Monday, January 21, 2019

Two minutes

Donald President Trump spent two minutes at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington today. From The New York Times:

Mr. Trump’s stop by the memorial — to observe a moment of silence without extended public remarks — appeared to be a last-minute addition to his calendar. The president’s schedule listed no public events to mark the federal holiday honoring King’s life, which had drawn criticism from civil rights activists.
You can follow Trump’s public schedule at Factbase.

MLK

Colbert I. King (no relation), writing in The Washington Post:

The greatest contrast between the time King led the struggle for America’s legal and social transformation and now is a White House occupied by Donald Trump.

The federal government, once a powerful legal and moral force to make real the promise of democracy, is in the hands of adversaries who seek to restore a hierarchy in which the interests of the bigoted, the xenophobic, the sexist and the defender of white male privilege always come out on top. . . .

How far have we traveled?

From the promise of guaranteed rights to a return to the insecurity of injustice. A pluralistic America is being cynically drawn along racial lines by a president who is as far from the civility of his predecessors Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton and Obama as the charter of the Confederacy was from the Constitution.

King, and the movement he led, would be outraged. The rest of us should be, too.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Fools

I watched a bit of Rudy Giuliani’s performance on CNN this morning and thought again of how much he reminds me of a Shakespearean fool. The Shakespearean fool serves a king. Giuliani serves a would-be king. The Shakespearean fool speaks whatever comes into his head. Giuliani — yes, the same.

The great difference: the Shakespearean fool speaks truth to power. He speaks wisdom in the form of deeply sensical nonsense. Giuliani speaks mere nonsense, a fast-paced double-talk whose purpose is to befuddle. He’s really no Shakespearean fool at all, though he does play a fool on TV.

Domestic comedy

“I only know Ben Mankiewicz. Everyone else is Not Ben Mankiewicz.”

See also Buz and Not Buz.

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Today’s Nancy

Olivia Jaimes’s Nancy is a special treat today: familiar props (cookie jar, means to it) and lots of meta.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[Lots of meta: I read the differing page layouts as the difference between life and art.]

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, is mostly easy. For instance, 41-Across, ten letters, “First Maria in The Sound of Music.” Or 50-Across, nine letters, “Olympian dubbed ‘Lightning.’” But the northeast corner is tough. I filled in my final answer, 9-Across, five letters, “What fills some shoes,” knew it had to be right, but had no idea what it meant until I looked it up.

Four clues I especially liked, all of which made short answers more fun: 19-Across, four letters, “What surrounders.” 43-Across, three letters, “Ironclad designation.” 3-Down, three letters, “Ox tail.” And 29-Down, three letters, “When live NHL, NFL, MLB and NBA games might be watched.”

No open refrigerators (spoilers): the answers are in the comments.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Larkin anachronism


[The Bookshop (dir. Isabel Coixet, 2017). Click for more readable books.]

The Bookshop might be said to take place in 1950-something. This still is from early in the film. A man dictating a letter later on says “1959.” Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: 1953. Kingsley Amis’s That Uncertain Feeling: 1955. But Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, both of which appear later in the film, as new books, the one shortly before the letter (complete with a reference to Graham Greene’s review), the other not long after the letter: 1955 and 1957.

The covers for the Bradbury and Amis in this shot look right — I can’t say about the spines. But a Philip Larkin Collected Poems didn’t appear until until 1988, followed by a second Collected (2003) and a Complete Poems (2012).

There are many ways to find fault with The Bookshop — the Larkin anachronism is just a small one.

Pasta, sardines, and fennel


[“I’m thinkin’ ’bout a-this whole world.”]

The Crow, a sardine fan like me, sent me links for cooking videos focused on “the small, oily fish.” Last night I tried this recipe, an impression of the Sicilian dish pasta con le sarde. Winner, winner, sardine dinner! Many flavors, many textures, all of them delightful. The only changes I would make: add some salt and pepper, and use two cans of sardines. One is not enough.

The video shows this dish coming together in about two minutes. It took me about an hour — a fair amount of assembly is required. A more organized cook would need less time. And would not forget the sardines until the last minute.

Thanks, Martha!

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Pork bellies


[Zippy, January 18, 2019.]

What are pork bellies? Goodness me, don't you know what pork bellies are? You hear about them on the . . . on the commodity report, isn’t it?

Or you used to. Though I could swear that the radio still brings news of pork bellies. I will have to listen more closely.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Questions asked with apologies to Gabriel Conroy’s galoshes.]

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A thinking-about-a-MacBook tip

I bought a MacBook Air last week, and I’m very happy with it. But for a long time I hesitated, because I couldn’t get past the keyboard. How was I supposed to type on this thing? And then I realized that typing with any accuracy and ease on my MacBook Pro is just as difficult if I’m reaching down to the keyboard from a standing position.

