architecture (24)
on location (19)
random thoughts (1,060)
staff (22)
the design life (262)
the writing life (348)
blog archive

Tuesday Musings

The other day I saw a bumper sticker that read “It’s Not Hard to Be Nice.”

At first blush, it’s awfully hard to argue with that. But then you think about it a little and realize that, in fact, the opposite is true. To be nice is to think first of the other person; to set aside, however briefly, any ill will you might be harboring; to make a concerted effort to turn bitterness into…betterness. (Get it? Get it?)

Being a dick is SO much easier.

Stop! Grammar Time!

You’ve all heard the rule: “I before E except after C.” But as the great Stephen Fry points out, it’s…not a rule. In fact, there are 21 times more instances of words that break this “rule” than those that abide by it.

Quote of the Day

“All human effort beyond the lowest level of the struggle for animal subsistence is motivated by the need to live in style.”

That’s the incomparable Albert Murray in his 1970 book The Omni-Americans. He sets up the line with a reference to the significance of art in human behavior, then goes on to explain what he means by living “in style”:

Certainly the struggle for political and social liberty is nothing if not a quest for freedom to choose one’s own way or style of life. Moreover, it should be equally as obvious that there can be no such thing as human dignity and nobility without a consummate, definitive style, pattern, or archetypal image. Economic interpretations of history notwithstanding, what activates revolutions is not destitution (which most often leads to petty thievery and the like) but intolerable systems and methods—intolerable styles of life.

The Library of America has published a gorgeous fiftieth anniversary edition of The Omni-Americans, and it’s practically a steal at $12.

Stop! Grammar Time!

This one’s a beast: affect or effect?

The simplest answer is that affect is a verb; effect is a noun. Except when they’re not—because affect is also a noun and effect is also a verb. Confused? Yeah, you and everyone else.

First, let’s take a look at the most common usage:

Courtney’s foul language is affecting office morale. (verb)
Courtney’s foul language is having an effect on office morale. (noun)

If you can remember that, you’ll be golden 99.9 percent of the time.

Where it gets weird is when you swap the parts of speech. Here, it helps to know that when affect is used as a noun, it’s pronounced with an emphasis on the first syllable, rather than the second (AFF-ect). Used primarily in psychiatry, the noun form of affect refers to a visible display of emotion or mood…

Courtney’s foul language was just a verbal manifestation of a surly affect.

whereas effect as a verb simply means “to cause.”

In attempt to effect a change in office morale, Carl put a swear jar in the employee break room.

In the entry for “affect/effect” in Common Errors in English Usage, Paul Brians writes that “nobody ever said that English was logical: just memorize it and get on with your life.” With that in mind, I recommend memorizing that affect is a verb (starts with an A, just like action) and effect is a noun (cause and effect)—because that’s all you really need to know.


We live in an age in which respectful, good-faith, reasoned debate is the exception rather than the rule. So I’m happy to see a return—of sorts—of Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish. Here he is, in stellar form, on postmodernism, critical theory, and the origins of wokeness. Zowie.

Speaking of brilliance, Agnes Callard has some thoughts on academic writing. “In the humanities,” she writes, “no one counts whether anyone reads our papers. Only whether they are published, and where.”

Matthew Walther tries Budweiser Zero: “The teetotaling hall monitors are undermining the moral foundations of our country and letting the terrorists win.”

“We laud Beethoven for breaking out of one box,” writes Emily Bootle on the myths surrounding the great composer, “and yet with 250 years of hindsight we would like nothing better than to put him in another.” True story: Long before I’d memorized every note of my copy of Irwin the Disco Duck Vol. 3: Big Hits Dance Party, I’d so internalized Toscanini’s 1952 recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that, to this day, I could easily pick it out of a lineup.

207 East 32nd Street

This is the Manhattan office of Milton Glaser, Inc.

