Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Back On The Air, In A Spaceship

Futurama's back.

I'm watching Bender's Big Score right now. I am so happy.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Never-Industrial City

Imagine this counterfactual. Suppose that Europe and the United States had never directly participated in the Industrial Revolution. There are craft industries, plenty of entrepreneurial capitalism, development of a modern division of labor, new technologies of transportation and communication, and maybe an industrialized food supply, but no Grossindustrie in the way it emerged in the nineteenth century, with big factories, large-scale manufacturing, or huge urban populations.

No. Instead, the major powers of Europe develop big industry in their colonies. After the French Revolution, no king or queen, president or parliament wants a concentrated proletariat right outside their front door. Many of the colonial societies already have highly efficient, organized societies; the remainder can easily be conscripted into manual labor, especially the less-dangerous women and children. And unlike at home, industrialized capitalism in the colonies can be supported with brutal force with considerably less clamor.

Europe and the United States draw on the large pools of labor, concentrated in the countrysides and established cities, the wealth of natural resources, the ability to ship and trade goods globally -- essentially an industrialized extension of their activities in the colonies prior to 1800. They reserve for themselves the manufacture of arms, luxury goods, and complex new implements of technology, trades befitting the most cultured and intelligent peoples of the world.

The easy joke here would be to say, "this sounds a lot like now." But stop and think about how much would be different. Europe and the U.S. would likely still be mostly agricultural. There would have been no revolutions of 1848, no Paris Commune, no Russian Revolution. Their analogues would have been in India, Cairo, and Mexico City. The West would have fought to the death to keep and control their colonies and proxy states, now home to vast wealth and investment. Canada, Australia, India, Ireland and Hong Kong would be granted home rule, but still be members of the British Empire. The Belgians, Germans, and Dutch would fight over sub-Saharan Africa. Mexico, aided by France, would have a violent revolution against Spain and become a major modern industrial power, with France and the U.S. as cautious partners and allies.

The huge waves of migration and industrialization would never have happened -- or they would have happened in Canada, Australia, India, China, Brazil, and the Middle East. Damascus would still produce steel; Iraq would be covered with railroads. All Middle Eastern nations, flush with oil wealth and industrial development, would grow and grow and grow, but the ultrareligious Wahhabist-Marxists among their young men would always be a danger. Western cities would have tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of residents, not millions. They would be narrowly cosmopolitan centers of government, learning, and commerce. Their power would eventually fade, especially as they lost their monopoly on tools of warfare, but they would remain economically, financially, and politically strong, having created the modern economy and virtually all of the institutions of global trade and cooperation.

Or it never could have happened, because of ____________________.

Least We Can Do

This is my ten-week-old son's favorite song.

Friday, November 23, 2007

All Kindle, All the Time

Thibaut Sailly at well... has my favorite post yet on the Amazon Kindle e-book reader. After highlighting the stylistic tics and missed opportunities of the existing reader, Sailly makes an astonishingly sensible wishlist for the electronic reader of the future, including a protective booklike cover (w/ matching color and casing), streamlining of any design features that distract from the text, and waterproofing.

No crazy pie-in-the-sky prognosticating, half-baked futurism/conservatism, idiosyncratic enthusiasms, or poorly motivated kvetching. Just simple ideas to make reading a doc better.

The best part: there's a sketch!

It's so lo-fi. I love it.

Anyways, just wrapping things up. I will post later about the unacceptable abuse of poetry
by the Kindle (the formatting needs a left-flushed line). And also about how maybe the best test for an e-document reader isn't how it handles a Dickens novel, but a take-out menu, a political pamphlet, and a crossword puzzle.

The only other turkey-addled thoughts I've had is that the only possible advantages I can see to a dedicated book reader, as opposed to a more versatile handheld computer like the iPhone, are

1) Battery life (iPods and laptops gobble them up)
2) Viewing angle (again, they suck on computers)
3) In principle, waterproofing.

