Sunday, February 16, 2020


“I love your tattoo. I love aloe vera.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

[For a moment I thought that the speaker was referring to an entertainer with a stage name — like, say, Awkwafina. But then I heard the tatted person’s reply: “I was gifted an aloe vera plant,” &c.]

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Phonics again

Phonics. Everything old is new again.

Stopping at a rest stop with
your swim team while black

I think that this story deserves wide attention. Here is the lawsuit.


4:36 p.m.: The story has made it to The Washington Post.

[My post title is meant to recall the expression “driving while black.”]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Given the difficulty of last Saturday’s puzzle, I thought that this week’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Brad Wilber, would have to be easier. And it was, much easier. I began solving with 1-A, eleven letters, “Gets no help.” I needed no help getting an answer, and I didn’t realize until long after I finished the puzzle that I might have started with an equally plausible, nearly right answer. The longer steps beneath 1-A posed more difficult: 12-A, thirteen letters, “Cast layer” and 14-A, fifteen letters, “Frequent letter carriers.” But still, I got them, without help.

Some good cultural stuff, old and new, in today’s puzzle:

2-D, five letters, “Vague ‘rumeur.’” Probably my favorite clue in the puzzle, if only because I was pleased with myself for nailing the answer right off. I did have help from 1-A.

8-D, seven letters, “‘To thine own self be true’ addressee.” Easy, I think, but I’m not sure.

22-D, five letters, “Mayflower Cafe entrée.” I had never heard of the Mayflower Cafe (no accent), but thinking about its name helped me get the answer. After looking up the Mayflower, I think I may have eaten there, many years ago.

34-A, six letters, “Poet/novelist/critic/inventor from Ottawa.” Inventor? I didn’t know that.

40-D, six letters, “‘Benighted walks under the      sun’: Milton.” I will admit though to not knowing the source, having last read it forty or more years ago. But I do remember, forty or more years ago, typing out lines from that work — “Offering to every weary traveller / His orient liquor in a crystal glass” — and taping them to a magazine ad for Suntory whisky featuring George Raft in black tie. I cannot find the ad online, so you’ll have to take my word that such an ad existed.

50-A, fifteen letters, “College news of 2019.” The challenge here was just how to phrase the answer.

55-A, eleven letters, “Creator of ‘the miserable monster.’” No, the answer predates reality TV.

And no, no spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Beethoven, anyone?

If you, too, were inspired by this New York Times article to listen to all of Beethoven’s string quartets, Elaine has a detailed and well-received post with suggestions for listening. Two of her favorite recordings of the quartets are available from Amazon for ridiculously low prices: those by the Alban Berg Quartet (7 CDs, $16.74) and the Végh Quartet (10 CDs, $20.99). The Végh set includes Bartók’s string quartets.

I’m listening to quartets as performed by the Guarneri Quartet, if only because I brought their boxed set years ago with the thought that it would be fun to, &c. And now I am. I find that having the score in hand (courtesy of Elaine, of course) is tremendously helpful. My music-reading ability is minimal, but looking at the score still helps me to follow the movement of the music and the interplay of instruments.

When I checked Amazon last night, the Guarneri set (a CD reissue of 1969 recordings) was listed as out of print. Today there’s a December 2019 reissue available (8 CDs, $24.98). Another bargain.

But for furthering one’s humanity and lifting one’s spirits in difficult times, Beethoven is a bargain at any price.

Analog rising

“Sales of stationery and cards are actually up among younger and youngish people”: so says Marketplace Morning Report, in a brief item on young people and greeting cards. With this comment: “I love my friends’ handwriting, because it’s personal.”

The story begins at the 5:26 mark.

Related reading
All OCA stationery posts (Pinboard)

Five cyber freedoms

From Print Mag, and in the form of posters, five cyber freedoms: freedom from election tampering, freedom from identity theft, freedom from hacking and malware, freedom from online scams, and freedom from misinformation.

I think the poster about online scams is esp. striking. Which reminds me — wait, that’ll be another post.

Valentine’s Day

[“Heart Amulet.” From Egypt, Upper Egypt, Thebes, Deir el-Bahri, ca. 1070–945 B.C. Lapis Lazuli. 3/8″. Metropolitan Museum of Art. From the online collection. Click for a larger view and you’ll see what the red is.]

More about amulets and the heart, or ib, at this museum page.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

iOS autocorrect and alcohol

John Gruber suggested last year that iOS 13 autocorrect is drunk:

One thing I and others have noticed is that when you type a dictionary word correctly — meaning you hit the exact right keys on the on-screen keyboard — iOS 13 autocorrect will replace it with a different dictionary word that makes no contextual sense. Even beyond dictionary words, I’m seeing really strange corrections. Two nights ago I typed “Dobbs”, including the Shift key for the “D”, and iOS 13.1 autocorrected it to “adobe”, with a lowercase “a”.
Last night I typed toast on my iPhone (letter by letter) and found the word changed to toaste. (What?) I typed have twice, letter by letter, and each time found it changed to gave. I said to Elaine, “It changes random words — words that are correctly smelled.”

That was no autocorrection. That was domestic comedy.

The problems arise with both letter-by-letter typing and iOS 13’s Slide to Type option. I can’t decide which form of text entry is more prone to error. Incidentally: on an iOS 13 device, the keyboard settings offer Slide to Type. In Apple’s online documentation the feature is called QuickPath. The only “QuickPath” on my phone is an entry in the Apple Dictionary.

I gave my phone a sobriety test this morning, entering the name of my favorite Scotch with Slide to Type. I went from letter to letter six times, with absolute accuracy. The results:
The name I was trying to enter: Glenmorangie. I think that John Gruber is correct: autocorrect is drunk, and it’s only 8:17 in the morning. And it’s gonna stay drunk all day.

Is there one in Hawkins?

Aldi Breakfast Best Homestyle Waffles are better than Eggo Homestyle Waffles. More delicate, not so wooden. Aldi waffles cost less too.

Is there an Aldi in Hawkins?

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Oxford and its comma

Beadnell comma doesn’t have the same ring to it as Oxford comma”: CMOS Shop Talk, from The Chicago Manual of Style, presents the history of the Oxford comma.

Related reading
All OCA comma and punctuation posts (Pinboard)

Campaign typography

George Butterick (as in Butterick’s Practical Typography) considers the campaign logos of Democratic presidential candidates: “A Special Listicle for America”: “Over­all best in show: I am sur­prised to say it’s Joe Biden.”

Elsewhere, Print Mag invites your participation in a game of logo brackets.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Joseph Shabalala (1941–2020)

Joseph Shabalala, founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, has died at the age of seventy-eight. The New York Times has an obituary.

Here’s a song written by Joseph Shabalala, performed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, “Hamba Dompasi (No More Passbook).” The Zulu lyrics may be found in the liner notes for the album Journey of Dreams (1988), along with a summary and sample lines in English: “This song hails the abolishment of the abhorrent pass laws in South Africa while at the same time detailing the beauty of the land.”