Just about every time we’d visit New York City, Linda and I made a pilgrimage to this place, stand across the street, and ponder what he and his team were working on. We never actually encountered Milton Glaser, but just seeing his four-story office building was inspiring enough.

The transom window over the entry reads “Art is Work.” Glaser believed in hard work. Persistence. A commitment to one’s craft. And his enormous talent provided the joy that kept him working right up until his death on June 26—his 91st birthday.

Once, when he was asked what he does all day, Glaser replied, “I move things around until they look right.” And he made his work “right” quite often. Best known for his 1967 Bob Dylan poster and the 1977 “I ♥ NY” logo, Glaser produced identity programs, book and album covers, packaging, signage, exhibit and environmental design, and countless posters. He co-founded New York magazine and authored three books about design. In 2009, he became the first graphic designer to receive the National Medal of Arts. And the list goes on. His contribution to graphic design is immeasurable.

While standing next to a stoop across the street from Glaser’s office, a neighbor told me he’d see Milton arrive in a black limousine late in the morning to start his day and see the car return to pick him up late in the afternoon. He was design royalty, after all.

Evening Reading

Do yourself a favor and check out this great profile of La Monte Young, “the composer who quietly shaped much of contemporary Western music.”

It is difficult to square Young’s influence with the humbleness of Young’s upbringing. He was born into a conservative Mormon family, inside a log cabin in Bern, Idaho, a town that at the time had a population of about 145. His father was a sheep herder who moved the family to Los Angeles in 1940 to work as an experimental machinist for the Douglas Aircraft Company when Young was about 5. But at heart, Young’s father was a cowboy, a country hill jack with a temper. A doctor once told Young’s father that his son was very smart, and upon hearing this news, Young’s father took him outside and beat him.

Young now owns that very cabin. “He’s been thinking of installing a sign in front of the cabin — ‘La Monte Young Was Born Here’ — but his sister has demurred: She was born there, too, she says. Why shouldn’t she get a sign as well?”

Quote of the Day

“Let me tell you somethin’ right now. You’re only allowed three great women in your lifetime. They come along like the great fighters, every ten years. Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis. Sometimes you get ’em all at once. Me? I had my three when I was 16. That happens. What are you gonna do?”

Chazz Palminteri, from the screenplay to A Bronx Tale

Public Service Announcement

I’m not sure who all needs to hear this—apart from those within my own industry, it seems—but, despite what Merriam-Webster says, creative is not a noun. (Their whole argument is based on previous usage, of course—the problem with which is that people can be, and often are, wrong.)

So. You may be a creative person, but you are not a creative.

Side note: If you are creative, you’re probably under the assumption that you’re right-brained. But brain laterality is a myth: “People use both halves of their brain equally, and even within an individual person, creative and analytical thinking require both the left and right brain.”

Just thought y’all ought to know.

Miscellany: Pull-Quote Edition!

“International Drive has developed into a tacky gauntlet whereby families are stripped of armloads of cash on their way to and from Disney parks. It, like Greater Orlando, is premised upon one thing: Uncle Walt’s sloppy seconds.”

“Ugly as homemade sin.”

“On July 9, 1844, a letter from a dead man arrived at the post office in Burlington, Wisconsin, forty miles southwest of Milwaukee. Addressed to ‘Mr. James J. Strang,’ it had been postmarked three weeks earlier in the Mormon city of Nauvoo, Illinois. The dead man was Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

“’What the f—, I’m not worried,’ he said. ‘I’m sure I already have it. What do I care?‘”

“If you’ve been wondering about the risk of contracting Covid-19 while performing common activities vs. the risk of doing stupid shit, XKCD has you covered.”

“…from acrobatic Ospreys to hungry hummingbirds to busy woodpeckers.”

From the “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” Files

This post will appeal only to a very narrow subset of our vast and wide-ranging audience, but what the hell. It’s important.

