Friday, August 17, 2018

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?

[Zippy, August 17, 2018.]

The conversation at the diner has turned to graphic novels. “You like graphic novels, Louise?” “I never read one, Mr. Nesbitt.” Above, Mr. Nesbitt’s reply.

Mr. Nesbitt needs to know that unlike the snows of yesteryear, Nancy and Sluggo will be with us always. On a daily basis, in original and more recent incarnations. And in great big books, though Nancy Loves Sluggo: Complete Dailies 1949-1951 appears to be out of stock at the publisher.

Venn reading
All OCA Nancy posts : Nancy and Zippy posts : Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Words from Nineteen Eighty-Four

This week at A.Word.A.Day, words from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that have entered the English language. Today’s entry: oldspeak. (In the novel, it’s capitalized.)

I think I would have chosen memory hole. As the Oxford English Dictionary defines it: “a slot through which documents recording past events, etc., can be disposed of, as part of the manipulation of memories of the past; also fig.”

Previously: newspeak, doublethink, Big Brother, unperson.

Related reading
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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Aretha Franklin (1942–2018)

From the New York Times obituary:

In her indelible late-1960s hits, Ms. Franklin brought the righteous fervor of gospel music to secular songs that were about much more than romance. Hits like “Do Right Woman — Do Right Man,” “Think,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Chain of Fools” defined a modern female archetype: sensual and strong, long-suffering but ultimately indomitable, loving but not to be taken for granted.
Did you see her Kennedy Center Honors performance?


When I retired from teaching in 2015, The Crow suggested pouring some single malt Scotch. I bought a bottle of Glenlivet. A few weeks ago, when Elaine went looking for a (third, I think) bottle, the store was out. A clerk recommended Tomatin. I don’t think it’s much like Glenlivet at all. But I like it. I like it. I like it. I’ll let the distillery speak: “A rich, fruity aroma is the prelude to sweet flavours of ripe apples, pears and a subtle hint of nut before the long, pleasantly oily finish.” Can an oily finish be pleasant? Here, have a sip.

Thanks, Martha, for the single-malt suggestion, which I took to heart.

A related post
“Middle school is like Scotch”

[And on a Nineteen Eighty-Four note: Tomatin sure beats Victory Gin.]

Words from Nineteen Eighty-Four

This week at A.Word.A.Day, words from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that have entered the English language. Today’s entry: unperson. In Orwell’s novel, the word is applied to a Comrade Withers, once honored, now disgraced and to be struck from the historical record: “He did not exist: he had never existed.”

Previously: newspeak, doublethink, Big Brother.

Related reading
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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A new old Kinks song

“Suddenly it’s too late”: a line from “Time Song,” a previously unreleased Kinks song, no doubt written by Ray Davies. Backstory here.

As a kid, I had time for just one great group. But as I wrote in a 2016 post, “I’m now convinced that there were three great pop groups in the 1960s: the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Kinks.” I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.

Ray, Dave, Mick, it’s not too late to get the band back together.

Then again, it is, really. A reunion would be a sad shadow of its original.

Thanks, Elaine.

The Avital Ronell story

Avital Ronell, professor of German and comp lit at New York University, has been found responsible for sexually harassing a student and has been suspended for the 2018–2019 academic year. Reading the newly available details of this story makes clear (at least to me) that Ronell’s behavior toward her student Nimrod Reitman was an abuse of power — utterly, wildly inappropriate. Says one of Ronell’s defenders, “Avital definitely is a type of her own.” Yep, that’s true.

Read more from The Advocate, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The New York Times.

A related post
Prestigious signatures

On Academia

“Perry? Paul. I just spoke with Tragg. They found a body — in the canyon, a man, probably in his fifties, looks like he was strangled with a bow tie. That’s right. Yeah, a philologist of some kind. Tragg said the wife identified him from his clothes — said he was wearing his second-best tweed jacket. And get this: there was a pipe in the jacket pocket, but the wife says it wasn’t his briar. Can you meet me in about twenty minutes? At the last house on Academia Drive.”

Related reading
All OCA Perry Mason posts (Pinboard)

[We passed Academia Drive while taking an avoid-the-freeway route to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles last month. I immediately thought of Paul and Perry and invented this bit of dialogue. “The canyon”? I think it sounds like something from the Mason world. In real life Academia Drive is a dead-end street — I mean, a cul-de-sac.]

Words from Nineteen Eighty-Four

This week at A.Word.A.Day, words from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that have entered the English language. Today’s entry: Big Brother. Under His Eye.

Previously: newspeak, doublethink.

Related reading
All OCA Orwell posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Recently updated

Small town, car, screen More to this story of small-town life.

Some rock

[Nancy, November 7, 1954. Click for a larger rock.]

That’s some rock.

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

Words from Nineteen Eighty-Four

This week at A.Word.A.Day, words from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that have entered the English language. Today’s word: doublethink. Yesterday’s: newspeak.

From Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949):

Related reading
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Monday, August 13, 2018

Avenatti, sheesh

Michael Avenatti, on CNN just now: “The president and me have the ability to work with the media.”

Related reading
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Not on a first-name basis

One sign of the reality-TV-ification of everything these days is the reduction of persons in political life to first names: Chuck and Nancy, Jared and Ivanka. I think all the way back to the first season of Big Brother: George, Eddie, Jordan. (Those names, I am surprised to discover, have stuck in my head.) “Omarosa,” too, is a character from the world of reality-TV. The woman who worked in the White House is Omarosa Manigault Newman. Newscasters should refer to her by her name: Manigault Newman, or Ms. Manigault Newman.

But the less time cable news spends on Manigault Newman, the better. She offers a form of reality-TV spectacle that distracts from urgent issues of the real: tariffs, Helsinki, North Korea, Russian hacking, emoluments, conspiracy and obstruction, Congressional inaction, the firing of Peter Strzok, refugee children separated from their parents, and the incurious, ill-informed, misogynist, racist president at the heart of it all. “Trump at war with Omarosa!” said someone on MSNBC this afternoon. No, that’s entertainment posing as news — which leaves less time for news.

See also this moment when reality and fiction merged: “Omarosa was fired three times on The Apprentice, and this is the fourth time we let her go.”

[My list of issues is incomplete: I had to stop somewhere.]

Words from Nineteen Eighty-Four

This week at A.Word.A.Day, words from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that have entered the English language. Today’s word: newspeak. (In the novel, it’s capitalized.)

Two quotations accompany today’s word. One from the U.S. president: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” And one from Orwell’s novel: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

Related reading
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Who cans?

We were trying to find canning supplies at our friendly neighborhood multinational retailer. I said to Elaine, “Someday we’re going to ask a younger person where the canning supplies are and they’ll have no idea what we’re talking about.”

We gave up looking and asked a store clerk. He gave us a blank look. “You know,” I said, “for fruits and vegetables.”