The requirement that black people in white areas carry a passbook ended in 1986. I remember playing this song and teaching the play Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (Athol Fugard, John Kani, Winston Ntshona) when apartheid was still the order of things in South Africa.

Nancy, champeen

[Nancy, May 8, 1950.]

In today’s yesterday’s Nancy, Nancy seeks employment advertising a “store.” The final panel (what Ernie Bushmiller called “the snapper”) reveals a pawnshop. Three bubbles, three balls. Memorable.

But what got me here is a word. Yesterday, grand. Today, champeen. The ghosts of my grandparents are speaking through Nancy.

I can find little background on champeen. Nothing in the OED, nothing in Webster’s Third, nothing in Green’s Dictionary of Slang. Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English identifies champeen an Australian variant of champion, in use before 1915. The Champeen is the title of a 1923 Our Gang short. Did the word come back to the States with soldiers from the Great War? No. Looking in the New York Times via ProQuest, I found this bit in a column titled “Nuggets” (June 29, 1899):

The Pug — I know I ain’t been able to git a battle on fer eight months, but you bet I’ll be champeen yet.

The Backer — Yes, if this keeps up, you will be the champion long-wait fighter of the world.
An earlier article about a teachers’ strike refers to a children’s song, “The School’s Champeen” (December 22, 1892). And that’s as early as I can find in the Times

Google’s Ngram Viewer shows champeen first turning up in American English in 1886. All but one of the pre-1892 appearances of champeen in Google Books have it as a variant of champagne or as a surname. The exception: an 1889 appearance in a grotesque parody of African-American speech: “de champeen livin’ skellington in de kentry.”

Long story short: champeen was in use in the States well before 1915. You’d have to be a champeen searcher to come up with more than that.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Monday, February 10, 2020

Homer, revised

I’ve thought about this possibility for several days. How best to end infighting among Democratic candidates? Have Athena step in, raising a shout that stops “all fighters in their tracks”:

Homer, Odyssey 24, trans. Robert Fitzgerald (1961), revised by me.

Come together, Democrats, “or Zeus who views the wide world may be angry.”

Related reading
All OCA Homer posts (Pinboard)

“The art of scything”

Renée Michel is the concierge at 7 rue de Grenelle, Paris. She keeps a journal. Here she likens her writing to scything, “conscious, automatic motion, without thought or calculation”:

Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, trans. Alison Anderson (New York: Europa Editions, 2008).

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a beautiful novel, made of the journal entries of Madame Michel and Paloma Josse, a twelve-year-old child of affluence and resident of the building. As their journal entries show us, Madame Michel and Paloma think in remarkably similar ways about art and life and language. Rather similar to Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, in which we see characters, at least sometimes, thinking along parallel lines, or looking at the same thing, neither of them knowing it.

But The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a perfect antidote to To the Lighthouse. Madame Michel is the kind of character who would be a mere figurant in the Woolf world, without consciousness and virtually silent. So many such characters (if they can even be called characters) populate Woolf’s novel: the maid, the cook, the women who clean up the Ramsays’ summer house, the man who helps them, the tradesmen who do repairs, the sailor and son who take Mr. Ramsay and two of his children to the lighthouse. They’re all more or less figurants, and the novel has little or no interest in what they might think and feel.

I know — To the Lighthouse is that kind of novel, and there is much in it that dazzles me, especially the eerie middle section, “Time Passes.” But there’s something wonderful about leaving that kind of novel for one in which a concierge who describes herself as “born in a bog and bound to remain there” is a secret reader of Husserl and Tolstoy and a connoisseur of Dutch still lifes and Japanese cinema. We learn about all of it from her journal. Things, or people, ain’t always what they appear to be.

My identity as a child of the working class is at work in my ambivalence about Woolf: I know that in the world of To the Lighthouse, my dad would be knocking out and redoing a wall in the Ramsays’ twenty-years-neglected bathroom. And I might be helping him if I weren’t off at university on scholarship.

[This post began as a sort of scything, texting back and forth with a friend. I don’t know how the final paragraph showed up.]

A grand cake

[Nancy, May 6, 1950. Click for a larger cake.]

Stan Carey offers a helpful commentary on the uses of grand in Ireland and elsewhere.

Nancy herself will feel grand once she cuts herself “a slice” — that is, the top half of the cake, the part with the icing. Enjoy, Nancy, and watch out for Aunt Fritzi.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)
“Mother, you always pick the grandest things”

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Whale, oil, beef, hooked

From NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, an interview with Sam Lilja, the dialect coach for Little Women and other films. With a quick lesson in how to do an Irish accent:

Say the words whale, oil, beef, hooked.

Then say them all together, fast.

[This lesson came in handy when I learned about Orson Bean’s later-life politics.]

Recently updated

Orson Bean (1928–2020) Now with Bean’s later-life swerve to the right, unmentioned in his New York Times obituary.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Orson Bean (1928–2020)

From a New York Times obituary for the actor and television personality Orson Bean:

While he eventually performed in some 50 television series and 30 films, he may be best remembered for his appearances on early panel shows, which, in contrast to the greed, noise and kitsch of many modern game shows, were low key, relatively witty and sophisticated.

“We were much more intelligent then,” Kitty Carlisle Hart, a frequent panelist with Mr. Bean, told The Times in 1999. “It sounds like an awful thing to say, but it’s true.”
Yes, it is.

When Miss Carlisle (as she was known) died in 2007, I wrote in a post,
She was one of the people who seemed to be living on television when I was a boy, along with Steve Allen, Peggy Cass, Arlene Francis, Phyllis Newman, and Nipsey Russell, friendly presences every weekday after school.
I should have remembered Orson Bean as well.

Here’s an entertaining episode of To Tell the Truth from 1964 with Orson Bean and friends.


February 9: Daughter Number Three has a post about Orson Bean’s later political life and his influence on Andrew Breitbart. See also this Hollywood Reporter article: “The men had a weekly meal together at Hal’s, a restaurant in Venice, and many point to those chats as the source for Andrew’s brand of populist-conservatism.” All the Times obituary says is that Bean’s daughter Susie married Breitbart, with no reference to Bean’s later-life swerve to the right. A Los Angeles Times obituary quotes Breitbart on Bean’s “sharp ideological metamorphosis.”

Bleach, please

Aaron Rupar confirms that this photograph is genuine. Now I need to rinse my eyes.

Donald Trump*’s orange of choice is reported to be a Swiss brand, Bronx Colors. More here and here.


4:12 p.m.: The photographer is apparently a Trump* enthusiast with access to open press events. A Getty Images photograph of the same reality shows less orange but the same grotesque mask.

4:54 p.m.: But here’s another Getty image, same time and place, with much more orange. And another with even more orange.

[Caution: no matter how many photographs, never really use bleach to rinse your eyes.]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

was a killer.

If this post were a Marianne Moore poem, that’s how it might continue from its title, if Moore were in a slangy mood and writing about crosswords. Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, is exceedingly difficult. Do “Marmoset cousins” (44-A, eight letters) turn up in Moore’s poetry? Not that I can find. But that clue is, for me, a fair sample of this puzzle’s difficulty. Working at it, I felt — sigh — so “Totally alone” (44-A, eight letters), and not in the way that clue’s answer would suggest.

