Saturday, September 21, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, looks rather difficult but might prove less so. (And what might that bode for next Saturday?) Only sixty-four words, with a fourteen- over a fifteen-letter answer in the north, and a fifteen- over a fourteen-letter answer in the south. My favorite long clue: 14-A, fifteen letters, “Noticeably neutral display.” I immediately thought of a song by The Specials.

Other clues I especially liked: 14-D, five letters, “Fare that was rare to air.” 20-D, six letters, “Gang leader on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.” 29-A, ten letters, “Frequent Broadway openings.” And for the news of the weird: 38-D, six letters, “Sir        Grenville Wodehouse.” No wonder he used initials.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, September 20, 2019


Donald Trump just stated that "our nuclear" is in "tippy-top shape."

Messing with the mail

From Time: “The Race to Prepare for a Potential U.S. Exit From the World’s Mail System.”

Merriam-Webster and they

Merriam-Webster explains the inclusion of nonbinary they in its dictionaries:

All new words and meanings that we enter in our dictionaries meet three criteria: meaningful use, sustained use, and widespread use. Nonbinary they has a clear meaning; it’s found in published text, in transcripts, and in general discourse; and its use has been steadily growing over the past decades. English speakers are encountering nonbinary they in social media profiles and in the pronoun stickers applied to conference badges. There’s no doubt that it is an established member of the English language, which means that it belongs in Merriam-Webster’s dictionaries.
The “grammatically conservative” might want to read this short commentary by Geoff Nunberg. The sentence that hit home for me: “It's not a lot to ask — just a small courtesy and sign of respect.”

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest episode of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Who Was the Father of Country Music?,” hosted by our son Ben.

[And if you’re wondering about the comma after the question mark, see The Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.) 6.125.]

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Guess I’m dumb

I am reminded of the student who asked, “Do you think I’d be dumb enough to plagiarize from someone in the same class?” As it turned out, the student had done just that. X wrote a paper and gave it to Y, who used it as the basis for his paper. Then Y gave his paper to Z, who used it as the basis for his paper. I was able to put together the sequence by seeing how the writing worsened from X to Y to Z. You can change words here and there only so many times before things stop making sense.

But notice how Trump projects: not “Do you think I’d be dumb enough to” but “Is anybody dumb enough to.” I’m not dumb. You must be dumb. No puppet, no puppet. You’re the puppet.

Here is a thoughtful Twitter thread from Ned Shugerman, professor at Fordham Law School, on the sequence of events surrounding the whistleblower’s complaint.

My admittedly extreme guess as to “the promise”: “I will argue very strongly for the G8. And if not, they’ll be looking at the G6, that I can tell you.” Other perhaps more likely possibilities, suggested by journalists: a promise to turn over the recently extracted Russian spy, a promise to reopen Russian diplomatic compounds that were used for spying, a promise of better U.S.–Ukraine relations if only Ukraine would reopen its investigation of Hunter Biden.


2:30 p.m.: And now The New York Times reports that the complaint is about more than a single call:
A potentially explosive complaint by a whistle-blower in the intelligence community said to involve President Trump was related to a series of actions that goes beyond any single discussion with a foreign leader, according to interviews on Thursday.

7:21 p.m.: And now The Washington Post has more:
A whistleblower complaint about President Trump made by an intelligence official centers on Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter, which has set off a struggle between Congress and the executive branch.
[Post title with apologies to Glen Campbell and Brian Wilson.]

Weevils and hyphens

[3 1/2″ × 1 1/2″. Click for a larger view.]

I found this ticket in the supermarket, nestled among the sweet potatoes. The sickly green color caught my eye.

The area of Arkansas where these “Sweet Potatoes” were grown and stored appears to be not only “weevil free” but hyphen-free as well. Maybe the weevils ate the hyphens before moving on. Capital Letters were left undisturbed.

Yes, I still say “supermarket,” which here stands for Aldi.

Related posts
Bad hyphens, unhelpful abbreviations : “Every generation hyphenates the way it wants to” : “Fellow-billionaires” : Got hyphens? : The Hammacher Schlemmer crazy making hyphen shortage problem : Living on hyphens : Mr. Hyphen and e-mail : Mr. Hyphen and Mr. Faulkner : One more from Mr. Hyphen : The opposite of user-friendly : Phrasal-adjective punctuation

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Gerber Dime on sale

If your Ace Hardware is anything like mine, the Gerber Dime multi-tool is on clearance there, selling for $10.93 — less than half its list price of $24. The Dime is no longer listed on the Ace website, which makes me think that the clearance is more than local.

I’m a fool, or at least a semi-fool, for a multi-tool. Because you never know when you might be called on to cut a wire or tighten a screw. Be prepared!


Donald Trump has issued thirty-one tweets and retweets in less than three hours this morning, beginning at 4:08 PDT. A record?

Bandy X. Lee’s “translations” of Trump’s tweets are a helpful corrective. Nothing yet for this morning.

From Rock Crystal

Adalbert Stifter. Rock Crystal. 1845. Trans. from the German by Elizabeth Mayer and Marianne Moore (New York: New York Review Books, 2008).

After reading Stifter’s The Bachelors, I suggested Rock Crystal [Bergkristall ] as a candidate for our household’s two-person reading club. All I knew about this novella: the 1945 translation is by a distinguished translator and a great poet, with an introduction by another great poet, reissued by New York Review Books. Sold.

Rock Crystal is an extraordinary piece of storytelling: cozy, eerie, dream-like, fairy-tale-ish. Early on in our reading, Elaine and I came to the same conclusion: the setting is a lot like Schladming. That’s the name of the Austrian town where Elaine taught music in 1980 and 1981. I’ve never been, but Elaine, like Adalbert Stifter, is a good describer.

And lo: it turns out Stifter had a strong connection to Schladming and environs, and that those environs are indeed the setting for Rock Crystal. Schladming even has a street named for the writer: Adalbert-Stifter-Weg. Elaine explains it all in this post.

Early holiday shopping: Rock Crystal would make an excellent Christmas present.

Also from Stifter
An excerpt from The Bachelors

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Not to forget

As the shitshow begins, let’s not forget: Donald Trump told Corey Lewandowski — who was not a member of his administration — to direct Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of the Mueller investigation to interference in future elections and to prohibit inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Got obstruction?

“Coming in hot”

I was getting blood drawn (the yearly doctor’s visit) and the nurse used this expression with reference to an upcoming birthday: “It’s coming in hot!”

I had to ask: is that a midwesternism? A downstate Illinoism? I had never heard it before.

