Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Boop, Twinings, jars

[Click for a larger view.]

The pencil cup from Sólo con tu pareja prompted Fresca to photograph pencil cups, which in turn, &c. So here are nine, mine.

Elaine and I carried them downstairs and into the light. Behind Betty Boop and the Twinings tins, please imagine two Bonne Maman jars, an anonymous jar, a china cup, and a plastic cup.

I’ve had the older square Twinings tins since student days. Each is printed with a “4/84” on one side — the date of the tins’ manufacture, I’d assume. The newer Twinings tins make excellent index-card holders. We have six of those scattered around the house for making quick notes.

For more pencil cups, see the Bleistift blog’s Pencil Pot of the Month posts. And reader, if you’d like to post a photograph of your pencil cup(s), leave a link in the comments.

[Elaine gave me the Betty Boop mug many years ago. I have long subscribed to the adage of the Betty Boop & Bimbo Club: “Keep your eyes open and your mouth closed.”]

Still life in red and green

[Sólo con tu pareja (dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 1991). Click for a larger view.]

The red pen must be a Parker T-Ball Jotter. The pencil with the red stripe: almost certainly a Berol Mirado. Placing the thermometer with the writing instruments is a beautiful touch.

Here and everywhere, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography adds an element of deep thoughtfulness to what seems at first glance to be a light sex comedy.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Senecan advice for liberal-arts types

From Seneca the Younger, Natural Questions IV (A, Pref. 14, 18):

When you want to be praised sincerely, why be indebted to someone else for it? Praise yourself. Say: “I devoted myself to the liberal arts. Although my poverty urged me to do otherwise and tempted my talents towards a field where there is an immediate profit from study, I turned aside to unremunerative poetry and dedicated myself to the wholesome study of philosophy. . . .” After this, ask whether the things you said about yourself are true or false. If they are true, you are praised in front of a great witness, yourself. If they are false, no one is a witness to your being made a fool of.

Quoted in Ward Farnsworth’s The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual (Boston: David R. Godine, 2018). Adapted from an unidentified public-domain translation.
[Please notice that for Seneca there is no question that devotion to the liberal arts is cause for self-praise.]

No rocks

[Mark Trail, March 19, 2019.]

Doc Davis, Cherry Davis Trail’s father, Mark Trail’s father-in-law, is telling a between-Mark-Trail-adventures story. I believe it’s what they call an interpolated tale. Or is it interminable?

Doc, if you were hoping to find some rocks, you’re in the wrong comic strip.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard) : “Some rocks” posts

Monday, March 18, 2019

D. Bill, “Folk Art”

[D. Bill, “Folk Art.” Wood poles. 1997–1998. As seen at Meadowbrook Park, Urbana, Illinois. “Folk Art,” with quotation marks, is the title. Click for a larger view.]

I like the way the U mirrors the mouth.

In 1993 D. Bill, Darwin Bill (1922–2012), was the subject of a Chicago Tribune story. Here’s a public Facebook page for D. Bill’s art. And here’s an account, with photographs, from someone who went to see him.

Thanks for that

Something I’m thankful for: having taught at a regional state university (as they’re called), I never taught children of high privilege, the kind with parents who buy or cheat their offspring’s way in.

The closest I ever came to such stuff: a telephone call from the parent of a flagrant plagiarizer. I’ve put a lot of money into my kid’s education, and I’m not going to let someone, &c. Yes, but I’m sorry: FERPA prohibits me from talking with you about a student’s work without that student’s permission. And that was that.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A text for the day

It’s fitting that ad canvasser Leopold Bloom, who goes to sleep thinking of “one sole unique advertisement to cause passers to stop in wonder,” should see Saint Patrick as an ad man who came up with a smart way to capture the public’s attention. From “The Lotus Eaters” episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922):

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all.

[Saint Patrick is said to have used the shamrock to explain the Trinity to the Irish.]

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper is by one Garrett Estrada. I can’t recall seeing that name before, and searching for garrett estrada crossword turns up nothing. Debut? Pseudonym? Will the real Garrett Estrada please stand up? I hope so, because this constructor has created an exceptionally challenging Saturday Stumper. (Fifty-eight minutes of challenge for me.)

I made an educated guess for 1-Down, five letters, “Bass in Berlioz’s ‘Les Troyens’” (gotta be, right?). Then I saw 4-Down, four letters, “Cousins of mandos,” and thought I was on my way. 32-Across, six letters, “Bayard who organized the March on Washington (1963),” was a giveaway, and 33-Down, four letters, “Titular Morrison nonconformist,” fooled me into thinking that the puzzle was going to fall into place. Uh-uh. Not for some time.

Clues that I greatly admired: 1-Across, six letters, “Fake to the left.” 24-Across, five letters, “Piece of high fashion?” 35-Down, nine letters, “They may scrutinize shelters.”

Grudging admiration goes to 2-Down, nine letters, “Reds coach.” Coach? Well, sort of. But “Reds manager” would be better.

Most fiendish clue of all: 43-Across, four letters, “As in C.”

I hope to see more puzzles from Garrett Estrada, especially on Saturdays. No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, March 15, 2019

W.S. Merwin (1927–2019)

W.S. Merwin, from “For the Anniversary of My Death” (1967).

The poet W.S. Merwin has died at the age of ninety-one. The New York Times has an obituary.

Two responses

These contrasting responses speak for themselves.

Ron Padgett on comparisons

Re: “the greatest photo in jazz”: here is the poet Ron Padgett commenting on greatness and comparisons. From an interview with Edward Foster, Talisman 7 (Fall 1991):

I think a book like The Sonnets by Ted Berrigan is still really an extraordinary book. Is it better than Lunch Poems? I think that kind of comparison is unproductive and invidious. Tennis commentators are always asking, Do you think Ivan Lendl could have beaten Bill Tilden? Is Homer greater than Dante? What kind of question is that?
Related reading
All OCA Ron Padgett posts (Pinboard)

[Lunch Poems: by Frank O’Hara.]

Thursday, March 14, 2019

“The greatest photo in jazz”?

The New York Times has a story by Peter Facini about Bob Parent’s 1953 photograph of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Roy Haynes: ”Is This the Greatest Photo in Jazz History?” Facini asserts that this photo has “has been called by many ‘the greatest photo in jazz.’”