Not everything here is difficult. I had early help from 24-A, eight letters, “‘Fun to make’ snack brand.” And from 60-A, nine letters, “Current successor of the ’60s slogan ‘Let's Eat Out!’” Or rather, I had help from my TV-saturated life. “Let’s Eat Out!”: what a sad slogan when you think about its source.

But elsewhere, difficulty, difficulty, difficulty. 31-D, nine letters, “Not pressing.” 38-D, eight letters, “Like a chill in the air.” NODUEDATE? No. SEASONAL? Uh-uh. I ended up doing something I’ve never done before with the Saturday Stumper — checking letters in the browser, never more than one to a word, the only way I could eliminate wrong guesses. I still needed eighty-one minutes to finish the puzzle.

Clue-and-answer pairs I especially admired:

1-A, nine letters, “Occupation associated with Tennessee.” I thought whiskey. DISTILLER? No.

1-D, five letters, “Drizzle on some leaves.” Just a bit of misdirection.

13-D, nine letters, “They’re taken when leaving home.” HOUSEKEYS? No.

26-A, six letters, “Red state.” I’m back in E.M.W. Tillyard’s The Elizabethan World Picture. Good times.

32-A, nine letters, “Write.” PUTININK? No, that’s eight. (PUTIN INK is what’s Donald Trump*’s to-do lists are written in.) The correct answer is straight from the dowdy world.

40-D, seven letters, “Novel assumption, now and then.” REALISM? No.

45-D, six letters, “Where strikes are seen.” No great cleverness is needed to see the context, but there’s still a bit of rethinking needed to get the answer.

I’d say that 1-A and 13-D tie for first in today’s Stumper. No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Stephen Joyce (1932–2020)

James’s grandson. From a New York Times obituary:

Stephen Joyce gleefully maintained an iron grip on his grandfather’s printed works, unpublished manuscripts, letters and other material, although his hold loosened somewhat on the 70th anniversary of James Joyce’s death, when most copyrights on his masterpieces like Ulysses and Finnegans Wake expired. He said he was safeguarding the material’s literary integrity and defending them from critics and biographers, whom he likened to “rats and lice” that “should be exterminated.”
According to a New Yorker piece that the obituary cites, it wasn’t just “critics and biographers” but all academics: “Academics, he declared, were like ‘rats and lice — they should be exterminated!’”

Not a good guy.

I hope that Stephen Joyce and his admirer Paul Zukofsky (“‘What I’ve heard sounds very, very good. He is a staunch defender of rights.’”) have a chance to chat in that other world.

[“That other world”: from Ulysses. “I do not like that other world” is a sentence in Martha Clifford’s letter to Leopold Bloom, who corresponds with her as “Henry Flower.” Did you catch the agreement error in the passage from the Times?]

Domestic comedy

“Just so you know — it’s pronounced Stōffer’s.”

“What did I say?”

Stauffer’s. Just so you don’t embarrass yourself in public.”

“I wouldn’t embarrass myself. It’s not like a shibboleth — except among the astronauts.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[If nothing here makes sense, see this post.]

Sherrod Brown on fear and power

Sherrod Brown, Democratic senator from Ohio, writing in The New York Times, says that “For the stay-in-office-at-all-cost representatives and senators, fear is the motivator”:

They stop short of explicitly saying that they are afraid. We all want to think that we always stand up for right and fight against wrong. But history does not look kindly on politicians who cannot fathom a fate worse than losing an upcoming election. They might claim fealty to their cause — those tax cuts — but often it’s a simple attachment to power that keeps them captured.

As Senator Murray said on the Senate floor in 2002, “We can act out of fear” or “we can stick to our principles.” Unfortunately, in this Senate, fear has had its way. In November, the American people will have theirs.
[In 2002 Patty Murray (D-Washington) voted against authorizing the use of military force against Iraq.]

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Unhinged and wired

Donald Trump* is speaking and sniffing. He’s unhinged and wired, which might sound like a contradiction in terms. But he’s not wired together. Just wired.

Sniff. Sniff. Sniff.


Nancy Pelosi, just now: “He has shredded the truth in his speech. He’s shredding the Constitution in his conduct. I shredded his State of His Mind address.”

You can watch the press conference at C-SPAN.

[My capitalization.]

Rituals and talismans

“Hairbrush, tackle box, tiny toy car”: The Washington Post reports on ballet rituals and talismans. The brush, box, and car belong to Rebekah Rimsay of the National Ballet of Canada:

The childhood brush she’s used throughout her 30-year career; the decades-old tackle box that holds her makeup, with every lipstick and eyeliner carefully sorted; and the wee plastic car she found in a candy Kinder Egg maybe 25 years ago — organizing these sentimental treasures is just the finishing touch to an hours-long pre-show routine.

“Down-to-earth food”

A good episode of WGBH’s Innovation Hub : “The American Achievement of Advertising Apollo,” with Kara Miller interviewing David Meerman Scott, co-author, with Richard Jurek, of Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program. A reference to a Stouffer’s advertisement with an Apollo tie-in made me curious. So I found it, in the August 8, 1969 issue of Life:

[“Everybody Who’s Been to the Moon Is Eating Stouffer’s.” Food for “the critical postlunar quarantine period.” Click for a larger view.]

One tricky feature of Apollo-related advertising: companies could not depict an astronaut using a product or imply that a particular astronaut used a product. Here we must imagine the astronaut of our choice eating main dishes, side dishes, and meat pies.

I was surprised but not surprised to learn that NASA gave Life exclusive access to astronauts’ families. The money the families received in exchange for that access supplemented the astronauts’ modest salaries.

The August 8, 1969 issue of Life — “On the Moon” — is full of Apollo-related advertising. Here, look.

And here’s a 1969 non-Apollo-related TV spot with the slogan “Stouffer’s plays it straight.”

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Kirk Douglas (1916–2020)

[Kirk Douglas as Ulysses, in Ulysses (dir. Mario Camerini, 1954). Image via Wikipedia. Click for a larger view.]

Kirk Douglas has died at the age of 103. The New York Times has an obituary.


A clue in today’s Los Angeles Times crossword, by MaryEllen Uthlaut, made me realize something about myself.

The clue was “Concert gear.” Before seeing the number of letters in the answer, I immediately thought TUXES. The correct answer, just four letters: AMPS. My first thought brought me face to face with my concert-going habits. These days TUXES are far more likely than AMPS.

[The link goes to the LAT puzzle as offered by The Washington Post — a much friendlier design.]

Reaching Q

Thought as an alphabet of progress. Mr. Ramsay, metaphysician, has reached Q:

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927).

Much later in the novel: “But now, he felt, it didn’t matter a damn who reached Z (if thought ran like an alphabet from A to Z). Somebody would reach it — if not he, then another.”

