Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Henry report card

[Henry , January 30, 2016.]

That’s how report cards were packaged when I was a kid. The little notch in the envelope’s edge is the giveaway.

The teacherly grimace was optional.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Back to Springfield

A surprise in the Chicago Tribune tonight:

President Barack Obama will return to Springfield next month to deliver a speech under the Capitol dome where he once served as a state senator, bringing the spotlight of the presidency to a building where home-state political struggles have led to a historic budget stalemate.
The Tribune quotes a spokesman for the Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan as saying that Obama was invited “several years ago.” But the paper also reports that Senate President John Cullerton sent a letter to Obama on January 19 “suggesting it was a good time for a return.” To my mind, Cullerton decided to turn on the Bat-Signal, and I am looking forward to whatever our president can say and do to help end the state’s budget crisis and lessen its political dysfunction.

Related posts
Illinois’s higher-ed crisis
“Horrible” (More of the same)
Three Rauner thoughts (The State of the State address)


Elizabeth Warren has written an opinion piece for The New York Times about corporate criminality and the things a president can do about it without the Congress. Warren is highly critical of what she sees as the Obama administration’s unwillingness to punish corporate wrongdoers. An excerpt:

In a single year, in case after case, across many sectors of the economy, federal agencies caught big companies breaking the law — defrauding taxpayers, covering up deadly safety problems, even precipitating the financial collapse in 2008 — and let them off the hook with barely a slap on the wrist. Often, companies paid meager fines, which some will try to write off as a tax deduction.

The failure to adequately punish big corporations or their executives when they break the law undermines the foundations of this great country. Justice cannot mean a prison sentence for a teenager who steals a car, but nothing more than a sideways glance at a C.E.O. who quietly engineers the theft of billions of dollars.
Compare Bernie Sanders:
It is not acceptable that many young people have criminal records for smoking marijuana, while the CEOs of banks whose illegal behavior helped destroy our economy do not.
I may be misreading, but I strongly suspect that Elizabeth Warren will soon endorse Bernie Sanders. And I strongly suspect that she will be Sanders’s choice for a running mate. A Sanders-Warren ticket would be, for many voters, enormously exciting.

A second police station

[James Mason as Brandon Bourne, William Conrad as Lieutenant Jake Jacobi. Click for a larger view.]

East Side, West Side (dir Mervyn LeRoy, 1949) is the second film in recent memory that has made our household remark on the splendors of a police station. (The first: Niagara .) Roughly clockwise: framed picture of handgun types, radiator, metal window screening, schoolhouse-style light, fan, coat rack, file cabinets, transom window, metal light-shade, teletype machine (?), fedora, fedora, telephone, telephone, desk lamp, wire tray, file box, thermos, telephone, desk lamp, fedora, metal light-shade.

Also from this film
An EXchange name on screen

An EXchange name on screen

East Side, West Side (dir. Mervyn LeRoy, 1949) is now packaged as a “mystery-melodrama,” but it’s really an example of the so-called “woman’s picture,” presenting a tangle of mismatched and would-be partners: Barbara Stanwyck, James Mason, Ava Gardner, Van Heflin, and Cyd Charisse. William Frawley (Fred Mertz) plays a bartender. And there’s a telephone-exchange name:

We know from dialogue that it’s CHelsea.

More exchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : The Dark Corner : Deception : Dick Tracy’s Deception : Dream House : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Modern Marvels : Murder, My Sweet : My Week with Marilyn : Naked City (1) : Naked City (2) : Naked City (3) : Naked City (4) : Naked City (5) : Naked City (6) : Naked City (7) : Nightmare Alley : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Side Street : Sweet Smell of Success : Tension : This Gun for Hire

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Money as poetry

Bob Perelman, the first paragraph of “Free Verse: 999 Words,” in Ten to One: Selected Poems (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1999).

“Money is a kind of poetry”: Wallace Stevens famously made that observation in his prose Adagia. What did he mean? Perhaps that money is a form of metaphor. Perhaps that it is a means of transformation, to be turned into coffee, oranges, houses, and hotels.

You can find Wallace Stevens everywhere, even on postage stamps. You can find a sampler of Bob Perelman’s writing at the Electronic Poetry Center and audio and video files at PennSound. “Free Verse: 999 Words” was first published in the journal Epoch (1989).

Related reading
All OCA poetry posts (Pinboard)

The Pale King : progressive sales tax

‘Irrelevant’ Chris Fogle tells the story of Illinois’s (imaginary) 1977 experiment in a progressive sales tax, with rates of 3.5% on purchases under $5.00, 6% under $20.00, 6.8% under $42.01, and 8.5% for everything above $42.01.

$42.01? It’s a David Foster Wallace novel.

The result, Fogle says, was statewide chaos, with shoppers buying groceries one small bag a time and pumping gas in $4.99 increments. But there was worse to come.

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (Boston: Little, Brown, 2011).

These troubled Illinois times prompted me to think of this passage. Illinois is one of a handful of states with a flat income-tax rate. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy calls Illinois one of the “Terrible Ten,” those states that “tax their poorest residents — those in the bottom 20 percent of the income scale — at rates up to seven times higher than the wealthy. Middle-income families in these states pay a rate up to three times higher as a share of their income as the wealthiest families.” Here’s some thinking about what a progressive income tax, or even a slightly higher flat rate, would mean for the state.

Related reading
All OCA David Foster Wallace posts (Pinboard)

[Why ‘Irrelevant’? Notice the final sentence in the passage. Wallace, by the way, used single quotation marks.]

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Three Rauner thoughts

1. We listened to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s State of the State address this afternoon. We turned the radio on just a couple of minutes past noon and waited for him to say something about the lack of a state budget. And waited, thinking we must have missed it.

