Monday, October 31, 2016

Into the frying pan

[Field and Stream , November 2004.]

Yes, it’s a good way to eat sardines. And a few red-pepper flakes wouldn’t hurt.

Related reading
All OCA sardines posts (Pinboard)

From an old notebook

“A man will always promenade whatever lady is with him at the time of the call to his home position.”


“How many poems do you write a week?”

“Only one a week, but I’ve had over three hundred and forty poems published.”

[Heard on a poetry program on public radio.]


“I had something Tibetan going.”

[Heard on a poetry program on public radio.]


A terrific blank settled in,
its name was Introduction to Literary Criticism.


This, gentlemen, is the icing on the cake of confidence.

[From a student essay on “To His Coy Mistress.”]


“One more slang expression and you’re grounded!”

Also from an old notebook
Alfalfa, Ted Berrigan, Jack Kerouac, metaphors : Alfred Appel Jr. on twentieth-century art and literature : Barney : Beauty and the Beast and kid talk : Eleanor Roosevelt : John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch : Plato, Shirley Temple, vulgarity, wisdom, Stan Laurel

Stale candy

[“Penny Candy.” Photograph by Eliot Elisofon. No date. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for the jumbo assortment.]

Trick-or-treating seems to be a fading tradition in our neighborhood. Last year we went all out for Halloween, and the leftover candy lasted through mid-April. The candy in the photograph above is older still, and it’s the only candy on hand for this year’s Halloween.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


Featured on This American Life . Composed by Sara Bareilles, sung by Leslie Odom Jr., “Seriously”:


[Zippy , October 30, 2016.]

If you look at today’s strip, you’ll see an additional Nancy bonus feature.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts, Nancy and Zippy posts, Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Adventures in molded plywood

The Charles and Ray Eames leg splint, a Cooper Hewitt Object of the Day.

I saw such a splint at a 2011 Eames exhibition. So beautiful that it’s easy to forget the practical purpose.

Related reading
All OCA Eames posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

An anecdote from Mark Shields

Mark Shields, in his most recent column, on what WikiLeaks e-mails suggest about the workings of the Clinton Foundation:

Unhappily, what comes to mind is an anecdote author Kurt Vonnegut told about fellow author Joseph Heller, a close friend of his. At a lavish party hosted by a billionaire on New York’s Shelter Island, Vonnegut asked Heller, “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel Catch-22 has earned in its entire history?” Heller responded, “I’ve got something he can never have.” Vonnegut asked, “What on earth could that be, Joe?” And Heller answered, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.” Wading through WikiLeaks makes you doubt whether Bill Clinton ever knew Joseph Heller.

Usage tip of the day

From Leddy’s Imaginary Dictionary of Usage (2016).

Also from this non-existent volume: entries for get and nice .

[Getting my Fowler on.]

Friday, October 28, 2016

From an old notebook

“The things that you cannot do are the things that you should do”: Eleanor Roosevelt, as quoted by the tenor saxophonist David Murray, Downbeat , January 1993.

Also from an old notebook
Alfalfa, Ted Berrigan, Jack Kerouac, metaphors : Alfred Appel Jr. on twentieth-century art and literature : Barney : Beauty and the Beast and kid talk : John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch : Plato, Shirley Temple, vulgarity, wisdom, Stan Laurel

[What Roosevelt wrote: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” From You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1960).]

From an old notebook

“All the better for smiling and eating healthy snacks!”


“Would you like to feel me with your hands and make a picture of me in your mind?”

Both from the PBS children’s show Barney , March 1993.

Also from an old notebook
Alfalfa, Ted Berrigan, Jack Kerouac, metaphors : Alfred Appel Jr. on twentieth-century art and literature : Beauty and the Beast and kid talk : John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch : Plato, Shirley Temple, vulgarity, wisdom, Stan Laurel

Hem and haw and Lois

[Hi and Lois , October 28, 2016. Click for a larger view.]

I like the way the perspective changes to match the dialogue (left to right). I like, too, the way Lois’s frontal curl shifts from the right side of her head to the left. Magic? Not really. The image, I’m almost certain, has been flipped, curl and all.

But what first caught my attention in today’s strip is “hemming and hawing.” Jeepers, maybe Chip will find his way to an Orange Crate Art post about that very expression. Is his connection strong enough to break the fourth wall?


11:25 a.m.: I played around with the Mac Preview app’s Flip Horizontal and the Alpha tool. Yes, Lois has been flipped.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Domestic comedy

[In the car, taking turns reading the back of a National Carriers semi-trailer .]

“‘Liberal, Kansas.’ Which is probably anything but.”

“‘Irving, Texas.’ Which is probably anything but.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Smells like teen spinach

[As seen in the produce section.]

Teen spinach is for real. The Classic Salads website explains the difference between baby spinach and teen spinach: “a week of additional maturity.” Yeah, right — like that’s gonna make you mature? One week? I’m sure.

Teen spinach is at times awkward, at times moody. It would just like to be left alone, in its bag, until it is time for dinner.

[Post title with apologies to Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl.]

“No Cash”

[As seen in a parking garage.]

I would like to think that saying “No cash,” or more politely, “Sorry, I have no cash” would prompt the attendant to wave the driver through, saying “Your excuse or explanation or barefaced lie is good enough for me, sir. Have a pleasant day.” But no.

File under Unnecessary “quotation marks.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A tribute in dubious taste

In the aftermath of the Great Blackwing Fiasco of 2010, I’ve had little to say about the Palomino Blackwing pencil. This pencil doesn’t interest me. But I had to say something when the Palomino Blackwing’s manufacturer attempted to associate the pencil with the music of Duke Ellington and John Lennon. And now once again I have to say something:

California Republic recently began a line of limited-edition Blackwing “tribute” pencils. The latest one, “A Tribute to Dorothea Lange,” marks the eightieth anniversary of Lange’s photograph Migrant Mother. This pencil is a tribute in dubious taste — or a tribute to dubious taste. From the company website:

Blackwing 344 celebrates the 80th anniversary of this historic photo and the artistic legacy Dorothea Lange left behind. The deep red barrel, red foil imprint, bright red ferrule and black eraser reflect what a Blackwing 602 pencil would look like in a darkroom. The model number references Library of Congress LOT 344, which contains a number of her photographs, including the iconic “Migrant Mother.”
The arbitrariness (eightieth, 344) of this tribute aside, I have to wonder what it means to ”celebrate” a photograph that documents human suffering by turning that photograph into an opportunity to market high-end stationery supplies. And I wonder what Dorothea Lange would make of it.

