Monday, November 30, 2015

Where’s my Profile?

If you notice something missing: the Profile that should appear in the sidebar has gone missing. And yet it still exists. The Blogger Help Forum has no answers, at least not yet. Here’s hoping that I can figure out the problem.


8:04 p.m.: For now there’s a cheap fascimile in the sidebar.


8:41 p.m.: Now the Profile is back, with my tweaks and improvements gone. Thanks, Google.


8:58 p.m.: The problem seems to be deep in the heart of Blogger. Change the title from Profile and the whole thing disappears. Change “View my complete profile” to the more sensible “View profile” and the whole thing disappears.


9:04 p.m.: How I got around the problem: I took a screenshot of the sidebar photograph, complete with border, from my saved version of Orange Crate Art. I uploaded the image to this post to get a URL. I then created a Text widget, put in the HTML for the photograph, and added the text underneath. Thus I now have a pseudo-Profile that satisfies my requirements, not Blogger’s.

Back in April, writing about Blogger’s blurry-Profile-picture problem, I described Google’s unannounced change in managing images as just one more eff yew from Google to its “users.” True then, true now.


December 1: It appears that Profiles have vanished from and returned to many a sidebar. My final (I think) fix for the problem: I put the HTML for my old profile in a Text widget and added the blurry-Profile-picture fix to the Search widget. No more working against Blogger’s standards for the sidebar Profile.

Welcome to Illinois

“The rich families remaking Illinois are among a small group around the country who have channeled their extraordinary wealth into political power, taking advantage of regulatory, legal and cultural shifts that have carved new paths for infusing money into campaigns”: “A Wealthy Governor and His Friends Are Remaking Illinois” (The New York Times ).

Governor Bruce Rauner is Illinois’s version of Scott Walker. Woe is us.

[See Citizen Koch (dir. Carl Deal, Tia Lessin, 2013) for the playbook.]


“Salmon is an easy sell. But sardines? Not easy”: Barton Seaver sells Lynne Rossetto Kasper on canned sardines. But also: don’t miss the salmon-cake recipe. Thanks for the link, Diane.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper is the reason our household now has a half sheet pan. It’s changed our cooking for the better, greatly so.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

A joke in the traditional manner

Why does Marie Kondo never win at poker?

No spoilers. The punchline is in the comments.

More jokes in the traditional manner
The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : Elementary school : A Golden Retriever : How did Bela Lugosi know what to expect? : How did Samuel Clemens do all his long-distance traveling? : What did the doctor tell his forgetful patient to do? : What did the plumber do when embarrassed? : What happens when a senior citizen visits a podiatrist? : What is the favorite toy of philosophers’ children? : Which member of the orchestra was best at handling money? : Why did the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels? : Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies? : Why did the ophthalmologist and his wife split up? : Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

And: Tidy?

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. He gets credit for all but the cow coloratura, the toy, the squirrel-doctor, Santa Claus, and this one. Is punchline-in-the-comments meant to encourage feed-readers to visit Orange Crate Art? Well, yes.]

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thoureauvian Zippy rocks

[Zippy  November 29, 2015. First and third panels.]

I like it that the third panel prompts you (or me) to look again for “some rocks.” There they are, back in panel the first. Yow!

Related reading (via Pinboard)
All OCA Nancy posts
All OCA Nancy and Zippy posts (with more rocks)
All OCA Zippy posts

Billy Strayhorn centenary

[“Portrait of Billy Strayhorn, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948.” Photograph by William Gottlieb (1917–2006). From the William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress. Click for a larger view, or visit the Collection for a much larger view.]

William Thomas Strayhorn was born on November 29, 1915. He died on May 31, 1967. Duke Ellington, in his (anti-)autobiography Music Is My Mistress (1973):

He was not, as he was often referred to by many, my alter ego. Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brainwaves in his head, and his in mine.
Also from that book, an excerpt from what Ellington wrote after Strayhorn’s death:
He demanded freedom of expression and lived in what we consider the most important and moral of freedoms: freedom from hate, unconditionally; freedom from self-pity (even throughout all the pain and bad news); freedom from fear of possibly doing something that might help another more than it might himself; and freedom from the kind of pride that could make a man feel he was better than his brother or neighbor.

His patience was incomparable and unlimited. He had no aspirations to enter into any kind of competition, yet the legacy he leaves, his oeuvre , will never be less than the ultimate on the highest plateau of culture (whether by comparison or not).

God bless Billy Strayhorn.
I am baffled by the apparent absence of Strayhorn programming from Columbia University’s WKCR. Here is a YouTube sampler, with performances by Strayhorn himself, the Ellington band, or assorted Ellingtonians.