But no: in a prepared text of 4,229 words, Rauner’s first direct reference to the lack of a budget appeared with only 236 words to go: “If each of us commits to serious negotiation based on mutual respect for our co-equal branches of government, there’s not a doubt in my mind we can come together to pass a balanced budget alongside reforms.”

2. I have never heard a politician drop so many -g s from -ing s, on gerunds and participles both: cost of livin’ , leavin’ our state . The -g sound seems to show up only when its absence would make for awkward repetition of -in and in- : fosterin’  fostering innovation. Listen to Rauner speaking — not speakin’ — in 2013: his habit of dropping -g s seems to be very recently acquired.

3. The Illinois Budget Clock.

[Language Log explains that there is no g in the dropped -g. But ordinary mortals speak of what’s involved as a g . And, yes, Barack Obama, too, drops -g s. I find faux folksiness tiresome, whoever’s doing the dropping.]

Recently updated

“Horrible” New developments, and they’re a sad indication of what now counts as good news in Illinois.

Verlyn Klinkenborg: “old world,” “cold week”

Verlyn Klinkenborg, “January,” The Rural Life (Boston: Back Bay Books, 2002).

It’s not as cold now as it was that January (Klinkenborg reports a -50 °F windchill), but it’s cold enough. The Rural Life is drawn in large part from Klinkenborg’s now-ended New York Times column of the same name (1998–2013).

I know little about rural life. But I know good writing. My enthusiasm for Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences about Writing prompted me to pick up this earlier book.

Other Klinkenborg posts
From Several Short Sentences
Also from Several Short Sentences
On the English major
On e-reading
On “the social value of reading”

[Pipe chase : “an enclosed, finished space used to house and conceal pipe runs.”]

Thornton Dial (1928–2016)

The artist Thornton Dial has died at the age of eighty-seven. The New York Times has an obituary.

Elaine and I found our way to Dial’s art in 2011, when we went to Indianapolis Museum of Art just to spend an afternoon and spent it looking at “Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial” and little else. Here is the image gallery from that exhibition. What the images don’t suggest is the sheer size of many of Dial’s artworks. For instance: 71 × 114 × 8 inches.

Thornton Dial’s art appears in four Orange Crate Art posts (1, 2, 3, 4), three of which mark the anniversary of September 11, 2001. His work is in what William Carlos Williams called “the American idiom,” using the materials at hand to make works of distinctive and difficult beauty.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Illinois’s higher-ed crisis has made The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article, “For Illinois’s Public Colleges, No State Money Means Plenty of Pain,” is behind the paywall. Here’s one short excerpt. Pat McGuire chairs the Illinois Senate’s Higher Education Committee:

Earlier this week, Senator McGuire said he had attended a program for prospective college students at a high school in his district. Once the presentation turned to financial aid and the state’s grant program, Mr. McGuire said, “a pall fell over the room.”

It pained him, he said, to see working-class families trying to figure out how to afford college and not knowing whether the aid would be there. “What we’re doing to them,” he said, “is horrible.”
Chicago State (whose student population is almost seventy-five percent African-American) is in imminent danger of closing. Other schools are taking further cost-cutting measures and looking at further layoffs. (At one school, tenured professors with fifteen years of service have received layoff notices.) The present catastrophe-in-the-making threatens to damage public higher education in Illinois for years to come. Faculty members and prospective faculty members who can find positions elsewhere will take them, and students and prospective students will think hard before sticking with or choosing a state school. If Governor Bruce Rauner is aiming to dismantle much of public higher education in the state (to be replaced by cheap, outsourced, vocationally-themed online offerings?), he is succeeding.


January 27: A Chicago State faculty member reports the school’s president as saying that CSU will not be closing in March. And a new Chronicle article (also behind the paywall) reports that Western Illinois University has taken tenured faculty off its layoff list.

A related post
Illinois’s higher-ed crisis

Spellings of the future

[As seen in print.]

Another spelling of the future. Just spell it the way it sounds!

There are indeed “Poke-a-Dots”: children’s books with raised buttons to poke. (Hours of fun, apparently.) But what this writer wanted was polka dots .

And why polka ? For no very good reason. The Oxford English Dictionary: “The use of polka as a trade name developed in the 1840s due to the huge popularity of the dance in that period.” Like fox trot, or macarena, dots.

Other spellings of the future
Aww : Bard-wired fence : Bud : Now : Off : Our : Self-confidance : Where

Monday, January 25, 2016

The text most often assigned

The Open Syllabus Project (described in this New York Times piece) has collected and drawn data from 1.1 million college syllabi. The text most often assigned? William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s The Elements of Style . The titles of texts assigned alongside The Elements suggest that the book is used in many disciplines: art, business, economics, education, film, history, international relations, journalism, mathematics, philosophy, political science, the sciences, theater — and even in English.

The Open Syllabus Project records not a single course using Michael Harvey’s The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing , to my mind a book far more helpful to student writers than The Elements . Nor is there a single course using Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences about Writing, also to my mind more helpful. No syllabi from me in the Project’s corpus.

I hope that Geoffrey Pullum misses this bit of news about The Elements . Pullum’s animus against the book is strong and deep: “Strunk and White” is his “Niagara Falls.” Who knows what this news might lead to?

Related reading
All OCA Elements of Style posts (Pinboard)
The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing
From Several Short Sentences
Also from Several Short Sentences

Twelve more films

Nine of which I recommend with great enthusiasm. In the order of viewing:

Los Angeles Plays Itself (dir. Thom Andersen, 2003). The city in film and television, as background, as character, as subject. A great demonstration of the principle of fair use, and a great way to learn about films. Here’s a (complete?) list of the films and television shows excerpted in this documentary.


