Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The job market in English

“There is no doubt we are at historic lows”: at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jonathan Kramnick looks at the job market in English.

Briefly: far fewer jobs than in the past, and far fewer of them tenure-track. Composition has fewer positions but a larger percentage of all positions. The only area in which hiring has increased: creative writing.

Related posts
Academic futures
English studies and adjunct labor
Fluke life, or, how I got a job
Undergrads and creative writing

Domestic comedy

[Who’s our fixer?]

“You’re the fixer. You fixed the pencil sharpener . . . no, you tried to fix the pencil sharpener.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Shakespeare, revised

William Cohen, a little while ago on CNN: “My country for a hotel.”

Fingers or numbers

Elaine and I wondered while walking: which meaning of digit came first, finger, or number?

Answer: number.

The Oxford English Dictionary dates that meaning (“a whole number less than ten,“ &c.) to about 1400. Fingers (and thumbs and toes) don’t come along until 1644.

The word digit derives from the classical Latin digitus, which means “finger, finger’s breadth.” In post-classical Latin digitus also means “each of the numerals below ten.” And whence digitus? The OED doesn’t know (“of uncertain origin”) but suggests that the word probably comes from a variant of the same Indo-European base as the obsolete English verb tee, “to accuse.” And so I think of the children’s song: Where is pointer? Where is pointer? Here I am.

And why digitalis? Because of its finger-like flowers.

On an unrelated note, I am happy to see that the OED has a place for Clueless: “Look, he’s getting her digits!”

A tenuously related post
P Is for Pterodactyl

A calendar for Sluggo

[Nancy, January 4, 1955.]

Sluggo, those 1955 calendars will no longer do. You can get the latest model right here, before the new year begins. Act today!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A 2019 calendar

I’ve been making and sharing yearly calendars since 2010, when I realized that I could get something like the look of a Field Notes calendar for the cost of my own labor — and I work cheap.

Here, via Dropbox, is a calendar for 2019, three months per page. It’s made with Gill Sans and has minimal markings: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and a special mystery day. Highly readable, even across a crowded room.

About the mystery day: it’s not a personal day, not a family day. But it is a birthday. The date color is meant to suggest wheat. Say, why not download the calendar and try to suss out the mystery?

“Reserve your strength”

Brooke Gladstone, on presidential utterances:

If his reality is not your reality, resist the temptation to repost his missives. Reposting only reinforces them. Instead, note them, mark them, and you will be better equipped to hang onto your own [reality].

Having decoded his tweets and speeches, it would be wiser not to dwell on them too much. In times of stress, there's no point spiking your cortisol levels by fulminating on petty lies, tantrums, or hypocrisies. . . . Preserve your outrage for issues that reflect your values. Reserve your strength. [Ellipsis added.]

The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time (New York: Workman, 2017).
Yesterday’s misspelling: just a bright shiny weapon of mass distraction.

Monday, December 10, 2018


From a New York Times explanation of how to turn off location services, a complement to a report on the lucrative business of location tracking:

If you want to disable location tracking entirely, toggle the “Location Services” setting to off. With location services switched off entirely, you may not be able to use certain services, such as finding yourself on a map.
There are other ways to find yourself.

[My choice is to disable location services entirely. I’ll use tracking with Google Maps if I have to. But not all map use requires tracking.]

Charles Mingus, Jazz In Detroit

Charles Mingus. Jazz In Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden. BBE. 2018.

Pithecanthropus Erectus : The Man Who Never Sleeps : Peggy’s Blue Skylight : Celia : C Jam Blues : Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk : Dizzy Profile : Noddin’ Ya Head Blues : Celia (alternate take) : Dizzy Profile (alternate take)

Charles Mingus, bass : Joe Gardner, trumpet : John Stubblefield, tenor : Don Pullen, piano : Roy Brooks, drums, saw. All compositions except “C Jam Blues” (Duke Ellington) by Charles Mingus. Recorded February 13, 1973.

This five-CD set presents music from the opening performance of a five-day residency at Detroit’s Strata Concert Gallery, 46 Selden Street. The performance was broadcast live on a local public-radio station, whose tapes ended up with Roy Brooks. And now, forty-five years later, everyone can tune in to three-and-a-half hours of music and another forty-five minutes of conversation with Brooks and radio announcer Bud Spangler.