“Blood Count” : “Chelsea Bridge” : “The Intimacy of the Blues” : “Johnny Come Lately” : “Lotus Blossom” : “Lush Life” : “My Little Brown Book” : “Rain Check” : “Take the ‘A’ Train” : “U. M. M. G.”

And a website: And a related post: Strayhorn on humility and individuality.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Familiar phrasing

Elaine and I are back home after ten days visiting family and friends. “Family and friends”: what a bland phrase, so easily trivialized by the abbreviation ’n’ , so easily commodified into a “plan.” And yet the only words we have for our most important human relationships.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Nabokov: Van Veen, eraser

Dr. Van Veen, psychologist, in lecture mode:

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

Nabokov himself famously said that his pencils outlasted their erasers. Not (contra The Atlantic ) in Speak, Memory but in a 1962 interview with unidentified journalists, published in Strong Opinions (1973): “I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.”

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Waitin’ with Nancy

[Nancy , November 22, 1945. Via Random Acts of Nancy .]

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Thanksgiving 1915

[“Thanksgiving Revel in Waldorf Barn: Guests Enjoy a New England Farm Dinner and See Country Dances and Corn Husking.” The New York Times, November 24, 1915.]

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Previous Thanksgiving posts
In jail, 1914 : In jail, 1913 : Thanksgiving and mortality : In jail, 1912 : Competitive eating, 1911 : A 1917 greeting card : A found letter : Sing Sing, 1908 : Sing Sing, 1907

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Escalators, not over the hill

“The first thing they’d say was, ‘Please tell me you’re keeping the wooden escalators’”: “Macy’s Historic Wooden Escalators Survive Renovation” (The New York Times ).

[Bonus points if you recognize the source of the post title.]

William Maxwell: “the greatest pleasure there is”

The narrator leaves Lincoln, Illinois, to join and his father and stepmother Grace in the big city:

William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980).

Other Maxwell posts
On childhood and familiar objects
On Melville and Cather
On sentences

Robert Walser: “something slight”

No deeds now! Listen, linger, remain rooted to the spot. Be divinely touched by something slight.

Robert Walser, “Tiergarten,” in Berlin Stories , trans. Susan Bernofsky (New York: New York Review Books, 2012).
Related reading
All OCA Robert Walser posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The last Mencken post

A Variety headline:

Pash Flaps M. C.
Fan Clubs Rated
Worthless to Theatres
As B. O. Gag.

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).

Can you figure out what this headline is saying? Mencken gives a paraphrase as it appeared in the Manchester Guardian , January 30, 1930. No spoilers here: it’s in the comments.

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

[Finally made it to the end of this book.]

Blogger fail

The Ultimate Responsive Test: Is your site Apple Watch-responsive? Mine, no.

[If you follow the link, be sure to read the entire page. And test the site URL too.]

Monday, November 23, 2015

Domestic comedy

“If you hadn’t reminded me, I wouldn’t have even known what not to talk about.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Vaudevillians at play

Mencken presents this exchange as the work of one Julius H. Marx — Groucho to you and me:

First Vaudevillian — How they comin’, Big Boy?

Second V. — Not so hot, not so hot. I’m playin’ a hit-and-run emporium over in East New York.

First V. — Gettin’ much jack?

Second V. — Well, the storm and me is cuttin’ up two and a half yards, but when the feed bill and gas for the boiler is marked off, they ain’t much sugar left.

First V. — Why don’t you air her and do a single?

Second V. — I guess I should; everyone that’s caught us says that the trick is a hundred per cent. me. I had ’em howling so forte last night the whole neighborhood was in an uproar. What are you doing these days?

First V. — I just closed with a turkey that went out to play forty weeks and folded up after ten days. Believe me, them WJZ and WEAF wise-crackers ain’t doin’ show business any good. In the West now they are even gettin’ the rodeo by radio.

Second V. — Why don’t you get yourself a partner and take a flyer?

First V. — Well, if I could get a mama that could do some hoofin’ and tickle a uke, I think I would.

Second V. — Well, ta ta, I gotta go now and make comical for the bozos. If you get a chance come over and get a load of me, but remember, Capt. Kidd, lay off my wow gags.

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). Mencken gives the source as Franklin Pierce Adams’s newspaper column “The Conning Tower.” No date.
Also from The American Language
The American a : The American v. the Englishman : Anglic : “Are you a speed-cop? : Benjamin Franklin and spelling : B.V.D. : English American English : Franco-American : “[N]o faculty so weak as the English faculty” : On professor : Playing policy : Proper names in America : “Slang is . . .” : “There are words enough already” : The -thon , dancing and walking Through -thing and -thin’ : The verb to contact

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Remembrance of things past

“There’s a whole world of Internet activity devoted to creating fake files that can’t be opened. What I do is ask the student to send me the text of an essay as a plain e-mail. Wait a minute — I’m retired. I’m done with that! Screw that!”