More later.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

More Kindling for the Kindle

A round-up:

Me: "Since Amazon's getting into the music downloads business, I think turnabout is only fair play. Apple can start selling e-books on iTunes and come in with an oversized iPod touch (or a mini, highly-specialized tablet) with wi-fi, A/V outputs, touchscreen, color, email, a calendar, a real web browser and RSS, and music and movies at close to the same price point. (Maybe at a $100 premium). Maybe a stylus to highlight text, do crossword puzzles, and take notes. And it won't look like a taupe Etch-a-sketch... Seriously -- for an older, book-reading market, who probably listened to their first MP3s through iTunes rather than Napster, who often had Macs for their first computers... who else could do this?"

Saul Hansell (Bits/New York Times): "Amazon Pitches a Wireless IPod for Books... Because the display is black and white, Amazon will not sell books for it that involve elaborate illustrations. It has a keyboard that for now is mainly for taking notes on what you read... Amazon has mainly designed the Kindle for reading books and periodicals it sells, but it has added a number of other features that take advantage of its capabilities. It can read documents created in a number of standard formats. You can load documents on it by attaching it to a computer or by simply e-mailing the document to a special address given to each Kindle user. The Kindle will play MP3 music files, but for now Amazon doesn’t allow customers to purchase music directly from its store through the Kindle. And the Kindle has a rudimentary Web browser. This was added first to allow it to have easy access to Wikipedia, but it can access any other Web site, displaying mainly text."

Apple Insider: "With the initial iPhone now out the door and two successive models well underway in Apple's labs, it's believed to be full steam ahead for the modern day Newton project. Like iPhone and the iPod touch, the new device runs an embedded version of Apple's Mac OS X Leopard operating system. Externally, the mutil-touch PDA has been described by sources as an ultra-thin "slate" akin to the iPhone, about 1.5 times the size and sporting an approximate 720x480 high-resolution display that comprises almost the entire surface of the unit. The device is further believed to leverage multi-touch concepts which have yet to gain widespread adoption in Apple's existing multi-touch products -- the iPhone and iPod touch -- like drag-and-drop and copy-and-paste. More broadly characterized as Apple's answer to the ultra-mobile PC, the next-gen device is believed to be tracking for a release sometime in the first half of 2008. Assuming the project remains clear of roadblocks, sources believe it could make an inaugural appearance during Jobs' Macworld keynote in January alongside some new Mac offerings. Still, manufacturing ramp and availability would seem unlikely until closer to mid-year, those same sources say."

Fake Steve Jobs
: "All I can say is that between this device and the Sony Reader you almost have the making of what you want. The Sony has a nice form factor and the gorgeous buttery soft faux leather case. The Kindle has better features. I know what you're thinking. Wouldn't it be just kick-ass super duper if, say, Apple came along and finally delivered the ultimate product in this category? Because you just know if we did it the thing would look gorgeous and have a beautiful feature set and would just kick everyone's ass. What if we could get it done by January and announce it at Macworld? Gee whiz. I'll have to mention this to Jony at lunchtime."

Also: "First off, Jeanie Falzone, the woman who does my karmic repatterning, says we've been putting way too much technology into the market in too short a time. She says the world needs time to absorb new technology and if we overload that delicate balance we risk throwing the entire planet into some kind of flux state that could be really dangerous. Second problem is iBook's buttery soft faux leather case. To be sure, it's buttery soft. We spent huge amounts of time working with material scientists in Japan and Germany and ended up having to create our own unique material which has the highest buttery softness of any faux leather material ever developed. The problem is the color. I know the color I want. I can see it in my mind's eye. It's hard to describe. It's a light brown, but not quite tan. It's the exact color of the cover of a first edition of William Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience" which I used to have in my library, a version of which is shown above. But the color I want is the color of that book when viewed outdoors late in the day in my backyard with the sun going down into the Santa Cruz mountains. Unfortunately I no longer have my copy of this book (left it in a limo, duh) so we can't work from the original. And the other copies still in existence are not the same shade."

Bubble Generation: "The Kindle should be the hub of a thriving market, network, or community (or multiple ones) connecting every economic actor who even has a remote interest in producing or consuming print media. The problem is it's none of the above. It's just economically and strategically connecting the same old players in the same old ways."