My tip, for anyone thinking about a MacBook: ask if you can try the machine of your choice while sitting. (It might be easier to manage that in a college bookstore than in an Apple Store.) After I sat down to type, I needed only a minute or two to decide that I could be happy with the new keyboard.

My MacBook Pro (2011) is far from shabby, but the screen and speed of the new Air are far superior. And I can type on the keyboard! Look: see?

“Traditional blogs,” past and future

David Heinemeier Hansson, one of the makers of Basecamp, writing about his company’s decision to leave Medium:

Writing for us is not a business, in any direct sense of the word. We write because we have something to say, not to make money off page views, advertisements, or subscriptions. . . .

Traditional blogs might have swung out of favor, as we all discovered the benefits of social media and aggregating platforms, but we think they’re about to swing back in style, as we all discover the real costs and problems brought by such centralization.
Blogging requires a belief in the possible value of one’s observations, questions, drawings, photographs, whatever, and the willingness to invest time in making them available to others. And the rewards are more often intrinsic than ex-. So let’s see.

[Via Michael Tsai.]

Cash and a glove

I’m not sure why this Wall Street Journal article isn’t behind a paywall. But since it’s not:

In early 2015, a man who runs a small technology company showed up at Trump Tower to collect $50,000 for having helped Michael Cohen, then Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, try to rig online polls in his boss’s favor before the presidential campaign.

In his Trump Organization office, Mr. Cohen surprised the man, John Gauger, by giving him a blue Walmart bag containing between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash and, randomly, a boxing glove that Mr. Cohen said had been worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial arts fighter, Mr. Gauger said.
John Gauger is the chief information officer at Liberty University, the school founded by Jerry Falwell as Lynchburg Baptist College, now run by Jerry Falwell Jr. Or chief “information” officer.

*

9:17 a.m.: Well, now the article is behind a paywall. Here’s the Washington Post story.

Heat and knowledge

Inversely proportional. In “Slawkenbergius’s Tale,” a group of disputing clerics are launched “into the gulph of school-divinity”:


Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman 4 (1761).

Also from Sterne
Letters for all occasions : Yorick, distracted : Yorick, translating : Yorick, soulful : Digressions : Uncle Toby and the fly

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Uncle Toby and the fly

Uncle Toby Shandy, Tristram says, had “scarce a heart to retaliate upon a fly.” A ten-year-old Tristram sees this scene:


Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman 2.12 (1759).

Though Tristram gives some credit to “the study of the Literae humaniores, at the university,” he tells us that he believes he owes half of his philanthropy “to that one accidental impression” made upon him by his uncle.

Also from Sterne
Letters for all occasions : Yorick, distracted : Yorick, translating : Yorick, soulful : Digressions

[The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1997) dates not hurt a fly to the early 1800s. Does Uncle Toby lurk quietly in the idiom’s backstory?]

WWLS

As I look at the photograph, I try to imagine: what would Lincoln say? Not about the food but about the huckster showing it off.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with Me Too.

Digressions


Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman 1.22 (1759).

Other Sterne posts
Letters for all occasions : Yorick, distracted : Yorick, translating : Yorick, soulful

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Value of the Dictionary

 
Frank V. Powell, The Value of the Dictionary (Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam, 1928). 3 1/4″ × 5 7/8″. Click for larger views.

My son Ben spotted this thirty-three-page pamphlet in a basket of teacherly ephemera at an antiques mall. He knew I’d love it. Thank you, Ben.

Frank V. Powell must have had great faith in his reader’s ability to make rapid progress. On page three:

Repeat the alphabet. Now look at the pages of your dictionary and see if the words in it are arranged A, B, C, D, E, F, etc., or, as we say alphabetically. Can you tell why the words are arranged in this way?
And on page four: drills to help the reader “avoid mumbling the alphabet” when looking up words. “What letter comes immediately after G? After M? After P?”

But by page fourteen: “Names of common diacritical marks.” And they follow: dot, macron, breve, and so on.

And by page thirty: “Thus, duc is a Latin root meaning ‘to lead.’” Slow down, sir.

Who was Frank V. Powell? A snippet in Google Books gave me the answer. From John Goadby Gregory’s Southwestern Wisconsin: A History of Old Crawford County (1932):
Devoting his efforts to the acquirement and dissemination of useful knowledge, Frank V. Powell has served as superintendent of schools at Platteville since 1917 and has materially further the progress of education in this part [and here the snippet ends].
Look again at the pamphlet’s back cover: might Mr. Powell be the wise superintendent?

Here’s a larger sample of Powell’s prose:



Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

Duck Fat

Seen on a shelf: Duck Fat Cooking Oil Spray, $8.86 ($1.27 an ounce).

Toto, I’ve a feeling that we’re not in Wal-Mart anymore.

[But we were.]

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A linguist looks at Trump’s tweets

The linguist John McWhorter looks at Donald Trump’s tweets and finds a “blindness to the basics of adult-level composition.” With a contrast to Harry Truman.

