Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dunning K. Trump

The Dunning-Kruger effect has interested me since I wrote a short post about it in 2010. Dunning-Kruger helped explain something I had noticed in teaching: that students with serious deficits often have wildly inflated opinions about their ability. According to Dunning-Kruger, a lack of competence entails an inability to recognize one’s lack of competence.

Watching the presidential debate last night left me convinced that Donald Trump is, among other things, a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect. He has no understanding of how government works, no grasp of how military strategy works, and he has no understanding that he lacks an understanding. Thus his ludicrous assertions: that Hillary Clinton should have changed the tax system (at some point during her “thirty years” in government), that the United States military needs to employ “the element of surprise.” In the second debate he called for “a sneak attack.” A sneak attack! That sounds like the suggestion of a bright third-grader.

And Trump has no understanding that he lacks an understanding of how his words might sound to anyone not already allied with him. “Nobody has more respect for women than I do,” he declared last night. And audience members laughed. I’m reminded of the story of a Hollywood mogul declaring, “I’ve got more class than any son of a bitch in the room.” Or words to that effect.

A related post
Steve Bushakis and Donald Trump

Domestic comedy

[Film studies .]

“Have you ever seen it?”

“If I have, it was so long ago that I haven’t.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Fanaticism and reason

Stefan Zweig, Erasmus of Rotterdam , trans. Eden and Cedar Paul (New York: Viking, 1934).

But people cannot always be that patient. Zweig and his wife Lotte took their lives in 1942.

Other Zweig posts
Destiny, out of one’s hands : Happy people, poor psychologists : Little world : School v. city : “A tremendous desire for order” : Urban pastoral, with stationery : Zweig’s last address book

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I. Voted. Early.

I have come to think of early voting as a smart way to vote — you’re off the list, no one needs to spend time calling, and so on. This year I voted early just to be finished with it all.

Or in the words of a typist in The Waste Land , “Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.”

Klinkenborg’s October

Verlyn Klinkenborg:

“October,” The Rural Life (Boston: Back Bay Books, 2002).

I’ve been waiting to post something from “October,” but the temperatures have been hanging in the low eighties and high seventies. No way. But it’s cooler today, and to quote Robert Creeley, in a poem he wrote with Ted Berrigan, “the air is getting / darker / and darker.”

This post is for Stefan Hagemann. He and I were talking about Verlyn Klinkenborg a couple of days ago, before it felt like October.

Related reading
All OCA Verlyn Klinkenborg posts (Pinboard)

Orange light art

[“As seen in east-central Illinois.” Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

It’s no camera trick: that one light really is different from all the others. Can you guess why the store would have that one bulb be different?

Other posts with orange
Crate art, orange : Orange art, no crate : Orange art turtle : Orange batik art : Orange bookmark art : Orange car art : Orange crate art : Orange crate art (Encyclopedia Brown) : Orange dress art : Orange enamel art : Orange flag art : Orange manual art : Orange mug art : Orange newspaper art : Orange notebook art : Orange notecard art : Orange parking art : Orange peel art : Orange pencil art : Orange soda art : Orange soda-label art : Orange stem art : Orange telephone art : Orange timer art : Orange toothbrush art : Orange train art : Orange tree art : Orange tree art : Orange tree art : Orange Tweed art

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bertolli’s flare

From a television commercial for Bertolli Meals for Two, by DDB California, a descendant of the great advertising firm Doyle Dane Bernbach. Many people must have worked on this commercial — another DDB commercial for Bertolli credits more than three dozen — but DDB still needs someone who knows the difference between flare and flair .

Related reading
All OCA misspelling posts (Pinboard)

[If you watch the commercial, you’ll see that there’s no possible pun on the words. No candlelight, no gas flame.]

Our state rep in action

Last year our representative to the Illinois House of Representatives introduced a bill to prohibit public universities and community colleges from paying commencement speakers with state funds. From the House transcript for April 22, 2015, Rep. Jack D. Franks (D-63) questions Rep. Reginald Phillips (R-110) about how much money the bill would save:

Phillips: “Well, I have some ex . . . examples here. Some of these people that spoke were paid, at the University of Illinois, like 40 . . . 40 thousand, some 50 thousand dollars.”

