Friday, October 30, 2015

Eve’s Eve

[The dreaded Halloween Pumpkin Eater. Art by James Leddy. No date.]

It is All Hallows’ Eve’s Eve, at least by my reckoning. Our town’s three used-book stores will be giving out children’s books tomorrow. A greathearted gesture, that. Our household has assembled reserves of Hershey Miniatures, Heath Miniatures, and Dixon Ticonderogas — which, like books, should outlast all candy.

The illustration above is from a card by my dad, one of many through the years. It loses something in the scanning: the Eater is made of electrical tape. He is both scary and shiny.

More art by James Leddy
: Abe’s shades : Billie Holiday, 29¢ : Boo! : Happy holidays : Hardy mums : Questionnaire : Thanks!

Sardine surprise

[“The Cetacean Institute.” In real life, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California. Click for a larger view.]

Elaine’s mom, who just finished reading Moby-Dick, suggested that we watch Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (dir. Leonard Nimoy, 1986), which has whales. But lo: it also has sardines — at least the word, not the fish.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium (the movie’s Cetacean Institute) is housed in a former cannery at 892 Cannery Row. The Portola brand (once canned therein) took its name from Gaspar de Portolá. The website Sardine King (aptly named) has an array of Portola labels spread across two pages. And here’s a New York Times article with background on the Aquarium.

If you’re wondering why the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a role in a Star Trek movie: the answer is time travel .

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Bad kerning

[Detail from the box for a Cosco Open/Closed Sign, as seen at Staples.]

I glanced at the box and thought, My eyes . I can think of five possible explanations for the poor kerning:

1. The people who put together this sign didn’t know what they were doing.

2. The people who put together this sign knew what they were doing: making a homely, unintimidating sign.

3, 4, 5. The people who put together this sign were having a laugh at the company’s expense, the consumer’s expense, or both.

The killer detail is the upside-down S in PLEASE. Please!

If you’d like to improve your kerning skills, Kern Type is a fun (free) online game. Hint: with each word, you can adjust all letters but the first and last.

Related reading
All OCA signage posts (Pinboard)

[This post is for Daughter Number Three, who knows from kerning.]


With an emphasis on American :

Some years ago the word protégé had a brief vogue in fistic circles, and was often used by announcers at prize-fights. They always pronounced it proteege . I once heard a burlesque show manager, in announcing a French dancing act, pronounce M . and Mlle . as Em and Milly . And who doesn’t remember
As I walked along the Boys Boo-long
With an independent air
Say aw re-vore ,
But not good-by!
H. L. Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, 4th ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936).
I am sympathetic: I have my own troubles pronouncing French. And long long ago I thought that Goethe was pronounced gōth.

I’ve been at The American Language since June. Somewhere between pages 460 and 500 my energy began to wane, as I realized that this book may never end. But the logic of sunk costs requires that I continue.

Also from The American Language
The American a : The American v. the Englishman : “Are you a speed-cop? : B.V.D. : English American English : “[N]o faculty so weak as the English faculty” : On professor : Playing policy : “There are words enough already” : The -thon , dancing and walking Through -thing and -thin’ : The verb to contact

[The Boys Boo-long: the Bois de Boulogne.]

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Domestic comedy

[Idling at an intersection with a diagonal crossing .]

“It’s a pedestrian-friendly gesture, that’s for sure!”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[The diagonal crossing is also known by the names Barnes dance, pedestrian scramble, and scramble intersection. WALK.]

Rain (artist’s conception)

[From Paul E. Lehr, R. Will Burnett, and Herbert S. Zim, Weather: A Guide to Phenomena and Forecasts , a Golden Science Book (1965). Illustration by Harry McNaught.]

From the same book
Featured merchandise
Snow, snow, snow

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ada : Sunday breakfast

Vladimir Nabokov, Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969).

Our narrator, Van, is rather contemptuous of Dan. (First sentence, last word.)

The parenthetical remark at the end of this passage is a characteristic Nabokov touch, a touch of wit in passing.

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

Word of the day: hustings

[“In th’ rug & on th’ hustings!” Zippy, October 27, 2015.]

The Oxford English Dictionary first records husting in use around 1030. The now-obsolete meaning: “an assembly for deliberative purposes, esp. one summoned by a king or other leader; a council.” The Dingburg hustings comes much later:

the temporary platform from which, previous to the Ballot Act of 1872, the nomination of candidates for Parliament was made, and on which these stood while addressing the electors. Hence, contextually, the proceedings at a parliamentary election.
The Dictionary’s first citation is from Thomas D’Urfey’s Wit and Mirth; or, Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719): “What Tricks on the Hustings Fanaticks would play.”

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)


1:05 p.m.: Chris of Dreamers Rise writes in a comment, “You’ve left out the fun part, which is the etymology of “husting” from húsþing — “house thing” — with “thing” meaning assembly, as in the present Icelandic Alþingi.”

Intent on getting the meaning, I never thought to look at the etymology: from the Old Norse hús-þing , “house-assembly, a council held by a king, earl, or other leader, and attended by his immediate followers, retainers, etc., in distinction from the ordinary þing or general assembly of the people” (OED). The þ is the thorn, th. Thus hús-thing.

Had I thought to switch to the OED’s full-entry view, I probably would have noticed the etymology. But I would not have known about the Alþingi.

Thanks, Chris.

[I did my best in this post to avoid any pun about a Battle of Hustings.]

