Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Word of the day: zaatar

The word of the day, or of my day, is zaatar, or za’atar. Cue the Oxford English Dictionary:

1. Originally in the Middle East: any of a number of aromatic culinary herbs. The precise herb referred to is variously identified as thyme, oregano, marjoram, hyssop, or savory.

2. In Middle Eastern cuisine: a condiment made from any of these herbs (esp. thyme) singly or in combination, with dried sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt.
The British pronunciation: /ˈzaːtaː/. The American pronunciation: /ˈzaˌtar/.

The etymology:
Arabic saʿtar, ṣaʿtar, zaʿtar wild thyme, also a condiment made from this herb or similar herbs (see definition), probably < Syriac ṣatrā' (Aramaic ṣatrā'; > post-biblical Hebrew ṣatrāh savory, in modern Hebrew also satureia, thymbra). Compare Turkish zatar (probably < Arabic; the indigenous Turkish word for ‘thyme’ is kekik).
Got all that? No matter. If you’ve ever had hummus with a dark sprinkle of seasoning atop, you’ve tasted zaatar, or some version of zaatar. As a Wikipedia article explains, zaatar is a various thing. From what I’ve tasted, I’d describe the flavor as light and savory.

I looked into zaatar after a great lunch of falafel, salad, and zaatar-seasoned fries at Terre Haute’s Saratoga Restaurant. And now our household now holds a container of Sadaf Mix Green Zaatar: thyme leaves, oregano leaves, sesame seeds, salt, soy oil, sumac. The Saratoga no doubt makes it own.

[The ː symbol in /ˈzaːtaː/ marks extra-long sounds.]


A fine episode of Helen Zaltzman’s podcast The Allusionist, about hyperbolic indefinite numerals: “Zillions.”

Our household’s favorite hyperbolic indefinite numeral is eleventyteen, from Elaine’s father Burton Fine. What’s your favorite hyperbolic indefinite numeral?

Interview with a lexicographer

“Nobody gets rich being a lexicographer”: from an interview with freelance lexicographer Orin Hargraves (The University of Chicago Magazine).

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Liar, scary

“Why is the president lying? Because he’s a liar”: Bakari Sellers on CNN a few minutes ago.

And James Clapper, just now on CNN, on Donald Trump’s access to nuclear codes: “It’s pretty damn scary.”

Something has to change.


[While eating ice cream.]

“Whenever I call him, he says, ‘I’m with my two friends, Peace and Quiet.’”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

[Elaine says it’s an old line. But it’s new to me.]

Subway payphone, 1932

Ephemeral New York shows us what a New York City subway payphone looked like in 1932.

Thanks to the library

I wanted to determine the age of our piano from its serial number. The Internet? Useless, at least for our piano. But my university’s library had the answer, in the Pierce Piano Atlas (1965): 1908.

And now that I was in the library, I thought to look up the ghost word dord and see it in print for myself. The word was right there in the reference stacks, in the second edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary (1934):

[A real ghost: dord & co.]

Emily Brewster, Merriam-Webster lexicographer, tells the story of dord in a short video. So yes, back to the Internet. But sometimes only the library will do.

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

[Our piano is a Beckwith Empire Upright. (It looks like this one). Ours is unrestored but stays in tune (for a good long while) and plays beautifully. It was a lucky addition to our household, acquired for the cost of moving. The movers said it was the heaviest piano they had ever handled. It’s possible to see a photograph of the dord entry online, but the thing itself is found only on paper.]

Monday, August 21, 2017


Artisanal eclipse viewers. We start with the finest cereal boxes — Cascadian Farms Granola or Grape-Nuts, your choice. Inside, a viewing surface made from a generous double-thick layer of Strathmore Ultimate White Wove 24 lb. writing paper, hand-cut to each box’s shape and size. On top, a sturdy square of Reynolds Wrap with custom-drilled pinhole, locked down with Scotch Brand packing tape. A second square, hand-cut, serves as viewfinder. Durable, lightweight. Slightly used.

Shipping not included.

[Well outside the path of totality, I found this eclipse to be No Great Shakes. Cue Miss Peggy Lee.]

Twelve more movies

[Five sentences each. No spoilers.]

War for the Planet of the Apes (dir. Matt Reeves, 2017). Apes together strong! The apes and their planet (their planet?) are a fond memory for Elaine, who loved the movies in childhood. I was a willing partner. This film holds the attention, very well, briefly jumps the shark, or the primate (with the Colonel’s long speech), recovers quickly, but begins to leave the mind the moment one leaves the theater. With clear political overtones (internment camps, a maniacal leader who wants to build a wall) and generous helpings of Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, The Great Escape, and other films.


Little Men (dir. Ira Sachs, 2016). Art-minded Jake (Theo Taplitz) and theater-minded Tony (Michael Barbieri) have become the best of friends. They hope to go on to LaGuardia High School together (New York’s arts high school). Jake’s parents own the Brooklyn storefront that houses Tony’s mother’s dress shop, and now they’re going to raise the rent — not because they want to but because they have to. A sweet and sad picture of male friendship on the verge of adolescence, just as girls begin to complicate things (or not). With a special appearance by Owl’s Head Park, where I played as a little kid.


Blue Gold: American Jeans (dir. Christian D. Bruun, 2014). “In the least expected quarters, there they are: American mining pants.” A look at everyday, utilitarian apparel turned into the stuff of connoisseurship, in the United States, in Japan, and everywhere. Do people really pay hundreds of dollars for old 501s, and tens of thousands of dollars for ancient off-brand pants? Yes, they do, and right on camera. I still call my Carhartts dungarees.