The Crimson Kimono (dir. Samuel Fuller, 1959). Its lurid, arresting opening scenes begin Los Angeles Plays Itself. A stripper is murdered, and two detectives (Glenn Corbett and James Shigeta) set out to solve the crime, with help from an college student and painter (Victoria Shaw). A forward-thinking film with an “interracial” romance.


Grandma (dir. Paul Weitz, 2015). Lily Tomlin as Elle Reid, a misanthropic, grief-filled lesbian poet, recently widowed, no longer publishing. (In appearance, at least, she suggests Eileen Myles, whose work give the film an epigraph: “Time passes. That’s for sure.”) Julia Garner plays Elle’s teenaged granddaughter Sage, who shows up at Elle’s door, needing to get together, by the end of the day, $600 for an abortion. The quest is on. Overtones of Thelma and Louise and Sideways and Nebraska , though this film might better be described as utterly original.


The Martian (dir. Ridley Scott, 2015). Matt Damon as an astronaut left for dead on Mars. How the heck can he get back to earth? I like this film’s celebration of interplanetary hard work and geeky ingenuity.


Bringing Up Baby (dir. Howard Hawks, 1938). Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and a leopard named Baby. Good clean American insanity. The best line comes from Cary Grant, wearing a négligée: “Because I just went gay all of a sudden!” What?


Die Mörder sind unter uns [The murderers are among us] (dir. Wolfgang Staudte, 1946). Two strangers, a military doctor and a death-camp survivor, share an apartment in what’s left of Berlin. One of the first post-war German films. The only reason this film follows the previous one is that we had both out from the library. Our movie-watching is promiscuous and follows no train of thought.


Angel Face (dir. Otto Preminger, 1952). Robert Mitchum as Frank Jessup, a former race-car driver, now ambulance driver (ha), saving up to open a garage. Jean Simmons as Diane Tremayne, the world’s most beautiful psychopath. As in Vertigo, in which Scottie Ferguson leaves the world of daylight (good old Midge) for the attractions of Madeleine Elster, our sap-protagonist is torn between daylight Mary (Mona Freeman) and seductive Diane. Even when you know it’s coming, the ending is a shock. My favorite line, Frank commenting on Diane’s family: “It’s a weird outfit. Not for me.”


Whiplash (dir. Damien Chazelle, 2014). As the film’s brutal music teacher would say, “Not my tempo.” The worst film about music I’ve seen. Whiplash presents jazz practice and performance as a joyless blood sport. (Literally.) And the frame of musical reference is so limited: “jazz” appears here in the form of a conservatory studio band playing hack arrangements of unmemorable “originals.” Why care about some tune called “Whiplash”? Or about a young musician (Miles Teller, played by Andrew Neiman) whose chief inspiration is Buddy Rich? (Not Max Roach? Art Blakey? Elvin Jones? Tony Williams? Jack DeJohnette? Hamid Drake?) Or about an music teacher (J. K. Simmons, played by Terence Fletcher) who trots out a distorted version of the famous story in which Jo Jones tossed a cymbal at the feet of a young, fumbling Charlie Parker. In Simmons’s telling, the cymbal is aimed at Parker’s head. Elaine and I hated this film.


Irrational Man (dir. Woody Allen, 2015). And this one. Allen’s picture of academic life in the early twenty-first century is laughable, with a visiting star professor (Joaquin Phoenix as Abe) arriving to teach what seems to be an undergraduate survey course, with Kant’s categorical imperative and Kierkegaard’s dread. Abe drinks from an ever-present flask, but he evidently grade papers now and then, because he compliments Jill (Emma Stone) on her paper’s “originality,” especially the parts where she disagreed with “his ideas.” Abe and Jill are soon taking long walks together, and, of course, she falls for him. (Can you tell that it’s an Allen film?) The title is a nod to William Barrett’s Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy (1958). I used to joke that everyone who went to college had a copy. Woody Allen went to college: he, too, must have a copy. One redeeming element: Parker Posey as a philandering spouse.


The Fallen Idol (dir. Carol Reed, 1948). From a story by Graham Greene. A boy, a butler, the butler’s wife, and the butler’s girlfriend. A world of lies and secrets, small and large. With Ralph Richardson and Sonia Dressel as Mr. and Mrs. Baines, Michèle Morgan as Julie, and Bobby Henrey as Philippe.


I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (dir. Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker, 2014). Caroll Spinney found his way to puppeteering early in life and paid a price for being a boy who played with “dolls.” That revelation is one of the very few troubling moments in a relentlessly calm and kind documentary. Uplifting music plays behind every person speaking, or so it seems. The best scene is one in which no one speaks: when Big Bird sings at Jim Henson’s memorial. Spinney is now eighty-two and still performs as Big Bird and Oscar.


Youth (dir. Paolo Sorrentino, 2015). We had high hopes for this one and were hugely disappointed. (The trailer is rather misleading.) Michael Caine plays Fred Ballinger, a retired composer and conductor, now said to be “apathetic.” Harvey Keitel plays Mick Boyle, a film director and Fred’s best friend. They and various other people (including a levitating Buddhist monk) are sojourning at a Swiss hotel/spa/resort whose decor features chessboard motifs (a veiled reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s years at the Montreux Palace Hotel?). There are touches of Wes Anderson and Federico Fellini and Terrence Malick in this beautiful-looking movie. But the bits and pieces of atmosphere and mystery and gratuitous nudity add up to very little. And the dialogue is often leaden. Messrs. Caine and Keitel, how could you bring yourselves to speak some of those lines? Jane Fonda’s cameo is an embarrassment: Sorrentino seems to think that the more often you put the words fuck , shit , and balls into dialogue, the more you increase its emotional content.