A pause. “Groceries,” he said, and walked off. He must have thought we were asking where to find canned food. He must have thought we were idiots.

An older store clerk saw us looking puzzled and asked if he could help us. He directed us to the canning section, a couple of aisles away. I told him what I had told Elaine. “I grew up on a farm,” he explained. I told him that we were putting up peaches and pickles. “There’s nothing better,” I said. He agreed.

But there are no farms in our past. We have come to canning on our own. Or on Elaine’s own. I’m a designated helper.

A related post
A mystery of the deep

From the BBC: Word of Mouth

An excellent podcast: Word of Mouth (BBC Radio 4). It’s the best podcast on language I’ve heard — smart, witty, respectful of its listener’s intelligence and time. A new series starts in September.

[Has the BBC ever made a bad podcast? I’m also a fan of Soul Music.]

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Girl with an orange block

[Photograph by Rachel Raab.]

Talia Ivy Raab is ten months old today.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Recently updated

“This hectic modern life” Abel Gance’s La roue is at YouTube.

From the Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Frank Longo, is difficult. A solver who knows something about earthworms, Kentucky history, and defunct television networks may have an advantage, though crosses can make up for the missing knowledge.

A clue I especially liked, in the most difficult (for me) section of the puzzle : 17-Across, five letters: “Big name in little cubes.” RUBIK? No. But so simple once you see it. No spoilers: the answer is in the comments.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Speaking for yourself

“While identity affects your experiences, there’s no guarantee that what you’ve learned from them is going to be the same as what other people of the same identity have learned.” As a person wary of reducing individual identities to group labels, I think that Kwame Anthony Appiah’s essay “Go Ahead, Speak for Yourself” is worth your time.

MSNBC, sheesh

“Stone is of tantamount interest to Mueller.”

Not tantamount : paramount.

Related reading
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“This hectic modern life”

From Abel Gance’s 1923 film La roue (The Wheel ). Elie (Gabriel de Gravone) speaks, or rather, an intertitle card speaks for him:

“Rails, wheels, smoke — how gloomy it all is! This hectic modern life is so exasperating!”
The Wheel is about four and a half hours long. We have about two hours to go. It’s an amazing film. Neither Filmstruck nor Netflix can help, but a library might have it.


August 11: Elaine found the film on YouTube, truly silent, without a musical score: part 1, part 2.

Norsk Hermetikkmuseum

“The exhibitions focus on the production of Norwegian sardines from their first appearance in 1879 until the mid-1950s.” Say hello, or hallo, to the Norsk Hermetikkmuseum, the Norwegian Canning Museum. With a café, a gift shop, a recreated cannery, and 40,000 sardine labels.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, August 9, 2018

John Ashbery’s last poem

“John Ashbery’s last poem, handwritten at his home in Hudson, New York, on August 25, 2017. Ashbery died on September 3”: “Climate Correction” (Harper’s).

Related reading
All OCA Ashbery posts (Pinboard)

“What time was all that?”

From a memoir by Luisa Ferber (née Lanzberg), written between 1939 and 1941, as it became clear that obtaining a visa to leave Germany was impossible. Before being “deported” with her husband Fritz in November 1941, Luisa Ferber sent the memoir to her son Max in England:

W.G. Sebald, The Emigrants, trans. Michael Hulse (New York: New Directions, 1996).

Related reading
All OCA Sebald posts (Pinboard)

[The line between fiction and historical reality is blurry here. Max Ferber is modeled on the painter Frank Auerbach. Sebald said in an interview that he used a manuscript by Auerbach’s aunt as the basis for Luisa Ferber’s memoir.]

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A friend of Nancy

Smithsonian digs the new Nancy.

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An agenda

W.G. Sebald, The Emigrants, trans. Michael Hulse (New York: New Directions, 1996).

Really, if I had never read a word of Sebald, seeing this full-page photograph (page 127) would make me decide to read his work.

Related reading
All OCA Sebald posts (Pinboard)

Small town, car, screen

One way to know you’re living in a small town: you recognize your neighbor’s little sports car in a TV commercial for a local auto shop.


August 14: Our neighbor knows about the commercial. But the car isn’t his. Someone else in town has the same little sports car, and my neighbor knows who. Further proof that I’m living in a small town.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Found: a Roman library

“Built about 150 years after the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, its walls recently reemerged after centuries of darkness during the construction of a new community center next to the city of Cologne’s famous cathedral”: “Long-lost Roman library reemerges in Germany after 2,000 years in darkness” (The Washington Post).

A perpetual calendar

I found it while looking for something else:

[Webster’s Second International Dictionary (1934).]

One major difference between Webster’s Second and Third is the disappearance of encyclopedic or nonlexical content: proper names (people, places, things, events, organizations), epithets, proverbs, titles of literary works, in short, the material that made W2 an all-purpose home reference. As Herbert C. Morton points out, Philip Gove, W3’s editor, was not charting a new direction in lexicography in removing the nonlexical: he was following in a tradition established by Johnson’s Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary.

I wonder what debate the W2 entry for perpetual calendar might have sparked in the W3 editorial conferences. Clearly, the calendar itself is a nonlexical item. But as the preface to W3 says about cutting nonlexical material, “Selection is guided by usefulness.” Without a perpetual calendar, how might the layperson answer a what-day-of-the-week question? I like to imagine a Merriam-Webster editor shuddering at the thought of a dictionary user having to head out to a newsstand or supermarket in search of an almanac.

For whatever reason, the calendar stayed for W3. But the differences between the W2 and W3 entries are revealing. W3 makes no mention of the Gregorian and Julian calendars and omits the fairly tedious presentation of calendar mathematics. Will a W3 reader wonder why the calendar begins with 1753? Apparently not: all 1961 wants to know is how to find out what-day-of-the-week.

[Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1961).]

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate (2004) has no calendar, only a definition:

n (1895) : a table for finding the day of the week for any one of a wide array of dates
Of course. Calculate-the-date websites and calendar apps have made a printed perpetual calendar obsolete. The Calendar app on my Mac is reported to run well past the year 200,000.

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)
Review: The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published

[Herbert C. Morton’s The Story of “Webster’s Third”: Philip Gove’s Controversial Dictionary and Its Critics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) gives a careful inventory of the materials removed from or reduced in W3.]

Monday, August 6, 2018


I’ve had it only once before, at a potluck, where I wondered, “Are those Tater Tots on top?” Yes, they were. Huh.

Elaine made hotdish tonight, chicken pot hotdish, following a recipe from Molly Yeh, daughter of Elaine’s Juilliard pal John Bruce Yeh, and host of the Food Network’s Girl Meets Farm.

OMG: hotdish is so good. Good enough to make me forget about al pastor and panang curry, at least for a while. A culinary world has opened to us.

Here, from 2013, is a short, highly informative film by Maria Bartholdi: Minnesota Hotdish: A Love Story.