Monday, October 26, 2015

Peter Drucker on integrity in leadership

Peter Drucker:

The proof of the sincerity and seriousness of a management is uncompromising emphasis on integrity of character. This, above all, has to be symbolized in management’s “people” decisions. For it is character through which leadership is exercised; it is character that sets the example and is imitated. Character is not something one can fool people about. The people with whom a person works, and especially subordinates, know in a few weeks whether he or she has integrity or not. They may forgive a person for a great deal: incompetence, ignorance, insecurity, or bad manners. But they will not forgive a lack of integrity in that person. Nor will they forgive higher management for choosing him.

This is particularly true of the people at the head of an enterprise. For the spirit of an organization is created from the top. If an organization is great in spirit, it is because the spirit of its top people is great. If it decays, it does so because the top rots; as the proverb has it, “Trees die from the top.” No one should ever be appointed to a senior position unless top management is willing to have his or her character serve as the model for subordinates.

From The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done (New York: HarperCollins, 2004).
I thought of this passage as my university seeks to fill administrative positions on very short notice: who will lead?

With necessary changes in terminology, one might apply Drucker’s thinking to elections, with integrity of character as a primary consideration for a voter. I for one would find it impossible to vote for a candidate who did not evince some core element of integrity, however consonant with my views that candidate’s views might be.

I don’t make a habit of reading books on management. I caught on to Peter Drucker after noticing the beautifully designed little book Managing Onself (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2008) on the front table in Brookline Booksmith. It’s a wonderful book for younger and older readers. Its core message: we must figure out our strengths and values and ways of working, and be who we are.

Other Drucker-related posts
Drucker and income disparity in higher education
On figuring out where one belongs

[I’ve borrowed my summary of Managing Oneself from another post. And if it doesn’t go without saying: Drucker assumes of course an enlightened managment. The “model for subordinates” would work with integrity rather than, say, blind obedience or sycophancy.]

Art and supplies

Oscar’s Portrait explores the relationship between art and supplies.

Art Brut in New York

“It’s a heady experience to move through this exhibition knowing that many of the works on hand were among the first by these artists that Dubuffet saw or exhibited. Talk about the shock of the new”: from a New York Times review of Art Brut in America: The Incursion of Jean Dubuffet , an exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum.

Proust revisions

Toast. Biscotto. Madeleine.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[Sad that the Slate rehashing of the Guardian story imagines the toast popping out of a toaster. No, not then, not yet.]

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A stabbing in Boston

My son heard some teenagers talking, casually, matter of factly, about this stabbing. I’m reminded of lines from W. H. Auden’s “The Shield of Achilles” (1952):

    That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
    Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

NPR voice

“If I could attempt to transcribe it, it sounds kind of like, y’know  . . . this ”: “‘NPR Voice’ Has Taken Over the Airwaves” (The New York Times).

[I’ll refrain from addressing the writer’s generalization about the “slacker-intellectual tone” of blogs.]

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Libraries and the book

“If we change the role of libraries and librarians without preserving the centrality of the book, we risk losing something irretrievable”: Alberto Manguel, “Reinventing the Library” (The New York Times).

Related reading
All OCA library posts (Pinboard)
Cutting libraries in a recession is like  . . . .
Libraries in hard times

Friday, October 23, 2015

Abbreviated Latin expression of the day: infra dig

I just ran across infra dig in H. L. Mencken’s The American Language. I can never recall the expression’s meaning, and so looked it up again. Perhaps writing this post will help me to remember the meaning in the future, he added hopefully.

The Oxford English Dictionary explains: “Beneath one’s dignity; unbecoming one’s position; not consistent with dignity; undignified.” Infra dig , an adjective, is the “colloquial abbreviation of Latin infrā dignitātem beneath (one’s) dignity.” The expression, whose source the Dictionary calls “obscure,” arose in the early nineteenth century:

William Hazlitt, 1822: “If the graduates  . . . express their thoughts in English, it is understood to be infra dignitatem .”

Walter Scott, 1824: “It would be infra dig. in the Provost of this most flourishing and loyal town to associate with Redgauntlet.”
Infra dig has always sounded to me as if it must be an expression of approval from the 1960s. (Dig !) I can imagine the phrase as a bit of dialogue spoken by a Beatle in A Hard Day’s Night: “A bit infra dig , eh wot?” But no, there’s nothing to dig in infra dig .

Thanks, OED.

“Rubber soles and heels while you wait”

[Henry, October 23, 2015.]

It’s a wise shoe repairman who opens early enough to catch the going-to-school crowd.

Henry last visited a shoe repairman, in a different shop, in August 2012. That must have been a getting-ready-for-the-school-year visit. This time around we don’t get to see Henry entering a “shoe booth.” But I don’t feel cheated: the S of Shoe , the upward-curling Repair , and the sign in the window make up for the booth’s absence.

Google returns just one result for “rubber soles and heels while you wait.” Now there will be two:

[Auckland Star , May 6, 1916. “Not out”? It’s a cricket term. Meaning “not retired, still working”?]

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)
Bernhard’s cat (Cat’s Paw heels and soles)

[I am tempted to write shoe repairer, but repairman fits the Henry world.]

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Movie recommendation:
People on Sunday

The artlessness of browsing: I was looking through the M s in the library and came across the silent movie People on Sunday, or Menschen am Sonntag (1930). It’s a beautiful, funny, sad (silent) story of hopes and disappointments in the before, during, and after of a Sunday outing. The movie’s makers, or at least their later accomplishments, are almost all instantly recognizable: co-directors Robert Siodmak (The Killers) and Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour), cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan (Metropolis), cinematographic assistant Fred Zinnemann (High Noon), writers Kurt (later Curt) Siodmak (The Wolf Man) and Billy (here, Billie) Wilder. (The names of producer Heinrich Nebenzahl and lighting technician Moriz Seeler, a poet who died in the Holocaust, are otherwise unknown to me.)