See also Montblanc’s Gandhi pen.

Related reading
All Blackwing posts (Pinboard)

[I follow The Chicago Manual of Style in italicizing the title of the photograph.]

“One of the last joys in life”

From Mascots (dir. Christopher Guest, 2016). Greg Gammons Jr. (Fred Willard) is watching a pencil-and-sharpener mascot performance:

“That’s one of the last joys in life, sharpening a pencil. It’s hard to do that wrong.”
Mascots is streaming at Netflix. Not the best Guest, but still a pleasure, with all the usual suspects and a special Guest appearance.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

“Just teaches physics”

A biographical squib:

Alex Small is a tenured associate professor of physics at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona. When people are watching, he facilitates learner-centered activities for the accomplishment of learning objectives and engages in production of scholarly knowledge in interdisciplinary paradigms. When people aren’t watching, he just teaches physics and does research on biological applications of optics.

Alex Small, “Tips for Managing Curmudgeons” (The Chronicle of Higher Education).
Administrative types could benefit from Small’s advice.


From Honoré de Balzac’s story “Sarrasine.” La Zambinella speaks:

“Orgies do harm to my voice.”

The Human Comedy: Selected Stories , trans. from the French by Linda Asher, Carol Cosman, and Jordan Stump (New York: New York Review Books, 2014). This story translated by Stump.
She means, of course, wild parties — nothing more.

“Sarrasine” became the stuff of Roland Barthes’s tour de force S/Z (1970). I’m glad to have read, at last, the story.

Also from Balzac
“Easily five foot eight or nine”

Erasmus ekphrasis

From a description of Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1523 portrait of Erasmus:

Stefan Zweig, Erasmus of Rotterdam  , trans. Eden and Cedar Paul (New York: Viking, 1934).

The painting hangs in the Louvre. Wikipedia has a large, clear reproduction, much larger than this one:

[Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam .]

Other Zweig posts
Destiny, out of one’s hands : Fanaticism and reason : Happy people, poor psychologists : Little world : School v. city : “A tremendous desire for order” : Urban pastoral, with stationery : Zweig’s last address book

Monday, October 24, 2016

Awkward metaphor of the day

A campaign spokesman, speaking of his candidate to an anchor on CNN:

“He’s not going to be a wallflower that’s going to get pushed around.”
I can’t imagine what metaphor this spokesman was reaching for. But it certainly wasn’t wallflower . Perhaps he was confusing school dances, where the meek stand off to the side, and school hallways, where the meek get pushed up against the lockers.

The comments from Daughter Number Three and Pete Lit on this recent post made me notice the spokesman’s use of “with all due respect” — twice, each time prefacing a reply that said, in essence, You’re completely, totally wrong, you jerk.

Related reading
All OCA metaphor posts (Pinboard)

[“Where the meek stand off to the side”: if they’re even there. I speak from experience.]

A Face in the Crowd

From A Face in the Crowd (dir. Elia Kazan, 1957). Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) asks Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith) a question:

“But how does it feel?”

“How does what feel?”

“Saying anything that comes into your head and being able to sway people like this?”

“Yeah, I guess I can.” [Pauses .] “Yeah, I guess I can.”
Lonesome Rhodes is a product, really, made for radio and television. He refuses to follow scripts. His people, as he describes them:
“Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers, everybody that’s got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. . . . Only they’re even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for ’em.”
And there’s more. A Face in the Crowd is disturbingly prophetic.

Dad in a dream

My dad was volunteering at a senior-citizens center, showing silent movies. He would “load the software,” then talk about and show a movie. And to my surprise, he was smoking: True cigarettes. I asked him if they were regular (in the blue pack), or menthol (green). He didn’t know, which surprised me, but I didn’t press it.

In August my dad dropped into a less puzzling dream. I hope I’ll see him again soon.

[In real life, my dad never touched cigarettes. His own father had begun smoking at the age of ten and went on to smoke for sixty-odd years (Camels), becoming apartment-bound with emphysema and dying of lung cancer, years after quitting. I remember the True pack as it looked in the 1970s.]

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Atomic fact

I tried my hand, or index finger, at composing a scientific paper with iOS’s autocomplete. I like the way this first sentence came out:

Atomic energy is the best thing ever to get the most Proustian and the most recent fact of the day.
I lost interest though, as autocomplete began to obsess about Proustian , recent , and Wikipedia . I wouldn’t want to use Wikipedia in a scientific paper.

A related post
iOS to the rescue

[Apple spells autocomplete without a hyphen.]

iOS to the rescue

When Christoph Bartneck, an associate professor at HIT Lab NZ, received an e-mail inviting him to submit a paper for the International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics, he found himself with a problem. And a solution: “Since I have practically no knowledge of Nuclear Physics I resorted to iOS auto-complete function to help me writing the paper.”

And his abstract was accepted. Read all about it: iOS Just Got a Paper on Nuclear Physics Accepted at a Scientific Conference. A sample sentence from the abstract:

Molecular diagnostics will have been available for the rest by a single day and a good day to the rest have a wonderful time and aggravation for the rest day at home time for the two of us will have a great place for the rest to be great for you tomorrow and tomorrow after all and I am a very happy boy to the great day and I hope he is wonderful.
The invitation, of course, was an instance of academic spam. Sketchy conferences and journals and invitations abound. See also the classic collaborative paper written in response to another such invitation: “Get me off Your Fucking Mailing List.”

A related post
English professor spam

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Go, Cubs, go

I can’t really claim to be a Cubs fan. But several people near and dear to me are. Really, really are. Go, Cubs, go!

[“Cubs Defeat Dodgers to Clinch First Pennant Since 1945” (The New York Times).]

Usage tip of the day

From Leddy’s Imaginary Dictionary of Usage (2016).

Also from this non-existent volume: Nice .

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sarcasm and irony

An explanation:

Sarcasm. The student’s word for irony. Sarcasm intends personal hurt. It may also be ironic, but need not be.

Sheridan Baker, The Practical Stylist (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1962).
I’m happy to have Sheridan Baker’s confirmation of this point of usage, something I figured out for myself early on in my teaching, after reading student evaluations that began, “He is very sarcastic.” I wasn’t sarcastic, but I learned to travel a road of greater straightforwardness, with fewer ironic twists and turns. I also learned to signal moments of comedy more clearly, to minimize possibilities for misunderstanding. And I realize that the previous sentence may sound sarcastic, but honestly, it’s not meant to be.

