Tuesday, January 31, 2017

“He will fail” (let’s hope)

Writing in The Atlantic, Eliot A. Cohen says that life under Trump will get worse, not better, “as power intoxicates Trump and those around him.” But, Cohen says, Trump will finally fail:

He will fail because however shrewd his tactics are, his strategy is terrible — The New York Times, the CIA, Mexican Americans, and all the others he has attacked are not going away. With every act he makes new enemies for himself and strengthens their commitment; he has his followers, but he gains no new friends. He will fail because he cannot corrupt the courts, and because even the most timid senator sooner or later will say “enough.” He will fail most of all because at the end of the day most Americans, including most of those who voted for him, are decent people who have no desire to live in an American version of Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
I would disagree with Cohen (a vociferous advocate of war against Iraq and Iran) on nearly everything. But on this point I think he’s right. Let’s hope.

Wedding music?

The previous post prompts the question in this one. In the Gilmore Girls episode “I Can’t Get Started” (May 21, 2002), Sookie St. James walks down the aisle to a recording of Ella Fitzgerald singing “I Can’t Get Started” (music by Vernon Duke, words by Ira Gershwin). It’s a beautiful song (with a terrific bridge), but it’s a self-mocking lament, whose singer has triumphed in everything but romance: “The North Pole I have charted / But can’t get started with you.” It’s hardly a wedding song. Everyone in Stars Hollow says so. Except Sookie: “Oh, who listens to the lyrics?” Lorelai: “Anybody not hanging out with Annie Sullivan by the water pump.”

My question to you, reader: what wedding music have you heard (or heard of) that seems to you, well, less than appropriate to the occasion? I can name one song (heard of): Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” as an instrumental. Do its unheard words still matter? I’d say so.

Life imitates Gilmore Girls (and doesn’t)

Paris Geller is clearly considered to be the most qualified candidate for student-body president. The most competent too. Her minions Louise and Madeline have done the polling. But what else is there? Likability. And there, she falls short. And to a person, the students say that Paris’s lack of likability will influence their vote. And Paris doesn’t want to believe it. From the Gilmore Girls episode “I Can’t Get Started” (May 21, 2002):

“You mean people would rather vote for a moronic twink who they liked over someone who could actually do the job?”
The Internets figured out a Hillary Clinton–Paris Geller parallel a long time ago. I’m watching the Gilmore Girls for the first time and figured it out for myself. Spoiler: Paris is elected, with likable Rory Gilmore as her running mate. Too bad the United States isn’t the Chilton School.

Other Gilmore Girls posts
Escape to Stars Hollow : Shopping for supplies : “That bastard Donald Trump”


It’s Syme speaking. He’s a philologist, at work with many others on the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak dictionary:

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

See also Sean Spicer’s comment on dissenting State Department officials: “They should either get with the program or they can go.”

Related reading
All OCA George Orwell posts (Pinboard)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Recently updated

“A Woman in the House” The actress Mary Webster, who appeared in one of the strangest (and best) episodes of Father Knows Best, has died.

Things to do

Contact your representative. Contact your senators. And for academics only: Sign this petition.

Shopping for supplies

Lorelai is helping her father get his new consulting business in shape. So she takes him shopping for office supplies. From the Gilmore Girls episode “Help Wanted” (May 7, 2002):

“Before anything else can happen, you need pens, you need paper, you need everything else, don’t you?”
Other Gilmore Girls posts
Escape to Stars Hollow : “That bastard Donald Trump”

[I’m exercising extreme restraint in quoting from this endlessly quotable series, which I’m watching for the first time.]

Quintessential Love

I’ve avoided Mike Love’s autobiography, but seeing it in a Barnes and Noble, I had to look. I was surprised to see that the copies were signed: Love [big space] Mike Love, no comma in between. I browsed the pages of photographs and noticed one that shows a group sitting crosslegged in meditation, amid candles, flowers, and teacups. The caption is quintessential Love:

This meditative gathering included my lawyer Mike Flynn, front left, who won my copyright suit against Brian.

Mike Love, Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy, with James S. Hirsch (New York: Blue Rider Press, 2016).
Yep, that’s Mike Love. The settling of scores is never far from his meditative mind.

Related reading
All OCA Beach Boys posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Things to do

Join the American Civil Liberties Union.