I know this photo well, having first seen it in a Parker biography many years ago. It’s a wonderful photo, but I’m not sure there’s any evidence that “many” have called it “the greatest photo in jazz.” I’ve never heard of the photo being described in that way; who the “many” might be, I don’t know. Try searching for greatest photo and bob parent and you’ll turn up this Times article and a 2018 article in which Facini makes the same claim: “widely considered the greatest photograph in Jazz.”

The idea of a work of art being “greatest” is foreign to me. But if there must be a greatest photo in jazz, the obvious contender is the 1958 Art Kane photo that has become known as A Great Day in Harlem, a photo that Facini doesn’t mention, a photo that’s spawned a documentary, a poster, a hip-hop homage, and at least two books. Kane’s photo is an extraordinary human-interest story in which every face is distinctive. As is the case with Parent’s photo. But it’s Kane’s photo that is known as immortal, legendary, the greatest, &c.

[Of the four musicians in Bob Parent’s photograph, only Roy Haynes is living. Of the fifty-seven musicians in A Great Day in Harlem, only Benny Golson and Sonny Rollins are living.]

Not from The Onion

From the New York Post: “Son defends parents caught in college admissions scandal while smoking blunt.” Says the son: “I believe everyone has a right to go to college, man.” But it’s his sister who pursued higher education.

While he pursued “higher” education? Now I’m thinking like the Post.

But I’d revise the headline: “Blunt-smoking son defends parents caught in college admissions scandal.” Or more Post-like: “Higher education? Son offers ‘blunt’ defense of parents caught in college admissions scandal.”

Domestic comedy

[Ciphers are sometimes difficult to work out.]

“What kind of ten-year-old are you?”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

In the library

It’s Thursday night. Alvin Fernald, Shoie Shoemaker, and Daphne Fernald (the Pest) are in the Riverton public library, scheming to copy a coded message held by the mysterious J.A. Smith. Mr. Smith is seated at a table trying to work out the message.

Clifford B. Hicks, Alvin’s Secret Code (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963).

Alvin’s Secret Code is a wonderful blend of thrills, chills, and comedy, even in the library, even on a school night. This novel was my favorite book in childhood, and it’s now a book for our household’s two-person reading club.

Related posts
Rediscovering Alvin’s Secret Code in adulthood : One last Alvin novel : Clifford B. Hicks (1920–2010)

[Metaphysical Aspects of Existentialism: there is no such book, except in the Riverton public library. But the title forms part of a book published in 1980.]

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Twelve more movies

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

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (dir. Bryan Forbes, 1964). Myra (Kim Stanley) is a medium; Billy (Richard Attenborough) is a husband who does what he’s told. On Billy’s to-do list: kidnapping a child from a wealthy family so that Myra can make a show of her psychic powers and solve the crime. And then there’s the couple’s backstory. Utterly unnerving. ★★★★


Fräulein Else (dir. Paul Czinner, 1929). An adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s novella, in which a young woman seeks to keep her debtor father from prison by approaching an old family friend for money. Alas, the power of the novella, which takes the form of a desperate interior monologue interrupted by conversation, is largely lost in a silent film. With Elisabeth Bergner as Else, and Albert Steinrück giving a great performance as Herr von Dorsday, the somber, lecherous family friend. Available restored, with a brilliant new score (by whom?), at YouTube. ★★★


The Kindergarten Teacher (dir. Nadav Lapid, 2014). For once the remake wins: Sara Colangelo’s 2018 version (same title) is a far better film, offering a far better sense of why a teacher might become obsessed with a poetry-composing pupil. In the remake, teacher Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) lives with cultural dissatisfactions and family tensions that fuel her fascination with her pupil Jimmy (Parker Sevak). In the original, teacher Nira (Sarit Larry) is thinly drawn, her obsession more difficult to fathom. There’s little here to suggest why Nira is so crazy-scary in the cause of poetry. ★★


Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (dir. Robert Aldrich, 1962). Speaking of crazy-scary: this film satisfies in every respect. A star in childhood, Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) now lives as caretaker to her older paraplegic sister Blanche Hudson (Joan Crawford), an actress whose stardom eclipsed Jane’s earlier fame. Enmity, madness, sadistic torments, and a strong dash of Sunset Boulevard. With Maidie Norman and Victor Buono as outsiders attempting to do the right thing, the latter also providing comic relief. ★★★★


Boy Erased (dir. Joel Edgerton, 2018). Adapted from Garrard Conley’s memoir, tracing the nightmare of his time in “conversion therapy,” with flashbacks to his life in college and a brief look at his life four years after the “therapy.” For young LGBTQ people struggling with their identity and their family relationships, this film offers hope that things can get better. For parents coming to terms with a child’s sexuality, this film emphasizes the importance of acceptance and unconditional love (which in a better world would be givens). For any viewer, this film has pedagogical value: it shows conversion therapy (still permitted to be practiced on minors in thirty-six states) to be cruel and unusual punishment — torture, really. ★★★★


The Big Clock (dir. John Farrow, 1948). George Stroud (Ray Milland), editor of a crime magazine, is assigned to locate a man said to be involved in deep political intrigue, but who is in fact the sole witness who can implicate Stroud’s boss (an ultra-creepy Charles Laughton) in a murder. That witness: Stroud himself, and only he knows who is he hunting and why. Fine performances all around: Milland, Laughton, Lloyd Corrigan, Elsa Lanchester (looking like Helena Bonham Carter), George Macready, Henry Morgan, and Maureen O’Sullivan. But this adaptation of Kenneth Fearing’s novel adds too much comic relief and removes too much of the noir. ★★★


Undercover (dir. John Ford, 1944). A training film for the Office of Strategic Services, showing how agents prepare for their work in “Enemy Area.” One trainee follows the rules; the other, arrogant and overconfident, makes a mess of things. With uncredited appearances by the director (as a pipe-smoking lawyer) and Peter Lorre, and a slow pace that must have been meant to assure good learning. Netflix has the same lousy print as YouTube. ★★★


The Assistant (dir. Christophe Ali and Nicolas Bonilauri, 2015). A man (Malik Zidi) driving to the hospital with his pregant wife hits and kills a pedestrian; nine years later, that pedestrian’s mother (Nathalie Baye) takes slow-moving revenge. This film doesn’t wear its influences on its sleeve, because the influences, most notably Vertigo and Fatal Attraction, need the whole shirt. Derivative, for sure, but worth watching for Baye’s performance and the suspense. Enigma: what happened to the secretary on leave? ★★★