Elaine and I laughed (silently) and cringed through the big musical finale, in which we finally are given more than a phrase or two of Ballinger’s Simple Songs. As I wrote in a letter to a friend, this piece (by David Lang) makes The American Symphony from Mr. Holland’s Opus sound profound. The lyrics begin: “I feel complete. I lose all control. I lose all control. I respond.” We didn’t. Here, make up your own mind.

Elaine has also offered a warning against Youth .

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Thirteen recommendations
Fourteen more recommendations

Saturday, January 23, 2016

National Handwriting Day

It’s National Handwriting Day (John Hancock’s birthday), which comes six days after the more awkwardly named National Send a Handwritten Letter Day. Two handwritten holidays in one week!

I have three letters to write and will write one of them today. So I will declare Local Handwriting Days in the near near future.

Time has an article whose title seems designed to command the attention of younger passersby: “People Have Been Freaking Out About the Death of Cursive Way Longer Than You Think.” The article includes links to Time reports from 1935, 1947, 1953, and 1980. “‘Penmanship is sort of dying out,’” said a pencil salesman, “softly,” in 1935.

The growth of interest in small notebooks (Field Notes Brand, Moleskine, and so on) suggests to me that writing by hand (though perhaps not in cursive) is powerfully appealing to those who already spend too much time at a keyboard. Writing by hand: not dead yet.

Related reading
All OCA handwriting and letter posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

“The Power of the Printed Word” Now with Garrison Keillor’s advice on how to write a personal letter.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Count Anton-Wolfgang von Faber-Castell (1941–2016)

Count Anton-Wolfgang von Faber-Castell belonged to the eighth generation of a family devoted to the manufacture of pencils and other writing intruments. The Faber-Castell Group has a brief obituary. There appear to be no news reports in English so far.

At Blackwing Pages, Sean tells the story of a 2012 visit to Faber-Castell and a meeting with the Count.


4:53 p.m.: BloombergBusiness has an obituary.

A readable URL for a Google search

Writing the previous post, I found my way to a handy tool that makes a readable, clutter-free link for Google search results. It’s the work of Abdul Munim Kazia. Thanks, Munim.

With the help of this tool, a search for “ralph kramden” comes out looking like this:

What’s missing is an endless string of numerical and alphabetical gibberish, unwelcome clutter if you want to make a link to search results:

6976., &c.

[Found via StackExchange.]

Domestic comedy

“I’m sure beer and chocolate is a thing somewhere.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[Whaddaya know? It is.]

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day today looks at often . An excerpt:

The educated pronunciation is /OF-uhn/, but the less adept say /OF-tuhn/. Similar words with a silent -t- are “chasten,” “fasten,” “hasten,” “listen,” “soften,” and “whistle.”
Garner’s Language-Change Index puts the /OF-tuhn/ pronunciation at Stage 4: “The form becomes virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (die-hard snoots).”

Our household must be composed of snoots. Outside our household, the /OF-tuhn/ pronunciation seems to be everywhere, these days.

You, too, can subscribe to the Usage Tip of the Day: go here and scroll down.

Blue and red

[Watercolor and colored pencil. Late-twentieth century.]

I’ve had this artwork taped to the side of a bookcase for many years. It reminds me of a small work by Jasper Johns that I once saw in a museum. The artist here, Elaine and I think, is our daughter Rachel. The subject, we think, is a traffic light.

Rachel says that it’s a painting of a watercolor palette.

When I saw Gunther’s post Rot und Blau, I knew I wanted to make this post.

[Parents, write on the back of every piece of kid art you save. Artist, date, subject. This is the voice of experience speaking.]

Ben Leddy, “Immigration!”

The latest from our son. I am grateful for the title card, having never heard or heard of the Justin Bieber song. Sorry.

There are more songs at Ben’s YouTube channel.

Robert Walser: children’s books

A girl-child speaks:

Robert Walser, “The Little Berliner,” in Berlin Stories , trans. Susan Bernofsky (New York: New York Review Books, 2012).

Related reading
All OCA Robert Walser posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Illinois’s higher-ed crisis

The situation for Illinois’s public universities and two-year colleges is worsening. From the Chicago Tribune:

With no money from the state in nearly seven months and its financial reserves almost depleted, Chicago State University says it will be unable to pay its employees come March unless money begins flowing again from Springfield. . . .

While Chicago State is the first school to lay out that dire scenario, other campuses that are heavily dependent on state funding may not be far behind.
The reason for this crisis: Illinois has been without a state budget since July 1, 2015. Several schools have already seen layoffs of faculty and staff (almost certainly permanent layoffs) and hiring freezes.

Bruce Rauner may not be the worst governor in the United States right now — that honor must go to Michigan’s Rick Snyder. But Rauner is certainly in the running. His call for a thirty-one percent cut to higher education is an absurd form of brinksmanship. Not only has Rauner failed to make the trains run on time; he is now piloting the ship of state toward disaster.

Bruce Rauner : Illinois :: Scott Walker : Wisconsin.

New York’s public telephones

In The New Yorker, Ian Frazier writes about the public telephone of the near future in New York City: the Link, with free calls, free wireless, a browser, USB and headphone ports, and (you guessed it) advertisements. The ads will face oncoming traffic and change every fifteen seconds. Frazier’s piece includes a tour of Manhattan’s last four outdoor phone booths. The president of media at Intersection, the company behind Link, promises that those phone booths will remain standing.

You can read more about Link at LinkNYC and more about the phone booths at Scouting NY.