People on Sunday is distinguished by its cast of non-actors, five young Berliners playing versions of themselves: Brigitte Borchert (record-store saleswoman), Christl Ehlers (movie extra), Erwin Splettstößer (cab driver), Annie Schreyer (model), and Wolfgang von Waltershausen (traveling wine salesman). Christl meets Wolfgang, who invites her on a Sunday outing. She brings her best friend Brigitte. He brings his pal Erwin. (Annie, Erwin’s girlfriend, sleeps away the movie in their apartment.) The four young adults swim and splash, picnic, listen to records, ride a paddle boat, walk about. Things become complicated.

[Clownish Erwin at rest. Click any image for a larger view.]

[That’s Wolfgang’s hand caressing Christl’s face.]

[That’s Wolfgang’s other hand, simultaneously caressing Brigitte. See? Complicated.]

[Back home, Annie sleeps.]

People on Sunday is an obvious influence on Italian neorealism. But I suspect that this movie also influenced Robert Bresson (who, too, worked with non-actors), and I think it must have helped inspire Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country .

The luminous forest scene (Brigitte and Wolfgang) seems like a likely precedent for Franz Biberkopf and Mieze Karsunke’s forest scene in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980).

But I would imagine that the resemblance between this fleeting image and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Hyères, France is a matter of cameramen with equally good eyes.

What makes People on Sunday deeply affecting beyond its makers’ intentions is that the movie captures a world soon to be lost to hatred and madness. (The seeds of course were already planted.) One can only wonder what became of the countless people who appear in the movie’s scenes of city life, sweeping up, washing cars, dozing on park benches, boarding buses, looking out of windows, crossing streets, having their pictures taken.

People on Sunday is available from the Criterion Collection, dazzlingly restored, with two musical scores and many extras, including a 2000 interview with Brigitte Borchert.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Walter Benjamin on collectors

Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968).

I read this passage with a jolt of recognition. This post is for all who read likewise.

Other Walter Benjamin posts
“Avoid haphazard writing materials”
Metaphors for writing
On readers and writers

Ada : “nice normal things”

Ada and Van have been discussing botanical names and translations:

Vladimir Nabokov, Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969).

God knows what indeed. Ada and Van are very unusual children.

Ada is among other things a parody-history of the novel. The dowdy, stilted narrative voice that here recounts a bit of dialogue — “ interrupted Marina resolutely with calming gestures of both hands” — is one of the book’s many pleasures.

Elaine and I are now 400 pages in, and I suspect that Ada might displace Pale Fire as my favorite Nabokov novel.

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Minor prophecy

This thought would have packed greater prophetic power if I’d posted it several weeks ago. At any rate, I’ve been thinking it for weeks:

If Joe Biden enters the presidential race, he will make his announcement while Hillary Clinton is testifying before the Select Committee on Benghazi. That way, any immediate response she might make will be reported with a reminder: “Hillary Clinton, fresh from her appearance before a committee investigating,” &c. If there is to be an announcement, it won’t be before Thursday.

[Am I too cynical?]


October 21: Biden announced today that he will not enter the race.

Recently updated

A small press v. the Salinger estate The case moves to New Hampshire.


Elegant violence:

“There was only one thing to do. I grabbed the whiskey decanter and threw it at him.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

[The television was on for “warmth”: the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Wayward Wife,” first broadcast January 23, 1960.]

Movie recommendation: Phoenix

Phoenix (dir. Christian Petzold, 2014) is dark, stylish, and excellent. Nelly Lenz, an Auschwitz survivor (played by Nina Hoss), returns to Berlin. Her face has been horrifically damaged by a bullet wound. She undergoes reconstructive surgery and, with new features, seeks out her husband.

Phoenix has touches of Dark Passage (dir. Delmer Daves, 1947) and Eyes Without a Face (dir. Georges Franju, 1960), and owes a large debt to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Like Vertigo, it has an unforgettable ending.

That’s all you should know if you plan to see this movie.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Education, early and later on

From The New York TImes, two pieces on education, early and later on: Claire Cain Miller, “Why What You Learned in Preschool Is Crucial at Work”; Molly Worthen, “Lecture Me. Really.”

I’m not a fan of “working in groups” in a college setting: there are many other ways to develop social skills. Nor am I a fan of lectures, from either side of the podium. (I think of the line from T. S. Eliot: “Teach us to sit still.”) I like the possibilities of a discussion, but a discussion with someone at the wheel, neither sage on the stage nor guide on the side (so-called, so-called).

Pitching Wishbone

VISIONARY: My winsome Jack Russell Terrier is no mere peddler of phonics. He is the bard, the scop, the muse. He is the flame that lights the cave.

SUIT #3: And that’s totally PBS!
From Abbey Fenbert’s “The Pitch Meeting for Wishbone ” (The Toast ). Wonderful stuff.

Wishbone was (still sort of is , kinda?) a favorite in our household. YouTube has a daunting playlist. Alas, “Homer Sweet Homer,” the series’s Odyssey episode, is missing the closing bit in which Ellen Talbot explains Homeric epithets while riding a stationary bicycle. (She is “hard-pedaling Ellen.”) But you can still hear high-jumping Wishbone recite the opening words of the poem in Greek.

Now we need the pitch meeting for Ghostwriter .

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bernie Sanders’s honeymoon

Anderson Cooper’s debate-night accusation that Bernie Sanders honeymooned in the Soviet Union went by so quickly that I did little more than make a puzzled face: what an odd canard . Daughter Number Three looked into it.

Here is the best-documented account of Sanders’s Soviet getaway I can find. Long story short: in 1988, Sanders, mayor of Burlington, Vermont, visited the Russian city of Yaroslavl with his wife Jane and ten other people. They were members of an official delegation: Burlington and Yaroslavl were sister cities, and “honeymoon” was the Sanderses’ joking description of the trip. The two had been married the day before. Sister Cities International is a program that began with Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. Anderson Cooper, you took a cheap shot.

