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The More You Know

According to the Pacific Northwest Region of the Forest Service (or the person responsible for the agency’s Twitter feed, anyway), a tom turkey’s wattle changes color depending on the mood he’s in. If he’s scared, it’s blue; if he’s feeling randy, it turns bright red.

Reminds me of when I was a kid. Raised as I was on Peanuts and comic books and Saturday morning cartoons, I was convinced—up until an embarrassingly late age—that the irises of my eyes turned into hearts whenever I spied an attractive girl.

Never said I was a particularly smart kid.


John Simon, the critic who served as a model for my own foray into music criticism so many years ago, died yesterday at 94. Through his regular column in National Review, Simon introduced me to Jaroslav Hašek, Vladimir Nabokov, Robert Lowell, and so much more. For that I am eternally grateful.

Alas, with the death of Simon goes the death of criticism, it would seem, as evidenced by this steaming pile, published just last week: “As wildfires rage in Australia, a record-breaking hurricane season draws to a close, and meteorologists predict that this year will go down as the second-hottest in recorded history, it’s clear that Ford v Ferrari is the wrong movie for 2019.” Or this, published a few days earlier: “[Ford v Ferrari is] a beautifully shot film that will be enjoyable for modern car buyers and enthusiasts alike—engines rev, tires squeal, stopwatches click. But what I saw is a devastating picture of the lack of diversity that permeated the industry in the 1960s.”

This, folks, is apparently what passes for criticism these days. Artistic achievement, skilled craftsmanship, commercial success…none of this matters if you’re not sufficiently woke.

Mr. Simon, you’re already missed.

Neanderthals, Barbarians, and Addicts

“I would love to know who tried it first,” writes Lee Child about opium. “I would love to know who tried anything first. Who first dug up a strange root or random tuber and thought, hey, you know what—maybe I should cook this and eat it? In particular, I would love to know how many died trying.”

Reminds me of that Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin wonders why we drink cow’s milk. “Who was the guy,” he asks Hobbes as he moves his fists up and down in a milking gesture, “who first looked at a cow and said, ‘I think I’ll drink whatever comes out of these things when I squeeze ’em!’?”

Sure, it’s funny—I laughed out loud when I first read it—but it’s also kind of sobering when you realize that much of what we know today is the result of millennia of trial and error. “Our species,” continues Child, “seems to be restless and curious to a degree that seems almost unhinged.”

Read the rest of Child’s article—which is really about etymology—over at The Times Literary Supplement.

Social Media’s Good for Something. Sometimes.

Learned another word the other day—on Twitter, no less—and it’s glorious: Shambolic.

My first thought was that it was a rather clumsy way of coining an adjectival form of Shambhala. But that hardly seems necessary, and the context didn’t exactly support this conclusion anyway:

Our mainstream institutions are either in the process of being hollowed out from within by identity politics, or they have already been devoured to the core and only shambolic husks remain.

So I hied myself over to the nearest dictionary and looked it up. Turns out it’s a British colloquialism dating only to the late 20th century; a portmanteau of shamble—the “scene of disorder or devastation; a muddle, a mess” definition—and, perhaps, symbolic. The new word means “chaotic, disorderly; inept, mismanaged.”

There are times when I positively love the English language.

‘Tis the Season (Almost)

Mind if I make a couple of year-end music recommendations? You know, just in case you need to scratch that Christmas shopping itch.

Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980–90 is one of my favorite releases from 2019, and would make a very thoughtful gift for That Special Someone™ in your life.

If that’s not your bag, try the “rich, fundamentally life-affirming experience” of Pyroclasts from Sunn O))). Better yet, pair it up with Life Metal, which also came out this year.

Okay, one more: It took me some effort to find this glorious Tangerine Dream box set, but the Phaedra out-takes alone made it totally worth it.


Next up: T-shirts that say “I spent nearly half a million dollars on an advertising campaign and all I got was this lousy headline.” The fact that someone thought it necessary to trademark it is particularly precious.