Related posts
The Lonely Phone Booth : Telephone booths

Leeches, catnip oil, strange potions

The place floats by in a one-sentence paragraph, one more detail in “a city of things unnoticed”:

Within a serene brownstone on Lexington Avenue, on the corner of Eighty-second Street, a pharmacist named Frederick D. Lascoff for years has been selling leeches to battered prizefighters, catnip oil to lion hunters and thousands of strange potions to people in exotic places around the world.

Gay Talese, New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961).
J. Leon Lascoff opened a pharmacy in 1899. His son Frederick followed him in the business. J. Leon Lascoff & Son, Apothecaries (or Lascoff Drugs), closed in 2012. From 1931 to the end, the store stood as 1209 Lexington.

There is much affection for Lascoff Drugs online. Forgotten New York and Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York have substantial posts on the pharmacy. (The latter also has an epitaph.) Flickr has a goodly number of photographs.

From a 1953 New York Times story about the store’s collection of old mortars, pestles, and apothecary jars:
Nearly 2,000,000 prescriptions have been filled since Dr. J. Leon Lascoff, father of the present owner, founded the shop in 1899. Among these was one from Los Angeles for hiera picra, a drug virtually forgotten since ancient Egyptian times. The late Martin Johnson used to stock up on catnip oil at Lascoff’s to lure lions in Africa. A millionaire once bought bottles of attar of roses, at $35 an ounce, to perfume his home. Prize-fight managers still get leeches at Lascoff’s, although a hypodermic needle would reduce a black eye better.

Dr. Lascoff fears his collection is getting too well known. Recently, while haggling over an antique mortar in a Columbus Avenue “thrift shop,” the proprietor told him:

“Take it for ten bucks. There’s a crazy druggist on Lexington Avenue at Eighty-second who’ll pay you double for junk like that.”
The 1209 address is now occupied by Warby Parker, described by a real-estate broker as “a wonderful addition to the community.” Things could be worse: the Lascoff neon sign (here’s a closeup) remains on display, minus Lascoff Drugs but still bearing the word Prescriptions . Clever.

Also from New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey
Chestnuts, pigeons, statues
“Fo-wer, fi-yiv, sev-ven, ni-yen”

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Spellings of the future

[As seen in a newspaper. As in “a smoldering cigarette bud.”]

Another spelling of the future, traveling backward in time to give us a foretaste of our — or are ? — language’s evolution. Because language is always evolving.

The slang term bud (marijuana) probably has something to do with the bud – butt eggcorn.

Other spellings of the future
Aww : Bard-wired fence : Now : Off : Our : Self-confidance : Where

Recently updated

Ending a sentence with it Now with a 1795 source for the ill-considered prohibition on sentence-ending it .

Monday, January 18, 2016


[“Martin Luther King Trial Montgomery Alabama Intergration.” Photograph by Grey Villet. Montgomery, Alabama. From the Life Photo Archive.]

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929.

The Life Photo Archive gives no date for this photograph or other Villet photographs with the same description. The context, I think: King was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, on September 3, 1958, when he tried to enter a courtroom for the arraignment of a man accused of attacking Ralph Abernathy. King had refused to obey a police order to move on. More information here and here.

If King were alive today, the hatred, inequality, xenophobia, and violence that pervade our American culture would cause him to weep — and do more than weep.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Procrastination and creativity

Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology, and a pre-crastinator:

My natural need to finish early was a way of shutting down complicating thoughts that sent me whirling in new directions. I was avoiding the pain of divergent thinking — but I was also missing out on its rewards.
So he taught himself to procrastinate.

Related reading
All OCA procrastination posts (Pinboard)

Richard Hendrickson (1912–2016)

Richard Hendrickson, a weather observer for eighty-five years, has died. The New York Times has an obituary.

Mr. Hendrickson made an appearance in these pages in 2014, after the CBS Evening News ran a story about him. I liked seeing his checked button-down shirt and solid tie, his rotary-dial telephone, and his 1930s weather notebook.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Topical humor from The New Yorker

Zack Bornstein, “First Obama Came for My Guns.” Clever, funny, and short.

Bill Flanagan, “Li’l Donald.” Clever, funny, and a little longer.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Plainfield T.

An imaginary football team (its colors: mauve and puce), an imaginary star (Johnny Chung, the Celestial Comet), an imaginary school (Plainfield Teachers College): “The Greatest Hoax in Sports Agate History” (The New York Times ).

I think this story beats that of I, Libertine .

[Agate: “condensed information (as advertisements or box scores) set especially in agate type.” Agate type: “a size of type approximately 5½ point” (Definitions from Merriam-Webster.]

Everyday carries

Pez, candy cigarettes, pocket flashlight, pocket magnifying glass, pocket microscope, “ID wallet,” ChapStick, Coin Caddy, bike-lock key, wallet, house key, license, car key, college ID, pen, cigarettes, lighter, grad-school ID, tobacco, rolling papers, Kryptonite-lock key, faculty ID, office keys, Wrigley’s Extra, El Pico key ring, Burt’s Bees Lip Balm, discount cards, keychain flashlight, miniature California license plate, multi-tool, iPod, iPhone, emeritus ID, Jack Black Lip Balm.

Related posts
El Pico key ring : No smoking

[“ID wallet”: made of black plastic, with plastic windows to hold a maximum of two cards. Used by grade-school secret agents to carry, uh, ID. Sequence often approximate. Thank you, Rachel, for the Jack Black. No connection to the actor. I went back and added a pen: what was I thinking?]

Gevalia coffee, unbalanced?