Like father, like daughter

Over the weekend, my daughter Rachel read a piece of journalism that she deemed poorly written. She texted me a link. I read and concurred. I copied and pasted a terrible sentence to send back, but then thought, “It’s not bad enough.” Then another, but again I thought, “It’s not bad enough.” And then I hit the right sentence. I copied and pasted and wrote, “Especially this sentence.” And Rachel replied that it was when she hit that sentence that she decided to send the link.

Dad, i.m.

My dad, James Leddy, died three years ago today, a day that feels both recent and distant. Yesterday, while Elaine and I were watching Three Identical Strangers, I thought about how fortunate I am to have had the father I had. And have. He’s an example, always, of how to be a father.

Here’s what I wrote after he died.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Today in history

Adam Davidson writes about August 5 past and present:

August 5, 1974, was the day the Nixon Presidency ended. On that day, Nixon heeded a Supreme Court ruling and released the so-called smoking-gun tape, a recording of a meeting, held two years earlier, with his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman. Many of Nixon’s most damaging statements came in the form of short, monosyllabic answers and near-grunts — “um huh,” the official transcript reads, at one point — as he responds to Haldeman’s idea of asking the C.I.A. to tell the F.B.I. to “stay the hell out of” the Watergate investigation. . . .

On August 5, 2018, precisely forty-four years after the collapse of the Nixon Presidency, another President, Donald Trump, made his own public admission.
Read it all: “The Day Trump Told Us There Was Attempted Collusion with Russia” (The New Yorker).

A movie recommendation

Three Identical Strangers (dir. Tim Wardle, 2018). Don’t read a word about it. Just go see it. You won’t regret it.

And if you’ve already read about it, go see it anyway. You won’t regret it.

Orwell on totalitarian history

George Orwell, in "The Prevention of Literature" (1946):

From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned. A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible. But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened.
As I just discovered, I posted this passage in 2008. But it’s worth reposting. I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be. Now more than ever, as the saying went.

I reencountered this passage in a new sampler, Orwell on Truth, ed. David Milner (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018).

Related reading
All OCA Orwell posts (Pinboard)

[About would and wouldn’t: Trump rearranged past events in order to claim that he did make a mistake. That’s another way to lie.]

Saturday, August 4, 2018

From the Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, is tough, mostly because of clues that point in several directions, or in no direction. For instance, 5-Across, five letters: “Puts out.” EMITS? OUSTS? No.

Two clues I especially liked: 25-Down, four letters: “Element of film noir lighting.” And 34-Down, “Film studied in physics labs.” No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Today’s headlines

[Zippy, August 4, 2018.]

Or if you’re a suspect in a murder investigation, like Hitchcock’s Uncle Charlie, you could turn a single page into a house.

The headlines in The Dingburg Decoder, front to back: “Valvoline Tank Explodes,” “Thousands Flee Anne Bancroft,” “Polystyrene Is Edible,” “W.C. Fields Is Mean Anew.”

That’s Moe Strauss of the Pep Boys on the table. The Boys have appeared in several Zippy strips. You can search and find them all.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Uncle Charlie: in Shadow of a Doubt.]

On Louis Armstrong’s birthday

Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901.

Give this son of a gun eight stars! Lombardo! These people are keeping music alive — helping to fight them damn beboppers. You know, you got to have somebody to keep that music sounding good. Music doesn’t mean a thing unless it sounds good. You know, this is the band that inspired me to make “Among My Souvenirs.” They inspired me to make “Sweethearts on Parade.” They’re my inspirators!
That’s from a blindfold test published as “Lombardo Grooves Louis!” (Metronome, September 1949). Armstrong was listening to six recordings. He gave two, three, or four stars to Roy Eldridge, Bunk Johnson, Woody Herman, Art Hodes, and Benny Goodman. Guy Lombardo outranked them all. Genius confounds.

Here is the 1945 Lombardo recording Armstrong was evaluating: “Always” (Irving Berlin). And here is Armstrong’s 1942 recording of “Among My Souvenirs” (Edgar Leslie–Horatio Nicholls). And from 1930, a surreal ”Sweethearts on Parade” (Carmen Lombardo–Charles Newman). Genius confounds.

Louis Armstrong’s recordings are now playing at Columbia University’s WKCR-FM.

Related reading
All OCA Louis Armstrong posts (Pinboard)
“A Sailboat in the Moonlight” (Guy Lombardo, Billie Holiday)

[“Lombardo Grooves Louis!” appears in Louis Armstrong in His Own Words: Selected Writings, ed. Thomas Brothers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.]

Friday, August 3, 2018

“I can’t ‘take it’”

In The New York Times, Christopher Gibbs, a corn, soybean, and cattle farmer and Trump voter, offers his thoughts about tariffs: “I Am a Soybean Farmer Hurt by Trump’s Trade War. I Can’t ‘Take It.’”


Farm-to-table in four, or three-plus-one:

The addition of a letter makes this sequence a variation on what Vladimir Nabokov called “word golf.”

Fred Rogers documentary
coming to PBS

The Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (dir. Morgan Neville, 2018) is coming to PBS in 2019.

Now if only they’d run Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Related reading
All OCA Fred Rogers posts (Pinboard)

[Note: the article I’ve linked to characterizes Angela Santomero, creator of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, as Fred Rogers’s “protégé.” That seems to be the PBS line. Certainly Santomero learned from Rogers’s example. But protégé? Santomero says that she considers Rogers her “mentor from afar.”]

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Dunning-Kruger geography

Our president, freestyling:

“I have great respect for the U.K. United Kingdom. Great respect. People call it Britain. They call it Great Britain. They call it — they used to call it England, different parts.”
From Garner’s Modern English Usage:
Great Britain consists of England, Scotland, and Wales — all three on the island known to the Romans as Britannia. (Modern usage routinely shortens the name to Britain.) It differs from United Kingdom, which also includes Northern Ireland.

Some people wrongly think of Great Britain as a boastful name. But it’s not: it’s rooted in history. Great Britain was once contrasted with Little Britain (or simply Brittany), in France, where the Celtic Bretons lived. Although the OED’s last citation for Little Britain dates from 1622, the term Great Britain has persisted (though perhaps not without a sense of pride).
Don’t get me started on the Channel Islands, the Crown Dependencies, and the difference between the British Islands and the British Isles. So many parts!

Related reading
All OCA Dunning-Kruger posts

[The Dunning-Kruger effect: a lack of competence entails an inability to recognize one’s lack of competence.]

Salzberg’s Theory of Pizza

Jeffrey Salzberg is a lighting designer for theater and dance and an occasional college instructor. I learned about his Theory of Pizza from an episode of A Way with Words:

It is better to have pizza you don’t want than to want pizza you don’t have.
Salzberg says that he devised this theory as a college sophomore. He invokes it when explaining to students “the need to be prepared for any and all reasonable possibilities.”