Universities without history

“What is a university without a history major?” That’s a question from Kim Mueller, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point who’s studying to be a history major. Quoted in a New York Times article about the declining fortunes of public higher education in rural America.

Memo to UW-SP: don’t claim to develop “heightened intellectual, cultural, and humane sensitivities” in students, don’t claim to prepare students “to constructively engage in local, regional and global communities,” if you’re prepared to take away forms of learning necessary to those efforts.

One more about Joseph Jarman

When the Art Ensemble of Chicago played at Lulu White’s in Boston (1981?), I caught the first and third (last?) nights but missed the second. On the third night I asked Joseph Jarman, “How’d it go last night?” He could have made a perfunctory reply: nice crowd, warm reception. Instead he smiled and said, with a hint of exclamation, “You have to ask someone who was here.”

In other words, it’s for the listener to answer that question, to make something of the music. Or: I wasn’t here, I was somewhere else, inside the music.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

I found today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper exceedingly difficult (thirty-six minutes so). Frank Longo can pitch them right over the plate — yay! a hit! — but today’s puzzle, to continue with a metaphor based upon a sport about which I know just a little, is full of pitches that went right by.

For instance, 5-Down, five letters, “Senior in Williams’ English class (1989).” Huh? For instance, 31-Down, four letters, “Cursed royal, possibly.” LEAR? Swing and a miss.

I kept swinging, so to speak, at the same pitches, I suppose, because the puzzle has a finite number of clues, and I finally began hitting. If this puzzle had been a baseball game, I would have had seventy-two hits in more than a hundred times at bat. And now my metaphor has fallen to pieces, like a splintered bat.

Some favorite clues: 10-Across, four letters, “Provider of Wimbledon coverage.” 23-Across, six letters, “Pretend one is 1?” 49-Across, ten letters, “Send elsewhere, in a way.” 55-Across, four letters, “Course in mythology.” And finally, there’s 29-Down, ten letters, “Lead-in to radio silence.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments. (Silence.)

Joseph Jarman (1937–2019)

Composer, multi-instrumentalist, member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Buddhist teacher: Joseph Jarman has died at the age of eighty-one. The New York Times has an obituary.

I was fortunate to see the Art Ensemble of Chicago five times between 1980 and 1985. I remember Joseph Jarman tossing confetti into the air, waving tiny semaphore flags, reciting poetry, and serving as emcee. And playing a battery of saxophones and ”little instruments.”

Here, via YouTube, is a small sample of the Art Ensemble in performance, with Jarman on tenor, alto, and soprano saxophones, conch shell, and little instruments. And with Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie (d.1999), Malachi Favors Maghostut (d. 2004), and Famoudou Don Moye.

[The Times obituary misidentifies the musicians in the 1978 photograph. From left to right, they are Mitchell, Jarman, Moye, and Favors. Now fixed.]

Friday, January 11, 2019

“Hands off my piles”

“So take your tidy, magic hands off my piles, if you please”: that’s Ron Charles, writing in The Washington Post. He means piles of books, and he’s addressing Marie Kondo, she of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In that book, Kondo writes that she keeps “about thirty volumes at any one time” in her bookcase. Thirty books! When it comes to books, the Kondo-minimum approach is not for me.

Related posts
Tidy? (MK’s book in embarrassing circumstances)
Salzberg’s Theory of Pizza

Grammar and Hardy

From Way Out West (dir. James W. Horne, 1937). Lottie Hardy (Mae Busch) to Betty Laurel (Dorothy Christy): “If I didn’t know that Oliver was in Honolulu, I’d swear that was he on the phone.”

Take a look at the fortunes of “that was he” and “that was him” in American English via the Google Ngram Viewer. The fortunes of “that was she” and “that was her” are another story.

[Unlike “that was he” and “that was him,” “that was her” can be followed by a noun: “that was her mother on the phone.” But the history of “that was she” is still pretty telling.]

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with tender-age shelter.

Commence to dancin’

TCM has it, in an excellent print. From Way Out West (1937), Laurel and Hardy dance.

Twelve movies

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers.]

Double Lover (dir. François Ozon, 2017). We watched a few weeks ago and had to watch again. On second viewing, the seemingly preposterous erotic thriller, as I called it, disappeared, and the hallucinatory story I thought I was seeing was unmistakably present. As were additional echoes of Vertigo, additional instances of doubling, and a hint of Psycho. I’ve added a star for Ozon’s directorial range and risk-taking. ★★★★

*

8 Women (dir. François Ozon, 2002). A comic whodunit with musical interludes, characters who look remarkably like Hollywood stars, overtones of And Then There Were None, and a strong Almodóvar element. Mothers, daughters, granddaughters, sisters, lovers, rivals, a cook, and a maid. My favorite moment: grandma goes in the closet. The ensemble cast includes Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert. ★★★★

