Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Object vs. subject

I’m impressed by William Taylor’s distinction between Ukraine as object (a nation to be exploited, manipulated) and Ukraine as subject (a nation seeking to exercise agency, autonomy).

Everything George Kent and Ambassador Taylor have said this morning is a rebuke to the clownish lies and obfuscations of those seeking to defend Donald Trump. High seriousness is winning the day here.

NYT commentary

The New York Times has a running commentary on today’s impeachment hearing, with eight reporters. Very helpful.

[But so far: no mention of George Kent’s dangerously uncapped Nalgene water bottle.]

Gods and mud

I was in a colleague’s house, standing in the kitchen next to a salad bar where you weighed your plate to determine how much to pay. Then I walked downstairs to an event sponsored by my department. The gist of it: each participant, faculty member or student, chose the identity of a god and rolled around on a floor full of mud. Jesus, predictably, was already taken. “What about the Father and the Holy Spirit?” I asked. “Are they still available? Because it’s one God in three Persons. Write this down: A question from Thomas Aquinas.” I stripped to my T-shirt and underwear but couldn’t bring myself to roll in the mud, so I walked back upstairs to dress. I had two or three shirts to choose from. A friend from high school was standing next to the refrigerator. “We should really try to stay more in touch,” I said.

This is the seventeenth work-related dream I’ve had since retiring, and the first about a service activity. The others have been about teaching: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15, 16.

[Playing god and rolling in the mud might both be considered elements of academic life. In waking life I did neither.]

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

From: Stephen Miller

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch is examining leaked e-mails between Stephen Miller and Breitbart News. First up, a look at Miller’s source materials:

That source material, as laid out in his emails to Breitbart, includes white nationalist websites, a “white genocide”-themed novel in which Indian men rape white women, xenophobic conspiracy theories and eugenics-era immigration laws that Adolf Hitler lauded in Mein Kampf.
Why am I not surprised?

Twelve movies

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

All the King’s Men (dir. Robert Rossen, 1949). From Robert Penn Warren’s novel: the rise and fall of populist politician Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford), whose idealism gives way to corruption and the general destruction of those around him. (Everything Stark touches dies, as Rick Wilson might say.) The parallels to a certain presidential career are eerie, as Stark throws away a written speech in favor of improvisation, rouses “the people,” and merges himself with them: “Remember, it’s not I who have won, but you.” Alas, the hope in the film’s final moments does not ring true. ★★★


The Spider Woman (dir. Roy William Neill, 1943). The real mystery with this Sherlock Holmes film is how it got to the top of our Netflix queue. The print we watched gives the date as MCMXVIII — 1918! — which is the first of many problems, large and small. The premise is beyond farfetched, and Holmes (Basil Rathbone) is a lucky bumbler in solving the case. A touch of racism and several dashes of misogyny put a damper on what fun there is, which comes from seeing Rathbone is several disguises. ★★


Produced by Val Lewton (via the Criterion Channel)

The Seventh Victim (dir. Mark Robson, 1943). One of the strangest films I’ve seen. A young woman (Kim Hunter) leaves a religious boarding school to search for her only relation, an older sister who’s gone missing (Jean Brooks), and the search leads to a small group of Greenwich Village Satanists. The rewards of the film are many — unforgettably eerie images (the door to apartment no. 7, the trio on the subway, the shower, the empty streets of an unreal city), a vague same-sex subtext, the mysterious next-door neighbor Mimi, a failed poet in a garret, the improbable presence of Hugh Beaumont — and they more than make up for a sometimes incomprehensible plot. The previous sentence is long enough to count as two, but here’s a fourth. ★★★★

[Did this shower scene influence Hitchcock?]

The Ghost Ship (dir. Mark Robson, 1943). Low-budget, for sure, but stylishly filmed and engagingly weird. A young man (Russell Wade) takes a position as third officer on a merchant ship, where he finds himself serving under an autocratic captain (Richard Dix) who appears — appears — to be murderously out of his mind. But no one else sees it — or almost no one. With deep shadows, strong suspense, a brutal knife fight, and the unnerving presence of Skelton Knaggs. ★★★★

Bedlam (dir. Mark Robson, 1946). A plucky young woman (Anna Lee) seeking to improve conditions at St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum (Bedlam) ends up in indefinite detention there, under the eye of the menacing Master Sims (Boris Karloff). Not as compelling as The Ghost Ship or The Seventh Victim, but vaguely literary, with overtones of Poe and explicit references to Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress. And the first glimpse of Bedlam’s interior suggests a scene out of Dante’s hell. Look for Ellen Corby, Billy House (the druggist Mr. Potter in The Stranger), Skelton Knaggs, and Ian Wolfe. ★★★


Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World (dir. Shirley Clarke, 1963). A portrait of the artist as an old man, an amateur farmer, and homespun entertainer. Invaluable, of course, as a portrait of Frost nearing the end of his life, muttering and puttering in his writing cabin (in what looks like rural squalor), joking with John F. Kennedy, and charming audiences of college women. But the film leaves untouched the darkness and sorrow of Frost’s life. And that of course is just as the poet must have wanted it. ★★


Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (dir. Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, 2019). A portrait of the artist as a fierce, witty sage and storyteller. The best moments come from Morrison herself, speaking to the camera about her life and work — I wish there were even more of her and less praise from the large supporting cast. Farah Griffin and Fran Lebowitz are the bright lights in that cast, commenting on Morrison as writer and friend. A second wish: more discussion of the distinctive qualities and complexities of Morrison’s fiction, as hinted at in brief glimpses of pencilled pages working out genealogy and narrative structure in Beloved. ★★★


Derrida (dir. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman, 2002). I watched with a mixture of curiosity and dread, as one who was once deeply into “theory” before finding my way out. We see Jacques Derrida doing everyday things (looking for keys, getting a haircut, eating potato chips), sparring with the filmmakers over their questions (some of which he refuses to answer), and making nonsensical pronouncements: there are two futures, one predictable, the other not; the human eye doesn’t age or change (tell that to someone with macular degeneration); a biography fixes the sense of someone’s life for centuries (example?). How revealing to see Derrida trotting out the same distinction between what and who in a discussion of romantic love and a discussion of forgiveness and reconciliation. I see here not a philosopher but a rhetorician with a designer-knockoff bag of tricks. ★★


