THE STORY OF CANABEER.

My father built this brewery with his own hands. That is to say, he hired a bunch of non-union Slovenians to do it, but it was his idea all the way. And then he started brewing Canabeer from his own secret recipe. He himself came up with our famous slogan, “The Taste of Pure Adequacy.”

All the time he was alive, my father kept his recipe a closely guarded secret. He wouldn’t even tell it to me, his own son. “The time will come,” he would always say. “Now run along and do your homework.” He kept saying that till I was 54.

But finally the sad time came when my father knew he didn’t have long to live. On that memorable day, he called me to his bedside and told me, “Son, my time has come at last, and I’m leaving the brewery in your hands. You’re going to have to be the guardian of our sacred brewing tradition. So get a piece of paper and a pen, because I’m going to tell you the secret recipe. No, that’s a thermometer. I said a pen, you moron. Got it? Okay. Here it goes. There are only three ingredients. It’s barley, hops, and wa——”

And then he died.

What could I do? I had two of the secret ingredients, but they were useless without the third. So I found the top brewing experts in the world, and we set to work to find that missing ingredient. Was it barley, hops, and watermelon? That tasted a little odd, and the seeds were offputting. Barley, hops, and wasabi? The survivors considered that experiment a failure. Barley, hops, and wart of toad? I’ve been trying to forget that one for years. Barley, hops, and walrus? That one wasn’t very successful either, and who knew those animal-rights people cared that much about walrusseses?

And then, one day, purely by accident, we hit on the third secret ingredient. Man, were we slapping our foreheads! It was so simple! I won’t tell you what it was, because it’s still a secret. But it goes into every last can of Canabeer, the purely adequate macrobrewed beverage with only three ingredients, the last one of which is a secret.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY.

On this day in 1794, the entire French nation was officially converted to a new religion called the Cult of the Supreme Being, which was instituted by Maximilien Robespierre. The religion ended a month and a half later with the execution of its Supreme Being, Maximilien Robespierre.

AN ANNOUNCEMENT AND AN OBSERVATION.

Our friend Father Pitt has asked us to announce that his two most popular projects, after his own site at fatherpitt.com, now have their own domain names. Henceforth Pittsburgh Cemeteries can be found at

PittsburghCemeteries.com,

and Flora Pittsburghensis at

FloraPittsburghensis.com.

Though the old addresses will continue to work indefinitely, new articles will appear at the new addresses. Update your bookmarks and rewrite your wills.

Since old Pa Pitt is an old-fashioned gentleman, he leaves the management of his Web presence in the hands of his younger friend Dr. Boli. For this auspicious occasion, both sites have had a thorough redesign, with new site logos in Pittsburgh-flag colors. There are still some rough edges: in articles from years ago, for example, some pictures have gone missing, because they were hosted on an image server that no longer hosts them. But the new server gives the sites opportunities they have not had before, and you will already see some of the effects of that newfound freedom.

And now a curious observation. For Father Pitt’s new sites, Dr. Boli installed the same privacy-respecting statistics collector he uses on his own site. It is very simpleminded: it tells how many visitors came to the site and to each individual article, but it does not tell who those visitors were or where they came from. On the day the site first appeared on the Web, the new Pittsburgh Cemeteries recorded 17,857 visitors. It is true that the mere name “Pittsburgh Cemeteries” carries a powerful and universal appeal; but since the site had not yet been announced anywhere, that does seem like a high number. Flora Pittsburghensis had 2,446 visitors its first day—again, without any announcement. What can it mean?

It means that there are far more spammers in the world than there are readers. Most of those spammers are robots, and we are left with the conclusion that the robots already outnumber us. Will the robots rebel and exterminate the human race? Not as long as they remain hypnotized by the fascinating pictures of mausoleums and wildflowers Father Pitt feeds them. It appears that old Pa Pitt and his cameras are all that stand between us and the robot apocalypse.

TEST YOUR MARKETING ACUMEN.

Are you a born marketer? Take this quick quiz to test your instinct for marketing.

Q. For years your company has marketed a 15-ounce bottle of shampoo with a big banner on the label:

BONUS! 50% MORE! (vs. 10 oz.)

Now your accounting department has declared that, to meet the same price point, the quantity must be reduced to 12 ounces. What should the banner on the label say?

A. BONUS! 50% MORE! (vs. 8 oz.)

Q. Your laboratory has discovered that the latest batch of your Froot Festival brand noncarbonated soft drink contains up to 1,000 parts per million of a certain highly toxic chemical, a potentially lethal dose. Your vice president of marketing refuses to cancel the shipments to stores. What do you put on the label to warn potential consumers?

A. NOW! 99.9% TOXIN-FREE!

Q. Rats have got into your company’s warehouse and have chewed their way into hundreds of boxes of Wheat Shards brand cereal. The vice president tells you, “Just put some sticker or something on the boxes.” What should the sticker say?

A. FREE cat toy in specially chewed boxes!

Q. For years the CFO has been skimming 12% off the top whenever money comes in, and no one can stop him because he’s the CEO’s husband. You are now forced to raise your prices to compensate for his embezzlement. How do you spin that on the back of the box?

A. Help Us Find the Cure! 12% of every dollar you spend goes to research to find a cure for kleptomania.

HOW TO SCORE:

For every answer you got right, award yourself a million billion points. For every answer you got wrong, award yourself a million billion points.

