In the presence of life,


still your facial muscles and enter the state of what Wordsworth calls wise passiveness. Then the part of your self that up to then has failed to receive experience will take on and become color, gesture, and the beautiful dead fabric of the unnatural.



The print (with color and contrast restored in Photoshop) is by Kogyo Terasaki (1866-1919), at

The poem by Wordsworth is “Expostulation and Reply.”

“It’s time,” she thinks, “to sing our back-to-school song”

1984 cover

as follows:

I don’t seem to be able to upload the subtitles as part of the video, but this ensemble is North Korea’s Moranbong Band and the song it’s singing is titled, in the Korean jussive mood, “Let’s study.” Here’s a PDF of the subtitle file.

North Korean Moranbong Band 배우자 – Let’s study (English Translation) [VDownloader]

The arc of history

Only in the tropics — that is, only in the latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn — there are two days a year when the sun is directly overhead at noon and a vertical object, such as a flagpole, will cast no shadow. In Hawaii, where I live, one of those days occurs in May, when the sun is headed north to its summer solstice rendezvous with the Tropic of Cancer, and the other occurs in July, when the sun is headed back south to its winter solstice date with the Tropic of Capricorn. The astronomical term for the phenomenon is zenith passage.

Watch the shadow swing around its still point this year at

If you aren’t sure what you’re supposed to have seen, speed up the effect by sliding the cursor along the timeline and watching the shadow grow shorter and shorter on the west side of the foot of the stemware, then disappear, then reappear on the east side. The music is Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, movement 4, allegro molto. Seiji Ozawa, Berlin Philharmonic.

From the era before the airfoil and the plural number

The noun air line (“chiefly U.S.,” says the OED) originally referred to the shortest distance between two points: a straight line, as might be drawn on a map. During the nineteenth century the term became a selling point that American railroads incorporated into their names.

This railroad’s name dates from 1900.

In 1910 Ferdinand Graf Zeppelin began operating his airships on scheduled routes between cities in Germany, and that was the beginning of the airline industry as we know it now. Count Zeppelin tagged his business DELAG, but that word was only an acronym, not yet a name ready to escape into breathed air as an independent noun. Still flat on its ground, it stood in humble compound form only for Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft (“German Airship Travel, Inc.”). Nor in the English that Americans understood in 1910 was the name air line yet ready to slip the surly bonds of earth and fly.

But by 1910 life was playing around with the mooring ropes. The more famous of the two twentieth-century American magazines named Life was a mid-century weekly that specialized in photojournalism, but the earlier Life was less an illustrated history of its time than a word game played for eternal stakes. It was a humor magazine, and on January 6, 1910, it put the words air line into play and began doodling some thoughts on paper about what they were actually saying, not what they were merely meaning.

And so:


On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers had made their first powered takeoff, and six years and a few days later it’s obvious that the cartoonist still hasn’t actually seen a wing. But he always has known the language of air. He came to crying life on the day it began filling his lungs, and now the play with the mooring ropes has spun off a name. There it is, written across what in 1910 is still probably called a pier: United Air Line. It has no plural ending because it actually is united. It is a single line segment with a beginning and an end: an air line, extending (say the other words on the pier) all the way to London.

But the London at the other end of the line isn’t a city in England. It’s a word, it’s in you, and it’s on schedule to be reached happily ever after.

Source: New York Public Library, Post-processed in Photoshop. The original cartoon is captioned “Bon voyage.”