Author Archives: Carl

Five Typefaces That Ruined the ’70s

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apple's way game boxThe other day someone in one of the Facebook groups I belong to decided to post this odd bit of ephemera (if a board game can be considered such) from a short-lived TV series called “Apple’s Way,” a production by Earl Hamner Jr. of “The Waltons” fame. I have zero recollection of the show other than that it existed; nevertheless it set the match to an anger kindling deep inside me, as I again remember how the typeface Bookman Swash ruined the ‘70s. And it wasn’t the only typeface that deserves some of the blame for everything bad that happened in that mixed-up decade.

Let’s be clear: there are no bad typefaces (okay, well, there are some). But there are bad applications of typefaces, and there are trends of overuse of certain typefaces. In an age when the universe of people with access to type was vastly more limited, and when there was only a handful of foundries producing new designs for the very select machines that were available for setting type in the cold type days, designers had comparatively fewer options than today. They also seemed to be quicker to pick up trends, some might say to copy, and for someone who was actively setting type in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it is often possible to date a piece of printing within a year or two just by looking at the typeface.

Some typefaces (I haven’t yet given up on the distinction between a typeface and a font, which is a typeface in a particular point size, a lost battle though that is) were used so much, and often in such inappropriate applications, that it’s fair to say that they characterized the ‘70s, and not in a good way. Each of these five typefaces was extensively used by the laziest of copycat designers, and really helped to ruin the ‘70s.

Bookman Swash character sheetBookman Swash

Bookman is a venerable, readable, simple oldstyle face, not particularly suited for text but useable for advertising and trade printing. While it goes back into the 1800s, it first went by the name Bookman in 1903, released by American Type Founders. But in 1975, International Typeface Corporation (ITC), as part of a general campaign of ruining classic typefaces by “updating” them into sometimes horrible revisions that satisfied the modern desire for fatter characters and higher x-heights, had designer Edward Benguiat design ITC Bookman. And with that, came Bookman Swash.

Now, it appears there had been swashes for Bookman before — but in the hot type days, selecting an alternate character was difficult work and a deliberate choice. They rarely bothered anyone, because you could really only use them for titles. In the early phototypesetting days, they were still hard to access and limited in use. But around the time of this redesign, phototypesetters were getting vastly more sophisticated, even computerized to some extend, and choosing alternate characters and ligatures was getting easier, letting designers start to make some horrible choices. Some weren’t afraid to ask the question, “What if EVERY character had a swash?!” The answer: you’ll be living in the unreadable ‘70s.

bookman sampleIt was meant to imply something homey, old-fashioned, and comfortable, and there was a weird fad for the old-fashioned in the ‘70s, so it fit right in. I don’t know if this example is something that was actually produced, but it shows what happens when you decide to have your type say “HEY LOOK AT ME” instead of conveying the message it’s supposed to.

Mary_Tyler_Moore_Show_title_cardPeignot Bold

On the one hand, you know this ubiquitous typeface from the Mary Tyler Moore Show titles, a perfectly effective and appropriate use. On the other hand, local convenience/dairy chain Stewarts using it as a text face, which it is not.

Peignot was a French typeface from 1937, designed by the famous poster artist Cassandre. As you can see, it’s perfectly fine. It is also only capital letters, making it somewhat limited in application. Rather, the lower case has a selection of letters that look like traditional lower case; the rest look like upper case, but carry a lower x-height. Good for some logotypes and titling. That is it. In the 1970s, Peignot underwent an insane revival. It was used everywhere: product logotypes, book titles, advertising headlines.

Perky milk cartonAnd where I grew up, it was used by the aforementioned chain store, for everything. Everything. All labeling, all in-store signage, milk cartons, everything. All words were in Peignot. They were hardly the only abuser of the typeface, but they didn’t help things. (They later replaced it with a horrible, also caps-only, brush face.)