*

Un Flic (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, 1972). Alain Delon as un flic, a cop, working on a bank heist and a drug-smuggling caper. But flic also suggest movies, and this movie teems with crime-movie tropes: trench coats and fedoras, a nightclub, a floor show, cop and bad guy at the bar, a door marked Private, a businessman in deep trouble, a wife in the dark, a glamorous informant, a love triangle (one of whose points is Catherine Deneuve), even the miniatures of early Hitchcock. My favorite sequence: the long, virtually silent train heist, an homage to Jules Dassin’s Rififi. Strange to see Richard Crenna (The Real McCoys) and Michael Conrad (Uncle Caz, All in the Family) dubbed into French. ★★★★

*

Mary Poppins Returns (dir. Rob Marshall, 2018). A witless spectacle, with musical numbers that are much ado about nothing, and the second-generation Banks children as spectators who seem to gather nothing from watching production numbers in the realms of the unreal. Emily Blunt, as my son Ben pointed out, is something like Amelia Bedelia in her lack of affect, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is insufferable as a fresh-faced lamplighter. The closing moral — which I won’t give away — appalls, especially in the age of Donald Trump. The only redeeming moments in the movie: brief appearances by Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury. ★

*

The Racket (dir. John Cromwell, 1951). Plotwise, there’s little of interest here: a local crime boss (Robert Ryan), a crusading police captain (Robert Mitchum), and corruption in high places. Mitchum is terribly miscast, his blasé manner adding a strange element of parody to the story. The real pleasure here is the chance to see so many familiar faces: Walter Baldwin and Don Beddoe (Messrs. Parrish and Cameron in The Best Years of Our Lives), Howland Chamberlain (the drugstore manager from the same movie), William Conrad (why did he never play the Continental Op?) Ray Collins and William Talman (Perry Mason), Don Porter (father/professor in Gidget), Les Tremayne (the auctioneer in North by Northwest), Herb Vigran (from I Love Lucy and everything else). Also with a cigarette machine, a Mongol pencil, and pocket notebooks. ★★

*

Inquiring Nuns (dir. Gordon Quinn and Gerald Temaner, 1968). A delightfully human documentary with a disarmingly simple premise: two young nuns pose a question to Chicagoans, below the L, outside a supermarket, outside a church, in the Art Institute: “Are you happy?” The conversations and questions that follow move again and again (though not always) to the war in Vietnam, poverty, love, loneliness, peace — and no one speaks of wanting more money. It’s impossible to know whether people were more thoughtful and less selfish in 1968 or were just keenly aware that they were on camera speaking with habit-wearing nuns — I suspect it’s a bit of each. With an unexpected appearance by Lincoln Perry (Stepin Fetchit), who speaks of the happiness of being a daily communicant. ★★★★

*

Walk East on Beacon! (dir. Alfred L. Werker, 1952). A story of an FBI victory against Soviet agents, filmed on location in Boston, produced by Louis de Rochemont in the semi-documentary style of his The House on 92nd Street (1945). The details of espionage and counter-espionage — airport storage lockers, bills torn in two for identification, hidden cameras, surveillance from a phony Howard Johnson’s truck — make for compelling viewing. George Montgomery gets top billing, but the real star of the film is Finlay Currie (Magwitch in the 1946 Great Expectations) as the scientist who is told to walk east on Beacon. A YouTube find. ★★★★

*

Lost Boundaries (dir. Alfred L. Werker, 1949). Another de Rochemont semi-documentary production, this one a forward-thinking consideration of the color line in American life, based on the true story of a doctor and his family in a New Hampshire town. With Beatrice Pearson (who made only one other film, Force of Evil) and Mel Ferrer. When a character leaves New Hampshire for Harlem, I’m reminded of William Faulkner’s Joe Christmas. Another YouTube find. ★★★★

*

A little Laurel and Hardy spree

The Music Box (dir. James Parrott, 1932). Sisyphus in Silver Lake, as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy attempt to haul a piano up a daunting flight of stairs. I suppose I should have seen this short earlier in life, but as I always told my students, you come to things when you come to them. I am glad I finally did — come to this film, that is. Realization: the debt that Jackie Gleason and Art Carney owed to Laurel and Hardy. ★★★★

Busy Bodies (dir. Lloyd French, 1933). Stan and Ollie at a sawmill, with many forms of danger, mechanical and human. I love the decorum (hats, ties), the touch of comfort (a car radio in the form of a phonograph under the hood), and Ollie’s helpless appeals to the camera. The pacing makes me think of a gag-a-day comic strip — no overarching plot, just one comic premise after another. The best joke comes last. ★★★★

Way Out West (dir. James W. Horne, 1937). Now we’re in the world of plot, with Stan and Ollie delivering the deed to a gold mine to a poor girl in thrall to her evil guardians. The plot doesn’t interfere too much with the comic bits. My favorites: Stan and Ollie’s dance, Ollie trapped by a trapdoor. And an ever-present danger: water. ★★★★

Sons of the Desert (dir. William A. Seiter, 1933). Tale as old as time, or fraternal organizations: Stan and Ollie travel to the Chicago convention of the Sons of the Desert, while their wives believe they’ve sailed to Honolulu for Ollie’s health. Hilarity ensues. “Pah-duh!” And even Sons of the Desert run into difficulties with water. ★★★★


Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

“Whooaa . . .”


