Saturday, June 24, 2017

Alain de Botton on academia

From the podcast Design Matters. Alain de Botton explains why he left a doctoral program in philosophy:

“Like many young people with a kind of cultural and aesthetic interest, I imagined that academia was going to be nirvana, because, you know, these guys were going to pay you to do the stuff that was lovely to do anyway — reading books, writing, et cetera. And then I quickly realized that really there was a mass deception going on, and that academia had collectively got together to try and make this supposedly lovely thing as unpleasant as possible, simply because they had a massive problem of oversubscription. So the only way to deal with oversubscription is to make you jump through so many hoops and make those hoops so unpleasant that only the most determined survive.”
I remember as an undergraduate hearing my professor Jim Doyle observe that it wasn’t the smart students who went on to graduate school; it was the persistent ones. At the time I wasn’t smart enough to understand what he meant, nor was I persistent enough to ask him to explain.

[My transcription.]

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fred Stein photography

In The New York Times: “A Bygone Era of Big City Life,” photographs by Fred Stein (1909–1967). See also the photographer’s website.

Pogie the porcupine


[“Animal Lending Library in Sacramento.” Photograph by Carl Mydans. Sacramento, California, April 1952. From the Life Photo Archive.]

A 1952 Life article about the Animal Lending Library identifies Pogie as a “he.” Or as a child would say, a boy porcupine.

A related post
Animal Lending Library

Animal Lending Library


[“Animal Lending Library in Sacramento.” Photograph by Carl Mydans. Sacramento, California, April 1952. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

At first I thought — hoping against hope — that the library was for animals who liked to read. But no. The Animal Lending Library was a service of the California Junior Museum, which allowed children seven and older to borrow hamsters, porcupines, rabbits, rats, skunks, and squirrels. Parental permission required. Overdue fine: 10¢. The library was the subject of a feature in the July 14, 1952 issue of Life.

Founded in 1952, the California Junior Museum was housed on the grounds of the California State Fair. Today there’s a Junior Museum and Zoo in Palo Alto.

A related post
Pogie the porcupine

[Me, I like to think of all museums as junior museums.]

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Republicans present and past

Astonishing, in light of current events, to realize that it was a Republican president who proposed a national health-care plan “that would have required employers to offer insurance with standard benefits — including dental care, mental health care and a free choice of hospitals and doctors,” with employers paying 76% of premiums after three years.

[Try to guess the president before clicking on the link.]

Watching Lost in five sentences

“I’m supposed to believe this?”

“Have you lost your mind?”

“You don’t have to do this.”

“Fair enough.”

“Now what?”

A related post
Lost thoughts

[From three or four episodes, five bits of discontinuous dialogue, written down in the order in which they were spoken.]

Lost thoughts

[Contains spoilers.]

Elaine and I just finished watching Lost (dir. Jack Bender et al., 2004–2010). For the most part the series was immensely enjoyable. What I liked best: character development by way of back stories (or back and forward and sideways stories): Bernard and Rose, Charlie, Claire, Mr. Eko, Hurley, Jin and Sun, Locke, Sayid, and Benjamin Linus. For me, those characters and the actors who played them were the show’s greatest assets. I join the rest of my fambly in finding the alpha-male displays and love triangles tedious. And the repeated use of a particular science-fictional plot device left me cold. But to fault the series for such stuff would be like faulting opera for all the singing.

A more reasonable objection: Lost piles up mythic tropes and media tropes indiscriminately, from Gilgamesh and Enkidu to the Mahabharata to Pandora’s box to Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now (Mistah Locke) to Casablanca (“You’re getting on that plane”) to Star Wars to Jonestown to Raiders of the Lost Ark to MacGyver to Touched by an Angel to The Apprentice. And more, always more. There’s even a touch of The Blues Brothers and its mission of getting the band back together. The treacly ending in The Church of All Religions (as I choose to call it) fails to make good on the series’s loftier thematic material. Which means that Lost tends to sink under its own weight.

Not the greatest television series of (as they say) “all time,” but certainly worth watching. It’s streaming at Netflix. Estimated viewing time: ninety hours.

A related post
Watching Lost in five sentences

[What is the greatest television series of all time? I think I’d choose Breaking Bad.]

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

“Once Per Day”


[xkcd, June 21, 2017.]

Lawn mower troubleshooting

If mower fails to start:

1. Attempt to start mower, six, eight, or ten times.

2. Repeat step 1; then proceed to step 3.

3. Disconnect spark plug and look under mower.

4. Reconnect spark plug and attempt to start, just one more time. You never know.

5. Wonder about spark plug. When was it last replaced anyway? Never? Disconnect and grab spare from garage.

6. Attempt to turn and remove spark plug with pliers.

7. Attempt to turn and remove spark plug with wrench.

8. Consult mower manual on how to remove spark plug.

9. Receive additional help from partner, who looks online for how to remove spark plug.

10. Determine that print and online sources both point to the need for a spark plug removal tool.

11. Head to the farm-and-home store for that very tool.

12. Realize en route that you bought that very tool years ago. Huh. Where is it now?

13. Purchase tool; return to mower and replace spark plug.

14. Vroom, vroom!

15. Go back to step 12. The old removal tool will be where it has always been: in the kitchen drawer that holds small tools.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How do you say “crazy,
harebrained scheme” in French?