Detour (dir. Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945). Oh contingency, understood here as “fate, or some mysterious force,” which “can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.” I love this film’s thrifty minimalism: bandstand + tables + candles = nightclub, street sign + fog = city, darkness = the open road. Doomed Al (Tom Neal) and vicious Vera (Ann Savage) are joined till death do them part, as, in a different way, are Al and Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald). A twinning detail I never noticed before: the matching fedoras. ★★★★


Following (dir. Christopher Nolan, 1998). It’s something like a contemporary Detour — a short, low-budget noir — but here the small budget makes Detour look like a major studio production. A tricky mystery, with a young would-be writer who follows strangers in search of inspiration for his fiction and falls into a life of crime. Like Nolan’s Memento, Following presents a non-linear narrative, with visual cues that help the viewer put the pieces of the story together. And then there’s an extra twist that no one will see coming. ★★★★


Zazie dans le Métro (dir. Louis Malle, 1960). The premise: a ten-year-old girl is left with her uncle for a weekend. Wanting to find an open Métro station (there’s a strike on), she breaks free, sort of, and anarchy in various forms ensues on the streets of Paris. It’s all fun and jokes and tricks and car chases, but the fun gets to be exhausting, so that the movie feels much longer than its eighty-nine minutes. I suspect that Zazie influenced the tiresome lunacy of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the energizing lunacy of A Hard Day’s Night. ★★★

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2018). Six stories of the old west: a singing cowboy, a robber and rustler, a traveling show, a prospector, a young woman traveling with a wagon train, and a mysterious carriage ride. Everything here moves west — in other words, toward death, in ways that are comic, poignant, stupid, and inevitably surprising. A great cast (Tyne Daly, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tim Blake Nelson, Tom Waits, &c., &c.), a charmingly stylized screenplay (“He would upbraid me for being ‘wishy-washy’”), and extraordinary detail to sets and costumes. My favorite stories: “Meal Ticket,” “All Gold Canyon” (all Waits), and “The Gal Who Got Rattled.” ★★★★

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard) : Frost and Sandburg

Monday, November 11, 2019

Words of the year

From the Collins Dictionary, climate strike : “a form of protest that took off just over one year ago with the actions of Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg and which has grown to become a worldwide movement.” I’ll add to this post as more words arrive.

My embarrassingly obvious word of the year: impeachment. Elaine’s: though, as in “I would like you to do us a favor though.”

I collected last year’s words in this post.

Veterans Day

“All London Silent at Armistice Hour: Traffic Stops, Men Uncover, and Women Bow Their Heads at 11 o’clock Signal.” The New York Times, November 12, 1919.

The Great War ended on November 11, 1918. Armistice Day was observed the next year. In the United Kingdom Armistice Day is now Remembrance Day. In the United States, Armistice Day is now Veterans Day.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

“Language that will clarify”

In The New York Times, a plea from thirty-three writers: “Please use language that will clarify the issues at hand.” “Bribery” or “extortion.” Not “quid pro quo.” “Create false evidence,” “find incriminating evidence,” or “tell lies about.” Not “dig up dirt.”

“89.9, Manahawkin”

When I’m driving at night with the radio on, the announcement of an unfamiliar NPR affiliate’s frequency and location always makes me think of a lonely tower standing at the edge of a field in some tiny village. There may be moonlight. Or the moon may be obscured by clouds. Or there may be no moon at all. Is anyone else listening?

That’s what my imagination does with, say, “89.9, Manahawkin.”

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, begins with a clue that baffled me: 1-A, seven letters, “Pharaoh-era figurine.” Oh, but look, there’s 1-D, eight letters, “Place to buy inedible peanuts.” And off I went. And I found further gimmes helpfully scattered through the grid: 14-D, eight letters, “+ or -, to mathematicians.” 24-D, eleven letters, “California flag depiction.” 44-D, six letters, “Astronaut who found Eden (1965).” 48-D, six letters, “LeVar’s mom on Roots.”

Three non-gimmes I especially liked: 38-A, nine letters, “What cats crave.” 57-A, seven letters, “How some cars are made.” (BYROBOT? No.) 59-A, seven letters, “Volume control device.” And two clues that, along with 1-A, taught me something: 18-A, seven letters, “Dogood, for Franklin.” And 21-D, four letters, “Word from Old English for ‘useless.’”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Eleanor Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger, and the Atomic Bomb,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

How to ruin “English,”
one small example

I looked, from morbid curiosity, to see what one dreadful book says about that passage from “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period”:

As he gazes at the contents on exhibit — enamel bedpans and urinals overseen by a wooden dummy wearing a rupture truss — [Daumier-Smith] experiences an abrupt stripping of his ego that reveals his alienation. He suddenly comes to realize that no matter how technically perfect his art might become, it is tied to intellectual logic and he will always remain uninspired, adrift in a world he considers mundane and ugly. He recognizes that he is spiritually unconscious, with no connection to the divine inspiration that true art requires or true living demands. His art is polluted by ego.
Oh yeah? That’s the kind of reading that ruins “English” for so many students: skip the details of the surface in favor of an “interpretation” of a sort that seems available only to teachers. When I was in high school, we called it “deep reading.”

What might be more deserving of attention in that passage: Daumier-Smith’s feeling of being out of place (which recalls his earlier feeling of being a loser in a game of musical chairs), the awkwardness of navigating the garden (as in Eden, you have to watch your step), the “dummy-deity” (a blind god, or a self-effacing lavatory attendant). And: the price of the truss has been marked down.

“A visitor in a garden”

It is 1939. “Jean de Daumier-Smith” — not his real name — is in Montreal, working as an instructor at Les Amis Des Vieux Maîtres, a husband-and-wife correspondence art school. One night de Daumier-Smith stops and looks into the window of the orthopedic-appliances store on the ground floor of the building that houses Les Amis. And “something altogether hideous” happens:

J.D. Salinger, “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period,” in Nine Stories (1953).

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Is guys a pronoun?

I am puzzled as to why anyone would consider guys a pronoun. A plural noun that includes everyone — folks , people — is a noun. When you precedes such a noun — you folks, you peopleyou functions as a vocative, denoting the person or thing addressed or invoked. And as the Oxford English Dictionary says, the vocative you is used “chiefly in apposition to a following noun or noun phrase” (my emphasis). And now I’m remembering the children’s book: “You monkeys, you! You give me back my caps.”