AN OBSERVATION ON POPULAR MUSIC.

Listen to the loudspeaker as you walk past a store or some such place where the radio is set to a current-pop-hits station. Dr. Boli does not suggest that you spend a long time listening, but just enough time to confirm his observation that current popular music is obsessed with the first three notes of the diatonic scale.

Now ask yourself why that should be. Formulate a hypothesis, and see if you can accumulate enough evidence to elevate it to a theory. Dr. Boli will start the game. It is his hypothesis that sticking mainly to the first three notes of the scale makes composing a serviceable melody the least possible effort, and causes an occasional foray up to the fourth or even the fifth to strike the dulled senses of the casual listener with an unexpected thrill.

WORST WRITING ADVICE OF THE DAY.

This man knew something about rhythm.

The worst writing advice of the day comes from the documentation for a very useful writing tool called Zettlr. In explaining how Markdown deals with linebreaks, the manual tells us:

“Markdown will, by default, remove single line breaks and treat double linebreaks as paragraph breaks.… Some people make use of this behaviour for their own writing process: They write one sentence per line so that they have an easier time trimming all sentences to approximately the same length.”

Dr. Boli does not know where the idea that all your sentences should be approximately the same length came from, but it is a bad idea. It did not occur to him until today that anyone needed to be told it was a bad idea. The only reason for writing sentences that way would be to lull your readers to sleep so that you can slip some binding legal agreements past them that no one would accept in a waking state. By searching Google for “make all sentences approximately the same length,” we discover the consoling fact that not even teachers of creative writing consider that a good idea. Yes: we have found a piece of writing advice so bad that even creative-writing teachers repudiate it.

The mechanical technique our programmer mentions could, however, be very useful, but for the opposite reason. Write one sentence per line. Now look at your lines. If they are all roughly the same length, you have some rewriting to do.

In fact, if you use this technique, what you will have will be something that looks like a poem by Whitman. Walt Whitman was a master of rhythm. He toiled incessantly over his poems, publishing his “Song of Myself” in constantly evolving versions from 1855 to 1891. It took him 36 years even to come up with the title.

Now, look at “Song of Myself” and examine the line lengths. Then try to write like that. You can’t, but it helps to have a model that exceeds your grasp.

CELEBRATE YOUR RHYME-RICH LANGUAGE.

In this week’s issue of the New Yorker we find “The End of the Line” by Adam Gopnik, ostensibly a review of a book about rap lyrics, but really a meditation on the nature and utility of rhyme. Most of the article is quite good, and you probably want to read it.

Dr. Boli would like to quibble with something that is almost incidental to Mr. Gopnik’s argument. Mr. Gopnik repeats a notion that comes up so often that it must be a cliché of poetic criticism in English: “the impoverished rhyming resources of English…the scarcity of rhyme in English…” Like everyone else who brings up this subject, he compares our poverty with the rhyming richness of French or Italian.

This is exactly backwards. French and Italian are the rhyme-poor languages. They could never have produced an Ogden Nash or a W. S. Gilbert. A French or Italian poet has to look hard for rhymes that are interesting, because everything rhymes with everything else. Obligato, ostinato, moderato, pizzicato, agitato—just try writing an interesting poem about music in Italian. Look at a libretto for an average Italian opera—not a really good one, like the ones by Da Ponte, but an average one—and see how quickly the rhymes without the music put you to sleep. French is just as bad. Émergé, parlé, enseigné, pensé—almost every single past participle in the French language rhymes with every other past participle in the French language, and the few that don’t mostly form a club of rhymes in ‑u or ‑i. Rhyming in French is ridiculously easy, even with what would seem like a rarish rhyme, like ‑oi: doit, Benoit, fois, Québécois, roi, toi, crois.

Ma foi !
Le loi,
C’est moi !

—cried the French judge in a poem Dr. Boli just made up, slaving over it for fifteen seconds. Well, that’s an exaggeration.

The point is that making rhyme interesting in French takes all the talent of a Molière or a Baudelaire. In English, a rhymed poem is an adventure. Yes, rhyming correctly is harder in English, in the same way that a Boucher painting is more work than a 50-piece jigsaw puzzle. But that makes rhyming itself—even rhyming badly—a richer experience, in the same way that even painting a bad painting is a richer experience than putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

In The Mikado, when Ko-Ko starts to tell his life story, we feel as though we are watching a tight-rope walk between two skyscrapers. He can’t do it, we think. He can’t get through an entire song on the same two rhymes. But he does.

Taken from the county jail
By a set of curious chances;
Liberated then on bail,
On my own recognizances;
Wafted by a favouring gale
As one sometimes is in trances,
To a height that few can scale,
Save by long and weary dances;
Surely, never had a male
Under such like circumstances
So adventurous a tale,
Which may rank with most romances.

Now, if you had tried this trick in French, the jaded French audience would have said, “Et alors ?” That is because French is a language rich in rhymes in the same way that the desert is an environment rich in sand.

The next time you read a poem in English and notice that the poet has taken the trouble to make the lines rhyme, think of what an accomplishment that is. Think what an incomparably rich forest of rhyming possibilities we have in English. And spare a tear for the poor French and Italians, who have to make do with the resources they can scrounge from a rhyming desert.