Monday, February 25, 2008

Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location

Neil Neches, on a No. 5 train, underneath the placard that has earned him plaudits for his proper use of the semicolon.

New Yo9rk Times February 18, 2008

It was nearly hidden on a New York City Transit public service placard exhorting subway riders not to leave their newspaper behind when they get off the train.

“Please put it in a trash can,” riders are reminded. After which Neil Neches, an erudite writer in the transit agency’s marketing and service information department, inserted a semicolon. The rest of the sentence reads, “that’s good news for everyone.”

Semicolon sightings in the city are unusual, period, much less in exhortations drafted by committees of civil servants. In literature and journalism, not to mention in advertising, the semicolon has been largely jettisoned as a pretentious anachronism.

Americans, in particular, prefer shorter sentences without, as style books advise, that distinct division between statements that are closely related but require a separation more prolonged than a conjunction and more emphatic than a comma.

“When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life,” Kurt Vonnegut once said. “Old age is more like a semicolon.”

In terms of punctuation, semicolons signal something New Yorkers rarely do. Frank McCourt, the writer and former English teacher at Stuyvesant High School, describes the semicolon as the yellow traffic light of a “New York sentence.” In response, most New Yorkers accelerate; they don’t pause to contemplate.

Semicolons are supposed to be introduced into the curriculum of the New York City public schools in the third grade. That is where Mr. Neches, the 55-year-old New York City Transit marketing manager, learned them, before graduating from Tilden High School and Brooklyn College, where he majored in English and later received a master’s degree in creative writing.

But, whatever one’s personal feelings about semicolons, some people don’t use them because they never learned how.

In fact, when Mr. Neches was informed by a supervisor that a reporter was inquiring about who was responsible for the semicolon, he was concerned.

“I thought at first somebody was complaining,” he said.

One of the school system’s most notorious graduates, David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer who taunted police and the press with rambling handwritten notes, was, as the columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote, the only murderer he ever encountered who could wield a semicolon just as well as a revolver. (Mr. Berkowitz, by the way, is now serving an even longer sentence.)

But the rules of grammar are routinely violated on both sides of the law.

People have lost fortunes and even been put to death because of imprecise punctuation involving semicolons in legal papers. In 2004, a court in San Francisco rejected a conservative group’s challenge to a statute allowing gay marriage because the operative phrases were separated incorrectly by a semicolon instead of by the proper conjunction.

Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard and a staff writer at The New Yorker, pronounced the subway poster’s use of the semicolon to be “impeccable.”

Lynne Truss, author of “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” called it a “lovely example” of proper punctuation.

Geoffrey Nunberg, a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, praised the “burgeoning of punctuational literacy in unlikely places.”

Allan M. Siegal, a longtime arbiter of New York Times style before retiring, opined, “The semicolon is correct, though I’d have used a colon, which I think would be a bit more sophisticated in that sentence.”

The linguist Noam Chomsky sniffed, “I suppose Bush would claim it’s the effect of No Child Left Behind.”

New York City Transit’s unintended agenda notwithstanding, e-mail messages and text-messaging may jeopardize the last vestiges of semicolons. They still live on, though, in emoticons, those graphic emblems of our grins, grimaces and other facial expressions.

The semicolon, befittingly, symbolizes a wink.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Weather of Feeling

Poets are often intelligent men and they are entitled to their thoughts; but intellectual pioneering and the construction of new thought systems are not their special function. Aeschylus's Oresteia was not a contribution to Athenian legal theory; Dante's Comedia gave us no new theology; and Shakespeare's history plays added no fresh concepts to the political thought of his time.

What poetry does with ideas is to redeem them from abstraction and submerge them in sensibility; it embodies them in persons and things and surrounds them with a weather of feeling; it thereby tests the ability of any ideas to consort with human nature in its contemporary condition. Is it possible, for example, to speak intelligibly of angels in the modern world? Will the psyche of the modern reader consent to be called a soul?

Richard Wilbur from the essay On my own work

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The torment of waiting for parts

So, I still need:
The Za50
The Moto-Matic "San Francisco" exhaust
The Vintage Cosmo "bumstop" seat
The boost bottle
The motorcycle headlight
And the tear-drop trailer tail light

Most importantly, I need the seat so I can weld up some mounts for it. Then I can send the whole thing off to be welded (as in professionally).

Monday, February 11, 2008

Finally, Pictures of the Puchavus

So this weekend some folks from the Ghost Riders and the Guns came down to the shop and we spent all day Saturday and Sunday working on bikes. I was in the zone so to speak. I mocked it up and it certainly looks mean, although it is very, very small, and ever so low to the road. (notice the size of the concrete blocks)

Devin and I (read Devin) tack-welded the engine mounts to the frame, I drilled them out and the engine seems to fit very well. The chain even seems to allign better than I could have expected (with the too-good-for-measurements stance I took on fabricating the mounts). Here's a not so good picture of the mounted engine showing the offset from the frame (and Motion Left welding prowess).