Obligatory sequel: You’ve never heard that before? No. And how long have you lived here? Thirty-four years. And you’ve never? No, never. And where are you from originally? The garden spot of the world, Brooklyn, USA. But really, I just said “Brooklyn, New York.”

The nurse understood “coming in hot” to mean “coming up quickly,” “coming up soon.” She didn’t know where the expression comes from. But she mentioned that she and her co-workers use the expression in a different way when there’s a urine sample waiting to be picked up. You know how there’s a little shelf when you? Yes, I do.

Unlike a birthday, that sample would literally be coming in hot.

[A Quora page suggests that “coming in hot” has a military origin. “The garden spot of the world, Brooklyn, USA”: as per Ed Norton, The Honeymooners. But that expression goes far back.]

Milton’s Shakespeare

From The Guardian : “Almost 400 years after the first folio of Shakespeare was published in 1623, scholars believe they have identified the early owner of one copy of the text, who made hundreds of insightful annotations throughout: John Milton.”

Monday, September 16, 2019

Adventures in hyphenation

Stan Carey poses a question: What would serve as an apt compound modifier for the opposite of user-friendly ?

Related posts
Bad hyphens, unhelpful abbreviations : “Every generation hyphenates the way it wants to” : “Fellow-billionaires” : Got hyphens? : The Hammacher Schlemmer crazy making hyphen shortage problem : Living on hyphens : Mr. Hyphen and e-mail : Mr. Hyphen and Mr. Faulkner : One more from Mr. Hyphen : Phrasal-adjective punctuation

[As I wrote in a comment on Stan’s post, user-unfriendly sounds best to my ear. I hear in it a touch of wit, a quick negation of the more familiar term.]

Ticonderoga sighting

[Since You Went Away (dir. John Cromwell, 1944). Click for a larger view.]

No, Brig Hilton (Shirley Temple) is not gasping at the conductor’s Dixon Ticonderogas, even if they are sporting nifty clips. The conductor is played by Harry Hayden, who also turns up as the counterman in the opening scene of The Killers (dir. Robert Siodmak, 1946). I know that I’m supposed to be thinking about pencils, not diners. But the setting here is a railroad dining car. Speaking of which, the Railroad Dining Car Archives are a wonder to browse. Though they’re short on pencils.

Other Ticonderoga sightings
The Dick Van Dyke Show : Force of Evil : The House on 92nd Street : Lassie : Lassie, again : Perry Mason

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Orange Crate Art at fifteen

Orange Crate Art turns fifteen today. It’s applying for a learner’s permit tomorrow. Wish us luck.

Writing every day, or nearly every day, is a great pleasure to me, whatever the fortunes of “the blogosphere,” whatever the number of hits per post. For me, keeping a blog is a way of fostering a habit of attention, which means fostering a habit of learning, permit or no permit.

Thank you for reading.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper is the work of Lars G. Doubleday, who might be a Bob and Ray character if he were not, in truth, Doug Peterson and Brad Wilber. I thought at first that I was in for another Saturday debacle. See 1-D, five letters, “Confound.” But this puzzle proved to be doable and highly enjoyable.

My starting point was 6-D, seven letters, “Authorities on diamonds,” which gave me most of 6-A, eight letters, “In defiance of warnings, say,” and 18-A, eight letters, “Cooperate.” And between 6-A and 18-A, sat 16-A, eight letters, “Curser of Capulets and Montagues.” My reading of another poet, Geoffrey Hill, gave me 40-A, eight letters, “Holy Week candle-snuffing service.” I took a guess at 4-D, fifteen letters, “Pitch dismissal,” and it turned out to be right. And the parts of the puzzle fell into place, with the southwest corner bringing a final bit of difficulty. A happy solving experience.

Clues I especially liked: 24-A, four letters, “Tip of Italy,” a nice way to make a piece of crosswordese more interesting. 30-A, eight letters, “Frequent I Love Lucy sight.” 55-A, eight letters, “Light pop style.” And for sheer over-the-top idiosyncrasy, 10-D, fifteen letters, “Koi pond filler and filter.” If you say so.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, September 13, 2019


“Apple has announced that macOS 10.14 (Mojave) will be the last version capable of running 32-bit applications. Go64 identifies the apps on your Mac that are still 32-bit so you can plan to update or replace them in the near future.” Go64 is a free app for Mac.

Running Go64 on my Mac turns up a handful of 32-bit apps I’ve been using about as long as I’ve been using a Mac: Free Ruler, the timer Minuteur, and the white- and pink-noise generator Noisy. The last two appear to be abandoned. The same goes for a more recent 32-bit app, the bookmark alphabetizer SafariSort.

A turntable recommendation

“Make sure you have the record player on at night”: I’m still not sure whether Joe Biden was suggesting it’s a good thing or a bad thing to have the record player on at night. This morning I’m leaning toward bad. But if you want to have a record player on at night, or at any other time, I would like to recommend the Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable. Best turntable I’ve ever had.

[I thought that Biden was criticizing parents who might blast music while their children are trying to do homework. But if he was saying that young children need to hear the spoken word, why not suggest that parents talk to their children? Why invoke a record player? I acknowledge that my recommendation moves forward from the record player into the world of “components”: turntable, receiver, speakers.]

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest episode of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Let’s Read Zoom Mail!,” hosted by our son Ben. And by a special guest-host. And featuring our son Ben. You’ll have to watch to understand.

Chicago decades

From The Chicago Manual of Style: the CMOS Shop Talk blog considers names for decades. I remember the semi-facetious “aughts” from a graduate course on the idea of the decade in literary history.

One small instance of the care that goes into revising The Chicago Manual of Style:

Sixteenth edition, 9.34: “Decades are either spelled out (as long as the century is clear) and lowercased or expressed in numerals.”

Seventeenth edition, 9.33: “Decades are either expressed in numerals or spelled out (as long as the century is clear) and lowercased.”

The sentence reads more easily with the shorter element, “expressed in numerals,” first. And switching the elements eliminates the slight glitch in reading that might come with “and lowercased or expressed in numerals.”

Yes, I love The Chicago Manual of Style. Chicago style is far superior to APA and MLA, IMO.

Word of the day: fuliginous

The Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day is fuliginous. It’s a word I immediately associate with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, where it appears in its 2.a. meaning in the story of Barry Loach trying to get a handshake outside Park Street Station.