In 1837 Honoré de Balzac bought a piece of land in the Ville d'Avray at Sèvres upon which to build a house. But his plans grew larger:

Balzac never regarded expenditure as money actually laid out so long as it was still in the form of a debt. He revelled in the early delights of ownership, and before his new house was built he refused to worry about how he was to pay for it. What was his pen for, anyway, that magic instrument which could so swiftly turn blank paper into thousand-franc notes? Moreover, the fruit-trees which he intended to plant on the still virgin soil would alone bring in a fortune. Suppose he were to lay down a pineapple plantation? Nobody in France had yet hit upon the idea of growing pineapples in glasshouses instead of shipping them from distant parts. If it was set about in the right way, so he confided to his friend Théophile Gautier, he could make a profit of a hundred thousand francs, or three times as much as his new house would cost him. As a matter of fact, it would cost him nothing at all, since he had persuaded the Viscontis to join him in this brilliant venture. While he was building his new house they were going to fit up the old cottage for their own use, and would pay him a suitable rent. So what was there to worry about?

Stefan Zweig, Balzac, trans. William and Dorothy Rose (London: Casell, 1947).
Related reading
All OCA Balzac and Zweig posts (Pinboard)

White House misspellings and typos

Seth Masket, a former writer for the White House Office of Correspondence, considers the abundance of misspellings and typos in official correspondence from today’s White House. His conclusion: “It’s actually difficult to produce errors like this under normal conditions.”

One that was new to me: “the possibility of lasting peach.”

Monday, June 19, 2017

Domestic comedy

“Is she even wearing a bra?”

“The Dharma Initiative push-up bra.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

A joke in the traditional manner

What is the favorite snack of demolition crews?

No spoilers. The punchline is in the comments.

More jokes in the traditional manner
The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : Did you hear about the thieving produce clerk? : Elementary school : A Golden Retriever : How did Bela Lugosi know what to expect? : How did Samuel Clemens do all his long-distance traveling? : How do amoebas communicate? : How do worms get to the supermarket? : What did the doctor tell his forgetful patient to do? : What did the plumber do when embarrassed? : What happens when a senior citizen visits a podiatrist? : What is the favorite toy of philosophers’ children? : What was the shepherd doing in the garden? : Where do amoebas golf? : Why did the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels? : Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies? : Why did the ophthalmologist and his wife split up? : Why does Marie Kondo never win at poker? : Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. He gets credit for all but the cow coloratura, the produce clerk, the amoebas, the worms, the toy, the shepherd, the squirrel-doctor, Marie Kondo, Santa Claus, and this one. He was making such jokes long before anyone called them “dad jokes.”]

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Music for Father’s Day

I’m still making my alphabetical way through my dad’s CDs: Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Ivie Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire, Mildred Bailey, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Art Blakey, Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins, Clifford Brown, Dave Brubeck, Joe Bushkin, Hoagy Carmichael, Betty Carter, Ray Charles, Charlie Christian, Rosemary Clooney, Nat “King” Cole, John Coltrane, Bing Crosby, Miles Davis, Matt Dennis, Doris Day, Blossom Dearie, Paul Desmond, Tommy Dorsey, Billy Eckstine, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Erroll Garner, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Stéphane Grappelli, Bobby Hackett, and now, Coleman Hawkins. My dad had good taste, no? I owe my foundations in music to him.

Here are four beautiful recordings with which I’m marking this Father’s Day, all by Coleman Hawkins and His All-Star “Jam” Band: “Crazy Rhythm” (Irving Caesar-Joseph Meyer-Roger Wolfe Kahn), “Out of Nowhere” (Johnny Green-Edward Heyman), “Honeysuckle Rose” (Thomas “Fats” Waller-Andy Razaf) “Sweet Georgia Brown” (Ben Bernie-Maceo Pinkard-Kenneth Casey). The last side in particular is hotter than hot.

 
 
Coleman Hawkins, tenor sax; Benny Carter, alto sax and trumpet; André Ekyan, alto sax; Alix Combelle, tenor sax and clarinet; Stéphane Grappelli, piano; Django Reinhardt, guitar; Eugène d’Hellemmes, bass; Tommy Benford, drums. Recorded in Paris, April 28, 1937.

Solos on “Crazy Rhythm”: Ekyan, Combelle, Carter, Hawkins. “Out of Nowhere”: Carter, Hawkins. “Honeysuckle Rose”: Hawkins, Reinhardt, Carter. “Sweet Georgia Brown”: Hawkins, Carter, Hawkins.

My dad had these recordings on the now-out-of-print CD The Hawk in Europe: 1934–1937 (Living Era, 1988). They can still be found elsewhere on CD by searching for hawkins and 1937.

Happy Father’s Day to all.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Henry insult


[Henry, June 17, 2017.]

“Stingy tightwad”: now there’s a childhood insult that stings. “Blimp” though is just the guy’s name.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Woodstock TV


[Peanuts, June 20, 1970, and repeated today.]

Woodstock has just exited the doghouse. He joins Henry, Linus van Pelt, and Nancy Ritz in having sat too close to the television.

Related reading
All OCA Peanuts posts (Pinboard)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Word of the night: owl-hoot

The Oxford English Dictionary word of the day is owl-hoot. The word means “the hooting sound made by an owl; a sound imitating or resembling this.”