I’m naturally disposed toward thinking the worst of governmental agencies, so my first reaction was to blame the client. But I was once a copywriter at an ad agency, where the creative process is typically dominated by art directors. And, not to put too fine a point on it, they’re…not great with words.

Either way, everyone knows about South Dakota’s meth problem now – though I’m not sure this is the sort of attention they were looking for.

More Hard-Hitting News from HCKA HQ

Just noticed that the last couple of days are pretty significant, pop culture-wise.

Okay, so maybe “significant” is a bit of an overstatement. But still: Shirlee points out that Tuesday marked the 49th anniversary of the infamous KATU whale explosion. You know, that time when the Oregon State Highway Department thought it would be a good idea to use half a ton of dynamite to dispose of a rotting whale corpse.

KATU’s Paul Linnman was at the scene reporting and recording when the blubber went “boom.” The camera stopped rolling immediately after the blast, but Linnman recalls making his way out of the area as huge chunks of blubber fell everywhere.

Also in 1970, The Odd Couple debuted on ABC—and yesterday, it turns out, was Odd Couple Day.

On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife.

It’s a big week. Celebrate accordingly.

Word of the Day

No matter what else is conspiring against me—stupid deadlines, unrealistic expectations, idiotic drivers on the way to work—I count it a good day when I learn something new. And since I’m not all that smart, pretty much every day is a good day.

This morning I came across a new word in the Library of America’s anthology The Peanuts Papers. It’s from the late Umberto Eco’s essay “On Krazy Kat and Peanuts“:

Charlie Brown has been called the most sensitive child ever to appear in a comic strip, a figure capable of Shakespearean shifts of mood; and Schultz’s pencil succeeds in rendering these variations with an economy of means that has something miraculous about it. The text, almost always courtly (these children rarely lapse into slang or commit anacoluthon), is enhanced by drawings able to portray, in each character, the subtlest psychological nuance. Thus the daily tragedy of Charlie Brown is drawn, in our eyes, with exemplary incisiveness.

Anacoluthon. an-uh-kuh-LOO-thon. She’s a beaut, ain’t she?

Monday Miscellany

The search for the elusive author of the 1971 cult classic novel The Dice Man.

Posted here without comment: “An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Salt Lake Tribune has a full-time jazz reporter. It in fact has two reporters who cover Utah Jazz, the local basketball team. This has now been corrected.”

Postmodernist pirate jokes.

“Once the starving had eaten human flesh, they no longer considered it a crime.” Douglas Smith on the 1921 Soviet famine—and the largest humanitarian operation in history.

Stereophile profiles Manfred Eicher, founder and sole proprietor of my favorite label, ECM records:

Eicher has supervised every single one of ECM’s albums—more than 1600 of them—signing the musicians, sometimes creating the band, ordering (sometimes suggesting) the tracks, almost always manning the sessions in person, even approving (in many cases, designing) the distinctive, minimalist covers—all while remaining an independent company.

History in the Making

One of our long-time clients marked their 75th year in business a few weeks ago. It was not only an anniversary celebration, but also an open house for their new company headquarters.

Bouten Construction Company was founded in 1944 by Gus Bouten. Gus’s son Frank took over in the 70s; since 1996, the company has been led by Frank’s son Bill – three generations creating a remarkable legacy and an incredible achievement.

On October 23, 1983, my home town celebrated the dedication of its new St. Joseph’s Hospital. Bouten constructed the project under Frank’s leadership while Bill worked as a laborer on the site. Some distinguished folks are listed in the dedication program, not the least of which were Congressman Tom Foley, Spokane Diocese Bishop Lawrence Welsh, and my mother Rose, who at the time served as chairperson of the hospital’s board of directors. She’s the one who asked me to design the dedication program, and who, thankfully, saved a copy. Of course I couldn’t say no, nor could I argue over the fee (gratis, naturally). But back then I would have been happy if they’d asked me to design the label for the hospital’s new bed pans.

My mom understood the invaluable contribution a hospital provides a rural community, and still remembers the Bouten boys and the good work their team provided. It’s all part of why the company Gus founded has thrived for three-quarters of a century.