Other words, other works of lit
Apoplexy, avatar, bandbox, heifer, sanguine, sempiternal : Artificer : Expiate : Ineluctable : Iridescent : Magnifico : Opusculum

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

WTC 2008

I‘ve pretty much kept September 11, 2001 at a distance today. But tonight I’ve been thinking about a visit to the World Trade Center and St. Paul’s Chapel that Elaine and I and made with friends in 2008. I wrote about it in a post that I just reread. It was thinking about the letters and drawings and the banner that got me. No more distance.

WTF’s chief meteorologist at work

The directive to rewrite the weather came from WTF’s chief meteorologist himself. From The Washington Post :

President Trump told his staff that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration needed to correct a tweet that seemed to contradict his statement that Hurricane Dorian posed a significant threat to Alabama as of Sept. 1, in contrast to what the agency’s forecasters were predicting at the time. This led chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to call Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to tell him to fix the issue, senior administration officials said.
A related post
Wilbur Ross at work

Word of the day: dandy roll

In today’s Zippy, Dandyroll Washbasin looks at a steel-belted radial: “Hmm . . . ‘tired’ can mean having steel-belted radials, or getting ready for bed!”

Like a washbasin, a dandy roll is a thing:

a light wire-covered roll that rides on the wet web of paper on a fourdrinier machine to compact the sheet and sometimes impress a watermark.
A fourdrinier is a thing:
a paper machine in which the web of paper is formed on an endless traveling wire screen that passes under a dandy roll, over suction boxes, through presses, and over dryers to the calenders and reels.
A calender is a thing:
a machine for calendering cloth, rubber, or paper by passing it between rollers or plates
To calender is
to press (as cloth, rubber, paper) between rollers or plates in order to make smooth and glossy or glazed or to thin into sheets.
No etymology for dandy roll in the OED or Webster’s Third. The fourdrinier was named for Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, nineteenth-century British papermakers and inventors. Calender comes from the Greek κύλινδρος, “cylinder.” The name Dandyroll Washbasin comes from Bill Griffith’s imagination and knowledge of papermaking.

The Johnston Dandy Company has a website full of dandy rolls and other mighty paper-making machines.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Definitions from Webster’s Third.]

A September 11 mural

The Braves of 9/11, a mural by Eduardo Kobra.

Found via Ephemeral New York.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Robert Frank (1924–2019)

The photographer Robert Frank has died at the age of ninety-four. The New York Times has an obituary.

I think of Frank’s The Americans (1959) as the photographic analogue of William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All (1923). “The pure products of America / go crazy — / mountain folk from Kentucky // or the ribbed north end of / Jersey.”

Bob and Ray’s House of Toast

[From A Night of Two Stars (1984).]

I remember the House of Toast from episodes of Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife. The Backstayges, Calvin Hoogavin, and Pop Beloved were operating a House of Toast. Toast, buttered on the far side or the near side, and shakes. What flavors? Just one. You’ll have to listen to find out.

Also from Bob and Ray
Mary Backstayge marigold seeds : “Puissance without hauteur”

A toast tip

From the manual accompanying our new toaster: “Do not place buttered breads in the toaster, as this could create a fire hazard.”

I daresay that’s not the only reason not to place buttered breads in the toaster.

Also from this manual
“Multiple shade options” : “Two equal halves”

A toast tip

The manual for our new toaster advises: “For your safety and continued enjoyment of this product, always read the instruction book carefully before using.” One tip from its pages: “Before toasting bagels, slice each bagel into two equal halves.”

Not three halves. So that’s how you get the bagel to fit.

Also from this manual
“Multiple shade options”

Monday, September 9, 2019

Wilbur Ross at work

This afternoon The New York Times reports that Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce,

threatened to fire top employees at NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] on Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama.

That threat led to an unusual, unsigned statement later that Friday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration disavowing the office’s own position that Alabama was not at risk.
The Dorian–Alabama story captures so much of what’s wrong with this administration: contempt for truth, contempt for science, contempt for expertise, sycophancy at every level, the use of broad-point Sharpies as writing instruments, and a belief that the autocratic leader must always be proved right. The weather itself must bend to the will of Donald Trump.

Excuse me while I pause to clap fiercely for the leader. You clap too.

Hotel-room interviews

Inside Higher Ed reports that an academic tradition is fading.

I can imagine few other lines of work for which one interviews while sitting on the edge of a hotel-room bed.

Domestic comedy

“We should eat some lunch.”

“Yes, and.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[We had been talking about the rules of improv.]

No deal

One small sign of the degradation of political discourse these days: the media’s unquestioning adoption of the word “deal.” Granted, the word was in use before the current occupant of the White House moved in. I remember the Iran nuclear deal. And well before my time there was a New Deal.

But now all manner of things take on the identity of a “deal.” I am thinking of course of the prospect of a “deal” with the Taliban. Imagine — just try to imagine — talk of a “deal” with an Axis power all those years ago. Such language feels obscene.

Donald Trump’s fixation on making deals, great deals, betrays a mindset that has no room for the deep truth of what it means to be human. Because to be human is, finally, to lose. Every hand is a losing hand; every life, a losing proposition. I side with Ralph Ellison in these matters. In the words of the unnamed narrator of Invisible Man (1952):

Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat.
No deal to get around that.

A related post
“The fact of death, which is the only fact we have”

Sunday, September 8, 2019

“Multiple shade options”

Our new toaster (Cuisinart) has “multiple shade options.” Or as plain-speaking people might say, it toasts light and dark. Like every other working toaster.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Erik Agard, is the most difficult Saturday Stumper I’ve seen. 32-A, fifteen letters, “Unsettling?” Yes, indeed.

If I finish this puzzle, it’s going to be much later today. Because there’s a lawn to mow. And jerk chicken to eat. Things to do, and eat. Lots of things.


5:42 p.m.: Yes, there were lots of things to do. But finishing this puzzle was not one of them. I managed to figure out only a handful of clues. Looking at the solution makes me figuratively scratch my head. 1-D, four letters, “Gaynor, Garland, Streisand,       .” CHER? DION? I have no idea why the answer is what it is and not some other name. 18-A, seven letters, “One writing pointedly.” It’s a bit of a stretch to say that that seven-letter answer is a thing. Most baffling to me: 20-D, nine letters, “Dueling venues.” Maybe I need to spend more time in them to understand.

I was happy to get 14-D, four letters, “IDs often 56% hidden.” A novelty clue for a bit of crosswordese.

Next Saturday is another day.

Friday, September 6, 2019

An Alabama song

WTF’s chief meteorologist: “Alabama was going to be hit very hard, along with Georgia.”

