What the Meaning of “Is” Is

Posted in Whatever Else on May 8th, 2010 by bill


As mentioned in my last post, I picked up a copy of the Hold Steady’s latest CD at their show on Thursday. It’s a good album, and I am entirely satisfied with my purchase, except for one thing: On the front cover, the spine, and the disc the title is rendered as “Heaven is Whenever.”

This drives me batshit crazy. This is wrong.

Here’s the deal: In headline case, every word is capitalized unless it is an article, a conjunction, or a preposition. This is a simple and elegant rule and it has been in effect for hundreds of years; and yes, because this is English, there are a whole coterie of exceptions, but that’s not the point. The point is that whether a word is supposed to be capitalized depends on which part of speech it is, not how many letters are in it. “Is” is a verb, and gets the capital “I.” Always has, and the Lawd willing, always will. End of discussion.

Unfortunately, misunderstanding of this rule has become a widespread problem. I consider it emblematic of the general decline of American literacy. One of the major theater chains flashes a card before every movie to remind you to turn off your phone—it reads “Silence is Golden,” and every time I see it I want to scream. It makes me so tense that it ruins the first five minutes of the movie. So as a personal favor I want you, dear reader, to take a pledge to fight the scourge of the small “i” wherever you see it. Never surrender, never compromise. By any means necessary. Hallelujah.

Bands I’ve Seen (updated)

Posted in Dancing about architecture on May 7th, 2010 by bill

It was a real old-fashioned rock’n’roll night last night. The band was the Hold Steady, and they played loud and hard, with two (sometimes three) guitars, bass, and drums, and the oddly charismatic Craig Finn declaiming at the mic. The venue was the Fillmore, and I rolled out of there around midnight with the full complement of schwag: CD, poster, apple, hardly used earplugs, and resulting ringing in the ears. Overhead the Goodyear Blimp drifted by, and it read “Ice Cube’s a Pimp” for some reason. It was a good day.

This new addition makes today as appropriate a time as any for me to update my Bands I’ve Seen List. The way Cecil does this, with the names of the bands along the left side of his blog and thus easily updatable, is probably smarter. This way I’m going to have to post a new list every year or two for the rest of my damn life. Well, I guess things could be worse.
Read more »

Yes They Can

Posted in Audio transmissions, Dancing about architecture on May 6th, 2010 by bill
Can rehearsing for their version of "West Side Story"

I love the fact that there are still these huge untapped veins of great music out there. For instance, until relatively recently I never listened to the strange and wonderful German band Can. They are a truly unique group, arty/experimental/difficult on the one hand, but with a strong rhythmic underpinning and a fondness for reggae, dub, and even funk. (Yes, Germans can be funky—see also “Kraftwerk.” People forget that funk requires precision: Everything must be exactly on the beat, or it is not funky. There were no accidents, for instance, in James Brown’s music; James understood exactly where every note belonged, and if someone made a mistake, he knew it.)

Can’s music is truly experimental, i.e. not especially well edited, so you have to wade through the failed experiments to get to the good stuff. An additional complicating factor is the vocals. Can’s first “singer” was Malcolm Mooney, about as atonal a vocalist as you’re likely to find fronting a major rock band. Mooney sometimes sounds like an inebriated street person intoning chants the meaning of which are known only to himself; and yet for all that, his singing is not without a strange charm, and he delivers an utterly flabbergasting performance on the psycho-loungy “She Brings the Rain.” According to Can scholar (and former Cramps/Bad Seeds drummer) Jim Sclavunos,
Read more »

A few words from Jerome K. Jerome

Posted in A few words from Lao Tzu (or someone like him) on May 5th, 2010 by bill

It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.

— Jerome K. Jerome
The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

Excerpt from Dracula, 1897

Posted in Read it in books on May 4th, 2010 by bill

“Do you know what day it is?” I answered that it was the fourth of May. She shook her head as she said again: “Oh, yes! I know that, I know that! but do you know what day it is?” On my saying that I did not understand, she went on: “It is the eve of St. George’s Day and forwith shall spew the demons that are drunken tards. Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway?

Hmmm…are you allowed to say “drunken tards” on the internets?

Cat and mouse

Posted in Whatever Else on May 3rd, 2010 by bill

We’ve been having some mouse adventures here at the homestead lately, the most recent of which concluded this afternoon with Johnny emerging from the bathroom, squeaking mouse clamped proudly in mouth, and me carrying the cat carrying the mouse out into the backyard. There I prevailed upon him to drop the rodent, which looked about stunned and did not move away with any great alacrity. Whether it will survive this incident I do not know.

I’ve always wondered about the expression “game of cat and mouse,” because in my experience it’s not much of a game for the mouse. The interaction tends to go like this:

1. Cat pounces on mouse, holds it down with paw and/or picks it up in mouth
2. Cat releases mouse, which scurries away to the best of its ability
3. Repeat step 1
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until mouse expires from heart attack and/or sheer exhaustion
5. Cat gets bored and walks away

Most domestic cats can’t be bothered to consume anything they catch, unlike the semi-feral cats at the house where I lived in the Berkeley hills during college. I have a vivid memory of them catching a fairly large rat which 20 minutes later was nothing but a tail.

If you’re thinking there must be a point to all this, you are sadly mistaken. This is just me turning a black number red. It’s Monday, after all.

A moment of repose

Posted in Picture du jour on May 2nd, 2010 by bill


The Golden Age of Work

Posted in Read it in books on May 1st, 2010 by bill

In honor of Mayday, here’s another excerpt from Tom Lutz’s Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America. This one describes the somewhat less rigid workplace atmosphere that obtained in this country in the 19th century.

Around the time that [Paul] Lafargue [son-in-law of Karl Marx and the author of The Right to Be Lazy] was developing his ideas about laziness and being chagrined by his father-in-law’s daily industry, a New York cigar manufacturer grumbled that his cigar makers could never be counted on to do a straight shift’s labor. They would “come down to the shop in the morning, roll a few cigars,” he complained to the New York Herald in 1877, “and then go to a beer saloon and play pinnocio [sic] or some other game.” The workers would return when they pleased, roll a few more cigars, and then revisit the saloon, all told “working probably two or three hours a day,” or exactly the amount of time Lafargue thought should be legislated [as the maximum number of hours worked per day]. Cigar makers in Milwaukee went on strike in 1882, in fact, simply to preserve their right to leave the shop at any time without their foreman’s permission.
Read more »