Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The last toll collectors

“She has seen children in car seats grow up and take the wheel themselves. She has called 911 when drivers turned up at her window with chest pains. Her regulars will wait at her tollbooth even when there is no line in the E-ZPass lanes”: Theresa Braun is one of the last toll collectors.

A related post
Mysteries of the tollbooth

Twelve movies

[Four sentences each. No spoilers.]

The Lost Moment (dir. Martin Gabel, 1947). Gothic noir, from Henry James’s The Aspern Papers. A scheming publisher (too-bland Robert Cummings) in search of a dead Shelley-like poet’s love letters wangles his way into a house of the poet’s 105-year-old beloved (Agnes Moorehead). A niece (Susan Hayward) provides romantic interest in the present. Eeriest moment: the hand on the arm of the chair. ★★★


Shadow on the Wall (dir. Pat Jackson, 1950). A satisfying thriller, in which a young girl (Gigi Perreau) is the key to solving a murder. Can a kind psychiatrist (Nancy Davis) unlock the child’s memory? Perreau and Davis are both excellent, as is Ann Sothern, cast in an unusual role. This noirish film is unusual in a more important respect: a girl and two women are front and center, with male characters entirely secondary. ★★★★


The Last Wave (dir. Peter Weir, 1977). A clash — or merger — of cultures, as a Sydney lawyer (Richard Chamberlain) defends a group of Aboriginal men accused of murder and begins to experience troubling visions. Everything here is suffused with dread: the most ordinary domestic interior seems to portend doom. And it’s doom on a grand scale: the vision of tidal apocalypse seems more timely now than ever. This film would pair well with Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. ★★★★


The Face Behind the Mask (dir. Robert Florey, 1941). Chameleonic Peter Lorre: think of how much his appearance changes just in his earlier years, from the killer in M to Dr. Gogol in Mad Love to Mr. Moto to Joel Cairo to Ugarte. Here he plays Janos Szabo, an immigrant who turns to a life of crime after being horribly disfigured in a fire (thus the mask). Don Beddoe and Evelyn Keyes are strong in supporting roles. The plot is sometimes wobbly, but the bizarro ending almost makes up for it. ★★★


A Man Called Ove (dir. Hannes Holm, 2015). Ove is an elderly curmudgeon and recent widower whose attempts to end his life go wrong as the world around him intrudes. Everything in his story, told in a series of flashbacks, is predictable, as is the revelation that the curmudgeon has a softer side. But it’s all pleasant enough, in a better-than-Hallmark way. My favorite line: “Antingen dör vi — eller så lever vi” [Either we die — or we live]. ★★★

[I will add a sentence that has closed many New York Times articles: If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.]


Ida Lupino, Ida Lupino, Ida Lupino

Not Wanted (dir. Elmer Clifton and Ida Lupino, 1949). Between 1949 and 1953, Ida Lupino wrote and/or directed several socially conscious films. This one follows the plight of Sally Kelton. a young unmarried woman (Sally Forrest), pregnant after a brief encounter with sketchy pianist Steve Ryan (Leo Penn). Drew Baxter is the good guy (Keefe Brasselle) who’s crazy about Sally and finds her in a home for unwed mothers. The film reaches a resolution that had our household in tears. ★★★★

Never Fear (dir. Ida Lupino, 1950). Forrest and Brasselle as a dance team whose female member contracts polio. The film then moves from nightclubs to the Kabat-Kaiser Institute and intensive physical therapy. Making this film must have been deeply important to Lupino, who contracted polio in 1934. Two extraordinary dance sequences (one with Forrest and Brasselle, one with a group in wheelchairs), but the chemistry between the leads isn’t nearly as strong here as in Not Wanted. ★★★

[Remarkable: in neither film is there a question of how someone will pay for care. It’s just there, as health care should be.]

The Trouble with Angels (dir. Ida Lupino, 1966). Well, this film too is Ida Lupino. Rosalind Russell is the no-nonsense Mother Superior at a boarding school for girls; Hayley Mills and June Harding are the new arrivals who break the rules again and again. Good performances all around, though the pranks and punishments get a bit tiresome, and there’s very little of “school” to be seen. Is it a spoiler to say that I called the ending well in advance? ★★★


They Shall Not Grow Old (dir. Peter Jackson, 2018). The Great War from a British perspective: archival footage, restored and colored, with the recorded voices of veterans describing their experiences from enlistment to war’s end. The film gives the viewer not the story of a particular battle but the story of battle, in all particulars — what men wore, what they ate, how they trained, how they fought, how they died. If I were still teaching, I’d show this film alongside the Iliad. An extraordinary labor of love and respect. ★★★★


This Ain’t No Mouse Music! (dir. Maureen Gosling and Chris Simon, 2014). The story of Chris Strachwitz, the German immigrant who fell in love with indigenous American musics and founded Arhoolie Records. The documentary tracks five of Strachwitz’s varied musical interests: blues, bluegrass, norteño, Cajun music, and New Orleans jazz. Strachwitz: “I was not conscious that this was any kind of cultural preservation; I just dove into this like a guy diving into a swimming pool, having a great adventure underwater or whatever, or going to paradise without having to suffer death.” My favorite moment: Ry Cooder talking about hearing, as a fourteen year-old, BIg Joe Williams’s “Sloppy Drunk Blues” (an Arhoolie recording) and realizing there was a lot in the world that he, Cooder, didn’t understand. ★★★★


Monrovia, Indiana (dir. Frederick Wiseman, 2018). This meandering portrait of a tiny rural town is certainly the most beautiful Wiseman documentary I’ve seen, full of bluer-than-blue skies and green corn, and minus what I call the Midwestern Sublime of dead fields and sheer emptiness. And because it’s a Wiseman film, without voiceover, without intertitles, much more is missing: any sense of the town’s economic well-being, its employment opportunities (I’d love to hear a young adult’s take), the meaning of what residents call “Homestead” (a subdivision? a subsidized-housing development?), the effect of the town’s proximity to Bloomington and Indianapolis, the town’s overwhelming support for Donald Trump in 2016, which can be inferred from the decals for sale in a street vendor’s display. The film’s purpose, as a blurb on the distributor’s website suggests, is to show big-city types just how good these people in the heartland are. Some scenes of life without irony — the basketball lecture, the Masonic ritual, the bench and hydrant debates — seem straight from a Christopher Guest film. ★★