So I thought of a song, Charley Patton’s (unembeddable) “Going to Move to Alabama.” Here is a transcription by Dick Spottswood, from Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues: The Worlds Of Charley Patton (Revenant Records, 2001).

I’m gon’ move to Alabama, I’m gon’ move to Alabama
I’m gon’ move t’ Alabama, to make Georgia be your home

Ah, she long and tall
[The way you like to treat me] makes a pan(t)her squall
I have to move to Alabama, have to move to Alabama
I have to move to Alabama, to make Georgia be your home

I’m gon show you common women, how I feel
Gon’ get me ’nother woman ’fore I leave
You’ll ever move to Alabama, then I will move to Alabama
Then I will move to Alabama, make Georgia be your home

Says, mama got the washboard, my sis got the tub
My brother got the whiskey, an’ mama got the jug
Gon’ move to Alabama, I’m gon’ move to Alabama
I’m gon’ move t’ Alabama, n’ make Georgia be your home

Well, these evil women sho’ make me tired
Got a handful of gimme, mouthful much obliged
You musta been to Alabama, you musta been to Alabama
You musta been to Alabama, to make Georgia be your

Aw, I got a woman, she long and tall
But when she wiggles, she makes this man bawl
She gon’ move to Alabama, have you been to Alabama?
Have you been to Alabama, to make Georgia be your

Say, mama an’ papa both went to walk
Lef’ my sister standing at the waterin’ trough
You haven’ been (to) Lou’siana, have you been to
Have you been to Alabama, to make Georgia be your

My mama told me
Never love a woman like she can’t love you
You, have you been to Alabama, have you been to
Have you been to Alabama, to make Georgia be your

I got up this mornin’, my hat in my han’
Didn’ have (nowhere to roam, had nowhere, man)
I (done been to) to Alabama, have you been to Alabama?
Have you been to Alabama, to make Georgia be your

Charley Patton, guitar and vocal. Henry Sims, violin.
Paramount 13014-B, recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin, October 1929.

The inspiration for this and other tunes: Jim Jackson’s 1927 “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues.” Hurricane Dorian moved to neither Alabama nor Kansas City.

Elaine has posted four versions of another Alabama song.

[Brackets: almost certainly wrong. Parentheses: parts of words, implied words, educated guesses. The brackets and parentheses appear in Spottswood’s transcription.]

Word of the day: loiter

Elaine and I ran into a friend in the library. What brought us there? I kept a straight face and said that we were loitering. Meaning what, exactly?

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that loiter first meant “to idle, waste one's time in idleness.” The word later came to have a more specific meaning: “to linger indolently on the way when sent on an errand or when making a journey; to linger idly about a place; to waste time when engaged in some particular task, to dawdle.” The dictionary notes that the word frequently appears in the legal phrase to loiter with intent, the intent, that is, to commit a felony.

Our only intent was to browse for books and movies. And there was no dawdling or indolent lingering involved. Okay, we weren’t really loitering.

But whence the verb loiter? The OED traces the word to the Middle Dutch loteren, “to wag about (like a loose tooth)” or “to shiver” (like a sail) or “to dawdle, loiter over one’s work.”

And now I wondered: could loiter be related to litter? Those who loiter may be likely to litter, tossing about candy wrappers and cigarette butts, but there’s no connection between the words. The verb litter derives from the noun litter, which the OED traces from the Anglo-Norman litere all the way back to the Latin lectus, meaning “bed.” And the noun’s meanings go from “bed” (the earliest) to the stuff of bedding (“straw, rushes, or the like”) to bedding for animals (with “the straw and dung together”) to straw and other materials used in plaster or thatch to “odds and ends, fragments and leavings lying about, rubbish; a state of confusion or untidiness; a disorderly accumulation of things lying about.” The verb’s earliest meaning: “To furnish (a horse, etc.) with litter or straw for his bed.” The definition of the verb that comes closest to our usual use: “to cover as with litter, to strew with objects scattered in disorder.”

The OED lacks a definition for what we usually talk about when we talk about the verb litter: the discarding of small scraps of packaging or other matter in public places. I thought that might be because the dictionary’s entries for the noun and verb (“first published 1903”) have not been fully updated. (The most recent citation for the verb: 1896.) But Merriam-Webster, too, has no definition for litter that speaks of small scraps discarded in public places. The OED does have a relevant definition for littering: “the action of throwing or dropping litter,” with the earliest citation from 1960.

What are the limits of litter? To leave, say, a television or a piece of furniture on the sidewalk is not to litter. To flick ashes on the sidewalk is not to litter. But to drop something that belongs in a wastebasket — say, a losing lottery ticket — is.

I will now disappear before someone suspects me of loitering.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest episode of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Ted Kennedy and the Busing Crisis,” hosted by our son Ben.

“The jokes of the Tartars
and the salads of the Inca”

Introducing James Wilde, naturalist and explorer. Long sentence, short sentence, to great effect.

Esi Edugyan, Washington Black (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018).

Also from this novel
Beginning to draw

[I know that this description doesn’t fit Sir Ian McKellen. But I still think he’d make a good James Wilde.]

Helping the Bahamas

The New York Times has a list of organizations accepting donations.

More maps

In his ongoing effort to insist that Hurricane Dorian was forecast to hit Alabama, Donald Trump tweeted a grainy image of another hurricane map. This map appears to be what’s called a spaghetti plot, perhaps with additional lines made with ballpoint pens. It’s impossible to tell.

The important point is that one has to know how to read such a map for the map to be meaningful. The Weather Channel has this to say about spaghetti plots: “spaghetti plots do not show where impacts will occur.” And:

Although most models show possible impacts, to present many models succinctly on a single chart, meteorologists generally produce spaghetti plots that usually only show the “where” and a loose representation of “when” for tropical systems.
These plots do not speak to whether a storm will bring rainfall, hurricane-force winds, surge, or other data; they just contain information about the center of a storm’s future track.
I don’t know how to read spaghetti plots, but I know that I don’t know how, and I know that there are people who do.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Alabama loop

As reported by Axios and Gizmodo: Donald Trump displayed a doctored map to support his false claim that Alabama is in the path of Hurricane Dorian. A black (Sharpie-made?) loop reaching into Alabama has been added to the legitimate map. In the spirit of Nineteen Eighty-Four: “Hurricane Dorian has always been at war with Alabama.”


September 5: Here’s the pre-Sharpie map.

Beginning to draw

Esi Edugyan, Washington Black (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018).