When Harry Met Sally . . . (dir. Rob Reiner, 1989). It’s charming, sometimes too much so, offering not the Lubitsch touch but a Lubitsch punch in the face. And plenty of Woody Allen, which results in something like Annie Hall with a happy ending (that’s no spoiler). Plenty of laughs, plenty of time-capsule, plenty of weird chemistry between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. And Sally Albright’s habit of peeking to make sure the mail went into the mailbox is adorable, yes, but is Sally anything more than just adorable? ★★★


The Graduate (dir. Mike Nichols, 1967). Always worth seeing again. Something I’d never noticed before: none of the parents have first names, not even in conversation with one another. Something I’ve thought of many times: Ben’s pursuit of Elaine Robinson is really Huck and Jim all over again. But where, in 1967, was the Territory — San Francisco? ★★★★


The Heartbreak Kid (dir. Elaine May, 1972). Fresca suggested this movie, which I’d never heard of. It’s like a much darker version of The Graduate. Lenny and Lila (Charles Grodin and Jeannie Berlin) have traveled from New York to Miami for their honeymoon. Barely married, Lenny begins to feel trapped, “for the next forty or fifty years,” with a woman he barely knows. Then, still on his honeymoon, he meets Kelly, a true-life white goddess (Cybill Shepherd), and complications ensue. ★★★★


Sólo con tu pareja (dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 1991). A serendipitous followup to The Heartbreak Kid, with a feckless, duplicitous advertising man (Daniel Giménez Cacho) getting his comeuppance at the hands of a vengeful partner (Dobrina Liubomirova). Cuarón puts the comedy into sex comedy: linguistic pratfalls, physical pratfalls, mad naked dashes to retrieve the morning paper, and an exceedingly dangerous variation on the two-dates-at-once trope. But there’s also a consideration of freedom and responsibility that made me think of Rilke’s line: “You must change your life.” Beautifully filmed in fifty shades of green by Emmanuel Lubezki. ★★★★

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Hal Blaine (1929–2019)

Hal Blaine, drummer and member of the Wrecking Crew, has died at the age of ninety. From The New York Times obituary:

If he had a signature moment on a record, it was on the Ronettes’ 1963 hit, “Be My Baby,” produced by Mr. Spector. The song opened cold, with Mr. Blaine playing — and repeating — the percussive earworm “Bum-ba-bum-BOOM!” But the riff came about accidentally.

“I was supposed to play more of a boom-chicky-boom beat, but my stick got stuck and it came out boom, boom-boom chick,” he told The Wall Street Journal in 2011. “I just made sure to make the same mistake every few bars.”

Three years later, he used the same beat, but in a softer way, on Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.”
And from the Los Angeles Times obituary:
“It’s kind of a shock to the general public when they find out that a lot of [musicians in famous bands] didn't play on their records,” Blaine told the Times in 2000. “But not everybody can be a plumber and go fix a broken pipe. Sometimes you need an expert, and that's all there is to it.”

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Museum of Everyday Life

The New York Times visits the Museum of Everyday Life:

Past shows have focused on the toothbrush, the safety pin, bells and whistles and even dust. The current special exhibition, which closes in May, features locks and keys. The next yearlong show, a rumination on scissors, opens in June.
I’m reminded of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, save that everything in the Museum of Everyday Life is, well, non-fiction. Like the MJT, the MEL has a website. A must-see.

Scandal in academia

From The Washington Post:

The Justice Department on Tuesday charged more than 30 wealthy people — including two television stars — with being part of a long-running scheme to bribe and cheat to get their kids into big-name colleges and universities. . . .

The criminal complaint paints an ugly picture of high-powered individuals committing crimes to get their children into selective schools. Among those charged are actresses Felicity Huffman, best known for her role on the television show Desperate Housewives, and Lori Loughlin, who appeared on Full House, according to court documents.
The final quoted sentence would benefit from a minor revision. The original:
Among those charged are actresses Felicity Huffman, best known for her role on the television show Desperate Housewives, and Lori Loughlin, who appeared on Full House, according to court documents.
Among those charged, according to court documents, are actresses Felicity Huffman, best known for her role on the television show Desperate Housewives, and Lori Loughlin, who appeared on Full House.
See the difference? But better still, I’d say:
Among those charged, according to court documents, are the actress Felicity Huffman, best known for her role on the television show Desperate Housewives, and the actress Lori Loughlin, who appeared on Full House.
See the difference?

[Felicity Huffman but not William H. Macy? Meaning that he didn’t know about it? The affidavit says that “Huffman and her spouse made a purported charitable contribution of $15,000 . . . to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme.” Maybe Macy thought it really was a contribution? And good grief: Lori Loughlin now stars in Hallmark movies. Reading the affidavit, or at least as much of it as I could stand, made me feel sick to my stomach.]

Que me ves guey

Walking on Olvera Street in Los Angeles, I saw this face and caption on T-shirts at kiosk after kiosk. Guey, or güey, is a Mexican colloquialism with a range of meanings. Que me ves guey (I never saw it with diacritics or question marks) means, more or less, “What are you looking at, dude?” The face on the shirt is that of Don Ramón, a character made famous by Ramón Valdés on the Mexican television comedy El Chavo del Ocho.

The strange thing: for all my searching, I can find nothing to suggest that Que me ves guey was a catchphrase associated with Don Ramón.

[Elaine and I visited Olvera Street with our daughter Rachel in 2012. I have been meaning to make a post about Que me ves guey for some time.]

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Left Banke for Coke

“Lonely hours alone go much faster when you have them with Coke”: The Left Banke did a Left Banke-ish commercial for Coca-Cola.

What I hear in “Walk Away Renée”

[Backstory: The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renée” was released as a single in July 1966. In February 1967 the song appeared on the group’s first LP, Walk Away Renée / Pretty Ballerina. “Walk Away Renée” is credited to Michael Brown (the group’s keyboardist and principal songwriter), Bob Calilli, and Tony Sansone. According to members of the group, Brown wrote the music, and Sansone gave some help with the lyrics, which were mostly by Brown. Why Calilli is credited is unclear. (See this commentary.) Like “Pretty Ballerina,” (by Brown alone) and “She May Call You Up Tonight” (by Brown and Left Banke lead singer Steve Martin Caro), “Walk Away Renée” was inspired by Brown’s crush on Renée Fladen (now Fladen-Kamm), one-time girlfriend of Left Banke singer and bassist Tom Finn.]