Seth Godin:
"When Amazon came to talk to me about being included on the reader a long long time ago, I said sure, but. The but is that I wanted my books to be free and included in every reader, and my blog, too... My thought was to use it, at least for a few years, as a promotion device. Give the books for free to anyone who buys the $400 machine. (Maybe you can have 1,000 books of your choice, so there's not a lot of 'waste'.) You'll sell more machines that way, that's for sure. And the people willing to buy the device are exactly the sort of people that an author like me wants to reach... This is a disruptive approach, the sort of thing only a market leader could pull off. It changes the world in a serious way. I wanted to be part of that. I was unpersuasive. Sorry."

John Gruber (Daring Fireball): "Or what if Amazon gave you a free Kindle e-book version of every physical book you’ve ever purchased from Amazon?"

Also: "If everything is set in the exact same typeface — if Kindle’s e-books are delivered as strings of text rather than as designed pages — then the Kindle will not replace books. I think PDF is the only feasible e-book format today."

Robin Sloan (Snarkmarket): Awesomeness TBA.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

This Isn't A Device; It's A Service

Man oh man -- Steven Levy at Newsweek has a seven-page cover story on the new Amazon Kindle e-book reader and the future of books. Read it, then if you're still interested, come back for my take below.


I think the overall analysis of the picture of electronic books is right -- but there is no real reason to think that Amazon is going to be the one to figure this out. Sony, which has honest-to-goodness successful experience designing, making, marketing and selling consumer electronics and a ton of consumer media, hasn't figured out e-books or their readers. Why in the world would Amazon, whose chief material innovation has been the use of giant warehouses in the middle of nowhere, solve the riddle?

You know, everyone's been talking about the Kindle for a long time -- but I've never seen a screenshot of what a book looks like on its screen. For $400, you would think that you could get something with a bit more flair in its design -- rather than something unfortunately resembling a dot-matrix printer and at the very least, a color screen. Do you want to know what electronic documents AND books have that e-books don't? COLOR. Annie Proulx gets a line from a 1994 interview into the Newsweek article: "Nobody is going to sit down and read a novel on a twitchy little screen. Ever." Levy dismisses this as quaint, but while the screen might be less twitchy, it looks an awful lot like an old two-tone computer monitor. I am feeling the intellectual lust, but not filled with techno-lust. Not one bit.

Since Amazon's getting into the music downloads business, I think turnabout is only fair play. Apple can start selling e-books on iTunes and come in with an oversized iPod touch (or a mini, highly-specialized tablet) with wi-fi, A/V outputs, touchscreen, color, email, a calendar, a real web browser and RSS, and music and movies at close to the same price point. (Maybe at a $100 premium). Maybe a stylus to highlight text, do crossword puzzles, and take notes. And it won't look like a taupe Etch-a-sketch.

Maybe this is total Apple fanboy stuff, but if anyone has figured out electronic devices + purely digital media sales, it's Apple. I mean, an iPhone with large, readable text? I'd buy my grandma one -- she doesn't need a whole PC anyways! She could sign e-cards, and write and mail handwritten notes as JPGs instead of typing (or use handwriting recognition -- which would also pre-empt a lot of the beef people have with the iPhone keyboard). Seriously -- for an older, book-reading market, who probably listened to their first MP3s through iTunes rather than Napster, who often had Macs for their first computers, are buying new ones with iSights to video chat with their grandchildren (and because the Mac OS is easier to use) -- who else could do this?

Add people who love tablets and want Apple to make them, or who want to watch digital movies on a portable-DVD player-sized screen rather than one smaller than a playing card, smaller children whom you might not want to give either a cellular phone or a laptop or even an iPod, professionals like doctors or teachers or waitstaff, who already often walk around with largish portable devices, and about a hundred other groups of people who might be interested in such a device, and you've got a holiday-sized market just waiting to be tapped.

So, build it, Apple. Show that you're as committed to literacy as you are to media. Give them away to schools, sell them to the literati and older people and college kids. You can make it stronger, better, faster. You have the technology.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It's Friday Night, and That Means We're Going Retro

Or rather, it means trotting out a rerun. But a good rerun! Chewy enough for your weekend catch-up reading.