We bought the wrong Gevalia coffee, Traditional Roast, not House Blend. As with toothpaste, there are just too many varieties. It is easy to err. Traditional Roast, as it turns out, tastes just fine. However:

Gevalia describes its Traditional Roast as “medium-bodied, smooth, and perfectly balanced.”

And House Blend, as “medium-bodied, smooth.”

Does Gevalia believe its House Blend to be less than perfectly balanced? Slightly askew? Off its foundation?

Related reading
All OCA coffee posts (Pinboard)
[Image found here and altered.]

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Scam diction

We received our first “Internal Revenue Service” phone call this morning. Is that because we’re reading The Pale King ?

I listened to the recording a bit before hanging up:

“The reason of this call is to inform you that IRS is bringing a lawsuit against you,” &c.
The IRS doesn’t make such calls. But if you didn’t already know that, would you catch the details that mark this call as phony?

Related posts
Ballad of the spam mail : Fake speeding ticket : Phishing : Tech scamming

The Pale King : note-taking

Chris Fogle, a self-described “wastoid,” has walked into the wrong classroom and found himself in Advanced Tax, surrounded by note-takers:

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (Boston: Little, Brown, 2011).

This post is meant to divert Manfred, who writes about note-taking practices at Taking Note Now.

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)

[T&A: Training and Assessment. Fogle joins the IRS.]

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Domestic comedy

[While starting up the iPad.]

“Let me ask Picture Picture.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[For anyone who’s puzzled.]

The life of Vivian Maier

In The New York Times , new details from the life of the photographer Vivian Maier: “Digging Deeper Into
Vivian Maier’s Past,”
“A Peek Into Vivian Maier’s Family Album.”

The source for these articles: Vivian Maier Developed, an investigation by Ann Marks (“a retired business executive”) and Francoise Perron (“a retired judge from Maier’s French hometown”).

A related post
Henry Darger and Vivian Maier

[For clarity: Maier’s mother Marie Jaussaud was born in St. Julien, France. Maier was born in New York City. Mother and daughter lived in France for some of Maier’s childhood.]

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Word of the day: banausic

It appears in David Foster Wallace’s The Pale KIng (2011), in the extraordinary last-class hortation spoken by a Jesuit substitute instructor of accountancy. He is speaking of the work of the accountant, which he describes as an surprising form of heroism:

‘Exacting? Prosaic? Banausic to the point of drudgery? Sometimes. Often tedious? Perhaps.’
The American Heritage Dictionary (Wallace’s dictionary, in a way, as he was a member of its Usage Panel, from 1999 to his death) defines banausic thusly:
1. Merely mechanical; routine: “a sensitive, self-conscious creature . . . in sad revolt against uncongenially banausic employment” (London Magazine) .
2. Of or relating to a mechanic.
Webster’s Third gives a greater array of meanings:
1a. governed by or suggestive of utilitarian purposes : practical
b. common in taste, thought, or intention : dull and menial
2. moneymaking, breadwinning : vocational : commercially minded : materialistic.
The Oxford English Dictionary is terse: “merely mechanical, proper to a mechanic.” Webster’s Second is terser still and tart: “smacking of the workshop.” Sounds a bit like the Dowager Countess of Grantham.

Whence banausic ? The AHD is helpful:
Greek banausikos, of or for craftsmen, from banausos, craftsman who works with fire, smith, potter, probably dissimilated from earlier *baunausos : baunos, furnace, forge (probably of pre-Greek substrate origin) + auein, to light a fire, get a light from; akin to Latin haurīre, to draw water.
Learning about banausic made me wonder: could banal be related? No, it had a different beginning. From the AHD:
Drearily commonplace and often predictable; trite: “Blunt language cannot hide a banal conception” (James Wolcott).

French, from Old French, shared by tenants in a feudal jurisdiction, from ban, summons to military service, of Germanic origin.
So whatever is common to all (or, at least, to all tenants) is banal. Webster’s Second has a definition which heightens the element of contempt in the word: “showing no individual taste.” The Dowager Countess strikes again!

It is reassuring to those of us who can never decide how to pronounce banal that at least some members of the AHD Usage Panel share the problem: “A number of Panelists admitted to being so vexed by the word that they tended to avoid it in conversation.” Thank goodness this post is written, not spoken.

Did Wallace discover banausic by way of this William Safire column? I wonder.

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)


[Flipping channels.]

“As first impressions are the most important asset, that’s where we’re going to start first.”

Related reading
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Monday, January 11, 2016

Younger, sepia

I’ve posted snapshots of a younger me with my mom and dad for Mother’s and Father’s Days. But here is a solo studio outing. I was ready for my close-up, as ready as I ever would be. Why are you seeing this photograph? Because Fresca has suggested to her readers that they post baby pictures.

A question I cannot answer: was sepia still common in the 1950s?


3:45 p.m.: I still can’t answer that question, but my mom confirms that this photo was tinted. (It’s not a faded black-and-white photo.)

David Bowie (1947–2016)

From David Bowie’s reply to his first piece of fan mail from the United States:

In answer to your questions, my real name is David Jones and I don’t have to tell you why I changed it. “Nobody’s going to make a monkey out of you” said my manager. My birthday is January 8th and I guess I’m 5'10". There is a Fan Club here in England, but if things go well in the States then we’ll have one there I suppose. It’s a little early to even think about it.
The New York Times has an obituary.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

One Word of the Year: singular they

The American Dialect Society has chosen singular they as its 2015 Word of the Year. I like the idea of a plainish Word of the Year. I like too the idea of a Word of the Year that’s a word, not an emoji — which is what Oxford Dictionaries chose as its 2015 Word of the Year. (Clickbait might have been a more honest choice.)