Our son Ben recommended this novel to us. (Thank you, Ben!) Washington Black draws upon slave narratives, the Bildungsroman, magical realism, Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison to create a story of self-discovery, of scientific discovery, of friendship and the limits of friendship. George Washington Black, Wash, the novel’s narrator, begins life as an enslaved child on a plantation in Barbados. Christopher Wilde, Titch, inventor and naturalist, is the plantation owner’s brother.

For me, the novel’s one weakness is its reliance upon figures of speech that seem out of place in a nineteenth-century narrative: “like a thread of music,” “like thread on the landscape,” “like a thread of poison poured into a well,” And so on. Those figures will just disappear when Washington Black is adapted for television.

It is, by the way, great fun to read a novel, say it should become a movie, and then learn that it will. Get me Sir Ian McKellen’s agent on the phone. I see McKellen as Titch’s father James.


11:05 a.m.: Elaine mentioned “orange.” How did I forget “orange”? “The weak orange light,” “the orange light of the lantern,” “a low orange glow,” “a smoky orange warmth.” And so on. Here’s where an editor could point out that such repetitions might weaken the prose by distracting the reader.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Long-distance access codes

My mom was puzzled: she usually uses a cell phone, and when she tried to call us on her landline she heard a recorded message telling her that she needed a long-distance access code. Strange, especially because she can use her landline to call other numbers that require an area code, but not our number.

Explanation: the other numbers are neither local nor long-distance. They’re “regional.”

But what’s a long-distance access code? The Internets, too, have asked this question. I searched the phone company’s website — no answer.

So I volunteered to call the phone company in search of an access code. The person I spoke with had no idea what I was asking about. But while on hold I found a useful page: Long-distance carrier identification code search. It turns out that long-distance access codes are seven digits long and begin with “101.” You can search by company for an appropriate code.

An unlimited long-distance calling plan for a landline makes no economic sense, so it’s good to know that it’s still possible, when necessary, to make a one-off landline call with an access code. And it’s telling, I think, that this much-sought-after information is missing from the phone company’s website. Just sign up for the unlimited plan, right?

[“The phone company”: yes, straight out of the dowdy world.]

From A.H. Sidgwick

Elaine and I were both struck by this passage, describing the look and feel of clothes and gear during and after a several-days walk:

Boots have grown limp: clothes have settled into natural skin-like rumples: the stick is warm and smooth to our touch: the map slips easily in and out of the pocket, lucubrated by dog’s-ears: every article in the knapsack has found its natural place, and the whole has settled on to our shoulders as its home. The equipment is no longer an external armour of which we are conscious: it is part of ourselves that has come through the combat with us, and is indissolubly linked with its memories. At the start this coat was a glorious thing to face the world in: now it is merely an outer skin. At the start this stick was mine: now it is myself.

When it is all over the coat will go back to the cupboard and the curved suspensor, and the shirts and stockings will go to the wash, to resume conventional form and texture, and take their place in the humdrum world. But the stick will stand in the corner unchanged, with mellowed memories of the miles we went together, with every dent upon it recalling the austerities of the high hills, and every tear in its bark reminding me of the rocks of the Gable and Bowfell. And in the darkest hours of urban depression I will sometimes take out that dog’s-eared map and dream awhile of more spacious days; and perhaps a dried blade of grass will fall out of it to remind me that once I was a free man on the hills, and sang the Seventh Symphony to the sheep on Wetherlam.

A.H. Sidgwick, “Walking Equipment,” in Walking Essays (London: Edward Arnold, 1912).
We found a shorter, carelessly transcribed version of this passage in Beneath My Feet: Writers on Walking, ed. Duncan Minshull (Cumbria: Notting Hill Editions, 2018). That led us to the original, available from the Internet Archive.

Here is a brief biography of Arthur Hugh Sidgwick (1882–1917). And here is what Elaine has written about this passage.

Related reading
All OCA walking posts (Pinboard)

[“Curved suspensor”: my guess is a hanger. The Gable, Bowfell, Wetherlam: hills in England’s Lake District.]

Monday, September 2, 2019

“Fountain pen nostalgia”

[“Ink Piece.” Zippy, September 2, 2019.]

In today’s Zippy, Zippy and Griffy have been clicking their Bics. “What did people click before th’ Bic?” Zippy wants to know. And Griffy begins to explain fountain pens.

The Clic and Clic Stic are indeed Bic pens. I think though that flick, not click, is, or was, the more common (and vaguely lewd) rhyming verb — with Bic lighters, not pens.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Nancy Valiant

[Nancy, September 2, 2019.]

In today’s Nancy, Olivia Jaimes explains that because it’s Labor Day, her editors have let her “take it easy” and create a strip in her “natural style.” I love it. Today’s strip tips the hat to both Prince Valiant and Ernie Bushmiller: Bushmiller had a number of strips in which he professed to be coasting — on New Year’s Day, 1949, for instance, he drew Nancy in a heavy snowstorm (white panel), Sluggo in a dark room (black panel), and Nancy and Sluggo in a dense fog (gray panel).

That’s an ice-cream cone, end bitten off, in Nancy’s hands. Her ice cream fell to the ground before today’s strip began.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Labor Day

[“Locomotive lubrication chart in the laboratory of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. The laboratory assistant in foreground is working at a precision balance.” Photograph by Jack Delano. Chicago, Illinois, December 1942. From the Library of Congress Flickr pages. Click for a larger view.]

Sunday, September 1, 2019

“What next?”

A young man prepares for a journey:

Adalbert Stifter, The Bachelors. 1850. Trans. from the German by David Bryer (London: Pushkin Press, 2008).

That dog is just one of the elements in this strange short novel that remind me of a silent movie. Moving from village life to a monastery on a remote island, The Bachelors is a Bildungsroman, a celebration of sublime nature, a story full of sentimentality and eerie melodrama. I can honestly say that I’ve never read anything like it. Out of print and highly recommended.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The war on spelling

“The president’s supporters don’t mind his linguistic slips, but lexicographers and grammarians worry about the permanent effect on language”: Bryan Garner and others offer their thoughts about the war on spelling (The New York Times).

But no one quoted in this piece mentions what seems to me to be obvious: that Donald Trump’s errors in spelling, grammar, and syntax suggest a lifetime as, to borrow Kanye West’s self-characterization, “a proud non-reader of books.”

Related posts
Donald Trump’s spelling : “Tapps” : When a “learning style” becomes an ignorance style

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Lester Ruff, looked difficult at first. I started with 50-A, seven letters, “Amadeus playwright,” which gave me a handful of words. And then I found myself reading clues that baffled: 19-A, six letters, “Tree-trunk descriptor”? 48-A, eight letters, “Eisenhower’s favorite author”? 66-A, five letters, “Word related to itself spelled backwards”? But a word here, a word there, and the puzzle proved to be not especially difficult, not especially rough. (Lester Ruff = less rough, at least usually.)