Girlfriends (dir. Claudia Weill, 1978). A freelance photographer (Melanie Mayron) is trying to make it, as they said, and still say, in New York City. But it’s the 1970s, and it’s possible for a freelance photographer and her aspiring writer friend (Anita Skinner) to afford a two-bedroom apartment as they navigate young adulthood. The dialogue is sometimes stilted; the acting, sometimes wooden; but the movie is — somehow — an affecting picture of life in that time and place. Watch for Christopher Guest as a creepy boyfriend. ★★★

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

The Glenlivet logo

If you’ve ever tried to figure out the logo of The Glenlivet (bridge and river, on the cap as a faux woodcut, on the bottle in the form of a sticker), this page will help. But the chance to see this logo may be vanishing: there’s no logo on the newly redesigned bottle. I don’t know if the logo remains on the cap.

Those who read cereal boxes at the breakfast table grow up to read all forms of packaging.

Thanks, Elaine, for your decoding.

[The old bottle is much more attractive, says I.]

Monday, July 22, 2019

Recently updated

Credit where it’s due Now with a conversation between Sarah Milov and the historians who borrowed her work without attribution for a radio broadcast.

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

No, it’s not Steven Pinker, though there is, I think, a resemblance. Do you recognize this mystery actor? Leave your best guess in a comment.


Here’s a hint: the mystery actor is known for his work with a sesquicentennial musical. Among other things.


The answer is now in the comments.

More mystery actors (Collect them all!)
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

Pocket notebook sighting

[The Face Behind the Mask (dir. Robert Florey, 1941). Click for larger views.]

“Please call me when OK”: Lieutenant James “Jim” O’Hara (Don Beddoe) is writing on the back of a business card. His pocket notebook is only a surface on which to lean. But it’s still a pocket notebook.

You may recognize Don Beddoe as the next-door neighbor Mr. Cameron, Wilma’s father, in The Best Years of Our Lives. Or as Walt Spoon, Willa Harper’s father, in The Night of the Hunter. The Face Behind the Mask is a chance YouTube find, and a chance to see Peter Lorre in one of his many incarnations.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : The Big Clock : The Brasher Doubloon : 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 Small Back Room : The Sopranos : Spellbound : Stage Fright : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : Stranger Things : Time Table : T-Men : 20th Century Women : Union Station : Walk East on Beacon! : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window : You Only Live Once

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Planet Slaw

It looks like the planet Slaw, surrounded by its mysterious metallic ring. But it’s really a bowl of “Asian slaw,” as delicious as it is inauthentic. We followed this recipe, which needs (we think) an extra splash of rice vinegar and two or three more scallions.

Related posts
Coleslaw, the word : Red-cabbage psychedelica

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Brad Wilber, felt like an easy puzzle — about as easy last Saturday’s. What gives?

I began with 17-A, six letters, “Accelerando eraser,” which gave me 4-D, four letters, “Take the easy way out, with ‘out,’” and 5-D, three letters, “___ desk.” Those last two answers gave me 1-A, five letters, “Common jack-o’-lantern feature,” and before I knew it, the northwest corner was done. The rest followed.

My favorite clues: 34-D, nine letters, “Something printed without punch.” 60-A, eight letters, “George Harrison, from 1965.” (Harrison though might have disagreed.) Best of all: 2-D, nine letters, “America's Cup participant.” Why? Because I encountered the word in 1998 in a short essay by Carlo Rotella about Muhammad Ali and Homeric translation. And I took the time to look it up. And I never expected to see it again.

One curious clue: 28-A, five letters, “Shots often taken in Crete,” which harks back to last week’s 29-D, four letters, “Spirit in Cyprus.” Was there a recent crossword cruise of the Mediterranean?

No spoilers: the answers — to the clues, not to that question — are in the comments.

Cather vs. Trump

Writing in The New York Times, Bret Stephens suggests Willa Cather’s My Ántonia as “the perfect antidote” to Donald Trump. Stephens calls the novel “an education in what it means to be American”:

to have come from elsewhere, with very little; to be mindful, amid every trapping of prosperity, of how little we once had, and were; to protect and nurture those newly arrived, wherever from, as if they were our own immigrant ancestors — equally scared, equally humble, and equally determined.

That’s the “real America” that today’s immigrant-bashers, starting with the president, pretend to venerate and constantly traduce.
Stephens doesn’t take into account those who were brought to this country against their will. Nor does Cather, really. But there’s still an antidote of some effectiveness to be found in her work.

Related reading
All OCA Willa Cather posts (Pinboard)

[“Really”: Cather’s final novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl, makes things more complicated. But it’s still fair to say that Cather’s “America” is made of little more than Native peoples and people of European descent.]

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Our son Ben is hosting WGBH’s online series The Rewind, an exploration of the WGBH archives. The third episode is here: “The Size of the Universe,” with educational television footage from 1957.

First two episodes: “Tchaikovsky Waits for No Man” and “Tailgating with Table Linens.” Go Ben!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Not competent

From The Washington Post:

When President Trump met human rights activist Nadia Murad, an Iraqi who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for speaking out about her agonizing torture and rape while in Islamic State captivity, he seemed unaware of her story and the plight of her Yazidi ethnic minority. . . .

In the same meeting, the president also seemed not to know that Rohingya refugees had fled violence in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
The Post has a clip of the first exchange. Here’s the second.

Anti-money laundering specialists

[The New York Times, May 19, 2019.]

[The New York Times, July 19, 2019.]

The first hyphenation error, from a Times article, has been corrected. The second, from a Reuters article appearing in the Times, is fresh.

I like the idea of anti-money laundering specialists. They remove stubborn stains and leave your clothes smelling fresh and clean, but they never take a dime for their work.


[“Expiration Date High Score.” xkcd, July 19, 2019.]

If I had played this game last year, before we went through a kitchen cabinet and tossed the old spices, I think that 43.5 would have been my high score, courtesy of some long-forgotten curry powder that I bought in the early 1980s. Tuna salad with curry powder was a “thing” then.