A later meaning, “esp. in the language of Wild West fiction, etc.”: ”a fugitive, an outlaw. Hence: a worthless or contemptible person.” That’s an owlhoot, without the hyphen. Cowboys got no time for hyphens.

But the earliest meaning of owl-hoot, now archaic and rare: “dusk, nightfall.”

It is 8:55 p.m.: owl-hoot.

Lost Ulysses


[From the Lost episode “316,” February 18, 2009.]

Benjamin Linus reads Ulysses. “How can you read?” Jack asks. “My mother taught me,” Ben replies.

[No spoilers, please.]

Bloomsday 2017

It is Bloomsday. James Joyce’s novel Ulysses (1922) begins on June 16, 1904, and ends in the early hours of the following day. Here is a passage from “Ithaca,” the novel’s penultimate episode, and my favorite. (Episodes, not chapters: like the Odyssey .) Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus are walking.



Other Bloomsday posts
2007 (The first page)
2008 (“Love’s Old Sweet Song”)
2009 (Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses)
2010 (Leopold Bloom, “water lover”)
2011 (“[T]he creature cocoa”)
2012 (Plumtree’s Potted Meat)
2013, 2013 (Bloom and fatherhood)
2014 (Bloom, Stephen, their respective ages)
2015 (Stephen and company, very drunk)
2016 (“I dont like books with a Molly in them”)

WWRZS

Last night I tried to imagine what my friend Rob Zseleczky might have said about about the traces of CliffsNotes and SparkNotes in Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize lecture. “He’s an outlaw, Michael,” I imagined Rob saying. “He doesn’t care what you think of him.” And then I imagined Rob laughing helplessly: “CliffsNotes!”

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dylan, Homer, and Cliff

Andrea Pitzer wonders: does Bob Dylan’s Nobel lecture borrow from the SparkNotes for Moby-Dick? The phrasings themselves — for instance, “encounters other whaling vessels” — are not always especially distinctive. It’s their number and their sequence (in twenty of the seventy-eight sentences that Dylan devotes to Melville’s novel) that are reason for suspicion. To my eye, it’s plagiarism, of an especially pathetic sort. Dylan is plagiarizing a plot summary.

I began to wonder about Dylan’s Nobel commentary on the Odyssey. His summary of the poem’s action is loose and inaccurate, and I see nothing there to suggest a source. But look at this passage from the CliffsNotes for Book 11:

More controversial is Achilles’ appearance because it contradicts the heroic ideal of death with honor, resulting in some form of glorious immortality. Here, Achilles' attitude is that death is death; he would rather be a living slave to a tenant farmer than king of the dead. His only solace is to hear that his son fares well in life.
And look again at Dylan’s one extended comment on the poem, which cheered me when I read it earlier this month:
When Odysseus in The Odyssey visits the famed warrior Achilles in the underworld — Achilles, who traded a long life full of peace and contentment for a short one full of honor and glory — tells Odysseus it was all a mistake. “I just died, that’s all.” There was no honor. No immortality. And that if he could, he would choose to go back and be a lowly slave to a tenant farmer on Earth rather than be what he is — a king in the land of the dead — that whatever his struggles of life were, they were preferable to being here in this dead place.
Cliff: “he would rather be a living slave to a tenant farmer than king of the dead.”

Dylan: “he would choose to go back and be a lowly slave to a tenant farmer on Earth rather than be what he is — a king in the land of the dead.”

I thought that “tenant farmer” must have come from Robert Fagles’s translation. But no, CliffsNotes are the unmistakable source for that phrase, “king,” and “of the dead.” Dammit, it’s plagiarism.

You read it here first.

La Quiberonnaise sardines


[La Quiberonnaise sardines in extra-virgin olive oil and lemon.]

My friend Jim Koper gave me a can of La Quiberonnaise sardines to try. The can describes them as millésimées, “vintage.” They are the product of a company that has been canning since 1921. And they’re expensive: $9-something a can here in the States, which means that they cost three or four times as much as everyday sardines. They’re excellent. But are they three or four times better than everyday sardines? Not to my taste. Nor to Jim’s. La Quiberonnaise seems to be a case (or can) of diminished returns. But a beautiful can.

Thanks, Jim.

Related reading
La Quiberonnaise website
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

[Why “three or four times as much” and not “three or four times more”? Because usage.]

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Time travel

Discovering a great-grandfather’s pipe:

Papa Joe’s pipe had been tucked away in a drawer somewhere for years, and was in good condition when I found it. I ran a pipe cleaner through it, filled it with some tobacco I had on hand, and settled down to read and smoke. After a couple of minutes, the most wonderful and foreign blend of smells began wafting from the pipe. All the various tobaccos that Papa Joe had tried at one time or another in his life, all the different occasions when he had lit his pipe, all the different places he had been that I will never know — all had been locked up in that pipe and now poured out into the room. I was vaguely aware that something had got delightfully twisted in time for a moment, skipped upward on the page. There is a kind of time travel to be had, if you don’t insist on how it happens.

Alan Lightman, “Time Travel and Papa Joe’s Pipe,” in Dance for Two: Selected Essays (New York: Pantheon, 1996).
See also David Owens on Old Spice and other smells of childhood. See also that Proust guy.