December 14, 2004: "Technologies of Knowledge."

Every so often in a blogger's life, the stars are aligned, and the idea you've been sitting on for a while anyway suddenly becomes newsworthy. While the dynamic duo at Snarkmarket have sent their "EPIC 2014" doomsday predictions scattering across the blogosphere, there was another print-vs.-digital clash well worth a little consequence-exploration.

This week, the always-erstwhile Chronicle of Higher Education features an article titled "College Libraries: The Long Goodbye." Apparently computers, having finally made ghastly research libraries manageable, now may be on the way to doing away with them altogether.

The bullet-point summary of the state of affairs might read something like this:

  1. Compared to software, books are expensive;
  2. Likewise, books take up too much space;
  3. And compared to outsourced tech specialists, so do librarians.
The author doesn't endorse these positions, but rather gives some arguments for the continued relevance of the research library. Some of these are quite ingenious: for example, the main problem for libraries is much less the obsolesence of print media then the sudden glut of new materials: more than three times as many books are published now versus just thirty years ago, not to mention new journals, periodicals, etc.

This might be a good moment to mention what some of us are calling the dematerialization thesis -- the argument, whether in valediction or lamentation, that digital media has overcome the meaningful physical limitations that characterized earlier forms. As far as I can tell, the locus classicus of this thesis (with respect to modernity writ large) is German sociologist Georg Simmel's 1899 book The Philosophy of Money, but another good source is Friedrich Kittler's more recent Discourse Networks 1800/1900, and its follow-up Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. There are all sorts of problems with this argument (which I'll detail at another time) but it's undeniable that faced with a space crunch, institutions are opting for what I'll call the greater material flexibility of digital media. Many libraries, perhaps most notably that of Stanford University, have made huge investments in converting or copying their collections into digital formats, and publishers have likewise targeted libraries as prime consumers of electronic texts, whether as a backup to or substitute for "the real thing."

Then today, the New York Times made the remarkable EPIC-esque announcement: "Google Is Adding Major Libraries To Its Database." It's true -- and there are no slouches, either. Stanford, Michigan, Harvard, and the always-difficult New York Public Library are all on board.

Since in-print books are going to be off the table, the real scoop is going to be in integrating these libraries remarkable collections of rare, out-of-print, and manuscript material. 99% of Americans won't care, but these are pure gold to most scholars, and until recently, most university libraries were known for hanging onto these texts like they were their balls: you used to have to either be a big name or get a big time research fellowship to even see these babies. (And I'm sure the real cream-of-the-crop will probably continue to be withheld.)

They also happen to be the texts whose conspicuous materiality (there he goes again) actually makes them best suited for popular digitization. Imagine -- now not just scholars, but undergrads and even middle and high schoolers can see and examine rare, delicate, or simply unavailable primary documents from anywhere in the world without having to travel long distances or actually get their grubby little hands all over them. For my money, the real steal won't be in electronic texts as such, but digital facsimilies of the real thing. Not only will books no longer go out of print -- they'll no longer even need to be printed. Yet we'll be able to maintain a significant degree of contact (ha ha) with the now-outmoded print culture of the past.

This is where Google has really surprised me. It may have been expected that Google would enter into the spheres of e-mail, blogging, social networks, and the like: these are the sort of fields that a start-up can start up, with the now-industry-standard limited exposure among a few dedicated partisans, eventually breaking into a wider, more lucrative market. But Harvard and Stanford are about as establishment and big-time as it gets, and between this venture and the new, hopefully improving Google Scholar, the big G has found a way both to go unexpectedly highbrow and perhaps to decisively entrench itself as the search engine of choice: the monstrous, ultimate technology of knowledge, decisively putting the autonomous nodes of the research library and the limited search engine to rest.

Six days later: Technologies of Knowledge, Pt. 2.