Salzberg’s Theory of Pizza would give someone like Marie Kondo the fits, but I think it makes good sense. Better to have that book on the shelf than not. Better to pack that umbrella than not. You might need it! I think that Salzberg’s Theory of Pizza deserves to be better known.

[The hosts of A Way with Words turned this theory into “Any pizza is better than no pizza.” I’m not sure whether they were joking or really missing the point. See the comments.]

“Thanks to my evening reading”

Salvatore Altamura is reading, book close to his face, glasses on his forehead, when the narrator meets him outside a bar.

W.G. Sebald, Vertigo, trans. Michael Hulse (New York: New Directions, 2000.)

Related reading
All OCA Sebald posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The joy of grandparenthood

“I have never felt this thing that stopped my brain, that put all plans on hold, that rendered me dumb”: Jim Sollisch writes about “the particular joy of being a grandparent.”

All I can say is that in every FaceTime screenshot we’ve taken when communing with Talia, Elaine and I look like a couple of deliriously happy nincompoops in one or another corner of the screen.

Sardines in tins and boxes

A Guardian reader wants to know: ”Why are sardines sold in those horrible flat tins that spray you on opening?”

One might also wonder: Why are sardines no longer served from silverplate boxes that, presumably, don’t spray you on opening?

Thanks, Fresca, for the silverplate link.

Related reading
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Beginning King Lear

I was about to teach the first class after a long break. I’d given the students no assignment. So we were going to begin King Lear by reading the play aloud in class. Did the students know that was coming? I don’t think so.

I was in my office before class, with no notes, prepared to tell the class that King Lear is a tragedy and that tragedies are about reversal. I walked to the classroom and got there ten or fifteen minutes late. And then I realized that I did not have a copy of the play. I walked back to my office, grabbed the book, walked back to the classroom, and realized that I had picked up a little paperback history of the New Deal. So I ran back to my office. Along the way, I thought that I should get a key made so that I could use my office after retiring. And then I thought, “What if someone else is using it?” And, “What for anyway?” I picked up my undergrad copy of Hardin Craig and David Bevington’s edition of Shakespeare’s works, ran back to class, and then spent the class time thumbing through the book from beginning to end and from end to beginning trying to find the text of King Lear.

Strange: I dreamed this dream after reading Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time, which collects Vladimir Nabokov’s experiments in dreaming as a form of precognition. And when, out of curiosity, I looked up the Craig and Bevington Complete Works at Amazon (still available for the Kindle), I discovered that the e-book has no table of contents. And when, another day later, I was reading W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants, I came across these words: “Again and again, from front to back and from back to front, I leafed through the album.”

[Insert theremin music here.]

This is the twelfth teaching-related dream I’ve had since retiring. Not one has gone well. The others: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Nabokov, dreaming

For eighty-odd days in late 1964 and early 1965, Vladimir Nabokov wrote down his dreams, following the instructions in John Dunne’s An Experiment with Time (1927). Dunne, an aeronautical engineer and a figure straight from the Museum of Jurassic Technology, advanced a theory of time in which future events may influence our dreams. “Many dreams more or less forgotten,” Nabokov wrote on December 29, 1964. But, on the same index card:

Clear end of one: am correcting, with other people, students’ examination papers. Of the three I get, the first read proves to be a little masterpiece. The name of the student is Mostel (not known in waking life)*. I am wondering what to give him, an A or an A+. Cannot find my pencil and am, moreover, upset by a sordid and complicated love affair with another’s wife (unknown in waking life and not shown in dream). A colleague (I have never in my life corrected papers collectively!) urges me to finish my batch. I still can’t find an implement to write with and furthermore am badgered and hampered in my movements by the betrayed husband, a very small man who works with his arms as he pours out a torrent of complaints. In exasperation I take him and send him flying and spinning into a revolving door where he continues to twist at some distance from the ground, in a horizontal position, before falling. Awkward suspense: is he dead? No, he picks himself up and staggers away. We return to the exam. papers.

* (V. says there is a famous American actor of that name).

Vladimir Nabokov, Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time, ed. Gennady Barabtarlo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018).
Four observations: 1. Nabokov’s dreams don’t seem any more interesting that anyone else’s. 2. They contain scant evidence to support Dunne’s theory, but are, unsurprisingly, filled with people and places from Nabokov’s life and incidents from his fiction. 3. Nabokov doesn’t always notice the connections to his fiction, but the editor of this volume does. 4. There is no getting away from grading, not even in dreams, or especially not in dreams.

Here’s a grading dream of my own. And another.

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

[“V.” is Véra Nabokov, married to Vladimir. The actor is Zero Mostel.]

“A place remote and islanded”

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896).

I can imagine Willa Cather reading this passage and thinking, Yes, exactly.

Also from this book
“When one really knows a village” : “It wears a person out”

Monday, July 30, 2018

One last cleaning

This morning Elaine and I went to our dentist of thirty-three years for one last cleaning. Our dentist, Dr. Robert Blagg, is retiring at the age of ninety. He has been practicing for sixty years. We brought with us a gift certificate for a local restaurant and a homemade card: “For thirty-three years, our mouths have been in your hands. And your hands have been in our mouths.” We reminisced with Judy, one of his assistants (she and a co-worker have been with him for fifty-two years, having started in high school). We left with new toothbrushes, a couple of photographs, and great gratitude. And I finally learned — I had to ask — what’s behind the door that says Employees Only: a furnace, a refrigerator, some shelves.

Here are two previous posts about our dentist’s practice, one about scheduling a visit, one about what’s likely to happen if you call with an urgent problem. There won’t be another Dr. Blagg.

“It wears a person out”

Mrs. Fosdick offers an addition to the philosopher H.P. Grice’s principles of conversation:

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896).

Also from this book
“When one really knows a village”

Sunday, July 29, 2018


The New England Confectionery Company, or NECCO, maker of Sweethearts, Mary Janes, and NECCO Wafers, has closed its factory (CNN).


[Late. The television was on for “warmth.”]

“You know, you’re getting to be a walking typographical error.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

From the Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by “Anna Stiga” (“Stan again,” Stan Newman, the puzzle’s editor) is highly doable. Why do I always want to type doable with a hyphen?

Two clues that I especially liked: 17-Across, ten letters: “Common pub fare.” And 44-Down, six letters: “Word from the Greek for ‘wanderer.’” No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Domestic comedy

[Dictating a text.]

”Lynn Manuelle Maranda is on Cole bear tonight, but the phone doesn’t know how to spell Lynn Manuelle Maranda or Cole bear.”

Related reading
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Friday, July 27, 2018

ProPublica on shelters

A ProPublica report on the shelters that house child refugees: “‘If You’re a Predator, It’s a Gold Mine.’”

And it’s all the result of a politically calculated theater of cruelty. Is it crimes against humanity yet?