 

Avant GardeAvant Garde

This is a Herb Lubalin ITC font that perhaps defines the ’70s. He designed it as the logotype and cover face for the magazine Avant Garde. It was everywhere, all the time. There is nothing wrong with Avant Garde, per se, but it has some alternate characters that designers felt compelled to use because they were just, so, avant garde. Allow me to correct that: it has many alternate characters. too many for ’70s designers to be trusted with. EVERY CAPITAL A DOES NOT NEED TO SLANT TO THE RIGHT, CREATING A GAPING HOLE IN YOUR TYPOGRAPHY. Abused, it defied the principles of good kerning, and oh boy was it abused. Even its own magazine couldn’t resist showing off everything the typeface could do, sacrificing legibility for “hey boy howdy lookit this now.” It was supposed to be arty and show what you could do when just designing with type. It also showed what you can overdo.avant_garde_1969_web

BusoramaBoldBusorama

Like Avant Garde, but hippier dippier. This was one of the first ITC faces when they went on a spree determined to ruin every classic typeface there ever was, although Busorama was an original design. Current owner Linotype says “Busorama melds Art Deco and 70s flower-power into a delightful sans serif design. Designed by Tom Carnase, this three-weight sans serif family still turns heads.” Again, there is nothing wrong with it per se. It belongs on album covers and cosmetics logos. Perfect. It’s when you start composing sentences in it that YOU DO REALIZE THIS IS AN ALL CAPS TYPEFACE, DON’T YOU? Even before the modern interpretation of caps as shouting, setting type in all capital letters was known to slow reading comprehension, and even more so when the characters were funky. A word, two words, short sub-heads – these are all good uses of Busorama. But even the limited amount of text on this book cover starts to stretch the bounds of legibility of this typeface (and it isn’t helped by the trendy crash-kerning).

Souvenir Sample Text from U&LCSouvenir

I don’t think I can properly express how much I hate Souvenir. It may be irrational. You may not agree. It’s okay for you to be wrong. Again, this was an older typeface developed by ATF back in 1920, and then revised and revived by ITC’s Ed Benguiat in 1970. Sort of light and curvy and non-traditional without being completely illegible, it seemed to gain rapid favor as a text face by designers who couldn’t get away from the “old-looking” Caslons, Baskervilles and Garamonds whose use, despite centuries of success, would label them as hopelessly out of touch with the times. Every character is just a little bit soft, a little bit odd – rounded W’s, snipped tails on the g’s, b’s whose backbones don’t touch the ground.  Souvenir is just a little too light and quirky, and a little too damn even, and the result is a page that is light gray, not terribly interesting, and not exceptionally readable. It is not bad. It is not good. But again, every designer who wanted to do something a little different did it with Souvenir. When I arrived at my college newspaper, the nameplate of that venerable institution was set in Souvenir, the least inspiring flag of all time. Why was it in Souvenir? Because we had a very limited set of headlining fonts available to us on the Compugraphic 7200 headliners available to us. When I changed the flag to a version of Trooper Roman (no, I can’t defend my 19-year-old self), we had to buy an additional type ribbon at a fairly crazy cost.

440px-CooperBlackspec.svgBonus: Cooper Black

It’s probably not fair to say that this typeface, released way back in 1922, ruined the ’70s, so I won’t count it among the five. But there is an odd way in which it defined the ’70s, and not just because it was used for television show logos (“The Bob Newhart Show,” “Diff’rent Strokes) and many album covers. It’s because it was the only typeface that appeared on custom-made T-shirts. In every mall in America, there was a t-shirt shop that would put just about any saying you would like on a T-shirt. Rather than screen-printing, they did it with iron-on letters. They’d line up your saying over a shirt, press it with a giant clamping iron, and out came a steaming (and usually slightly misaligned) custom T. Every one of those iron-on letters was in Cooper Black. (Think “Vote for Pedro.”) And everyone had one, or two, or five. Today it’s making a comeback – though usually through screened mass-production shirts, not the slightly thick, sometimes fuzzy heat transfer letters used in the ’70s.