Also from The Practical Stylist
&QuA? : Bad sentences : Excerpts


Any resemblance to actual #TrumpBookReport tweets is purely coincidental. These are my fake tweets:

Such bad generals- whatever happened to the element of surprise? Oh wait- it wasn't invented yet.


And btw- I was AGAINST the war in Troy.


10 yrs to get home? I don't think so. Look at a map!


Illegal immigration, a very old problem. We must build a wall.


And btw- NO ONE had more respect for women than Aenus. Didoh- WAY too attached.


Like the week I spent talking about Miss Universe, it's not coming back. It's a stupid search. LOSER!
Related reading
All OCA Homer, Virgil, Proust posts (Pinboard)

[It’s too easy, so I’ve stopped with six. I’ve followed Donald Trump’s habit of using dumb quotation marks (here, apostrophes). And in Trump fashion, a hyphen followed by a space substitutes for a dash. How would Donald Trump spell Aeneas and Dido ? Your guess is as good as mine.]

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dunning K. Trump

The Dunning-Kruger effect has interested me since I wrote a short post about it in 2010. Dunning-Kruger helped explain something I had noticed in teaching: that students with serious deficits often have wildly inflated opinions about their ability. According to Dunning-Kruger, a lack of competence entails an inability to recognize one’s lack of competence.

Watching the presidential debate last night left me convinced that Donald Trump is, among other things, a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect. He has no understanding of how government works, no grasp of how military strategy works, and he has no understanding that he lacks an understanding. Thus his ludicrous assertions: that Hillary Clinton should have changed the tax system (at some point during her “thirty years” in government), that the United States military needs to employ “the element of surprise.” In the second debate he called for “a sneak attack.” A sneak attack! That sounds like the suggestion of a bright third-grader.

And Trump has no understanding that he lacks an understanding of how his words might sound to anyone not already allied with him. “Nobody has more respect for women than I do,” he declared last night. And audience members laughed. I’m reminded of the story of a Hollywood mogul declaring, “I’ve got more class than any son of a bitch in the room.” Or words to that effect.

A related post
Steve Bushakis and Donald Trump

Domestic comedy

[Film studies .]

“Have you ever seen it?”

“If I have, it was so long ago that I haven’t.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Fanaticism and reason

Stefan Zweig, Erasmus of Rotterdam , trans. Eden and Cedar Paul (New York: Viking, 1934).

But people cannot always be that patient. Zweig and his wife Lotte took their lives in 1942.

Other Zweig posts
Destiny, out of one’s hands : Happy people, poor psychologists : Little world : School v. city : “A tremendous desire for order” : Urban pastoral, with stationery : Zweig’s last address book

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I. Voted. Early.

I have come to think of early voting as a smart way to vote — you’re off the list, no one needs to spend time calling, and so on. This year I voted early just to be finished with it all.

Or in the words of a typist in The Waste Land , “Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.”

Klinkenborg’s October

Verlyn Klinkenborg:

“October,” The Rural Life (Boston: Back Bay Books, 2002).

I’ve been waiting to post something from “October,” but the temperatures have been hanging in the low eighties and high seventies. No way. But it’s cooler today, and to quote Robert Creeley, in a poem he wrote with Ted Berrigan, “the air is getting / darker / and darker.”

This post is for Stefan Hagemann. He and I were talking about Verlyn Klinkenborg a couple of days ago, before it felt like October.

Related reading
All OCA Verlyn Klinkenborg posts (Pinboard)

Orange light art

[“As seen in east-central Illinois.” Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

It’s no camera trick: that one light really is different from all the others. Can you guess why the store would have that one bulb be different?

Other posts with orange
Crate art, orange : Orange art, no crate : Orange art turtle : Orange batik art : Orange bookmark art : Orange car art : Orange crate art : Orange crate art (Encyclopedia Brown) : Orange dress art : Orange enamel art : Orange flag art : Orange manual art : Orange mug art : Orange newspaper art : Orange notebook art : Orange notecard art : Orange parking art : Orange peel art : Orange pencil art : Orange soda art : Orange soda-label art : Orange stem art : Orange telephone art : Orange timer art : Orange toothbrush art : Orange train art : Orange tree art : Orange tree art : Orange tree art : Orange Tweed art

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bertolli’s flare

From a television commercial for Bertolli Meals for Two, by DDB California, a descendant of the great advertising firm Doyle Dane Bernbach. Many people must have worked on this commercial — another DDB commercial for Bertolli credits more than three dozen — but DDB still needs someone who knows the difference between flare and flair .

Related reading
All OCA misspelling posts (Pinboard)

[If you watch the commercial, you’ll see that there’s no possible pun on the words. No candlelight, no gas flame.]

Our state rep in action

Last year our representative to the Illinois House of Representatives introduced a bill to prohibit public universities and community colleges from paying commencement speakers with state funds. From the House transcript for April 22, 2015, Rep. Jack D. Franks (D-63) questions Rep. Reginald Phillips (R-110) about how much money the bill would save:

Phillips: “Well, I have some ex . . . examples here. Some of these people that spoke were paid, at the University of Illinois, like 40 . . . 40 thousand, some 50 thousand dollars.”

Franks: ”Who were these people?”

Phillips: "Okay. I don’t know who these folks are, but I’ll just give you some of the names. Is that all right?”

Franks: “Yeah. Give us the names and how much they were paid and when and which school.”

Phillips: “Cokie Roberts at the University of Illinois, 2012, $55 thousand. Do you know who she is?”

Franks: “Yes.”

Phillips: ”Okay. Very good. Mayor and I don’t know how to pronounce it . . . Ange . . . Angelo, 2002, nearly $100 thousand.”

Franks: “In 2002?”

Phillips: “Yeah. That was 2002.”

Franks: “Oh, Maya Angelou.”

Phillips: “Maya Angelou, yes.”

Franks: “Not a mayor? Maya Angelou?”

Phillips: “Maya Angelou.”

Franks: “Okay.”
And a little later on:
Franks: “I‘ve asked a very simple question. How much did it cost us over the last few years at each university?”

Phillips: “Well, I’m going to have to apologize. I don’t have that right now, but I can get that to you.”

Franks: “Well, it’s your Bill. We need you to get that to us.”

Phillips: “Okay.”
And that was, so far, the end of that. The bill has not resurfaced.