Bill of Occam can help here: we need not multiply entities unnecessarily. To my mind, calling guys a pronoun is just such a feat of multiplication. But if I’m missing something here, please let me know.

A related post
The guys problem

Soup’s on

[Nancy, November 30, 1949.]

Good idea, Nancy.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[Earlier today: 33 °F, feeling like 23 °F. Now: 35 °F, feeling like 26 °F.]

The Eye of Sauron in the news

On Morning Edition, David Greene asked Andrew Weiss, who served under two administrations in the Pentagon, State Department, and National Security Council, if it’s possible for National Security principals to disagree with the current president. Weiss’s response:

“I think the best analogy I’ve heard for how things work comes from the movie The Lord of the Rings, where there’s this disembodied eye, the Eye of Sauron, that hovers over everything. In the Trump administration, if the Eye is looking at you, it’s basically all hope is lost.”
[I don’t know The Lord of the Rings. But I know people who do.]

“Letter-writing types”

April 1944. Devon, England. Of “some sixty American enlisted men” taking a pre-Invasion training course, “there wasn’t one good mixer in the bunch”:

J.D. Salinger, “For Esmé — with Love and Squalor,” in Nine Stories (1953).

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Duane who?

Duane Reade drugstores are disappearing from New York City (Gothamist).

Hi and Lois lore

Eight Things You Might Not Know About Hi and Lois (Mental Floss). If you’ve read Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s The Best of “Hi and Lois” (1986), you probably already know or once knew one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, or all eight of these things.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

“What we make happen”

Fonny’s father Frank, Tish’s father Joseph, planning for the future:

James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk (1974).

Also from James Baldwin
“The burden is reality” : “Life is tragic” : “She was Sanctified holy” : “Somewhere in time”

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


Blue moon of Kentucky, keep on shining, or shinin’. I hope.

[With 98% of the vote in.]


Florida man, or men, strike again.


Gaby Moreno and Van Dyke Parks. ¡Spangled! (Nonesuch, 2019). Playing time: 37:31.

A beautiful album (CD/LP/MP3) of music from the Americas, ten songs for singer and orchestra, in English, Portuguese, and Spanish, with Gaby Moreno’s deeply soulful voice and Van Dyke Parks’s always surprising and apt orchestrations and vocal arrangements.

The overtly political notes here are clear: “Across the Borderline” (Ry Cooder, John Hiatt, Jim Dickinson) speaks of the peril and pathos of the journey to “the broken promised land,” with a traveler who is still always “just across the borderline,” yet to find a place in the United States. But “The Immigrants” (David Rudder) strikes a different note: “The immigrants are here to stay, to help build America.” Elsewhere, the songs of this album, many of them venerable popular classics (one from 1914), speak of love and death and the power of song. My favorites, after repeated listening: “Historia de un Amor” (Carlos Eleta Almarán), “Nube Gris” (Eduardo Márquez Talledo), “Esperando na Janela” (Targino Gondim, Manuca Almeida, and Raimundinho do Acordeon), “O Cantador” (Dorival Caymmi and Nelson Motta), and “Espérame en el Cielo” (Francisco López Vidal).

A line from “O Cantador”: “Cantador só sei cantar”: Singer, I only know how to sing. ¡Spangled! is all-American song of the highest order.

Here is “Across the Borderline,” with Jackson Browne and Ry Cooder. Dig the strings at 2:42, and everything else:

Related reading
All OCA Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

[The songs I’ve named, from first to last, come from the United States, Trinidad, Panama, Peru, Brazil (two songs), and Puerto Rico.]

Monday, November 4, 2019

J.D. Salinger, the exhibit

Walk through the glass doors of the New York Public Library exhibition titled J.D. Salinger — after checking the phone with which you assumed you could take photographs — and you’ll see a long glass case. Front and center, an elderly manual typewriter, a Royal, in remarkably good condition. To the left, a metal Study-Stand, much the worse for wear, for holding books or manuscript pages. To the right, a cup full of yellow crayons (proto-highlighters) and a pair of wire-frame bifocals. If you’re so disposed (I wasn’t), you can step to the side of the case, turn, crouch, and attempt to see the world through J.D. Salinger’s lenses.

Elaine and I visited this exhibition last week, as part of a day in Manhattan with our friends Jim and Luanne. The NYPL has done the Salinger reader a great service, presenting, among other things, family photographs, a copper bowl made at summer camp, war memorabilia, letters (to William Maxwell, William Shawn, WWII comrades, the occasional member of the public), a film projector and small selection of films (The 39 Steps on enormous reels), pipes, a tin of Balkan Sobranie tobacco, a revolving bookcase (detective fiction, folk medicine, Christian Science, Vedanta, Zen), manuscript pages, recipes, pocket notebooks with typed spiritual texts and Salinger’s handwritten commentary, and — here and there — evidence of a writer long at work after he stopped publishing. See, for instance, a key ring with small tabs (cut from a manila folder?) holding phrases and sentences for use in some work(s) of fiction.

Again and again, the materials of Salinger’s life belie the media image of a hermit or recluse. Did Salinger insist on privacy? Indeed. But here he is, writing with immense kindness to decline an invitation to speak to a graduating high-school class of six. Here he is, writing to a WWII comrade and promising “an enclosure” by overnight mail (the comrade had asked, not for the first time, for financial help). Here he is, sitting in a park in Cornish, New Hampshire. Here he is playing with a grandchild, with shelves of detective fiction and a Sesame Street farm in the background.

This exhibition, assembled by Salinger’s widow Colleen Salinger, and his son Matt Salinger, is a portrait of the artist with some elements absent. There’s nothing here of Salinger’s marriages, nothing of his relationship with Joyce Maynard, almost nothing of his daughter Margaret, whose memoir Dream Catcher offers a pained account of life as her father’s child. And there’s nothing to suggest what unseen writing is forthcoming from the Salinger estate. But the optimist in me (or is it the cynic?) thinks that this exhibition may be meant to stoke interest in some book soon to be announced. That’s me seeing things through my lenses.

Here are links to four reports with photographs or video, from NBC News, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and Voice of America.

And here’s Elaine’s post about our visit.

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)


The Los Angeles Fire Department Foundation is accepting donations: “Your gift helps provide tools, equipment and resources for the first responders who are saving lives and property this wildfire season.” Here’s the page for donating.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Walter Mercado (1932?–2019)

“For years, he kept Latino families glued to their televisions as he dramatically revealed their futures, as foretold by the stars”: Walter Mercado, celebrity astrologer, has died in his late eighties. The New York Times has an obituary.