Just my thoughts, mind you, based on having lived through, and set type during, that nutty decade. Again, nothing wrong with any of these typefaces themselves – but there were some horrible uses and overuse of each of them. When it comes to typography, this is the most important lesson designers can learn:

Home Taping Was Not Killing Music

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Old tape deckA group of music friends got into a discussion: Does anybody still make mix tapes/mix CDs, or are there any from back in the day that they still play? That led to a flood of thoughts.

I really discovered music right around age 11, just around the start of middle school, with an AM clock radio set almost exclusively to the local Top 40 radio station, WTRY. AM only. Radio then was wildly diverse – just look at the top 100 for 1972: that was all playing in the Tri-Cities. When I fell into music, I fell into it hard – trips to Apex Music Korner, where sample 45s of the top hits of the week hung from wooden pegs, and you could take the listener over to a school-grade turntable and listen to it on a monophone pressed to your ear, just in case you hadn’t convinced yourself you needed it yet. Fork over 79 cents, and it was yours.

Apex Music Korner 1972The radio ruled our lives – what was playing was everything. And of course, we couldn’t afford to buy everything we wanted to hear, and you couldn’t necessarily count on hearing what you wanted to, so we did the only thing you could do in those days – tape off the radio. I had, everybody had, a small portable cassette recorder with a built-in microphone that dutifully picked up the sounds of its own motor turning the compact cassette. Place it next to the radio, and wait to pounce on those buttons when a song you wanted to capture might be coming on. You had to listen closely – maybe the DJ would front announce so you’d know “Rock the Boat” was coming up. But probably not. As the commercial came to an end, you’d do the three-finger move: press “play” and “record” simultaneously, then immediately step on the “pause” button. But the pause buttons on those machines would only hold for a few seconds, so if an unexpected weather report came up, you had to back off, hit “stop,” then be ready to start again. Get all set up, hear the DJ start his patter, try to pick out the first notes and decide if this was a song you wanted or not. We could all name that tune in no more than 3 notes, but the irony is those were the notes that usually got clipped off with this technique. Finally, catch a song you wanted to keep, listen through to the outro, and pop the stop button. At least at the back end, you could decide to back up a little and tape over the DJ’s talk. Do this to capture 30 minutes to a side of the cheapest department store tape your mom could find, and you sort of had something to listen to.

When we had records we wanted to tape, it was only marginally less primitive. Maybe somebody had an external microphone that we’d put near the speaker. We’d talk up the records like the DJs did, trying to time talking all over the intro just right (what I now know they called “hitting the post”). We’d be able to put songs in an order that seemed to make some sense to us. Sometimes, we’d do it up Dickie Goodman style, fake interviews that would be answered with song snippets. We thought we were hilarious – I only wish any of them survived. It might be a real insight into the mind of a 14 year old suburban ‘70s white boy. Or just scary, take your pick.

It wasn’t until college that I got a real tape deck. Bounced a check for it (by accident, honest – I paid up) the summer after my freshman year, figured out how to connect it to my hand-me-down stereo console with no auxiliary output (I recall the arrangement as questionable, but not a fire hazard), and started laying down mix tapes. This was around 1979, what may have been the dawn of the mix tape era. Good quality tape existed, and I could almost afford it. Taping off the radio was over (and for me, so was radio, pretty much). I was getting a decent record collection and learning more about music from hanging out at Desert Shore Records than I could ever learn from what passed for radio in Syracuse at the time. Those early tapes were mostly a mix of whatever I had bought most recently with a smattering of old favorites. I got a new amp/receiver/tape deck combination and suddenly, I could copy tapes. And give them to people. In terms of my concentrating on anything else, it was all over.

Best Flaming Rock 'n Roll Tape Ever Made!Making mix tapes became my obsession, and my stress relief. If I had a major project to get done, you could be sure I was working on a tape. Instead. Every one went through multiple versions, changes in songs and song order, decisions about whether there would be filler and bumpers, and selection of just the right Ventures song to fill the last spot (because you can always fade out on an instrumental). One of my tapes features an already sped-up version of The Ramones “Needles and Pins,” with a crazy little spin-up at the end, partly for effect and partly because it almost fit on the tape, and I wasn’t taking no for an answer. To this day, I expect to hear that at the end of the song.

