Thursday, October 6, 2022

Winter ahead

“If we treat this winter as normal, it will be anything but”: “Warning Signs About the First Post-pandemic Winter” (The Atlantic).

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

“Official activity”

A commission for “the inquiry into the condition of the native population in all its branches” has worked “with an unusual speed and energy” inspired by Aleksey Alexandrovich Karnenin.

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, translated by Constance Garnett, revised by Leonard J. Kent and Nina Berberova (New York: Modern Library, 2000).

Also from this novel
“The turning point of summer” : Theory of dairy farming : Toothache : Anna meta : “Brainless beef!” : “He could not help observing this”

Prisoners of Google

From the “Online Shopping” episode of the podcast You’re Wrong About, an exchange between Amanda Mull and host Sarah Marshall:

AM: Google is at this point like basically a utility.

SM: I don’t know how you could live without it, honestly.
Oh gosh. You could use DuckDuckGo and resort to a Google service (say, Google Books) only when absolutely necessary. No one need be a prisoner of Google.

[But yes, Blogger is a Google service. What did I know?]

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Coffee vs. tea

Which beverage will claim the world title for healthiest drink? (The Washington Post).

Related reading
All OCA coffee and tea posts (Pinboard)

Back at it

I attended a concert this past weekend, my first since March 7, 2020. Elaine was in the orchestra; I was up in the balcony. The program was short. The highlight was Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. If, like me, you’ve never heard it, I would enthusiastically recommend listening.

The strange thing about being back in the hall after all this time: it felt, really, as if no time had passed. Elaine and I came up with this hypothesis: perhaps it’s when the place itself has changed that we most register time’s passing. Everything about the concert hall was the same. But in a store where we hadn’t shopped since March 2020, and which was remodeled in our absence: there we knew that time had passed. And that reminded me of when I entered a basement thrift store and realized that it had once been the club where I’d heard Son Seals, Koko Taylor, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

When I visited my Brooklyn elementary school in 1987 and 1998, the hallways and fixtures and staircases (I couldn’t see the classrooms) looked the same. The auditorium and gymnasium looked the same. The school basement even smelled the same. There too it was if no time had passed. I of course had changed since elementary schooldays — at least slightly. But walking through the hallways, I felt like my kid self, back in school, not like a stranger in a strange land.

For at least four years now, my elementary school has been covered in protective screening, with sidewalk sheds turning the pavements into dark tunnels. A sign from the NYC School Constrution Authority reads

Exterior Masonry
Flood Elimination
Roof Replacement
Parapets Replacement
I’m not sure what I’d feel if I were to revisit my school now.

Electric Light Tie!

One more item from 306 Bowery. “Electric Bow Tie Co.”? I don’t think so. This novelty was no doubt offered by the Ace-Hy Sign Co.:

[Billboard, June 7, 1947. Click for a larger tie.]

I like that terse Time magazine phrasing: “Tie is good looking bow.”

Thanks, Brian.

A belated happy birthday

I realized only this morning that Orange Crate Art turned eighteen last month. I made a nervous first post after dinner on September 15, 2004, with my daughter Rachel suggesting what I should say.

Now I understand why OCA has been poring over a sample ballot in advance of November’s elections.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Students petition; deans fire

The New York Times reports on Maitland Jones, a professor of organic chemistry at New York University, who was fired after a quarter of his students signed a petition claiming that the class he taught was too difficult. Important: the students didn’t ask that their professor be fired.

I think one of Jones’s colleagues has it right:

“The deans are obviously going for some bottom line, and they want happy students who are saying great things about the university so more people apply and the U.S. News rankings keep going higher,” said Paramjit Arora, a chemistry professor who has worked closely with Dr. Jones.
Keep the customer satisfied! I recall an adminstrator somewhere in these United States encouraging faculty to get creative in finding ways to help students pass their courses.