I’d describe Walter Mercado as something of a cross between Liberace and Fulton Sheen. Regalia and piercing eyes. Forty or more years ago, Mercado was a fixture on New York’s WNJU, channel 47. Yes, channel 47, in the days of UHF television. Flipping channels in a motel room a few years ago, I was startled to see Mercado still doing his thing on Univision.

A related post
En mi casa toman Bustelo (Coffee and UHF)

Another delegitimatize

In Mississippi on Friday, Donald Trump stumbled onto the word delegitimatize, which appears in neither Merriam-Webster nor the Oxford English Dictionary, each of which has entries for legtimatize and delegitimize.

So what did I see last night in the November 4 New Yorker, in a Jelani Cobb commentary on Trump?

Observers pointed to the recklessness of his words and to the ways in which delegitimatizing the system might eventually culminate in unrest.
There’s no joke in Cobb’s use of delegitimatize: the magazine arrived in my mailbox before Trump’s Mississippi performance. The thought of Trump and The New Yorker being on the same page usage-wise is, as a wishy-washy observer of politics might say, “troubling.”

Google’s Ngram Viewer shows delegitimize far outpacing delegitimatize in 2008 (the most recent data). The ratio is 90:1. It seems fair to consider delegitimatize as, at best, a needlessly prolix variant, like, say, advisatory for advisory. Donald Trump wouldn’t care. But The New Yorker should.

A related post
New “words”

Saturday, November 2, 2019


[Hi and Lois, November 2, 2019. Click for a larger view.]

I debated whether to post this panel. Elaine’s response — “What is that?” — made the decision easy. That is a colorist’s oversight, turning pajamas into flesh. Too little green and TMH — Too Much Hi. Or else Hi has had his pajama pattern tattooed onto his pasty midsection. And in that case, too, Too Much Hi.


I’ve added a close-up below. You can click on it for a larger, better (?) view.


Skepticism about the patch abounds in the comments. So I’ve made a fleshy revision. If that patch is supposed to be Hi, I think his pajamas are riding way too low. TML: Too Much Low. But the crossed lines still say to me TMH.

[My revision. Click for a larger view.]

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper is by Lester Ruff. Les Ruff: so a cinch, a breeze, a picnic. Duck soup, if you will. A walk in the park, straight to a picnic table where they’re serving duck soup and pieces of cake. Cake made with a Kenner Easy-Bake Oven. It was an easy Saturday.

The puzzle’s pleasures arrived in the form of novel clues and answers — novel, at least, to me. 1-A, nine letters, “Public mention.” 14-D, nine letters, “What home offices might have.” 17-A, nine letters, “What ‘the hoi polloi’ actually is.” 31-D, nine letters, “‘Enterprise’ reckonings.” And especially 13-D, nine letters, “General Pencil product.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

New “words”

Foistered, delegitimitize, apprenti. But I’d spell the middle one delegitimatize.

Apprenti : like alumni ? Come to think of it, The Apprentus would the perfect name for a series about a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

“Something there is,” &c.

As the poet said, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” It’s called a reciprocating saw.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Patience, Fortitude, and feet

Patience and Fortitude are back. And the happy foot/sad foot sign has a home.

A related post
Foot Clinic sign

The Art Theater

The Art Theater (“Art-house cinema in central IL”) has closed for keeps. I wrote this short description in a 2012 post:

The Art offers intelligent programming, atypical and well-priced snacks and drinks, appropriate pre-movie music, minimal advertising, and a terrific sound system. There’s one screen, and the audience comes to pay attention: what a difference that makes.
That description held to the end. The clearest sign of difficulty: movies often became available on DVD from Netflix just a few weeks after the Art had them. In other words, the theater was getting movies at the very end of their run.

My most vivid memories of the Art Theater: Moonlight, RBG, Coffee and Cigarettes, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (tears and sniffles everywhere), Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe, and Fahrenheit 9/11, the only movie I’ve ever seen in a sold-out theater.

Goodbye, Art Theater. Thanks for the movies.

“Somewhere in time”

With Fonny in prison, Tish says that the word time “tolled like the bells of a church.”

James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk (1974).

Also from James Baldwin
“The burden is reality” : “Life is tragic” : “She was Sanctified holy”

“Pick a season”

At Oscar’s Portrait, George Bodmer has the perfect cartoon for our midwestern weather.

[Yesterday in downstate Illinois: snow. And this morning: 27 °F. It got winter.]

Fountain Pen Day

As I learned only last night, today is Fountain Pen Day, “a time to embrace, promote, and share the use of fountain pens.” They forgot sell. Oh well.

My regular writer, since l998, is a green-striped Pelikan, the best pen I’ve ever used. My recommendation for anyone who’d like to try a fountain pen: the Kaweco Classic Sport. It’s inexpensive enough to count as an experiment, reliable enough to use as a daily pen. Add a clip and converter and you’re set.

A related post
Five pens

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Edward Gorey’s Mysterious Animations,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.


Happy Halloween to all who celebrate it.

Impeachment: A Daily Podcast

From WNYC: Impeachment: A Daily Podcast, with Brian Lehrer. I started listening yesterday. It’s excellent.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Orange train cart

“Pencils these days”

“Pencils these days, not worth the paper they write on”: Dr. John H. Watson (Nigel Bruce) in The Spider Woman (dir. Roy William Neill). His point broke.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Mystery actor

Know him? Think you do? Leave your best guess in the comments. I’ll drop a hint if one’s needed, though I doubt one will. Be needed, that is.


9:03 a.m.: No clue needed. The answer is now in the comments.

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



“... can impale a grand jury ...”

I’m sure there are any number of people in this administration who’d like to impale grand juries.

Related reading
All OCA misheard posts (Pinboard)

Monday, October 28, 2019

Pocket notebook sighting

Willie Stark’s notebook, a catalogue of grievances, punishments, and opposition research:

[From All the King’s Men (dir. Robert Rossen, 1949. Click for a larger view.]