The spine design became a whole other thing. I had access to presstype and, later, to actual typesetting equipment, so my covers could look slick as hell for the time. With the ubiquity of desktop design programs today, you’d give it no thought, but if I handed someone a tape with what looked like a seriously designed cover in 1988, it was something unusual.

Bulletproof HeartThere were many of these tapes. Most of them survived until just a few years ago, when I digitized them as best I could, copied the covers, and let them go because I was just not listening to cassettes anymore. But I carefully (and where did I get the time for this?) recreated every tape in a playlist on iTunes. In a lot of cases, those are the only versions of those songs in my library. I burned some of them to CD for listening to in the car (though the tapes were 90 minutes, and CDs were 72, which ruined some of the flow as some things had to go). And when the mood hits, I do still listen to them. Some are as ill-thought-through as I thought they were at the time; others feel like absolute perfection to me, and any time I hear a particular song, I expect the next song on the tape to follow. That’s how it should be.

Freaks
The tradition didn’t stop entirely with cassettes. For a quick five minutes, I was doing the same on MiniDisc, the little portable format that was hot at a time when burning CDs was still out of reach for most of us. But it didn’t stay out of reach long, and all the work I put into digitizing albums and making new playlists on MiniDisc was for naught. The cassettes stayed around longer. Once CDs became easy, I made a bunch of those, too, but by then I was deep into parenthood and work and all the things that keep me from giving what is now called a playlist the serious thought that it requires. So, sorry to say, these days when I want to mix it up, I tend to hit “Genius” on iTunes, see what it comes up with, make some edits to the playlist (or not), and leave it at that. For some things, like roots music, folk, and blues, it does a beautiful job, staying largely within style. For others, say, anything that was a ‘60s hit, it just returns a bunch of other ‘60s hits that have nothing to do with each other, so that’s hopeless.

I want to do it again, to really have time to think about how one song flows into another, and to have the time to listen and appreciate the effort. Whatever it is, there’s never enough time.
Party Tips

Some Things The Capital District Gets Right

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We’ve been away from Albany-Schenectady-Troy for three years now (or four, depends on how you count). Family and other things bring us back often, but not often enough. As much as we love living in a town that’s as close to Stars Hollow as may be possible, as much as living in the far western shadow of the City of Brotherly Love opens up tremendous opportunities, and as much as we’ve made a lot of new friends and had great new experiences, there are some things about the Capital District that I miss. I was reminded of a number of them on a quick trip back a couple of weeks ago.

  1. Fish fry. What the hell, Pennsylvania? Is a little deep fried haddock so hard to do? It’s not that there are no restaurants that will fry up a slab of fish, but there are no seasonal stands devoted exclusively to the art of deep frying fish and dispensing Sysco tartar sauce in tiny paper cups. I miss it terribly, even if I only partook three or four times a year.
  2. Bagels. I know, Albany bagels are nothing like New York City bagels. I get it. But here I am, ostensibly closer to The City That’s Afraid to Sleep, and believe me, what they call a bagel here you wouldn’t give to a tot as a teething ring. When I’m back in the Collar City, I snag a frozen dozen (begging not to get a bag half-full of the abomination that is a chocolate chip bagel) from Psychedelicatessen and they have to last me a while.
  3. Pulled pork. Barbecue’s a southern thing, right? And I’m like 25 miles from the Mason-Dixon line, right? Damned if I can find pulled pork that even approximates the worst barbecue in the Capital District. Forget the Dinosaur, even; the Pig Pit in Cohoes spoiled me. What we get down here is flavorless.
  4. Mopco. If you have never been to the Mop and Bucket Company, you are missing really excellent improv. They’ve moved out of the basement of Proctor’s and opened their own theater in an old fire station on North Jay Street in Schenectady, pretty much across from Perreca’s. Since doing that, they have expanded their offerings, so there are different kinds of shows, and not just improv. We got to see storytelling one night and great improv the next. It costs less than a movie for people to entertain you live. It’s human and funny and you should just go. Just go. We have nothing like it here.
  5. Lakes. You have so many lakes up there. Did you know that the Keystone State was pretty much neglected by the glaciers? I’m serious. The few lakes we have are manmade, and the rivers we have are not only mostly tide-free, but are either completely empty or at flood stage. Not big on the middle ground. As a dedicated canoe/kayak person, this is vexing.
  6. The Troy Farmer’s Market. Oh, sure, we have a lovely little farmer’s market down here. It even goes year-round, outside. It’s small and efficient, has a wonderful little children’s play area and local entertainers. But if you haven’t been to the one in Troy – again, just go. To have that in your midst and not appreciate it is just unconscionable. And when you’re there, get some Flour City Pasta, which is from way out by Rochester and, again, exceeds anything of the kind we’ve been able to find around here.
  7. Mac’s Drive-in in Watervliet.  It’s a lovely little neighborhood gathering spot, with homemade ice cream. It is wonderful.