And I find this detail telling:
Many students were having other problems. Kent Kirshenbaum, another chemistry professor at N.Y.U., said he discovered cheating during online tests. When he pushed students’ grades down, noting the egregious misconduct, he said they protested that “they were not given grades that would allow them to get into medical school.”
One caution: when you read that some students found Jones “sarcastic and downbeat about the class’s poor performance,” it helps to know that sarcasm, as Sheridan Baker pointed out in 1962, is “the student’s word for irony.”

[My sense of this situation is based on what’s reported in the Times article. More information might change things. But firing the guy? Uh-uh.]

Eleven movies, one series

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers. Sources: Criterion Channel, PBS, TCM, YouTube.]

Double Indemnity (dir. Billy Wilder, 1944). I like the way Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) fingers his bloody pack of cigarettes as he dictates his confession to Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). I like the utter bizarreness of Barabra Stanwyck’s wig. I like the match-lighting reversal that ends the movie. I could watch this movie again and again — oh, I already have. ★★★★ (TCM)


Roses Are Red (dir. James Tinling, 1947). You’ve seen the recent New York Times article about doppelgängers and DNA? Well, the new DA (Don Castle) is a dead ringer for a recently paroled crime boss (Don Castle), so the crime boss kidnaps the DA, learns his mannerisms and habits, and take his place. The weird thing is that the two men’s romantic partners (Peggy Knudsen, Patricia Knight) also resemble one another. Preposterous but pleasant. ★★★ (YT)


Directed by Sofia Bohdanowicz

Veslemøy’s Song (2018). A beautifully made short film in which a search for the past brings back a fragment. Audrey Benac (Deragh Campbell) discovers a familial connection to Kathleen Parlow (1890–1963), a celebrated Canadian violinist, and makes a trip to the New York Public Library in search of Parlow’s recording of “Veslemøy’s Song.” The filmmaker blurs the line between documentarian and storyteller. The credits help to clear things up. ★★★★ (CC)

Never Eat Alone (2016). Aha: it turns out that Veslemøy’s Song is a brief epilogue to this film, and that Audrey Benac (Deragh Campbell) is a recurring figure in Bohdanowicz’s films, a stand-in for the director. Here Audrey visits and speaks with her grandmother Joan Benac (Joan Benac, the director’s grandmother), with memories and CBC footage of a 1950s(?) musical-theater production in which Joan appeared with her one-time boyfriend Don Radovich (played by George Radovics, the director’s partner’s grandfather). Is it possible to locate Don and recover that past? It all sounds like a rehearsal for “Finding Frances” (Nathan for You, 2017), but this dark, quiet film ends up going nowhere, not even to a listening room in the New York Public Library. ★★★ (CC)


Dead of Night (dir. Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, and Robert Hamer, 1945). An anthology movie: in an English country house, a group of friends and an odd interloper tell spooky tales. “Christmas Party,” with its Turn of the Screw overtones, and “The Haunted Mirror” are for me the best of the lot. Fun to see Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne (from The Lady Vanishes) in “Golfing Story,” but that story feels interminable, as does “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy.” The frame story ends up being a disappointment, but I don’t think any other frame could fit. ★★★ (TCM)


I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (dir. Mervyn LeRoy, 1932). Based on the life story of Robert Elliott Burns, with Paul Muni as an unemployed Great War vet and aspiring engineer sentenced to ten years of hard labor after being tricked into abetting a robbery. Pre-Code Warner Bros. moviemaking with an emphasis on social justice, exposing the utter brutality of chain-gang life. Ninety years later, it’s still strong stuff. With Edward Ellis, Glenda Farrell, Noel Francis, Allen Jenkins, and forward-looking cinematography by Sol Polito. ★★★★ (TCM)


Missing Women (dir. Philip Ford, 1951). Hmm — a Republic Picture that we’ve never heard of, so it could be a hidden gem, or at least a hidden shard of colorful glass. But it wasn’t even mediocre. Even the title is off: there’s a missing woman, singular (Penny Edwards), who’s missing because she’s dyed her hair and gone underground to find the car thieves who killed her husband. Look for Robert Shayne (Inspector Henderson from Adventures of Superman) as the thief-in-chief. ★ (YT)