Drapes, Pop-Tarts, impeachment

[“Breakfast Summit.” Zippy, July 19, 2019.]

Yes, kitchen-table issues.

I like the Dutch door, just like Father Knows Best.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, July 18, 2019


Oh, look, it’s shade, the only shade in the parking lot. I’ll take it, after taking a picture of it.

[Temperature: 90°. Heat index: 103°. Yes, the shade does look like an angry dinosaur.]

Word of the day: coleslaw

Is it one word, or two? Is cole a kind of slaw? Merriam-Webster has the word solid. The OED uses a hyphen. M-W’s recipe definition is a bit vague: “a salad made of raw sliced or chopped cabbage.” Lots of room for invention there. The OED is more definite: “sliced cabbage dressed with salt, pepper, vinegar, etc., eaten either raw or slightly cooked.” The word first appears in 1794, in the United States: “a piece of sliced cabbage, by Dutchmen ycleped cold slaw.” Yes, coleslaw comes to us from the Dutch koolsla, a reduced form of kool-salade. Kool is cabbage; salade is, well, obvious. The OED notes that “cold-slaw is a result of popular etymology.”

My definition of coleslaw: shredded cabbage, thin strips of carrot (cut with a peeler), red wine vinegar, mayonnaise, salt, cane sugar, and celery seed. There must be celery seed.

[Citation and etymology from the OED.]

Walter is a dilettante

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Related reading
All OCA Robert Musil posts (Pinboard)

[“Dilettante”: that’s the novel’s narrator opining.]

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

At the table

Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D, New York-8), on CNN this afternoon, deflecting a question about Representative Al Green’s (D, Texas-8) introduction of articles of impeachment: “We should continue to focus on kitchen-table pocketbook issues.” That’s boilerplate language, for Jeffries and other politicians, as a search engine will confirm.

And what’s with pocketbook anyway? The main use for a pocketbook is hitting men over the head. In modern times, purse is a far more common word than handbag or pocketbook. Kitchen-table purse issues, anyone? Or purse and murse?

I know the issues we most talk about at our kitchen table: the dangerous man in the White House and his enablers. They’re kitchen-table issues nos. 1, 2, 3 &c. Elaine, where’s your pocketbook?


“So when someone says they are ‘a stable genius,’ that is a real cause for concern, because a healthy person would not say that.” Bandy Lee, psychiatrist and professor, talks with Virginia Heffernan about the mental health of our president and our culture: “Is Trump a Disease? A Medical Perspective” (Trumpcast).



Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Related reading
All OCA Robert Musil posts (Pinboard)


[Nancy, October 11, 1949. Click for the ferrule.]

Okay, she is after his answers, not his pencil. But that sure looks like a Mongol.

Related reading
All OCA Mongol posts : Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[Yesteryear’s Nancy is this year’s Nancy. I wish the syndicate would reproduce the strips with their dates and proper borders. Cranky me.]

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Michael Seidenberg (1954–2019)

Michael Seidenberg was the proprietor of Brazenhead Books, a bookstore with several incarnations, the most famous of which was a Manhattan apartment. I read of Michael’s death in Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. The New York Times finally has an obituary. An excerpt:

The speakeasy bookstore (as news articles often called it) on East 84th Street was a place that, it was commonly said, you could go to for the first time only in the company of a regular. But the writer David Burr Gerrard, in a tribute to Mr. Seidenberg posted on lithub.com last week, said that wasn’t really true.

“Michael was, as he liked to say with his trademark this-should-be-obvious-but-nobody-thinks-of-it grin, ‘in the phone book,’” he wrote, “and would happily give his address to any stranger who called him.”
It’s true. Elaine and I visited in 2012, after I looked up the number online and called. We found, among other things, three books by Alexander King, the first husband of our friend Margie King Barab. Talk about serendipity.

Related viewing
Brazenhead C’est Moi (A six-minute film)
There’s No Place Like Here: Brazenhead Books (A three-minute film)

NuGrape and some other soda

[Life, May 2, June 6, July 11, August 1, 1955. Click any image for a larger view.]

These four advertisements appear to be the only advertisements for NuGrape that appeared in Life.

I don’t know why I was thinking of NuGrape soda this morning. But I know why I think of NuGrape whenever I happen to think of NuGrape: “I Got Your Ice Cold NuGrape”, that haunting recording by the NuGrape Twins. Listen and enjoy.

A related post
The song’s lyrics, transcribed

Monday, July 15, 2019


Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D, New York–14), this afternoon:

“He can’t look a child in the face and justify why this country is throwing them in cages, so instead he tells us I should go back to the great borough of the Bronx and make it better, and that’s what I’m here to do.”
[I, too, love the Bronx.]

Credit where it’s due

Two historians — male, tenured — talked on WBUR’s Here and Now about the politics of tobacco. In doing so, they relied, exclusively, it seems, on a forthcoming book by another historian — female, untenured. She and her book were never acknowledged. Her name: Sarah Milov. Her book, which will arrive in October from Harvard University Press: The Cigarette: A Political History. Says Milov, “I mean, my book is about tobacco and I live in Virginia. I would have been a reasonable person to talk to about this topic.” Milov had given the okay to a story based on her book — as long as she received credit.

A WBUR producer blames “researchers” who provided the historians with “talking points” for the broadcast. (It’s always the researchers, am I right?) The station’s belated attempt to give credit where it’s due reads as if Milov were a willing behind-the-scenes helper:

Sarah Milov, assistant professor of history at the University of Virginia and author of the forthcoming book, The Cigarette: A Political History [,] provided extensive research material for historians Ed Ayers and Nathan Connolly.
But that’s not what happened. Milov didn’t provide material for Ayers and Connolly to use. Rather, Ayers and Connolly made extensive use of Milov’s book without acknowledging it as their source, or they relied on the work of WBUR researchers without bothering to note where the researchers got their material. Ayers and Connolly then presented themselves as experts on the politics of tobacco, all sorts of choice-quality details at their fingertips. Not a good way to do history.

[If I were Sarah Milov listening to this radio segment, my head would be exploding. It’s exploding anyway.]