I started listening to The Left Banke after hearing the Four Tops’ recording of “Walk Away Renée” in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. I told that story in a 2018 post, and I am still happily listening to The Left Banke. Here’s what I hear in the lyrics of “Walk Away Renée”:

And when I see the sign that points one way
The lot we used to pass by every day
Just walk away Renée
You won't see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You're not to blame

I can think of just two poems that begin with and: William Blake’s “And did those feet in ancient time” and Ezra Pound’s first canto, which begins “And then went down to the ship.” Pound is translating Andreas Divus’s 1538 Latin translation of Odyssey 11 into an approximation of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse: thus Pound begins the Cantos in medias res, as Homer began his poems. “Walk Away Renée” too begins in the middle of the thing, somewhere within a sorrow that repeats and repeats. There, once again, is a street sign: an unusual beginning for a pop song. A Left Banke song from 1967, “And Suddenly” (Michael Brown-Bert Sommer), also begins with and.

The sign and lot are markers of city life, things seen on the walk to school or the walk back home. The word “block” confirms the city setting. The landscape is bare and barely there, as it was even when Renée was part of the singer’s life. Of course the street is one-way, moving in the direction of further loneliness. A city lot is, by definition, vacant. The sidewalks are empty. Think of a Beckett play staged in an outer borough. Michael Brown grew up in Brooklyn.

The singer’s lack of response to these markers of emptiness is curious: seeing these things (yet again) prompts no outcry (why did you leave me), no reverie (these foolish things remind me of you). All the singer can do (yet again) is encourage Renee, who is blameless, to walk away. Like Catullus abandoned by his lover, the singer can take it, or so he says.


From deep inside the tears that I'm forced to cry
From deep inside the pain that I chose to hide
Just walk away Renée
You won't see me follow you back home
Now as the rain beats down upon my weary eyes
For me it cries

We move from outside circumstances to introspection. The hidden pain carries an echo of the Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” whose singer turns his face to the wall. As in the first verse, there’s a strange inaction: no verbs follow tears and pain, though the tears and pain must somehow, at some point, find their way out, whenever the singer was, or is, forced to cry. But it’s really the sky that cries in present time — sympathetic nature at work, supplementing or standing in for the singer’s tears. Compare Elmore James’s “The Sky Is Crying.”


And now there’s a lovely interlude for alto flute. “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” closes with flute and bass flute. But Michael Brown said that the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” inspired the use of alto flute here.


Your name and mine inside a heart upon a wall
Still finds a way to haunt me, though they're so small
Just walk away Renée
You won't see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You're not to blame

The song saves its best, most poignant verse for last. In this bare cityscape, there are no trees in which to carve initials. A wall must do. Does the singer’s lost relationship achieve some permanence in this inscription? Or are the names written in chalk, to be washed away by the rain? The names of two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, do they?

There’s an odd and almost certainly accidental shift in verb forms here, from singular to plural. The names are small, but your-name-and-mine-inside-a-heart still finds a way to haunt the singer. That fleeting singular verb is marks the lone moment of togetherness in the lyric.


I love this song. In addition to The Left Banke and Four Tops performances, I recommend performances by Rickie Lee Jones, Cyndi Lauper and Peter Kingsbery (even with flubbed lyrics), and Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy.

[Talking Heads’ “And She Was” almost begins with and. The first word though is “Hey!” For Catullus, see Louis Zukofsky’s translation of VIII: “So long, girl. Catullus / can take it.”]

Cutout Sluggo

[Zippy, March 11, 2019.]

The devil has arrived to punish Zippy. But as Zippy explains, “Only people who believe in th’ devil can be hurt by th’ devil.” And besides, there’s cutout Sluggo. Much more effective than, say, cutout Mike Lindell.

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

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Today’s Mutts

Today’s Mutts is a beautiful homage to Krazy Kat. I’ve been reading Mutts for just a few years, but I can’t recall ever seeing Krazy or Ignatz in the strip before today.

Ashbery Trek

“Are you wearing some unusual kind of perfume, or something radioactive, my dear?”

Sounds like something from a John Ashbery poem. It’s Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) speaking, in the Star Trek episode “Mudd’s Women” (October 13, 1966), which aired last night on MeTV. I know next to nothing about Star Trek, but I know a good found line when I hear it.

The answer to the question, spoken by Ruth (Maggie Thrett), a mail-order bride of sorts: “ No, I'm just me.” This episode has guest star Roger C. Carmel as Harry Mudd, who might be called an entrepreneur, or space pirate. The puffy shirt and earring give it away.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Frank Longo, begins with a gimme, sort of: 1-Across, seven letters, “Short-notice helipad user.” But wait: how is that answer spelled? Either way, its last letter gave me 7-Down, nine letters, “Nation nearly entirely on renewable electricity.” And a letter in that answer let me guess with confidence at 32-Across, fifteen letters, “Professorial privilege.” Yeah, I’m all about the privilege. But everything else took a lot longer.

Some challenging and rewarding clues: 10-Down, four letters, “Okay request.” 11-Down, four letters, “What bagels are made without.” 25-Down, five letters, “Many minute hands.” And one that made me laugh: 60-Across, seven letters, “West Wing resignee of 2017.” There were so many!

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Four years

[Brendan Loper, “Cartoon of the Day.” The New Yorker, March 8, 2019.]

Minutes seem like hours. Hours seem like days. Really the blues.


From a prison cell, the view across Lake Wolbana:

Kenneth Fearing, Clark Gifford’s Body. 1942. (New York: New York Review Books, 2007).

Sam Walton managed his first variety store in 1945. He opened the first Walton’s in 1950. Not exactly a buttonhook magnate, but eerily close.

Also from Fearing
“The niece of a department store” : “Me? Dangerous?” : “Nearly everyone was” : “The slightly confidential friend” : “Rivalries and antagonisms”

The Mental Load

I can’t remember where I learned about this comic: Fallait demander, or The Mental Load. Every human male should read it. The artist and writer is known as Emma — just Emma.

Everybody’s folding

[Zits, March 8, 2019.]

“Each piece of your clothing should be carefully folded”: Connie Duncan (Mom) just binge-watched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. But in the strip it’s just called Tidying Up. To make things tidier? To not infringe on the Marie Kondo brand? Anyway, Mom has too many rules.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Hipster look-alikes

An amusing item from The Washington Post: “Hipsters all look the same, man inadvertently confirms.”