The Google Library Shockwave keeps rolling along. See my first "Technologies of Knowledge" post for my preliminary comments, but also read this new essay "Paradise is paper, vellum, and dust" in the London Times Online.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What Black Magic

The ever-renewing wit that is Get Fuzzy:

Today's Comic

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

This Is Just To Say / Posing As A God

PennSound's William Carlos Williams page is believed to contain every existing recording of the great poet (arguably America's central poet in this century) reading and talking about his poetry. And it's free, all, gloriously free! My current favorite is his 1955 interview, about Ezra Pound:

I met him. But what my first impression was, I don't remember. He was a -- blond, guy, with his hair -- beautifully disordered. And, uh... eh... His hair was always a prominent part of his appearance. And, uh... eh... He had really beautiful -- blond, reddish, hair. Which he wore wildly around his head, as a halo. I suppose he was posing -- as a God! (Laughs.) He always posed as somebody or other.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Carrie Brownstein from Sleater-Kinney has at least two projects to read/watch -- neither of which, alas, is either a solo album or an announcement that she's forming a supergroup with Jack White, Steven Drozd, the Friedbergers, and Spencer Krug.

But don't despair! This is good stuff!

She has a smart, lively, and thoughtfully questioning (questioningly thoughtful?) blog on music, hosted by NPR, called "Monitor Mix." She writes that "I would rather discuss and examine what it is that people actually consume than to tell you what you should be listening to. There are already plenty of great blogs and online resources that tell us what the best new music is or that unearth rarities and lost classics. Though I might occasionally review a piece of music, I would rather explore the contexts and the ways in which we enjoy or maybe even despise it."

Why 'Monitor Mix'?

I wanted 'Blogstein' but the powers that be liked 'Monitor Mix'. Plus, alliterations always sound nice.

What's the purpose of 'Monitor Mix' blog?

It aims to be an entertaining, insightful, and not too serious take on music and culture. I think fellow cynics and curmudgeons will relate and optimists will learn how to tone it down. Feelings of hopefulness will be encouraged but not nurtured.

Who can comment?

Spell checkers. And the rest of you, sadly.

Do you have rules about what people can or can't say in the comments?

Arbitrary ones.

Typically the posts start or end with a question: What band did you love devoutly but don't listen to anymore? What are your musical dealbreakers? And: "If you carry a cat around on your shoulder when you go out, or a bird, or a lizard, what music do you listen to?"

There is definitely a distinct and hitherto frustrated need that this blog meets, and for that we should rejoice.

But wait, there's more! Brownstein also has a video/musical/comedy project on the web. And this time her collaborators aren't rockin' lady bandmates or their supergroup dream counterparts, but Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen, who isn't a bad musician himself.

It's called ThunderAnt. Typical sketches include "Feminist Bookstore," an interview with Saddam Hussein (as an aging folk-rocker), and a little minimalist romantic sketch called "This is Nice."

And... that's it, 'cause there isn't that much of it. But it's nice, and Brownstein holds her own as a straight-(wo)man partner to Armisen's muted zaniness.

Monday, November 12, 2007


I noticed today that my rate of posts in 2007 has easily outpaced any year since I started the blog. But I also had the chance to re-read my posts from 2004 -- and they're actually really good! (It reminds me a little bit of when I cracked open my literature and philosophy essays from my sophomore year and found them mostly uninformed but totally cogent, fun to read, and perfectly argued. I wondered then, and now, just what happened.)

I think I devoted more time and thought per post then, but it's fun to see the range of interests that I already had established -- literature, movies, music, electoral politics (especially big that year, mostly poured into Young Philly Politics this year), and cities.

Anyways, if you're relatively new to the blog, or just feeling nostalgic/curious, check out the old stuff. You won't be sorry.

Winter, Greatness

The Economist on the wonder that is Chicago.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Advertisements For Ourselves

Louis Menand on the importance of Norman Mailer:

Mailer was simply making apparent something that modern literature and, in particular, modern journalism preferred to disguise, which is that a book is written by a human being, someone with professional ambitions, financial needs, tastes and distastes, and this human being is part of the story whether he or she appears in the story or not. It was not important for readers to like this person; it was important to know him. Mailer did not put the first person into journalism; he took it out of the closet.

After the Gramme

There's a new Newsweek article on the maybe-return of an emphasis on improving handwriting in K-12 education. Maybe I'm prejudiced, since most of my elementary school Bs come from grades in handwriting. But give it a read.