Remember that “oiled up, chiseled bodied, pelvis thrusting, saxophone playing wonder who belts out an anthemic rendition of The Call’s ‘I Still Believe'” in the 1987 film The Lost Boys? His name’s Timmy Cappello, and he’s legit. He attended New England Conservatory, studied with Lennie Tristano, recorded with Peter Gabriel, and toured with Tina Turner for 15 years.

Yet he comes across as surprisingly—and endearingly—humble. Talking about his first-ever solo tour in a more recent interview, Cappello describes driving across the country in his Corolla as “the most fun I’ve ever had with music.” And this from a guy who regularly performed in a leather g-string.

(Right now seems as good a time as any to remind y’all that, like Mr. Cappello, I too am more than just another piece of beefcake. I’m an artist. Hey—eyes up here, ladies. I’m talking.)

Today in History

In his diary entry of July 14, 1911, A. C. Benson recounts a college dinner at Cambridge for old members—and shows that, even before social media, people were self-centered bores:

Many of them were obviously drunk, and the awful stupidity of the talk! I really felt myself to be cleverer than some of the guests. Several people asked to be introduced to me, said they wished to make my acquaintance, and then talked continuously. One man asked me for a photograph, for his wife—said he didn’t himself care about such things. But it seemed to me a vile thing to see the kind of mess people make of their lives—the inevitable mess—and then becoming pursy and short-winded and red-nosed and stupid beyond words. None of them…could talk; they could only go on with endless repetitions. And then they could do little but tell tales of their desperate deeds….

Monumental Resistance and Monumental Art

“As the former conservator of Central Park, I wholeheartedly support Commissioner Gordon Davis’s refusal to permit the installation of the artist Christo’s ‘Gates’ in Central Park.” James Marston Fitch, D. Arts, D.H.L., professor of architecture emeritus

“On behalf of the Board of Directors of the New York City Audubon Society, I would like to express our approval and enthusiastic support of your decision to deny a permit to Christo for the building of the ‘Gates’ project in Central Park.” Emily S. Jones, president of the board of directors, New York City Audubon Society, Inc. 

I stumbled across these words while visiting the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibit—a history of New York’s public art—included a small tribute to Christo and his wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude, whose installation The Gates comprised 7,503 gates draped in saffron-colored fabric placed across Central Park.

Like so many of their monumental art works around the world, the project required decades of navigating red tape before receiving final approval. Their critics were many and relentless. The Gates was first proposed in 1979; the quotes above appeared in 1981; the installation was finally completed in 2005.

While The Gates appeared for only a few weeks, it attracted an estimated four million visitors, an astonishing number considering that it appeared during the winter months. As with all of their public installations, the entire cost—including restoring the park to its previous condition—was paid for by the artists. While I have only seen photos of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s imaginations, they are as remarkable and beautiful as anything I’ve seen.

The persistent and courageous Christo died May 31 at the age of 84.

A Much-Needed Corrective

We live in stupid times. On this there can be no debate. And while it’s certainly tempting to give up in despair over the festering shitshow that haunts seemingly every waking moment of every single day, let’s instead take a moment to celebrate a couple of milestones in human artistic achievement.

Last month marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, “one of those quintessentially iconic stories that encapsulates…our communal yearning for something glorious yet unattainable”; today is the eighty-fifth birthday of the great Julian Priester, who’s worked with everyone from Herbie Hancock to Sun Ra to Woody Herman to the experimental metal/drone band Sunn O))).

Feel better now? I know I do.

A Capital Idea

Kwame Anthony Appiah has an interesting piece over at the Atlantic on language and usage, racial designation as social identity, and the linguistic arguments that (hopefully) lead to consensus. In short, it’s a philosopher’s take on whether we should capitalize the B in black as a designation for those of African descent.

My two cents? I don’t really care which—capitalized or not—ultimately wins out. But opinions to the contrary notwithstanding, there simply is no case to be made for applying one rule to black and another to white. Just doesn’t make sense.

But in this crazy, upside-down world in which we now find ourselves, sense is in rather short supply.

back to top    |     1 2 3 112     |    archive >