The non-word nerds in my office often have trouble with what they perceive to be a lack of consistency regarding certain grammar rules. (Apparently, consistency is a thing in design.)

For instance, they don’t always understand how man-eating chicken is different from man eating chicken. Or why Southern California is correct, but Eastern Wyoming isn’t. Or how Strunk & White can say one thing while Chicago says another—both of which are correct.

But possessives? That’s another thing entirely.

“If you have ever tried to write about the apostrophe,” writes Mary Norris, “and started out with how simple it is to form the possessive of singular and plural nouns and then thought of a few exceptions…you know despair.”

I’m not complaining. Far from it. After all, it it were easy, I wouldn’t have a job.

Stop! Grammar Time!

Breaking news from Formula 1 today: “a first proper look at both the cars that will do battle in 2021, and at the regulations that will reshape Grand Prix racing as we know it.”

Take a gander at the both/and construction of that sentence. (In this case, both and and are correlative conjunctions, like either/or, neither/nor, not only/but also, et al.)

What the writer is trying to convey is that, through a joint announcement from F1 and the FIA, fans will get a glimpse at (1) what the 2021 cars will look like and (2) the new regulations governing the sport. Both/and.

The way it’s written, however, could lead the reader to assume that only two cars will be racing each other during the 2021 season: “both the cars that will do battle.” The problem is that the both is in the wrong place, a problem that could have been solved by simply removing both and and to see if each clause could stand on its own:

a first proper look at


the cars that will do battle in 2021


at the regulations that will reshape Grand Prix racing as we know it

See what I mean? We have a repeated at. If the writer had instead written a first proper look both at the cars that will do battle in 2021 and at the regulations that will reshape Grand Prix racing as we know it, then we’d have a little clarity:

a first proper look


at the cars that will do battle in 2021


at the regulations that will reshape Grand Prix racing as we know it

This is all just a roundabout (not to mention long-winded) way of illustrating the principle of parallel structure—that sentence elements alike in function should also be alike in construction. A simpler example of this principle is as follows:

(incorrect) Aaron likes to listen to the Grateful Dead, chess, and fried chicken.

(correct) Aaron likes to listen to the Grateful Dead, play chess, and eat fried chicken.

Dig that parallel structure! You get precision, clarity, and rhythm—all in one.

Quote of the Day

“Shyness is the tentative sound of the orchestra tuning up before the symphony begins.” Nick Cave

(While we’re at it, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ latest, Ghosteen, dropped earlier this month, and it’s numinous.)


“One warning,” writes Deniz Cem Önduygu about his interactive timeline of philosophy. “Browsing this visual summary cannot substitute reading a good book of history of philosophy, let alone reading the original texts by the philosophers.”

Fair enough. But don’t let that stop you from exploring the awesomeness. And don’t tell CK I blew the whole afternoon frolicking in this “garden of forking paths of argument.”

Apropos of Nothing, Really…

The missus and I were watching an episode of the new season of Peaky Blinders the other night, and I noticed that every time a character drew on a cigarette, you could actually hear a crackling, hissing sound. I say “noticed,” but it was more than that, really. It was so loud it was distracting.

Now, I’m sure if you put your ear, say, an inch or two away from the glowing end of a cigarette while someone puffed away, you’d probably hear something. But relative to the sound levels of the dialogue, this is preposterous. And it’s not just Peaky Blinders, either. It’s pretty much every show on Netflix or Prime—which is primarily how I “consume content,” as the marketers call it.

Clearly, these sounds are being added in post-production. Which raises an interesting question: Why?

Here’s my best guess: Given that the generally high production value of these shows rules out hack Foley artists and that it seems to be only cigarette smoking that’s set at such ridiculously high levels, it must be some sort of sop to anti-smoking interest groups.

Studio Executive: Hey, uh, we got some complaints from the American Lung Association.
Show Runner: Dude. The series is set in the 1920s. People smoked.
Studio Executive: I know, but maybe we could make it less cool?
Show Runner: I’ll have Dave add some forest fire sounds in post. Good enough?
Studio Executive: That’ll work.

It could all be for naught, though. Which, to be honest, I’d welcome.

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