Also from this novel
“A scrubbed kitchen table”

The Elements of Penguins

The BBC reports that “new research suggests” penguin speech follows rules of human language:

The animals follow two main laws – that more frequently used words are briefer (Zipf’s law of brevity), and longer words are composed of extra but briefer syllables (Menzerath-Altmann law). Scientists say this is the first instance of these laws observed outside primates, suggesting an ecological pressure of brevity and efficiency in animal vocalisations.
Omit needless sounds!

Related reading
All OCA Elements of Style posts (Pinboard)

[I know, of course, that the laws in play here describe the workings of language. They have nothing to do with William Strunk Jr.’s “Omit needless words,” which stresses concision in the sentence. I’m just having fun.]

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

George Steiner (1929–2020)

The (astonishingly erudite) literary critic George Steiner has died at the age of ninety. From the New York Times obituary:

“I’d love to be remembered as a good teacher of reading,” he told The Paris Review in 1994. Characteristically, he had a specific, lofty notion of reading as a moral calling. It should, he added, “commit us to a vision, should engage our humanity, should make us less capable of passing by.”
A related post
George Steiner on reading

Brian and Al in the news

Thank you, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine:

Beach Boys founding members Brian Wilson and Al Jardine alerted fans Monday that they have no part in an appearance later this week by a version of the group fronted by cofounder Mike Love at a trophy-hunting convention where Donald Trump Jr. will be the keynote speaker.

Love’s touring edition of the Beach Boys, for which he holds the legal rights to the name, also includes longtime band member Bruce Johnston. They are slated to play Wednesday, Feb. 5, at the Safari Club International Convention in Reno, where hunting enthusiasts can arrange trips to hunt exotic animals. Trump Jr. and his brother, Eric, are longtime trophy-hunting supporters.

“This organization supports trophy hunting, which both Al and I are emphatically opposed to,” Wilson tweeted on Monday. “There’s nothing we can do personally to stop the show, so please join us in signing the petition” protesting the private event at
Here’s the petition, which won’t change a thing but will at least register public disapproval of Mike Love and company.

Related reading
All OCA Beach Boys and Brian Wilson posts (Pinboard)

Iowa as metaphor

Frank Bruni asks, “Is Iowa a metaphor?” He offers this one after spending the past week in the state:

I’d never seen voters so twisted into knots. I’d never seen pundits so perplexed by the tea leaves in front of them and so hesitant to play fortuneteller. I’d never been so stymied for insight, so barren of instinct. This wasn’t a political contest; it was a kidney stone.

And by late Tuesday morning, it still hadn’t passed.
What I wonder about right now is “the mobile app” used with last night’s caucuses. Is it for Android? iOS? Both? Is the app’s security certain? (I doubt it.) Should an election require the use of Apple or Google products for results to be reported?

And should any state, much less a state with a population estimated as 90.7% white, play a singular role in shaping presidential elections? My awkward metaphor for the Iowa primary process, what with its pancake breakfasts and coin tosses: a Norman Rockwell painting with delusions of grandeur.


5:45 p.m.: from a New York Times article about the app, its creator, Shadow Inc., and Shadow’s backer Acronym:
Regardless of how it got the job, Shadow was put into a race that engineers at the most well-resourced tech giants, like Google, said could not be won. There was simply not enough time to build the app, test it widely to work out major bugs and then train its users.

Shadow was also handicapped by its own lack of coding know-how, according to people familiar with the company. Few of its employees had worked on major tech projects, and many of its engineers were relatively inexperienced.

Two people who work for Acronym, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to risk their jobs, acknowledged that the app had problems. It was so rushed, they said, that there was no time to get it approved by the Apple store. Had it been, it might have proved far easier for users to install.

Instead, the app had to be downloaded by bypassing a phone’s security settings, a complicated process for anyone unfamiliar with the intricacies of mobile operating systems, and especially hard for many of the older, less tech-savvy caucus chairs in Iowa.

The app also had to be installed using two-factor authentication and PIN passcodes. The information was included on worksheets given to volunteers at the Iowa precincts tallying the votes, but it added another layer of complication that appeared to hinder people.

“A scrubbed kitchen table”

William Bankes thinks that Mr. Ramsay, metaphysician, depends too much upon people’s praise. Lily Briscoe encourages Bankes to be more generous: “‘Oh, but,’ said Lily, ‘think of his work!’”

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927).

Monday, February 3, 2020

Goodnight commas

The title of Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon is without a vocative comma. Now that our household has a new copy of the book (where’s the old one?), I can attest that the text, too, is comma-free. And nearly punctation-free: just one em-dash and two pairs of quotation marks, for the quiet old lady’s hushes.

Goodnight stars

Goodnight air

Goodnight commas everywhere

Some boulders

George Bodmer pointed me to New Zealand’s Moeraki Boulders. Granted, there are more than three. But they are some — “remarkable, striking” — boulders.

[“A cluster of highly spherical boulders.” New Zealand. 2006. Photograph from Wikipedia. Click for larger boulders.]

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

Thanks, George.

Sunday, February 2, 2020


An especially good episode of the BBC Radio 4 podcast Word of Mouth: “Lying,” with Michael Rosen, Laura Wright, and guest Dawn Archer, professor of pragmatics and corpus linguistics. Listen to this twenty-eight-minute conversation (which does not touch upon politics) and then consider, say, the following:

“Well, I don’t know him. I don’t know Parnas, other than I guess I had pictures taken, which I do with thousands of people, including people today that I didn’t meet — but, just met ’em. I don’t know him at all, don’t know what he’s about, don’t know where he comes from, know nothing about him. . . . I don’t even know who this man is, other than I guess he attended fundraisers. So I take a picture with him. I’m in a room, I take pictures with people. I take thousands and thousands of pictures with people all the time, thousands during the course of a year. . . . No, I don’t know him; perhaps he’s a fine man, perhaps he’s not. I know nothing about him. . . . I don’t know him; I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken to him. I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken to him. I meet thousands of people. I meet thousands and thousands of people as president. I take thousands of pictures, and I do it openly and I do it gladly, and then, if I have a picture where I’m standing with somebody at a fundraiser, like I believe I saw a picture with this man. But I don’t know him; I never had a conversation that I remember with him.”
[My transcription and ellipses.]

Hi and Lois watch

[Uh-oh: you might want to read the added bit at the end of the post before continuing.]

I daresay many a close reader will be troubled by the calendar in today’s Hi and Lois. In saying “many a close reader,” I mean me.

[Hi and Lois, February 2, 2020.]

Yes, a calendar’s weeks can begin on any day. But even the iOS Calendar app notes that Sunday is the “United States default.” Today’s strip is not the first Hi and Lois with time-management trouble. See also a 2009 calendar with twelve twenty-eight-day months.

It’s easy to make things less troubling:

[Hi and Lois revised, February 2, 2020.]

I can’t do anything about the annunciatory dialogue in this panel, which sets up a gag about six more hours of football season. No, wait — Irma and Lois have taken charge.

[Hi and Lois revised again, February 2, 2020. Click any image for a larger view.]

The wives have left this kitchen and gone out for dinner. The guys can get their own guacamole.

As the son of a tile man, I regret that Irma and Lois have taken the tile with them. Oh well.