Who Was Kafka? (dir. Richard Dindo, 2006). Kafka’s words, read by a narrator, and the words of Max Brod, Gustav Janouch, Felice Bauer, Milena Jesenská, Dora Diamant, and others, read by actors. Archival photographs of people and places. Prague, beautifully filmed, fills the screen, skies, buildings, and not one person. Interiors, beautifully filmed, remain unidentified. Whether one knows knows something or nothing at all of Kafka’s life and work, there is just not enough here.


I Called Him Morgan (dir. Kasper Collin, 2016). Lee Morgan was a brilliant trumpeter who established himself in music while still a teenager, succumbed to addiction as a young man, and was brought back from the living dead by a woman who called him Morgan — and who shot him to death in a New York club when he was just thirty-three years old. (Shades of Frankie and Johnny.) The centerpiece of this documentary is an interview with Helen Morgan, the trumpeter’s wife and killer, taped just a month before her death by her adult-ed instructor (who had mentioned that he was a jazz fan). On-camera interviews with fellow musicians piece together Morgan’s story, with abundant performance footage and period photographs. Most moving moment: Wayne Shorter talking as he looks at a photograph of himself looking apprehensively at Morgan, whose head is bandaged after he nodded out against a hot radiator: “Lee, hey Lee, what you doin’?”


Journey to the Center of the Earth (dir. Henry Levin, 1959). Pleasant fun, in a movie that Elaine remembers from Saturday mornings in childhood. But I will admit that I liked the movie less as it began to abandon its focus on mysterious marks and rocky passageways for more colorful underground wonders. Underground and above, there are some nice Odyssey touches for those who love Homer. The strangest thing about this movie is not that the journey is to the center of the earth: it’s that the journey is led by James Mason, and that he brings along Pat Boone — who sings. And that Billy Wilder’s longtime collaborator Charles Brackett co-wrote the screenplay and produced.


Born to Kill (dir. Robert Wise, 1947). Lawrence Tierney plays Sam Wilde, an eerily Trumpian sort who dominates and destroys everyone in his way as he attempts to maintain relationships with two sisters (Audrey Long, Claire Trevor), one of whom he marries for her money, the other of whom he wants for other reasons. Elisha Cook Jr., who bears a more than slight resemblance to Donald Trump Jr., plays Sam’s friend Marty. This movie begins and ends with over-the-top scenes of jealousy and brutal violence. In between, nearly everything is magnificent squalor. Even a scripture- and hymn-quoting detective (a great turn by Walter Slezak) has his price.


Hidden Figures (dir. Theodore Melfi, 2016). A story of invisible women, African-American “computers” (mathematicians) working for NASA in the 1960s. The principals — Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, and Octavia Spencer — are fine actors, and the movie’s blue and grey and tan workplace evokes the 1960s far more successfully than does, say, Mad Men. But Hidden Figures feels to me like a movie about black people made to appeal to white people. By means of righteous indignation, rhetorical charm, or stoic dignity, each of the three principals manages to win over a white authority figure who makes things right: one who knocks down a Colored Only sign outside a NASA bathroom (as black women stand and watch), one who gives permission to attend night classes on a white campus, one who grants a long-hoped-for promotion to supervisor. As Atticus Finch taught us, white people can be so good.


Un pequeño festival de Pedro Almodóvar

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). Women! Men! Crises! Many! Along with gazpacho and sleeping pills, terrorism, a scene from Johnny Guitar being dubbed into Spanish, and a taxi stocked with all kinds of sundries for sale. An enormously funny film.

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989). A variation on the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, I’d say. Marina (Victoria Abril) is an ex-junkie, ex-porn star, and actress. Ricky (Antonio Banderas), a patient at a mental institution, has been acting sane long enough to be released. Ricky forces his way into Marina’s apartment, determined to make her fall in love with him, marry him, and have his children. Funny and frightening, deliriously unhinged, and somehow, in the end, strangely normal.

Volver (2006). An ultra-melodramatic melodrama, with themes of betrayal and loyalty, and dark family secrets. The setting is La Mancha, with wind turbines everywhere. Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) is the newly single mother of a teenaged girl. Raimunda’s mother, aunt, and sister are also important figures in the story that unfolds, a story I don’t want to even try to explain. Volver is my favorite of the five Almodóvar films I’ve seen.


Le Million (dir. Réne Clair, 1931). This sweetly charming comedy begins with some tricky set design and a happy ending: a midnight party that gives way to an extended flashback. The flashback begins with a dashing painter, his romantic rival, sexual intrigues, and angry creditors, and soon turns into the story of a missing lottery ticket, left in a jacket, and the various efforts to find it. The search leads to an opera house, some hilarious goings-on (my favorite moment: rugby, with crowd sounds), and, at last, back to the happy ending. As in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, live performance becomes the material of film, which can also take us behind the closed curtain and into the audience. That meta observation should not distract from this other observation: Le Million is one of the greatest film comedies ever made.

More Almodóvar and Clair to come, for sure.

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 : At least eleven more : And twelve more


Last Thursday’s local forecast for this Monday, as heard on an NPR station: “mostly sunny.” Was that a joke?

Today’s Wertham

[Zippy, August 21, 2017.]

The title of today’s Zippy: “It’s Wertham-Man!!” Fredric Wertham was an American psychiatrist whose criticism of comic books helped bring about the Comics Code. But God (that’s God with the neckerchief) pulls no punches. Take that, Henry!

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts : All OCA Henry and Zippy posts : All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Trump–Russia timeline

At Moyers & Company, Steven Harper has made a detailed timeline: Everything We Know About Russia and President Trump. If this is the kind of timeline that can be put together from the public record, I can only imagine the timeline that Robert Mueller must be putting together.

The figure who stands out to me in this timeline, again and again: Felix Sater, described by the BBC as “a Russian-American gangster.” He entered the Trump story in 2002. In 2013 and 2015, Trump denied being familiar with him.

Jerry Lewis (1926–2017)

[“Jerry Lewis and Chimpanzee.” Photograph by Peter Stackpole. February 2, 1950. From the Life Photo Archive.]