There are many more reasons to be dissatisfied with CNN’s management of Tuesday night’s debate (and the aftermath). As I mentioned to DN3, I haven’t watched a minute of CNN since Tuesday, and I have no plans to pick up again.

An aside: I see something of Senator Sanders in me. In public settings, I too have often refrained from arguing back, even when it would have been to my advantage to do so. Here, Sanders should have set things straight. And while I think of it:

It doesn’t matter how many Victorian husbands addressed their wives as “My child” in letters: Charles Dickens’s Bleak House does not present the possibility of a sexless marriage between Esther Summerson and the much older John Jarndyce as inviting the reader’s approval. Such a union could result only from Esther’s self-abnegation, her sense of herself as damaged, inferior, unworthy of erotic love. In the economy of the novel, the Esther–Allan Woodcourt marriage stands as the happy middle way, between Ada Clare and Richard Carstone’s unrestrained desire and an Esther–Jarndyce union. There, I said it.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Quandaries 101; or, why I wouldn’t reschedule an exam because of a ballgame

In the news: a University of Illinois professor rescheduled a student’s midterm exam so that the student could attend the Cubs’ wild-card game. Here’s a Washington Post article with the details. The student-professor e-mail exchange went viral, and everyone is happy. The student got to go to the game, and the professor is, of course, a cool guy. Win-win. Also: #myprofessorgetsit .

Elaine and I began talking about this scenario while walking. (What good subjects we happen upon when not listening to podcasts.) We agreed that if we were placed in this prof’s situation, we would not reschedule an exam. Here’s my reasoning:

1. I would invoke a remembered-from-a-philosophy-class version of Kant’s categorical imperative. If I reschedule an exam for this reason, I must, if I am to be fair to all students, be willing to reschedule exams for other reasons as well, reasons that involve not emergency or tragedy or university activity but pleasure. (If going to the game involved a university activity — say, interviewing a player for a journalism assignment, rescheduling would be appropriate.) A concert, an art exhibit, a chance for a road trip with friends, a family vacation: each might seem to a given student a compelling reason to plead for rescheduling. If just five or six students were to request rescheduled exams, a nightmare of planning and exam-making could ensue.

2. To hold some sort of line by discriminating among occasions — Vermeer, yes; One Direction, no — would place me in the inappropriate position of judging what the student alone should be free to judge — the attractiveness and urgency of a particular opportunity. That’s not for me to decide.

3. A practical matter: in the case of the Cubs’ game, it might be possible to go to the game and take the exam. Fly back after the game instead of spending the night in Pittsburgh.

And now I remember a beloved professor from my undergrad days, both joking and serious: “I don’t care if they’re staging the Last Supper with the original cast, the exam is scheduled for,” &c.

Seth, Stefan, don’t hate me.

[I wonder: did this student read How to e-mail a professor? He wrote a rather respectable e-mail.]

Through -thing and -thin’

A footnote on anything and everything, because baseball . Those who know more about the sport than I do might know whether these expressions and distinctions are still in play.

The late Ring Lardner once said:

“I used, occasionally, to sit on the players’ bench at baseball games, and it was there that I noted the exceptions made in favor of these two words. A player, returning to the bench after batting, would be asked, ‘Has he got anything in there?’ (‘He — in there’ always means the pitcher.) The answer would be ‘He’s got everything .’ On the other hand, the player might return and (usually after striking out) say, ‘He ain’t got nothin’ .’ And the manager: ‘Looks like he must have somethin’ .’”

H. L. Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, 4th ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936).
Also from The American Language
The American a : The American v. the Englishman : “Are you a speed-cop? : B.V.D. : English American English : “[N]o faculty so weak as the English faculty” : On professor : Playing policy : “There are words enough already” : The -thon , dancing and walking : The verb to contact

[“Because baseball ”: I couldn’t resist that phrasing.]

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Got hyphens?

Every “tobacco free campus” — and there are many — needs a good supply of hyphens. Phrasal adjectives like tobacco-free need hyphens.

More signage and signage trouble
All OCA signage posts (Pinboard) : Intercollegate : Premisis

OMG and others

From Oxford University Press, nine words that are older than you might think. Or eight words and one acronym. See above.

When I taught King Lear this past spring, I took inordinate pleasure in seeing the word holla. Why not? Kent: “he that first lights on him / Holla the other.” And Goneril: “Holla, holla!” Holla also makes Oxford’s list.

Defending Brooklyn

“We particularly resent the picturization of a Brooklynite as a dumbbell and a fellow who says dese , dem , and dose ”: from WYNC, a 1948 interview with Sidney H. Ascher, president of the Society to Prevent Disparaging Remarks about Brooklyn. Scroll down for the original broadcast.

YouTube has a soundless version of Brooklyn, U.S.A. , the 1947 film mentioned in the interview. Mr. Ascher appears therein. A 1999 newspaper article and an Amazon page for Sid Ascher’s World of Trivia and More! have more on his life (and, I suspect, legend).

I’m happy to be from “the garden spot of the world, Brooklyn, U.S.A.” Extra credit if you know which Brooklyn resident called the borough that.

Related reading
All OCA Brooklyn posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Still life with coffee and laundry

[As seen in east-central Illinois. Click for a larger view.]

America’s Cup Coffee, “The Cup That Cheers,” was produced in Peoria, Illinois. That’s the America’s Cup trophy painted on the brick.

I had to make sure that I was reading the words at the top correctly: White Front Auto Laundry / Service Station? Yes. Webster’s Second defines auto laundry : “a place where, or device with which, automobiles are washed.” The term is not found in Webster’s Third , though one can still subscribe to the Auto Laundry News.