The music herein is excellent, a mix of favorites (“Pithecanthropus Erectus,” “Peggy’s Blue Skylight,” “Celia,” “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk”), some Ellingtonia (“C Jam Blues”), and three rarities (“The Man Who Never Sleeps,” “Noddin’ Ya Head Blues,” and the otherwise unrecorded “Dizzy Profile,” a delicate waltz written for Dizzy Gillespie). The band is tight, shifting effortlessly from collective tumult to stately ensemble passages. Though Joe Gardner and John Stubblefield are more than capable players, Don Pullen is the standout, creating solos that move from crystalline single-note streams to gospel-tinged harmonies to wild flurries up and down the keyboard. Roy Brooks, the hometown favorite, is a busier drummer than Mingus stalwart Dannie Richmond: think Elvin Jones. Brooks also plays a mean saw on “Noddin’ Ya Head Blues.” The one musician who seems to be missing: Mingus, who contributes just two short solos and is sometimes hard to hear in the mix. “Is he soloing much these days?” Spangler asks Brooks in an interview. “Uh, no,” is the reply.

It’s both exciting and sobering to hear this band playing for an audience. The applause suggests a small, intensely appreciative crowd: when Mingus says “Thank you,” someone replies, “You’re welcome.” Spangler exhorts radio listeners to show up: $4 in advance, $5 at the door. A call goes out over the air for an amplifier, presumably for Mingus’s bass. The economics of music can be precarious.

Thank goodness that Hermione Brooks, Roy Brooks’s wife and, later, widow, held on to these tapes. Jazz in Detroit, The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles (ECM), and The Savory Collection (Mosaic) are my records of the year.

Related reading
All OCA Charles Mingus posts (Pinboard)

Domestic comedy

[Re: white vermouth as an ingredient in cooking.]

“It adds a certain je ne sais quoi.”

“Oh I don’t know about that.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, December 9, 2018

“Water Images of The New Yorker

I’m delighted to see that Harper’s has Charles Bernstein’s “Water Images of The New Yorker online. It’s a funny take on what Bernstein terms “official verse culture.”

[I’m resisting the urge to go through our household’s three or four months’ worth of The New Yorker to see if anything has changed since 1989.]

A few lines of bad poetry

From The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse, edited by D.B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee (1930), lines from William Wordsworth’s poem “Liberty”:

The beetle loves his unpretending track,
The snail the house he carries on his back;
The far-fetched worm with pleasure would disown
The bed we give him, though of softest down.
That’s as close as I can come (after a few glances) to the cloying personifications in lines of contemporary poetry I heard on NPR.

The Stuffed Owl is still in print from New York Review Books, minus eight Max Beerbohm illustrations. An added pleasure of this anthology: Lewis and Lee title each excerpt. (The lines from “Liberty” are titled “Insensibility.”) Another added pleasure: the book’s subject index. For instance: “Beetle, flight of, described, 15; not addicted to vagabondage, 150.” And “Owl, stuffed, emotions evoked by contemplation of, 151.” “The Stuffed Owl,” too, is by Wordsworth.

Remembering The Stuffed Owl prompts me to revise what I wrote about bad poetry: it’s bad poetry presented as legitimate art that makes me groan and wince. Bad poetry presented as such makes me smile and laugh.

See also a woodpecker looking for a gift and Marjorie Perloff’s commentary on the “‘well-crafted’ poem.”

[Who decides what’s bad? We all do.]

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with single-use.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Monk vs. Trump

[Click for a greater difference.]

Having titled a post Felonious Trump, I felt that I had to do it. Meme, anyone?

Some molecular biology

[Zippy, December 8, 2018.]

Zerbina and Zippy must share a magnifying glass.

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

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Frank Longo, is not too tricky. A giveaway gave me a good start: 18-Across, ten letters, “Much-lauded four-Emmy football film of ’71.” Other clues point to answers veiled by thick fog. For instance, 61-Across, ten letters, “Advocate-in-chief.” LEADLAWYER? No.