Franks: ”Who were these people?”

Phillips: "Okay. I don’t know who these folks are, but I’ll just give you some of the names. Is that all right?”

Franks: “Yeah. Give us the names and how much they were paid and when and which school.”

Phillips: “Cokie Roberts at the University of Illinois, 2012, $55 thousand. Do you know who she is?”

Franks: “Yes.”

Phillips: ”Okay. Very good. Mayor and I don’t know how to pronounce it . . . Ange . . . Angelo, 2002, nearly $100 thousand.”

Franks: “In 2002?”

Phillips: “Yeah. That was 2002.”

Franks: “Oh, Maya Angelou.”

Phillips: “Maya Angelou, yes.”

Franks: “Not a mayor? Maya Angelou?”

Phillips: “Maya Angelou.”

Franks: “Okay.”
And a little later on:
Franks: “I‘ve asked a very simple question. How much did it cost us over the last few years at each university?”

Phillips: “Well, I’m going to have to apologize. I don’t have that right now, but I can get that to you.”

Franks: “Well, it’s your Bill. We need you to get that to us.”

Phillips: “Okay.”
And that was, so far, the end of that. The bill has not resurfaced.

Related posts
About last night (Our rep speaks)
Creative accounting (30 + 60 ≠ 90)

[I have changed dumb quotation marks to smart ones and replaced “. . .” with Internets-appropriate ellipses. I can’t of course do anything about the quotations themselves. All I can do is vote. Elaine saw news of this legislative moment somewhere on Facebook. Kῦδος to whoever found it.]

Homer’s Odyssey, Joe Sachs’s translation

Homer, Odyssey, closing lines of book 2, translated by Joe Sachs (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2014).

I wanted to keep the translator’s long lines intact, without indenting the runover words of virtually every line. So just click for a larger view. And then hear the six-stress lines: “And ALL through the NIGHT and into the DAWN the SHIP CUT her WAY.” And the Anglo-Saxon touches: “set it into its socket,” “fastened it in place with forestays.”

I’m not sure how I found my way to Joe Sachs’s translation of the Odyssey , a translation that seems to have met with widespread indifference. But two episodes in, I think I’ve found a new favorite to place alongside Robert Fitzgerald’s and Stanley Lombardo’s versions of the poem. Things here have heft. And they are luminous. Highly recommended.

Related reading
All OCA Homer posts (Pinboard)

[Elaine and I are reading the poem aloud in this translation, an episode or two a day. Such a pleasure.]

Monday, October 17, 2016

Twelve more movies

[No spoilers.]

The Hound of the Baskervilles (dir. Sidney Lanfield, 1939). The first appearance of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. It is pleasant to sojourn, at least for a short time, in a world where the mind can make sense of all things. Bonuses: handwritten letters and sardines.


The Long Day Closes (dir. Terence Davies, 1992). It begins brilliantly, with what sounds like the J. Arthur Rank gong, followed by the 20th-Century Fox fanfare. And between them, a bit of dialogue from The Happiest Days of Your Life (dir. Frank Lauder, 1950): “A tap, Gossage, I said a tap! You’re not introducing a film!” What follows is a plotless evocation of a Liverpool boyhood, 1955–1956, lonely, almost certainly gay, and filled with music and film musicals. The most Proustian film I’ve seen. Painterly, too. A masterpiece. And to think that I found it by browsing in the L s.

[Bud (Leigh McCormack) and his mum (Marjorie Yates), looking like a Vermeer. Click for a larger view.]


Knock on Any Door (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1949). Humphrey Bogart as a tough kid turned lawyer, now defending another tough kid (John Derek). Though I love Casablanca , High Sierra , and The Maltese Falcon , I am forced to concede that Bogart was not an especially good actor. But we’ll always have Paris. Look for Dooley Wilson (uncredited) at the piano in a nightclub scene.