American a

The pronunciation of a :

In the years before the Civil War the plain people converted the a of care into the a of car in bear , dare , hair , and where , into a short i in the verb can , into a short e in catch , and into a long e in care , scarce and chair, thus producing bar , dar , har , whar , kin , ketch , keer , skeerce and cheer.

H. L. Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, 4th ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936).
Rachel and Ben, do you remember “Bounce, ketch?” (And the Galápagos?)

Also from The American Language
The American v. the Englishman : “Are you a speed-cop? : B.V.D. : English American English : “[N]o faculty so weak as the English faculty” : On professor : Playing policy : “There are words enough already” : The -thon , dancing and walking : The verb to contact

[“Bounce, ketch” rang a distant bell for Rachel and Ben. It and the Galápagos are from an old VHS tape for kids.]

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Nabokov to Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory (1966).

An especially beautiful and startling element in Speak, Memory  is the sudden and unexplained direct address of a “you.” That would be Vera Nabokov, Vladimir’s wife.

In Odes 2.14, Horace describes years as fleeting, gliding away. The poem addresses Postumus (identity unknown) and repeats his name: “Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume / labuntur anni” [Alas, O Postumus, Postumus, the years glide swiftly by]. Postume, Postume: thus posthaste , posthaste , Paestum, Paestum. Paestum: “a major ancient Greek city.” Postumus, by the way, does not signify posthumous , no matter how well the meaning fits here.

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

[The text of Horace is from Odes and Epodes , trans. C. F. Bennett (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914). Lumber : “To heap together in disorder” (Webster’s Second .)]


“I used to be a former FBI agent”: a one-time former FBI agent, speaking on CNN.

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

[The television was on for “warmth.”]

Monday, October 12, 2015

“What kind of thinker are you?”

A three-question quiz from The Guardian: “What kind of thinker are you?”

Me, analytical.

Review: Bill Griffith’s Invisible Ink

Bill Griffith, Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2015. $29.99.

In one of the most inspired images in Invisible Ink (whose subtitle reveals just one family secret), Bill Griffith imagines generations of voices calling to him from the ruins of Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace:

“I’m your grandfather!” “I’m your great-grandfather!” “I’m your third cousin, twice removed!” “I’m your great-great-grandfather!” “I’m your mother! Come home for supper!”
“My emotional attachment to all these people is tenuous at best,” Griffith writes. “I mean, I’m free of their influence. They’re all gone, long gone. Then why won’t they shut up?” Because, one could say, we are born with the dead, trailing clouds, or dragging chains, of familial inheritance.

Working from conversations with an uncle, a box of memorabilia (that another relative declined), library special collections, Internet resources, and a cache of his mother’s writing (including an unpublished novel), Griffith (the creator of the comic strip Zippy the Pinhead) works to understand the mysteries of his parents’ lives: his father James’s never-spoken-of childhood and angry adulthood; his mother Barbara’s painful childhood and claustrophobic life as a wife, mother, and aspiring writer in suburbia; and the difficult marriage that ended with James’s death. And through sixteen years of that marriage, Barbara’s love affair with her employer Lawrence Lariar, a cartoonist and mystery writer. He too was married. An especially disturbing detail: a signed self-caricature of Lariar looked down on the Griffiths from their bedroom wall.

Though Lariar admired Klee and Picasso and Rothko, his own work was anything but high art. His long career takes the reader back to a thriving low- and middle-brow print culture, with an endless array of humor magazines, men’s magazines, and paperback originals. (Sample Lariar titles: Golf and Be Damned , How Green Was My Sex Life , Oh! Dr. Kinsey! ) Lariar’s formulaic approach to drawing and writing, always with an eye to “the sale,” is the occasion for a strange scenario about the anxiety of influence: what would have become of Bill Griffith had Lariar stepped in as stepfather and mentor? We see the imagined result in a set of hilariously un-Griffith-like Zippy strips.

Invisible Ink is brilliantly drawn, with hand-rendered reproductions of photographs and Lariar’s work, beautiful scenes of mid-century American life, and lots of crosshatching (a technique Lariar deemed passé). From Lariar’s Cartooning for Everybody : “The modern cartoonist needn’t be a master pen and ink craftsman to sell his work.” Needn’t be, no. But Bill Griffith is.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[The cover image is from Fantagraphics. I have removed two exclamation points that do not appear on the cover of the book as published. William Henry Jackson, Griffith’s great-grandfather, took the first photographs of Mesa Verde. “We are born with the dead”: from T. S. Eliot’s Little Gidding,” given a different meaning here. “Trailing clouds”: from William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” Just one example of Griffith’s technique: page 106, bottom right, a beautiful rendering of a Naked City street scene, one that also caught my eye.]

Sunday, October 11, 2015

iOS 9, uppercase, lowercase

I went looking for some comment on iOS 9’s lowercase keyboard and found these images. Thank you, Zack Isaacs. I like the look of the lowercase keyboard, I really do, but switching from lowercase to uppercase via the Shift key is jarring, as I noticed every time I typed a capital letter. Switching between the lowercase and numeric keyboards is also jarring — like using the iPhone on a bouncing bus, with everything moving around. The problem: uppercase letters and numbers are uniform in size; lowercase letters are not. I switched back to the always-uppercase keyboard shortly after updating to iOS 9.

Handwriting in the news

News from New Zealand: “Drug dealers trying to send morphine through the mail have seen their brazen smuggling attempt go wrong — thanks to bad handwriting.”

Neatness counts.