Occasional entry

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I’ve been working on a couple of pieces that I’d love to share here for quite some time, but then I’ve been working on pieces for Hoxsie that take up time, I’ve been watching the Giro d’Italia, I’ve been getting out on my bike, I’ve been not getting out on my bike. It’s that time of year where we have a couple of great days in a row and get a million things done, and then it rains for a solid week and I get laid out with a serious cold. So here is what’s up:

  1. I spent maybe 20 hours getting my old table saw dialed in so I can reliably cut accurate miters for picture frames with it. Had to take the whole thing apart, replace a broken shim, clean out the case for the first time, then slowly slowly get it back into perfect alignment — which of course has to be checked every single time I set up a cut. I’ve resorted to a fancy device that tells me the blade’s angle to the table, because eyeballing it with framing squares was not working at all. Finally got a good miter gauge, too, and a miter slot (this saw had a sliding table, which I’d categorize as “seemed like a good idea at the time”). All this means I can finally, with some reliability, produce some passable mitered corners that match up and glue up nicely.
  2. Well, there’s the Giro, which normally inspires me to get out and pedal except I’ve had my second major cold since Christmas and my sinuses are impacted with something as dense as silicone caulk, but also runny. And it has hardly mattered because it did nothing but rain for two weeks.
  3. I have gone insane with the vinyl LPs lately. Lots of new, lots of old. Of an evening, I may move from the reissue of Elton John’s “17-11-70” to some ancient Moody Blues to a pair of Tower of Power records that I never owned before. Apparently I own two Sade albums, and I like them! And my new copy of my favorite Ventures album, “The Ventures Knock Me Out,” is in really sweet shape. Stylistically, consistency is not my strong point.
  4. Speaking of music, April was insane for concerts. Dave Alvin, Aimee Mann, John K. Samson, and discovered some great new artists who opened, The Worriers and Sarah Borges. Plus, our local favorites were out and about. There was so much music.
  5. Finally broke into Nathan Filbrick’s “Valiant Ambition,” a great look at what went on between George Washington and Benedict Arnold. I’m not a big military guy at all, but I am always down for a great account of the Battle of Valcour Island. It’s always incredible to imagine how naval battles played out in a time when you couldn’t necessarily put your ship where you wanted it to be, and had to rely on the wind. It mattered that the gigantic new warship the British built specifically to take over Lake Champlain was square-rigged – it meant it couldn’t sail into the wind. Turns out: disadvantage!
  6. Daughter shared with me her proposed playlist for songs she has to perform for her humanities practicum, and I’ve gotta say, I was a little choked up. My plot to deeply imprint my musical tastes on another human being has been a complete success! Also, it involves The Ventures. So just imagine. Somebody may be getting a Mos-rite bass for graduation.
  7. Yes, the heat came on yesterday morning. Yes, it is going to be 87 degrees today.
  8. I had the month of April in the impeachment pool. Sad that I lost.
  9. No, I cannot get my theme to keep an ordered list in the same typeface that I prescribed for the rest of my posts. Thanks for asking.

Proving that that rash of entries earlier in the year was an anomaly.