Thanks to the dictionaries

“I sort of felt like I had them in the crosshairs”: John Mikhail, Georgetown law professor. He and Genevieve Bentz, a law student, examined every definition of emolument in dictionaries of English published between 1604 and 1806, and in dictionaries of common law published between 1523 and 1792. The conclusion: for the framers of the United States Constitution, emolument had a broad definition: “profit,” “advantage,” “gain,” or “benefit.”

Mikhail and Bentz’s dictionary work was a crucial factor in a federal court’s decision this week to allow an emoluments-clause lawsuit against Donald Trump to proceed.

[Thanks to the Dictionary: a 1932 prose work by Louis Zukofsky, published in 1961.]

“When one really knows a village”

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896).

That’s the opening paragraph. You can find a copy of the 1896 edition at Later editions have additional stories. I read this novel in a 1991 David R. Godine paperback and ended up ordering the Library of America volume of Jewett’s work. The Country of the Pointed Firs is that good.

Thanks to Pete Lit, whose post about the novel mentioned Willa Cather’s high praise of it. In a preface to a 1925 edition of Jewett’s fiction, Cather named The Scarlet Letter, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Country of the Pointed Firs as “three American books which have the possibility of a long, long life”:

I like to think with what pleasure, with what a sense of rich discovery, the young student of American literature in far distant years to come will take up this book and say, “A masterpiece!”
Yes, a masterpiece.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

“How did that happen?”

Hannah Gadsby, in Nanette (dir. Jon Olb and Madeleine Parry, 2018), recounting her mother’s explanation of what she regretted in raising her children:

“The thing I regret is that I raised you as if you were straight. I didn’t know any different. I am so sorry. I’m so sorry. I knew, well before you did, that your life was gonna be so hard. I knew that, and I wanted it more than anything in the world not to be the case. I now know I made it worse. I made it worse because I wanted you to change, because I knew the world wouldn’t.

“And I looked at my mum in that moment, and I thought, ‘How did that happen? How did my mum get to be the hero of my story?’”
What my transcription doesn’t convey is Gadsby’s timing and her shift in tone, as this deeply emotional anecdote ends in playful snark.

Nanette is a filmed performance, a monologue, in which comedian Hannah Gadsby talks about gender, sexuality, homophobia, misogyny, mental illness, sexual assault, art history, coming out, the cost of comedy, and the difference between jokes and stories. I highly recommend Nanette. If I were still teaching, I’d offer a warning about language and show it to a class. Instead I’m making this post.

I began reading a New York Times article about Hannah Gadbsy and Nanette and didn’t get very far before deciding to watch. Nanette is streaming at Netflix.

“The Latest!”

[Henry, July 26, 2018.]

Or as it’s now called, the stingy brim. Everything old is new again, except for the cliché itself.


August 10: Earlier this week I realized that this year’s Henry strips are last year’s strips. And today I realized that I posted this panel last August. That’s enough Henry.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Déjà rocks

[Zippy, May 6, 2013, July 26, 2018.]

Related reading
All OCA “some rocks” posts
All OCA Nancy posts: Nancy and Zippy posts : Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Scenes from a marriage

On Air Force One, Melania Trump was watching CNN. Donald Trump was angry:

He raged at his staff for violating a rule that the White House entourage should begin each trip tuned to Fox — his preferred network over what he considers the “fake news” CNN — and caused “a bit of a stir” aboard Air Force One, according to an email obtained by The New York Times. The email, an internal exchange between officials in the White House Military Office and the White House Communications Agency last Thursday, also called for the ordering of two additional televisions to support Beam, a TiVo-like streaming device, to make sure the president and first lady could both watch TV in their separate hotel rooms when they travel.
Rage about television channels, separate bedrooms (each with a television): I’d hate to be a partner in such a marriage.

Soy what?

The Washington Post reports that the Food and Drug Administration will forbid the use of the word milk in the names of plant-based products: “as the head of the FDA said last week, ‘an almond doesn’t lactate.’”

[My milk: Silk, soy.]


Robert Costa, on NPR this morning, commenting on the Michael Cohen–Donald Trump tape: “This tape is a Rosetta stone. It’s open to interpretation.”

This metaphor puzzled me. Merriam-Webster defines “Rosetta stone” as ”one that gives a clue to understanding.“ If the emphasis falls on “open to interpretation,” I’d opt for “Rorschach test.” What does one see — or hear — in it?

Related reading
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The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad “Kokomo” is thirty years old.

Related reading
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Ministries of Truth at work

The Atlantic reports that the White House transcript of the Putin–Trump press conference alters the meaning of a key exchange. The Russian government’s transcript omits the exchange altogether.

Thanks, Elaine.

Recently updated

Sardines of the Times I tried it. I liked it, sort of.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Sardines of the Times

In The New York Times, Tejal Rao writes about canned fish. Among them, sardines:

Good canned fish can be eaten just the way it is, dripping with olive oil, but I like a tin’s worth of sardines seasoned with plenty of lemon zest, soft oregano leaves and some fried bread crumbs, broken up a bit and warmed all the way through as it’s tossed with cooked spaghetti, olive oil and maybe a ripe tomato, squashed between my fingers.
I’ve done sardines and pasta with garlic, parsley, and red-pepper flakes. The oregano is new to me. Must try.

Again and again, Matt Thomas’s Sunday Times digests point me to items I would otherwise miss — like these sardines. Thanks, Matt.


July 25: I made this dish last night, minus the tomato. Pretty bland. Some suggestions: add salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and be prepared to use more oregano than seems plausible. I think that thyme or lemon thyme might be a good substitute for oregano.

Related reading
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One tea bag, used

“My grandfather would use tea bags and then dry them on the heater to reuse them. He’d have four or five on the radiator at once. This one is a bit special. It was a tea bag my grandma put in her bath”: the artist Laure Prouvost is holding on to a fifteen-year-old tea bag.

Related reading
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[Provoust’s grandfather was not alone. The artist Joseph Cornell saved and reused tea bags. Paper towels too.]

Leonard Bernstein’s pencils

At the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles: Leonard Bernstein at 100, an exhibition of artifacts — desks, batons, manuscripts, an Olympia typewriter, and much more. What made me flip: five pencil stubs from the 1970s, two Eberhard Faber Blackwings, three Alpheus Music Writers. Try as I might (eight times), I could not get a satisfactory photograph: the lighting and reflections and shadows were against me. This photograph from the Skirball website gives some idea of the difficulty.

But here’s a photograph from the Bernstein Facebook page of some Bernstein pencil stubs, his “soldiers” or “little soldiers.” Look for the distinctive ferrules of the Blackwing (gold) and the Alpheus Music Writer (silver).

Sean Malone has written extensively about the Blackwing at Blackwing Pages. He has also tracked the history of the Alpheus Music Writer and a successor, the Judy Green Music Writer. His post on the Music Writers includes a photograph of Bernstein at the piano, a glass of pencils at hand, with several Alpheus pencils visible.

Related reading
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[I loved seeing Bernstein’s pencils, but it was The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited that made me tear up — a reaction I did not see coming. Kermit! He’s right here!]