July 22: WBUR now has a conversation between the two historians and Sarah Milov: “Historians in the Press: Why Citation by the Media Is Important, Even If It Rarely Happens.” No link to this conversation though on the page for the original radio show.

No evens to can’t

“We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists. They hate Israel, they hate our own country”: Lindsey Graham, encouraging Donald Trump to refrain from personal attacks and to “aim higher.”


Trump has misunderstood Graham’s suggestion to “aim higher”: “These are congressmen. What am I supposed to do, just wait for senators? No.”

OUZO in the morning

A clue in this past Saturday’s Newsday crossword, “Spirit in Cyprus,” made me remember a moment from my grad-student days. I went to Jimmy the barber for a haircut one spring morning. During my haircut Jimmy took out a bottle of ouzo and poured cups for all assembled. I had never tasted ouzo. Sure, why not? When in Rome, &c. I remember calling Elaine afterwards (she was at work in downtown Boston) and laughing my way through the story of my haircut. I was at least slightly smashed.

It was only after seeing Saturday’s clue that I looked into ouzo more closely. Wikipedia: “The final ABV is usually between 37.5 and 50 percent; the minimum allowed is 37.5 percent.” In other words, ouzo runs between 75 and 100 proof. No wonder I was laughing.

[Why the all-caps OUZO? Because it was a crossword answer. “When in Rome”: or Greece. Jimmy was from Greece. And by the way, it was a good haircut.]

The small museum

Its modesty permits an intimacy of acquaintance that a big-shot museum makes far more difficult. And whatever the works on display might be, they cannot be seen anywhere else. That J. Francis Murphy painting? Those T.C. Steele paintings? They’re here, and here only. The big-shot cannot help.

That paragraph is prompted by a visit Elaine and I made to Terre Haute’s Swope Art Museum. The highlight for us: Gil Wilson: The Art of Letters, an exhibition devoted to the correspondence of Gilbert Brown Wilson, Terre Haute-born artist and writer. One small room, with minimal explanation on museum cards. But reading the letters, to and from, made it possible to put together a story of a life.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


“Sharing cultures, sharing musics, makes the world rounder”: Flaco Jiménez, musician, in This Ain’t No Mouse Music! (dir. Maureen Gosling and Chris Simon, 2014), a documentary about Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, might be the easiest Stumper I’ve seen. I can imagine Stan Newman taking stock of the world and thinking, “Aww, heck, I’ll go easy on ’em.” Consider, for instance, 3-D, ten letters, “Hardbody’s pride.” Or 15-A, ten letters, “Highway advisory.”

Three four-letter-answer clues I especially liked: 29-D, “Spirit in Cyprus.” 32-D, “Plant with legs.” 57-A, “Daily household announcement.” My favorite clue: 11-D, eight letters, “Show of hands.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.


Today’s puzzle made me recall a youthful encounter with 29-D.

The Bob Rosses

The New York Times asks: “Where Are All the Bob Ross Paintings?” And there’s an answer.

Friday, July 12, 2019

NYRB sale

New York Review Books is having a twentieth-anniversary sale: two books, 20% off; three books, 30% off; four books, 40% off. Not quite “magnificent Nature Guides” for $1, but still a great buy.

NYRB has opened up worlds of reading to me. You too?

[Use semicolons to separate items in a series when one or more commas appear within those items.]

“Magnificent Nature Guides”

[Life, September 29, 1952. Click for a much larger view.]

“How can these magnificent Nature Guides be sold at only $1 each?” The advertisement provides the answer:

With a normal first edition of 10,000 copies, these books would retail at from $3 to $5 a copy. But the 75,000–100,000 printing of each book lowered the unit cost to a point at which the publishers were able to employ the highest standards and yet produce these books for as little as $1.
A shorter supplemental answer: Because it’s 1952.

I love Golden Nature Guides, or the idea of Golden Nature Guides. I have the Rocks and Minerals: A Guide to Minerals, Gems, and Rocks (1957) and Trees: A Guide to Familiar American Trees (1987). And from the Golden Science series, Weather: A Guide to Phenomena and Forecasts (1965). From the back covers of the older books:
These 160 page books overflow with accurate full color illustrations and concise, double-checked information which makes identification and understanding the subject easy and enjoyable.
The back cover of Weather might have also mentioned Harry McNaught’s beautifully melancholy illustrations of “phenomena”: rain, more rain, and snow.

Telegraph operators and weather

From Hannah Fry’s review of Andrew Blum’s The Weather Machine: A Journey Inside the Forecast :

By 1848, more than two thousand miles of telegraph lines had been laid across the United States. They were a technological marvel, but they were prone to problems when it rained. Every morning, telegraph operators checked with their colleagues in the surrounding cities to see what the weather was like. “If I learned from Cincinnati that the wires to St. Louis were interrupted by rain,” one operator was recorded as saying, “I was tolerably sure a ‘northeast’ storm was approaching.”

The effect was to change people’s perception of time and space. Being able to communicate through the telegraph might have made the world seem smaller, but those weather reports also made the world bigger, creating distance between places on a map.
I told my mom — who watches the weather with intense interest — about the role of the telegraph in forecasting. Who knew? Neither of us.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Our son Ben is hosting WGBH’s online series The Rewind, an exploration of the WGBH archives. First two episodes: “Tchaikovsky Waits for No Man” and “Tailgating with Table Linens.” Go Ben!

Genius at work

I quote:

Could you imagine having Sleepy Joe Biden, or @AlfredENeuman99,..

...or a very nervous and skinny version of Pocahontas (1000/24th), as your President, rather than what you have now, so great looking and smart, a true Stable Genius! Sorry to say that even Social Media would be driven out of business along with, and finally, the Fake News Media!
The “true Stable Genius” tagged a retired teacher and coach whose tweets are decidedly not in favor of the president.

But the Genius has replaced the above tweets with new ones, with the tag omitted and with “Neuman” now misspelled as “Newman.”

Committee life

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Related reading
All OCA Robert Musil posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Fake rocks

[“Bushmiller in the Side Pocket.” July 10, 2019.]

Zippy tests these wannabes by asking them if his shoes are styrofoam or penny loafers. One responds by asking Zippy if he wants to play pool. And another admits, “You got us, Zippy! We’re just fake news!”