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Well, we knew that was going to be the case, didn’t we? A private person with a public blog and an open identity is something of an oddity anyway. When I started this way back when, it was something of a replacement for journaling, something of a way to reach out and have a persona on the web. The reality is that it has never been deeply personal, and these days, a lot of the things on my mind fall into the “deeply personal” category. So instead of sharing those, I write about printers who made tomato wine.

Cycling is off to a decent spring start, although I failed in my efforts to keep up training over the winter. I was trying to deal with some pain – when rest didn’t help, I saw a doctor who, when I told him I couldn’t sit cross-legged anymore, asked “Why would you want to do that?” Of course it was more than that, and for a while I couldn’t really get on the bicycle without pain. I’ve done some PT and am probably as good as I’m going to be. The good news is that cycling doesn’t aggravate it; the bad news is it doesn’t make it better, either. Been out doing some hillwork because it’s way too easy around here to just take the flat trails and then, when the 50-mile rides through the hills come up later in the year, I beg off them because I know I won’t survive. 1700 feet of climb yesterday, 1200 on the two outings last week, so starting to get it up there. I definitely felt it yesterday, even though none of it was extreme. Last week I tried to get up a 16% grade and just couldn’t (and that, my friends, is what my triple was for). Yesterday, nothing steeper than a momentary 10%, but those still hurt. Today, work and rain so I’m off the hook.

Other things? On my 10th or 20th reorganization of the basement since we moved here. Long and narrow makes for an interesting attempt at a woodshop, but this is what it is. Kayaking will be underway next month – need to wait for water levels to lower and temperatures to rise. Pretty much everyone in my family except me is preparing for a move, major or minor, so we’re trying to help everybody with those but, being in the remote wilds of Philadelphia, we’re not much help.

Small city living continues to amaze and please.

Music is awesome. We were lucky enough to finally see John K. Samson (formerly The Weakerthans) the other night, and before and since I’ve been thinking a lot about the closing lyrics from “Postdoc Blues“:

So take that laminate out of your wallet and read it,

and recommit yourself to the healing of the world,

and to the welfare of all creatures upon it.

Pursue a practice that will strengthen your heart.

Those seem like words to live by. Is that so hard?

(One could not be blamed for wondering how those lyrics could possibly work in song. Do click the link and watch the video.)

Hall of Fame

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Let’s make it clear: I despise wall-to-wall carpet. It just captures dirt and dust and can’t ever really be cleaned. I especially despise beige carpet. I super especially despise beige carpet padded so thick you feel like you’re walking on a pillow. And that was what we had on the stairs (where it really constitutes a balance hazard) and in the upstairs hall – I’d already torn it out of the bedrooms. The stairs, I started in on renovating about this time last year. It took a while, but I did get it done. The upstairs hallway was next.

Partly we were inspired by what we wanted to put there: a rug. Not just any rug, but a custom-made knit rug sized exactly to fit in our long, narrow hallway. We were wandering around Kathleen’s Fiber Arts in Troy and were enamored of some small wool rugs she had knit, and thought how nice it would be to have one of them in our hall – only, you know, longer. Turns out, not a problem. She was most happy to do a custom job for us. Now, having someone knit you a rug is not cheap, but we thought of how much more we would like it than anything else we could possibly find. Some commercial remnant? Two runners shoved together? It just made more sense to get what we really wanted. So we ordered it, and aimed to have it done in time to be our Christmas gift to ourselves. So it was.

That meant, of course, having to get the old carpet out and refinish the floor, which is always a leap of faith in a 116-year-old house. There was no telling what was underneath the carpet. The stairs hadn’t gone too badly, although the entire house is floored in pine, but when I took up the carpet in the main bedroom, there were some gaps between boards, and a gigantic former stovepipe hole that had to be addressed. So, in the hallway, who knew.

But it turned out not to be too bad. I mean, of course there were 400 million staples that had to be pried up, one at a time. There was one little place where some rot had happened at some point. There was some unevenness, and some boards that needed to be screwed down.

Sometimes, it’s better not to know. I lifted up one of the loose floorboards just to see what was underneath, and found the dry skeleton of old knob and tube wiring that apparently traveled in the floor space way back when. I put the board back, and quickly.