Related posts
About last night (Our rep speaks)
Creative accounting (30 + 60 ≠ 90)

[I have changed dumb quotation marks to smart ones and replaced “. . .” with Internets-appropriate ellipses. I can’t of course do anything about the quotations themselves. All I can do is vote. Elaine saw news of this legislative moment somewhere on Facebook. Kῦδος to whoever found it.]

Homer’s Odyssey, Joe Sachs’s translation

Homer, Odyssey, closing lines of book 2, translated by Joe Sachs (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2014).

I wanted to keep the translator’s long lines intact, without indenting the runover words of virtually every line. So just click for a larger view. And then hear the six-stress lines: “And ALL through the NIGHT and into the DAWN the SHIP CUT her WAY.” And the Anglo-Saxon touches: “set it into its socket,” “fastened it in place with forestays.”

I’m not sure how I found my way to Joe Sachs’s translation of the Odyssey , a translation that seems to have met with widespread indifference. But two episodes in, I think I’ve found a new favorite to place alongside Robert Fitzgerald’s and Stanley Lombardo’s versions of the poem. Things here have heft. And they are luminous. Highly recommended.

Related reading
All OCA Homer posts (Pinboard)

[Elaine and I are reading the poem aloud in this translation, an episode or two a day. Such a pleasure.]

Monday, October 17, 2016

Twelve more movies

[No spoilers.]

The Hound of the Baskervilles (dir. Sidney Lanfield, 1939). The first appearance of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. It is pleasant to sojourn, at least for a short time, in a world where the mind can make sense of all things. Bonuses: handwritten letters and sardines.


The Long Day Closes (dir. Terence Davies, 1992). It begins brilliantly, with what sounds like the J. Arthur Rank gong, followed by the 20th-Century Fox fanfare. And between them, a bit of dialogue from The Happiest Days of Your Life (dir. Frank Lauder, 1950): “A tap, Gossage, I said a tap! You’re not introducing a film!” What follows is a plotless evocation of a Liverpool boyhood, 1955–1956, lonely, almost certainly gay, and filled with music and film musicals. The most Proustian film I’ve seen. Painterly, too. A masterpiece. And to think that I found it by browsing in the L s.

[Bud (Leigh McCormack) and his mum (Marjorie Yates), looking like a Vermeer. Click for a larger view.]


Knock on Any Door (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1949). Humphrey Bogart as a tough kid turned lawyer, now defending another tough kid (John Derek). Though I love Casablanca , High Sierra , and The Maltese Falcon , I am forced to concede that Bogart was not an especially good actor. But we’ll always have Paris. Look for Dooley Wilson (uncredited) at the piano in a nightclub scene.


The Madonna’s Secret (dir. William Thiele, 1946). One after another, a painter’s models end up dead. Who done it? A B-ish B-movie, with the great gift of John Alton’s cinematography.


Bottle Rocket (dir. Wes Anderson, 1996). Three stooges (Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Robert Musgrave) rob a bookstore (a bookstore) and aspire to greater things. Good-natured, unabashedly male-centric idiocy. Favorite bits: the notebook, the farewell conversation via interpreter, the phone call. The notebook’s pages are online for close reading.


The Fits (dir. Anna Rose Holmer, 2015). This film divided our household. Elaine didn’t like it. I did, a lot. Something is going wrong in a Cincinnati community center, where boys, girls, young men, and young women spar and work out and dance. A deeply unnerving film. To say anything more would be to give something — I’m not sure what — away. My favorite lines: “They’re filling up a container. They look like astronauts.” I would love to teach this film and hear what students make of it.

[Click for a larger view.]


Amanda Knox (dir. Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn, 2016). This film might be described as Making a Murderer: The Study-Abroad Edition . An outrageous story of prosecutorial and media malpractice. Giuliano Mignini and Nick Pisa, prosecutor and pseudo-journalist, respectively, will live on in infamy in this documentary.


The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years (dir. Ron Howard, 2016). When Ron Howard passed right by the Beatles’ great performance on the Swedish television show Drop In (1963), I knew that this documentary would be much more than a rehash of material from The Beatles Anthology . A wonderful, mild reminder of the happiness and exhaustion of Beatlemania. (No sex, and nothing stronger than pot.) The film’s pacing is remarkable: fifty minutes or so in, I began to feel tired for these guys, and then they begin to spend time in the studio.

I wish that Howard had been able to track down an unknown fan or two or three who spoke to reporters back then — they would have been at least as interesting to hear from as the celebrity commenters. But I found Whoopi Goldberg’s observation true to my childhood experience of the Beatles: “The whole world lit up.” That was it, exactly.

A bonus: in theaters, the film is followed by a thirty-minute version of the group’s August 15, 1965, performance at Shea Stadium.


The Commitments (dir. Alan Parker, 1991). Would you rather be an unemployed pipefitter, or an unemployed musician? Yeah, I thought so. A soul band takes shape in the slums of Dublin. An endearing, winning film, with genuine musical excitement, and a lead singer who seems to be channeling Joe Cocker (but with no need for a translator). My alternate title: Waiting for Wilson Pickett . My favorite moment: watching these musical aspirants watch James Brown in the 1964 concert film T.A.M.I. Show .

If all culture is theft, this film is about breaking into Fort Knox.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (dir. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, 2016). Suppose they gave a war and after a while nobody thought it was still newsworthy? Tina Fey as Kim Baker, a real-life journalist who packs up for Afghanistan with little preparation and few second thoughts. The dark comedy of desparate circumstances. “Hearts and minds: that’s the two best places to shoot somebody.”


Criss Cross (dir. Robert Siodmak, 1949). Had I seen it before? Criss Cross is both memorable and forgettable enough to make me wonder. (I’m still not sure.) Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo as doomed lovers, Dan Duryea as a criminal mastermind. The film’s unusual bits — a surreal heist, a menacing hospital scene — help offset the more predictable elements.


Breakfast at Tiffany’s (dir. Blake Edwards, 1961). It’s streaming at Netflix, a good enough reason to watch it again. Mr. Yunioshi aside, I love the film’s Janus-like picture of mid-century Manhattan as playground for free spirits and island of lost souls. I keep Breakfast at Tiffany’s in my head with The Apartment , The World of Henry Orient , and A Thousand Clowns . Are there other films that I should know about along these mid-century bittersweet lines?

[Varjak, Paul (George Peppard) explains the card catalogue to Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn): “Each one of these little drawers is stuffed with little cards, and each little card is a book or an author.” “I think that’s fascinating!” Click for a larger view.]

