to me it's just fine and dandy that they stand out and above others. If the Chrysler becomes just another building crammed up against or obscured by other buildings, then that is just one more nail in the coffin of Manhattan. (Maybe we’re dead anyway. Jay McInerney, in an 1980s introduction to a book of photographs, wrote, if memory serves correctly, that New York was almost dead, or was rapidly expiring—it was already gone, essentially.)

When I’m downtown and look up Lexington Avenue and see the Chrysler, or am in Chelsea and look up and see the Empire State, they are two North Stars. Nantucket has its building height rules. So does Paris. I’m all for the future of New York (some days), but not a future that fouls up its compass.

I don’t think I’m ready to forget single buildings, and it’s unlikely I’ll be ready to do so any time soon.

It’s also unlikely I’ll forget Mr. Rose. His navy tie had little yellow icons of construction trucks and excavators, and afterwards he stood with members of the audience near the buffet of food from Butterfield Market and munched on cocktail franks and conversed. Mensch.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


I almost wrote this today in an email about something but then pulled back, thinking, No.....people don't really use this word. It's too dated. I'll probably use it next week.

And then, doing a little search for the wisteria pergola behind the Naumburg Bandshell and Kramer vs. Kramer, I watched both of the French toast scenes and then the one with Dustin Hoffman on the stand. Coincidentally, he uses the word constancy in reference to what makes somebody a good parent.

His list includes, in order:

1. Constancy
2. Patience
3. Listening to 'em
4. Pretending to listen to 'em when you can't even listen any more.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979 -- so, yes, dated) has two handfuls of visual typos and at least one factual problem. But it has to be one of the best movies ever made about divorce, mainly because the emotions aren't so overwhelming and over the top that they hide the truth of two people in trouble and in pain -- in other words, we can see people feeling something other than anger. We also meet a child who is lucky enough to not be relied upon to behave as a parent to two grownup children, and not asked to take sides in the custody fight.

It's gratifying to watch a self-centered father travel successfully from the Cave of Ignorance to the Lake of Self-Awareness and True Parenthood in a little under two hours. It's also startling to see people behaving as civilized people, actually. (Rich Kids -- with the great song, and also from 1979, and needing to make it onto DVD -- is another film featuring civilized parents who are getting a divorce.)

Person on stomach, arm over head, feet crossed at the ankles
[ both photographs taken with my much dropped
Sanyo "dumb" flip phone ]
I'd walked through the pergola for the very first time on Thursday, while crossing the Park. I had no idea what it was, and then I ran into a friend of my sister's and told her how I'd just discovered it,
and she mentioned it was in Kramer vs. Kramer.

Which was one of those information coincidences. I'd been watching the movie recently, and had wondered where the poignant "You're going to live with Mommy" scene had taken place. It was the only place I couldn't readily identify.

Kramer vs. Kramer has a gold standard of a script. It's really very difficult to find fault with anything in the movie, except for the fact that the parents portrayed are so decent and the outcome so satisfying, you have to wonder if so many of us love it because that's the way we wish divorce -- and the transformation of parents (of people) -- would turn out, period. It's a little like a play, the movie.

The one character who perhaps personifies constancy is the wonderful Margaret, who at the beginning thinks and knows Ted is behaving like an ass and yet doesn't shut him out. They become true friends.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


From Chapter 4, "The Confused Person's Guide to Astronomical Jargon," in Neil deGrasse Tyson's 1994 book Universe Down To Earth.

This is the less-than-elegant term to describe the moment when three cosmic bodies have aligned. For example, during full moon and new moon, the Earth, Moon, and Sun are in syzygy.
Mr deGrasse Tyson is one of the more engaging public speakers around. And I nominate him for an iPhone commercial alongside theoretical physicist Lisa Randall for a three-way discussion with Siri about the definition of dark matter.

Scanning electron microscope image of Juglans nigra 
(Black Walnut tree)
lower leaf surface, showing a variety of trichomes.

(Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility/Dartmouth College) 

via's The Big Picture: News Stories in Photographs

Syzygy, meanwhile: hard on the eyes. But a variety of words is always nice.