Oh yeah, there was a gap. Held together by screwed-in bits of sheet metal. (Drywall screws, predictably.)

As messy as it was, a little (or a lot) of sanding and it didn’t look too bad.

Four coats of Minwax oil-modified water-based polyurethane later, and it looked pretty good:

So, finally, with the rug (very soft on the bare feet, by the way) in place:

Hidden Figures

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Got to see “Hidden Figures” over the weekend. This weekend, of all weekends – both the holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr., and the last weekend that a rational thinker will be in the executive office, at least for a while.

The movie, by the way, is better than flawless. It shows, it doesn’t tell, a very important story, without preaching or swelling up the “triumph of the human will” music. Because as much as this movie is about triumph, and as much as it is very much a feel-good movie, there is also something profoundly sad behind it – and that is that it has a story to tell at all. And it has several.

First, the story, focusing on three black female pioneers at NASA, very matter-of-factly reminds us how straight-up awful it was to be African-American, how deeply ingrained the Jim Crow laws were (separate library books – where there weren’t separate libraries). This was during my lifetime, but early in it, and it’s easy for those details to slip from memory. Being Northern, we tend to shake it off more and forget there were plenty of iniquities up here as well (redlining, anyone?).

And if we like to think that’s all a comfortable distance in the mirror (and it’s not), add to that the challenges the subjects faced as women, and women in science. Both my daughters deal with the fact that they are still very much in the minority in their programs. Engineering programs are up to 18-20 percent female now, and the old prejudices continue. Both have gone to schools led by women, which has barely had an effect, and both have seen continuing institutional and cultural bias that affects how they are perceived, how they are able to participate, and what it is considered acceptable for them to do.

So while the movie featured some fabulous portrayals by seriously talented actresses (and the supporting cast, with an exercise in understatement by Kevin Costner), I couldn’t help but think how sad and stupid and wrong all this was and is. Why would we deny the best and brightest because of their skin color or gender? Why is that even “our” option? So much wasted human potential, lost to us forever, because blacks couldn’t attend courses in a white school, because women shouldn’t be doing math (their tender reproductive systems might suffer). We have chosen to hobble ourselves, in order to . . . what?

Growing up in the ’60s, when the idea was that we would overcome all these unfounded prejudices and hatreds, it just seemed like it was a matter of time. Rights were gained, laws were passed, and it seemed like by now we would be past most of this. It certainly did not seem like we would be riding a resurgent wave of crazed, open racism. I’d like to say the same for misogyny but there wasn’t even the same pretense with regard to women’s rights by those who oppose them. Whether it’s unjust rates of incarceration or forced unnecessary ultrasounds, I can’t imagine thinking this would still be happening.

So, yes, “Hidden Figures” is a note-perfect motion picture, and one of the rare important movies that doesn’t feel like a homework assignment. Its portrayals are supremely human and real (as were the performances in director Theodore Melfi’s previous feature, “St. Vincent”), and it’s supremely entertaining. As sad as the conditions at the time were for the people affected by them, I couldn’t help but feel a strong stirring of nostalgia for one aspect of the culture the movie portrayed, the culture I grew up in – a culture that valued, praised, and celebrated science. A culture that took pride in advancements . . . in moving forward, not backward.

I Remember When I Could Remember Things

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Truly. I once had a great memory. What happened to that? Is it just age, or stress, or just too damn many years and things to remember (which, of course, would be age)? Not clear. But it is true, I once remembered things that had happened not only to me but to those around me. I had a great knack for knowing the events of certain years. Increasingly, I’m finding myself unclear when things happened or if they happened at all.

A case in point came in in a recent somewhat minor family argument over an event from some years ago. Honestly, I’d have struggled to put a year to the event, but I thought I remembered a chunk of the particulars pretty well. Someone else remembered it quite, quite differently, and of course that’s how memory is – faulty, subjective, unreliable. I was pretty clear on my perspective of events, but just the doubt was enough to make me doubt myself. And I carried that doubt around for a week until just now when, through the miracle of my having once been a blogger, I found an account of the event, right here on my very own internet, that told it pretty much the way I remember it. In that case, it turns out, my memory was good (though, again, I could never have said what year it happened).