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Still another twelve : Twelve more

Mildred Bailey sings

If you’ve never heard the verse to “Georgia on My Mind,” or if you’ve never heard the verse to “Honeysuckle Rose,” or if you’ve never heard the verse to either, or if you’ve never heard Mildred Bailey, or even if you have:


“Georgia on My Mind” (Hoagy Carmichael–Stuart Gorrell). Mildred Bailey and a sextet directed by Matty Malneck: Nat Natoli, trumpet; John “Bullet” Cordaro, clarinet; Malneck, violin; Roy Bargy, piano; Fritz Ciccone, guitar; Mike Trafficante, tuba. November 24, 1931.

“Honeysuckle Rose” (Thomas “Fats” Waller–Andy Razaf). Mildred Bailey and Her Alley Cats: Bunny Berigan, trumpet; Johnny Hodges, alto sax; Teddy Wilson, piano; Grachan Moncur, bass. December 6, 1935.

Before listening to five CDs’ worth of Mildred Bailey, I knew her voice just slightly. And I had never heard these verses. So I have just realized that the verse to “Georgia on My Mind” strongly (and appropriately) echoes Franz Liszt’s Liebestraum no. 3. Who knew!

[I’m making my way through my dad’s CDs. Adderley, Julian “Cannonball”; Anderson, Ivie; Armstrong, Louis; Astaire, Fred; Bailey, Mildred. Next stop: Basie, Count.]

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mark Trail , recycling through the years

[Mark Trail, revised, May 10, 2014; May 14, 2015; April 28, 2016; October 15, 2016.]

The key revisions to today’s face look pretty slapdash: elevated eyebrows, a blue swash for a forelock. But that left ear never changes. Don’t mess with perfection.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[Swash : “an extended flourish on a printed character.” It’s a metaphorical swash, on a comic-strip character.]

From the Saturday Stumper

Here’s an exceptionally clever clue from today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell. It’s 31-Down, four letters: “Undo a body modification, perhaps.” No spoilers: the answer is in the comments.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Spotting liars

No, nothing to do with politics. It’s a New York Times quiz: “Can You Spot the Liar?” I got eight of ten right. I would have had nine, but I second-guessed myself. And that’s the truth.

From an old notebook

Alfred Appel Jr., interviewed about his book The Art of Celebration: Twentieth-Century Painting, Literature, Sculpture, Photography, and Jazz (1992):

“I began the lecture with some ringing phrase like, ‘Modern man is isolated and alienated,’ he recalled in an interview at the Museum of Modern Art, where he was about to view the Matisse exhibit. I said, ‘We are all the denizens of T. S. Eliot’s “Waste Land,”’ and I built from there.” But then, he recalled, he stopped, looked out over the students eagerly taking notes and thought, “I don't think I’ve ever seen so many happy, contented faces. Wait a minute, they’re not isolated, they're not alienated. . . . Let me think twice about this ‘Waste Land’ idea. It's what we call an epiphany.”

The current Matisse exhibit, he said, is clear evidence of what people want from art. “The great popularity of this show suggests there is a kind of exit poll being taken at the end of the 20th century, and the vote is in favor of eros over thanatos. Matisse is everyone’s person for celebrating the simple things that all the wars and disasters of the 20th century have not obliterated from the lives of ordinary people.”

From “Eros by a Landslide,” an interview with Jon Elsen, The New York Times Book Review , December 20, 1992.
Also from this notebook
Alfalfa, Ted Berrigan, Jack Kerouac, metaphors
Beauty and the Beast and kid talk
John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch
Plato, Shirley Temple, vulgarity, wisdom, Stan Laurel

Comics synchronicity

[Mark Trail , October 11, 2016.]

[Nancy , October 16, 1951. Click for a larger view.]

Today’s Random Acts of Nancy panel (“Come on, Sluggo”) sent me to Nancy Loves Sluggo: Dailies, 1949–1951 (2014), the third volume in Fantagraphics’s Nancy series. (Collect them all.)

Sixty-five years ago, a girl was leading the way. Come on, Mark.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail and Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Michelle Obama speaks

Michelle Obama, campaigning in New Hampshire today:

“This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. And it doesn’t matter what party you belong to.”
Read a transcript or watch and listen.

If our children were still wee pals at home, we’d be watching and listening to this speech with them after dinner tonight.

[I feel honored to have met Michelle Obama in 2004, right here in downstate Illinois. I still hope that someday she’ll run for Senate. Richard Durbin will be weeks short of seventy-six when he is up for reelection in 2020.]

Block that metaphor

On CNN this afternoon:

“They’re trying to find the middle ground where they can straddle this awkward situation.”
Related reading
All OCA metaphor posts (Pinboard)
Further awkward straddling

Doing something well

Joseph Joubert:

I can do something well only slowly and with great effort.

Our moments of light are all moments of happiness. When it is bright in our mind, the weather is good.

The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert: A Selection  , trans. Paul Auster (New York: New York Review Books, 2005).
This post is for Matt Thomas.

Also from Joseph Joubert
Another world : Being and nothingness : Brevity : “Everything is new” : Form and content : Irrelevancies and solid objects : Justified enthusiasm : Lives and writings : New books, old books : ’Nuff said (1) : ’Nuff said (2) : Politeness : Resignation and courage : Ruins v. reconstructions : Self-love and truth : Thinking and writing : Wine

Positively Oslo

I trust my first response as an honest one: when I read this morning that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize in Literature, I let out an involuntary oh my God , an exclamation not of delighted surprise but of bewildered dismay.

Likening Dylan to Homer and Sappho, as the secretary of the Swedish Academy does, is, for me, not especially convincing. What’s wrong with speaking of Dylan in relation to, say, Woody Guthrie? Isn’t Dylan better viewed in the company of American singers and songwriters? Oh — but this is the Nobel Prize in Literature. And Dylan is “poetic.” Like, uh, Homer and Sappho.

Comparisons aside, this award suggests to me that the Swedish Academy’s choice is a bid for popular relevance, something of a stunt, as when the Oxford English Dictionary announces that it’s added moobs and YOLO to its word hoard. The language of the Academy’s brief Dylan biography suggests a preoccupation with celebrity and media culture: “Dylan has the status of an icon.” That’s about the dumbest thing one might say to characterize someone working in the realm of the imagination. But the Academy’s choice at least means that fewer people will be greeting the announcement of the year’s laureate by asking “Who?”