11:27 a.m.: Uh-oh. Fresca points out in a comment that the X marks a crossed-off Saturday, February 1. I assumed that it signifies the Big Day. It never occurred to me that the X might mean anything other than the Big Day. Oh well (again). It was a fun mistake to make.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[I used the free Mac app Seashore to alter the original.]


[The scene: a supermarket. A woman in at least her seventies speaks to a friend.]

“I’m just gonna go without toothpicks and drink.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Re: the trial

Michael Che, on Saturday Night Live just now: “What better way to start off Black History Month than to be failed by the justice system?”

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper is by the puzzle’s editor, Stan Newman, constructing as Lester Ruff. Les Ruff? I found today’s puzzle Justus Ruff as many another Saturday Stumper. I started with two giveaways: 1-D, six letters, “Luthier’s product” and 32-A, fifteen letters, “Fleeting classroom opportunity.” That second giveaway provided paths into all five of the puzzle’s territories.

Clue-and-answer pairs I especially admired:

13-D, eight letters, “Unravels.” You’d think yarn, no?

19-A, six letters, “Fifth     .” There are many suspects.

25-A, four letters, “Senior moment.” A nice bit of misdirection.

33-D, eight letters, “Convenient place for wall art.” ENTRYWAY? No.

35-D, eight letters, “Video sequel of the ’80s.” How many quarters in the pizzeria on Commonwealth Avenue?

36-A, three letters, “Toon with an uncle Lubry Kent.” I should have seen this answer immediately.

51-A, five letters, “City northwest of Toledo.” Uh, AKRON? My trace of acquired midwesterness showed in my first guess.

58-A, eight letters, “Big Apple’s Mr. Mayor.” As long as the answer applies to, say, Alfred E. Smith and not Rudolph Giuliani.

Two clues I’d quarrel with:

1-A, eight letters, “Only Big Four Sports boss ever named Angelo.” Okay, true, but he wasn’t known as Angelo — or Angie or Ange, for that matter. How do you spell “Ange” anyway? I think of this clue as a dubious way to complicate its answer.

50-D, four letters, “Her films have grossed 7+ billion worldwide.” Here’s what I’d call unhelpful-factoid-as-clue. Unlike 1-A, it’s straightforward. But it’s a bit of trivia that is unlikely, I think, to spark recognition for many solvers. Seven billion, and not six or eight? Who knows? Who cares?

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, January 31, 2020

“Books saved my life”

A building super (Taylor Schilling) and a tenant who’s a librarian (Emilio Estevez) are talking:

“So you’re really into books, huh?”

“Books saved my life.”

“Saved your life?”

“Books helped me get sober and helped me turn my life around. They were tangible and they were real, something I could get my hands and my head around. So yeah, they saved my life.”
That’s one of the better moments from The Public (dir. Emilio Estevez, 2018), a film that remains admirable even if it jumps a shark.

“Just words”

More experienced aides had learned that “best practices” for success with Donald Trump* meant coming in with one point: “ONE POINT. Just that one point.” But not everyone listened:

I saw a number of appointees as they dismissed the advice of wisened hands and went in to see President Trump, prepared for robust policy discussion on momentous national topics, and a peppery give-and-take. They invariably paid the price.

“What the fuck is this?” the president would shout, looking at a document one of them handed him. “These are just words. A bunch of words. It doesn’t mean anything.” Sometimes he would throw the papers back on the table. He definitely wouldn’t read them.

Anonymous, A Warning (New York: Twelve, 2019).

Thursday, January 30, 2020

“Don’t be surprised, be angry”

Autocratic solipsism

“If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment”: Alan Dershowitz here advances a theory of what I’d call autocratic solipsism. The end justifies the means. And what justifies the end? A president’s estimate of his or her importance to the nation’s well-being. Dershowitz invites his audience to imagine a president who muses,

“I want to be elected. I think I’m a great president. I think I’m the greatest president there ever was. And if I’m not elected, the national interest will suffer greatly.”
What follows from such thinking, Dershowitz says, “cannot be an impeachable offense.”

Notice that Dershowitz conflates the interests of president and nation — what’s good for me is good for the country. And notice that Dershowitz doesn’t stop to consider that what might be in a president’s interest or a nation’s interest might also be contrary to law. And notice that he doesn’t stop to consider the possibility of a candidate not yet elected engaging in this same specious thinking. Notice too that Dershowitz never stops to consider that a president with the conviction of being “the greatest president there ever was” would appear to be suffering from dangerous delusions of grandeur and perhaps be unfit for office. But we already know who Dershowitz is aiming to please.

Alan Dershowitz, I regret to say, is the Rudolph Giuliani of Stanley Fishes.

A Ravel Kaddish, arr. Fine

Yesterday, at the European Parliament in Brussels, the Karski Quartet and Naomi Couquet performed Elaine Fine’s arrangement of a Maurice Ravel setting of the Kaddish, originally for voice and piano. The performance marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27). Video available here. Elaine’s arrangement is available from the IMSPL. Click on the Arrangements tab.

In 2019 the Quatuor Girard and Clémence Poussin performed the same arrangement. Video available here.

What an honor for Elaine, aka Musical Assumptions, aka my spouse.

Distance learning

Herb Childress:

Good teaching and learning have always been labor–intensive processes. As one of my correspondents, a provost at an elite undergraduate college, said, “When the movement to MOOCs was at its rabid peak a couple of years ago and some members of our board were talking about starting to do more distance education, I regularly told them that at our school, distance education is the length of a table.”

The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019).
Childress offers a frank, clear-eyed analysis of what’s wrong with American higher education. And he has recommendations for improvement.

Related posts
“A fully realized adult person” : Colleges and bakeries : The gold standard, haircuts, and everyone else : Offline, real-presence education

[MOOC: massive open online course.]

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Small pleasures

House Manager Adam Schiff (D, California-18) today spoke the word copasetic on the Senate floor. And he referenced some famous phrasing from Casablanca : “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world,” casting Burisma as Rick’s Café Américain.

[My spelling follows that used by the Copasetics.]

Word of the day: gormless

From Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847):

“I’ve tied his tongue,” observed Heathcliff. “He’ll not venture a single syllable all the time! Nelly, you recollect me at his age — nay, some years younger. Did I ever look so stupid, so ‘gaumless,’ as Joseph calls it?”
Joseph, you may recall, is a sour, pious servant at Wuthering Heights. He speaks a Yorkshire dialect — thus gaumless, or gormless.

The Oxford English Dictionary explains gormless as the union of the dialect word gaum, for gome, “notice, understanding,” and the suffix -less. To be gormless is to be “wanting sense, or discernment.” The dictionary’s first citation is given as ?1746. The question from Wuthering Heights comes second, followed by citations from 1861, 1881, 1883, and so on. It seems reasonable to speculate that Brontë’s novel led to more frequent use of the word. This Google Ngram shows use beginning to rise in 1854. Gaumless started to rise in 1853. Granted, the various editions of Brontë’s novel in Google Books might account for those initial spikes. The steep drop from 2011 to 2012 for both words is probably best explained by a lack of scanned books.

