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Happy Birthday, Mr. Vibraphonist

In honor of Gary Burton‘s birthday—which is this Sunday—I’m a-gonna treat you to a funky little blues number of his called “Walter L.” It’s from 2009’s Quartet Live, and features, in addition to Burton on vibes, Pat Metheny (guitar), bassist Steve Swallow, and Antonio Sanchez on drums.

Take it away, Gary:

[audio:|titles=05 Walter L]

Guess Ad Agencies Are Gonna Have to Get Creative Now

Bad news if you’re a celebrity pitchman: “Over the course of [the] last year…endorsements were largely ineffective and failed to yield the benefits popular wisdom promises.”

Good news for the companies that shelled out big bucks for those same pitchmen: Scotch in a can.

The Language Police Strike Again

The decline and fall of Western Civilization continues apace, courtesy of some weenies busybodies up north:

The Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing” was ruled by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to be “extremely offensive” and thus inappropriate for airing on radio or television because it uses an anti-gay slur.

Do there exist people so thin-skinned as to take umbrage at a single word in a 26-year-old pop song? Really?

Anyway, the song’s banned—and the decision cannot be appealed. Coming so soon after the news that Huckleberry Finn is about to be bowdlerized, one can’t help but wonder if certain individuals have far too much time on their hands.

Scientists Create Army of Mutant Super-Chickens

Researchers at the universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh have managed to engineer chickens that don’t transmit the avian influenza virus (known to medical professionals as “bird flu”) to other chickens—even normal ones.

Dr. Laurence Tiley, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Virology at Cambridge, helpfully noted that “these particular birds are only intended for research purposes, not for consumption.”

The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC); the paper “Suppression of avian influenza transmission in genetically modified chickens” was published in the January 14 edition of Science.

Waste of Space

In my capacity as a professional writer and editor, I’ve learned that, for the most part, the rest of the world can be divided thus: (1) those who don’t particularly care about writing fundamentals, and (2) those who care just enough to cling tenaciously to fallacies such as the never-start-a-sentence-with-a-conjunction rule, which we’ve dealt with here and here.

For the latter group, Farhad Manjoo explains why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period.

Welcome to Oregun

The Oregon Department of Education is allowing the use of spell check on the state’s required writing exam. Even more alarming is the position of state schools superintendent Susan Castillo, who seems to believe that all that pesky spelling nonsense is somehow a barrier to creative expression.

And this is the state that won’t let you pump your own gas.

Something Smells Funny

While he’s Spokane’s best-known fine artist, Harold Balazs’s finest contribution to society may very well be “Transcend the Bullshit,” his mantra-turned-typographical treatment that has become synonymous with the artist’s life and work. Today, it can be found on all kinds of merchandise at our very own Boo Radley’s. In fact, I’m a proud owner of one of the T-shirts as well as a fine belt buckle—the latter a recent gift from my staff.

My oldest daughter Haley decided to put a new twist on Harold’s notion, perhaps recognizing that transcendence from all the bullshit surrounding us is aspirational at best, and that we’re more often than not doomed to wallow in it. Like Velcro, it seems some form of BS is always holding us back. So with deep (and I mean deep) humility, I submit that there are now two ways to ponder our own existence: one to give us hope, the other to keep us grounded.

Harold’s is on the left; Haley’s is on the right:

Dick Winters, RIP

Major Dick Winters, commander of “Easy Company” of the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division during World War II, died January 2. He was 92.

In an interview for HBO’s Band of Brothers, Winters eschewed the notion that he was a hero. If he wasn’t, then there’s no such thing.

Monday Miscellany

Over at More Intelligent Life, Anthony Gardner has some thoughts on “verbing”—that most deplorable of language trends. My theory is that it’s the result of ignorance rather than the natural order of things. And since, as a species, we appear to be getting stupider, it’s going to get a lot worse.