For me the real news in this year’s announcement is that the Swedish Academy has again passed John Ashbery by. He’s now eighty-nine.

[A close second to icon : living legend .]

Pencil time

On Tuesday, The New York Times took a quick look at the Eberhard Faber Company building in Greenpernt. And NPR answered the question “How is pencil lead made?” I wrote in an e-mail:

I was going to say that it appears that the pencil is “having a moment,” but it’s always pencil time.
Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Henry and Zippy

[Zippy , October 12, 2016.]

Henry speaks! As he did in a 1935 cartoon appearance. But this time he sounds mean.

Related reading
All OCA Henry and Zippyposts (Pinboard)

Being and nothingness

Joseph Joubert:

It is better to be concerned with being than with nothingness. Dream therefore of what you still have rather than of what you have lost.

The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert: A Selection  , trans. Paul Auster (New York: New York Review Books, 2005).
I’m reminded of what Harold Russell wrote: “It is not what you have lost but what you have left that counts.”

Also from Joseph Joubert
Another world : Brevity : “Everything is new” : Form and content : Irrelevancies and solid objects : Justified enthusiasm : Lives and writings : New books, old books : ’Nuff said (1) : ’Nuff said (2) : Politeness : Resignation and courage : Ruins v. reconstructions : Self-love and truth : Thinking and writing : Wine

[Thank goodness this post wasn’t Sartre’s Being and Nothingness .]

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

One or more night stands

The New York Times Book Review feature “By the Book” always begins with the same question: “What books are currently on your night stand?” I wish that just once an interviewee would reply, “What night stand? I don’t have a night stand. What’s with ‘night stand’? Why do you assume that that’s where everyone keeps their books?”

Reader, do you have a night stand? And is it made of two words, or one?

Height of stupidity

[Mark Trail , October 11, 2016.]

Mark Trail has come to an uninhabited island to meet up with the USDA’s Abbey Powell and look for red imported fire ants. Mark has come by helicopter. His pilot, Theodore “TC” Calvin, is waiting now on this very island. From the September 26 strip:

“Look, Mark, I brought you out here, but I’m not ready to go searching through the jungle looking for ants . . . I’ll wait here at the helicopter!”
Did you catch that last sentence? We know that Mark did, because he replied, “Okay, Cal, we shouldn’t be gone too long!”

So with an at-the-ready helicopter to take Mark and Abbey around the island, Mark chooses to endanger his life and hers by crossing the ravine. Mark has confirmed that the log bridge (is it really a bridge, Mark?) is, as Abbey feared, “a little shaky.” What next?

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

From an old notebook

“Every worldly bed is an imperfect copy of the Ideal Bed.”
— Plato, as summarized in a textbook


“She had some kind of magic something.”
— From a documentary on Shirley Temple


“Don’t expect me to get involved in this vulgar circus,” the designer, Constantine Raitzey, shouted. “I quit!”
— From review of a book of Thomas Hoving, New York Times Book Review , January 3, 1993

“I’m meditating the bitter wisdom
of the philosopher and poet.”


You can lead a horse to water
but a pencil must be lead.
— Stan Laurel

Also from this notebook
Alfalfa, Ted Berrigan, Jack Kerouac, metaphors
Beauty and the Beast and kid talk
John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch

[Stan Laurel did say that.]

Monday, October 10, 2016

Duce redux

In 2016 the helmet is made of hair.

I said in a letter to a friend today that Donald Trump has reinvented American presidential politics as neo-fascist entertainment. It is for anyone to just say no , as loudly and as often as possible.

From an old notebook

“The next number will be ‘I’m in the Mood for Love,’ sung by a member of the Eagles Club.”


“Chases Dirt” — motto of Old Dutch Cleanser, in poem by Ted Berrigan, “Smashed Ashcan Lid.”


I am only a jolly storyteller and have nothing to do with politics or schemes and my only plan is the old Chinese Way of the Tao: “avoid the authorities.”

Jack Kerouac, “Biographical Resume, Fall 1957,” in Heaven & Other Poems (Bolinas, CA: Grey Fox Press, 1977).

skyscraper, air port
faded metaphors

Sky Harbor
name of an airport somewhere, acc. to Norman

From the same notebook
Beauty and the Beast and kid talk
John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch

[From February 1992. The club member was — who else? — Alfalfa. The Ted Berrigan poem is here. Sky Harbor International Airport is in Phoenix, Arizona. Hi, Norman!]

From an old notebook

John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch, discussing Ashbery’s poem “Europe” :

Koch: There’s no key to understanding the poem, of course, no hidden meaning?

Ashbery: No, it’s just a bunch of impressions.

Koch: Why is the idea of keys and hidden meanings not appealing to you?

Ashbery: Because somebody might find them out and then the poem would no longer be mysterious.

“A Conversation,” in Out of This World: An Anthology of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, 1966–1991 , ed. Anne Waldman. (New York: Crown, 1991). The conversation appears to date from 1966.
Related reading
All OCA Ashbery and Koch posts (Pinboard)
Beauty and the Beast and kid talk (Also from the notebook)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The new normal

Not from The Onion

[The Chronicle of Higher Education , October 7, 2016.]

It’s a genuine headline, and the article is not behind the firewall. The links in the article (all worth following) add up to yet another reason not to go to graduate school: toxic personalities.

[Note: This post makes a generalization about academic life, identifying no individual, in or out of academic life, as a toxic personality.]

Saturday, October 8, 2016


More than four hundred faculty and staff have lost their jobs at my university as a result of Illinois’s manufactured budget-crisis. But there is still money for fireworks at the end of a football game. They ran just now for fifteen minutes or so, rattling windows at some distance from the stadium.


Related reading
All OCA Illinois budget crisis posts (Pinboard)

Reality TV?

Just a thought: is the cheap-looking background in Donald Trump’s self-serving taped “statement” meant to look like the kind of background one sees on cable news? Is the background meant to give (someone) the impression that Trump is answering an anchor’s question and not merely reading from a script?

[Fair warning: the link goes to the tweet with the video.]

Ginsberg Zippy

[Zippy , October 8, 2016.]

A tip of the hat to Allen Ginsberg. The last stanza of his poem “On Burroughs’ Work” (1954):

A naked lunch is natural to us,
        we eat reality sandwiches.
But allegories are so much lettuce.
        Don’t hide the madness.
The poem appeared in Reality Sandwiches (San Francisco: City Lights, 1963).