Three clues that I greatly like: 5-Across, “Common daycare container.” 4-Down, nine letters, “Setting ending in The Artist.” (“Setting ending”? What?) And 20-Down, six letters, “‘A poem begins in delight and ends in __’: Frost.” Poetry FTW!

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Felonious Trump

I’m no lawyer, but it seems clear that Individual-1 directed Michael Cohen to commit felonies. From the federal prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for Cohen:

During the campaign, Cohen played a central role in two similar schemes to purchase the rights to stories — each from women who claimed to have had an affair with Individual-1 — so as to suppress the stories and thereby prevent them from influencing the election. With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. (PSR ¶ 51). In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1. (PSR ¶¶ 41, 45).
The recommendation notes that in June 2015 Individual-1 “began an ultimately successful campaign for President of the United States.” You can read the recommendation at The Washington Post.

No mail

It was the start of the semester, the second or third class of the first week. I walked into the classroom with a backpack full of books and CDs, which I thought would increase my cred with students. I hadn’t brought anything related to the class, as I realized when I looked through the backpack. Several students gathered at my desk to look at the CDs. And I thought to myself: what was I going to assign? A student whom I knew from a previous class asked me to explain something in “the book” — not a book for our class, just some book. I looked at the page and explained it, and she thanked me.

Then I went to check my mail. The mailboxes had been reorganized into three rows from six, and the first row now began with the end of the alphabet. Where was my name? “You don’t work here anymore,” a colleague told me. That’s right, I thought. I’m retired, but I’m still teaching, so there could at least be a mailbox for me. I recognized another colleague in the hallway. He had lost an enormous amount of weight and was nearly bald, but still, I recognized him, or thought I did. I felt that I was taking a chance when I addressed him by name. He too was retired but still teaching, so I asked him if he knew where I could find my mail. He showed me a drawer under the mailboxes. But it was filled with Band-Aids: no mail.

It was now 5:30, and I walked through the hallways looking for someone else to ask. I saw no one, though many of the offices had the door open and lights on. I thought about how strange it might feel to all at once see someone in what appeared to be an empty well-lit building.

[This is the thirteenth 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, 11, and 12.]

Poetry on NPR

I respond deeply to bad blues, bad jazz, and bad poetry. I groan, wince, make guttural sounds. I can’t take it, I tell ya. Lemme out!

Driving through the night last night, Elaine and I heard an NPR segment with a poet recommending books of poetry to give as gifts. “Poetry is short,” the poet said, “so you can actually reroute your day productively in like five minutes with something that really captures your imagination.” Well, no. I groaned.

Then came the recommended books, with sample passages. Here’s nature: “Perhaps the butterflies are mute because / no one would believe their terrible stories.” Well, no. The poet would, for one. The recommender would, for two. And from another book, more nature, this time bees: “tipsy, sun drunk / and heavy with thick knitted leg warmers / of pollen.” After those lines I made guttural sounds.

And no, NPR, the witches’ song from Macbeth is not a sonnet. I’d better use up my wince here.

A related post
A Palm memo (With some bad poetry)

[I have reproduced the lines accurately, after checking the texts.]

Thursday, December 6, 2018


The hypocrisy never ends: in Bedminster, New Jersey, an undocumented immigrant cleans house at Trump National Golf Club. And: “She said she was not the only worker at the club who was in the country illegally.”

“The Immigrants”

Gaby Moreno and Van Dyke Parks’s recording of David Rudder’s “The Immigrants” has made Jon Pareles’s list of the best songs of 2018. All proceeds from downloads and streaming go to the Central American Resource Center of California.

Not just a white Christmas

The times are changing: Hallmark premieres four movies this holiday season with African-American male and female leads, the first such movies in Hallmark history. The movies themselves appear to be the same old same old: Christmas galas and festivals, a gingerbread contest, a historic-preservation battle, a return to a childhood home. But now with leads of color.

Two of these movies, Christmas Everlasting and A Majestic Christmas, air tonight. Memories of Christmas airs on Saturday the 8th; A Gingerbread Romance, on Sunday the 17th. Check, as they say, your local listings.

Italic frenemy

Nancy’s friend Esther has a frenemy: “Esther, it’s so nice to see you.”

[Nancy, December 6, 2018.]