A related post
The corrupted-file trick


[A well-dressed woman .]

“If I’m still married when I’m forty, I’m gonna cut someone. My lawyer!” [Laughter. ]

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Dream marriage

I was married to Audrey Hepburn, circa 1950-something, and was showing her that "Funny Face" and some other song were more or less the same song — same chord changes, similar melodies.

What other song? I was married to Audrey Hepburn: how can I be expected to remember these things?

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

[This dream has my real wife’s approval.]

Friday, November 20, 2015

Recently updated

Missing pencil sculpture Once lost, now found.

Nabokov: “mere scenery”

The past, in the form of the wreckage of an affair:

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

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

College prez likens college prez to star infielder, English prof to minor leaguer

I heard about it but had to read it to believe it. Scott Scarborough, president of the University of Akron (rebranded “Ohio’s Polytechnic University”), explaining the disparity between administrative and faculty salaries:

“It”s hard to explain why a president might make eight times as much as an English-faculty professor in the same way it’s hard to explain why a power-hitting third basemen makes more than someone playing for the RubberDucks. They’re both playing the same sport. They’re both playing the same position. And yet one makes a thousand times more.”
Aside from the insult, this analogy is remarkably faulty. Administrators and faculty don’t do the same work. And there is no reason to assume that an administrator as such is a stellar performer or that a faculty member as such is strictly minor league. The RubberDucks, as you might know, are Akron’s minor-league team, so Scarborough is insulting not just faculty but the hometown team as well.

The University of Akron appears to be a school in crisis. It’s never a good sign when a school’s president becomes the object of mockery in an online game.

The Adjunct Project reports that Akron pays its adjunct faculty $800 to $4,000 per course. Scott Scarborough’s starting salary: $450,000.


June 1, 2016: The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Scott Scarborough has resigned.

Related posts
Income disparity in higher ed
Inequality v. disparity

“Slang is . . . ”

From a Mencken footnote:

“Slang,” said Carl Sandburg, “is language that takes off its coat, spits on its hands, and gets to work.” “Slang,” said Victor Hugo, “ is a dressing-room in which language, having an evil deed to prepare, puts on a disguise.” “Slang,” said Ambrose Bierce, “is the speech of him who robs the literary garbage-carts on their way to the dumps.” Emerson and Whitman were its partisans. “What can describe the folly and emptiness of scolding,“ asked the former (Journals, 1840), like the word jawing ?” “Slang,” said Whitman, “is the wholesome fermentation or eructation of those processes eternally active in language, by which the froth and specks are thrown up, mostly to pass away, though occasionally to settle and permanently crystalize.” (Slang in America , 1885). And again: “These words ought to be collected — the bad words as well as the good. Many of the bad words are fine” (An American Primer , c . 1856.)

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).
And now I think of Julia A. Moore, the Sweet Singer of Michigan, and her trenchant praise of “Temperance Reform Clubs” and their members:
Those noble men were kind and brave
    They care not for the slang —
The slang they meet on every side
Aw, nerts.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


As seen on a billboard: “We Are Into S & N.” That is, spaying and neutering. With a photograph of a cat and dog wearing leather.

Cute? Not so much.

Related reading
All OCA signage posts (Pinboard)

Missing pencil sculpture

A pencil sculpture — twelve-feet tall, 200 pounds — is missing from the campus of Purdue University.

Okay, whodunit?


November 20: The pencil has been found.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts

Sardines and cigarettes

[“Baskets of sardines.” Cigarette card from the George Arents Collection. From the New York Public Library Digital Collections. Click either image for a larger view.]

Not quite the ring of “coffee and cigarettes.” (A fine movie, Jim Jarmusch.) “Pilchards and cigarettes” doesn’t quite work either. But “semolina pilchard” — now there’s something.

A recent story from a British tabloid gives new meaning to “sardines and cigarettes.” Proceed at your own risk.

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A brief message from the Academy of Lifelong Learning

A problem should retain its shape and size. If a large problem cannot be found, a small problem ought not to step in to take its place.

[Me, today, UPS and USPS.]

Robert Walser: “a sleeping sardine”

Since arriving in Berlin, I’ve lost the habit of finding humanity laughable. At this point, by the way, I myself request another edible wonder: a plank of bread bearing a sleeping sardine upon a bedsheet of butter, so enchanting a vision that I toss the whole spectacle down my open revolving stage of a gullet. Is such a thing laughable? By no means. Well, then. What isn’t laughable in me cannot be any more so in others, since it’s our duty to esteem others more highly than ourselves no matter what, a worldview splendidly in keeping with the earnestness with which I now contemplate the abrupt demise of my sardine pallet.