I recall my eight-grade science teacher Mr. Fox going off on a tangent one afternoon about conformity: about how no hippie would leave the house without his love beads arranged just so. The hippies too, he said, were conforming. Mr. Fox was onto something. He was rumored to be a former FBI agent.

[Love beads: I swear. I’ve always remembered that detail.]

“Rivalries and antagonisms”

A general speaks:

Kenneth Fearing, Clark Gifford’s Body. 1942. (New York: New York Review Books, 2007).

Clark Gifford’s Body tells the story of an insurrection in an imaginary country of diminished freedoms and perpetual war. The insurrection begins with the seizing of radio stations. The novel ranges backward and forward in time, assembling the accounts of participants and eyewitnesses, court documents, and news reports. NYRB describes the novel as “a pseudo-documentary of a world given over to pseudo-politics and pseudo-events, a prophetic glimpse of the future as a poisonous fog.” Made for these times.

Also from Fearing
“The niece of a department store” : “Me? Dangerous?” : “Nearly everyone was” : “The slightly confidential friend”

Playing to lose

The guitarist and singer Buddy Guy, quoted in David Remnick’s New Yorker profile “Holding the Note” (March 11, 2019):

“Funny thing about the blues — you play ’em cause you got ’em. But, when you play ’em, you lose ’em.”
Related reading
All OCA blues posts (Pinboard)

Mooch, hypercorrecting

[Mutts, March 7, 2019. Click for a larger view.]

Sorry, Mooch: who is correct. (Who told you that?) Whom for who, like between you and I, is a hypercorrection. Garner’s Modern English Usage explains:

Sometimes people [or cats] strive to abide by the strictest etiquette, but in the process behave inappropriately. The very motivations that result in this irony can play havoc with the language: a person [or cat] will strive for a correct linguistic form but instead fall into error. Linguists call this phenomenon “hypercorrection” — a common shortcoming.
Mooch’s gotcha “Ha!” and smug look in the third panel tell me that Patrick McDonnell, the strip’s creator, understands the difference between who and whom.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


Watch Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen avoid acknowledging that Customs and Border Protection keeps children in cages:

“Sir, they’re not cages.” What are they then? “As the children are processed through, they are in sub-parts of these facilities.” But not in cages. Children are in “areas of the border facility that are carved out for the safety and protection of those who remain there while they’re being processed.” But not in cages.

Related reading
All OCA Orwell posts (Pinboard)

[Axios has it as “some parts,” but if you listen carefully, it’s “sub-parts.”]

Shorabat addas, or lentil soup

We bought a package of Ziyad red lentils, and Elaine made soup. Did she ever. Here, slightly rewritten, is the recipe that appears on the package:

2 cups red lentils
8 cups water or broth
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. turmeric or paprika
1 large onion, diced
1–2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
juice of one lemon
2 bouillon cubes, your choice of flavor (optional)
And the preparation:
Wash lentils. Combine with broth or water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for thirty minutes. Stir occasionally.

When lentils are tender, add dry spices and boullion.

Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until golden, and add them to the soup.

Simmer for five minutes. Turn off heat, add lemon juice, and stir.

Ladle soup into bowls, garnish with parsley and paprika, and serve with lemon wedges on the side.
Elaine chose water, substituted Better Than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base for cubes, tripled the cumin and paprika, used three cloves of garlic, and sautéed a carrot, diced, with the onion and garlic. And she used an immersion blender on the finished soup. What resulted was spectacular — creamy, spicy, slightly sweet, totally comforting. We were hoping for something like the lentil soup we know from Cedars Mediterranean Kitchen in Chicago. But we ended up with something like a very hearty dal. We will be serving this soup the next time we have friends over for dinner.

More soup
Cabbage : Purée Mongole

[Google Translate tells me that “shorabat addas” is Welsh for “shorabat suitable.” But it seems to be Lebanese for — you guessed it — “lentil soup.” Why is Lebanese missing from Google Translate?]

Johnny Horizon

[Peanuts, March 8, 1972.]

I like it when a comic strip turns into a time capsule. Who was Johnny Horizon? Wikipedia explains. And here, from the Forest History Society, is his story. The naïveté — if we can just pick up enough pieces of litter, we can save the environment.

Peanuts past is Peanuts present. If all Peanuts is eternally present, all time is Peanuts.

Related reading
All OCA Peanuts posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Nancy, meta and dowdy

[Nancy, March 5, 2019.]

From today’s Nancy, an Olivia Jaimes panel for the ages. Another kid has been giving Nancy drawing tips: “If you mess up a character’s eyes, just add sunglasses.” “If you mess up their mouth, just make it bigger.” “Worst comes to worst, you can just scribble it all out and add a label.” Thus this fourth panel.

What I really like is the dotted line — très dowdy.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[Just to be clear: “for the ages” is praise, not sarcasm. I like this stuff.]

HTML Scratchpad

HTML Scratchpad is a webpage for messing around with HTML. Before I cottoned to MarsEdit, I used HTML Scratchpad to check whether YouTube videos will play when embedded in Blogger. Not all of them will, and Blogger’s Preview is useless for finding out before posting. But HTML Scratchpad works: copy and paste the code and press Run. Then click to play, or not play.

Monday, March 4, 2019

“After you,” “Go ahead”

Say you’re in line at a grocery checkout and someone comes up behind with just one or two items. Courteous shopper that you are, you want to let that person go first. Is there much difference between saying “After you” and and saying “Go ahead”? Is one more appropriate than the other?

Or say you’re holding a door open for someone entering or leaving the store. Courteous as ever, you want to let that person go first. Again, is there much difference between “After you” and “Go ahead”? Is one more appropriate than the other?

I hear each expression as an invitation: please, feel free to go first. To my ear, “After you” sounds more formal, which might make it less suited for everyday use in the folksy midwest. But I’m curious to know what other people think.

Benjamin and Newman

Watching The Graduate (dir. Mike Nichols, 1967) Saturday night, I wondered: could Mrs. Robinson’s icy “Hello, Benjamin” be the inspiration for Jerry Seinfeld’s “Hello, Newman”?

I don’t expect to have the answer to that question anytime soon.


The “Hello, Benjamin” I have in mind comes in at the 1:11 mark. As I just discovered, Safari in iOS doesn’t jump ahead to that spot as it should.