My thoughts about singular they are in two posts: this post and this other one, over here. I continue to think that singular they is sometimes a good choice in writing, and sometimes not a good choice at all. I used singular they in a recent post, where it seemed idiomatic and appropriately colloquial: “Who in their right mind,” &c. But the more formal the discourse, the less appropriate singular they becomes, at least without checking in advance.

Chestnuts, pigeons, statues

Gay Talese, New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961).

It behooves me to say that the part about the hoofs is not accurate. But it was the chestnuts, or rather their aroma, that drew me to this passage. I’m ten again, leaving the American Museum of Natural History. I don’t like chestnuts, just the aroma.

A related post
“Fo-wer, fi-yiv, sev-ven, ni-yen”

[The statue that first comes to my mind: the Sherman Memorial, with one hoof off the ground. William Tecumseh Sherman did not die of wounds received in battle. Frank O’Hara put that statue in a poem.]

Friday, January 8, 2016

On ambition

The philosopher Mark Kingwell on ambition:

The idea that somehow ambition is always about achievement in measurable ways itself needs to be queried. We’re here for a mortal span whose length we know not, and our ambition should really be to make the most of the time that we have, not knowing how much of it there is. And there is no time to be spent feeling shame at not doing things. You should find things you can do — however, whatever, method works for that — and enjoy doing them.
From the 2011 To the Best of Our Knowledge episode “ProcrastiNation,” recently rebroadcast.

Related reading
All OCA procrastination posts (Pinboard)

“Fo-wer, fi-yiv, sev-ven, ni-yen”

Gay Talese, New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961).

What a wonderful book, odds and ends of all sorts about the city and its creatures, human and non-. I saw a reference to the book (Talese’s first) in a New York Times piece last Saturday that Matt Thomas linked to. (Talk about serendipity.)

New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey is out of print and hard to find. AbeBooks and Alibris list a single copy for sale ($61.01). I snagged a copy as an interlibrary loan and have already suggested to New York Review Books that the book merits reissuing. For now, I’m xeroxing.

A related post
Gay Talese’s address book

Thursday, January 7, 2016


ImageOptim is a free app for Mac that applies lossless compression to images. Meaning: ImageOptim reduces file size without compromising image quality — useful when storing images, useful when posting images online. The app is ridiculously easy to use: drag files or folders to its window or right-click on a single image or a group of images to apply compression.

Here are two Slouch Gavitskys. Can you see any difference?

[Zippy, December 21, 2015.]

Slouch-left weighs in at 78 KB; Slouch-right at 24 KB. Image after image, those differences add up. I’ll be using ImageOptim often. Even its shortened (compressed) name is appealing.

There are many image optimizers for Windows. Any recommendations?

A related post


A useful tool for those who write online: GTmetrix clocks the speed at which a webpage loads and gives recommendations to make things faster.

With a Blogger blog, many of the recommendations are about matters beyond the user’s control. But following just one of GTmetrix’s recommendations — to use lossless compression with images — took the loading time for Orange Crate Art’s front page from 1.99 to 1.43 seconds. It’s difficult for me to say that with a straight face. But really, when one visits page after page, those fractions add up. Greater speed is a courtesy to the reader.

I owe my discovery of GTmetrix to a post by Prayag Verma. Prayag is the Blogger user who figured out a way to fix blurry images in Blogger’s Profile widget.

A related post

Oliver Sacks and sardines

Henri Cole remembers Oliver Sacks:

Once when I gave him Cole’s Portuguese sardines in piri piri sauce, he opened a tin immediately and ate the sardines while standing at the kitchen counter. I think sardines were his secret to long life and acuteness of mind, or maybe they were just a leftover from his bachelor days. In my cupboard, I have several tins of Norwegian sardines in olive oil that Oliver presented to me.
I imagine that this page is seeing more than its usual number of visits today.

Related reading
All OCA Oliver Sacks and sardines posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Word of the day: bogart

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day is the verb bogart :

1 : bully, intimidate
2 : to use or consume without sharing
I recall bogart also serving as a noun back in my high-school days, as in “Don’t be a bogart.” That is, don’t be someone who bogarts: don’t hog the ball; let someone else have a chance. A basketball was about the only thing anyone in my crowd would have been bogarting, honest.

I’m writing about bogart not to reminisce but to question M-W’s explanation of the word’s origin:
The legendary film actor Humphrey Bogart was known for playing a range of tough characters in a series of films throughout the 1940s and 1950s, including The Maltese Falcon , Casablanca , The African Queen , and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre . The men he portrayed often possessed a cool, hardened exterior that occasionally let forth a suggestion of romantic or idealistic sentimentality. Bogart also had a unique method of smoking cigarettes in these pictures — letting the butt dangle from his mouth without removing it until it was almost entirely consumed. Some believe that this habit inspired the current meaning of bogart , which was once limited to the phrase “Don’t bogart that joint [marijuana cigarette],” as popularized by a song on the soundtrack to the film Easy Rider , among other things. Today bogart can be applied to hogging almost anything.
Did Bogart let a cigarette dangle from his lips now and then? Of course. Who didn’t? But “a unique method of smoking” that carried over from film to film, with cigarettes dangling until they’re nearly done? That’s nonsense.

And who in their right mind would smoke a joint by letting it dangle from the mouth? I would suggest that the verb bogart has more to do with Bogart’s intensity when smoking, as in this scene from Casablanca .


11:50 a.m.: As I just discovered (to my surprise and delight), bogart appears in the Oxford English Dictionary . The OED has the right idea: “with allusion to Bogart’s frequent on-screen smoking, especially to the long drags he took on cigarettes.” It’s the smoker’s intensity, not the placement of the cigarette, that better explains bogart .