Robert Walser, “Aschinger,” in Berlin Stories , trans. Susan Bernofsky (New York: New York Review Books, 2012).
Related reading
Aschinger (Wikipedia)
All OCA Robert Walser posts (Pinboard)
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Robert Walser: comestibles, ephemeralities, liverwurst

How enchanting this is: being permitted to take a bit of pleasure in something rustic, even only a grosch’n’s worth. Fresh eggs, country ham, country and city liverwurst! I have to admit: I do like standing and scallywagging about in the proximity of tempting comestibles. Again I am reminded of the most vivid ephemeralities, and what is alive is dearer to me than the immortal.

Robert Walser, “Market,” in Berlin Stories , trans. Susan Bernofsky (New York: New York Review Books, 2012).
Related reading, via Pinboard
All OCA Robert Walser posts
All OCA liverwurst posts

Monday, November 16, 2015

Robert Walser, Looking at Pictures

Robert Walser. Looking at Pictures . Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky, Lydia Davis, and Christopher Middleton. New York: Christine Burgin/New Directions, 2015. 144 pages, illustrated. $24.95 hardcover.

The ancient practice of ekphrasis is a matter of speaking about a work of visual art, providing a verbal analogue of a mute image. (Think shield of Achilles , Iliad 18.) In these twenty-five short prose pieces, Robert Walser (1878–1956) writes about paintings, to paintings, and from within paintings. And at times he leaves paintings aside to discuss other things. Each work of art becomes an occasion for the writer’s own imaginative performance.

Walser writes about paintings (by his brother Karl, Fragonard, Watteau, Van Gogh, Cezanne, and others) as if no one had ever thought to do so before. Thus the element of arch naïveté in his prose: “A painter is a person who holds a brush in his hand. On the brush is paint.” “Every great painter the world has known has been cheerful, quiet, thoughtful, clever and superbly educated.” Historicizing a Fragonard painting, Walser presents himself as a game amateur doing his best: “Railroads didn’t exist yet, and the niceties of central heating had not yet been worked out. No one had ever heard of petroleum lamps.” And of Watteau:

Knowing little about him, I shall nonetheless promptly make my way, as if rambling across meadows, into the task of describing his life, as if stepping into an attractive, prettily wallpapered little house, this being a life devoted to gaiety, that is to art, in other words to a certain delight in one’s own person.
A delight in one’s own person indeed.

The aesthetic of Looking at Pictures is a playful blend of realism and its alternatives. An imaginary painter writes in a notebook of painting “meticulously precise likenesses” of people and things. Elsewhere Walser praises painted bouquets as possessing “flower-bouquetishness,” and painted domiciles, “domesticity.” And of a Beardsley candle: “It may be that never before has an illustrator reproduced the flickering of a candle in so candle-like a manner, so flickery.” Paintings (or the figures therein) at times become so real that they talk back: Van Gogh’s Madame Joseph-Michel Ginoux tells Walser of her early life; Manet’s Olympia asks Walser to tell her a story. The high point of this play comes in a piece about Diaz’s The Forest Clearing : its landscape becomes the setting for a terrifying monologue by a mother abandoning her child, a mother conscious of her presence within a painting: “I swear to you, as truthfully as I am standing here with you in this forest painted by Diaz, you must earn your livelihood with bitter toil so that you will not go to ruin inwardly.” And the leaves on the ground offer their comment on Walser’s work:
“What has been written in this brief essay appears to be quite simple, but there are times when everything simple and readily comprehensible recedes from human understanding and only can be grasped with great effort.”
Elsewhere Walser leaves paintings behind. “An Exhibition of Belgian Art” begins with an undescribed visit to one exhibition site, followed by a stop at a café, thoughts about a girlfriend, recollections of military sevice, more thoughts about a girlfriend, an account of a dream, a story from Swiss history, until finally:
Pleased as I am to have had the opportunity to speak about a stately and beautiful artistic event, I consider myself obliged to limit myself with regard to the extensiveness of my remarks. Everything I have neglected to say can be given voice to by others.
The deciphering of Robert Walser’s pencilled microscripts and the rediscovery of his beautiful, funny, sad, enigmatic work (in German and in English translation) is one of the great developments in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century literary culture. I look forward to further new arrivals in translation from both published works and the Bleistiftgebiet (pencil zone).

Related reading
All OCA Robert Walser posts (Pinboard)

[Thanks to the publishers for a review copy of the book. Cover image from the New Directions website.]