I am cheered to know that at least one cartoon character is alert enough to notice and comment snarkily on typography. But hold up: what about Nancy’s own words in boldface? Well, boldface has always been available in Nancy, old and new, available for everyone to use. I assume that for Nancy, boldface is just the way things have always worked. Nothing to see there.

Olivia Jaimes’s tricky meta-comedy is a delight. Jaimes and Bill Griffith rule my small comic-strip world.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


Arthur Schnitzler, “Baron von Leisenberg’s Destiny.” 1904. In “Night Games” and Other Stories and Novellas, trans. Margret Schaefer (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2002).

Other Schnitzler posts
“Maestro!” : A morning after

Whither the Usage Panel?

David Skinner traces the evolution of the American Heritage Dictionary: “The Dictionary and Us” (The Weekly Standard). The impetus for the article: the quiet, very quiet disbanding of the famed AHD Usage Panel (yes, capitalized) this past February. According to Skinner, the panel never had more than “a very modest role” in the making of the AHD.

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)
A review of The Story of Ain’t, Skinner’s history of Webster’s Third

[“Quiet, very quiet”: so quiet that I can’t find anything about it online, not even at the Dictionary Society of North America. The AHD website still lists Usage Panel members. But Skinner himself was a member, so he would know if the panel has been disbanded.]

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Just a few of the redacted lines in the addendum to Robert Mueller’s sentencing recommendation re: Michael Flynn. Flynn is described as assisting in “several ongoing investigations.” As little Talia would say, “Uh-oh!”

You can read the memo and the addendum at Axios.

New directions

A Hallmark movie has quoted “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: the line about measuring out life with coffee spoons. Yes, someone runs a café. And the reply: “You’re an Eliot fan too?” OMG they’re made for each other.

[The movie is Love Always, Santa (dir. Brian Herzlinger, 2016). I’ve been misremembering the Eliot line as “in coffee spoons” for, like, forever. OMG.]

My mom is a smart person

I told my mom about the podcast series Elaine and I were listening to, UnErased: The History of Conversion Therapy in America. “What’s conversion therapy?” my mom asked. She’d never heard of it. I gave her a brief explanation. “That’s crazy!” she said.

Rudolph Giuliani tweeted and forgot to proofread. So now there’s a website:

Mornings after

It’s early morning. Lieutenant Wilhelm Kasda is traveling back to his barracks after a disastrous night of gambling:

Arthur Schnitzler, “Night Games.” 1926. In “Night Games” and Other Stories and Novellas, trans. Margret Schaefer (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2002).

When I read these sentences, I immediately thought of this autobiographical passage from Thomas Merton, recounting the typical aftermath of a night on Manhattan’s 52nd Street:

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (New York: Harcourt, Brace: 1948).

Related reading
A passage from Schnitzler’s Late Fame
All OCA Thomas Merton posts (Pinboard)

[There’s relatively little of Schnitzler available in print in translation. I wonder if he’s due for a Stefan Zweig-like revival. But Eyes Wide Shut will not have helped.]

Monday, December 3, 2018


“Over 700,000 people in America have been subjected to conversion therapy, the dangerous and controversial ex-gay treatment. UnErased tells their stories”: it’s a four-part podcast series, UnErased: The History of Conversion Therapy in America.

I’m halfway through the third episode, and the subject matter has ranged from the Book of Job to Playboy. UnErased is one of the best podcast series I’ve listened to: deeply researched and urgently human.

Domestic comedy

[Two sleepy people, waking up at the end of Havana Widows on TCM.]

“I didn’t understand that at all.”

“There was something about Cuba in it.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)


An item in the December 3 New Yorker (an archival issue) got me curious about one small bit of the Donald Trump Story. The item that prompted my curiosity is a reprinted 2006 piece by Mark Singer about Trump’s displeasure with two writers: Timothy O’Brien, whose estimate of Trump’s net worth in TrumpNation (2005) prompted Trump to sue, and Singer himself, whose profile of Trump for The New Yorker (1997) resulted in an angry letter from Trump to The New York Times when the paper reviewed Singer’s collection Character Studies (2005), which included the New Yorker profile. From Trump’s letter to the Times (September 11, 2005):