Three clues that I especially liked: 28-D, ten letters, “Collapsible?” 47-D, six letters, “Holler at home.” 64-A, eleven letters, “Makes waiters angry.” I don’t think I’ve heard the answer for that last clue since high school.

One awful pun — unless there’s a meaning I’ve missed: 3-D, four letters, “Man’s first name?” Man, that’s rough.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Valerie Harper (1939-2019)

The actress Valerie Harper, best known as the character Rhoda Morgenstern in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, has died at the age of eighty. The New York Times has an obituary.

I like what Harper is quoted as saying about Rhoda: “Rhoda, like most of us, was a victorious loser.”

Friday, August 30, 2019


My representative in Congress, John Shimkus (R, Illinois-15), has announced that he will not seek reelection. This is the same John Shimkus who has declared that we don’t need to worry about rising sea levels (because of a divine promise not to destroy the world with a flood), who has unwittingly — and favorably! — compared a Republican gubernatorial candidate to Benito Mussolini, who has wondered whether prenatal care should be part of the cost of men’s health insurance, who has called the separation of children from parents at the border an “unfortunate result” of a “broken immigration system,” whose response to a war of tariffs is to say “I’m just a legislator,” whose sole response to a mass shooting is to tweet that “Violence and hate are never the answer,” who fails to show up for debates, and who refuses to meet his constituents in town halls and advises fellow Republican members of Congress to do the same.

Good fucking riddance.

Related reading
All OCA John Shimkus posts

[If you’re reading in a reader, you’ll most likely not see the point of the post title. There’s a line through the name: Shimkus.]

“Who takes what anyone says seriously anyway?”

His Grace the Imperial Liege-Count Leinsdorf is troubled by recent developments in the Parallel Campaign, the public-relations project to celebrate Austria and the Emperor Franz Joseph:

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

This dark passage is the last excerpt from The Man Without Qualities I’m posting. Now that our household has read what was published of the unfinished novel, we have twenty further chapters (withdrawn in galleys) and various drafts and fragments to go. Worth it? Yes.

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

“What’s an ethos?”

General Stumm von Bordwehr just struggled with the idea of will. Now it’s ethos:

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

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)


We last saw General Stumm von Bordwehr trying to instill order into the discussion of great ideas. He’s still struggling:

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

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

Zippy Meadows

Audrey Meadows appears in today’s Zippy. Zippy thinks that her face says “Rage on, Ralph, nothing you do can penetrate my kabuki mask.” Exactly.

Related reading
All OCA Honeymooners posts : Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest episode of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Turn In, Burn In,” hosted by our son Ben. The episode is devoted to film footage of a 1967 anti-draft protest at Boston Common and Arlington Street Church. Bonus: a Steenbeck machine.

“Apparition in Agathe’s head!”

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

The mere ten pages of Proust that Musil professed to have read must have included the madeleine moment of Swann’s Way. When Proust’s narrator recognizes the taste of madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea, the world of his childhood appears before him; “all of Combray and its surroundings” emerges, “town and gardens alike,” from his cup. Musil offers a grimly comic version: Emma Bovary, this is your life!

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

[Rudolfsgymnasium: not a typo. Quotations from Swann’s Way from Lydia Davis’s translation (New York: Viking, 2002).]

Found in an old pocket notebook

Two details from a talk by Eva Kor:

She outwitted Josef Mengele by taking the thermometer from under her arm to reduce her temperature, gradually, over three weeks.

Near the end of the war, she looked across a frozen river at a girl with braids and a schoolbag.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A compliment

“I see the two of you walking all the time. You both slimmed up tremendous.”

“Thank you!”

We are conspicuous in our walking, because not enough people walk.

“Quantities of genius”

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

See also William Carlos Williams and Wallace Shawn on powders, pencils, mountains, and cigars. And this hardware store, this drugstore, and this other drugstore. Density!

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

A guide to the cigarettes
of Out of the Past

Elaine and I watched Out of the Past (dir. Jacques Tourneur, 1947) a few nights ago and were astonished by the number of cigarettes smoked in the course of the film. Here Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) offers a cigarette to Jeff Markham (Robert Mitchum):


The story goes that Mitchum, who was already absent-mindedly smoking, saved the take with quick thinking. (See this moment at YouTube). A later moment in the film seems to be a premeditated joke, when Jeff pauses after knocking out a nightclub manager to fire up the manager’s lighter and light a cigarette from the manager’s desk before fleeing.

Here, after careful review, is a guide to the cigarettes of Out of the Past:

Joe smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Fisher smokes a cigarette. Joe smokes a cigarette. (“Smoke a cigarette, Joe,” Whit says.) Whit smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. A man in a nightclub smokes a cigarette. A guide to Acapulco smokes a cigarette. Kathie smokes a cigarette. Kathie smokes a cigarette. Someone at a roulette table smokes a cigarette. Whit smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Kathie smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Whit smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Meta smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. A cabbie smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes the cabbie’s cigarette. (“Here, you finish it,” the cabbie says.) Kathie smokes a cigarette. Joe smokes a cigarette. Club manager attempts to light cigar. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Whit’s gambling crony smokes a cigarette. A man outside the municipal building smokes a cigarette. Another man outside the municipal building smokes a cigarette. A man talking with Jim smokes a cigarette. Jim smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jim smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette.

Thus we have thirty-eight cigarettes and thirty-nine acts of cigarette smoking (via the shared cigarette) in the film’s ninety-seven minutes, or roughly one cigarette every two-and-a-half minutes. The thirty-nine smokes! And there’s one attempted cigar. Jeff smokes seventeen of the cigarettes. Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) is a distant second with four. Whit and Joe Stefanos (Paul Valentine) smoke three apiece. The film has a small non-smoking section, with The Kid (Dickie Moore), Ann Miller (Virginia Huston), Ann’s parents, and Leonard Eels (Ken Niles).

I don’t mean to make light of smoking, which killed Robert Mitchum. But I think that cigarette consumption in this film serves to quietly spoof the conventions of film noir. The Whit-and-Jeff exchange, the lighter-and-cigarette bit, and the smoking talk (“Smoke a cigarette, Joe”; “Here, you finish it”) all point in that direction. There’s also a contrarian touch: Jeff never smokes when he’s sitting alone and drinking. One more detail: on a return trip to the nightclub manager’s office, Jeff tosses a still-lit cigarette on the rug, and a thug rushes to grind it out. Damn those cigarettes.