I always think of gormless and followed by wonder — the kind of insult people toss around in old movies. No gormless wonders in the OED though.

Prefix workout

From The Chicago Manual of Style: a prefix workout. That is, ten questions about prefixes. Hard! There are forty more Chicago workouts.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Thug life

This morning: “That reporter couldn’t have done too good a job on you, eh? I think you did a good job on her, actually.”

And there’s been further retaliation against NPR.

Pete Buttigieg and Seneca

A New York Times feature: “20 (More) Questions With Democrats.” I like Pete Buttigieg’s answer about the last book he read:

“I just finished a book by Seneca. Well, it was a very short book, with his commentary on the shortness of life. He says life is plenty long as long you know how to live it, something like that.”
I think Buttigieg must be describing the Penguin Great Ideas paperback On the Shortness of Life (2005). Look at the cover:

Says Buttigieg, “With all the noise going on right now, it’s a good time to go back to the Stoics.”

Like the Joycean title Shortest Way Home and the umpteen languages, the answer “Seneca” isn’t enough to make me want to vote for Buttigieg, but it’s an arresting answer. The folksy tone — “plenty long,” “something like that” — bugs me a little. Wear your learning lightly, sir, but don’t tear a hole in it to look more down-home. Other candidates’ answers: Malcolm Gladwell, a murder mystery, a history of World War I, the history of Sherrod Brown’s Senate desk, a book about ways to reduce carbon emissions.

It’s always a good time to go back to the Stoics, but this Senecan perspective baffles me. I think I’d say that life is short — too short — if you know how to use it and can. I side with Herbert Fingarette: “I still would like to hang around.”

Monday, January 27, 2020

“Peace, prosperity[,] and”

The Guardian reports that the novelist Philip Pullman is calling for a boycott of a Brexit 50p coin. The coin carries the inscription “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations.”

“The ‘Brexit’ 50p coin is missing an Oxford comma, and should be boycotted by all literate people,” wrote the novelist on Twitter, while Times Literary Supplement editor Stig Abell wrote that, while it was “not perhaps the only objection” to the Brexit-celebrating coin, “the lack of a comma after ‘prosperity’ is killing me.”
Thanks to Gunther at Lexikaliker for passing on the news.

Related reading
All OCA comma posts (Pinboard)
How to punctuate a sentence
How to punctuate more sentences

Separated at birth

[Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Adam Driver.]

Watching Saturday Night Live this past Saturday, I began to think, He really does look like Gaudier-Brzeska. It was late, and the resemblance isn’t exact. But I still think it holds.

The artist and sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891–1915) is known to many a student of modernist poetry by way of Ezra Pound’s Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir. The actor Adam Driver is known to many a student of modernist poetry by way of Jim Jarmusch’s film Paterson.

Also separated at birth
Claude Akins and Simon Oakland : Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti : Bérénice Bejo and Paula Beer : Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop : David Bowie and Karl Held : Victor Buono and Dan Seymour : Ernie Bushmiller and Red Rodney : John Davis Chandler and Steve Buscemi : Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt : Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov : Ted Cruz and Joe McCarthy : Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Gough : Henry Daniell and Anthony Wiener : Jacques Derrida, Peter Falk, and William Hopper : Charles Grassley and Abraham Jebediah Simpson II : Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln : Barbara Hale and Vivien Leigh : Harriet Sansom Harris and Phoebe Nicholls : Steven Isserlis and Pat Metheny : Colonel Wilhelm Klink and Rudy Giuliani : Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks : Steve Lacy and Myron McCormick : Don Lake and Andrew Tombes : William H. Macy and Michael A. Monahan : Fredric March and Tobey Maguire : Jean Renoir and Steve Wozniak : Molly Ringwald and Victoria Zinny

Sluggo’s noes

[Nancy, date unknown. Nancy, January 27, 2020.]

The Ernie Bushmiller panel, left, has been called “the greatest Nancy panel ever drawn.” I find it difficult to think that Olivia Jaimes’s no is just coincidence. As today’s strip begins, Sluggo has announced that he is good at walking around with untied shoelaces. But, Esther asks, isn’t he worried about tripping and falling? Sluggo kicks his legs and responds.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, January 26, 2020

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”

The latest episode of the BBC Radio 4 show Soul Music is devoted to Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”

Jaimes and Nancy FTW

Best Cartoonist, 2019: Olivia Jaimes. Best Original Volume, 2019: Nancy: A Comic Collection. As voted by the writers of

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Today’s Saturday Stumper

For me, solving today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, came down to choosing a letter to complete answers whose clues baffled me: 38-A, four letters, “Quintet in an ‘Executive Clicker’” and 38-D, three letters, “It means ‘resembling.’” I chose the only letter that seemed plausible, and thus — somehow — the puzzle was done. It wasn’t until I began explaining to Elaine how baffling these clues and answers were that I understood them.

Some clue-and-answer pairs that I especially liked (and understood more easily):

9-D, six letters, “Test of consumer confidence?” Seems to continue a minor theme in Saturday Stumpers.

20-A, nine letters, “Comic book collector’s supply.” An unusual answer, at least in my solving experience.

26-A, six letters, “Muddy.” A nice instance of misdirection.

28-A, seven letters, “Keeled over, to Barbra.” I loved this answer, even if I’m not crazy about Barbra.

31-D, ten letters, “Debugs.” You were thinking computers?

40-A, eleven letters, “Experiential.” I’m back in college.

And a clue that taught me something: 58-A, four letters, “Snub, so to speak.” I thought that the clue was asking for a bit of contemporary slang, but no. The answer has been colloquial American English for some time.

No spoilers: that answer and all the others are in the comments.

Friday, January 24, 2020

EXchange name sighting

[Somewhere in San Francisco. Danger Zone (dir. William Berke, 1951). Click for a larger view.]

Hugh Beaumont exits a Yellow Cab. TUxedo was indeed a San Francisco exchange, as telephone number-cards attest. TUxedo 5-1234 was indeed the number of the Yellow Cab Company. And before that, TUxedo 1234. Here’s an advertising thermometer with the shorter number. And here’s someone who recalls the added 5.

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


“I have an old-fashioned stereo system. You know how you used to buy components?”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)
Illustration from a pamphlet accompanying a component system (c. 1983)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The House Managers

The House Managers: it’s a great team, each member bringing an individual history and individual strengths to the moment. But I think they must have all agreed on a crucial point: “Give the ball to Adam.”

[January 23, 2020.]

“If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost. If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost.”

[The words that might be chopped off by the ad: “The American people deserve a president.”]

Jim Lehrer (1934–2020)

Jim Lehrer believed that news is “not a commodity.” From the New York Times obituary:

“News is information that’s required in a democratic society, and Thomas Jefferson said a democracy is dependent on an informed citizenry. That sounds corny, but I don’t care whether it sounds corny or not. It’s the truth.”
Lehrer died today at the age of eighty-five.

Related posts
Jim Lehrer’s journalistic guidelines
Jim Lehrer’s Post-it Notes

A Mongol sighting

[Tamu Blackwell, James Earl Jones, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs. Claudine (dir. John Berry, 1974). Click either image for a larger view.]