[Mark Trail, January 10, 2018.]

In 2014, “Whooa!” appeared. The exclamation resurfaced in 2017: “Whooa!” And now a variation, more hesitant, uncertain: “Whooaa . . .” But you can bet there’ll be nothing hesitant or uncertain about Mark Trail’s punches. They will be decisive.

This storyline, which seems to be nearing its end, began on April 26, 2018, with the family Trail heading off on a vacation: “Boy! This is one big airport!” And one long storyline. Whooaa.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Bratty pro tip

From The Washington Post account of the day’s inaction:

“Well unfortunately, the president just got up and walked out,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).” “He asked Speaker Pelosi, “Will you agree to my wall?” She said no. And he just got up and said, ‘Then we have nothing to discuss’ and he just walked out.”
The president is also reported (by Democrats) to have slammed his hand on a table (the table?) before leaving.

Bratty pro tip: slamming your hand and walking off never work. Try holding your breath, sir.

Librarians at work

I was in a public library yesterday, sitting at a table not far from a bank of public computers. A patron, perhaps in her thirties, called a librarian over to help with filling in and printing a form. The librarian guided her: “You need the hyphen — that’s next to the zero.” “Let’s try double-clicking. Try again, faster. It’s really touchy.”

Another patron, perhaps in his twenties, asked questions of a second librarian: “What’s a browser?” “What do I do about cookies?” The librarian said that she usually used Firefox. And she assured this patron that on a public computer, his browsing history would be deleted when he closed the browser.

I thought of something Ira Glass says in a recent episode of This American Life: “One librarian told me that in her job, you really get in touch with just how many people really do not know how to use computers at all.” And I thought about the patience and kindness with which these librarians were solving problems and answering questions. Faulting the mouse — “It’s really touchy” — was an especially deft touch.

[“Digital native”: a notion that presupposes a significant degree of privilege. It’s not a matter of age alone.]

Beer and puns

Last call: If you missed Stephen Colbert’s beer-soaked pun spree last night, it’s at YouTube.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Statue vs. wall

“A crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul”: sounds laughable coming from a man who seems to have neither.

Best line, from Charles Schumer: “The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a thirty-foot wall.”

I counted thirty-nine of those odd sniffs in Donald Trump’s address. What are the thirty-nine sniffs? And what causes them? A crisis of the nose?

[Context: a presidential address and a Democratic response.]

A notebook sighting in Boston


[Walk East on Beacon! (dir. Alfred Werker, 1952). Click for a larger view.]

A list of Soviet agents: “Sleepers. Zed means ‘has not attended any Party function for the past three years.’ Double zed is ‘afraid to refuse.’” One of these names will later be crossed off the list.

Walk East on Beacon! is a terrific film in the semi-documentary manner, filmed on location in Boston and produced by Louis de Rochemont, who gave us The House on 92nd Street, which teems with Dixon Ticonderogas. Yes, there are many ways to watch movies. Walk East on Beacon! is available at YouTube.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : Cat People : City Girl : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dead End : Dragnet : Extras : Eyes in the Night : Foreign Correspondent : Fury : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : Kid Glove Killer : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Ministry of Fear : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : The Palm Beach Story : Perry Mason : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : The Racket : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : La roue : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : Stage Fright : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : Time Table : T-Men : 20th Century Women : Union Station : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window

Dunning-Kruger on the rise

The Washington Post reports on the Dunning-Kruger effect:

During the election and in the months after the presidential inauguration, interest in the Dunning-Kruger effect surged. Google searches for “dunning kruger” peaked in May 2017, according to Google Trends, and has remained high since then. Attention spent on the Dunning-Kruger Effect Wikipedia entry has skyrocketed since late 2015.
I learned about the Dunning-Kruger effect in 2010 from a David Pescovitz post to Boing Boing. D-K helped me understand so much about the perspectives of students with serious writing deficits. In October 2016 I came up with the name Dunning K. Trump.

I don’t know what it means that an article about the Dunning-Kruger effect has an error in subject-verb agreement. Did you catch it in the excerpt?

Related reading
All OCA Dunning-Kruger posts

Monday, January 7, 2019

NYRB covers

From the Los Angeles Times: Aida Ylanan analyzes the covers of 500 New York Review Books Classics: “Cover to Cover: The Colors of NYRB Classics.” 500! I have thirty-one of them, I think.

[One could do worse than be a reader of NYRB Classics.]