Related posts
An Out of the Past exchange name : Dueling chin dimples (Douglas and Mitchum)

An EXchange name sighting

[Out of the Past (dir. Jacques Tourneur, 1947). Click for a larger view.]

To my eye this composition looks like a Charles Sheeler painting. But it’s not really a composition at all. That cab has already pulled away from the curb.

TUxedo was indeed a San Francisco exchange, as telephone number-cards attest.

More EXchange names on screen
Act of Violence : The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Armored Car Robbery : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : The Blue Dahlia : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : The Brasher Doubloon : Chinatown : The Dark Corner : Dark Passage : Deception : Deux hommes dans Manhattan : Dick Tracy’s Deception : Down Three Dark Streets : Dream House : East Side, West Side : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Modern Marvels : Murder by Contract : Murder, My Sweet : My Week with Marilyn : Naked City (1) : Naked City (2) : Naked City (3) : Naked City (4) : Naked City (5) : Naked City (6) : Naked City (7) : Nightfall : Nightmare Alley : Perry Mason : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Side Street : Stage Fright : Sweet Smell of Success : Tension : This Gun for Hire : Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Monday, August 26, 2019

Eva Brann on teaching

Eva Brann has been teaching the Great Books curriculum at St John’s College since 1957. I have learned much from her Homeric Moments (2002) and thus picked up Open Secrets/Inward Reflections (2004), the first of her two books of aphorisms and observations.

I’ve found less to admire in this book. At 435 pages, Open Secrets/Inward Reflections is exhausting in its repetitiveness and its willingness to go on; a book a third of this one’s length would be more appealing. And Brann’s perspective is often deeply uncongenial to me: she is suspicious of modernity and youthful protest; she thinks that “ethnicity” gives a person a “specimen look” that disappears when one becomes “American”; she condemns shyness as pathology or a sign of excessive self-regard. What?! Reading this book reminds me, too often, of the unpleasant experience of listening to someone given to making pronouncements, cheerfully, endlessly.

But I’m glad that I stuck around for Brann’s thoughts on education. It’s there that I feel I’m in the company of a kindred spirit — meaning not someone I agree with but someone I can admire and learn from. Here are four samples of Brann on education:

I think of myself — as do my colleagues — neither as a professor nor a scholar, nor even as a teacher, but as one of a company of curators of a community of learning.

A community of learning is people together in one place talking to each other about that which has gone out of time and beyond place.

What is good teaching? Not a performance, though one certainly has a strenuous sense of “being on”; not a broadcast, though where there is a classroom of students one can’t help now and then talking to the air between them. The teacher’s problem then is how to talk with students rather than to them and how to address each student rather than all. But that’s the least of it; listening to them is the real art.

There is an almost voluptuous surrender in the narrow specialization of academics. Some professions are so engrossing or demanding that an exchange of breadth for depth is required. But that a teacher should live with a willfully incomplete humanity? For the mastery of what? For preeminence over whom?

Open Secrets/Inward Prospects: Reflections on World and Soul (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2004).
See also Michael Oakeshott on education as emancipation from “the immediate contingencies of place and time of birth” and Carl Cederström and Michael Marinetto on micro-megalomaniacs in academia. And I still stand by what I wrote in this post: The gold standard, haircuts, and everyone else.

[Brann’s other book of aphorisms and observations is Doublethink/Doubletalk: Naturalizing Second Thoughts And Twofold Speech (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2016).]

“An infinitely interwoven surface”

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

Not an “orderly sequence of facts” but “an infinitely interwoven surface”: Musil’s novel itself.

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Today’s Nancy

Today’s Nancy, by Olivia Jaimes, is a delight, from the title panel(s) to Aunt Fritzi’s frown.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Recently updated

Today’s Saturday Stumper With some alternative clues.

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Bruce Sutphin and Erik Agard, seems to me best characterized by a word I saw in another recent crossword: UNFUN. Not because it took me an hour and four minutes to finish, but because too many clues seemed strained or dubious in their attempts to be stumpy or clever. For instance, 10-Down, four letters, “Upper-level arrangement.” Or 17-A, six letters, “How some ice cream is made.” Or 22-D, five letters, “Heavy lifting?” Or 52-D, “Roast beef.” Or 61-A, eight letters, “V sign in a selection process.” No, no, no, no, and no.

Not everything here was a no. Three clues I especially liked: 13-D, nine letters, “Proposal phrase.” 29-D, nine letters, “One not called.” 36-D, eight letters, “Smooth pass.” Even this last one though feels a bit strained.

No spoilers: the answers, and the explanations for my no votes, are in the comments.


10:55 a.m.: I tried to come up with plausible alternative clues:

10-D: “Head arrangement.” Or, “It’s offered at a head shop.”

17-A: “A typo, believe it or not.”

22-D: “It starts as a sneeze.” Yes, I’m trying for stumpy.

52-D: “Youthful offense.”

61-A: “Rock hater.” Or, “Snippy sort.”

I wouldn’t claim that these clues are particularly good, but I think they’re better than the ones that came with the puzzle.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Why go?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article (behind the paywall, natch) on the job prospects of doctoral students in English at Columbia University. The prospects are not good: in the last academic year, one Columbia student found a tenure-track position. And new students continue to enter the doctoral program — nineteen this academic year.

Alan Stewart, chair of Columbia’s English and comp-lit department, is paraphrased in the article:

Professors have to be honest from the minute students arrive on campus, or even the minute they turn up on visiting day, about the fact that this very likely won’t turn into a tenure-track job after six years, Stewart said.
I’d revise that: professors have to be honest from the minute undergrads begin talking about the dream of becoming a professor — a dream with less and less chance of realization. And why wait for students to show up to tell them how bleak the prospects are? And why have a “visiting day” if the prospects are so bleak?

And then there’s this:
The department will spend this year developing a course that will directly introduce graduate students to careers outside of academe, Stewart said. Faculty members are looking into bringing people to campus who have been part of its graduate program in the past, who currently work outside of academe, he said. The department wants to emphasize internships and help students spend summers working in galleries or museums and perhaps “find where else they might be happy.”
But here’s the thing: if you’re looking for a career outside academia, devoting five or six or more years to the pursuit of a doctoral degree in English is neither necessary nor wise. And to the best of my knowledge, those often-touted gallery and museum positions are typically the stuff of personal connections within ultra-privileged circles.