The Crowd (dir. King Vidor, 1928). I have no great acquaintance with silent movies, but I think there can be little debate that The Crowd is one of the greatest. It’s the story of the Sims, John (James Murray) and Mary (Eleanor Boardman, then married to the director), their courtship and marriage, with moments of joy, moments of great difficulty, and an inconceivable tragedy. This movie does not flinch. Murray (who came to a bad end) has a Dick Powell cheerfulness; Boardman’s performance and Henry Sharp’s cinematography take us into modern times. ★★★★ (TCM)

[Here’s the 78 that plays as everyone dances: Johnny Marvin’s recording of “There’s Everything Nice about You.”]


I Love a Mystery (dir. Henry Levin, 1945). Me too, but not this one. In the words of one character, “The whole thing sounds so preposterous.” From the radio serial of the same name, with Jim Bannon and Barton Yarborough as detectives Jack Packard and Doc Long, and Nina Foch and George Macready as a married couple with money and secrets. A Tibetan secret society, a near-death by flaming dessert, a murderous stalker with a peg leg, and a mummy in need of a look-alike replacement head are just four of the elements in the story. ★★ (TCM)


The Cobweb (dir. Vincente Minnelli, 1955). CinemaScope soap opera, on a grand scale. The setting is a psychiatric hospital, run by Dr. Stewart McIver (Richard Widmark), who ignores his wife Karen (Gloria Grahame) (the implication is that, in the language of the time, she’s “frigid”) but shows interest in a staff member (Lauren Bacall). A dispute over the choice for new drapes in the hospital library precipitates crises on multiple fronts. The cast includes Charles Boyer, Lillian Gish, Oscar Levant (as, no surprise, a patient), and Fay Wray. ★★★★ (TCM)


Lost Horizon (dir. Frank Capra, 1937). A plane crash in the Himalayas leaves a motley group of white folks — a diplomat (Ronald Colman), a con man (Thomas Mitchell), a paleontologist (Edward Everett Horton), and others — in the mysterious realm of Shangri-La, a world unto itself, removed (sort of) from time, sunny and warm, devoted to peaceful leisure — and run by a white man, with Asian men and women doing all the necessary work. It’s like an all-inclusive island vacation with a heavy dash of mysticism. And I have to admit — it’s also an extraordinarily beautiful film. With Sam Jaffe, H.B. Warner, Jane Wyatt (that’s a double in the from-a-great-distance nude scene), and not one Asian actor receiving a screen credit or speaking in a more than perfunctory way. ★★★★ (CC)


The U.S. and the Holocaust (dir. Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein, 2022). Work on this PBS documentary series began in 2015. The makers must have experienced an especially uncanny dread as our world came more and more to resemble the world of the film. Racism, xenophobia, “America First,” dreams of a wall, conspiracy-mongering about “globalists,” genocidal violence — here we were, and are once again. And eighty and more years ago, the good works of small numbers of Americans were everywhere overshadowed by indifference or hostility to an immigrant other: as the historian Deborah Lipstadt says on camera, “No one wanted these people.” ★★★★ (PBS)

Related reading
All OCA movie posts (Pinboard)

Mary Miller, the veteran’s friend

From Newsweek:

The House of Representatives passed a bill to establish an Office of Food Security at the Department of Veterans Affairs, with 49 Republicans voting against the proposal. The Food Security for All Veterans Act was passed by a 376-49 vote, sending the bill to the Senate for approval.
You can guess who was among the no votes. Yes, Illinois’s own Mary Miller.

In July Miller voted against S. 3373, the Honoring our PACT Act of 2022, described as “a bill to improve the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant and the Children of Fallen Heroes Grant.” Every time I see her smiling as she poses with veterans, I grimace.

Related reading
All OCA Mary Miller posts (Pinboard)