It feels like the end of a show-business era. The New York Times has an obituary.


A library-sale find: Anna Jane Grossman’s Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By (New York: Abrams Image, 2009): anonymity, bellhops, correction fluid, and so on. On the back flyleaf, stamped in red: DISCARD.

“In a Sentimental Mood,” two takes

“If a student wants to sound like Ellington, there’s no point in looking at The Real Book”: at The New Yorker, the pianist Ethan Iverson writes about Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, “In a Sentimental Mood,” and “scalar thought.”

Related reading
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, August 19, 2017


[The New Yorker, August 28, 2017.]

This cover illustration, by David Plunkett, is titled Blowhard. Says the artist, “A picture does a better job showing my thoughts than words do; it can have a light touch on a subject that’s extremely scary.”

Related images
Protesting Racism and Hate with Political Art (Print)

In the news

Our local newspaper has had a 1200 × 675 version of this image front and center on its website, all week. That’s the big story, at least online: the fidget-spinner craze and whether it will last. That’s the news.

What would Drucker think?

Rick Wartzman of the Drucker Institute writes about what Peter Drucker might have thought about Donald Trump’s response to events in Charlottesville:

Drucker would have discerned one aspect of an extremely disturbing pattern: a nod and wink from a man who rode into the nation’s highest office by playing on “the despair of the masses” (or at least those of the white working class); by promising them “a miracle . . . which belies the evidence of one’s reason” (like the return of their old manufacturing and coal jobs); and by creating “demonic enemies” for them to rail against (whether Muslims or Mexican immigrants, or his African-American predecessor in the Oval Office). Tellingly, each of these quotations is from The End of Economic Man, Drucker’s 1939 book about the origins of fascism in Europe.
Other Drucker-related posts
On figuring out where one belongs : On income disparity in higher ed : On integrity in leadership : On efficiency and effectiveness

[I am an unlikely reader of Peter Drucker’s work. No management type, I. I caught on by way of the excellent little book On Managing Onself (2008).]

Friday, August 18, 2017

More resignations

On an arts and humanities note:

The New York Times reports that all sixteen members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities have resigned. A dozen other members had already resigned rather than serve under Donald Trump. All members, it seems, had been appointed by Barack Obama. From the Times article: “The committee never convened under Mr. Trump, members said, and the president has not appointed members so far.”

An excerpt from the committee members’ August 18 letter of resignation:

Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.
The first letters of the letter’s five paragraphs and closing spell R-E-S-I-S-T.

How long before resignations of far greater political consequence begin? Who will be the first Cabinet member to resign in protest?


10:20 p.m.: From The Washington Post: “In a statement late Friday, the White House claimed that Trump had decided earlier this month to disband the committee by not renewing its charter when it expires at the end of the year.”

Yeah, sure. Here we see a repeat of what happened when members of the American Manufacturing Council resigned and the members of the Strategic and Policy Forum agreed to disband: Trump dissolved the groups. You can’t resign, because I’m firing you. The committee website makes no mention of a presidential decision to disband. A picture of Melania Trump sits in the sidebar, where she is identified as both Honorary Chairman and Honorary Chair. Jeez, proofread.

Paul Oliver (1920–2017)

Paul Oliver, a prolific writer on blues music, has died at the age of ninety. The New York Times has an obituary.

As a teenager, I borrowed Oliver’s The Story of the Blues (1969) from the library, again and again. The first blues record I ever bought: the Columbia double-album The Story of the Blues (1969), designed to accompany the book. A world opened.

I learned from the Times obituary that Oliver was a distinguished architectural historian. Who knew? (Not me.) Blues was what a colleague of mine would call Oliver’s sidebar life.

Pocket notebook sighting

[Le Million (dir. René Clair, 1930).]

The winning number in the Dutch lottery is 27009. But who bought that ticket, Prosper, or Michel? This notebook holds the answer. The camera pans across the page as if reading: thus what looks like a faulty screenshot.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : Cat People : City Girl : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dragnet : Extras : Foreign Correspondent : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The Last Laugh : The Lodger : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window


[Henry, August 18, 2017.]

This panel looks a bit too pixelated as a 2017 rerun. It belongs in the past, with that circus and that billboard.

Today’s Henry shows once again that the strip’s billboards are of the lattice variety.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

News of the future

It’s not yet in The New York Times, not yet in The Washington Post: Congressman Steve Cohen (D, Tennessee-9) “will be introducing articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump following the President’s comments on the horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia.”

Zippy’s Darkroom

[Zippy, August 17, 2018. Click for a larger view.]

It’s real, and I found it by searching for vintage camera shop. Here’s a page with a color photograph. And here’s a photograph in living black and white:

[“The Dark Room, 5370 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, CA.” Photograph by Marvin Rand. 1972–1977. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Click for a larger view.]

Bill Griffith has drawn The Darkroom in a more recent incarnation as La Boca del Conga. That restaurant disappeared before Google Maps, which does preserve El Toro Cantina, which itself for a time preserved La Boca’s awning. (See the second panel.) Today 5370 is the home of Spare Tire Kitchen & Tavern. The background in the first panel checks out: that tower is real, and dammit, I’ve been to the Staples (not pictured) right across the street from it. And missed The Darkroom. (Not next time!) The signage in the second panel — THERAPY, DRUGS — is, I think, Griffith’s commentary on the function of nostalgia.

[El Toro Cantina, 2009. Spare Tire Kitchen & Tavern, 2016. From Google Maps.]

You can read Zippy every day at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Orange pump art

[“Far-go gas pump, Main Street.” Photograph By John Margolies. Barstow, California, 1979. From the Library of Congress feature John Margolies: Roadside America.]