A related post
Two-word utterances of my adolescence

The Pale King: “1984 totalitarianisms”

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (Boston: Little, Brown, 2011).

I like the mix of foresight and the lack thereof in this exchange, from a conversation between IRS employees stuck in an elevator, sometime in 1980. Apple’s “1984” spot aired (famously) during the Super Bowl on January 22, 1984. You can see the commercial again at YouTube.

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)

[Our two-person reading club has now taken up The Pale King. First time through for one member, second or third for the other.]

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

In Connecticut, in Chicago

Announcing executive actions on gun control earlier today, President Barack Obama spoke of the first-graders killed in Newtown, Connecticut: “Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad. And, by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.”

The New York Times omitted that second sentence from its reporting and from video excerpts of today’s event. I think it’s important to let that second sentence register, as a reminder of the alarmingly routine violence that flourishes when weapons are so easy to obtain. You can hear both sentences at the 34:39 mark in the White House video of this morning’s announcement.

Robert Walser: the theater

Robert Walser, “The Theater, a Dream,” in Berlin Stories , trans. Susan Bernofsky (New York: New York Review Books, 2012).

Related reading
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Infinite Winter

A group reading-project, starting January 31: Infinite Winter, reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest in thirteen weeks. The schedule has both page numbers and Kindle locations.

Thirteen weeks, a semester’s time, is about right. Some of those weeks will be more difficult than others. (I know.)

A twentieth-anniversary edition of Infinite Jest will appear on February 23.

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)

Monday, January 4, 2016

Tube Benders

Here is a fine 99% Invisible episode about neon: “Tube Benders.” Neon in daylight is “a / great pleasure.”


Rocks, sort of, from car factories: Fordite, aka Detroit agate.

Thanks, Rachel!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Summit Diner redux

[Zippy. March 13, 2015; January 1, 2016.]

Yes, 2016 doesn’t feel different from 2015, though the motel and street are differently colored. I would imagine that many artists reuse their work now and then (if not often). But this past Friday’s strip is the first Zippy in which I’ve spotted old art. I doubt I’d have noticed if I hadn’t made a post about the March 13 strip.

When I checked the Zippy archive, I realized that not just these panels but the two strips themselves are, save for their dialogue, identical. Same balloons, different words. Yes, 2016 doesn’t feel very different from 2015. Very meta, Bill Griffith!

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Teaching ancient Greek

“Sisyphus would sympathize with my condition. Every year I begin rolling my stone up a four-month-long hill, my hopes high. Every year I end up far closer to the bottom than the top”: James Romm, a classics professor, writes about teaching ancient Greek.

U.S.P.S., +1

“Something I take for granted now just didn’t occur to me: There were standardized rates, and you could just slap a stamp on your letter, drop it in a mailbox, and it would go to its destination.” Zeynep Tufekci writes about the wonders of the U.S.P.S.: “Why the Post Office Makes America Great.”

John Bradbury (1953–2015)

John Bradbury was the drummer for the Specials. I loved that group. For instance. Also for instance.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Tom Jones’s sense of purpose

Tom Jones, Sir Tom Jones, on having underwear thrown at him on stage: “That’s not why I was there. I was there to sing.” From an interview with Charlie Rose, November 27, 2015, rebroadcast last night.

Word of the day: frammis

[Nancy panel, June 2, 1951. From Random Acts of Nancy, January 2, 2016.]

Ernie Bushmiller is said to have said that he drew his comic strip for “the gum chewers”: I doubt that he was aiming to send anyone to the dictionary with this bit of dialogue. In 2016, though, frammis might require a gloss. The Merriam-Websters (Second , Third , Collegiate ) are no help, but the Oxford English Dictionary comes through:

frammis, n .

U.S. colloq. (freq. humorous ).

1. With capital initial. As a generic surname, esp. in comic strips or in an invented company name.

2. Nonsense, jargon; commotion, confusion. Also as a count noun.

3. Esp. in imitations of jargon or technical vocabulary: a thing which the speaker cannot or does not name, a thingy. Cf. gismo n ., thingummy n .
The Dictionary’s earliest instance of frammis (as a surname) dates to 1940. The other senses of the word soon follow (1946, 1948). Sense 3 has some especially choice quotations. From 1948: “Mitynice is the only marmalade that gives you that special, seal-tested, bottled-in frammis.” From 1978: “The frammis on my graffle plate isn’t working and I’ll have to take it apart and clean it.”

In this Nancy panel, FRammis works as an exchange-name version of 555. Of course, a clever gum chewer could have tried dialing 376-649. Or more cleverly, 372-6649.

See also: franistan.

Related reading
Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[The complete strip appears in Nancy Loves Sluggo: Dailies, 1949–1951 (2014), the third volume in Fantagraphics’s Nancy series. This panel comes first. In the second panel, Nancy runs from the telephone. In the third, she shouts from around a corner: “Hello Gracie — how is your mumps?” And whence frammis ? The OED : “Origin uncertain. Perhaps a humorous use of the surname Frammis , attested earlier in the 20th cent.”]

Friday, January 1, 2016

Domestic comedy

Caught on tape:

“This is a close-up of our real family life: having boring stuff doing.”
That’s our son Ben — at four or five? — as he roamed the house with a Fisher-Price tape recorder, interviewing and reporting. He and Rachel made countless cassette recordings: music, newscasts, skits, streams of consciousness. The energy of it all! We were listening earlier this week.

Since early August, I’ve kept my dad’s last word — “Thanks” — in the space below this blog’s title, as what Blogger calls “blog description.” With the turn of the year, I’m going to begin varying the description again, starting with a few of these words from Ben back in tykehood.

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)
Two hundred blog description lines
Fifty blog description lines