The last Automat

[Zippy, March 4, 2019.]

The Automat appears again and again in Zippy. Here, type automat into the search box and you’ll see. Today’s strip repurposes art from a 2014 visit to the Dingburg Automat.

I have a vague memory of sitting in an Automat with a friend in the 1980s. And I have a vague nostalgia for the Automat. The Automat appears in a handful of OCA posts.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

How to improve writing (no. 80)

Here’s a sentence that gave both members of our household pause. From Jeffrey Toobin’s “May Days,” a New Yorker “Talk of the Town” item (March 4):

Virtually everything that Trump tells McCabe he disputes, starting with the claim that he received “hundreds” of messages from F.B.I. employees supporting his decision to fire Comey.
I’d call it a garden-path sentence. I first read everything as the sentence’s subject, with Trump both telling and disputing. So I expected that the sentence would run along these lines:
Virtually everything that Trump tells McCabe he disputes is contradicted by, &c.
But I was led down a garden path. The sentence’s subject turns out to be its first he, and that’s McCabe. Which creates a second problem, because the sentence’s second he refers to Trump.

How to improve this sentence? Make the subject clear by putting it first. That keeps the reader off the garden path. It’s helpful too to remove the easily misread hes. My revision:
McCabe disputes virtually everything that Trump tells him, starting with the president’s claim that “hundreds” of messages from F.B.I. employees supported his decision to fire Comey.
The condensed language of newspaper headlines often leads to garden-path sentences (for instance, and for instance). It’s surprising to find such a sentence in The New Yorker.

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

[This post is no. 80 in a series, dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Lester Ruff, has some surprisingly easy clues. I started solving with one: 32-Across, seven letters, “Users of Breathe Right strips.” NICEGUYS? No, that’s eight letters. Then I noticed 11-Down, ten letters, “Novel inspired by Cain and Abel.” And 12-Down, ten letters, “Wharton work.” And I was on my way.

I always like smart clues for little words. For instance, 51-Across, three letters, “Day preceder or follower.” And 53-Down, four letters, “Service members.” That’s right next to 52-Down, four letters, “Service members.” Nice work, Mr. Ruff.

A meta clue, 28-Down, ten letters, “Stumpery clue for ‘rise.’”

And one clue I’d question: 15-Down, six letters, “Mitigates.” That works only if the answer is an archaic meaning.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Introvert sticklers

Psychology Today reports on a study suggesting that “introverts [are] more likely to be annoyed by typos and grammatical mistakes than extroverts.” A sentence from PT :

First, let’s take a closer look at the study, then we’ll explore why introverts might be the ultimate grammar sticklers.
Uh-oh, comma splice, which I’ve marked in red. Better:
First, let’s take a closer look at the study; then we’ll explore why introverts might be the ultimate grammar sticklers.
Better still:
Let’s look at the study and see why introverts might be grammar sticklers.
There’s little need for “first” and “then” when the two matters are so closely related. And if the article has presented only a brief statement about the study, there’s little difference between a look and a closer look. I object to “explore” as slightly pompous, and to “the ultimate” as hype. But then I’m a modest introvert. Or stickler. Or both.

The study involved a mere eighty participants. This post makes eighty-one.

Related reading
All OCA grammar and introversion posts (Pinboard)


A girl from the wrong side of the tracks returns from the dead to open up new frontiers for Colonial America.

A brother-and-sister musical team terrorizes a young girl and her grandfather.

An innocent cowboy transforms the lives of the elderly women trapped in a haunted mansion.

A widow dreaming of a singing career turns to an acupuncturist to find her grandmother.

The elements of the single-sentence synopses of movie listings cry out to be recombined on a remote island. As above. Anyone can play.

[See also Clark Coolidge and Ron Padgett’s Supernatural Overtones (Great Barrington, MA: The Figures, 1990).]

Pocket notebook sighting:
The Big Clock

[Lloyd Corrigan, Frank Orth, a pocket notebook, and Luis Van Rooten. The Big Clock (dir. John Farrow, 1948). Click for a larger view.]

I blame Bresson. It was Journal d’un curé de campagne that got me started noticing notebooks in movies. And now it’s automatic.

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

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Thankful for that

Our president, speaking about Kim Jong Un’s knowledge of Otto Warmbier’s treatment:

“I don’t think the top leadership knew about it.”

“I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen.”

”Those prisons are rough, they’re rough places, and bad things happened.”

“I don’t believe he knew about it.”

“He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.”
All I can say is, thank goodness our president never met Hitler.

About yesterday afternoon

About the clash of representatives at yesterday’s Michael Cohen hearing:

Mark Meadows presented the experiences of Lynne Patton, a friend of the Trump family and government employee, as proof that Donald Trump is not racist. But consider this analogy:

If X is said to rob banks, and a bank manager, Y, comes forward to say, no, X never robbed our bank, that denial says nothing about whether X robs banks. Not to have robbed one bank does not mean that X does not rob banks. Especially when X has the dye from exploding money bags all over his person.

To take one person’s experiences with Donald Trump as evidence that Trump is not racist is intellectually dishonest or, at best, painfully naïve. And to take one person’s experiences with Trump as evidence of Trump’s attitude toward a group that person is meant to represent — well, that’s racist.

Compare Louis Zukofsky, speaking of his fellow poet Ezra Pound: “I never felt the least trace of anti-Semitism in his presence.” Yes, but.

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

Do you recognize the elevator operator? Leave your best or second-best guess in the comments. I’ll drop a hint if necessary.


10:10 a.m.: Now ID’d 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.]

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

That sounds right

From the Michael Cohen hearing, a few minutes ago. Representative Stephen Lynch (D, Massachusetts-8): “Your side ran away from the truth. We’re trying to bring it to the American people.”

An EXchange name sighting

[Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (dir. Robert Aldrich, 1962). Click for a larger view.]

Miss Jane Hudson, HO 5-6259, is planning to revive her career. She’s placed her ad for an accompanist in the Personal column — nicer than using the want ads, she thinks.

A 1955 list of recommended exchange names gives these possibilities for HO: HObart, HOmestead, HOpkins, and HOward. But at some point HO also stood for HOllywood. The Hudson sisters’ HO must signify Hollywood, don’t you think?

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? also includes an uncredited appearance by a Mongol pencil.

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 : 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

[EM: EMerson? EMpire? EV: Evergreen?]