Some of the material is really intriguing:

Emily Knapton, director of program development at Handwriting Without Tears, believes that "when kids struggle with handwriting, it filters into all their academics. Spelling becomes a problem; math becomes a problem because they reverse their numbers."
Of course you could also write, "when kids struggle with ______, it filters into all their academics" and be more-or-less right; this doesn't really justify making handwriting a higher-stakes part of education.

Other ideas just seem like red herrings (the etiquette of handwritten thank-you cards, the new essay component of the SAT -- which actually doesn't emphasize or grade handwriting at all, at least officially).

One thought that came to mind, though, is how for most of human history, writing -- i.e., the physical/graphical etching out of letters, not literacy or composition -- has been degrading menial labor, fit for slaves and scribes and monks and scriveners and (in this century) typists and secretaries. My wife pointed out that in hospitals, you can tell someone's status by how legible their handwriting is (the easier it is to read, the lower status the writer has) -- the hidden social signals of doctors' bad handwriting. And you can see this still in the denigration of handwriting -- teaching script is rote, contentless learning, suitable maybe for the illiterate and for the disciplining of bodies, but not today's modern, first-world, knowledge-worker children.

But as the reproduction of writing has grown more technological and less mechanical, writing has grown more democratic. Virtually everyone is now expected to type their own documents, and the secretary/typist is the vestige only of the most powerful people. And manuscript writing has in turn acquired the prestige that we see so often in outmoded technologies -- Walter Benjamin might say that it's regained its aura, the halo of creative, individual sacrality that surrounds Renaissance paintings or similar now-unique objects.

This power has always been in the signature, the autograph, the original manuscript. But those objects aren't ephemeral. What do we do with a mode of communication that's still essential to learning, newly (re)associated with a kind of prestige of immediacy, yet more and more disposable, possibly to the point of disappearing from the paper and electronic record entirely?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Cult of Personality

I stopped subscribing to Matthew Yglesias's RSS feed (along with his compatriot Andrew Sullivan) just because I couldn't keep up with the torrent of their combined outputs. The noise-to-signal ratio on both bloggers is uncomfortably high, but what a signal! And what noise! Luckily, I still have both bloggers on my Google Reader blip, so I catch up with them from time to time.

Today, Yggy has a smart post on the warm reception given to Ashfaq Kiyani, a Pakistani general and presumed successor to Musharraf as head of the army. It boils down to the notion that U.S. policy has made mistake after mistake by looking to the perceived character/attitude of individuals, rather than understanding the structural interests of nations.

There are so many examples of this mistake in our foreign policy, that it almost makes you forget the one BIG counterexample. One global power's policies towards the rest of the world really did hinge on the fact that one person came to power, along with his entourage. If only OUR structural national interests had trumped the whims of our own group of madmen. The world would be a saner and safer place.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

On The Menu

Anyone who's met me knows that I love to eat. And, I am an extremely democratic eater, which is a good fit for Philadelphia, which is an extremely democratic place for good food. From cheesesteaks, pretzels and cheap soul food to fine French dining, and especially the thick, yummy middle of Italian, Jewish, and Indian cuisine, Philadelphia has it all. Here is a short round-up of a few of my favorite things.

The salty: Well, maybe Philadelphia doesn't exactly have it all. Delicious proscuitto, dry rub bacon, cold cuts, and smoked salmon and trout, yes. But while the local potato chips are fine, I've begun importing my stash from Detroit, in the form of a box full of 1 oz. Halloween-sized bags of original Better Mades. My fix has a regular supply, and I don't eat a pound in a single sitting. (Delicious and responsible.) Plus, individual bags gives you a terrific whole-chip-to-crumb ratio.

The creamy: For cheesey imports, DiBruno Bros (either in the Italian Market or off Rittenhouse Square) can't be beat, but for staples, I turn to the Clark Park farmers' market. My Amish dairy hook-up supplies me with fresh raw milk -- really, the most fantastic stuff I have ever had -- and raw milk cheeses. The cheddar is fine, but the colby, which is aged less and has a more mild but complex flavor, is the very best. I didn't know what people were going on about with raw milk, but I am a true believer now. Luckily for me, it's legal to sell and drink the raw in Pennsylvania, without some of the quasi-legal contortions people go through in other states.