I’ve been a best-selling author for close to 20 years. Whether you like it or not, facts are facts. The highly respected Joe Queenan mentioned in his article “Ghosts in the Machine” (March 20) that I had produced “a steady stream of classics” with “stylistic seamlessness” and that the “voice” of my books remained noticeably constant to the point of being an “astonishing achievement.” This was high praise coming from an accomplished writer.
But look at what Joe Queenan wrote about Trump — in, yes, a piece about ghostwriters:
One of the few “authors” who have succeeded in avoiding the pitfalls that increasingly ensnare ghostwritees is Donald Trump. In the past 18 years, Trump has put his name on a steady stream of classics, while using various collaborators. Yet throughout this long literary interlude he has managed to maintain tight quality control. For example, in the seminal Trump: The Art of the Deal, which appeared in 1987, the ghostwriter Tony Schwartz delivered the Trumpian goods in a clipped, staccato, tough-guy style, opening the book with the words:
I don't do it for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it.
Seventeen years later, Trump's new book, Trump: Think Like a Billionaire, written with Meredith McIver, kicks off:
In a world of more than six billion people, there are only 587 billionaires. It’s an exclusive club. Would you like to join us?
It has been said that Thomas Mann began writing The Confessions of Felix Krull as a young man, put it aside for decades, then picked up the narrative exactly where he left off. Similar stylistic seamlessness typifies Trump’s work. The intermediaries may come and go, but the Donaldian voice never wavers. This is a truly astonishing achievement.
Yes, facts are facts, and the fact is that for Joe Queenan, Donald Trump was a quote-unquote author, someone who puts his name on books written by others. Whoever wrote the letter to the Times was either too dim to recognize Queenan’s mockery or too dishonest not to twist it into praise.

Whoever: because I suspect that the letter itself is at least in part the work of a ghost. (In the letter Trump, or “Trump,” claims to have read Orhan Pamuk, Philip Roth, and John Updike.) It’s reasonable to think that Trump read the Queenan piece and the review of Character Studies, since he seems to be interested, always, in himself. It’s reasonable to think that he read, or at least skimmed, Singer’s New Yorker piece. Though it’s not certain that Trump is willing to read books about himself.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Just walk away

[“Trump walks off leaving Mauricio Macri standing alone at G20.”]

At the fifteen-second mark, you can hear an exchange: “Yes, sir?” “Will you get me out of here?” Yes, many of us would like for him to be out of here.

This moment is also available (not from The Guardian) with musical accompaniment in the form of Luciano Michelini’s “Frolic.” You’ll know it when you hear it.

“Lane Greene on Editing”

Here’s an especially good episode of the BBC podcast Word of Mouth: “Lane Greene on Editing.” The episode could have been called “Lane Greene Editing,” as it features Greene revising a passage written by the show’s co-host Laura Wright.

I like what Bryan Garner says about editing: “Few things are better for writers than competent line-editing, which (as we know) is an act of friendship.” For a lively exchange of ideas between Garner and Greene, see the New York Times feature “Which Grammar Rules to Flout?”

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Lester Ruff, is eminently do-able. 31-Across, nine letters, “Toon first called Stinky,” gave me a first chance to begin putting the puzzle together. Four clues that I especially liked: 1-Across, four letters, “Drop off.” (WANE? No.) 10-Down and 11-Down, each six letters, “Slotted for service.” And 24-A, three letters, “Cell trio.” One clue that taught me something: 35-Across, thirteen letters, “They make money from misspelled URLs.” I knew about the practice but didn’t know the name.

Never no spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

There and here

In The Washington Post, Mary Tedrow, an American teacher, writes about what she saw in Finland. For example:

On one of our nights in Helsinki, the streets were filled with students celebrating the end of one of their matriculation tests. We asked them: “What do you think is different between your schools and ours?”

They were able to tell us in English — one of up to four languages most students have — that American students know they are all competing against each other for limited seats at university and that they will have to find the money to go there. “We are not worried about that, so we can just focus on learning,” they said.

Bush to Clinton

Elegance? I suppose one could say that. But I’d say dignity and humility and magnanimity. The note that George H.W. Bush left for Bill Clinton seems like an artifact from a lost America.