Elaine spotted it first: Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs is holding a Mongol pencil. The ferrule gives it away.

Related reading
All OCA Mongol posts (Pinboard)

Subtitle, about language

The World in Words podcast hasn’t had a new episode in ten months. But I opened my iTunes the other day to discover that a new podcast has taken its place: Subtitle. This podcast, too, is all about language. Hosted by Patrick Cox (from TWiW) and Kavita Pillay, Subtitle is smart, well-edited, and worth any listener’s time.

[Can iTunes just switch you over from one podcast to another? I do not recall adding Subtitle, or even knowing about it before it showed up in my subscriptions.]

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Steve Martin Caro (1948–2020)

Steve Martin Caro, lead singer with The Left Banke, has died at the age of seventy-one. Rolling Stone has a brief obituary.

The Left Banke’s extraordinary musical potential yielded just three LPs and a handful of non-album 45s. Here is the group’s “other” hit: “Pretty Ballerina.” The one everyone knows: “Walk Away Renée.”

Related posts
George Cameron (1947–2018)
What I hear in “Walk Away Renée”

Not milkness but phoneless

Senators: not milkless, but phoneless.

Thanks, Ben.

[Post title with apologies to Stevie Smith.]

Being 97

Herbert Fingarette, philosopher: “Much as I think our life in this world is often a pretty messy affair, I still would like to hang around.”

Being 97 is a short film by Andrew Hasse, Herbert Fingarette’s grandson.

Vocative comma, no comma

“Hey, Good Lookin’”“Hey Joe”
Hello, Dolly!“Hello Stranger”
Good Morning, Vietnam“Good Morning Starshine”
“Goodnight, Irene”Goodnight Moon
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road   Goodbye, Columbus

A related post
Stan Carey on the vocative comma

[Not only does the title Goodnight Moon have no comma. The text of the book has no commas.]

Biggie Smalls and Hamilton

I liked this moment from impeachment manager Hakeem Jeffies (D, New York-8):

“The question was asked by Mr. Sekulow as he opened before this distinguished body: ‘Why, why, why are we here?’ Let me see if I can just posit an answer to that question. We are here, sir, because President Trump pressured a foreign government to target an American citizen for political and personal gain. We are here, sir, because President Trump solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election and corrupted our democracy. We are here, sir, because President Trump withheld three hundred and ninety-one million dollars in military aid from a vulnerable Ukraine without justification, in a manner that has been deemed unlawful. We are here, sir, because President Donald Trump elevated his personal political interests and subordinated the national security interests of the United States of America. We are here, sir, because President Trump corruptly abused his power, and then he tried to cover it up. And we are here, sir, to follow the facts, apply the law, be guided by the Constitution, and present the truth to the American people. That is why we are here, Mr. Sekulow. And if you don't know, now you know.”
And now that I know the source(s) for the final sentence, I like this oration even more.

[My transcription.]

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


The magnificent marble rostrum in the United States Senate chamber dates from 1949–1950. Watching the impeachment trial today, I thought that someone, somewhere, must be watching and thinking, “Yeah, Grandpa worked on that.”

As a tileman’s son, I think about these things.

Twelve movies

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

Claudine (dir. John Berry, 1974). Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones star as Claudine, a domestic worker and mother of six, and Roop, a charming garbage man. Their improbable first date blossoms into a relationship that seems destined to weather all challenges. The film was marketed as a comedy, but the mood shifts frequently, with considerable room made for social woes and commentary thereupon. Shark jump: one of the characters (not Roop) gets a vasectomy. ★★★


The Royal Tenenbaums (dir. Wes Anderson, 2001). Having reread all of J.D. Salinger, I wanted to see this film again to look for the Salinger overtones, which I vaguely remembered were supposed to be there. And they are: in the name Tenenbaum (the married name of Glass daughter Boo Boo is Tannenbaum), in the family of wunderkinder, in the sorrows at the heart of family life, in Margot’s (Gwyneth Paltrow) fur coat, cigarettes, and bathroom retreats (shades of Franny and Zooey). But these are surface elements. The Tenenbaums in other respects are wholly themselves, fragile, dysfunctional, and at home. ★★★★


Danger Zone (dir. William Berke, 1951). It appears on a DVD titled Forgotten Noir — forgotten for good reason. This B-movie stars Hugh Beaumont as a fellow who runs a charter-boat business but spends more time involved in capers. Capers, plural: the movie is made of two utterly separate stories, which sound to me as if they began life as episodes of a radio serial. Fun to hear Beaumont talk like someone from a Raymond Chandler novel, and fun to see Tom Neal (of Detour) as a hood, but this film is little more than a curiosity. ★


The Big Chase (dir. Arthur Hilton and Robert L. Lippert Jr., 1954). Also forgotten, and not even close to noir, with a veteran cop telling the story of a rookie who chases down a criminal gang (the gang includes Lon Chaney Jr., who doesn’t speak a single line). The chase, which takes up almost twenty minutes of this hour-long movie, involves cars, boats, a helicopter, and a second director, but it’s sadly lacking in suspense. The production values at times recall Ed Wood: watch the opening scene for instant confirmation, as the veteran cop offers a cigarette to a visitor, who declines, after which the cop removes two cigarettes from a pack, lets one roll off his desk, lights the other, which is unlit in subsequent shots, and then lights his cigarette a second time. One redeeming feature: many shots of plain, unglamorous Los Angeles, wide boulevards, auto repair shops, billboards, and fences. ★


Vivre sa vie (dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1962). The story made me think of Zola — a woman’s slide from store clerk to prostitute. The intertitles, separating twelve short segments, made me think of silent films and Brecht’s epic theater: we know what will happen before it does (a meta kind of determinism). The café conversation about speech and writing made me think of Brassai (the camera angle) and Derrida. Seeing Anna Karina for the first time made me think of the other times I’ve come to someone’s work only after they’re gone. ★★★★


Jane Wants a Boyfriend (dir. William Sullivan, 2015).
Jane (Louisa Krause), who mends and tends to costumes for a theatrical company, is a young woman on the autism spectrum. Her sister Bianca (Eliza Dushku) is an actess with the same company. Alas, this film again and again places its focus on Bianca (and her journalist boyfriend, and her friends, and her role in A MIdsummer Night’s Dream, and her cranky director), when Jane and her misadventures and adventures in dating would be the appropriate focus. Perhaps the movie should have been called Jane’s Sister Wants Equal Time. ★★★


Small Town Christmas (dir. Maclain Nelson, 2018). We had to watch one Hallmark Christmas movie straight (and I do mean straight) through. Here, bestselling newbie writer Nell Phillips ends her book tour in the two-bit small town that inspired her novel, a town she’s never before visited, where she reconnects with handsome former co-worker Emmett Turner, whose stories of Christmas inspired her writing and who ghosted years ago when they both lived in the big city and were supposed to go on a date. Emmett now runs the town’s bookstore (named for his late sister, Paige Turner), and he has an explanation for why he ghosted, a good one. The best name here though belongs not to a character but to an actor: Preston Vanderslice, who plays the obligatory developer out to alter a town’s way of life. ★★