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

[You can read Bill Griffith’s Zippy every day at Comics Kingdom or Seattlepi.com. Or read both and compare!]

E.B. Proust

E.B. White’s observations on style in writing are remarkably close to Marcel Proust’s. White, in The Elements of Style (1959):

Young writers often suppose that style is a garnish for the meat of prose, a sauce by which a dull dish is made palatable. Style has no such separate entity; it is nondetachable, unfilterable.
Not an embellishment, says Proust. Not a garnish, says White.

On Proust’s birthday

Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871.

“Style is not at all an embellishment as certain people think, it is not even a matter of technique, it is — like colour with painters — a quality of vision, the revelation of the private universe that each one of us can see and which others cannot see. The pleasure an artist affords us is to introduce us to one universe the more.”

Swann Explained by Proust.” 1913. In Days of Reading, trans. John Sturrock (New York: Penguin, 2008).
Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

“Patently deficient”

From The Washington Post: “A federal judge in New York on Tuesday denied a bid from the Justice Department to replace the team of lawyers on the case about the census citizenship question, writing that its request to do so was ‘patently deficient.’”

Patently Deficient : a book title of the future?

Not “home”

It’s startling to see a The New York Times article refer to Jeffrey Epstein’s 71st Street mansion as a “home.” Just one sample:

The townhouse where the financier Jeffrey Epstein is accused of engaging in sex acts with underage girls is one of the largest private homes in Manhattan, a short walk from Central Park.
No, it’s one of the largest private residences in Manhattan. The article I’ve quoted from calls this building a “home” ten times. The article also calls Epstein’s residence in Palm Beach a “home.”

As Garner’s Modern English Usage notes, “In the best usage, the structure is always called a house.” And: “The word home connotes familial ties.” To apply the word to a structure is a tacky realtor move. To apply the word to structures given over to sexual exploitation and trafficking is beyond grotesque.

Epstein is now living in a new “home,” larger but also much smaller than 9 E. 71st Street. If he’s denied bail and found guilty, he’ll be in that new “home” (aka “the big house”) for quite some time. Here’s hoping.

Related posts
Houses, homes, legs, limbs : “Nine homes”

Word of the day: obbligato

The word of the day, or of my day, because I just learned all about the word’s origins, is obbligato.

As an adjective, used as a direction in music: “not to be omitted : obligatory.” As a noun: “an elaborate especially melodic part accompanying a solo or principal melody and usually played by a single instrument.” The adjective came first, in 1740: “borrowed from Italian, ‘obligatory, essential to a musical composition,’ from past participle of obbligare “to require (someone to do something), oblige,” going back to the Latin obligāre. The noun came along in 1825.

An obbligato is not ad libitum, “omissible according to a performer's wishes.” A performer has an obligation to the obbligato. And who knew that ad lib is a short form of ad libitum, an adverb (1606) and adjective (1786) meaning (as it did in medieval Latin) “in accordance with one’s wishes.” The idea of spontaneous performance came later, in the adjective ad-lib (1819) and the verb ad lib (1910).

Not all obbligatos are a matter of obedience to notation. In improvised music, an obbligato — say, a Lester Young obbligato behind Bille Holiday — might very well be ad libbed. And beautiful.

[Definitions and etymologies from Merriam-Webster. “A Sailboat in the Moonlight” (Carmen Lombardo–John Jacob Loeb): Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra: Buck Clayton, trumpet; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Lester Young, tenor sax; James Sherman, piano; Freddie Green, guitar; Walter Page, bass; Jo Jones, drums. Recorded in New York, June 15, 1937.]

Monday, July 8, 2019

Pocket notebook sighting

[Click for a much larger view.]

From “Chapter Four: The Sauna Test,” the fourth episode of the new third season of Stranger Things. Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) consults her pocket notebook as she and Jim Hopper (David Harbour) check out several properties. No spoiler in that sentence, honest.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : The Big Clock : The Brasher Doubloon : 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 Small Back Room : The Sopranos : Spellbound : Stage Fright : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : Time Table : T-Men : 20th Century Women : Union Station : Walk East on Beacon! : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window : You Only Live Once

Chock full o’Things

[Click for a much larger view.]

Maxwell House, sure. But a can of Chock full o’Nuts in small-town Indiana? In 1985? Well, maybe. This can appears in “Chapter One: Suzie, Do You Copy,” the opening episode of the new (third) season of Stranger Things. The can sits on a shelf in Joyce Byers’s house.

Stranger Things is Chock full o’Things. It is utterly satisfying television — that is, if a streaming series counts as “television.”

Previously on Stranger Things: the World Book Encyclopedia.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Puzzled about nepenthe

An answer in this morning’s Weekend Edition Sunday Puzzle, “Power of the Pen,” started me thinking. Will Shortz’s puzzle asked for words containing the accented syllable pen. Terrific? StuPENdous. Got it.

The word that started me thinking: nepenthe, which Shortz clued as “drug of forgetfulness in the Odyssey.” The word in the Odyssey is νηπενθής [nēpenthes] which means “banishing pain and sorrow.” The word joins νη- [nē-], meaning “not,” and πένθος [penthos], meaning “grief, sorrow.” The word νηπενθής appears in Odyssey 4, line 221, where it describes a substance that Helen places in the wine as her husband Menelaus, Odysseus’s son Telemachus, and Nestor’s son Peisistratus weep for the lives lost in the Trojan War. What Helen places in the wine though is a drug: a φάρμακον [pharmakon].

Today’s contestant, who said he’d read the Odyssey, did not know nepenthe. Nor did it come to my mind as the name of a substance. The drugs named in the Odyssey are magical plants: lotus and moly. None of the Big Four translations of the Odyssey include nepenthe as a name:

Robert Fitzgerald (1961): Helen drops into the wine “an anodyne, mild magic of forgetfulness.”

Richmond Lattimore (1967): Helen casts into the wine “a medicine / of heartsease, free of gall, to make one forget all sorrows.” (Hearts ease, or heart’s ease, is a traditional medicinal flower.)

Robert Fagles (1996): Helen slips in “a drug, heart’s-ease, dissolving anger, / magic to make us forget all out pains.”