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 light 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 stereograminator 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

Eleanor Roosevelt on happiness

Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product. Paradoxically, the one sure way not to be happy is deliberately to map out a way of life in which one would please oneself completely and exclusively. After a short time, a very short time, there would be little that one really enjoyed. For what keeps our interest in life and makes us look forward to tomorrow is giving pleasure to other people.

Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1960).
Also from this book
On doing what you think you cannot do : On honoring the human race : On attention : On maturity : On optimism

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Metaphor, off-course

A commentator on CNN this afternoon: “Corporate America has become the moral compass that is leading the argument.”

Related reading
All OCA metaphor posts (Pinboard)

[I’ve broken my no-cable-news vow, repeatedly, repeatedly.]

Recently updated

A resignation Now with two more resignations and two fewer councils.

“The burden is reality”

James Baldwin on what makes achieving a revolution different from overthrowing a dictator or repelling an invader:

Time and time and time again, the people discover that they have merely betrayed themselves into the hands of yet another Pharaoh, who, since he was necessary to put the broken country together, will not let them go. Perhaps, people being the conundrums that they are, and having so little desire to shoulder the burden of their lives, this is what will always happen. But at the bottom of my heart I do not believe this. I think that people can be better than that, and I know that people can be better than they are. We are capable of bearing a great burden, once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.

“Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region of My Mind,” in The Fire Next Time (1963).
I started this post planning to quote a passage from this book about why life is tragic, but I see that I already did so in a 2006 post.

Eleanor Roosevelt on optimism

It is true that I am fundamentally an optimist, that I am congenitally hopeful. I do not believe that good always conquers evil, because I have lived a long time in the world and seen that it is not true. I do not seek the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow or think that “everything will have a happy ending” because I would like it too.

It is not wishful thinking that makes me a hopeful woman. Over and over, I have seen, under the most improbable circumstances, that man can remake himself, that he can even remake his world if he cares enough to try. And I have seen him, by the dozen, by the thousands, making that effort.  . . .

Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try.

Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1960).
Also from ER
Doing what you think you cannot do : Honoring the human race : Attention : Maturity

Escaping in a Buick

[Zippy, August 16, 2017.]

Our president was tweeting at 3:12 and 3:18 this morning (EDT). Not normal. I’ll take the Buick.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[I’m well aware that this kind of nostalgia involves a significant element of privilege. A 1947 Buick would be a different proposition if, say, one had to rely on the Green Book when driving, or if, say, one could not afford a car. Or if, say, one had been killed in World War II.]

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Recently updated

A resignation Now with still more resignations from Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council.

Must be read to be believed

Here is a transcript of Donald Trump’s remarks and exchanges with reporters at a news conference this afternoon. Must be read to be believed.

Trump has obviously been given some additional talking points. He now says that his statement on Saturday was non-specific because it was too early to say more: “Before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.” (A gift to late-night hosts, that line.) Everyone thought the statement was “beautiful.” There were “very fine people on both sides” of Saturday’s events. (Back to “on both sides.”) And Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were slave owners: “So will George Washington now lose his status?” To shift from Robert E. Lee to Jefferson and Washington is a pretty daring instance of whataboutism. And when Donald Trump speaks of slavery, it’s not to mourn the original American sin: it’s only to proclaim that everybody did it.

Most remarkable to me: the casting of those who oppose neo-Nazis and white supremacists as “the alt-left.” As if opposing neo-Nazis and white supremacists is itself a form of extremism.

Recently updated

A resignation Now with more resignations from Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council.

Gui, c’est toi?

[Detail. Adolf Dehn, The Battery. Casein on panel. 29 × 60 inches. 1953.]

Adolf Dehn (1895–1968) was an American lithographer and painter. The Battery was part of a recent exhibition at Terre Haute’s Swope Art Museum, Adolf Dehn: Midcentury Manhattan. This stroller, from the painting’s bottom left corner, bears a marked resemblance to Guillaume Apollinaire, so marked that it immediately announced itself to me.

The Battery, or Battery Park, is a park on the southern tip of Manhattan. This image, not nearly large enough, gives an idea of the entire painting.

Words from Whitman

[As seen in May.]

A detail of the New York City AIDS Memorial, designed by Jenny Holzer, at the intersection of Twelfth Street, Greenwich Avenue, and Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village. The memorial includes excerpts from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, arranged in a spiral and narrowing to a triangle: “Missing me one place search another, / I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

Password advice

From All Things Considered: Paul Grassi of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, offers advice for creating good passwords: simple, long, and memorable. “If you can picture it in your head, and no one else could, that’s a good password.”

Monday, August 14, 2017

A resignation

“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental views by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal”: Kenneth Frazier, chairman and chief executive officer of Merck & Co., in a tweet announcing his resignation from Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council. Trump’s response is crass and predictable.

Who else will have the good sense to step away from Trump?


8:42 p.m.: The Times reports that another member of this council has resigned:

Kevin Plank, the founder of Under Armour, announced on Twitter that he was resigning from the American Manufacturing Council, saying, among other things, that his company “engages in innovation and sports, not politics.” He did not refer to the president, though.

10:49 p.m.: And another, Brian Krzanich, chief executive of Intel. From his statement:
I have already made clear my abhorrence at the recent hate-spawned violence in Charlottesville, and earlier today I called on all leaders to condemn the white supremacists and their ilk who marched and committed violence. I resigned because I want to make progress, while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them. We should honor — not attack — those who have stood up for equality and other cherished American values. I hope this will change, and I remain willing to serve when it does.

August 15: Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, has also resigned.


9:22 p.m.: Two more, Richard Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff:
“We cannot sit on a council for a president who tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism,” Mr. Trumka said. “President Trump’s remarks today repudiate his forced remarks yesterday about the KKK and neo-Nazis. We must resign on behalf of America’s working people, who reject all notions of legitimacy of these bigoted groups.”