My transcription:

Morris — Would
not contribute Party
Fund —
Walton — Road
Contracts denied —
Cancel any Bids

Bill W — Licen[se]
to operate denied —
check gambling

Bank loan
overdue —
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 : The Face Behind the Mask : 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 66The Scarlet Claw : 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

All the King’s Whom

From All the King’s Men (dir. Robert Rossen, 1949). Jack Burden (John Ireland) and Sadie Burke (Mercedes McCambridge) are getting acquainted. Jack wonders what Sadie is doing on Willie Stark’s (Broderick Crawford) political campaign:

“Hey, tell me, what are you on this merry-go-round for?”

“I take notes.”

“For whom?”

“For those whom pay me.”
Yes, she’s being sarcastic.

Whom was and is fading, but it’s taking an awfully long time on its way out the door.

Related posts
“I don’t know whom to believe” (Perry Mason) : “Just whom are you talking to?” (Nancy) : “Shouldn’t that be ‘whom’?” (Mutts) : “Whom are we kidding?” (Peanuts)

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Humor, humanity, a lawsuit, and ...

[Zippy, October 27, 2019.]

In today’s Zippy:

René Margritte brought humor into surrealism. Pablo Picasso brought humanity into cubism. Margaret Keane brought a lawsuit into court.
And then there’s Ernie Bushmiller.

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

“She was Sanctified holy”

Mrs. Hunt is a believer:

James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk (1974).

Also from James Baldwin
“The burden is reality” : “Life is tragic”

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper is credited to Zawistowski (Stella) and Agard (Erik). A tough puzzle, and I was delighted to find myself finishing it, from Z to A, so to speak.

Three clues that paired especially well with their answers: 9-D, four letters, “A lot of legal-size.” 36-A, four letters, “Where America’s day begins.” (IHOP? No.) 57-A, three letters, “Footwear from Oz.”

A clue whose answer made me startle, as I just read something about it somewhere (where?): 17-A, eight letters, “Spanish operatic genre.”

A clue whose answer seems to be a running Agard joke: 62-A, six letters, “They may be dueling.”

And a clue whose answer is a reminder that crosswords do indeed keep up with the culture: 67-A, eight letters, “Suited woman, perhaps.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Some “some rocks”

For a Nancy fan, this remarkable site might be something like Four Corners. It’s some rocks, some rocks, some rocks, all the way down the parking lot. Google Maps will confirm:

[Click for a larger view.]

“Some rocks” is an abiding preoccupation of these pages.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Haydn on the move

Elaine has been writing about Stephen Malinowski’s animated scores for Beethoven and Haydn. I am following Elaine’s lead and posting this example because it makes me so happy. Enjoy. (How could anyone not?)

More seeing and hearing
Stephen Malinowski’s Haydn animations

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “The Voice of the Voiceless,” featuring Mercedes Sosa. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

I’m in. You?

Re: “scum”: White House “press secretary” Stephanie Grisham goes Donald Trump one better in declaring anyone who opposes the leader to be “just that.”

[“Press secretary”: in quotation marks, because she’s never held a press conference.]

VDP and “Southern Nights”

This story is new to me. Allen Toussaint on his song “Southern Nights”:

“That was the last song for the album, the very last song. I had written and recorded all of the other songs, and for some reason I couldn’t come to terms that I was finished with the album. I had trouble being satisfied. I always take forever to do an album, because when I do an album, I don’t plan to do another. The only reason I ever did another album after any album was because I got a request by some company. Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t record me.

“While I was finishing the album Van Dyke Parks visited me in the studio. He was a wonderful guy, a genius of a guy. He said, ‘Well, consider that you were going to die in two weeks. If you knew that, what would you think you would like to have done?’ And after he said that, I wrote ‘Southern Nights’ as soon as he left. I stood right there and wrote it. It all came at once, because I lived that story.”
“The album” turned out to be Southern Nights (Reprise, 1975). Toussaint and Parks recorded “Southern Nights” as a piano duet for American Tunes (Nonesuch, 2016), Toussaint’s final album.

Related reading
All OCA Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

The Colorado wall Now with the spin I imagined.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Colorado wall

How will the White House spin Donald Trump’s assertion that he’s building a wall in Colorado?

Easy: “In building a wall in New Mexico, President Trump is also protecting Coloradans from,” &c., &c.

It’s frightening to me that this sort of after-the-fact pseudo-logic is so easy to dream up.


October 24: Here’s what Trump tweeted later last night:

[He was speaking in Pittsburgh.]

Kinja Deals ad fail

A Kinja Deals ad mixed in with editorial content at Lifehacker announces a low Amazon price on CRKT’s AR multi-tool. The Kinja ad shows the tool with blade open and mentions a bottle opener and three hex wrenches. I like seeing multitools in all their spidery glory, so I clicked through to the Amazon page. And I thought the tool looked a little odd, a little specialized, with small projections that had nothing to do with opening bottles or tightening hex nuts. I looked at Amazon’s list of features, which begins with “AR Cleaning Tools.” Oh. And I scrolled down to read this description:

Maintenance is the mark of a master. Designer Joe Wu knows that there’s a world of difference between the recreational shooter and the one that’s spent years honing his skill. One notable difference: proper maintenance. Joe has given the AR Tool both a compact, highly useful blade on a slip joint as well as a nine-in-one scraper tool. Built to quickly clean 12 critical surfaces of bolt components, it’s equipped to restore an AR to working order at the range or in the field. The precision-cut tool is ideal for cleaning the bolt, firing pin, carrier, and cam pin so your favorite range companion never slows down.
So the marketing arm of A.V. Club, Clickhole, Deadspin, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Kotaku, Lifehacker, The Onion, The Root, and The Takeout is pushing a multi-tool made for cleaning semi-automatic weapons as “a perfect everyday carry.” Imagine being the sap who buys a CRKT AR, perhaps as a gift, without understanding its purpose: “Why, thank you, Uncle Ned. Thank you, Aunt Jean. You’ve gifted me with the perfect tool for — for — cleaning an AR-15??”

That the primary use of this multi-tool is missing from the Kinja ad might be a matter of carelessness. Or it might be a matter of coyness. Either way, Kinja Deals is doing Lifehacker readers a grotesque disservice.

[There’s a tweet as well, showing only the blade. All comments on the Kinja ad are marked “pending,” including mine.]

Analog strong

“Never underestimate the power of a State Department guy with a pad and pen”: Anne Gearan, Washington Post reporter, speaking on MSNBC last night.