Stanley Lombardo (2000): Helen throws into the wine “a drug / That stilled all pain, quieted all anger, / And brought forgetfulness of every ill.”

How did nepenthe make its way into today’s Sunday Puzzle? My guess is that Will Shortz has many lists of words, searchable in many ways, and thus found this word. I suspect that what’s at work here is the kind of out-of-one’s-element moment that turned Mel Tormé into a “cool jazz pioneer.” I doubt that someone better acquainted with the Odyssey would have chosen nepenthe for today’s puzzle. But I could be wrong.

Related reading
All OCA Homer posts (Pinboard)

[The Big Four: my term for recent American translators of both the Iliad and the Odyssey. I’ll add that nepenthe does not appear in Peter Green’s and Emily Wilson’s 2018 translations of the Odyssey. In writing this post I relied upon the Perseus Digital Library’s text of Lidell and Scott’s A Greek–English Lexicon.]

João Gilberto (1931–2019)

João Gilberto, composer, singer, guitarist, architect of bossa nova, has died at the age of eighty-eight. The Washington Post has an obituary. From 2008, here is a São Paolo concert, just voice and guitar.


The New York Times now has an obituary.

Eva Kor (1934–2019)

Eva Kor died this past Thursday at the age of eighty-five. Eva and her twin sister Miriam (d. 1993) were survivors of Auschwitz, where they were subjected to Josef Mengele’s “experiments” on twins. Eva founded a small museum In Terre Haute, Indiana, CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center, and devoted her later years to teaching forgiveness as a way to help heal from trauma. Eva died in Poland, one day after speaking to a CANDLES group at Auschwitz.

I remember vividly something Eva said to a group of east-central Illinoisans visiting her museum: “Never give up.” That was the vow she made to herself as a child in Auschwitz. Such a vow might not save you, she said, but without it, you’re certainly lost.

Elaine met Eva in 1994 at our university’s radio station and was close to her for many years. In 1995 Elaine’s string quartet played for the opening of CANDLES. When the museum reopened in 2005 after being firebombed two years earlier, Elaine and I played traditional Jewish songs on violin and National guitar. Elaine has written about Eva in this blog post.

More: stories from the BBC and NPR, and an obituary from Terre Haute’s Tribune Star.


The New York Times now has an obituary.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Erik Agard and Wyna Liu, felt more difficult at first than it turned out to be. I got 6-D, four letters, “It can be a lot,” which gave me 15-A, six letters, “Rather sour.” Then I dropped down to 43-A, three letters, “Non-PC,” and 45-A, eight letters, “Bar babble.” The babble yielded a few more answers, the most helpful of which was for 41-D, seven letters, “Italian who mentored Beethoven.” And then I was happy to see 58-A, six letters, “Their work might drive them up the wall.” Yes, been there, done that, at least for a summer with my dad. After getting those answers, I wandered around for quite a while looking for doors marked ENTER. Here and there, I found them.

So many clues in this puzzle had a wonderful dash of indirection or vagueness. Some that I especially liked: 5-D, seven letters, “Draw on the floor.” 16-A, eight letters, “Getting captured.” 18-A, eight letters, “Poster selection.” No, BLACKLIGHT doesn’t fit. And 30-D, nine letters, “Match box of pro sports.” (What?)

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Randing the ramparts

The hashtags #RevolutionaryWarAirports and #RevolutionaryWarAirportStories will provide a short-lived diversion. What interests me more is a possible explanation of Trump’s mistake.

My best guess as to what he said: “Our army [manned?] the [?], it rand the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do.”

What I think he was supposed to say: “Our army manned the ramparts, it took over the port, it did everything it had to do.” The port would be that of Baltimore. And, yes, he’s conflating the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Details!

This morning Trump blamed his airport incoherence on a teleprompter going out right in the middle of that sentence: “I knew the speech very well, so I was able to do it without a teleprompter but, ahh, the teleprompter did go out, and it was actually hard to look at anyway, because there was rain all over it.”

A more plausible explanation: Trump was reading words written for him, words that he didn’t really understand and hadn’t bothered to work on. See also “Douglass, you know, Frederick Douglass, the great Frederick Douglass” and all the syntactically awkward pauses in his delivery. (Watch at C-SPAN.)

Frederick Douglass, too, had something to say about the Fourth of July.

I wanted to check my transcription against the official text, but whitehouse.gov so far has nothing.


4:26 p.m.: Now there’s an official text, but it’s a transcript, complete with indications of applause. Here’s what the White House has Trump saying: “Our Army manned the air [inaudible], it rammed the ramparts. It took over the airports. It did everything it had to do.”

“Just around the corner”

The “woman-killer” Christian Moosbrugger has a new admirer, Rachel, maid to Section Chief Tuzzi and his wife Diotima. It’s “no great distance” from the Tuzzi apartment to the court building:

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Mossbrugger’s crime, his trial, and his fate (to be determined) float over the novel. Everyone has ideas about Moosbrugger. I have no idea what his presence in the novel will amount to: I’ve read only 655 pages and have 475 pages to go, not counting material in omitted chapters and drafts.

Related reading
All OCA Robert Musil posts (Pinboard)

[Naming in the novel is highly stylized: it’s always Section Chief Tuzzi, no first name, and Diotima, no Tuzzi. Rachel is just Rachel. Tuzzi’s first names are mentioned just twice: he was christened Hans, “stylishly rechristened” Giovanni, and still goes by Hans.]

Thursday, July 4, 2019

How to improve writing (no. 83)

In The New York Times tonight:

Speaking to a rain-soaked audience behind bulletproof glass, Mr. Trump spent most of his time recounting the history of the armed forces.
An added preposition makes things right:
Speaking to a rain-soaked audience from behind bulletproof glass, Mr. Trump spent most of his time recounting the history of the armed forces.
See the difference?

Related reading
All OCA “How to improve writing” posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 83 in a series, dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

C-SPAN reveals all

As with two-person political debates, the best place to see the Trump Fourth speech was C-SPAN, which cut away again and again for shots of the crowd. Whatever its size, too many of its members appeared distinctly unenergized by what they were hearing — just standing without clapping. And then leaving as a member of the military sang Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” — a song that also just happens to be played at Trump’s campaign rallies.

