Weekend Edition: 4-4

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A human who is given an intricate problem will spend all day trying to solve it, but a canine will have the sense to give up and do something else instead.

Corey Ford, The Trickiest Thing in Feathers

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The telephone number transformation

There seems to be no rhyme or reason to what sticks in our minds from childhood. As I look back, I can’t figure out why the announcement of telephone number changes in the early ’60s stays with me.

Anyone who’s watched a 1950s or early 1960s movie knows telephone numbers then wasn’t just a series of digits. Instead, they were something like KLondike 5-1234 or MUrray 5-9974. This was what was called the exchange name system, where a word represented the first two letters of a 7 digit telephone number. Thus, KLondike meant the first two numbers of the telephone numbers was 55 while they were 68 for MUrray. “KLondike 5″ was what you heard most in movies as it was a fictitious exchange the phone companies reserved for Hollywood, radio and television. Full words were used as a memory tool for customers and because they were easier for switchboard operators to understand.

The number of telephones in households exploded in post-World War II America so the Bell System (good old monopolist “Ma Bell”) wanted to make sure nothing would stem the growth. As a result, it began switching to an all-number system which, with area codes, would allow for prodigious expansion. That’s where my memory comes in.

Evidently, Ma Bell thought a good way to get the message about the change out was with kids. The Catholic grade school I attended had a mass convocation where telephone company reps made a presentation. I can’t remember the year but can still see myself sitting in the gym and being told our local prefix would no longer be “TUrner 6″ but 886. At the time, you could call someone else in town by dialing just the last four or five numbers (again, memory fails), After the forthcoming change was explained to us, we were told to go home and tell our parents about it and give them some material the phone company handed out.

Not everybody viewed this as change for the better. In 1962, the Anti-Digit Dialing League was formed in San Francisco to oppose “creeping numeralism.” In a pamphlet it distributed, the ADDL said the all number system “places an added burden upon people by requiring them to fulfill the needs dictated by accounting machines and computers.” Yet even though the ADDL was gone by 1964, names continued to be used in cities such as New York, where it was 1978 before the city was entirely all number calling, and Philadelphia, which had named exchanges in the telephone book as late as 1983.

The fact I remember the grade school convocation suggests this was a big deal for me too. I speculate that I thought having to dial 886 for every local call was evidence of how metropolitan my town (population less than 15,000) was. But given that I don’t recall any other grade school convocation, it seems odd that this stands out.


I don’t answer the phone. I get the feeling whenever I do that there will be someone on the other end.

Fred Couples

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Weekend Edition: 3-28

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  • Late posting today because it’s my annual hockey binge weekend: 10 televised NCAA regional tournament games, with the added bonus of great Stampede games last night and Thursday

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A man’s bookcase will tell you everything you’ll ever need to know about him.

Walter Mosley, The Long Fall

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Ban my book… please

“Banned book” brings to mind censorship, repression. But a different facet intrigued Helen Gurley Brown 43 years ago when she wrote her publicist about her forthcoming book, Sex and The Single Girl — publicity.

Sex_and_the_Single_Girl_(first_edition_cover)Sex and The Single Girl was on the cutting edge of the cultural revolution in the 1960s and feminism. Some 40-plus years later, the book’s chapters on decorating, home entertaining, sewing and cosmetics seem a bit odd for a feminist book. Although the book’s title and content — including chapters on “How to Be Sexy” and how to conduct affairs — were alone sufficient to create a stir in 1962 America, Brown and her publicist, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, thought getting it officially banned would generate more publicity and sales.

In her letter, Brown told Cottin she wanted to explore getting “a public denunciation — a nice, strong, snarly, vocal one — from some religious leader.” She suggested the Catholic Church as a candidate. Although Cottin sent advance copies of the book to people she thought might object to its publication, no one rose up to actually ban the book. When Cottin finally suggested abandoning the effort, Brown wondered if the Daughters of the American Revolution might want to ban the book.

An actual ban wasn’t necessary for Sex and The Single Girl to capture attention, especially given a national ad campaign by the publisher. It sold more than two million copies in three weeks, was one of the 10 bestselling nonfiction books in 1962 and spent more than a year on the bestseller lists. A movie adaptation with Natalie Wood as Brown was released in 1964.

Even though Brown was unsuccessful getting her own book banned, you wonder if her efforts would be successful — or even necessary — today.


I don’t have to describe a married man. He is available for observation as the common housefly and about as welcome to many single girls as the common cold.

Helen Gurley Brown, Sex and The Single Girl

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Weekend Edition: 3-21

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubes

  • In Defense of Difficulty (“A culture filled with smooth and familiar consumptions produces in people rigid mental habits and stultified conceptions. They know what they know, and they expect to find it reinforced when they turn a page or click on a screen.”)
  • In Defense of Boredom (“To be bored is to be unafraid of our interior lives — a form of moral courage central to being fully human.”)
  • The Confidence Conundrum (“On the surface, confidence appears to be an area where the rich get richer and the poor stay the fucking losers they are.”)

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A well-stocked mind is safe from boredom.

Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End

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Weekend Edition: 3-14

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Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubes

  • Please Be Disturbed: Triggering Can Be Good for You, Kids (“Brutalities cry for attention. Attention to the appalling causes disturbance. Deal with it. You’re at school to be disturbed. Universities are very much in the business of trying to get you to rethink why you believe what you believe and whether you have grounds for believing it.”)

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…we have made enormous progress in teaching everyone that racism is bad. Where we seem to have dropped the ball is in teaching people what racism actually is, which allows people to say incredibly racist things while insisting they would never.

Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, April 28, 2014

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