As many news outlets have reported, William Taylor, the American diplomat who gave testimony yesterday to the House impeachment inquiry, was a careful taker of notes.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

“Tape Here”

Today’s Nancy is a wonderful comment on kid stuff (tape, scissors, dotted lines) and the ways of the Internet user. Don’t miss it.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Teaching Thomas Wolfe

I was teaching a work by Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel. Or maybe it was Of Time and the River. It was the second class of the semester. I wasn’t especially familiar with the novel under discussion and tried to get the students to talk their way through the class, one responding to another. When the class ended, a student came up to tell me that he could not find the books for the class. I suggested — helpfully, not snarkily — that he try the library. And then I wondered why I had assigned a novel I hadn’t read.

This is the sixteenth teaching-related dream I’ve had since retiring. It’s far less complicated than some of the others. The others: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15.

Monday, October 21, 2019

How to improve writing (no. 84)

From a post I wrote yesterday morning:

MacUpdater checks on updates for non-App Store apps. The app is free to use for checking (after which you can update on your own). Buy the app and it will update for you whatever apps you choose. I use MacUpdater as a free app — it’s an ultra-convenient way to see all at once what needs updated.
When I looked more carefully at those sentences, I saw two problems: the awkward “non-App Store apps,” and too many instances of app and apps. What was I supposed to do about “non-App Store apps” anyway? I looked at Garner’s Modern English Usage:
When a name is used attributively as a phrasal adjective, it ordinarily remains unhyphenated. E.g.: “The Terry Maher strategy put immediate pressure on rival bookshop chains.” Raymond Snoddy, “Book Price War Looms in Britain,” Fin. Times, 28-29 Sept.1991, at 1. This becomes quite awkward, though, when the two words in a proper noun are part of a longer phrasal adjective <the King County-owned stadium> <a New York-doctor-owned building>. The only reasonable thing to do is rewrite <the stadium owned by King County> <a building owned by a New York doctor>.
So I rewrote. Here again is the original paragraph, which by now may have scrolled out of sight:
MacUpdater checks on updates for non-App Store apps. The app is free to use for checking (after which you can update on your own). Buy the app and it will update for you whatever apps you choose. I use MacUpdater as a free app — it’s an ultra-convenient way to see all at once what needs updated.
And the revised version:
MacUpdater checks on updates for apps not from the App Store. MacUpdater is free to use for checking (after which you can update apps on your own). Buy MacUpdater and it will update for you whatever apps you choose. I use MacUpdater just for checking — it’s an ultra-convenient way to see all at once what needs updated.
Before, four instances of app and two apps. After, one app and three apps. I’m not keen on the repetition of the name MacUpdater, but it beats the repetition of app. And please note: “needs updated” is a Illinoism for comic effect, not a typo.


Fresca wondered in a comment if it’s obvious that MacUpdater is itself an app. It’s not. (And if it were a web service examining what’s on your computer, that might seem sketchy.) I don’t want to clarify by writing “The MacUpdater app checks on updates for apps not from the App Store.” Instead:
A useful download: MacUpdater checks on updates for apps not from the App Store. MacUpdater is free to use for checking (after which you can update apps on your own). Buy MacUpdater and it will update for you whatever apps you choose. I use MacUpdater just for checking — it’s an ultra-convenient way to see what needs updated.
I took out “all at once” too.

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

[This post is no. 84 in a series, dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, October 21, 2019. Click for a larger view.]

Anything can happen in a Hi and Lois interstice. Take today’s strip: the window has moved behind Ditto after losing its glass and strangely placed muntin. (I think that’s a muntin.) Or Ditto has moved to the empty chair, which would seem to require that the table has added a fifth side to accommodate Chip. A pepper shaker has appeared on the table. The burgers have gone from “Tasty” to “Ug.” Properly spelled ugh. But Hi still isn’t home from work.

Other things I notice: Ditto’s chair curves at the top, which means that the chairs are not a matching set. Unless Lois “clears” by first removing cutlery, the meal has been eaten without forks and knives, and perhaps without napkins. Which makes me wonder what might have been served from that bowl.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, October 20, 2019


His name, of course, is Esper.


The tweet has been deleted. But its ghost walks, at least for now. And if the ghost disappears, I have a screenshot saved.

[Resettlement is a word with a dark history. “We have secured the Oil”: meaning?]


A useful download: MacUpdater checks on updates for apps not from the App Store. MacUpdater is free to use for checking (after which you can update apps on your own). Buy MacUpdater and it will update for you whatever apps you choose. I use MacUpdater just for checking — it’s an ultra-convenient way to see all at once what needs updated.

It’s another [need + past participle] day.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

“Paul, do you have anything yet on today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper?”

“Just one lead so far, Perry: OUZO.”


“No, O-U-Z-O. It’s some kind of liquor, and for some reason it shows up in crosswords, all caps. But here’s the thing: it’s shown up in the Stumper three times now this year. First in mid-July, in a puzzle by a Greg Johnson. And then — the very next week — in a puzzle by one Brad Wilber. I suspect there’s a connection. And now again, in today’s puzzle. Right here: 34-Down, four letters, ‘Sambuca cousin.’ OUZO. My guess: find Johnson or Wilber and you find the guy who made today’s puzzle.”

“Paul, you just gave away an answer. But there’s another more important answer that’s already been given away. Look, right here on the page, next to the puzzle: ‘By Greg Johnson.’”

“Hey, whaddaya know? Next time I’ll remember my reading glasses.”

Yes, today’s puzzle is by Greg Johnson. And I have no other answers to give away. But some wonderful clue-and-answer pairs: 3-D, fifteen letters, “Assembly manual phrase.” 16-A, eight letters, “One related to others.” 26-D, seven letters, “Ingredient in an authentic burrito.” 42-D, seven letters, “Large revolvers.” And the weird and wacky 12-D, fifteen letters, “They’re at Royal Caribbean’s Bionic Bars.” OUZOSOUZOSOUZOS? Nah.

I started today’s puzzle with a giveaway: 17-A, six letters, “Inaugural singer for Jimmy, Bill and Barack.” Some better days there. Thanks for the memories, Mr. Johnson.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

[“Hey, whaddaya know?”: borrorwed from the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Dodging Domino.”]

Friday, October 18, 2019

Domestic comedy

[At the kitchen table, reading a wine label.]

“Does it say anything about lamb?”

“No, it just says to express your soul.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[The wine in question: 2017 Caracter Malbec, from Argentina. It’s inexpensive and delicious. We have several bottles. And yes, it goes well with lamb.]