The Fourth

From 4 U.S. Code §8: “The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”

This Fourth of July, with its tanks and cages, is no ordinary Fourth. I am living in a country whose racist, xenophobic, predatory leader exhibits contempt for democracy and the institutions of government as he monetizes his office, demonizes his opponents, befriends autocrats and despots, welcomes foreign interference in elections, lies to the public and the press, and stages a cruel spectacle on the southern border. He is abetted by all those who cheer or shrug or whisper in dismay. Today’s flag is a signal of dire distress.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Arte Johnson (1929–2019)

The actor and comedian Arte Johnson has died at the age of ninety. Readers of a certain age will remember him from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. The New York Times has an obituary.

Arte Johnson appeared in these pages in 2018 in a screenshot from his big-screen debut.

An afterthought

Re: “argued forcefully”: I wonder if argue is about to become the new say. Compare the way speakers and writers use refute in place of rebut.

Garner’s Modern English Usage:

Refute is not synonymous with rebut or deny. That is, it doesn’t mean merely “to counter an argument” but “to disprove beyond doubt; to prove a statement false.”
To rebut is not to refute, and to say is not to argue.

A related post
Misused word of the day: refute

No argument

I turned on MSNBC for just a few minutes to hear Kelly O'Donnell say, twice, that Donald Trump “argued forcefully” for the inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 census. That’s an odd claim, partly because it uses a near-Trumpian adverb (Trump might have said “very strongly”), partly because Trump's insistence has nothing to do with making an argument. To argue is “to give reasons for or against something.” To demand or insist is not to argue.

“Like a pair of trousers”

A planning session for the Parallel Campaign has ended. Diotima is alone in her apartment with Paul Arnheim, industrialist and writer. She realizes that no man other than her husband “had ever been so domestically alone with her that one palpably felt the mute life of the empty apartment.”

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Musil’s gift for metaphor and simile is unending.

Related reading
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[“His Mind Is a Bus.” Zippy, July 3, 2019.]

Days of future past. A Wikipedia article says that “There are still two Futurliners unaccounted for.” I think that number is now done to one.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The challenge and responsibility
of personhood

John Green, from “Hawaiian Pizza and Viral Meningitis,” an episode of The Anthropocene Reviewed:

The challenge and responsibility of personhood, it seems to me, is to recognize personhood in others, to listen to others’ pain and take it seriously, even when you yourself cannot feel it.
These words are relevant at our southern border, and everywhere else.

Islands for sale

Two of them. Price: $13 million. Says their owner, “I thought I would have great thoughts out here.”

Committees, committees

It’s 1913. Diotima Tuzzi has a plan for the development of the Parallel Campaign, a public-relations project to celebrate Austria and the Emperor Franz Joseph in 1918:

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Related reading
All OCA Robert Musil posts (Pinboard)

[Committees and more committees: it all sounds mighty familiar.]

Monday, July 1, 2019


It’s the easy-to-say acronym that’s sweeping this blog post: TSWOCABTTS, pronounced \ ˈswō-ka-bits \.

It is an acronym, not an initialism. The first T is silent, as in General Tso. The letters stand for Television Show Whose Opening Credits Are Better Than The Show.

My nominee: Welome Back, Kotter, whose opening credits I could watch (and have watched) again and again. Elaine’s nomination: The Flintstones. What’s yours?

The Irish “grand”

Stan Carey looks at the Irish “grand.” A bit late, but I better understand one of my grandmothers now.

[Worth clicking through for the astonishing headline from The Irish Times.]

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Spotted on a walk

Yes, spotted on Friday. Spotted. We placed this lost tiger leopard cub right in the middle of the sidewalk, so that any searcher would also spot it. Yesterday the cub was gone.

Thanks to Fresca for pointing out that it’s a leopard.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

“Western-style liberalism”

From The Washington Post:

As the news conference wore on, Trump seemed to confuse a broader discussion of the fight over global governance with his personal grievances against Democrats.

When a reporter asked if the president agreed with Putin’s suggestion, in a recent newspaper interview, that “Western-style liberalism” was in decline, Trump had another thing in mind.

He criticized the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, which he said are “sad to look at” because they are “run by liberal people.”
I’d say that what’s sad to look at is the ignorance on display here. Compounded by cognitive decline?


The full exchange (with Peter Baker of The New York Times) is even worse. Thanks, C-SPAN:

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Thank you, Lester Ruff — that name sounds so much like something from a Nabokov novel; it must be a pseudonym, don’t you think? — for a challenging and enjoyable Newsday Saturday Stumper. It begins with a giveaway, just enough to inspire a mistaken sense of confidence: 1-A, six letters, “Big name in parliamentary procedure.” Which leads to another giveaway, 1-D, eight letters, “Tried to catch.” And then the ground steepens in all directions.

Some unusual clues:

From the Department of Lifelong Learning: 8-D, eight letters, “Device in a ‘busting miles’ crime.” An easy answer, but I didn’t know it’s called “busting miles.”

From the Department of Dimly Recalled Trivia: 9-D, five letters, “Seemingly indecisive poet.” That name too sounds like something from Nabokov.

And from the Department of Faintly Dated Foods: 46-D, six letters, “Meat served with pancakes.”

The clue and answer pairs I liked best, because they’re so fiendish: 13-D, six letters, “India and Pakistan have one.” And 38-D, eight letters, “‘Pygmalion’ lead character.” Eight? Uh, DOOLI’L’?

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Masonic grammar

“I didn’t know whom to believe!” Nellie DuBois (Jeanette Nolan), on the witness stand, in the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Betrayed Bride” (October 22, 1964). So strange to hear the proper (and now stilted-sounding) whom on TV.

Related reading
All OCA Perry Mason posts (Pinboard) : “Whom are we kidding?”

Friday, June 28, 2019

Feet on the move

The Sunset Foot Clinic is leaving Silver Lake. And with it will go a famous happy foot/sad foot sign with a connection to David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King.

Thanks, Seth.