August 16: Following two more resignations from the American Manufacturing Council (Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup and Inge Thulin of 3M) and an agreement by members of the Strategic and Policy Forum to disband, Donald Trump has dissolved both councils.

[Elon Musk resigned from this council in June.]

“School supplies and fun

[Life, August 31, 1953. Click for a larger view.]

Notice the date on this Life advertisement: it’s almost September, and there’s still time to buy school supplies. Perhaps you tarried after reading last week’s full-page Pedigree ad? No rush. And speaking of “no rush”: do click for a larger view of the pencils and cases, the cheerful copy, the reference to last week’s ad, and the spritely figures scampering about the page.

Related reading
Back-to-school shopping : Pedigree pencil

“Cheaper buy the dozen”

[Life, August 24, 1953. Click for a larger view.]

Oh, they’re clever, what with their puns and their pencil named after the largest of the British Virgin Islands. And with their not even mentioning s-c-h-o-o-l by name. But school is around the corner: why else would there be a full-page advertisement announcing that Pedigree pencils are on sale?

Notice the date of this Life: August 24. When I was a boy in Brooklyn, school began after Labor Day. School in New York City and other northeastern places still begins after Labor Day. In downstate Illinois and many other places, school begins in mid-August. In 2015 CNN offered some explanations of “why August is the new September.”

Back to pencils (briefly): I have never liked Pedigree. But I always loved shopping for school supplies with my children, even for “1 box tissues” and the elusive “oilcloth.” I’m not sure we ever figured out that one.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)
Pedigree pencil (With a photograph of an old one)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Mandela via Obama

Barack Obama’s response to the events in Charlottesville, in three tweets, two hours ago, is a passage from Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom (1994):

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
[I’ve added two commas to match the source.]


Michael Eric Dyson, writing in The New York Times about “Charlottesville and the Bigotocracy”:

It is depressing to explain to our children that what we confronted as children may be the legacy they bequeath to their children as well.

It is more dispiriting still to realize that the government of our land, at least in the present administration, has shown little empathy toward victims of white bigotry, and indeed, has helped to spread the paralyzing virus of hatred, by turning a blind eye to what is done in their name.

Now is the time for every decent white American to prove he or she loves this country by actively speaking out against the scourge this bigotocracy represents. If such heinous behavior is met by white silence, it will only cement the perception that as long as most white folk are not immediately at risk, then all is relatively well. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could more clearly declare the moral bankruptcy of our country.
All is not well at all. The horror of the events in Charlottesville is compounded by the response of our president, whose words, tweeted and spoken, reveal his inability to grasp that horror (“So sad!”) and his absolute lack of moral clarity (“on many sides, on many sides”).

Here, via Cameron Glover, are six organizations in Charlottesville deserving of support: Beloved Community Charlottesville, Charlottesville NAACP, Charlottesville Pride, Charlottesville Solidarity Legal Fund, Legal Aid Justice.

All publicity is good publicity

Our president, in a telephone call to Eddie Calvo, the governor of Guam:

“Eddie, I have to tell you, you’ve become extremely famous. All over the world they’re talkin’ about Guam, and they’re talkin’ about you, and I think you’re gonna — tourism, I can say this — in tourism, you’re gonna go up in, like, tenfold, with the expenditure of no money, so I congratulate you.”
Both the president and the governor seem to be operating under the mistaken show-biz assumption that all publicity is good publicity. I think that we’ve just passed some outer limit of what’s plausible in our political reality.

[The passage I’ve quoted begins at 0:57. My transcription.]

Fifty blog-description lines

Google’s Blogger calls the line that sits below a blog title the “blog description line.” I’ve added a hyphen. For years, the first words of Van Dyke Parks’s “Orange Crate Art” sat there: “Orange crate art was a place to start.” In May 2010, I began to vary the line, using some word, phrase, or sentence from a recent post. And I began keeping track. Here are the fifty most recent blog-description lines, beginning in November 2016. I like looking at them as pieces of found language:

“Use more glue”
“Bleak enough”
“Low ceiling”
“Availability ‘Unknown’”
“A single instrument played with two hands”
“Specially crafted”
“Long overdue”
“Caroline, no!”
“Hardly a horn”
“The missing pixel”
“Great for entertaining”
“Down the slippery slope”
“Save 7¢”
“Thinking especially of produce”
“Anne Frank is a Syrian girl”
“Oh, who listens to the lyrics?”
“No challenge is to great”
“Elementary particles”
“Monkey, monkey, underpants”
“Old-fashioned posting”
“Fresh perked”
“Goodnight little house”
“Work dreams”
“Truck amok”
“My own notebook”
“Correct to one-tenth of a second”
“Irrelevancies and solid objects”
“What is something I’ve never heard of?”
“Superb views”
“Small and fast”
“Meal after meal, plus snacks”
“Probably wouldn’t hold up in court”
“Drink that coffee straight and lets get going”
“Begins talking”
“May transmit moods”
“‘I’m supposed to believe this?’”
“‘I’ll get it!’”
“Clickety clack, clickety clack”
“Keep showing up”
“It’s Mueller Time”
It’s still Mueller Time, but my, that coffee does smell good.

Related posts
Two hundred blog-description lines : Fifty more : And fifty more

[If you read Orange Crate Art via RSS only, you’ve been missing out.]

Sardines, et al.

Fish and bigger fish: a sardine disco ball (or bait ball) comes to a bad end, as documented by the BBC. “Tuna. Their arrival changes everything.” Also sea lions, sharks, dolphins, and a whale.

Thanks to Matt Thomas at Submitted for Your Perusal for passing on the link.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Re: our improvising president

Earlier this week The New York Times reported that Donald Trump’s threat of “fire and fury” “was entirely improvised.” I fear that this characterization (which I quoted in a post, without comment) gives improvisation a bad name.