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A petition to protect higher education in Illinois

Reader, if you live in Illinois, please consider signing a petition to protect higher education in our state. As the Illinois budget impasse continues, the situation for public universities and community colleges is growing worse and worse.

Friday, October 9, 2015

OS X El Capitan

Yesterday I updated my Mac to OS X 10.11, El Capitan, and I’m impressed by its speed and apparent sturdiness. Things haven’t felt this good on my Mac since 10.8 (Mountain Lion).

Major glitch: an endlessly spinning beach ball while installing. I held down the power button, restarted, and all was well. Minor glitches: getting cDock to work and reinstalling the Safari extension Disconnect. I gave up on replacing Apple’s new system font (San Francisco) with Lucida Grande. Trying to make the change, at least for now, brings a host of complications, including squashed text in the Finder and in browser tabs. So I’m convincing myself that I’m happy with San Francisco, which itself is a clear (pun intended) improvement over Helvetica Neue.

I’m a little saddened to see that the sempervirens bug, a problem I first noticed in OS X 10.10, is still present, having persisted through 10.10.1, 10.10.2, 10.10.3, 10.10.4, and 10.10.5. Sempervirens isn’t present on every Mac, but a tech-support person reproduced the bug when I called about it in 2014, and a higher-level person filed a report. And the bug is still here. I guess I didn’t call it semper for nothing.

Itr’s always smart to check that crucial apps and hardware will work with a system update. I waited until I knew that aText was working in 10.11. Elaine has to wait until the music-writing app Finale works in 10.11. That’s supposed to happen “by the end of November 2015.” Sigh.

The criminal subjunctive

The Lineup (dir. Don Siegel, 1958) is a fine bit of black-and-white filmmaking, a police procedural (not noir, no matter what the DVD claims) in which two detectives pursue two criminals who pursue three travelers who have unwittingly brought heroin-filled keepsakes back to the States. With San Francisco scenery, a chase on an unfinished freeway, and a terrific script by Stirling Silliphant, who would soon create the television series Naked City and Route 66 .

Here, our criminals, Dancer (Eli Wallach) and Julian (Robert Keith), discuss a point of grammar on their way to work.

I wondered if this scene, complete with a “little book,” might be a nod to The Elements of Style. But no, I suppose not. The film was released in June 1958. The Elements of Style was published in April 1959. Grammar and usage as the keys to self-improvement have a long history in American culture. Sherwin Cody, anyone?

My amusing (I hope) explanation of “if I was” and “if I were” is one of the most popular posts on Orange Crate Art. It’s nice to know that speakers and writers want to get it right.

[Is it my imagination, or does Julian strongly resemble Walter White of Breaking Bad ?]

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Sluggo sardines

[Nancy, May 18, 1951. From Nancy Loves Sluggo: Complete Dailies 1949–1951 (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2014). Click for a larger view.]

In the comics it’s still lunchtime.

Related reading, via Pinboard
All OCA Nancy posts
All OCA sardine posts

Sardines and sardines

[From Hearings of the General Tariff Revision before the Committee on Ways and Means, House of Representatives, 1921. Joseph W. Fordney of Michigan chaired. George O’Hara represented the Associated Importers of Food Products, New York. Click for a larger view.]

The Chairman. In your opinion, what creates the chief difference between the retail prices, they are somewhere near the same size.

Mr. O’Hara. The quality, absolutely nothing else.

The Chairman. The quality?

Mr. O’Hara. The quality, yes; there is no such thing as a sardine on the Maine coast. Those sardines on the Maine coast are shipped south and sold to the negroes. They are sold as low as $3.50 and $4 a case, I believe. They are also sent to the large centers and sold in the sweat shops in the large commercial centers where a man buys a 5-cent tin of sardines and a package of Uneeda Biscuit and calls that his lunch.
I have always thought of sardines as a poor-people’s food: my dad, as a boy, had a sardine sandwich for lunch every damn schoolday. But now I understand that there were sardines and there were sardines. O’Hara goes on to say that what’s packaged in Maine is herring, not sardines. He mentions a tin of domestic “sardines” selling seven cents and a tin of French sardines selling for ten times as much.

Fordney follows this exchange with some fulminating: “In the South I employ negro labor”; “I know that the negroes are well fed”; “I know that the negro has a better lunch than that.” (Fordney was in the lumber business.) But no one on the committee disputes the sardine-and-cracker lunch of the sweatshop worker.

And speaking of sardines and crackers.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

[Seventy cents in 1921 = $9.32 in 2015.]

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dumb stupid list

Elaine pointed me to a mega-listicle from Esquire, The 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read. Just two of its books predate the twentieth century, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Brothers Karamazov . (Note to magazine: there’s no the in Twain’s title.) Only one book on the list is by a woman, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

Esquire’s sole comment on its no. 4 book, The Grapes of Wrath: “Because it’s all about the titty.” Grow up, Esquire . Oh, wait: you were born in 1933.

Domestic comedy

[Talking about a nearby institution.]

“ . . . greater transparency in how moneys are allocated. I can’t believe I used the word moneys .”

Garner’s Modern American Usage :

Why doesn’t the collective noun money suffice? The answer lies in idiom. While money generally functions in collective senses <we made a lot of money on that deal>, moneys is frequently used, especially in financial and legal contexts, to denote “discrete sums of money” or “funds” <many federal and state moneys were budgeted for the disaster relief>.
Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Nabokov at Cambridge

The first day of school:

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory (1966).

This passage makes me recall with a laugh my first entry into a classroom as a teacher, of sorts. I was a graduate student, subbing for a professor on a Friday afternoon (gee, thanks). As I made my way into the room with book and notes and coffee, the pneumatic door began to close on me, and my coffee went all over the floor. I went off to get paper towels from a men’s room. And so began a class on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

The mere fact

On NPR’s All Things Considered this morning:

John Bellinger, a former legal advisor to the State Department, says the bombing of the hospital was a terrible tragedy, but he believes it would be a rush to judgment to call it a war crime.