Thanks to Stefan Hagemann, who recommended Alan Lightman to me.

Milk as safe


[Life, October 18, 1954.]

Next bottle?

A related post
Milk bottles

[Post title with apologies to Captain Beefheart.]

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Workplace expression of the day

Hard stick: used in the world of medicine. Someone whose veins are difficult to find. “She’s a hard stick.”

Coffee-and

Balzac’s writing equipment:

Without coffee he could not work, or at least he could not have worked in the way he did. In addition to paper and pens he took with him everywhere as an indispensable article of equipment the coffee-machine, which was no less important to him than his little table or his white robe. He allowed nobody else to prepare his coffee, since nobody else would have prepared the stimulating poison in such strength and blackness. And just as in a sort of superstitious fetishism he would use only a particular kind of paper and a certain type of pen, so he mixed his coffee according to a special recipe, which has been recorded by one of his friends: “This coffee was composed of three different varieties of bean — Bourbon, Martinique, and Mocha. He bought the Bourbon in the rue de Montblanc, the Martinique in the rue des Vieilles Audriettes, and the Mocha in the Fauborg Saint-Germain from a dealer in the rue de l’Université, whose name I have forgotten though I repeatedly accompanied Balzac on his shopping expeditions. Each time it involved half-a-day’s journey right across Paris, but to Balzac good coffee was worth the trouble.”

Stefan Zweig, Balzac, trans. William and Dorothy Rose (London: Casell, 1947).
The paper: “of a special size and shape, of a slightly bluish tinge so as not to dazzle or tire the eyes, and with a particularly smooth surface.” The pens: ravens’ quills. Supplies, supplies, supplies.

Related reading
Balzac’s hair-raising essay “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee”
All OCA Balzac, coffee, and Zweig posts (Pinboard)

[Coffee-and is an old-timey way of saying “coffee and doughnuts.”]

Monday, June 12, 2017

Ambiguous headline


[The New York Times, June 12, 2017.]

That’s from the online front page. The article does better: “Friend Says Trump Is Considering Firing Mueller as Special Counsel.” The procedure can get ugly fast:

Under Justice Department rules, Mr. Trump would seemingly have to order Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to rescind department regulations protecting a special counsel from being fired for no good reason, and then to fire Mr. Mueller. If Mr. Rosenstein refused, Mr. Trump could fire him, too — a series of events that would recall the “Saturday Night Massacre” during Watergate, when President Richard M. Nixon sought to dismiss a special prosecutor, Archibald Cox.
O ye gods.

Coffee and other grandest things


[Life, December 15, 1941. Click for a larger view.]

Yes, as the advertisement says, Mother’s taste is superb. I like the swanky living room, though it seems a little short on seating materials.

Is daughter home from college? And has she picked up a tiny coffee habit while away? And why is everyone exchanging presents already? It’s only December 20. And why is the Christmas tree out in the front yard? I need a tiny cup of A&P coffee to clear my head.

What most caught my eye (while it was looking for something else: grandest. I think of Marty (dir. Delbert Mann, 1955), when Marty describes his kid brother’s wedding: “I never saw anything so grand in my life.” And of 42nd Street (dir. Lloyd Bacon, 1933), when Peggy Sawyer’s character exclaims, “Jim! They didn’t tell me you were here! It was grand of you to come.” But most of all, I think of older relatives and the Irish-American grand. How are you feeling? Oh, just grand, thank you.

The December 15, 1941 issue of Life has a young actress on its cover, Patricia Peardon, who was appearing in the Broadway show Junior Miss. The United States was not yet at war when that issue went to press. On the December 22 cover: an American flag.

Related reading
All OCA coffee posts (Pinboard)

Aldi on the move

Groceries in the news: “Low-cost grocery chain Aldi says it plans to add more stores in the U.S. over the next five years, meaning more competition for traditional grocers, Walmart and organics-focused chains like Whole Foods.” Now: 1,650 stores. By the end of 2018: 2,000. By the end of 2022: 2,500.

Aldi is a great source for all manner of grocery items. The prices are low and the quality is high. Avocados: sometimes a dollar less than other stores. Kalamata olives: a couple of dollars cheaper than other stores, and just as good. Pistachios: way cheaper than elsewhere. The store sometimes has great, inexpensive surprises in wine — those bottles disappear quickly. And you get to use a “trolley coin” every time you shop.

If you’re squeamish about shopping in a store-brand supermarket, you can tell yourself that Aldi Nord, owner of Trader Joe’s, and Aldi Süd, owner of Aldi, are sister companies. Which is the truth.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

On hope

What James Comey says Donald Trump said: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Andrew Storm on bosses’ hopes:

In a 1995 case, KNTV, Inc., the company president had a private meeting with a reporter where the president told the reporter, “I hope you won’t continue to be an agitator or antagonize the people in the newsroom.” The [National Labor Relations Board] found that the statement was coercive in large part because it was made by the company’s highest ranking official and it was made in a meeting that the reporter was required to attend alone. Sound familiar?

In other words, the expert agency that regularly adjudicates disputes about whether particular statements by an employer rise to the level of coercion has held that when the president of an organization expresses his “hopes” in a private conversation with a worker, those comments will likely have a “chilling effect” on the employee.
As Mark Liberman observes, it’s common sense to recognize that Trump’s “I hope you can let this go” was meant to be heard as a directive.