But while looking for that, I found another entry, one that relayed how I went to, and enjoyed, a movie that, had you asked me twenty minutes ago, I would have sworn I had never seen. With memory now jogged, I can even remember where we went to see it, but without that jog, I’d have denied I ever saw it.

I really think a lot of it has to do with the years, and what was going on during them. There are some pretty big stress-created craters in my timeline, when all I think I was doing was holding it together. The months following 9/11 were a big crater – I remember a huge amount of my work-related activities in those months, but what went on in family life I’m afraid I’ve barely a clue. The years I spent trying to consult independently are also a bit of a blur, in terms of remembering what happened when. I remember the summer of 1989 at a level of detail that I’d probably be able to reconstruct in a calendar – but to remember the years my daughters graduated, I sometimes need to do a little bit of math. Vexing.

Right now, the stress is locked in high, which probably means that in a few years, when I want to remember how it was that these holidays came to be so strange logistically, I’m going to wish I had written it down here. Family obligations have caused some lengthy separation, multiple and concurrent AirBnBs in different cities, car rentals and other goings on that I know I’m going to be confused about in a couple of years. Heck, I’m confused about them now. How did we get to this place? It’s never a straight line.

At least 2016 can’t happen again.

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Complacency Will Destroy Us

I generally have a policy against wishing away the days, weeks, months, and years, but 2016 is one I won’t be sorry to see go.  Personally, there have been better. While being able to enjoy our first “summer of fun” in some time, having a summer without major construction projects and even sneaking in a vacation, finding new places to bike and paddle, that relaxation was countered by other events.

There were losses in the family, two more empty seats at the Christmas Eve festivity that my mother has put on since somewhere around 1970. It’s more Christmas to me than Christmas itself, particularly now that there are no children in the house, and as the years go on there are just more of us that aren’t there any more. That sense of loss starts to weigh on the soul, and this year it weighed more heavily than in most years.

Family has struggled, too, with health and personal issues causing pain, literal and otherwise, in daughters whose distance I now feel too acutely. Sharing suffering over Skype is something of a miracle, but when we hang up there are still hundreds of miles between us and our children, and the desire to just get in the car and be there is strong (and sometimes that’s what happens).

And then, of course, there’s the whole thing of the country descending into fascism, racism, and some other -isms that I had really thought, when I was growing up in the ‘60s, we’d just be over by now. It seemed like all we needed was time, and eventually the old “set in their ways” people would fall off the conveyor belt into the trash bin of history, and what was left would be a somewhat better world. Instead, we have a huge reactionary element now trying to get back a nation that never existed – it was a construct of the prevailing culture that simply excluded everything that wasn’t it from the official story – while maintaining the myth of American exceptionalism without the messy multi-cultural/immigrant parts of it. So, yes, going into this cowardly old world (because bravery is acceptance of others; this whole reactionary culture is based on fear) in the new year, I’m more than a little concerned. Never been a fan of mob rule, amateur government, or presidents who are proclaimed to be kings. Our nation also used to not be a fan of any of that, but as had always been suspected, all those highly selective constitutional “scholars,” who mostly couldn’t memorize the single amendment they proclaimed the most important, didn’t believe in the document at all. They just believed in leveraging the rule of law against those who do believe in it. And it’s working.

Partly because of all of that, partly because of the ability to be more personally connected through other media, and partly because my other blog, Hoxsie, takes a fair amount of effort, this blog has been mostly silent. I don’t know if it’ll stay that way or not in the coming year. There are things to be said that don’t fit in a Tweet or a Facebook post. There’s a continuity I’d like to maintain with a blog that’s more than a decade old (if not more than a decade full), so I may redouble my efforts here. Or you may get the occasional cryptic photograph.

In any event, if I know you, I wish you the best for the new year. If I don’t know you, I also wish you the same. Be good to other human beings. It’s all we’re here for.