A podcast recommendation

“John Green reviews facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale”: The Anthropocene Reviewed. Each episode is a pair of essays on seemingly unrelated topics. But only seemingly. See, for instance, “Lascaux Paintings and the Taco Bell Breakfast Menu.” Or for unexpected emotional resonance, “Googling Strangers and Kentucky Bluegrass.”

[The first person I heard use the word Anthropocene: Van Dyke Parks.]

“Here are horses!”

Count Leinsdorf’s horses:

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Related reading
All OCA Robert Musil posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, June 27, 2019


Chris Christie, on The Late Show just now: “Please, God, can we say goodbye to Chuck Todd?”

A plea that a person of any political persuasion can endorse.

[The next day: I had it as “get rid of.” Wrong.]



Language debate

Re: tonight’s Democratic debate: if candidates are going speak in languages in addition to English, Pete Buttigieg will rule.

I’m not sure what I think about last night’s speaking in Spanish. With Julián Castro, it seemed a fitting expression of identity. With Beto O’Rourke, it seemed like show-offy pandering. With Cory Booker, it seemed like a way to one-up O’Rourke. The look on Booker’s face as O’Rourke began his first (non-)answer in Spanish: hilarious.

[The correct answer to the question of how many languages Pete Buttigieg can speak is the answer Sarah Palin gave to a question about how many magazines and newspapers she reads: “All of ’em, any of ’em.”]

“Youth and sardines”

Jean, a painter (Daniel Gélin), and Joséphine, a model (Simone Simon), are breaking for lunch — some nice fish. Big fish? Jean asks. Joséphine replies from inside the house.

Jean is disappointed.

Joséphine is pragmatic.

Jean is doubtful.

Joséphine is more cheerful.

As they prepare to eat, Jean is rhapsodic. He never tires of looking at Joséphine, he says. “There’s the most extraordinary grace in your every ordinary gesture,” he tells her. “Leaning toward me, getting into a carriage, raising your arm, reaching out to me, eating sardines.” And:

[Le Plaisir (dir. Max Ophüls, 1952). Click any image for a larger view.]

It must be love.

Related reading
All OCA sardine and sardines in film posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Brief debate thoughts

In her closing statement tonight, Representative Tulsi Gabbard spoke of “ushering in a new century,” &c. It's 2019. What century is she talking about?

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren seemed to me the plausible candidates in tonight’s debate. But Warren needs to stop prefacing her responses to questions with So. As for Bill de Blasio's self-presentation as an advocate for working people: LOL, LOL.

Literal cream

“It’s going to be interesting to see how the cream of the crop rises to the top”: a voter interviewed on the PBS NewsHour, commenting on the approaching Democratic debate. I like thinking about the metaphorical cream of the crop turning back into literal cream. And rising.

Related reading
All OCA metaphor posts (Pinboard)

No mistakes

Thinking about the typewriters in a typewriter exhibit, I asked my mom, What did you do to correct mistakes? In the 1950s she was an executive secretary. I was hoping to hear some story of office supplies in pre-Wite-Out days.

“To tell you the truth,” my mom said, “I didn’t make mistakes.” Indeed, she was an ace at stenography and typing, leaving the secretarial pool for more rarefied surroundings early on. No mistakes! And, in case you’re wondering, no harassment.


At an exhibit of typewriters, the typewriters looked like anybody’s typewriters, though they had belonged to Roger Ebert, Hugh Hefner, James Jones, and Carl Sandburg. One surprise: a Bic pen, which looked like anybody’s Bic pen. But it had belonged to Gwendolyn Brooks.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


From Bloomberg:

The Trump administration official in charge of diplomatic protocol plans to resign and isn’t going to Japan for this week’s Group of 20 meetings, where he would have played a sensitive behind-the-scenes role, according to people familiar with the matter.

Sean Lawler, a State Department official whose title is chief of protocol, is departing amid a possible inspector general’s probe into accusations of intimidating staff and carrying a whip in the office, according to one of the people.
A whip! And now I imagine the voice of Richard Cohen: “Still, no one is being whipped and made to work until dead from exhaustion.”

[WWRCS: What would Richard Cohen say?]

Three mistakes

Richard Cohen, writing in The Washington Post, asserts that the “immigrant detention centers” on the southern border are not concentration camps:

The internment centers at the border are bad — granted. People have died in them, some of them children. Sleeping conditions can be harsh, and it was White House policy to separate children from their parents — an unconscionable cruelty so patent that even President Trump backed down. The president himself agreed Sunday that conditions at some centers are “terrible.”

Still, no one is being held for political, ideological or religious reasons. No one is being whipped and made to work until dead from exhaustion. There is no crematorium
— and I’ll stop quoting right there.

Cohen makes three mistakes. One is to insist that a place must match a particular historical instantiation of the concentration camp to be called a concentration camp. A second is to minimize the horror of a present reality by the use of the word still. A third is to use still to introduce the utterly fallacious assertion that “no one is being held for political, ideological or religious reasons.” Of course the people being held on the southern border are being held for political and ideological reasons. They have been conscripted as extras in a theater of cruelty whose purpose is to gratify the inchoate fear and hatred of a racist, xenophobic president’s so-called “base.” The cruelty, as many people have observed, is a feature, not a bug.

The Merriam-Webster definition of concentration camp:
a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard —used especially in reference to camps created by the Nazis in World War II for the internment and persecution of Jews and other prisoners.
And the Oxford English Dictionary definition:
a camp in which large numbers of people, esp. political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labour or to await mass execution.
Either definition is a fair description of our twenty-first-century American “detention centers.” If the best Richard Cohen can do is to say that no one is being whipped, no one is being worked to death, he has chosen to see what is not normal as already normal.

A related post
Masha Dessen on “concentration camp”

[And re: the internment of Japanese-Americans, Cohen says, ”Atrocious, but not a concentration camp.”]


There are many ways to help. Last year I gave money to The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, and now I’m giving again.

The Young Center is too new to have a record at Charity Navigator, but I’ve heard from them just once, in a letter to acknowledge my donation, which makes me think that they don’t devote inordinate funds to further mailings. Their website must be overwhelmed — the only way to donate right now is by check. Fine.

Domestic comedy

“Do we really ‘take in’ exhibits?”

Related reading
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