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)
A Kerouac notebook page : Poor flowers

Usage tip of the day

From Leddy’s Imaginary Dictionary of Usage (2016).

Milk and sugar may be added.

Friday, October 7, 2016


Florida 1928:

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).

Floridians, be safe.

David Letterman on Donald Trump

An excerpt from an interview, as quoted in The New York Times:

“If I had a show, I would have gone right after him. I would have said something like, ‘Hey, nice to see you. Now, let me ask you: what gives you the right to make fun of a human who is less fortunate, physically, than you are?’ And maybe that’s where it would have ended. Because I don’t know anything about politics. I don’t know anything about trade agreements. I don’t know anything about China devaluing the yuan. But if you see somebody who’s not behaving like any other human you’ve known, that means something. They need an appointment with a psychiatrist. They need a diagnosis and they need a prescription.”
[I made this post before learning about the latest Donald Trump news.]


It’s always sobering to read Amazon’s one-star reviews of literary works. One-starrers can serve to remind teachers of lit of what they may be up against.

A review of Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood :

This was pointless and It stunk. For those who enjoyed this I would seriously like to know what you are on.
Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House :
Drama wasn’t so high a drama as it is now days. At times the writing was good, but the story was just dull, dull, dull. Originally the writer wrote a long short story. Then for some reason, perhaps because the publisher said it wasn’t long enough to be a book, she added a beginning and an ending. The middle part is the good part. The added beginning and end cause the work as a whole to suck like a vacuum cleaner.
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man :
Invisible man by ralph ellison gave me the worst agony of any book i’ve ever had to read in school. it has absolutely NO plot and it is totally biased. i hated it- and if your under the age of 65 you will too.
William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying :
This is definatly one of the worst books I have ever read. Faulkner must have just accidently wrote a book or something. The storyline is that the mother of a family dies and they take her to a city to be buried, except it is much boring boring than that and much more disgusting and Faulkner drags it out over about 50 chapters. This book is boring, disgusting, and barely even makes sense. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone but Satan himself.
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God :
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH NOT LETTING US RATE IT AS A ZERO. WISH I COULD HAVE. this book was a burden on my soul, then entire time i was forced to read it. it drivels on in such a manner as to make the novel a complete horror to read. i don’t care if it’s a classic about a woman’s fight to survive or find her soul. A BOOK IS ONLY GOOD BASED ON HOW MUCH YOU ENJOY READING IT, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU’RE FINISHED IT. i just wanted it to be over, so i could take the test and pass it, because it was such a blandly written piece of trash that a four year old could understand it and hate it as well. i’m sure there are people out there that love this novel, not everyone shares the same view. hey, that’s why Titanic was such a popular movie. my whole point is to not think it’s good just because a critic says so, myself and about 30 of my classmates would rather be punched in the gut than forced to think about this for another second. why write a review if i hate it so much you ask? i’ll tell you’s really late and i’m bored. i’m writing a letter to my teacher and i needed to know how to spell the author’s name, so i came here. so to anyone out there that doesn’t just think things are good because someone says they are...don’t touch this silly novel for the life of you. i’m done now, you can all tell me taht this didn't help you now, to get it off the list of reviews, and how pathetic is that? are you that insecure about the quality of your novel? you should be. in conclusion, i hated this novel even more than i hated that stupid book Kindred.
Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis :
This book really wasnt that good. It opens with the guy turning into a bug... at the end, well, I wont spoil it for you all who are going to read it. But my point is, nothing really happened. I dont see the point of him turning into this vile creature... I thought it was supposed to be some big anaology of the world today, but if it is, I still dont get it. Maybe its just beyond me. There are a lot of better books out there. If I could give it 0 stars, I would.
J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey :
wHERE SHOULd I start well how about this book sucked. Boys and Girls don’t waste your time. Never once in my reading was I even closed to becoming entertanined. I hated it because it was boring had no point and most importantly wasted my time, and if you read it it will waste your time. J.D.Ss the Catcher in the Raye was a great book read that one. If you have to read this book in school boy it sucks to be you. The only reason I gave this book one star was because that was the lowest grade I could of given it. I would of given this book 1/4 of star because I like the title of the book. Remember don’t waste your time do something else ok
Anyone can play.

[Reproduced as found, with curly (smart) apostrophes replacing straight ones.]

Tertan and Blackburn and Howe

Two excerpts:

Lionel Trilling, “Of This Time, Of That Place” (1943).

A colleague pointed me to “Of This Time, Of That Place” some years ago. Reading John Williams’s novel Stoner (1965) and thinking about its depiction of the student Charles Walker prompted me to read Trilling’s story again. Its protagonist Joseph Howe is a poet and instructor at a private college in a town of picket fences and dinner parties — the academic pastoral. Into Howe’s life enter two cases of what now would be called “the difficult student”: “Tertan, Ferdinand R.” and “Blackburn, sir, Theodore Blackburn, vice-president of the Student Council.” That’s how they introduce themselves.

I suspect that Trilling’s depiction of these students, one of whom — but which one? — is madder than the other, will be of interest to anyone who teaches young adults. Who is really the more troubling case: Tertan, whose writing in the first passage above is an extemporaneous response to the in-class prompt “Who I am and why I came to Dwight College”? Or Blackburn, who pleads “I've never had a mark like this before, never anything below a B, never”?

You can read “Of This Time, Of That Place” at I found the story in the Trilling-edited anthology The Experience of Literature  (1967).

[An aside: I suspect that Williams had Trilling’s story in mind: like Blackburn, Walker gets into in a class by special arrangement, as a result of a teacher’s generosity. Please, please, please.]

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Word of the day: ambisinistrous

Joe Gould speaks of his childhood:

“Usually, when I was supposed to be paying attention to something, I was busy blowing my nose. Also, I was just generally inept. Not long ago, looking up something in the unabridged dictionary, I came across a word that sums up the way I was then, and for that matter, the way I am now — ‘ambisinistrous,’ or left-handed in both hands.”

Joseph Mitchell, “Joe Gould’s Secret” (1964).
It’s for real. Webster’s Second (perhaps the unabridged dictionary Gould used?) has it, coupled with the adjective ambisinister : “Left-handed, or clumsy, in the use of both hands.” Both ambisinister and ambisinistrous are missing from the Third .

Words, words, words

[Build Your Vocabulary (Coronet Instructional Films, 1948).]

Remember: “A good working vocabulary helps you to be more explicit.” I especially like the son-father vocabulary notebooks. I could watch this stuff all day, but then I wouldn’t have time to be working on my own personal vocabulary notebook.

