Thursday, June 15, 2006

Carmen et error

Since so many folks have written to me asking what I think of the most recent re-design of the $10 bill, I'll indulge them by answering with a quotation from Catullus: odi et amo (carmen LXXXV)- I love it and I hate it.

I love it mostly because I think it looks spiffy. If you haven't seen it, here's what it looks like:

It looks like money, right? In fact, it looks more like money than the 2000 redesign did. But, more importantly, now when my European friends (and I include Canadians in this category) mention in their litany of examples of American barbarity the fact that all our bills (or "notes," as they call them) are the same color, I can now proudly respond, "Nuh-uh!"

What, then, could my objection possibly be? Well, I'll tell you. I've always loved $10 bills because they used to have some funky looking old cars on the back:

And here's a detail of the most prominent car:

Though many claim that this is a Ford Model T, it isn't; in fact, it isn't any real car, but rather a succesful attempt to make a generic-looking late-twenties car. After all, the Treasury Department isn't in the business of endorsing car companies.

I liked this car a lot, because it must have seemed bold and contemporary-looking in 1929 when it was designed. Then, over the years, it took on a quaint charm, until the 2000 redesign did away with it. I tried to protest by boycotting money, but then I got hungry. When I saw the new redesign a few months ago (wasn't expecting that!) I first thought I accidentally got foreign currency. Then I quickly realized it had been redesigned, and checked the reverse to see if my car was back. It wasn't, damnit.

Here are some unrelated thoughts I had over the past week, none of which developed into something post-worthy:

1. The new Regina Spektor album, "Begin to Hope," which came out this week, is fantastic. Go buy it and find out for yourself. It's a little less consistent than her last album, "Soviet Kitsch," but although the lows are lower, the highs are higher. The production is a bit weird, with heavy use of silly-sounding synthesized strings. This is surprising, since the producer, David Kahne, produced the best albums by Fishbone, the band I was obsessed with in high school. Indeed, I think his production was key to their sound; their later albums, which he didn't produce, are markedly inferior.

2. After years of trying and failing, I'm starting to like Leonard Cohen. Since I'be been thinking so much about singing pronunciation lately, I noticed two things:
a) In the chorus of "So Long, Marianne," he rhymes 'Marianne' and 'began' with 'again.' In my American pronunciation, this is a not too jarring half-rhyme. However, as a Canadian, he naturally pronounces 'again' to rhyme with 'gain.' You can hear him struggling not to pronounce it this way, but when the word crops up in the verse he pronounces it the Canadian way.
b) In "One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong" he pronounces the word "prescription" as "perscription," which is, incidentally, how I pronounce it. Both these examples are interesting to me because I'm working on a theory that, in contrast to the standardized mid-Atlantic popular singing pronunciation scheme I've been posting about, cerebral folk-rockers in the mid sixties opted for a pronunciation scheme that more closely resembled generic Northern colloquial speech. More on this later, maybe.

3. After the fascinating exchange in the comments section of my last post, I'm tempted first of all to post less often and see what other interesting things crop up, and I'm inspired once again to link to this cute flash animation that involves intrusive intrusive /r/ in an otherwise decent imitation of a Chicago-like dialect. For the record, if Homestar Runner winds up taking over your life, don't say I didn't warn you.


V Smoothe said...

I hate the new tens. The color of money is green, not puke peach.

Anonymous said...

I like the subtle color change of the new bills, but HATE the randomly-distributed mustard yellow "20"s all over the back of the latest version of the twenty.

Oh, and the new Regina Spektor album does indeed rock.

V Smoothe said...

Another of my pet peeves! 20! 20! 20! 20! 20! 20! Yes, we all know how much the bill is worth. It doesn't need to tell us 200 times.

I actually got into an argument about the new 10 the other day. A friend was looking at one and asked if Alexander Hamilton was a signator of the Declaration of Independence. I said no, and then he got all indignant about how Hamilton should therefore not be on the bill. Confused about the source of his problem, I pointed out that neither George Washington nor Abraham Lincoln signed the Declaration, but no one seems to object to their being on currency.

He explained that his issue was that Hamilton's picture did not deserve to be next to the very large "We the People," if he was not part of the creation of the Declaration. Then we got into a huge fight (with 5 out of 8 people in the group telling me I was wrong) about whether the Declaration of Indepedence does or does not begin with "We the People." Since I don't hang out with people fancy enough to have blackberries or whatever it is you use to check the internet from a bar, I was unable to prove to them that Hamilton was instrumental in the creation of the actual document that starts with "We the People." These people all have graduate degrees, too! What is the world coming to?

Ben said...

When I was a toddler (well, maybe about 5) my father had me memorize the preambles to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Here's how far I can get now:

Declaration of Independence:

In Congress: When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to dissolve the ties that... I dunno, bind, maybe?


We the people, in order to form a more perfect union,

Not so good, really, but I know which is which. I also know that these are the unimportant parts of each document. The Declaration of Independence goes on to a tedious, and at times, offensive list of grievances. The Constitution, on the other hand, explains in excruciating detail how the federal government is supposed to worl. That's about all I know, and I confess I thought that George Washington might have signed the Declaration, even though I knew he was a nobody, known mostly for being real tall, until he was suddenly made a general in the Revolutionary War.

See, in the American History class at my fancy shmancy high school, we didn't even mention the Revolution, so I've had to cobble together what little I know. Which ain't much.

By an odd coincidence, Nova has a show on now about preserving the Declaration of Independence, which is so faded that it's barely legible. In fact, all the famous images of it are from a 1820 fasimile. Go know.

V Smoothe said...

Ben -

Perhaps I'm behaving like a snot. But I think that what you can recollect of the beginning of each document should be expected of people. Or at least, people should never insist that they are certain about those things and then be wrong. How humiliating! Better to just keep your mouth shut.

The aforementioned was actually the second fight I've had about the Constitution in less than a month. Recently, a group of people ganged up on me and claimed that there is no clause indicating any ideas about copyright ("To promote the progress of science and useful arts..."). They were like "Have you ever even seen the Constitution? It's really short!"

You would have known all about Washington's absence at the Continental Congress if you had ever watched one of my favorite movies ever, 1776! That was my entire American history education at the public schools I attended. Anyway, he was not, in fact there. He was fighting while the Declaration was being signed.

The Declaration is, on face, a more exciting document, but I find the Constitution much more fascinating, if you're studying it for more than 20 minutes. Also, the Federalist Papers are some of the few things I ever read that bring me to tears. I heart Alex H!

And yes, Nova totally rocks. I love how you can get all their episodes on Netflix.

Ben said...

Nova does rock, especially when it's not about war. Before using up your precious queue-spots, I'd see if PBS isn't streaming it online, which they do for a startling number of shows.

Another odd coincidence is that I was reading about the Constitutional basis of copyright law last night. How weird. Alex H. is a big local hero here in New York. The house he lived in for a year or so before getting himself killed is about a twenty minute walk from my apartment, and he's buried in a charming graveyard near Wall Street, which is appropriate.

Hmm, moved by the Federalist papers, fond of Hamilton... you'd better watch it or they'll revoke your Southernness, along with all the rights and privileges thereunto appertaining.

I shouldn't join you in condemning those who argue strenuously about things they don't know, since I do it all the time. Still, though, my favorite line from "Hudsucker Proxy" is "Only a numbskull thinks he knows things about things he knows nothing about."