“The slightly confidential friend”

Kenneth Fearing, The Big Clock. 1946. (New York: New York Review Books, 2006).

Also from this novel
“The niece of a department store” : “Me? Dangerous?” : “Nearly everyone was”

Domestic comedy

[Media studies.]

“He looks sort of like a demented Robert Young.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[He: James Griffith, in the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Posthumous Painter” (November 11, 1961).]

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

“We did not plummet into space”

A clue in a Newsday crossword got me thinking about plummet. Which in turn made me think of Ernest Noyes Brookings (1898–1987). Brookings, a Navy veteran and a designer of machine parts, began writing poems while residing in a nursing home. The volume We Did Not Plummet Into Space: Variety Poems of Special Interest (Charlestown, MA: Innerer Klang, 1983) was published in an edition of 400 copies. It’s a book I cherish.

Brookings’s poems are sweet and startling, with lines and stanzas often moving in whatever directions the poet’s rhyming dictionary suggests. Content as an extension of form: radical formalism, says I. Here are the final stanzas of “My Jobs”:

[A number of musicians have set Brookings’s poems to music. A collected poems, Golden Rule, was published in 2016 (London: Boatwhistle Books).]

May Drug Co.

[Zippy, February 26, 2019.]

In today’s Zippy, a dead drugstore comes back to life. The May Drug Co. stood at Seminary Avenue and Foothill Boulevard in Oakland, California. Here’s a photo gallery, assembled by the artist Gary Molitor, whose father and grandfather ran May Drug.

I like retail density, real or imaginary.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard) : A Berenice Abott photograph : Best drugstore in the movies?

“Nearly everyone was”

Steve Hagen is trying to figure something out:

Kenneth Fearing, The Big Clock. 1946. (New York: New York Review Books, 2006).

The movie (dir. John Farrow, 1948) is fun, but the novel is the real film noir.

Also from this novel
“The niece of a department store” : “Me? Dangerous?”

Monday, February 25, 2019

A joke in the traditional manner

This one’s from Elaine:

What’s the name of the Illinois town where dentists want to live?

No spoilers. The punchline is in the comments.

More jokes in the traditional manner
The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : Did you hear about the thieving produce clerk? : Elementary school : A Golden Retriever : How did Bela Lugosi know what to expect? : How did Samuel Clemens do all his long-distance traveling? : How do amoebas communicate? : How do worms get to the supermarket? : Of all the songs in the Great American Songbook, which is the favorite of pirates? : What did the doctor tell his forgetful patient to do? : What did the plumber do when embarrassed? : What happens when a senior citizen visits a podiatrist? : What is the favorite toy of philosophers’ children? : What was the shepherd doing in the garden? : Where do amoebas golf? : Where does Paul Drake keep his hot tips? : Why did the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels? : Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies? : Why did the ophthalmologist and his wife split up? : Why does Marie Kondo never win at poker? : Why is the Fonz so cool? : Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. He gets credit for all but the cow coloratura, the produce clerk, the amoebas, the worms, the pirate song, the toy, the shepherd, Paul Drake, the squirrel-doctor, Marie Kondo, the Fonz, Santa Claus, and this one. My dad was making such jokes long before anyone called them “dad jokes.”]

“Me? Dangerous?”

George Stroud again. The beautiful stranger, who is no stranger, really, is Pauline Delos.

Kenneth Fearing, The Big Clock. 1946. (New York: New York Review Books, 2006).

Also from this novel
“The niece of a department store”

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Library history

“Today, even in an America that increasingly shuns all things public, people still love and need a good public library”: Ariel Aberg-Riger offers a short illustrated history of the American public library.

[Found via Fresca, l’astronave.]

No, it’s not a butter churn

At Oscar’s Day, George Bodmer dramatizes a supply-centric generation gap.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Stanley Donen (1924–2019)

Director of Royal Wedding and Funny Face and so many other films, co-director of On the Town and Singin’ in the Rain, Stanley Donen has died at the age of ninety-four. The New York Times has an obituary.

Our fambly was fortunate to see Stanley Donen with John Williams and the Boston Pops at Tanglewood some years ago. Donen introduced clips from his films, which played silently on a huge screen as the orchestra played the appropriate part of the score. We must have been at this 2005 concert, which also featured Josh Groban. I remember that there were many younger (and noisy) people in the audience.

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, has some fine pairs of clues and answers. Or at least fine by me:

31-Across, nine letters, “Dove.” You were thinking of birds, perhaps?

56-Across, ten letters, “They have defensive ends.”

11-Down, ten letters, “Bridge beam.” Thank you, Vertigo, for that answer.

13-Down, five letters, “Minor key.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Domestic comedy

“Did the museum send you the app for the subtitles?”


“Look at the color palette.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[People who wake up while watching TV say the darndest things. First item, during The Late Show. Second, Perry Mason.]

“Water of life”

From The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories (1991):

Of the relatively few English words that have come from the Celtic languages, certainly one of the most common is whiskey. The Irish Gaelic uisce beathadh and Scots Gaelic uisge beatha, terms for certain distilled liquors made in those countries, can both be translated literally as “water of life.” Though whiskeybae and usquebaugh have both been used in English, the shorter whiskey (or whisky) is by far the most common form.

In sixteenth-century England aqua vitae, taken without change from the Medieval Latin phrase meaning “water of life,” first appears as a term for a distilled alcoholic drink, though as early as 1471 it had been used for medicinal alcohol. From the same Medieval Latin source comes Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian akvavit, which is used in English in the form aquavit as the name for a clear Scandinavian liquor flavored with caraway seeds. English has also borrowed the French translation of Latin aqua vitae in the font eau-de-vie as a term for brandy.

The name bourbon which designates some American whiskeys comes from the name of Bourbon County, Kentucky, where such whiskey was first made in the late eighteenth century.
Our household is three of four: we have aquavit (Aalborg, Linie), bourbon (Evan Williams, Traverse City), and Scotch (Ardbeg, Glenmorangie). And lots of wine. But no brandy. Scotch, by the way, is always whisky, no -e.

Our alcohol consumption has not increased since November 8, 2016, but our stockpiling has. Be Prepared.

A related post
Whisky, hold the -e

[The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories is wonderfully browsable.]