Monday, July 23, 2018


Sarah Huckabee Sanders (“the Huckabee Sanders woman,” as our household calls her, Dragnet-style) just said something about “more products” being made in the United States. I heard “war products.” Really.


Our president, engaged in statecraft, tweeting at the president of Iran: “WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH.”

I look forward to the day when we are no longer a country that will stand for Donald Trump’s demented words of violence and death. Also his demented words of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and vilification of all who oppose him.


[Talia Ivy Raab. Click for a larger baby, larger hedgehogs, &c.]

Elaine and I spent most of last week visiting Rachel and Seth and Talia in Los Angeles. It was great to be in their company as current events turned ever more nightmarish.

Talia is a champeen crawler, an energetic dancer and percussionist, a well-mannered restaurant-goer, and an all-around fount of affection, happiness, and intelligent curiosity. I like this photograph because it shows her surrounded by toys, books, and music. And, if it doesn’t go without saying, love.

One of Talia’s words is ba-ba, or bye-bye. Bye-bye, Rachel, Seth, and Talia. We’ll see you again soon.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Jonathan Gold (1960–2018)

Jonathan Gold, Los Angeles food writer, has died at the age of fifty-seven. The Los Angeles Times has an obituary, an appreciation, and a sampler of his reviews.

Jonathan Gold was the subject of City of Gold (dir. Laura Gabbert, 2016), a terrific documentary.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

From the Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Brad Wilber, is very tough. I missed by one letter, a mistake I just didn’t see. Must proofread better, dammit.

Two clues that I especially liked, side by side: 9-Down, five letters: “Order blank.” And 11-Down, four letters: ”Applications for Kansas City, St. Louis, etc.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Hi and reLois

[Zippy, July 21, 2018.]

Zippy would like to relocate the Flagstons to the Sculptured House.

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Friday, July 20, 2018

More negatives

“I can’t believe Michael would do this to me”: Donald Trump, as reported by CNN a few minutes ago.

Or did Trump mean to say, “I can’t believe Michael wouldn’t do this to me"?

[Michael is Michael Cohen. I think that the wheels are finally coming off this sorry sham of a presidency. Fox News doesn’t even sound like Fox News today. It’s the beginning of the beginning of the beginning of the end.]

Not unaware

About that alleged double negative earlier this week: I’m not unaware of it. But there’s nothing (for me, anyway) to say about it. It’s a false claim meant to tie up attention. As I’m typing, I realize that I do have one thing to say: that whoever read the transcript and invented the double-negative explanation will pay a heavy price in grammar karma.

Zen wind

Wait — what?

What is the color of wind?

Taking his kimono, the pupil describes it, saying, “The front is black cotton cloth, the inside is lined in the color of rust.”

The Sound of One Hand: 281 Zen Koans with Answers, ed. and trans. Yoel Hoffman (New York: New York Review Books, 2016).
From the translator’s note (1975): “Taking into account the traditional loyalty of the Japanese to their teachers and masters, it is no wonder that scholars of Zen in Japan and the West were led to believe that there existed no written records of the koans and their answers. The present book must have created a scandalous sensation when first published nearly sixty years ago.”

Domestic comedy

[With friends.]

“I said Caribbean.”

“I thought you said Peruvian.”

“I heard Yanny.”

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

“A Lassie Classic”

[Cartoon of the Day, by Mary Lawton. From The New Yorker, July 19, 2018.]

Hurry, girl.

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A New Yorker cover: “Thumbs-Up,” by Barry Blitt.

Norman, Norway, Linie, lake

When our friend Norman visited from Norway, he brought us a great gift — the gift of his friendship. And for the second time, he brought us a bottle of aquavit. I can’t remember the name on the first bottle, which is long gone, and was our introduction to aquavit. The new bottle is Linie, an extraordinary Norwegian aquavit. By strange coincidence, we had been drinking aquavit recently (a Danish brand — sorry, Norman), after finding some at a recently opened “beverage depot.” And by stranger coincidence, I had recently heard a passing reference to Linie in a podcast. So Linie was in the air, or on the water: it is aged in sherry casks on ships that cross the equator twice, with changing climate and the motion of the ocean playing their parts in producing a distinctive flavor. The flavor is delightful, with lots of caraway and anise, and an herbal aftertaste that moves around the mouth hitting tastebuds, one after another. (Think pinball.) But aquavit is not to be trifled with: this one is 83 proof. Wonderful after dinner or later in the evening.

Thank you, Norman. Remember the lake!

Soil as a verb

[Henry, July 19, 2018.]

Soil is a verb you don’t hear much these days. It’s one dowdy verb. See also darn.

Related reading
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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A clarification

A friend speaks: “I’m not happy to be retired. I’m damn happy to be retired.”

Information overload

[“Photograph shows a postal worker carrying a bag of mail and a bundle of the magazine The Literary Digest dated May 22, 1920.” From the George Grantham Bain Collection of the Library of Congress. Click for a slightly larger view.]

Related reading
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Tuesday, July 17, 2018


A column in The Washington Post says, “Stop calling it ‘meddling.’” I’m there. Or was there and am there. Here’s a post from February 2018: Needed: a word other than meddle.

A mystery of the deep

[Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

Do you know what you’re seeing here?

“Thus the world was lost”

A chemical engineer, working in a “defense plant” (“a war plant, of course”), tells Milton Mayer that the world was lost on a day in 1935. The engineer was required to take an “oath of fidelity,” refused, and was given twenty-four hours to reconsider. The next day, he took the oath:

“There I was, in 1935, a perfect example of the kind of person who, with all his advantages in birth, in education, and in position, rules (or might easily rule) in any country. If I had refused to take the oath in 1935, it would have meant that thousands and thousands like me, all over Germany, were refusing to take it. Their refusal would have heartened millions. Thus the regime would have been overthrown, or, indeed, would never have come to power in the first place. The fact that I was not prepared to resist, in 1935, meant that all the thousands, hundreds of thousands, like me in Germany were also unprepared, and each one of these hundreds of thousands was, like me, a man of great influence or of great potential influence. Thus the world was lost.”

Quoted in Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–1945 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955).
Also from this book
Principiis obsta and finem respice

Monday, July 16, 2018


Found: a nearly complete screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Calder Willingham for an adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s novella Burning Secret.

Related reading
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“Wake up”

Representative Adam Schiff (D, California-28), characterizing Donald Trump’s performance in Helsinki:

President Trump’s performance today was the most damaging and shameful surrender of American values and interests in modern history.

I say again to my Republican colleagues: Wake up.


“Love is what keeps us together and afloat”: Fred Rogers, in Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (dir. Morgan Neville, 2018).

Related reading
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Twelve movies

[Three sentences each. No spoilers.]

Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie (dir. Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, 2018). The story of Mattel’s Barbie, from origins and early success to Project Dawn, the 2016 transformation of the original doll into a gang of four: curvy, tall, petite, and original. What I found most interesting: the seriousness with which Mattel’s designers treat the evolution of this plastic signifier. Barbie is big, unironic business.


Un pequeño festival de Pedro Almodóvar

Matador (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1986). A melodrama, played straight, that approaches John Waters territory in its sheer lunacy. Bullfighting, sex, death, and psychic visions, in a black and red color scheme. Not nearly as good as The Skin I Live In, but stranger.

Law of Desire (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1987). A high-flying writer and director, his tangled relationships with two younger men, a transgender sister, and further tangles. The ancient Greeks and Romans would have understood this movie at once: the law of desire is to know no law. Desire destroys everything, even a beautiful Olympia manual typewriter.


Richard III (dir. Richard Loncraine, 1995). A condensed version of Shakespeare’s play, set in a 1930s fascist England, all red and black and brown. Ian McKellen is brilliant as Richard Gloucester, chatting with the camera as he schemes and murders his way to the top. Especially fun to watch this adaptation after the madness of two Almodóvar films.


Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (dir. Morgan Neville, 2018). A documentary about Fred Rogers that skirts some matters (among them, a deeply difficult childhood) but offers many surprises, including Rogers’s political affiliation, the meaning of “143,” and a 1968 Neighborhood storyline about King Friday’s wall. What comes as no surprise: Fred Rogers’s deep love and respect for children, with scene after scene that will reduce many viewers to tears. I wish that the PBS overlords would wake up and put Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood back on the air.


The Phone Call (dir. Mat Kirkby, 2013). A short film with Sally Hawkins as a crisis hotline worker and Jim Broadbent as the voice on the other end of the line. Great performances on and off camera — it’s easy to forget that the voice on the telephone is that of an actor. The ending — well, no, just watch.


Madame Bovary (dir. Sophie Barthes, 2014). Mia Wasikowska as Emma Bovary, married to a clueless husband, seeking solace in louche men and fancy drapes. There must be more than this provincial life! A painterly film (Vermeer, pretty obviously), but beautifully composed scenes give way to more erratic camerawork as Emma’s life spins out of control.


Walls of Sound: A Look Inside The House of Records (dir. David Gracon, 2012). A record store in Eugene, Oregon, its owner, its employees, and its customers, all of whom speak of it with affection (even if those employees have no health insurance). Established in 1972, The House of Records — and it’s really a house, with a former resident making an appearance — is still going strong in 2018. Word: if you have a local treasure to support, bookstore or record store, support it now, so that it will be there to enjoy your support tomorrow.


Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary (dir. Gay Dillingham, 2014). Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert) and Timothy Leary, ex-Harvard promulgators of psychedelics, meet not long before Leary’s death for one last conversation about life and death — or as Leary calls death, “the last taboo.” As if no one ever spoke of death before? Too much glibness and self-congratulation for my taste.


Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (dir. Paul McGuigan, 2017). Annette Bening as the fading star Gloria Grahame, in love with a young Liverpudlian, actor Peter Tuner (Jamie Bell). The story arc is predictable, but Bening gives a great performance. Best watched with subtitles.


In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (dir. Jessica Yu, 2004). An excellent introduction to the life and work of Henry Darger, menial worker and outsider artist, with reminiscences from his landlord and neighbors. A particular strength of the film: the use of excerpts from Darger’s fiction to illuminate his life. A strange touch: ten-year-old Dakota Fanning as the film’s narrator.


Come Sunday (dir. Joshua Marston, 2018). Based on a This American Life episode about Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a charismatic African-American Pentecostal minister who begins to preach a doctrine of universal salvation, salvation even for backsliders, even for people who have never accepted Christ — at which point, all hell breaks loose. I would have appreciated more attention to the biblical texts at issue in Pearson’s challenge to his tradition’s accepted theology. With Martin Sheen as a disturbingly plausible Oral Roberts.

Related reading
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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Asset and handler

Jonathan Chait, writing in New York, presents a compelling argument that Trump–Russia has been going on for a very long time: “it would be dangerous not to consider the possibility that the summit is less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.” The year of wonders: 1987.

A message for Donnie

“Yer jaiket’s oana shoogly peg, Donnie”: the message on a sign held by Helen Broussard, a retired schoolteacher protesting at the Trump golf resort in Turnberry, Scotland. That is, “Your jacket’s on a wobbly peg,” which The Washington Post paraphrases as “You are on your way out.”

For more on Trump and golf courses in Scotland, you might seek out the film You’ve Been Trumped. Too long, but revealing.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

MSNBC, sheesh

“If he demures. . . .”

Garner’s Modern English Usage on the intransitive verb demur (“to object; take exception”; “to hesitate or decline because of doubts”) and the adjective demure (“reserved, modest,” "coy in an affected way"): “The words are also confused in speech, when demure /di-myuur/ is said instead of demur /di-mǝr/.”

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From the Saturday Stumper

I found today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Erik Agard, way, way difficult. I filled in words here and there, left the browser open, and went out for the usual morning walk. And when I came back, I made a LASTDITCHEFFORT. And everything fell into place.

Two clues that I especially liked, side by side: 9-Down, three letters: “Family first.” And 10-Down, three letters: “Lions’ zebra.” Huh?

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Meditation rock

[Zippy, July 13, 2018.]

One rock, two rocks, three — but what is stage four? You’ll have to click through to find out.

I’m pretty sure Zippy’s practice is not what Allen Ginsberg had in mind.

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What‽ An episode of 99% Invisible about punctuation.

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You Call That a Punctuation Mark?! (The Millions)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Principiis obsta and finem respice

A professor of philology (“Middle High German was my life”) speaks:

“The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about — we were decent people — and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it — please try to believe me — unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice — ‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have changed here before they went as far as they did; they didn’t, but they might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

Quoted in Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–1945 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955).

Resist the beginnings. Consider the end. Consider too what Chris at Dreamers Rise wrote earlier today: “Stay alert.”

Talia, nine months old

[Photograph by Rachel and Seth Raab.]

Crawling, laughing, or lost in introspection, Talia is nine months old today. Go Talia!


[Mutts, July 12, 2018.]

Cf. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations II, xi (1958): “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Twin State Typewriter

“He had a Remington, a Royal. And he loved this place”: in White River Junction, Vermont, Twin State Typewriter is closing. The Remington and Royal owner was J.D. Salinger, who went to Twin State for ribbons and repairs.

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Sliding pond

I heard the term while listening to an episode of A Way with Words not long ago: sliding pond. It brought me back to my Brooklyn childhood.

A sliding pond (or sliding pon) is what most English-speaking United States residents would call a slide or, less commonly, a sliding board or sliding plank. A wonderful article by David L. Gold, “Three New-York-Cityisms: Sliding Pond, Potsy, and Akey” suggests three possible origins of sliding pond : 1. Sliding on a frozen pond or on a slide built at the edge of a frozen pond. 2. The Dutch glijbaan or German Rutschbahn, each of which means “slide,” with baan or bahn morphing into pahn. 3. An “indigenous creation,” deriving from slide-upon or sliding-upon. Gold leans to a “partial loan translation” of glijbaan as the most plausible explanation.