Writing and money

“Writing has never been a lucrative career choice, but a recent study by the Authors Guild, a professional organization for book writers, shows that it may not even be a livable one anymore”: from a New York Times article about whether it pays to be a writer.

And here I have to invoke what the poet Alice Notley says about writing: “‘non-careerist’ . . . is not the same as not professional.”

“One of the last places”

Annie Spence, librarian: “It's one of the last places you can go that you don't have to buy or believe in anything to come in. You can just come, and we'll help you, no matter what your question is.” From “The Room of Requirement,” a This American Life episode about libraries, including the Brautigan Library.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The origins of “the” wall

From a Forbes article on the origins of “the” (non-existent) wall:

“Inside Trump’s circle, the power of illegal immigration to manipulate popular sentiment was readily apparent, and his advisers brainstormed methods for keeping their attention-addled boss on message,” writes Joshua Green, author of Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Nationalist Uprising. “They needed a trick, a mnemonic device. In the summer of 2014, they found one that clicked.”

Joshua Green had good access to Trump insiders, including Sam Nunberg, who worked with Stone. “Roger Stone and I came up with the idea of ‘the Wall,’ and we talked to Steve [Bannon] about it,” according to Nunberg. “It was to make sure he [Trump] talked about immigration.”

The concept of the Wall did not click right away with the candidate. “Initially, Trump seemed indifferent to the idea,” writes Green. “But in January 2015, he tried it out at the Iowa Freedom Summit, a presidential cattle call put on by David Bossie’s group, Citizens United. ‘One of his pledges was, ‘I will build a Wall,’ and the place just went nuts,’ said Nunberg. Warming to the concept, Trump waited a beat and then added a flourish that brought down the house. ‘Nobody,’ he said, ‘builds like Trump.’”
How remarkable that a cheap gimmick created by amoral, irresponsible advisers for an amoral, irresponsible, unthoughtful, easily manipulated candidate should grow to have such enormous costs, becoming an impediment to the very functioning of government. This kind of stuff belongs in a movie, not in reality.

[Cheap gimmick, but not, strictly speaking, a bright shiny object. A precast concrete wall would be neither bright nor shiny. I suppose that “steel slats” could be bright and shiny.]

No shampoo, no shirt

I was late getting to campus, so my daughter Rachel was giving me a ride. Thanks, kiddo!

Walking to the car, I felt my hair flapping in the wind. A long greasy flap. I had forgotten to shampoo. Oh well — I could get away with it for a day.

Once inside the car, I realized that I had forgotten to put on a shirt. But at least I was wearing a T-shirt, white. Crew neck, fortunately. Oh well — I could get away with that too for a day.

Once outside the car, I realized that I had a stain on the front of the shirt. Egg yolk. Oh well. I stood in a field with Rachel and a bunch of people unknown to me, talking.

[This is the fourteenth 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, 13.]

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Kids ’n’ coffee

Fresca’s Penny Cooper adventure made me think of my repurposed Ovaltine advertisement, and that made me think of a Nancy panel that I saved some time ago.


[Nancy, January 7, 1955.]

I love the weirdly grown-up threat “We’re through.” “We’re through, finished, washed up — if you don’t stop dunking!” Though the inside of each cup is white, I think that Nancy and Sluggo must be drinking and dunking in coffee. Who dunks in milk? Not kids who use cups with saucers. Which raises all kinds of questions: Are Nancy and Sluggo in a café? Would a café serve coffee and donuts to kids? Is the Ritz household the setting for this strip? Did Aunt Fritzi brew the coffee? Does she know that her niece is drinking it? Is Nancy using the good china? Does Aunt Fritzi dunk? Does Sluggo’s dunking remind Nancy of her aunt?

I’ve revised this panel in the interest of coffee.


[Nancy revised, January 7, 1955.]

Related reading
All OCA coffee and Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Lester Ruff, is pretty, pretty easy, save for one fifteen-letter answer that still baffles me. I got it, but what’s it mean?

The puzzle begins with what looks to me like a giveaway: 1-Across, eight letters, “What ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ was first scored for.” Two clues I especially liked: 3-Down, six letters, “Right-spun yarn term.” And 37-Down, eight letters, “Menu of a sort.” 3-Down, which might be a giveaway for someone else, was for me a matter of getting the crosses. 37-Down I liked for its subtle misdirection. (When I see menu in a crossword I think only of food and computers.)

The clue for the answer that baffles me: 36-Across, fifteen letters, “Start of a updated auric adage.” What?

Oh, wait — I just tried typing out the answer, and now I see it.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

[“A updated”: not a typo, or at least not my typo. My typo was “Satuday” in the post title, now corrected.]

Friday, January 4, 2019

“So now we have everything so beautifully handled”

I transcribed a chunk from the archived broadcast and punctuated to try to match the cadences of speech. The incoherence speaks for itself, but I find the frantic disjunction even more frightening in pixels.