Saturday, November 14, 2015

[Your selection here.]

Fresca posted a link to a video clip that begins with a few seconds of a pianist playing John Lennon’s “Imagine” outside the Bataclan Theatre. I watched, and I lost it. (And I don’t even much like “Imagine.”) And then I remembered the words Sonny Rollins spoke to an audience on September 15, 2001:

“Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are here tonight, and we must remember that music is the — one of the beautiful things of life. So we have to try to keep the music alive some kind of way. And maybe music can help. I don’t know, but we have to try something these days, right?”

Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert (Milestone Records, 2005).
And then I remembered that the one thing I have found helpful in times of tragedy is music. Maybe music can help.

[The post title is no mistake. It’s meant as a suggestion to seek out something helpful. I’m listening to Miles Davis, Anita O’Day, and Steve Lacy, who for many years made his home in Paris.]

Friday, November 13, 2015

Douglas R. Ewart and Quasar

Douglas Ewart, sopranino saxophone,
    didgeridoo, flute, percussion
Edward Wilkerson, clarinet, alto clarinet, tenor
    saxophone, didgeridoo
Preyas Roy, marimba
Darius Savage, bass, percussion
Walter Kitundu, invented instruments
Duriel Harris, voice, percussion

Gelvin Noel Gallery
Krannert Art Museum
Champaign, Illinois
November 12, 2015

The Quasar ensemble’s performance last night began and ended with Douglas Ewart’s voice, first asking a fellow musician about homelessness (“Do you know how close you are to being homeless?”) and later offering life truths (“To get there fast, go alone. To create legacy, go together.”) The evening’s performance, a single uninterrupted piece, joined music, poetry, and electronics in ever-shifting and compelling configurations: alto clarinet and bass creating an ostinato over which the sopranino soared, an interlude for flute and phonoharp that evoked the sound of the koto, a percussive exchange between marimba and bass. Harris’s poetry seemed to take up the spirit of inquiry with which Ewart began, asking questions about identity (“How many languages do you speak?” “What does your real voice sound like?”), privilege (“Would you say you’re lucky?”), and state power (“How much water?” “How many chokeholds?”)

About that phonoharp: a brief demonstration followed the performance. The instrument has three bass strings (to be bowed or plucked), a zither-like arrangement of doubled strings, and a turntable for sampling. Kitundu also played a kora, or kora-like instrument. Elaine took a photograph (with permission):

I believe in what Eric Dolphy said: “When you hear music, after it’s over, it’s gone, in the air. You can never capture it again.” But I still want to write about it.

Thanks to Jason Finkelman, who continues to bring the news of the new to east-central Illinois.

More about the musicians
Douglas Ewart : Edward Wilkerson Jr. on practicing : Preyas Roy : Darius Savage : Walter Kitundu : Duriel Harris

Three related posts
Douglas Ewart and Stephen Goldstein : Douglas Ewart
and Wadada Leo Smith
: Gray, Ra, Wilkerson

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Proper names in America

In Connecticut, some years ago, there was a politician named K. N. Bill whose given-names were Kansas Nebraska , and he had a sister baptized Missouri Compromise . . . . Thornton reprints a paragraph from the Congressional Globe of June 15, 1854, alleging that in 1846, during the row over the Oregon boundary, when “Fifty-four forty or fight” was a political slogan, many “canal boats, and even some of the babies . . . were christened 54° 40′ .”

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).
Shades of William Faulkner’s Snopes names: Admiral Dewey Snopes, Colonel Sartoris Snopes, Montgomery Ward Snopes, Saint Elmo Snopes, and (my favorite) Wallstreet Panic Snopes.

Also from The American Language
The American a : The American v. the Englishman : Anglic : “Are you a speed-cop? : Benjamin Franklin and spelling : B.V.D. : English American English : Franco-American : “[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

New Jersey Italian

Fun: How Capicola Became Gabagool: The Italian New Jersey Accent, Explained (Atlas Obscura).

I would alter one pronunciation given in this piece: in my hearing, ricotta has never been pronounced ree-goat . It’s rih-GAWT . My friend Luanne Koper agrees.


11:12 a.m. An afterthought: as memories fade and people depart, it may become increasingly difficult or even impossible to reverse-engineer such pronunciations. I am resigned to never knowing the true Italian name (if there indeed is one) for the delicious stuffing that my grandmother made for holiday turkeys. The ingredients included eggs, ham, parsley, and raisins, and the result was known by the mysterious name ying-a dood-a .

Related posts
Bafangool! : Capeesh? : Parlando italiano a Brooklyn

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Philosophers and welders

In The New York Times : “Philosophers (and Welders) React to Marco Rubio’s Debate Comments.”