“The mere fact that civilians are killed, that a hospital is damaged, doesn’t automatically mean that there has been a war crime. It only becomes a war crime if it is shown that the target was intentionally attacked.”
The mere fact? From Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate :
1 : having no admixture : PURE

2 obsolete : being nothing less than : ABSOLUTE

3 : being nothing more than <a mere mortal> <a mere hint of spice>
Bellinger could be using mere in its first sense — this fact, and this fact alone. But the word is typically used to minimize importance. As the New Oxford American Dictionary points out, mere may be “used to emphasize how small or insignificant someone or something is.” The deaths of civilians in war ought never to be considered a mere fact.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Bull, of the Woods

[Side-stapled, 5 7/16″ × 2 15/16″. Found in an “antiques” “mall.” Key word: chew , not eat .]

Thinking about bull and euphemisms reminded me that I am in possession of this pocket notebook. Its inside-front cover dates the Bull of the Woods chewing tobacco brand to 1883. I would date the notebook to the 1950s or ’60s or ’70s. The pages (still blank) are ruled for writing, with slogans at the top: “Your Best Tobacco Buy,” “Tobacco at Its Best.” At the center, a four-page spread with adages, thoughts about tobacco, and stale jokes featuring a lady driver, a mule-driver, a beautiful blonde, an Englishman, and assorted others.

There is no bringing those jokes up to date: like chewing tobacco itself, they belong to another time. It might be possible to soften the cover, though perhaps not all that convincingly.

Is Bull of the Woods still around? YouTube has a 2012 review from a young chewer. (Quit, kid, while you’re ahead of the game.) There’s also commercial in black and white. Chewing tobacco on TV! They must have been buying in a regional market.

No bull

The essentially English word bull is refined beyond the mountains, and perhaps elsewhere, into cow-creature, male-cow, and even gentleman-cow . A friend who resided many years in the West has told me of an incident where a gray-headed man of sixty doffed his hat reverently and apologized to clergyman for having used inadvertently in his hearing the plain Saxon term.

John Russell Bartlett, A Glossary of Words and Phrases Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States (1848). Quoted in H. L. Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States , 4th ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936).
Also from The American Language
The American v. the Englishman : B.V.D. : “[N]o faculty so weak as the English faculty” : On professor : Playing policy : “There are words enough already” : The -thon , dancing and walking : The verb to contact

[John Russell Bartlett was a historian and linguist. No relation to Quotations.]

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Recently updated

Teaching and texting Sherry Turkle’s essay, now out from behind the paywall.


While I’m thinking about teaching and texting and distraction, here is a statement about decorum that I used (with variations) on syllabi over many years:

I see this statement not as harsh or threatening but as plainly serious. Students, with very few exceptions, saw it that way too. Texting, as you can guess, was a rare occurrence in my classes.

Webster’s Second does a bang-job on decorum. Sense 2:

A standard or code of what is fitting, proper, or established by good usage, in the relation of parts to a whole, or means to an end, or esp. of conduct to principles or circumstances; hence, propriety; the proprieties; “good form”; convention; also, a requirement of propriety; as, a breach of decorum . “So far from the common decorum of a gentleman, as to send a letter so impudently cruel.” J. Austen .
The times, they change: at one point, my decorum statement mentioned knitting. Circa 1990-something, knitting in class was a thing.

[The decorum statement is in my favorite font for syllabi, Jos Buivenga’s Fontin Sans. After reading Edward Tufte, I began making syllabi with three columns running down the page; thus, the little block of text above. I made sure that a syllabus ran no longer than one double-sided page: compact and highly readable. If it doesn’t go without saying: exceptions to the no-phone rule were always possible, as when a student was waiting for a call about an urgent family matter.]

Teaching and texting

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sherry Turkle writes about “How to Teach in an Age of Distraction.” She begins with an account of teaching a twenty-student seminar at MIT devoted to reading and writing memoirs:

The students seemed to understand each other, to find a rhythm. I thought the class was working.

Then, halfway through the semester, a group of students asked to see me. They admitted to texting during class, but they felt bad about it because of the personal material being discussed. They said they text in all their classes, but here it seemed wrong. We decided the class should talk about this as a group. In that discussion, more students admitted that they, too, texted in class. They portrayed constant connection as a necessity. For some, three minutes was too long to go without checking their phones.
So “a group” of students are texting, and then it turns out that still “more students” are texting. My question — and it’s a genuine question, not a bit of snark: how is it possible to teach a class of twenty students (a seminar, no less) and not realize that many of those students are texting?

The Chronicle has Turkle’s essay behind its paywall, but you can read an excerpt here.


8:35 p.m.: The essay is online for all, at least for now.

Related reading
More posts about attention and distraction (Pinboard)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

HTTPS here

Google is adding HTTPS support for Blogger blogs. I switched over this morning, fixed a minor problem (the sidebar search URL needed an https ), and all seems well.

A comment appended to Blogger’s announcement says, “Dang. I wake up and it’s like the 2010s out there.” In other words, there’s nothing new about HTTPS. I’ve been using the HTTPS Everywhere extension since 2010, first in Firefox, later in Chrome. There’s no extension for Safari.

If you have any problems reading Orange Crate Art in your browser, please, let me know.


12:10 p.m.: Too many troubles. Back to HTTP for now.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Adieu, Arne Duncan

From The New York Times: “Arne Duncan, Education Secretary, to Step Down in December.”