Wuthering Heights (dir. William Wyler, 1939). The 1958 television production prompted our household to read the novel, which in turn prompted us to watch this version. I think 1958 does a better job of suggesting (if only suggesting) the novel’s larger-than-life-and-death sado-masochistic torments. As Heathcliff and Catherine, Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon are too restrained. But still, they’re Olivier and Oberon, and David Niven as Edgar Linton makes a perfect beta-male to Heathcliff’s alpha. ★★★★


Little Women (dir. Greta Gerwig, 2019). I came to this movie as a novice, recalling little more than Beth’s death in the 1994 version, so my judgment is unclouded by prior allegiance, unaided by prior knowledge. The acting is almost uniformly excellent, though Florence Pugh looks like a time traveler, ready to text the future at any moment. The decision to tell the story in a non-linear way baffles me, as it leaves the film, early on, with little momentum — just one vignette after another. My favorite scenes: the brief conversation about anger between Jo (Saoirse Ronan) and Marmee (Laura Dern), and the montage of Jo writing in the attic (even though her handwriting looks like something from the inspirational wall art sold at Wal-Mart). ★★★


The Public (dir. Emilio Estevez, 2018). Any movie about library life is a movie I’ll root for. This one has good intentions: Estevez plays a librarian who finds himself in deep sympathy with the homeless men who refuse to leave a Cincinnati library for a night outdoors in brutally low temperatures. Estevez and other cast members really look like library people. But too much is contrived or questionable here: the all-male occupying force, the absence of tobacco and substances, the near-absence of alcohol, a sub-plot with a city official’s family, and a bit of performance art that left me saying yeesh. ★★


Danger Signal (dir. Robert Florey, 1945). Faye Emerson is Hilda Fenchurch, a bespectacled public stenographer and typist, taking dictation and typing at the office, and then typing some more at home, where she lives with her mother. Zachary Scott is Ronnie Mason, a ne’er-do-well — or worse — writer who takes a room as a boarder in the Fenchurch house, where he ingratiates himself with Hilda, Hilda’s younger sister, and their mother. Strong echoes of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, but the film doesn’t fulfill its promise. What appears to be a significant plot device (a ring, as in Hitchcock) ends up forgotten, and the ending is too abrupt and improbable to satisfy. ★★★


Safety Last! (dir. Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, 1923). Here’a a genius at work. Harold Lloyd is “The Boy,” a young man looking to make good in a Los Angeles department-store. His brilliant scheme: have a friend climb the building, which will bring hundreds of people to the store. Endlessly inventive comedy, on the selling floor and up in the air, with many genuine thrills. ★★★★

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Unanswered questions

Those commercials for Amazon Web Services (AWS) — here’s one, and another, and another, and one more — strike me as sad. A child, filled with curiosity, asks question after question, and all the adult on duty can do is smile or ignore her or yank her along. And the only answer the commercials provide is “Amazon Web Services,” which is really no answer at all.

Monday, January 20, 2020


The Washington Post reports that Donald Trump* has made 16,241 false or misleading claims since becoming president:

In 2017, Trump made 1,999 false or misleading claims. In 2018, he added 5,689 more, for a total of 7,688. And in 2019, he made 8,155 suspect claims.

In other words, in a single year, the president said more than total number of false or misleading claims he had made in the previous two years. Put another way: He averaged six such claims a day in 2017, nearly 16 a day in 2018 and more than 22 a day in 2019.

As of Jan. 19, his 1,095th day in office, Trump had made 16,241 false or misleading claims.
A related post
MLK on the tone a president sets


Just one sentence this year:

Perhaps the most determining factor in the role of the federal government is the tone set by the Chief Executive in his words and actions.

Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait (1964).
King was born on January 15, 1929.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Word of the day: tranche

“A tranche of documents,” “a new tranche of documents” “a massive tranche of stunning documents”: I thought the word would be trending at Merriam-Webster. No soap.

M-W’s untrendy definition:

a division or portion of a pool or whole

specifically : an issue of bonds derived from a pooling of like obligations (such as securitized mortgage debt) that is differentiated from other issues especially by maturity or rate of return
And some background:
In French, tranche means “slice.” Cutting deeper into the word’s etymology, we find the Old French word trancer, meaning “to cut.” Tranche emerged in the English language in the late 19th century to describe financial appropriations. Today, it is often used specifically of an issue of bonds that is differentiated from other issues by such factors as maturity or rate of return. Another use of the French word tranche is in the French phrase une tranche de vie, meaning “a cross section of life.” That phrase was coined by the dramatist Jean Jullien (1854–1919), who advocated naturalism in the theater.
Just as television news often refers to history as “unfolding,” it often refers to documents (right now, those from Lev Parnas) as arriving in tranches. Use seems to beget further use, with one tranche leading to another. But’s difficult to think of this word as especially fitting or necessary. “More documents,” “a wealth of documents,” “a new group of documents,” “a massive release of documents”: any one of those phrases might serve as well.

[Notice the resemblance to trench, derived from the Anglo-French trencher, trenchier, “to cut.”]

“Sully” Sullenberger on stuttering

Chesley B. Sullenberger, responding to Lara Trump’s mockery of Joe Biden:

A speech disorder is a lot easier to treat than a character defect. You become a true leader, not because of how you speak, but because of what you have to say — and the challenges you have overcome to help others.
See also this Atlantic article about Joe Biden and stuttering.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Today’s Saturday Stumper

In the words of today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, 2-D, six letters, “‘Yikes!’” Today’s puzzle, by Greg Johnson, might be the most challenging Stumper I’ve ever solved (one hour, one minute, and eight seconds worth of difficulty). Only sixty-six words, and by my count, just three gimmes: 5-D, four letters, “Pub pals”; 36-A, five letters, “Small ensembles”; 52-A, eight letters, “Beverage company founded in China by Germans.” And right at the center, three stepped eleven-letter clues across, and three stepped eleven-letter clues down. 2-Down!

At many points I thought I’d never get this puzzle done. For instance, when I hit 24-D, seven letters, “Carrot classification.” The only ways I classify carrots: raw and cooked. Or orange and not-orange. I love the other colors, and I think they taste different. Do they, really?

But I digress.

Question-and-answer pairs that I especially admire in today’s puzzle:

1-A, six letters, “Lose coverage.” Haha. Very funny.

18-A, six letters, “Starts to drag.” Nice misdirection.

20-A, seven letters, “Cosmo feature.” I’ve seen this feature, but never in a crossword.

34-A, eleven letters, “Hospital’s overhead helpers.” A novel answer, at least in my crossword experience.

35-A, eleven letters, “Light-sensitive circuit board coating.” Eh, wot? See 24-D.

46-A, three letters, “Brown, e.g.” I always appreciate cryptic terseness, or terse crypticness.

And above all, 14-D, eleven letters, which must be one of the all-time evil clues, “Life form.”

Never no spoilers: the answers are in the comments.