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Victor Davis Hanson
on Ajax, Achilles, and Trump

The New Yorker has an interview with Victor Davis Hanson, classicist, military historian, and Donald Trump supporter. The interview covers touches on many subjects in a short space: “anchor babies,” the travel ban, the statue-loving demonstrators in Charlottesville, Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and when it’s appropriate to mock a woman as unattractive: “There are certain women that may be homely,” Hanson declares. (It’s like watching an interview from The Colbert Report.) And of course, Hanson talks about his forthcoming book, The Case for Trump, in which he likens Donald Trump, in passing, to the Greek heroes Achilles and Ajax. As he does in the interview:

“You have a neurotic hero [Ajax] who cannot get over the fact that he was by all standards the successor to Achilles and deserves Achilles’s armor, and yet he was outsmarted by this wily, lesser Odysseus, who rigged the contest and got the armor. All he does is say, ‘This wasn’t fair. I’m better. Doesn’t anybody know this?’ It’s true, but you want to say to Ajax, ‘Shut up and just take it.’ Achilles has elements of a tragic hero. He says, at the beginning of the Iliad, ‘I do all the work. I kill all the Trojans. But when it comes to assigning booty, you always give it to mediocrities — deep-state, administrative nothings.’ So he stalks off. And the gods tell him, ‘If you come back in, you will win fame, but you are going to end up dead.’ So he makes a tragic, heroic decision that he is going to do that.

“I think Trump really did think that there were certain problems and he had particular skills that he could solve. Maybe in a naïve fashion. But I think he understood, for all the emoluments-clause hysteria, that he wasn’t going to make a lot of money from it or be liked for it.”
These comparisons are bonkers. Let’s not forget: Trump, unlike Ajax, won the big prize, with, it seems, considerable help from outside actors who worked to rig the outcome — Russians, not Greeks. The Ajax of Sophocles’s tragedy Ajax (the work Hanson is referencing) does more than say “This wasn’t fair”: having planned to kill Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Odysseus, he is deluded by Athena into slaughtering cattle instead. And he then realizes what he has done: “Now I stand here / Disgraced.” What distinguishes Sophocles’s Ajax is his profound shame, an emotion Donald Trump seems incapable of feeling.

As for Achilles: he returns to battle out of a deep sense of loyalty to his beloved Patroclus, willing to sacrifice himself to avenge his comrade. Loyalty, self-sacrifice: further elements of human experience that seem foreign to Trump, except insofar as he demands them of others.

If Trump resembles anyone in the Iliad, it’s Agamemnon, the leader who is at a loss in a true crisis and claims Achilles’s prize of war (the enslaved Briseis) to assert his own greater authority. It’s the preening, self-aggrandizing Agamemnon who complains of fake news, dismissing the prophet Calchas’s explanation of a plague: “Not a single favorable omen ever!”

And it must be said: Ajax, Achilles, and even Agamemnon fight valiantly. None of them claimed to have bone spurs. The best comparison there would be to Odysseus, who feigned madness to avoid conscription. But once at Troy, he too fought valiantly.

In 2017 I wrote a post about Trump, Agamemnon, Oedipus, and Creon: We three kings. Or, really, one king and two tyrants.

Other related reading
All OCA Homer posts (Pinboard)

[Amazon’s Look Inside feature lets me see that the references to Ajax and Achilles are as cursory in Hanson’s book as they are in this interview. I’ve quoted from Peter Meineck’s translation of Ajax, in Four Tragedies (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2007), and Stanley Lombardo’s translation of the Iliad (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997).]

“The niece of a department store”

George Stroud works in the magazine business. He and his wife Georgette are attending at a party at the residence of his boss Earl Janoth:

Kenneth Fearing, The Big Clock. 1946. (New York: New York Review Books, 2006).

Forty-two pages in, I’ll vouch for The Big Clock.

[George and Georgette’s daughter: Georgia. They all call each other George: “George said you’d tell me a story, George.” Just a tad surreal.]

A Mongol sighting

[Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (dir. Robert Aldrich, 1962). Click for a larger view.]

Anna Lee, as the next-door neighbor Mrs. Bates, holds a Mongol pencil. The ferrule is the tell-tale sign.

From childhood’s hour, the Mongol has been my favorite pencil.

Related reading
All OCA Mongol posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


”You’ll laugh, you’ll be moved, and you’ll come away with new ways to approach your work and put research into practice. You’ll meet people who can help your career thrive”: from a website for a conference about (so-called) distance learning. There are many such conferences.

Strange that those who extol distance learning should extol the benefits of meeting in real space to talk shop. For students: online classes. For us: travel money and conferences. Let them eat Internets!

A related post
Haircuts, the gold standard, and everyone else

Frozen heads

Lately our deck has been dry, sodden, or covered in snow. But this morning: frozen nailheads.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


[Mark Trail, February 19, 2019.]

On Harbour Island in the Bahamas, a man named Dirty is destroying a mannequin’s head with a flamethrower: “Man! This flamethrower is a blast!” The name, the weapon, the witless violence: might this man be a villain? If so, Mark will promptly be dispatching him, eight or nine months from now.

If you want to break the fourth wall, you must leave no wall behind. Olivia Jaimes can show you how it’s done. Also, don’t leave parts of clouds and infernos blank. “FFWWOOOOSSSHHH” must be comics-speak for “Dammit, I forgot to proofread.”

Related reading


[Click for a much larger view.]

Not quite FAT and SASSY, but still — what are the odds? Slim, I guess.

“The phrase fat and sassy has connoted robust good health for well over a century”: The Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories (1991). M-W cites an 1859 example: “The fryin-pan stunk with fat eels, and we all got fat and sassy.”

Monday, February 18, 2019

No TV for a week!

But it’s not a punishment. And in truth, it’s only cable news, not TV. It’s been no CNN or MSNBC for a week, and I feel fine.

I’ve tried it before: from November 8 to December 13, I watched no television news, save for an episode of the PBS NewsHour dedicated to Gwen Ifill. At some point the news went back on. I confess: I was a backslider, reading with CNN on in the background, watching The 11th Hour (at 10 Central) and feeling dread. And then I decided (again) — enough.

My eyes and ears are open and my head is nowhere near the sand: I am keeping up with the news by reading The New York Times and The Washington Post and listening to NPR. I’ve made the mistake of tuning in to cable news just twice, hitting 1-3-5 or 1-3-8 on the remote out of habit. Once I got someone saying “But it will never pass in the Senate.” And once I got a commercial. I don’t think I’ve missed much.

[I had already pretty much given up on the PBS NewsHour: it makes everything feel too normal.]