“Now the steel is actually more expensive than the concrete, but I think we’re probably talking about steel because I really feel the other side feels better about it, and I can understand what they’re saying. It is more expensive. We mentioned the price, that we want 5.6 billion dollars, very strongly. Because numbers are thrown around, 1.6, 2.1, 2.5. This is national security we’re talking about. We’re not talking about games; we’re talking about national security. This should have been done by all the presidents that preceded me, and they all know it. Some of them have told me we should have done it. So we’re not playing games; we have to do it. And just remember human traffickers, remember drugs. The drugs are pouring into this country. They don’t go through the ports of entry. When they do, they sometimes get caught. When we finish, and the Democrats do want this, they want ports of entry strengthened, and I wanna do that, too, in fact, we have it down, it’s about 400 million dollars, and we can have the best equipment in the world. Now what they’ll do, if we have the protection, and we have strong ports of entry, with this incredible drug-finding equipment, I dunno what they’re gonna do, because they’re not comin’ in through past the steel gates or the steel walls or the concrete walls, depending on what’s happening, because we are meeting this weekend. We have a group, I’ve set up a group; they are going to tell us who their group of experts, and probably people in the Senate, and Congressmen, and -women, are gonna come, and we have three. I said, ‘Give us three.’ Then I said ‘You know what? Send over nine or six or three or two, it doesn't matter, send over whoever you want,’ but it's common sense. So now when they make that turn, they make it, and now all of a sudden they can’t go any further, and they have to go back, and that’s gonna stop the caravans for two reasons. Number one, they’re not gonna be able to get through, but when they realize they can’t get through, what’s gonna happen? They’re not gonna form, and they’re not gonna try and come up. And they can apply for asylum, and they can, most importantly, they can apply for citizenship because the companies that I told you that created these great job numbers — they’re incredible job numbers, beyond anybody’s expectations, I don’t think there was one Wall Street genius, of which I know many of them, but they’re not geniuses, there’s not one that predicted anywhere close to these job numbers. I thought they were gonna be good, but there wasn’t one that I saw. So now we have everything so beautifully handled.”
As my mom says, “I think there’s something wrong with him.”

Mid-century cigarette machine


[Walter Baldwin, Robert Mitchum, Lizabeth Scott, Robert Hutton. From The Racket (dir. John Cromwell, 1951). Click for a larger view.]

I wondered early on if a better glimpse of that cigarette machine might be in the offing. And there was. There are many ways for a movie to hold my interest. I wondered too if suspected perps were allowed to purchase cigarettes in the police station.

It’s remarkable how recognizable those cigarette packs are at such distances of space and time, at least the first seven: Chesterfield, Chesterfield, Lucky Strike, Camel, Old Gold, Camel, Philip Morris. I’d say “iconic,” but I avoid that overused word.


[Who is the eighth who stands always beside you?]

In addition to its one cigarette machine, The Racket has one Mongol pencil and one great insult, crime boss Nick Scanlon (Robert Ryan) to Irene Hayes (Lizabeth Scott): “Why you cheap little clip-joint canary!” And two pocket notebooks.

Also from this film
One Mongol pencil : Two pocket notebooks

“How to use the passive voice”

At the OUPblog, Edwin L. Battistella writes about how to use the passive voice. He zooms in on a familiar target:

Writing instructors and books often inveigh against the passive voice. My thrift-store copy of Strunk and White’s 1957 Elements of Style says “Use the Active Voice,” explaining that it is “more direct and vigorous than the passive.”
Like the passive voice, The Elements of Style (1959 not 1957) has become an easy target. But the book offers more nuance on the passive voice that Battistella allows. Yes, William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White offer “Use the active voice” (no cap on active or voice) as an “elementary principle of composition.” But they immediately qualify this maxim: the active voice is “usually more direct and vigorous than the passive” (my emphasis). And: “This rule does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.”

Like Battistella, Strunk and White recognize that a writer’s emphasis will determine the choice of voice. Battistella says that the choice of passive voice puts “the focus on the object of the action rather than the subject.” Strunk and White give two sample sentences to show exactly that:
The dramatists of the Restoration are little esteemed today.

Modern readers have little esteem for the dramatists of the Restoration.

The first would be the preferred form in a paragraph on the dramatists of the Restoration; the second, in a paragraph on the tastes of modern readers. The need of making a particular word the subject of the sentence will often, as in these examples, determine which voice is to be used.

The habitual use of the active voice, however, makes for forcible writing.
Granted, Battistella goes on to enumerate more contexts in which the passive voice is appropriate. But I think it would be difficult for him, or for any writer, to disagree with Strunk and White’s conclusion: “The habitual use of the active voice, however, makes for forcible [forceful?] writing.” Or as William Zinsser puts it, “The difference between an active-verb style and a passive-verb style — in clarity and vigor — is the difference between life and death for a writer.” Any teacher who has seen student-writers work to strip all sense of agency from their sentences (“It will be argued that,” “It is observed that”) understands the point of “Use the active voice.”