My reaction: Characterizing philosophy as an odd, antiquated endeavor, something for practical people to avoid, will do nothing to endanger the discipline at elite schools. Rubio’s remarks are one more gesture toward recasting non-elite education as vocational training. I will quote myself (again):

If powerful and moneyed interests now seeking to reshape higher education have their way, “college” will soon become a two-tier system, with the real thing for a privileged few  . . . and credits and credentials, haphazardly assembled, vocationally themed, for everyone else.
As the son of a tile man, I have great respect for all trades and those who ply them. But I also believe in the value of studying philosophy. By the way, it wasn’t that long ago (1999) that a presidential candidate could be asked to name a favorite philosopher. “Jesus Christ,” George W. Bush famously replied.

A related post
“Rich kids” and English

[If you’re Matthew Crawford, quoted in the Times piece, you can both philosophize and weld.]

Veterans Day

[“KP Duty at Fort Dix.” Photograph by George Strock. January 1942. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

I found this photograph by chance and found it moving — one small moment of daily routine in a dark time. I’m unable to find a Life article that developed from George Strock’s photographs of this unnamed soldier.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Illiberal intolerance and safe spaces

The reactions of some Yale students to a faculty member’s e-mail about Halloween costumes is sad and frightening: rather than reading carefully enough to engage what the faculty member said (and what she said her Yale-colleague husband said), students shout and denounce. The subject line of the e-mail, “Dressing Yourselves,“ makes a point about the difference between children and young adults: the latter have the freedom to choose their clothes (or costumes) and the ability to dress themselves, and then talk, if necessary, about what they’re wearing and why. The response of the student in this video clip — “You are disgusting!” and “You should step down!” — reveals a deeply illiberal intolerance: if I think you’re wrong, you must go away. “It is not about creating an intellectual space,” she says. She’s certainly right about that.

The Missouri scenario is more complicated, with a president whose credentials and performance were deeply lacking. But there too, the organized response to his inaction dismays me: the president must resign, but only after he acknowledges his white privilege and provides “a verbal commitment” to fulfilling students’ demands. What does that commitment amount to once he has resigned?

So too with the treatment of journalists: a Missouri faculty member who seeks to remove a journalist by calling out “I need some muscle over here” represents a deeply illiberal intolerance, however progressive she might believe herself to be. At Yale, it’s about “comfort” (to quote the student in the clip); at Missouri, it’s about a “safe space.” “You don’t have a right to take our photo,” says a member of the most photographed generation in history. My comfort, right or wrong.

The dream of the “safe space” suggests to me a womblike existence upon which nothing untoward is supposed to intrude. It might be understandable that students in a dangerous, uncertain world would aspire to inhabit such a space. But if they think that college is meant to provide that space, they need to do some growing up.

Dowdy-world miracle

Beverly Cleary, Fifteen (1956).

Elaine read and reread Fifteen when she was eleven. She says it taught her everything she knew about being a teenager. (She adds that her teenaged years were quite different from Jane Purdy’s.) Elaine borrowed the book from the library last week; I ended up reading it straight through in a day. She told me I would like it. Yes, it’s wonderful.

Unlike Walt Whitman, I’m not certain that I contain “multitudes.” But there must be a fifteen-year-old girl in there somewhere.

11:22 a.m.: In 2011, Daughter Number Three wrote about Fifteen and cultural mores.

Related posts
Alvin’s Secret Code and Deathman, Do Not Follow Me
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Monday, November 9, 2015

Recently updated

The rest is noise Now with added noise, and Finnegans Wake .

A pink ashtray

Children tend to derive comfort and support from the totally familiar — an umbrella stand, a glass ashtray backed with brightly colored cigar bands, the fire tongs, anything.

William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980).
One of the pleasures of visiting my grandparents as a child was seeing the objects of their households, “the totally familiar,” always the same: a tiny porcelain boot with a penny in it, a dinner bell (for show not use), Hummel figurines, little bamboo cups for drinking a liqueur before Thanksgiving dinner. The only thing that seemed to change from one visit to another: the TV Guide .

This ashtray, which at some point came into my possession, was one of at least three in my paternal grandparents’ Camel-soaked living room. I remember three ashtrays. There may have been more.

[Click for a larger view.]

I had always thought this ashtray must be a piece of Depression glass. Looking online now for something like it, I think it may be Murano glass. The mystery of other people’s lives deepens.

Related posts
In a memory kitchen
Stanley carpenter’s rule
William Maxwell on Melville and Cather
William Maxwell on sentences

Saturday, November 7, 2015

StatCounter × 10

The Internet service StatCounter has just given its paid users a tenfold increase in log size. Meaning: an account that recorded a website’s last 5000 visits now records the last 50,000.