My academic example: Imagine a chair or dean, after a meeting has ended, asking for a private word with a faculty member who suspects plagiarism in the work of some favored student: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Biff go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” There’s no question that in such a setting, “I hope” is a directive, one that you disregard at your own risk.

See also Anthony Lane on Trump and Comey and hope.

Roscoe Mitchell at Mills

The composer and multi-instrumentalist Roscoe Mitchell is one of eleven Mills College faculty members slated for dismissal. Mitchell is the Darius Milhaud Professor of Music at Mills. The firing of faculty is part of Mills’s camel-cased “vision” for the future, MillsNext.

Related reading
Other OCA Roscoe Mitchell posts

“Hysteria over hyphens”

Email, or e-mail? Archrival, or arch-rival? The Economist addresses “Hysteria over hyphens” and finds one thing certain:

Fortunately, this is one rule that need not drive anyone mad: a group of words used as a single modifier should be hyphenated. Any other approach to hyphenation really should receive zero tolerance.
Related posts
Bad hyphens, unhelpful abbreviations : “Every generation hyphenates the way it wants to” : Got hyphens? : The Hammacher Schlemmer crazy making hyphen shortage problem : Living on hyphens : Mr. Hyphen and e-mail : Mr. Hyphen and Mr. Faulkner : One more from Mr. Hyphen : Phrasal-adjective punctuation

[Like The Economist, I prefer e-mail to email. “Zero tolerance” is a swipe at Lynne Truss, whose best-selling and lousy book about punctuation is missing a hyphen from its subtitle: The Zero[-]Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.]

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Two photographs


[Chris Sippel and me.]


[Chris Sippel. Both photographs from Spring 1970.]

I found a stash of photographs from the eighth-grade class trip to Washington, D.C. (funded by sales of Claxton fruitcake). Girls in dresses, boys in jackets and ties, and sometimes trenchcoats. Ladies and gentlemen, sort of. I don’t know whose idea it was to pose the second photograph.

A related post
Chris Sippel (1956–2017)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Chris Sippel (1956–2017)

Chris and I were best friends in junior high. We’d meet and take the bus to Hackensack, New Jersey, and go to the Relic Rack and Hackensack Record King. Records, all the way. Chris was big on doo-wop. I was just discovering blues. We spent hours on the telephone at night, seeking out ridiculous clip art in the Yellow Pages: “Go to 318!” We found the Mothers of Invention LP Absolutely Free in a cut-out bin in the same drugstore where we discovered the National Lampoon. When Chris and his family went away for the summer, we exchanged letters, with many drawings — the Bowery Boys, three-toed sloths, all sorts of surreal comedy. Chris was a brilliant cartoonist and a big fan of Leo Gorcey, whom he drew in profile. (When Gorcey died, Chris sent a sympathy card to his widow.) We had a thing about three-toed sloths and imagined a world in which our algebra teacher kept a sloth named Lothar as a pet.

Chris and I drifted apart when he went off to attend a Catholic high school. I was happy to reconnect with him in 2008 after someone noticed his name in a blog post I wrote (about Hackensack's Main Street) and got in touch with me and then with him. We talked on the phone several times, and I was amazed that our interests in literature had developed in such similar ways — Chris was even, like me, a fan of the poet Gilbert Sorrentino, not exactly a household name. I was happy to learn that Chris still had Absolutely Free, which it turns out I’d given to him after tiring of it. We tried to figure out why we had drifted apart, something he said had happened with people at every time of transition in his life. And we agreed, yes, we should meet up. But it never happened. I remember leaving several messages — “We’re heading east this summer” — and never getting a return call.

I’m sorry to learn now that Chris’s life has ended. He was an incredibly creative, funny, smart guy, and that’s how I’ll remember him. I wish that I’d known him better, and for more than a handful of his sixty-one years.

*

June 10: I’ve posted two photographs from our eight-grade class trip to Washington, D.C.

Into the frying pan


[“Supercharged Sardines.” Field and Stream, October 2004.]

A little heat brings out and mellows the flavor. Lemon juice adds zing. A few red-pepper flakes wouldn’t hurt either.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Domestic comedy

[After closing up a box of pasta with plastic wrap and a rubber band.]

“It keeps the weevils out.”

“We don’t have weevils.”

“And this is why.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Peanuts Donald


[Peanuts, June 6, 1970.]

His name is Thibault, but his hair and manner say “Donald.”

Related reading
All OCA Peanuts posts (Pinboard)

“Salacious material”

From James Comey’s prepared testimony:

During the dinner, the President returned to the salacious material I had briefed him about on January 6, and, as he had done previously, expressed his disgust for the allegations and strongly denied them. He said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn’t happen. [January 27 dinner.]

He described the Russia investigation as “a cloud” that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country. He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. [March 30 telephone call.]
Strange: Trump circles back — twice — to the “salacious material” and denies wrongdoing. Was anyone besides Trump still thinking about that stuff in March? He doth protest too much, methinks. And I wonder: is “hookers” Comey’s word, or Trump’s?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

“Sgt. Petsound’s”

Now, at WFMU (or, in the future, in the archives): “Sgt. Petsound’s.” Gary Sullivan is playing “tributes, covers, deconstructions, mashups, samples, nods, and more in response to two of the most influential albums of all time.”