I cut the drop bars short to fit the original Batavus grips and levers which are really appropriate lookin. Next I made a speedo mount out of sheet metal, set slightly to the side. I will wrap this in checkered tape in classic cafe bike form. I also ground off the headlight mounts as I would like to put a larger motorcycle headlight on, plus if I end up getting clip-ons it wouldn't have worked with the mounts.

Overall, the look is far better than I had expected. I'm almost falling in love with the rough, unpainted look it has now, although it will look better powder coated black, especially with the seat. With fat racing flats this thing is going to be downright scary, or at least as scary as something that's about 2 and a half feet tall and 4 feet long can be! Oh, and with a Homoet-style exhaust it is even better.

Prepare to be destroyed by 50 ridiculous Puchavistic cc's!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Borromini's suicide

I have been wounded like this since about half past eight this morning and I will tell you how it happened. I had been feeling ill since the feast of the Magdalene [22 July] and had not been out on account of my illness except on Saturday and Sunday when I went to S. Giovanni [dei Fiorentini] for the Jubilee. Last night the idea came to me of making my will and writing it out with my own hand, and I began to write it about an hour after supper and I went on writing with a pencil till about three in the morning. Messer Francesco Massari my young servant ... who sleeps in the room next door to look after me and had already gone to bed, seeing that I was still writing and had not put out the light, called to me, 'Signor Cavaliere, you ought to put out the light and go to sleep because it is late and the doctor wants you to sleep.' I replied that I should have to light the lamp again when I woke up and he answered: 'Put it out because I'll light it again when you wake up'; and so I stopped writing, put away the paper on which I had written a little and the pencil with which I was writing, put out the light and went to sleep. About five or six I woke up and called to Francesco and told him to light the lamp, and he answered: 'Signor, no'. And hearing this reply I suddenly became impatient and began to wonder how I could do myself some bodily harm, as Francesco had refused to give me a light; and I remained in that state till about half past eight, when I remembered that I had a sword in the room at the head of the bed, hanging among the consecrated candles, and, my impatience at not having a light growing greater, in despair I took the sword and pulling it out of the scabbard leant the hilt on the bed and put the point to my side and then fell on it with such force that it ran into my body, from one side to the other, and in falling on the sword I fell on to the floor with the sword run through my body and because of my wound I began to scream, and so Francesco ran in and opened the window, through which light was coming, and found me lying on the floor, and he with others whom he had called pulled the sword out of my side and put me on the bed; and this is how I came to be wounded.

(taken from Anthony Blunt, Borromini, pp. 208-209.)

Francesco Borromini would die as a result of his self inflicted wound. He was buried in S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini, as the brothers at San Carlino (where he had wished to be buried and had spent much of his life as the architect) would not permit a suicide to be buried in their church.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Bundles of Inconsistency

"If a man would register all his opinions upon love, politics, religion, learning, etc., beginning from his youth and so go on to old age, what a bundle of inconsistencies and contradictions would appear at last!"

Jonathan Swift

Very true, but I also think that there is much in a man's inner heart that is unmoved by time and age (probably to his detriment). Perhaps it is the willingness with which we allow ourselves to change, that is constant.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Well put, Mr. Walton

August the 9th, 1683.

In the name of God Amen. I Izaak Walton the elder of Winchester being this present day in the neintyeth yeare of my age and in perfect memory for wich praysed be God: but Considering how sodainly I may be deprived of boeth doe therfore make this my last will and testament as followeth. And first I doe [declare] my beleife to be that their is only one God who hath made the whole world and me and all mankinde to whome I shall give an acount of all my actions which are not to be justified, but I hope pardoned for the merits of my saviour Jesus.--And because [the profession of] Cristianity does at this time, seime to be subdevided into papist and protestant, I take it to be at least convenient to declare my beleife to be in all poynts of faith, as the Church of England now professeth. And this I doe the rather, because of a very long and very trew friendship with some of the Roman Church.

Me too! I mean, I'm not neinety...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Puchavus 50cc Cafe Racer... continued.

As of sunday I have finished grinding out the frame to fit the Za50. I also fabricated six engine mounts to be welded to the frame. The steel I used was quite thick so there will be no risk of the engine torquing off!

The engine mounts on the right side of the bike all have to be shifted out slightly, which made for some interesting work. I did this by bending the metel in a vice. I ground the corners down around where they will be bolted to the engine.

The order for the seat, simonini exhaust, boost bottle, Sava 2.5" tires and engine will be going out this week.

Next will be the fabrication of seat mounts, and getting everything welded.

And then the powder And then, well a lot.