All I know is that I hadn’t thought of a sliding pond in ages. And all of a sudden, there one was, all metallic and blazing hot, right in the playground at New Utrecht and 43rd.

[“Three New-York-Cityisms: Sliding Pond, Potsy, and Akey” appeared in American Speech 56, no. 1 (1981).]

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

“Extended controlled inundation”

From an episode of the podcast Reveal, about families separated by government and by storms: “This subdivision [in Houston] is adjacent to Barker reservoir and is subject to extended controlled inundation.” That’s an Orwellian way of saying that you’re living in a reservoir, that the land on which your house sits can be flooded, under the auspices of the United States Army Corp of Engineers. And the text is in very fine print. And it’s not the most disheartening part of the episode.

Misquoting from memory

I’m glad that I reread Yeats’s “Easter, 1916” before spoofing one of its lines in a post yesterday. Writing from memory, I had “The stone’s in the midst of it all.” That’s how I’ve had the line in my head since I was an undergrad. But no. Yeats’s poem reads, “The stone’s in the midst of all.” There is no it, not in the variorum text of Yeats’s poems, not elsewhere. I must have turned the last five words of the line into a pair of anapests: x x / x x /, in the MIDST of it ALL. Yeats’s anapest and iamb make a more oracular sound: x x / x /, in the MIDST of ALL.

The curious thing, as I’ve discovered, is that I’m not alone in my mistake. Here’s a lit-crit it from 1953. Here’s one from 2000. And here’s Harper’s in 2008, adding an it not to a quotation but to the poem itself.

Now I’m wondering what else I’ve misquoted from memory. July is the cruellest month.

[A Yeats typescript. From the Huntington Digital Library.]

On Proust’s birthday

Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871.

I don’t know whether I have told you that this book is a novel. At least it deviates least from the novel form. There is a Monsieur who narrates and who says “I”; there are a great many characters; in the first volume they are “prepared” in such a way that what they do in the second is exactly the opposite of what one would expect from the first. From the publisher’s point of view, unfortunately, this first volume is much less narrative than the second. And from the point of view of composition, it is so complex that it will not be clear until much later when all the “themes” have begun to be combined. You see, there is nothing very engaging about all this. But under the conditions we have discussed, it seems to me that M. Grasset cannot lose anything, and, literarily speaking, I do not think that he will be “déclassé ” because of it.

Marcel Proust, in a letter to René Blum, February 24, 1913. From Letters of Marcel Proust, translated by Mina Curtiss (New York: Helen Marx Books / Books & Co., 2006).
René Blum arranged for the publisher Bernard Grasset to publish “this first volume,” Du côté de chez Swann, at Proust’s expense. Blum (1878–1942) was a journalist, art collector, and ballet impresario. He died in Auschwitz.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Double articles

Grammarphobia offers everything you always wanted to know about double articles, as in “the El Niño effect.” Which reminds me of the El Phoenix Room. Gone but not forgotten.

I have the strongest of suspicions that the El Phoenix is the model for The Unexamined Life, a Boston bar in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Notice the capitalized article in the bar’s name. In the El Phoenix’s place stands Harry’s Bar & Grill, unless something has already taken its place.

A related post
Infinite Jest, “night-noises”

Life before air-conditioning

“Broadway had open trolleys with no side walls, in which you at least caught the breeze, hot though it was, so that desperate people, unable to endure their apartments, would simply pay a nickel and ride around aimlessly for a couple of hours to cool off”: in 1998, Arthur Miller wrote for The New Yorker about life before air-conditioning.

See also 99% Invisible on “thermal delight.”

A coffee quiz

[Life, October 31, 1938. Click for a slightly larger view.]

Insomniacs drinking coffee — sounds like homeopathy. Football teams drinking coffee at halftime — I wouldn’t know. Regular habits — like golf? No, not golf. “The gentle wave-like motion” — my inner twelve-year-old is snickering. Hangovers — my inner twenty-four-year-old is thinking that coffee cures them.

So many claims, such “oceans of notions” — and, as William Butler Yeats might have put it, “The coffee cup’s in the midst of all.” Yes, where there’s life — there’s coffee! I like that dowdy cup, steam rising, message written in cream by an exceedingly skilled barista. Oh, wait: it’s 1938. No barista.

Related reading
All OCA coffee posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Trump vs. breast-feeding

“The intensity of the [Trump] administration’s opposition to the breast-feeding resolution stunned public health officials and foreign diplomats, who described it as a marked contrast to the Obama administration, which largely supported [the World Health Organization’s] longstanding policy of encouraging breast-feeding”: “U.S. Opposition to Breast-Feeding Resolution Stuns World Health Officials” (The New York Times).

For someone like Donald Trump, women’s breasts have but one purpose, no?

And even in this story, there’s a Russia connection.

Domestic comedy

[While watching 90 Day Fiancé. It was very late.]

“It’s like Jerry Springer.”

“In houses.”

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All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

From the Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Frank Longo, is a tough one. I had to look up three answers to finish: a bit of crosswordese, a fairly obscure quotation, and a term that left me baffled, ending in BOX. (A what?)

Two clues that I especially liked: 1-Across, four letters: “Galaxy cluster.” And 11-Down, four letters: “Joiner of many clubs?”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, July 7, 2018. Click for a much larger view.]

I doubt that Nancy has ever stepped into a church. Or if she has, it was probably to “borrow” a dime from the collection box (a soda). Or candles for Sluggo’s birthday cake. Or something. All that aside: today’s strip is a pleasing assembly of comic-strip characters, all of whom attend a Christian house of worship with non-representational stained-glass windows. From front to back, left to right, I see Nancy, Curtis Wilkins, Dennis the Menace, Mary Worth, Archie Andrews, Earl Pickles (where’s Opal?), Popeye the Sailor, Perfesser Cosmo Fishhawk (Shoe), and Dick Tracy. The couple in the second row, the guy with the red tie, and the angry-looking bird: no idea. Anyone? A little help?

A mystery of the Hi and Lois interstice: the guy with the red tie changes his seat between the first and second panels.

July 8: Eric Reaves, the strip’s artist, explained in a comment at Comics Kingdom: “The couple is my wife and I (the artist of the strip). The red tie guy is a character I created many years ago for a rejected comic strip idea, and the lady in purple is my grandmother!”

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[Perhaps that bird is an Angry Bird. The Angry Birds now have a comic strip.]

Friday, July 6, 2018

“All coming out of a tube”

Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz. 1929. Trans. Michael Hoffman (New York: New York Review Books, 2018).

A great novel, and not nearly as intimidating as you might think.

Related reading
All OCA Döblin posts (Pinboard)