Duncan will be <sarcasm>warmly</sarcasm> remembered as the man who started us on the Race to the Top. His successor will no doubt stay the course.

A related post
Arne Duncan on Colbert

[Fake HTML made with character codes from this handy page.]

Pomodoro One

Pomodoro One is free for OS X 10.8+ ($1.99 to remove ads), $1.99 for iOS 7.1+. It’s the nicest Pomodoro app I’ve used, though I still claim loyalties to an orange and an owl.

A related post
The Pomodoro Technique Illustrated (my review)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Not enough

President Barack Obama on the mass killing today at Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon:

“Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted some place else in America, next week or a couple of months from now. . . .

“It cannot be this easy for someone who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun. . . .

“This is a political choice that we make — to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.”
The full statement is at YouTube.

[My transcription.]

Erroll Garner mystery phrase

It’s driving me crazy, and now it’s driving Elaine crazy too. Can anyone identify the source of this musical phrase? In my mind it says early twentieth century . I thought it might be from Felix Arndt’s “Nola,” but no.

Erroll Garner builds a chorus of “Lullaby of Birdland” from variations on this phrase. You can hear what I’m describing at the 1:00 mark.

Thanks to Elaine for writing out the music.


3:14 p.m.: Elaine found the answer via Facebook: the phrase is from “Narcissus,” by Ethelbert Nevin (1891). Here is an amusing rendition. Nevin also wrote the music for “Mighty Lak’ a Rose.”

Thanks to Kevin Hart for identifying “Narcissus” and for pointing to one of its great turns in popular culture. In Our Gang Follies of 1936 the piece serves as dancing music for the Flory-Dory Sixtette: Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, and company. And that is why, I realize, I was able to recognize this musical phrase. Watch here. The dance scene begins at 15:53.

A related post
Erroll Garner, The Complete Concert by the Sea

Erroll Garner, The Complete Concert by the Sea

[Concert by the Sea had eleven tunes. The Complete Concert by the Sea has twenty-two.]

1 I first listened to Concert by the Sea as a very young child, standing alongside the hi-fi to hear Erroll Garner, when asked about his voice at the very end of Side Two, say, “It’s worser than Louie Armstrong.”

2 Like Armstrong, Garner can be mistaken for a (mere) entertainer. But the purpose of art is to teach and delight — or, to teach us to delight, to take delight in imaginative abundance.

3 Concert by the Sea was recorded on September 19, 1955, in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, and released as a Columbia LP in 1956. In 1969 the album was rereleased in fake stereo. Both album covers have a young white woman standing on a rock by the sea, her arms stretched out in celebration.

4 The new release has, for the first time, a young woman of color in that pose.

5 That the recording is available is a wonder. Like Duke Ellington’s November 7, 1940, Fargo performance, Garner’s performance just happened to be recorded. Jim Meagher and Will Thornbury were planning to play the tape on Armed Forces Radio. Garner’s manager Martha Glaser saw the machine running and got the goods.

6 What Meagher and Thornbury preserved is a great Garner performance but also a typical Garner performance: piano, bass, drums, a couple of original tunes, a blues, some jazz standards, and many selections from the Great American Songbook. Garner’s typical was great.

7 Thus there are no highlights, really. Every tune is a highlight.

8 Sound quality is much better than before but not all that good. Eddie Calhoun (bass) and Denzil Best (drums) are more audible but still submerged in the murk. The piano in its upper- and lowermost registers sounds thin and metallic. Applause sounds horribly shrill. The engineers have worked from with the original tapes, which are not great. But see no. 5: “That the recording is available is a wonder.”

9 Unlike, say, Earl Hines, Garner never gets lost in exploring a tune. (And to say that is not to fault him.) His performances are more like arrangements, with prepared key changes, moments of tension and release, and dramatic contrasts in volume.

10 Yet Garner’s unaccompanied introductions seem to be spontaneous abstract inventions. These introductions are said to have baffled sidemen as well as audiences.

11 My favorite: the introduction to “I’ll Remember April.”

12 My dad once told me the source for the introduction to “Where or When.” Was it the theme music for an old-movies-on-TV broadcast? I never wrote down the name.

13 The Internets have nothing to say about the introduction to “Where or When.”

14 Like Hines and Glenn Gould, Garner is one of the great self-accompanying pianists, grunting and exclaiming as he plays. One index of Garner’s popularity: the Beatles’ spoof of his mannerisms in “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number).”

15 The elements of Garner’s pianism are brilliantly explained by Dick Hyman in two video clips: 1, 2.

16 I think of Garner as having three operating speeds: swoon, stroll, and sprint.

17 The twenty-two tunes from this performance include six swoons, eight strolls, and eight sprints. A well-balanced program.

18 Swoon: think “Misty,” which does not appear here. Or “Laura” or “The Nearness of You,” which do. They are baroque interiors teeming with cherubim and seraphim and all manner of clouds.

19 Stroll: think “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”: a jaunty, cool boulevardier.

20 Sprint: think “It’s All Right with Me,” with Garner’s left hand keeping double-time. Garner is a long-distance sprinter.

21 Garner’s absence from the PBS series Jazz (2001) is just one of Ken Burns’s crimes against music.

22 “Erroll, Erroll, Erroll, Erroll, Erroll, Erroll, Erroll, Erroll. Erroll Garner. Eddie Calhoun. Denzil DeCosta Best. Erroll, Erroll. Erroll Garner”: Jimmy Lyons, emcee, at the concert’s end.

[The Complete Concert by the Sea (Columbia/Legacy) has the concert as recorded, the rearranged, edited sequence of the original LP, and post-concert interviews with Garner, Calhoun, and Best. With extensive liner notes. List price for the three-CD set: $13.99. The bargain of the year and the reissue of the year.]