The sweet: The farmers' market is also my go-to stop-and-shop for small cakes, especially pumpkin, carrot and zucchini bread, and for fruit. My wife and I have both fallen head-over-heels in love with Asian pears. They are so juicy, lightly sweet, and full (I eat them right through the small core), and absolutely ready-to-eat. I don't know how we'll make it through the winter without them. Also available not far from the park: cupcakes and cherry walnut bagels from the Green Line Cafe, and croissants, tarts, and other pastries at the Restaurant School (up around 43rd and Walnut).

The robust: La Colombe coffee (roasted right here in Philly), particularly the rich Corsica blend. Half-and-half or light cream, and a packet of Splenda. My idea of heaven. You can buy the coffee by the bag or super-cheap by the cup at the Restaurant School, crazy expensive everywhere else.

The spicy: My wife has mastered the art of the Thai curry. First, curry paste and coconut milk from the Fu Wah Mini-Market. Fresh shrimp, which you can get at Whole Foods but we buy at a New Jersey Costco, or chicken thighs. Mushrooms, peppers, and onions from the market. Jasmine rice prepared with peas, cumin, and plenty of turmeric for color, boiled in a mixture of coconut milk and chicken stock. It's the sort of dish that makes you never want to go out or order in again. (But we do!) Fu Wah is also the home of unbelievable Vietnamese spicy tofu hoagies, cheap (less than 4$) and vegetarian (which, democrat that I am, is nice, but I don't particularly care) and right around the corner.

Sometimes it takes you years to figure out your own gastronomic map of the city, or even your own neighborhood. This is my sixth year in Philadelphia, and I still feel like I'm figuring things out. But it sure is delicious to continue to try.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Good Kind of Literary Hoax

We're all used to the bad literary hoaxes -- rigged poetry contests, Harvard freshmen plagiarizing their first novels, memoirists selling fiction as self-help, or actresses appearing as invented personae. But all this scandal has given the literary hoax a bad name. What about the good literary hoaxes: the Ossians, the pseudo-Ciceros, the Futurist Manifestoes, the Borgesian pranks and gags that enrich us all?

Well, this one is a doozy. An argument's been mounted that the famous poem "A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island," by Frank O'Hara -- a.k.a. my favorite poet -- was actually written as an homage to O'Hara after his death by his good friend and fellow poet Kenneth Koch, then smuggled into O'Hara's literary papers with a forged date on a purloined typewriter.

On this reading, the poem-as-hoax is a beautiful gift -- first given to Koch by O'Hara in inspiration, then by Koch to O'Hara in authorial attribution. Or as the Sun says in the poem itself, "Go back to sleep now, Frank, and I may leave a tiny poem in that brain of yours as a farewell."

The article itself is a tidy bit of authorial gamesmanship. It's purportedly a "tape-essay" by three Japanese authors (one of whom is also allegedly a pseudonymous author who either faked his own death or was presumed dead), "edited" by Kent Johnson and Javier Alvarez.

So take the full story with a pound of salt. I don't have my copy of Joe LeSueur's book handy, so I can't verify that the story mentioned about the poem's origin appears there. But regardless, it's a beautiful idea, all the more so if it were true.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Rhetoric Beat

Brent Cunningham at the Columbia Journalism review thinks we need one:

What if on 9/11 our major media outlets had employed reporters whose sole job it was to cover the rhetoric of politics—to parse the language of our elected leaders, challenge it, and explain the thinking behind it, the potential power it can have to legitimize certain actions and policies and render others illegitimate? As the press and public officials struggled to find the proper language to describe what was happening on their television screens (or outside their windows), these reporters would have been scrutinizing that language, and, let’s assume for sake of argument, having their analytical work displayed prominently—on the front pages of newspapers and Web sites, and in substantial TV news segments.

Jobs for lit and rhet/comp majors, and others schooled in the art of critical analysis? Let's do this thing.

(Via Romenesko.)