Just finished White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America’s Deadliest Avalanche. It’s about the massive storm of 1910 that shut down the rail lines in Stevens Pass just west of Leavenworth, and the resulting avalanche that swept two trains and a hundred people into the canyon below Wellington. The author, Gary Krist, is a novelist, and that makes a huge difference: instead of a dry historical account, you get a beautifully crafted story, with characters, plot, and a climactic chapter that is simply breathtaking. And not a word of invented dialogue, either.

Took the family to see Tron: Legacy over the weekend. It was just what one wants from a Sunday afternoon at the theater: pure escapism, with impressive effects and, it must be said, an effective soundtrack. The whole idea behind it is patently ridiculous, of course (and the original’s worth is directly proportional to your age in 1982), but who cares? It was fun.

Finally, a nod to the EWU football team, crowned FCS national champions (!) Friday night after an improbable come-from-behind victory over Delaware. Who’d a thunk it? Now, if only people in Spokane would stop obsessing over WSU and Gonzaga long enough to notice…

Serving Up Fresh Design

One of the world’s most iconic brands has changed its logo. Actually, it’s more of a refresh than anything else. It’s well done and maintains all the visual equity the previous mark garnered, but without extraneous elements (who needs to use your company’s name, anyway?). It’s rare when a company achieves the kind of global brand awareness that allows it to use just a symbol and a single color for a logo.

Graphic designers love the Starbucks brand. It gives us hope. Not only did they reinvent a whole new product category in the U.S., they’ve done it with a consistent voice—through store interiors, product packaging and merchandise, playful messaging, and a high quality consistent product. And all while giving consumers more options than they’ll ever have buying a new car. If you think about it, until just recently, their brand was largely built without traditional print advertising—just pure experience driven by pure design. Thank you, Starbucks. You are my brand hero.

CD Review


Brian Eno released Small Craft on a Milk Sea back in November—which means you’re far too late to get the $400 collector’s edition box set. No matter; the $13 version available through Amazon will do quite nicely. Opening and closing with pieces reminiscent of Eno’s previous ambient collaborations with Harold Budd, Small Craft nevertheless has some surprisingly percussive moments. It’s more improvisation than composition—an approach Eno seems to do better than just about anyone around.

Talk about Your Dangling Participles…

For years I’ve labored under the misconception that “hung” really ought not to be used unless you’re speaking of a man’s…er…naughty bits.

Turns out I was wrong. In all cases save execution, one should use “hung” as both past tense and past participle. Yes, even if you must write something like, “The photograph of David Beckham appeared to be well hung.” (Though I might advise changing “well” to “properly.”)

So. Unless you’re talking about a hanging, in which a convicted criminal has been hanged, stick with hung—no matter how embarrassing it might be.

What th–?!?

If anyone out there can make a persuasive case for this, I’ll buy the first round of drinks at your favorite watering hole. Hell, just give me one good reason why I shouldn’t beat this guy about the head and shoulders with a broken bottle.

Pick Up a Book Once in a While

Ben Yagoda has a revealing article over at the Chronicle of Higher Education website, in which he correctly identifies the problem with much of today’s writing: unfamiliarity with written English.

“If you haven’t read much, when you set pen to paper yourself, you take things more slowly and apply a literal-minded logic, as you would in finding your way through a dark house.”

Yagoda, a professor of English at the University of Delaware, calls it “clunk.” And while he’s speaking primarily about his students’ work, it’s worth noting that these students eventually become professionals in one field or another—and the ignorance continues unabated.

Like jazz musicians, who, when asked to explain the concept of swing, will usually tell you to put on a record and just listen, Yagoda has some simple advice for those confused by grammar and punctuation: read.

In related news, the folks at Electric Literature demonstrate that a book just might save your life.

“Let’s put this year into a full-body scanner and check out its junk…”

The holidays are officially over. But one gift remains to be opened: Dave Barry’s Year in Review. More than Christmas presents, more than hot buttered rum(s), more than the awesome treats we get here at AMD corporate headquarters, this is what I look forward to every year.

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