In a moment of crisis, improvisation may be urgently needed. I recall the WWII medic who used a pocket knife and fountain-pen cap to perform a tracheotomy. But a capable improviser doesn’t make it up from nothing: the medic of course would have been trained to perform a tracheotomy. Nor does a capable improvising musician just make it up: he or she creates in the moment from a lifetime’s experience as a listener and performer.

There is a marked difference between a resourceful, quick-thinking, practiced improviser and a would-be tough guy who flies by the seat of his pants. We should be careful not to equate improvisation with our president’s reckless bluster.

The aroma and the actuality

The laundry deliveryman will think twice about making a harmless observation when the private detective Albert Arnett (Walter Slezak) is around. Dialogue from Born to Kill (dir. Robert Wise, 1947):

“My, that coffee smells good. Ain’t it funny how coffee never tastes as good as it smells?”

“As you grow older, you’ll discover that life is very much like coffee: the aroma is always better than the actuality. May that be your thought for the day.”

“Yeah. Sure.”
Related reading
All OCA coffee posts (Pinboard)

Kafka coffee

Still on the balcony. Karl Rossmann has been speaking with a young man who is studying on a neighboring balcony. He works in a department store by day and studies at night.

Franz Kafka, Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared), trans. from the German by Michael Hoffman (New York: New Directions, 2002).

Earlier in Amerika Karl and his comrades wash down lunch with “a black liquid that burned in one’s throat.” I’m guessing that’s not coffee but Coca-Cola.

Also from Amerika
The Statue of Liberty : An American writing desk : A highway : A bridge : Companions : Under-porters and errand-boys : In one door, out the other : Sardines

All OCA coffee posts (Pinboard)

Dik Browne centennial

[Hi and Lois, August 11, 2017.]

Dik Browne (d. 1989) was born on August 11, 1917.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sardines FTW

Karl Rossmann and Robinson are confined to a balcony while Brunelda and Delamarche do whatever in their apartment. Karl has been sleeping in a deck chair; Robinson, on the balcony floor. Robinson is hungry, and he asks Karl to move. There’s something under the chair:

Franz Kafka, Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared), trans. from the German by Michael Hoffman (New York: New Directions, 2002).

Also from Amerika
The Statue of Liberty : An American writing desk : A highway : A bridge : Companions : Under-porters and errand-boys : In one door, out the other

All OCA sardines posts (Pinboard)

A three-headed beast

[Zippy, August 10, 2017.]

God encounters the three-headed beast of parody, satire, and ridicule, as found in the lost book of Walter Lantz, Carl Anderson, and Marjorie Henderson Buell. The perfect touch here would have been no speech-balloon pointer for Henry, who never speaks (though he does in the 1935 short Betty Boop with Henry, the Funniest Living American).

Yes, those look like “some rocks” in the background.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts : All OCA Henry and Zippy posts : All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Please imagine the links in the form of a Venn diagram.

[Why “Marge”? That was her pen name.]

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Our improvising president

In The New York Times:

President Trump delivered his “fire and fury” threat to North Korea on Tuesday with arms folded, jaw set and eyes flitting on what appeared to be a single page of talking points set before him on the conference table at his New Jersey golf resort.

The piece of paper, as it turned out, was a fact sheet on the opioid crisis he had come to talk about, and his ominous warning to Pyongyang was entirely improvised, according to several people with direct knowledge of what unfolded. . .  .

Among those taken by surprise . . . was John F. Kelly, the retired four-star Marine general who has just taken over as White House chief of staff and has been with the president at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., for his working vacation.
I didn’t think there was much reason to expect that Kelly’s presence would temper Trump. I keep thinking of Maya Angelou’s famous observation: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

[The red is mine. Feel free to imagine an appropriate adverb between entirely and improvised, as I have.]

Connecticut and comic-strips

Cullen Murphy writes about life in Fairfield County, Connecticut, once home to countless cartoonists, comic-strip creators, and illustrators: “When Fairfield County Was the Comic-Strip Capital of the World” (Vanity Fair).

[Murphy is the son of John Cullen Murphy, who drew Prince Valiant from 1970 to 2004. Cullen Murphy began contributing stories to the strip in the mid-1970s and was the strip’s writer from 1979 to 2004.]

Page 273

[“New York, New York. ‘Morgue’ of the New York Times newspaper. Old and new dictionaries.” Photograph by Marjory Collins. September 1942. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Click for larger dictionaries.]

A photograph accompanying a New York Times article about the end of the newspaper’s copy desk led me to more photographs by Marjory Collins.

The top dictionary is a Webster’s Second, open to a page beginning with bird-nest. The illustrations: a king bird of paradise, a bird tick, and a biretta. You can check these details in an extra-large reproduction of the photograph. My 1954 Webster’s Second has the same illustrations in the same locations, on what must be the same page 273, bird-nest to birthmate. Still there! I feel like Holden Caulfield thinking about the Museum of Natural History.

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

Eleanor Roosevelt on maturity

To be mature you have to realize what you value most. It is extraordinary to discover that comparatively few people reach this level of maturity. They seem never to have paused to consider what has value for them. They spend great effort and sometimes make great sacrifices for values that, fundamentally, meet no real needs of their own. Perhaps they have imbibed the values of their particular profession or job, of their community or their neighbors, of their parents or family. Not to arrive at a clear understanding of one’s own values is a tragic waste. You have missed the whole point of what life is for.

Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1960).
This passage reminds me of the one thing I remember of what Alan Alda, the commencement speaker, said at my college graduation. And of something André Gregory’s character says in My Dinner with André (dir. Louis Malle, 1981):
“I mean, I don’t know about you, Wally, but I — I just had to put myself into a kind of training program to learn how to be a human being. I mean, how did I feel about anything? I didn’t know. What kind of things did I like? What kind of people did I really want to be with, you know? And the only way that I could think of to find out was to just cut out all the noise and stop performing all the time and just listen to what was inside me.”
Also from ER
Doing what you think you cannot do : Honoring the human race : Attention

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Glen Campbell (1936–2017)

When I was younger, he was everywhere on radio and television. It was difficult to see past the shiny and acknowledge the musicianship. As I grew older, I came to know his work as a member of the Wrecking Crew, as an adjunct Beach Boy, and as the singer in a great Bacharach-style Brian Wilson production. And I learned much more about him from the documentary I’ll Be Me (dir. James Keach, 2014). Today is a good time to check back in with Glen Campbell’s last song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.”

The New York Times has an obituary.

A girl with green hair

Making slow progress 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, Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, Earl Hines, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Dick Hman, Hank Jones (my dad did tile work in his house), and now, Louis Jordan. Here’s a song that’s weirdly, hilariously relevant in 2017:

“(You Dyed Your Hair) Chartreuse” (J. Leslie McFarland–Billy Moore). Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five: Louis Jordan, alto sax and vocal; Aaron Izenhall, trumpet; Josh Jackson, tenor sax; Bill Doggett, piano; Bill Jennings, guitar; Bob Bushnell, bass; Joe Morris (aka Chris Columbus), drums. Recorded in New York City, August 18, 1950.

Also from my dad’s CDs
Mildred Bailey : Tony Bennett : Charlie Christian : Blossom Dearie : Duke Ellington : Coleman Hawkins : Billie Holiday

[Why the narrow strip of YouTube? Because there’s nothing to see that would add to the music.]

Garg’s Law

Anu Garg has proposed Garg’s Law, “a first law of the Internet”: “Do not forward anything you’ve received online without verifying it yourself.”

My interest in this law just spiked when I discovered that a teacher-education program is quoting the apocryphal Mark Twain.

Related posts
Apocryphal T.S. Eliot
Apocryphal Abraham Lincoln
Apocryphal George Orwell

Life with the McCrearys

This This American Life story (first aired in 2001 and recently rebroadcast) is one of the strangest and saddest accounts of family life I have ever encountered: “Yes There Is a Baby.” Extraordinary failings and extraordinary resourcefulness.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Trump on crying and
begging for forgiveness

Donald Trump’s three tweets about Richard Blumenthal:

Interesting to watch Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut talking about hoax Russian collusion when he was a phony Vietnam con artist! Never in U.S.[ ]history has anyone lied or defrauded voters like Senator Richard Blumenthal. He told stories about his Vietnam battles and conquests, how brave he was, and it was all a lie. He cried like a baby and begged for forgiveness like a child. Now he judges collusion?
These tweets are a perfect example of whataboutism, a persistent Trump tactic. They’re also replete with falsehoods: while Blumenthal did lie about serving in Vietnam, there is no evidence that he told stories of battle and bravery. Nor is there any record of his defrauding voters or crying or begging for forgiveness.

To point out that Blumenthal, unlike Trump, at least served in the military would also be mere whataboutism. What most interests me about these tweets is the way that Trump characterizes remorse and shame — as a matter of crying like a baby and begging for forgiveness like a child. Trump has said that he has not cried since babyhood (2015) and is not a “big crier” (2016). He has also said that “I never like to say sorry because that means there was a mistake” and that “probably the last time I said sorry was a long time ago” (2015).

Remorse and shame require self-awareness and a functioning moral compass, an ability to reflect upon one’s actions and consider them in relation to some ethical standard. But being a man, on Trump’s terms, means just about never having to say you’re sorry. And never ever asking for forgiveness. That’s for kids.

[In combining the three tweets, I’ve removed the endless “. . .” clutter.]

Railroad emblems

[“Speaking of Pictures.” Photographs by Walter Sanders. Life, February 28, 1944. Click any image for a much larger view.]

These pages of railroad emblems jumped out as I was looking for something else. The photographs are from Chicago’s Proviso Yard. The captions note the principal terminals for each line.

Flying high on Dextrose

[Boys’ Life, January 1937.]

This issue of Boys’ Life runs on dextrose. The Curtiss Candy Company has prominent ads for Baby Ruth, Butterfinger, and Oh Henry! on the inside, and a full-color back cover for Baby Ruth, “the most delicious, tempting, nutritious candy bar you can eat.” And there’s a helpful tip: “You’ll want to serve sliced Baby Ruth at your parties — it is a welcome and appropriate dessert.” Curtiss always spells dextrose with a capital D. More Dextrose, Mrs. Higginbotham?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Dad, i.m.

My dad, James Leddy, died two years ago today. I was thinking about what to say about that, and then wrote a note to myself with the names of Kafka works and their translators. And I realized that without even trying, I was printing — small, slight slant, all caps — just as my dad did.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Index-card recommendation

Found this afternoon at our friendly neighborhood multinational retailer: Pen + Gear Graph-Ruled Index Cards. They’re a bit on the thin side, but they take ink well, without feathering or bleeding through. And they’re printed with a very fine light-blue grid (five squares to the inch) that doesn’t get in the way of what one is writing or drawing or mapping. These cards are much better than Oxford or Staples grid cards, and a fraction of the cost of Exacompta: 48¢ for 100 cards. Highly recommended.

[The “friendly neighborhood multinational retailer” is Wal-Mart. Pen + Gear is a store brand. The cards are manufactured in India. For those who are more particular than I am: the grid is not always perfectly aligned to the card.]

“The local milk people”

At George Bodmer’s Oscar’s Day: a sit-down with the local milk people. Should such meetings take place at a Neutral Milk Hotel?

If you missed it, here’s more about “the local milk people.”