Thanks to Music Clip of the Day for passing on the news of this show.

Too many ands?

The New Arthurian alerted me to a recent controversy involving the word and. When Paul Romer of the World Bank criticized the Bank staff’s writing and called for shorter, clearer documents, he pointed specifically to excessive use of and and insisted that the word account for not more than 2.6% of a Bank report. In a highly critical 2015 analysis of “Bankspeak,” Franco Moretti and Dominique Pestre cite that percentage as the average frequency of and in academic writing.

One passage from a World Bank report that has come in for attention, by way of Moretti and Pestre’s analysis:

promote corporate governance and competition policies and reform and privatise state-owned enterprises and labour market/social protection reform
Is and really the problem? Moretti has said that “a few fewer ands” won’t fix the Bank’s writing problems. Romer has acknowledged that his emphasis on the conjunction is “a gimmick,” a way to call attention to matters of writing. Mark Liberman has listed literary works with more than 2.6% and. In first place: the King James Version of Genesis, with 9.55% and. As I began to think about and, Sammy Cahn’s lyrics for “Love and Marriage” popped into my head. Cahn beats Genesis: his 100-word lyric is 10% and. “Love and marriage, love and marriage, / Go together like a horse and carriage”: there’s a sentence that’s 23% and.

The real problem with the passage of Bank writing is not the ands but the words in between, piled up with an utter lack of clarity. Look again:
promote corporate governance and competition policies and reform and privatise state-owned enterprises and labour market/social protection reform
Does policies apply to both governance and competition, or to competition alone? Is the first reform a noun that pairs with policies, or a verb that pairs with privatise? And if reform is a verb, what sense is there in reforming enterprises that are to be privatized? And how might “labour market/social protection reform” be privatized? Wouldn’t privatizing reform amount to permitting private enterprise to do whatever it pleases?

And here I’m reminded of George Orwell’s observation in “Politics and the English Language” (1946) that one need not take on the responsibility of thinking when composing sentences:
You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connexion between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
Or economic policy and the debasement of language.

Paul Romer fought a good fight, but the enemy is much bigger than and. Yes, fought. As Bloomberg reported in late May:
The World Bank’s chief economist has been stripped of his management duties after researchers rebelled against his efforts to make them communicate more clearly, including curbs on the written use of and.
Two Paul Romer websites
Notes for Bank insiders : Paul Romer

[“Love and Marriage,” music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics by Sammy Cahn. I skipped the repeats when counting ands.]

Efficiency and effectiveness

“Efficiency is concerned with doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things”: Peter Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (New York: Routledge, 1974).

Other Drucker-related posts
On figuring out where one belongs : On income disparity in higher ed : On integrity in leadership

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

“Fact from Fiction”

From the PBS NewsHour: “Fact from Fiction,” about teaching young people how to distinguish genuine news stories from falsehoods. Fred Croddon, a third-grader: “People, if they don’t know how to analyze it, will just say, ‘Oh, wow, that’s true!’” Smart kid.

Anil Dash on choices

“We don’t have a media and tech ecosystem that rewards long-term, thoughtful, contemplative, slow, meaningful choices”: Anil Dash, interviewed by Debbie Millman for the Design Matters podcast.

A page-forty-five test

The book is short: a four-page preface and just ninety pages of text, followed by acknowledgements, sources, and index. So instead of a page-ninety test, I chose to do a page-forty-five test:

Positive emotions in an academic context are linked, as we have seen, “to social relationships” (Beard et al. 638). Laughter can promote social harmony, as long as it is not derisive. Jaak Panksepp (who coined the term “affective neuroscience”) argues that the adult “taste for humor” originates in childhood: children love to be chased and tickled because it ”arouses the brain” and promotes bonding. Adult laughter “is most certainly infectious and may transmit moods of positive social solidarity, thereby promoting cooperative forms of social engagement” (184).
This paragraph reveals a tendency that runs through the book: the citing and quoting of sources to bolster commonplace, unobjectionable statements. Do we really need a source to confirm that laughter is infectious? Are “to social relationships” and “taste for humor” phrases distinctive enough to merit quotation? Ninety pages of text, and a Works Cited list with 151 entries: something is off. The paragraph I’ve quoted is fairly short; others in this book run more than a page; a few, more than two pages. (Thirty-seven lines per page.) I’m in complete sympathy with the writers’ argument (against the corporatization of academia), but this book is best borrowed from a library.

Related posts
Ford Madox Ford’s page-ninety test
My Salinger Year, a page-ninety test
Nature and music, a page-ninety test
A history of handwriting, a page-ninety test
A book about happiness, a page-ninety test

[The book is Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber’s The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016).]

Monday, June 5, 2017

Dylan and Homer

Bob Dylan, in his Nobel Prize lecture:

When Odysseus in The Odyssey visits the famed warrior Achilles in the underworld – Achilles, who traded a long life full of peace and contentment for a short one full of honor and glory – tells Odysseus it was all a mistake. “I just died, that’s all.” There was no honor. No immortality. And that if he could, he would choose to go back and be a lowly slave to a tenant farmer on Earth rather than be what he is – a king in the land of the dead – that whatever his struggles of life were, they were preferable to being here in this dead place.

That’s what songs are too. Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They're meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, “Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.”
I have to say: Dylan’s lecture makes me feel a lot happier about his Nobel Prize.