I’ll quote something I wrote in a previous post on these matters:
The very telos of doctoral study in the humanities is a life of teaching and scholarship on the tenure-track. That’s what grad school is supposed to be for.
If a tenure-track position is not likely to be in the offing, why go? So that senior professors can run graduate seminars, while you, a student in those seminars, teach the freshmen? There are better ways to be happy.

I’m all out of rhetorical questions, so I’ll link to a post that describes my fortunate stumble into a tenure-track position: Fluke life. Talk about contingency.


Apropos the mad king’s most recent Twitter decrees: the vice president and Cabinet are hereby ordered to invoke the 25th Amendment.

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

The boy on the right — who knows? But the woman on the left — do you recognize her? I knew her voice right away, but couldn’t match it to a person. Which makes me think that someone else will figure this one out in no time at all. Leave your best guess in the comments, and the glory may be yours.


11:48 a.m.: The answer is now in the comments.

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

[Garner’s Modern English Usage notes that “support for actress seems to be eroding.” I’ll use actor.]

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest episode of WGBH’s The Rewind, “I Met Susan B. Anthony,” hosted by our son Ben.

Strange near-synchronicity: the Dark Passage streetcar was manufactured in 1891. Florence H. Luscomb heard Susan B. Anthony speak in 1892.

Recently updated

Dark Passage streetcar Now with a date of manufacture.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Spider, short-order cook

I went looking for short-order cooks and found Spider, a short film by Gary Anderson:

Spider was Ken Osgood, seen here at Paul’s Diner in Laconia, New Hampshire. Osgood was the subject of a 2007 newspaper article about Laconia’s diner culture. He died in 2012.

If anyone can date this film with more than a guess, I’d like to know.

Dark Passage streetcar

J.D. Lowe wondered what kind of streetcar Harry’s Wagon might have been. That made me want to look at Dark Passage (dir. Delmar Daves, 1947) again to see the streetcar that Vincent Parry/Allan Linnell (Humphrey Bogart) rides. Here it is, turning around at the intersection of Powell and Market. There’s more on this streetcar ride at Reel SF.

[Click any image for a larger view.]

How I’d like to step off that streetcar and into Owl Drug to pick up some shave cream and dentifrice.


August 23: J.D. Lowe identifies no. 520 as a streetcar manufactured in 1891.

More from Dark Passage
GReystone 3-1311 : Harry’s Wagon

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Larry Taylor (1942–2019)

The bass guitarist Larry Taylor has died at the age of seventy-seven. Billboard has an obituary. Larry played with musicians as various as Jerry Lee Lewis, the Monkees, and Tom Waits, but he is best known for his long tenure with Canned Heat.

I’ve been a Canned Heat fan since 1968 or so. In 2010 my son Ben and I went to hear the band in Effingham, Illinois. Story and photographs in this post. Ben was a good sport. I was in bliss, getting to meet and talk with Larry and Canned Heat’s long-serving, almost-only drummer, Fito de la Parra.

Here’s Canned Heat at Woodstock: Bob Hite, Alan Wilson (Gibson Les Paul), Harvey Mandel (Fender Stratocaster), Larry Taylor, and Fito de la Parra, doing “A Change Is Gonna Come,” with Larry often front and center. This incomplete version is the only version available online. There’s a story about how the guy who bums the cigarette got on stage, but I don’t know if it’s true and won’t recount it.

“Now in order to have a good boogie, you gotta have a bottom. And on that bottom, babies, we got Mister Larry Taylor, alias ‘The Mole’”: thus spake Bob “The Bear” Hite, on the 1968 Canned Heat recording “Fried Hockey Boogie.” Larry’s death is a major loss to music.

Related reading
All OCA Canned Heat posts (Pinboard)

[Corrections to the Billboard obituary: Larry and Fito were on board very early on, but neither was a founding member of Canned Heat.]

The present King of Greenland

This reality-television show, now in its third season, is going off the rails.

[Post title with apologies to Bertrand Russell.]

Word of the day: Nowheresville

I don’t know how long the link will last, but the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day today is Nowheresville: “a largely unknown or uninteresting place, esp. a small, rural town; (also figurative) obscurity, insignificance, limbo; = Nowhereville n.”

The dictionary’s first citation is from 1917. A 1966 citation that caught my attention, from Time: “Sitting contentedly on the banks of the Illinois river in the very heartland of America, Peoria has for years been the butt of jokes, the gagman’s tag for Nowheresville.” Excuse me: Peoria is the second largest city in central Illinois (after Springfield). Nowheresville my eye.

You can subscribe to the OED Word of the Day from this page.

Harry’s Wagon

I like this diner, as seen in Dark Passage (dir. Delmar Daves, 1947). Harry’s Wagon was a genuine diner, at 1921 Post Street, San Francisco. Reel SF has the details.

[Click any image for a larger view.]

Vincent Parry/Allan Linnell (Humphrey Bogart) orders ham-and-eggs and coffee from the genial counterman (Tom Fadden). If it weren’t so early, or so late, the Hot Baked Ham might be tempting: Potatoes - Salad - Drink & Desert.

[“How’ll you have the eggs?” “Easy.” “Easy does it.”]

But that guy at the other end of the car? (That’s him in the first of these images.) He’s not just some guy. He’s a police detective (Douglas Kennedy), and that’s going to mean trouble.

Note the time: 4:45 a.m., and Harry’s Wagon is open for business.

[There’s never a conversation about how to spell Parry’s new name. In David Goodis’s 1946 novel it’s as I’ve spelled it here.]

An EXchange name sighting

[Dark Passage (dir. Delmar Daves, 1947). Click for a larger view.]

Dark Passage was filmed in part in San Francisco. According to a contributor to the Telephone Exchange Name Project, GReystone, seen on the cab’s hood, was indeed a San Francisco exchange name.

More EXchange names on screen
Act of Violence : The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Armored Car Robbery : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : The Blue Dahlia : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : The Brasher Doubloon : Chinatown : The Dark Corner : Deception : Deux hommes dans Manhattan : Dick Tracy’s Deception : Down Three Dark Streets : Dream House : East Side, West Side : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Modern Marvels : Murder by Contract : Murder, My Sweet : My Week with Marilyn : Naked City (1) : Naked City (2) : Naked City (3) : Naked City (4) : Naked City (5) : Naked City (6) : Naked City (7) : Nightfall : Nightmare Alley : Perry Mason : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Side Street : Stage Fright : Sweet Smell of Success : Tension : This Gun for Hire : Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?