Coal to solar

“It’s like, ‘This might be coal country, but I cannot afford $600 a month.’ And that’s for a home." The claim sounds like something for Snopes to debunk, but it’s true: the Kentucky Coal Museum is powered by solar energy.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Kafka’s Liberty

Kafka’s version of the Statue of Liberty, on view as young Karl Rossmann arrives in New York Harbor, seems prescient:

Franz Kafka, Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared), trans. from the German by Michael Hoffman (New York: New Directions, 2002).

Unlike the bridge in Amerika that connects New York and Boston, the sword may not be mere error. When the first chapter of Amerika was published as a separate story in 1913, readers noticed the sword. Kafka let it stand in later printings. The Statue of Liberty, the real one, with the torch, became a subject of public debate this week.

Also from Amerika
An American writing desk : A highway : A bridge : Companions : Under-porters and errand-boys : In one door, out the other


[Mark Trail, August 4, 2017.]

The “Whooa!” has returned. All I can say is “Krakablam.”

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[The latest Mark Trail storyline, which includes a two-week-long interpolated tale of a pregnant walrus, sets a new mark for tedium in comic strips.]


Feeling around in the mailbox in search of more mail, I found my way to the clothespin that we use to attach outgoing items to the box. And Elaine called attention to my pronunciation of clothespin, a pronunciation I’ve used, unconsciously, for, like, forever: /'klōs-pin/. (She thinks it’s sweet and says not to change it — not that I can.) I have learned that my mom, too, says /'klōs-pin/. I have also learned that most people say /'klōz-pin/ and that the pronunciation of the word is of little interest to the Internets.

My best explanation of the Leddy version of the word is that it replaces the slightly awkward /'ōz-pin/ with the easier-to-pronounce /'ōs-pin/. (Or even /'ō-spin/.) I think — think — that the replacement is an example of what’s called sandhi.

All that aside: does anyone out there say /'klōs-pin/?


August 5: I just remembered a handful of clothespin-centric posts:

From Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist : About the clothespins in Baker’s book : From Peanuts: “What are clothespins?”

On Louis Armstrong’s birthday

[Louis Armstrong. Photograph by John Loengard. Undated. From the Life Photo Archive.]

Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901. My title for this photograph: Bodhisattva at Work.

Related reading
All OCA Louis Armstrong posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

It’s Mueller Time

[I like this shirt, but I’d rather give to the ACLU.]

The Wall Street Journal, about an hour ago:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, a sign that his inquiry is growing in intensity and entering a new phase.
[Why does the article’s URL include To get around the WSJ firewall.]

In one eyelet, in the other eyelet

You know the mysterious extra eyelets on sneakers? A YouTube clip explains that they’re for making a heel lock, or lace lock. Best watched with sneaker in hand or foot in sneaker. Gosh, does this way of lacing make a difference. Highly recommended.

[Posted after a long walk.]

In one door, out the other

In front of the Hotel Occidental one finds “an unbroken line of cars.” But a pedestrian can get to the street, at least a pedestrian who is not Karl Rossmann:

Franz Kafka, Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared), trans. from the German by Michael Hoffman (New York: New Directions, 2002).

Also from Amerika
An American writing desk : A highway : A bridge : Companions : Under-porters and errand-boys

“Cost of Trans Troops vs
Flaccid Military Members”

[Click for a larger view.]

A chart is worth a thousand words, or 216.6 million dollars. From Danne Woo’s Chart a Day project. This chart appeared on July 26, 2017.

“The latest!”

[Henry, August 3, 2017.]

“The narrow-brimmed straw," aka the stingy brim. Everything old is new again.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Eleanor Roosevelt on attention

No multitasker, she:

You can finish any task much quicker if you concentrate on it for fifteen minutes than if you give it divided attention for thirty.

Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1960).
Also from this book
Doing what you think you cannot do
Honoring the human race

Under-porters and errand-boys

In the Hotel Occidental, two under-porters stand behind sliding windows dispensing information to guests. There are never fewer than ten guests waiting. Each under-porter is assisted by an errand-boy, who retrieves materials from a bookshelf and from “various files.” The work is exhausting, with frequent changes in personnel:

Franz Kafka, Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared), trans. from the German by Michael Hoffman (New York: New Directions, 2002).

Also from Amerika
An American writing desk : A highway : A bridge : Companions

[Hierarchy, hierarchy, everywhere in this novel.]

Writing instruction

From a New York Times article about different approaches to teaching writing:

Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. And 40 percent of those who took the ACT writing exam in the high school class of 2016 lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to successfully complete a college-level English composition class, according to the company’s data.
One of the approaches described in this article, Judith Hochman’s, was the subject of a 2012 Atlantic article.

I used to ask students in writing classes: What does it mean to go through twelve or more years of schooling and not be able to recognize a sentence in your language — or a noun, or a verb? More than a little crazy. You can guess where my sympathies lie.

Two related posts
On “On the New Literacy”
W(h)ither grammar?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


A new Lands’ End catalogue has tips:

These days, a buttondown isn’t just “that thing you wear under a suit.” It’s a whole lot more — a versatile staple you can dress up AND down.
Three tips follow:
Skip the jacket.

Roll ’em up.

Change your collar.
It must be said that the third tip, to wear something other than a buttondown shirt, makes no sense as a way to dress a buttondown up OR down. That’d be like trying to dress up a pair of cargo shorts by wearing gabardine slacks instead. But the first two tips: I’ve been doing those for years. Fashion-forward, always.

A related post
Lands’ End: The White Album

[“’Em”: shirtsleeves, not joints.]

Words from Eleanor Roosevelt

I honor the human race. When it faces life head-on, it can almost remake itself.

Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1960).
Recently reissued in paperback.

Hortatory pavement

[“Let’s Be Better Humans.”]

Yes, it’s the hortatory subjunctive: let us whatever. Being a better human might mean not spray-painting the pavement, but in this case, I think that the painter was making an improvement.

A related post
Hortatory subjunctive FTW