New Yorker commas

Turning the pages of a January New Yorker, I noticed this tag at the end of a story: “Translated, from the Japanese, by Philip Gabriel.” Only The New Yorker, said I, would use commas there.

Garner’s Modern English Usage explains two ways of using commas:

The “close” style of punctuation results in fairly heavy uses of commas; the “open” style results in fairly light uses of commas. In the 20th century, the movement was very much toward the open style. The byword was, “When in doubt, leave it out.” Indeed, some writers and editors went too far in omitting commas that would aid clarity.
And indeed, some writers and editors go too far in including commas that do not aid clarity.

Here’s Mary Norris’s in-house defense of New Yorker commas: “In Defense of ‘Nutty’ Commas.” It predates the New Yorker possessive “Donald Trump, Jr.,’s.”

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “The Time WGBH Burnt Down,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

Oh, Nancy

[Nancy, October 17, 2019.]

As she announced earlier this week, Nancy is now “an inspirational lifestyle blogger.” And I’m thinking of the painfulness of that movie Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham, 2018).

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

The Great Chicago Fire and type

Daughter Number Three asked in a comment if I knew about the role of the Great Chicago Fire in standardizing type sizes. Not me. She then provided a brief history in another comment. Thank you, DN3.

Between comments, I found this page about type at Sizes: The Online Quantinary. The page covers the development of type sizes, with a nod to the Great Chicago Fire and what looks like an exhaustive list of British and American sizes, from the wee Minikin, or Excelsior, on up.

Excelsior: a type size, the wood shavings used as packing material, the New York State motto, and Jean Shepherd’s rallying cry to his radio audience all those years ago.

Elijah Cummings (1951–2019)

Elijah Cummings, member of Congress (D, Maryland-7), has died at the age of sixty-eight. The Washington Post has an obituary.

From Cummings’s closing words to Michael Cohen at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, February 27, 2019:

“When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”
Elijah Cummings didn’t stand on the sidelines.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Current events

The surprise sprung on the Dunn family . . . “plenty of sand” . . . “no angels” . . . “We can fight our own battles on our own territories” . . . “There are Communists involved, and you guys might like that.” All I can say, with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, is

Clickety clack, clickety clack,
Somebody’s mind done got off the goddam track.
That’s from Kirk’s recitation “Clickety Clack,” recorded live at the Keystone Korner, San Francisco, June 1973. From the album Bright Moments (Atlantic, 1973).

Off the goddam track, and for a very long time now.


And now there’s this letter. (It’s real.)

Speeding up the Mac dictionary

Also because it’s National Dictionary Day: How to make your Mac’s dictionary popup way, way faster (Cult of Mac).

Me, I don’t notice a difference, but any tip that gets rid of Siri suggestions is all right by me. Oh, wait: I already have Siri turned off on my Mac.

Egg-cream dispute

Also because it’s National Dictionary Day: “The Disputed Origins of the ‘Egg Cream’” (Merriam-Webster).

Word of the day: brevier

It’s National Dictionary Day (Noah Webster was born on October 16, 1758). So here’s a word I recently looked up:

[From Webster’s Second.]

I puzzled over this word in Vladimir Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, in which a drop of water falls on a page of a book, and

Through the drop several letters turned from brevier into pica, having swollen as if a reading glass were lying over them.
I like the Webster’s Second entry, with its manicule. But Webster’s Third offers a definition of greater precision: “a size of type between minion and bourgeois, approximately 8 point.” And a different etymology:
prob. fr. D[utch], lit., breviary, fr. M[edieval]L[atin] breviarium; fr. the use of this size of type in the printing of breviaries in 16th cent. Holland & Belgium.
Webster’s Third defines minion as “an old size of type of approximately 7-point and between nonpareil and brevier.” Why minion? The word comes from “F[rench] mignonne, fem. of mignon,” meaning “darling.” I can imagine a scene at a printer’s shop: “What a darling little typeface!” “I know — let us call it minion.”

Bourgeois is “an old size of type (approximately 9 point) between brevier and long primer.” The Oxford English Dictionary says that the word may be “a transferred use of bourgeois middle class,” suggesting either a type size between smaller and larger ones, or type used in “small books suitable for the use of the middle classes.”

Back to Nabokov, and letters turning from brevier into pica. Anyone of a certain age will remember pica, at least vaguely, from typewriter days. Webster’s Third: “a size of typewriter type with 10 characters to the linear inch and six lines to the vertical inch.” But earlier than that: “an old size of type between small pica and english” and “a size of type equivalent to 12 point.” And a surprising suspected origin:
prob. fr. M[edieval]L[atin], collection of church rules, prob. fr. L, magpie; perh. fr. its use in printing the service book and its resemblance to the colors of the bird.
So from small to large: nonpareil, minion, brevier, bourgeois, long primer, small pica, pica, english. This dictionary search has widened in two directions. I’ll leave nonpareil, long primer, and english for a fellow celebrant of National Dictionary Day.

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

Dancing with Robert Walser

News of a performance already here (or there) and gone:

Choreographer John Heginbotham and artist/writer Maira Kalman co-conceive a new dance-play, HERZ SCHMERZ. Early 20th century Swiss author Robert Walser’s witty writings inspire an eccentric and hyper-detailed landscape of movement, text, visual design, and live chamber music, creating an impressionistic observatory of life's beautiful minutiae and most important themes.
Short reviews in The New York Times and The New Yorker. My favorite detail, from the latter, is about one person on the stage: “Susan Bernofsky, Walser’s biographer and the translator of seven of his books, folds and unfolds a white cloth napkin, serenely, for the duration of the show, which lasts a little under an hour.”

Related reading
All OCA Robert Walser posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Another free 64-bit app to replace a 32-bit app that won’t run with macOS Catalina: Quiet. Quiet is a white-noise generator that lives in the menu bar. Click on the icon to play. Double-click to quit. If you don’t want the app to load at startup (that’s the default), just remove it from your login items.

I downloaded Quiet to replace Noisy, a pink- and white-noise generator that hasn’t been updated in a long time. In my final years of teaching, I relied on white noise during office hours to mask movies or music playing in a classroom at the end of the hallway. Now I have little need for white noise. But ya never know.

Searching for a replacement for the 32-bit app Free Ruler taught me something: when looking for a small utility app, search GitHub. It’s amazing what you can find there.

[Given early reports, I won’t be updating to Catalina any time soon.]