The Madonna’s Secret (dir. William Thiele, 1946). One after another, a painter’s models end up dead. Who done it? A B-ish B-movie, with the great gift of John Alton’s cinematography.


Bottle Rocket (dir. Wes Anderson, 1996). Three stooges (Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Robert Musgrave) rob a bookstore (a bookstore) and aspire to greater things. Good-natured, unabashedly male-centric idiocy. Favorite bits: the notebook, the farewell conversation via interpreter, the phone call. The notebook’s pages are online for close reading.


The Fits (dir. Anna Rose Holmer, 2015). This film divided our household. Elaine didn’t like it. I did, a lot. Something is going wrong in a Cincinnati community center, where boys, girls, young men, and young women spar and work out and dance. A deeply unnerving film. To say anything more would be to give something — I’m not sure what — away. My favorite lines: “They’re filling up a container. They look like astronauts.” I would love to teach this film and hear what students make of it.

[Click for a larger view.]


Amanda Knox (dir. Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn, 2016). This film might be described as Making a Murderer: The Study-Abroad Edition . An outrageous story of prosecutorial and media malpractice. Giuliano Mignini and Nick Pisa, prosecutor and pseudo-journalist, respectively, will live on in infamy in this documentary.


The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years (dir. Ron Howard, 2016). When Ron Howard passed right by the Beatles’ great performance on the Swedish television show Drop In (1963), I knew that this documentary would be much more than a rehash of material from The Beatles Anthology . A wonderful, mild reminder of the happiness and exhaustion of Beatlemania. (No sex, and nothing stronger than pot.) The film’s pacing is remarkable: fifty minutes or so in, I began to feel tired for these guys, and then they begin to spend time in the studio.

I wish that Howard had been able to track down an unknown fan or two or three who spoke to reporters back then — they would have been at least as interesting to hear from as the celebrity commenters. But I found Whoopi Goldberg’s observation true to my childhood experience of the Beatles: “The whole world lit up.” That was it, exactly.

A bonus: in theaters, the film is followed by a thirty-minute version of the group’s August 15, 1965, performance at Shea Stadium.


The Commitments (dir. Alan Parker, 1991). Would you rather be an unemployed pipefitter, or an unemployed musician? Yeah, I thought so. A soul band takes shape in the slums of Dublin. An endearing, winning film, with genuine musical excitement, and a lead singer who seems to be channeling Joe Cocker (but with no need for a translator). My alternate title: Waiting for Wilson Pickett . My favorite moment: watching these musical aspirants watch James Brown in the 1964 concert film T.A.M.I. Show .

If all culture is theft, this film is about breaking into Fort Knox.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (dir. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, 2016). Suppose they gave a war and after a while nobody thought it was still newsworthy? Tina Fey as Kim Baker, a real-life journalist who packs up for Afghanistan with little preparation and few second thoughts. The dark comedy of desparate circumstances. “Hearts and minds: that’s the two best places to shoot somebody.”


Criss Cross (dir. Robert Siodmak, 1949). Had I seen it before? Criss Cross is both memorable and forgettable enough to make me wonder. (I’m still not sure.) Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo as doomed lovers, Dan Duryea as a criminal mastermind. The film’s unusual scenes — a surreal heist, a menacing hospital scene — help offset the more predictable elements.


Breakfast at Tiffany’s (dir. Blake Edwards, 1961). It’s streaming at Netflix, a good enough reason to watch it again. Mr. Yunioshi aside, I love the film’s Janus-like picture of mid-century Manhattan as playground for free spirits and island of lost souls. I keep Breakfast at Tiffany’s in my head with The Apartment , The World of Henry Orient , and A Thousand Clowns . Are there other films that I should know about along these mid-century bittersweet lines?

[Varjak, Paul (George Peppard) explains the card catalogue to Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn): “Each one of these little drawers is stuffed with little cards, and each little card is a book or an author.” “I think that’s fascinating!” Click for a larger view.]

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Still another twelve : Twelve more