Are stats important? Not really. Are they endlessly, oddly fascinating? Yes. It’s thanks to stats that I know, for instance, that people from the House and Senate (staffers, no doubt) have visited these pages looking for advice on if I was and if I were . And it’s always interesting (if a bit dispiriting) to see journalists poking around (more often than one might expect). I guess they have to get their information somewhere .

I started using StatCounter with a free account in 2005 and switched to a paid account a few years later. My only relation to StatCounter is that of a happy customer.

The rest is noise

For more than a month, Mark Trail has been pursued by bad guys. For nearly a month, they have been firing at him and his pal Mississippi Ken. The bad guys should be running out of ammo any week now.

[Mark Trail, October 14, 2015. Click on any image for a larger view.]

[October 16, 2015.]

[October 22, 2015.]

[November 3, 2015.]

[November 4, 2015.]

[November 7, 2015.]

Whatr’s happened: Mark has discovered missing radioactive material in the Gulf of Mexico. Does he call the EPA? Or the Department of Homeland Security? No. He decides to “investigate”: after all, there’s a great magazine story in it. Now pursued by those with their own claim to the material, does he think to radio for help or use a cellphone? No, he and Ken have chosen to take their stand on a little island.

James Allen’s storyline requires not just the suspension of disbelief: it requires that disbelief then be dropped into a burning cauldron to meet a fiery end. Brattattatat. Kerplunk. Aiieee.


But wait. There’s more:

[November 9, 2015.]

Is James Allen channeling another James — Joyce? Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronn-
awnskawntoohoohoordenenthur — nuk!

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Mystery actor


He’s a fancy man here. But anyone of a certain age who spent childhood in front of a warm television should find him instantly recognizable. Make your guess in the form of a comment. No using the Google!


4:33 p.m.: What I find difficult other people often find easy. And the other way around. (See the question marks below.) I thought that this mystery actor would be an easy call, but apparently not. He is Robert Shayne, who would go on to play Inspector William “Bill” Henderson in the television series Adventures of Superman (known to mortal children as Superman ). In Nobody Lives Forever (dir. Jean Negulesco, 1946), Shayne plays nightclub owner Chet King.

Eight more mystery actors
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

Mongol pencil sighting

[Walter Brennan demonstrates for Faye Emerson the smooth-writing quality of the Mongol pencil. Click either image for a larger view.]

It’s a Mongol all right. (See ferrule below.) Earlier in this movie, Brennan’s character Pop Gruber worries that he’ll end up selling pencils. I’ve made it happen here.

Nobody Lives Forever (dir. Jean Negulesco, 1946) is a pleasant enough movie. Faye Emerson and Geraldine Fitzgerald make an interesting bad-woman/good-woman pair. John Garfield seems something of a cipher — all surface.

[“Your best buy’s Mongol,” says Brennan.]

Related reading
All OCA Mongol posts
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

The U of Iowa has a new president Now with satire.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Henry moves, at least for a day

[Henry , November 5, 2015.]

Henry has always lived in a house. (The strip shows a front door, grass, a garage.) But today he appears to be living in that darkest and most ancient of apartment-dwelling situations — “The bathroom’s at the end of the hall.” Sad.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Horehound on my trail

I am at the tail end of a cold that began with seasonal allergies and now lingers as a tickle in the throat and occasional fits of coughing. (Dang leaf mold!) Thus I come to sing (between coughs) the praises of Claeys Horehound Candies. They soothe the throat in a way that no cough drop can. And they have an odd but delightful dowdy flavor — austere, grown-up, not overly sweet, not candyesque.

Warning: If you don’t live within reach of a farm-and-home store, Claeys might be difficult to come by. And given this variety’s name, awkward to ask about.

[Post title with apologies to Robert Johnson.]

Stoner and adjunct life

Like Stoner, I am an instructor at the same university where I did my doctorate. Like him, I teach freshman composition. Like him, I’ve come to love teaching and to consider it my vocation. But this is where our similarities end.
Maggie Doherty, an adjunct instructor, writes about John Williams’s novel Stoner .

Other Stoner posts
On teaching as a job
On “the true nature of the University”

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

“No worries”

Did you know that “no worries” began as an Australianism? From Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day:

The actor and writer Paul Hogan popularized the phrase outside Australia in his Crocodile Dundee movies (the memorable one of 1986, the less memorable sequel of 1988, and the wholly forgettable second sequel of 2001). Hogan's catchphrase was “No worries, mate.” The wide appeal of those movies made the phrase something of a vogue expression, sometimes with and sometimes without “mate” tacked on the end. . . .