*

June 15: He plagiarized.

Related reading
All OCA Homer posts (Pinboard)
Positively Oslo

[Dylan quotes almost exactly the opening line of Robert Fitzgerald’s 1961 translation of The Odyssey: “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story.” The phrase “tenant farmer” appears in Robert Fagles’s 1996 translation and, as I now know, in the CliffsNotes for the poem. “I just died, that’s all” is all Dylan.]

At least eleven more movies

[Four sentences each. No spoilers. One entry that may not meet the definition of a movie.]

Little Sister (dir. Zach Clark, 2016). An ex-goth novice nun and her family: war-damaged brother, foundering father, druggie mom (Ally Sheedy). “Are you monsters?” “Yeah, we’re monsters.” The family that’s dysfunctional together, stays together.

*

The Gods of Times Square (dir. Richard Sandler, 1999). A documentary visit to Times Square before it became a theme park, focusing on the varieties of religious experience found there. You know how you see people on the street with posters and tracts and wonder what it would be like to talk to them? Richard Sandler found out. Dig the enigmas.

*

The Intern (dir. Nancy Meyers, 2015). Robert De Niro plays a widowed executive who joins Anne Hathaway’s company as a senior intern and changes lives. (Guys: carry a handkerchief, and tuck in your damn shirt.) With lesser talents this film would be unbearable. But I was happy to discover it to be sweet, gentle, Nora Ephron-like fun.

*

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (dir. Matt Tyrnauer, 2016). A documentary about Jane Jacobs, the Greenwich Village activist who challenged New York City’s master destroyer Robert Moses — and won. It is astonishing to take in the heartlessness and stupidity with which “urban renewal” proceeded, as if people had no attachment to a neighborhood because they rented. Jacobs believed in neighborhoods and streets (not highways). My favorite line: “I have very little faith in even the kind of person who prefers to take a large overall view of things.”

*

I Am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck, 2017). The premise: an envisioning of James Baldwin’s Remember This House, a projected memoir of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. But the film is far more wideranging, or diffuse, a kaleidoscope of archival film clips and photographs, over which Samuel L. Jackson speaks passages from Baldwin’s prose. (The Ken Burns Effect.) The best moments are those when we see and hear Baldwin at the Cambridge Union Society and on The Dick Cavett Show: quick, cutting, and preternaturally eloquent.

*

Get Me Roger Stone (dir. Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, Morgan Pehme, 2017). Yes, that Roger Stone. A friend of Roy Cohn and Donald Trump. A cartoon-villain and dandy, with hair plugs and a Richard Nixon tattoo. A major figure in the transformation of American democracy into professional wrestling.

*

The Keepers (dir. Ryan White, 2017). In 1969 Catherine Cesnik, Sister Cathy, a twenty-six-year-old Baltimore nun, was murdered. Decades later, two alumnae of the high school for girls where she taught try to solve the crime. What develops is a story of rampant abuses of power and the failure of religious and civil authorities to protect the vulnerable and pursue justice. Like The Jinx and Making a Murderer, this documentary series trusts that we will be patient enough to watch a narrative slowly take shape, even if its basic facts can be had online in just seconds.

*

The Dark Past (dir. Raoul Maté, 1948). Al Walker (William Holden), an escaped killer, his moll (Nina Foch), and his henchmen take shelter in the lakeside retreat of Andrew Collins (Lee J. Cobb), a psychiatrist and college professor weekending with family and friends. In the course of a long wait for a getaway car, Walker recounts a dream that‘s tormented him since childhood, and Collins decodes its symbols. Mystery solved, and Walker will never need to kill again — though he will be going back to prison. I took perverse glee in this film’s depiction of the professorly life: a shotgun in the office (to take to the lake), an Eames-like second house with two servants.

*

The Chase (dir. Arthur Ripley, 1946). A Horatio Alger story gone wrong: an unemployed veteran (Robert Cummings) returns a lost wallet, gets hired as a driver, and becomes involved with his employer’s wife (Michèle Morgan). The employer (Steve Cochran) is a smooth criminal, and Peter Lorre is his henchman. Genuine suspense, tricky dreams, and exoticism by way of Cuba. Another YouTube find.

*

Big Fish (dir. Tim Burton, 2003). A father and fabulist (younger, Ewan McGregor; older, Albert Finney), and a son (Ewan McGregor) who’s tired of hearing his father’s same old impossible tales. A lovely film about the power of one man’s imagination to create a life story. How wonderful when father and son are able to have meet on that ground, or in that water. Dad’s a big fish.

*

Dominguinhos+ (dir. Felipe Briso, 2014). Not a film, really, but an Internet supplement to a documentary film about the Brazilian accordionist, singer, and composer Dominguihos (1941–2013). Maya Andrade, Yamanda Costa, Hamilton de Holanda, João Donato, Djavan, Gilberto Gil, Jazz Sinfônica, Elba Ramalho, and other musicians perform for and with Dominguihos. According to a Facebook page for the documentary, these performances are Dominguihos’s last appearances in a recording studio. Available at YouTube.