Related reading
All OCA Elements of Style posts (Pinboard)
Oliver Kamm on The Elements of Style and the passive voice
Steven Pinker on The Elements of Style and the passive voice
Geoffrey Pullum on The Elements of Style and the passive voice

[I’m not a fan of The Elements of Style as a resource for teachers, but I think it’s important to distinguish what the book says from folkloric criticism. For instance: Geoffrey Pullum’s claim that Strunk and White prohibit adjectives and adverbs. All Elements of Style quotations are from the 1959 edition that Battistella cites. The Zinsser quotation is from On Writing Well (2001). I left a much shorter version of this post as a comment at OUPblog, where it has yet to appear.]

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Domestic comedy

“Trisha Yearwood! What does she know about flooring?”

“She uses it.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[We were watching a commercial.]

Selected titles

Some of the titles Talia removed from a bookshelf during her visit:

Rudolf Arnheim, Visual Thinking
J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words
John Berger, Ways of Seeing
Stanley Cavell, Must We Mean What We Say?
Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking
All age-appropriate, when you think about it. The kid is on the go. “Go.”

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Philadelphia Solari

From NPR’s All Things Considered: “Fans of an Iconic Philly Rail Sign Are Rallying to Save It from Retirement.” The sign in question is a flip board, aka a split-flap display, aka a Solari board.

Related posts
Solari board : Solari e Tufte

Notebook sightings: The Racket



[Robert Mitchum as Captain Thomas McQuigg, William Talman as Officer Bob Johnson, Virginia Huston as Lucy Johnson. From The Racket (dir. John Cromwell, 1951). Click for larger notebooks.]

Good cops use pocket notebooks. And they don’t waste time posing so some camera jockey gets a better shot of the notebook. There’s a racket to be fought.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : Cat People : City Girl : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dead End : Dragnet : Extras : Eyes in the Night : Foreign Correspondent : Fury : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : Kid Glove Killer : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Ministry of Fear : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : The Palm Beach Story : Perry Mason : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : La roue : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : Stage Fright : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : Time Table : T-Men : 20th Century Women : Union Station : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window

Reading, really fast

I learned yesterday that for some English majors, it’s now a point of pride to go really fast when reading aloud, with little or no regard for phrasing or intonation. Why is going fast a point of pride? Because so many students cannot read aloud with much fluency.

These fast readers are like touch typists of reading. But reading aloud isn’t typing.

A political thought

The last thing Democrats need to do is to turn the 2020 presidential election into a battle between oldsters. Such a battle will do little to spark voter interest and much to spark parody. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren: no.

What the Democratic Party needs is a candidate who offers a sharp contrast to Donald Trump not only in policy but in affect. Sherrod Brown, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke: yes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A Mongol sighting


[Robert Bice as a police dispatcher. From The Racket (dir. John Cromwell, 1951). Click for a larger view.]

It looks like — is it? Hard to tell. Hit Pause. Look closely. Yes, it’s a Mongol pencil. The ferrule is the giveaway: dark, shiny, dark. Click for a larger view and you, too, can be sure.

I rediscovered the Eberhard Faber Mongol, the pencil of my childhood, in the early 1990s, after I stopped smoking cigarettes and became an ever more dedicated stationery fiend. I like Mongols, on my desk or in the movies. And yes, I also noticed the cigarette in the dispatcher’s hand.

Related reading
All OCA Mongol posts (Pinboard)

Resolution 2019

[Reposted, with the year changed, from January 1, 2018.]

I’m thinking about resolution, as a frame of mind, as “determination; firmness or steadfastness of purpose; the possession of a resolute or unyielding cast of mind.”

Not “Drink more water,” though that’s probably always a good idea. Not “Binge more,” as heard on a T-Mobile commercial yesterday morning.

I’m determined to be resolute in 2019, to not yield to cultural or political despair, to maintain a sense of humor and irreverence as appropriate, to maintain a sense of reverence as appropriate, to speak up and out when the occasion calls for it, and to do what I can in my very limited sphere of influence to make a better world. How about you?

And with regard to American democracy, I’m thinking about another kind of resolution:

the subsiding or cessation of a pathological process, disease, symptom, etc.; spec . the termination of inflammation, esp. without suppuration or permanent damage to tissue.
See? Still a sense of humor and irreverence. Happy New Year.

[Definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary.]

A 2019 calendar


[Peanuts, January 1, 1972.]

Here is one last pitch for a free, ultra-dowdy calendar, three months to a page, made by me, available from my Dropbox. Print, staple, and navigate a year's worth of time. In Gill Sans Bold, licorice and cayenne (black and dark red), with a few holidays and one mystery birthday marked in pleasing colors. Works on bulletin boards, refrigerators, and other solid surfaces. Visible across a crowded or sparsely populated room. While supplies last!