But beginning about 2000, the expression had spread into mainstream American English without any hint of its foreignness.
I will confess to a sparing use of “no worries” in conversation. (I’ve used the expression twice in these pages, each time in a comment.) But I always thought that “no worries” was a Britishism. And I was unaware of mate . And as must be apparent by now, I’ve never watched a Crocodile Dundee movie.

But I do subscribe to the Usage Tip of the Day. You can too.

Related reading
All OCA Garner-centric posts (Pinboard)

[I’d like to link to the full explanation, but the Usage Tip of the Day is not published online.]

Domestic comedy

“Should I just chuck these catalogues?”


“We’ll get more.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

“What on earth is an artist?”

Van Veen is speaking with a “fellow student whom we shall call Dick,” Dick Cheshire:

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

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

[Underground observatories were proposed as early as 1903. The Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events has an oddly Nabokovian name.]

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Among many efforts to reform English spelling: Anglic, the creation of Dr. R. E. Zachrisson (1880–1937), professor of English at Uppsala University. A sample:

Forskor and sevn yeerz agoe our faadherz braut forth on this kontinent a nue naeshon, konsee vd in liberty, and dedikaeted to the propozishon that aul men are kreae ted equal.

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).
And a rejoinder to all such schemes, from a recent installment of Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day:
A person who has invested countless hours and endless labor learning to spell irrationally has an unconscious vested interest in the irrational system once he has mastered it, and no amount of argument on behalf of ease to his descendants will shake him.

Mario Pei, “English Spelling,” in Language Today: A Survey of Current Linguistic Thought (1967).
Also from The American Language
The American a : The American v. the Englishman : “Are you a speed-cop? : Benjamin Franklin and spelling : B.V.D. : English American English : Franco-American : “[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

Benjamin Franklin and spelling

Another Mencken footnote, on Benjamin Franklin’s spelling reforms:

The Scheme is reprinted in Franklin’s Words , edited by John Bigelow; New York, 1887-8; Vol IV, p. 198 ff . The six new characters were a modified a for the long a in ball , an h upside down for the u in unto , a combination of long s and i for the sh in wish , a y with a curled tail for ng , an h with a curled tail for the h in wish , and a somewhat similar h , but with a wavy appendage at the top, for the th of thy . Franklin expunged c , w , y and j from the alphabet as unnecessary. He proposed that the vowels be differentiated by using one letter for the short ones and two for the long ones. He made a trial of his new alphabet in a letter to Miss Stephenson of London, apparently a bluestocking of the time. She replied on September 26, 1768, saying that she could si meni inkanviiniensis in it. He defended it in a letter from Kreven striit , London, Sept. 28.

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).
For more on Franklin’s reforms: “Benjamin Franklin’s Phonetic Alphabet” (Smithsonian).

Also from The American Language
The American a : The American v. the Englishman : “Are you a speed-cop? : B.V.D. : English American English : Franco-American : “[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

Domestic comedy

“Oatmeal season is upon us.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Oysterette man

[Illustration from the article “What about Present Cracker Advertising? An Interview with the Advertising Manager of the N. B. C.” The Cracker Baker (March 1918).]

I somehow thought of Nabisco Oysterettes and went looking for the Oysterette man. He is hard to find, these days. He was never a spokesman, and certainly never a mascot. He sat, silent, on a box on the side of the box, head down, all wrinkled and patched, shucking oysters. No one at the wharf has seen him. (What wharf?)

The Oysterette man makes a fleeting full-color appearance on eBay now and then. But I found him living a more settled life in grey. “When the N. B. C. let me go,” he told me, “I didn’t know what to think. I thought I had a job for life. But what are you gonna do?” The answer: shuck oysters. It’s what he knows. He is down to his last box of crackers.

[The National Biscuit Company began using the name “Oysterettes” in 1900 or 1901. The trademark lapsed in 2003. The Oysterette man on eBay: here, for instance.]

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween is so over

In three-and-a-half hours of trick-or-treating last night, we had six children come to our door: three, two, one, and none. It was dark, it was cold, it was raining. We gave generous handfuls of candy and one pencil per child.

Child: “A pencil ??”

Jaded brat!

Me: “Yes, a pencil. It’s a good pencil; it’ll last a lot longer than the candy.”

And now we’re left with 100+ pieces of Heath and Hershey and eighteen more Ticonderogas in our house. They’ll last a very long time.

When we last did Halloween, several years ago, we had just four children show up. I would imagine that many younger families now forage only at friends’ houses. Or they might choose to avoid the sugared debauch entirely. (Who can fault them?) The days of going from random house to random house for treats seem to be on the wane, at least in this neighborhood.