My favorite moment: the newspaper headline. What’s yours?

John James deBoer, identified in the opening credits as a collaborator on this film, was an important figure in the history of academic freedom at the University of Illinois.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

“Are We Teaching Composition All Wrong?”

Provocative reading in The Chronicle of Higher Education : Joseph R. Teller, “Are We Teaching Composition All Wrong?” A sample:

I have tried requiring students to write only three essays developed over several drafts, each of which I comment on without a grade. I have used peer workshops to help students respond to each other’s writing. I have used portfolio systems and deferred-grading schemes. I have cajoled; I have encouraged; I have experimented with more rubrics than I can count.
Teller’s conclusion: these strategies rarely work.

One comment on this essay (quoting from and taking issue with a previous comment) signals some of the troubles that beset the world of English:
This is not an “experienced professional” in the field of writing and rhetoric: “English professor” means the person teaches in the English department, and there are many literature professors, as is Mr. Teller, who also have to teach First-year composition. Look to the professionals with credentials in rhetoric and composition to give you a “clear understanding” of the topic.
“As is Mr. Teller?”

How to improve writing (no. 68)

A passage from a piece in the October 10 New Yorker:

But, just five weeks before the election, the race remains close. There are a number of reasons for this, one of them having to do with millennial voters, a demographic that overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama and has shown some allegiance toward Clinton but not much enthusiasm for her.
The phrasing in the second sentence is ponderous: “There are a number of reasons for this,” “one of them having to do with,” “some allegiance toward Clinton but not much enthusiasm for her.” And it’s unnecessary to identify millennial voters as a demographic: the phrase “millennial voters” itself does so. A possible revision:
But with five weeks before the election, the race remains close, for several reasons. One is that millennial voters, who overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama, have shown far less enthusiasm for Clinton.
The passage shrinks from forty-eight words to thirty-one. One more:
The journalist Jonathan Rauch has noted that candidates typically have fourteen years from the time they are elected to a major public office — the Senate, a governorship — to achieve the Presidency. Beyond that, a sort of expiration date is reached, owing, at least in part, to the fact that the longer one’s résumé the more likely it is that one will be whipsawed by past positions and changing values.
Here, too, the phrasing in the second sentence is ponderous: “a sort of expiration date,” “at least in part, to the fact that.” And I’m not sure that whipsaw works. Merriam-Webster’s definition: “to beset or victimize in two opposite ways at once, by a two-phase operation, or by the collusive action of two opponents.” In the sentence above, a candidate risks being attacked not in two opposite ways but in one way, because her or his past positions are no longer acceptable. A possible revision:
The journalist Jonathan Rauch has noted that candidates typically have fourteen years from the time they are elected to a major public office — the Senate, a governorship — to achieve the Presidency. After fourteen years, it’s a greater challenge, in part because changing values will make it likely that a candidate’s past positions have become difficult to defend.
The second sentence shrinks from thirty-eight words to twenty-six.

An observation I used to share with my students, from Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage (1966):
Wherever we can make twenty-five words do the work of fifty, we halve the area in which looseness and disorganization can flourish, and by reducing the span of attention required we increase the force of the thought.
My revisions cut by a third — not a half-price sale, but still a pretty deep discount.

I don’t read New Yorker prose (or any prose I’m not editing) looking for things to change: these passages presented themselves to me (or to my bad-sentence radar) as prose in need of repair.

Related reading
All OCA “How to improve writing” posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 68 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

From an old notebook

“There must be some way I can . . . Wait!”

“You must promise to stay here forever.”

“Beauty has to see that beast.”

“We need to see that rose and we need to smell it.”

“Her trees are music.”

[November 1992, while watching the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast . The first two lines are from the movie. The third and fourth are from our son Ben; the fifth from our daughter Rachel.]

Recently updated

Steve Bushakis and Donald Trump The old SNL skit is online.

Advice for creative types

Beatrice Taylor, Aunt Bee, speaks: “Nobody can create on an empty stomach.” From the Mayberry R.F.D. episode “Howard, the Poet” (first aired October 6, 1969).

I like the way everyone in Mayberry calls Aunt Bee Aunt Bee. Except, I suppose, her female friends and occasional suitors, who just call her Bee (or who call her just Bee). But do the other characters know that it’s Aunt Bee , not Aunt Bea ? And just Bee , not Bea? And if so, how? Andy would know, of course. But Emmett? Floyd? Howard? It’s not like they get to sit around and watch the credits.

Must. Eat. Lunch.

Nancy, Sluggo, God

[Zippy , October 4, 20016. If you click for a larger view, the headline in the third panel will be readable.]

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts, Nancy and Zippy posts, Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Please imagine the three links in the form of a Venn diagram.]

Monday, October 3, 2016

Donald Trump on PTSD

Donald Trump on PTSD:

“When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat, they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over. And you’re strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can't handle it,” the Republican presidential nominee told an audience of military veterans at an event in Northern Virginia on Monday morning.
But character, or what Trump calls being “strong,” is no protection against PTSD. Jonathan Shay makes that point in Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1994). Shay, a psychiatrist who has spent much of his career working with veterans who live with PTSD, says that anyone can incur the bad moral luck (as Shay calls it) that culminates in PTSD:
The most ancient traditions of Western culture instruct us to base our self-respect on firmness of character. Many popular melodramas of moral courage provide satisfaction through the comforting fantasy that our own character would hold steady under the most extreme pressure of dreadful events. A permanent challenge of working with those injured by combat trauma is facing the painful awareness that in all likelihood one’s own character would not have stood firm.
It’s true that Marine Staff Sgt. Chad Robichaux, the veteran who asked Trump about programs for veterans with PTSD, said that his answer was “thoughtful and understanding.” But on Trump’s terms, Sgt. Robichaux himself must be one of those who are not “strong” and cannot “handle it.” Robichaux lives with PTSD.

One lesson of Homer’s Iliad , captured in the subtitle of Shay’s book, is that the trauma of war can destroy character. Achilles is the best of the Achaeans, concerned about the well-being of his community, singularly honorable in his treatment of the enemy. Yet his character is undone by the circumstances of war. On the subject of PTSD, as on so many other subjects, Donald Trump is a know-nothing. To tell an audience of veterans that they’re “strong” and “can handle it” denies the realities of war — as does joking about having always wanted a Purple Heart.

A related post
Cindy McCain on PTSD