*

Yamandu + Dominguinhos (dir. Maurício Valim, 2007). Yamandu Costa (seven-string guitar) and Dominguinhos (accordion), recorded in concert. I love hearing great players play in twos: I don’t think there’s a better way to see musical empathy in action. This performance offers one highlight after another, with endless virtuosity, wit, and joy. Out of print (I think) but available at YouTube.

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen films : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Still another twelve : Oh wait, twelve more : Twelve or thirteen more : Nine, ten, eleven — and that makes twelve : Another twelve : And twelve more : Is there no end? No, there’s another twelve : Wait, there’s another twelve : And twelve more

Dirt Sounds

Jeff Hassay’s Beach Boys House: Dirt Sounds is “a hand-made record containing soil from the house where Brian Wilson grew up in Hawthorne, California.” What’s on the record: an eighteen-minute field recording of Hassay’s visit to the site of the Wilson house (3701 W. 119th Street). The house was demolished in the 1980s during construction of Interstate 105. The recording will be released tomorrow, 100 copies, $100 each.

Related reading
All OCA Beach Boys and Brian Wilson posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

From the Saturday Stumper

A wonderful clue from today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, 17-Across, six letters: “Poached, but not scrambled.” No spoilers: the answer is in the comments.

Today’s puzzle is by “Anna Stiga”: the name is a not-so-secret pseudonym of Stan Newman, Newsday’s crossword editor. Full explanation here.

Some rocks, some clouds


[Nancy, June 3, 1950.]

“Some rocks” is an abiding preoccupation of these pages.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)
Some more “some rocks”

Friday, June 2, 2017

Overheard

[At our favorite Thai restaurant. Tiny House Hunters was on the TV.]

“Where is the shower?”

We didn’t find out if the hunters found one.

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)
The tiny-house reach (Small, but not that small)

Pinboard buys Delicious

The social bookmarking service Pinboard has purchased its predecessor Delicious. The story is here, at the Pinboard blog. Pinboard is the work of Maciej Cegłowski. Delicious was formerly owned by Yahoo. How the mighty have fallen.

I have been a happy Pinboard user since December 2010, when the service required a one-time payment of $7.01 (the price rose by small amounts as more people signed up). Pinboard now costs a reasonable $11 a year. I have two accounts, one to bookmark pages for later use, and one that serves as an index of sorts to Orange Crate Art.

A related post
Goodbye, Delicious

"Always standing around
everywhere and butting in”

Mr. Wiscott, a medium, attempts to speak with a brewery owner:


Alfred Döblin, “Traffic with the Beyond.” 1948. Bright Magic: Stories, trans. Damion Searls (New York: New York Review Books, 2016).

Also from this book
“He knows that he is a thinker”

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Goodbye to Paris

Bill McKibben, writing in The New York Times:

It’s a stupid and reckless decision — our nation’s dumbest act since launching the war in Iraq. But it’s not stupid and reckless in the normal way. Instead, it amounts to a thorough repudiation of two of the civilizing forces on our planet: diplomacy and science. It undercuts our civilization’s chances of surviving global warming, but it also undercuts our civilization itself, since that civilization rests in large measure on those two forces. . . .

And so we will resist. As the federal government reneges on its commitments, the rest of us will double down on ours. Already cities and states are committing to 100 percent renewable energy. Atlanta was the latest to take the step. We will make sure that every leader who hesitates and waffles on climate will be seen as another Donald Trump, and we will make sure that history will judge that name with the contempt it deserves. Not just because he didn’t take climate change seriously, but also because he didn’t take civilization seriously.

Junk mail

A piece of junk mail arrived in the box this morning, from a sender “Named a World’s Most Ethical Company® by the Ethisphere Institute.” The who? So I did a little reading.

“Don’t fucking kill yourself”

Fresca wrote about a YouTube video about not killing yourself. The video’s title: “Using a safety plan to not kill yourself when the world is a shitshow!” Here’s Fresca’s post, with Carey Callahan’s video embedded. Callahan’s message, which comes with many practical suggestions: “Take care of yourself. Don’t fucking kill yourself.”

The post and the video reminded me of a passage from Tad Friend’s 2003 New Yorker article “Jumpers,” about suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge:

Survivors often regret their decision in midair, if not before. Ken Baldwin and Kevin Hines both say they hurdled over the railing, afraid that if they stood on the chord [a thirty-two-inch-wide beam] they might lose their courage. Baldwin was twenty-eight and severely depressed on the August day in 1985 when he told his wife not to expect him home till late. “I wanted to disappear,” he said. “So the Golden Gate was the spot. I’d heard that the water just sweeps you under.” On the bridge, Baldwin counted to ten and stayed frozen. He counted to ten again, then vaulted over. “I still see my hands coming off the railing,” he said. As he crossed the chord in flight, Baldwin recalls, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable — except for having just jumped.”

Kevin Hines was eighteen when he took a municipal bus to the bridge one day in September, 2000. After treating himself to a last meal of Starbursts and Skittles, he paced back and forth and sobbed on the bridge walkway for half an hour. No one asked him what was wrong. A beautiful German tourist approached, handed him her camera, and asked him to take her picture, which he did. “I was like, ‘Fuck this, nobody cares,’ “ he told me. “So I jumped.” But after he crossed the chord, he recalls, “My first thought was What the hell did I just do? I don’t want to die.”
[No thoughts of suicide here, or at Fresca’s blog. But one never knows what might be helpful to someone else, or when.]