Harold Bloom (1930–2019)

The literary critic and teacher Harold Bloom has died at the age of eighty-nine. The New York Times has an obituary.

This post feels to me obligatory. I was never very much on the Bloom wavelength — partly because of my distrust of such schema as his six “revisionary ratios” of poetic influence, partly because of my distrust of his pronouncements of canonical value. I’m always suspicious of such authority.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Aaron Rupar’s Twitter

And speaking of you-know-who and his crowds: the journalist Aaron Rupar’s Twitter account is a great resource for choice bits of the Donald Trump Improv Tour. Contrast, say, this bland Associated Press sentence — “[Pastor Andrew] Brunson led Saturday’s audience in a prayer for the president” — with what was said. Don’t hide the madness.

[“Don’t hide the madness”: from Allen Ginsberg’s poem “On Burroughs’ Work.”]

Maupassant on crowds

Guy de Maupassant, Afloat, trans. Douglas Parmée (New York: New York Review Books, 2008).

I think of an explanation of riot logic I once heard: that one person will be willing to act alone, that another will need one other person to act first, that a third will need two other people, and so on. I think also of you-know-who’s crowds, reveling in crudity and cruelty that in other circumstances would leave at least some members of the crowd ashamed.

Also from Maupassant
“La belle nature” : “What was it around him” : “All that has been, is now, and ever will be done by painters until the day of doom” ; “Swept strangely clean” : “Like pasta in a soup”

Sunday, October 13, 2019

No bottom

In The New York Times tonight:

A video depicting a macabre scene of a fake President Trump shooting, stabbing and brutally assaulting members of the news media and his political opponents was shown at a conference for his supporters at his Miami resort last week, according to footage obtained by The New York Times.

Several of Mr. Trump’s top surrogates — including his son Donald Trump Jr., his former spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis — were scheduled to speak at the three-day conference, which was held by a pro-Trump group, American Priority, at Trump National Doral Miami. Ms. Sanders and a person close Mr. Trump’s son said on Sunday that they did not see the video at the conference.

The video, which includes the logo for Mr. Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, comprises a series of internet memes. The most violent clip shows Mr. Trump’s head superimposed on the body of a man opening fire inside the “Church of Fake News” on parishioners who have the faces of his critics or the logos of media organizations superimposed on their bodies.
Among the “parishioners” in this video: Bill and Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Bernie Sanders. One the Times doesn’t mention: Barack Obama. Also: a figure with the Obama campaign logo for a face.

To adapt a possibly apocryphal Gertrude Stein: There ain’t no bottom. There ain’t gonna be any bottom.

Free Ruler 2.0

For years I’ve made occasional use of the Mac app Free Ruler. It’s a 32-bit app, which means that it will no longer work with the new Catalina operating system. But as of a few days ago, there’s a new version: Free Ruler 2.0, 64-bit, and spiffier in appearance. It’s available at GitHub, and, yes, it’s free. Thank you, Pascal.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

No quid pro quo?

“It was a quid pro quo, but not a corrupt one”: spoken by someone familiar with the upcoming testimony of Gordon Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, as reported in The Washington Post. No pressure! Just a perfect quid pro quo!

Today’s Saturday Stumper

When I saw the credit for today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, I thought I’m in for it. Or uh-oh. Or other short words to that effect. Because today’s puzzle is by “Garrett Estrada,” Brad Wilber and Erik Agard. But I did solve it.

I began with a hilariously elaborate clue for an obvious answer: 19-A, three letters, “‘I pity the fool who don’t eat my cereal’ guy (c. 1985).” And then my pace slowed. Two clues that opened up the puzzle’s left: 23-D, four letters, “Siberian railway hub,” and 34-D, five letters, “Gershwin’s Blue Monday.” If I ever find myself in Siberia, I will ask how to get to 23-D, not only because it’s a railway hub but because it’s the only Siberian place name I know. To the right, far from Siberia, 18-A, six letters, “Sea monster of Norse sagas,” and 66-A, eight letters, “Brat’s cousin,” gave me places to start.

So many clever and tricky clues in this puzzle: 9-A, six letters, “Dinner-and-a-show platform.” 29-A, eight letters, “Synagogue props.” 33-D, five letters, “Motion capturer with cameras.” 55-A, eight letters, “Red (or brown or black) snapper.” And especially 45-A, six letters, “Mini bar fixture.” Notice that there’s no hyphen.

Do co-constructors split the payment? I think Messrs. Peterson and Agard should be paid double for this puzzle.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, October 11, 2019

A World Book cameo

[“As seen on TV.” Specifically, on MSNBC.]

I’m pretty certain the background is a picture. (Elaine says it is.) I’m absolutely certain that the green and white spines belong to volumes of that childhood standby, the World Book Encyclopedia.

Reader, I’d now like to refer you to Nicholson Baker’s essay “Books as Furniture,” but it’s behind the New Yorker paywall.

Other books in the background
T.S. Eliot’s Complete Poems and Plays: 1909–1950 on MSNBC : The World Book in Stranger Things

“Like pasta in a soup”

“Princes here, princes there, princes, princes, everywhere!” Maupassant calls Cannes “the city of titles”:

Guy de Maupassant, Afloat, trans. Douglas Parmée (New York: New York Review Books, 2008).

Afloat (first published in 1888 as Sur l’eau) is something of a daybook, eight long entries purportedly written in the course of a sailing trip along the French Mediterranean, one writer-passenger and a crew of two. Maupassant’s attention ranges everywhere: to social satire (as here), scenic description, writerly double consciousness (which turns the writer’s emotions into something to observe), crowds and mob mentality, a memory of a visit to a household wracked by diphtheria, a story about Paganini’s corpse. The reader’s work: to follow the writer’s attention as it moves from one possibility to another to another.

Also from Maupassant
“La belle nature” : “What was it around him” : “All that has been, is now, and ever will be done by painters until the day of doom” ; “Swept strangely clean”

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

Whoa again, at least a local whoa

Commenting on Donald Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Syria, our representative in Congress, John Shimkus (R, Illinois-15), told an interviewer, “Pull my name off the ‘I support Donald Trump’ list.” Shimkus called Trump’s decision “despicable.” He later released (where?) a statement:

While my votes will continue to support the president’s domestic policy agenda, because of this terrible foreign policy decision I asked that my name be removed from his campaign’s official list of supporters.
Related reading
All OCA John Shimkus posts