Then and now

If the United States was the grail for many, the odds of actually getting in were infinitesimal. For all that Americans regularly spoke of their country being overrun with “millions of refugees,” the numbers who actually made it were astonishingly small. In fact, the difficulties of reaching America due to the war, the Depression, and bureaucracy-mired visa restrictions combined to make the number of immigrants to the United States between 1931 and 1945 the lowest they had been been in more than a hundred years. . . .

Nonetheless, through a combination of intentional propaganda and general paranoia, the perception gained traction that America was being swamped with exiles to the point where millions of jobs and democracy itself were at risk.

George Prochnik, The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World (New York: Other Press, 2014).
As Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times, “Today, to our shame, Anne Frank is a Syrian girl.”

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Happy birthday, Rachel


Our daughter hits the big three-oh later today. Man, she’s getting up there. Then again, age ain’t nothing but a number. Whoops — I’ve run out of clichés.

I still vividly remember taking this photograph in the house we were renting when Rachel was born. The curtains were homemade (Elaine’s). The camera was a Canon (Elaine’s). Rachel was toddling by our bedroom window, and I took this photograph without (as Elaine reminds me) knowing anything about how to take a photograph. Lucky dad.

Happy birthday, RR.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Barbara Hale (1922–2017)

My daughter Rachel just sent the sad news that the actress Barbara Hale has died at the age of ninety-four. The Hollywood Reporter has an obituary. Hale played Della Street to Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason in 271 Perry Mason episodes and twenty-six made-for-TV movies. She continued to play Street in four more Perry Mason Mystery movies after Burr’s death.

In an instance of especially awkward timing, Barbara Hale appeared in an OCA post earlier today.

Rewriting the past

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

Related reading
All OCA George Orwell posts (Pinboard)
And re: “alternative facts”: Orwell on historical truth and totalitarian history

Don’t know much about
an economics book

Our household understands little about economics. But yesterday we tried to reason out the threatened twenty-percent tariff on goods imported from Mexico. Wouldn’t it just lead to higher prices for U.S. consumers? Or to a dearth of Mexican goods? We were thinking especially of produce. Wouldn’t such a tariff harm both the Mexican and U.S. economies?

Maybe we know more about economics than we thought: “Donald Trump’s Mexico Tantrum” (The New York Times).

[We do know a lot about home economics. Post title with apologies to Sam Cooke.]

“Hot dog parlor”

[Henry, January 26, 2017.]

Yes, it’s a panel from yesterday’s Henry, but every day’s Henry is yesterday’s Henry. And I thought that, surely, “hot dog parlor” is yesterday’s language, a term with no currency in the non-Henry world. I thought of what T. S. Eliot wrote: “last year’s words belong to last year’s language.” But was Eliot referring to Henry? Probably not.

Google finds “hot dog parlor” alive and well: “Staten Island finally has its own upscale hot dog parlor” (2004); “ice cream shop turned hot dog parlor” (2009); “the shed has evolved into a hot dog parlor” (2014); “Maggie spotted the shop sandwiched between a hot dog parlor and a shoe repair store” (2016). That last one sounds like my kind of neighborhood, even if its hot-dog parlor and shoe-repair store (shop?) are, like the other parlors and the ice-cream shop, missing hyphens.

“Sandwiched between” reminded me to wonder: is a hot dog a sandwich? Merriam-Webster says yes. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (for a variety of silly reasons that confuse words and food) says no. The NHDSC’s official statement (and its possibly more serious reasons) has disappeared from the organization’s website.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Separated at birth

[Barbara Hale and Vivien Leigh.]

Barbara Hale joins three other representatives of Perry Mason in this occasional series.

John Beddall, an OCA reader, sent these photographs, which I’ve posted with his permission. Thank you, John.

Also separated at birth
Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti : Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop : David Bowie and Karl Held : John Davis Chandler and Steve Buscemi : Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt : Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov : Ted Cruz and Joe McCarthy : Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Gough : Jacques Derrida, Peter Falk, and William Hopper : Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln : Harriet Sansom Harris and Phoebe Nicholls : Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks : Steve Lacy and Myron McCormick : William H. Macy and Michael A. Monahan : Fredric March and Tobey Maguire : Molly Ringwald and Victoria Zinny

Thursday, January 26, 2017

“That bastard Donald Trump”

Lorelai Gilmore is excited to learn more about “the Rachel property,” the dilapidated old inn that she and Sookie St. James want to buy. But Sookie has a concern. From the Gilmore Girls episode “The Ins and Outs of Inns” (November 20, 2001):

“Oh my God — it’s the title search for the Rachel property. And guess who owns it!”

“Tell me it’s not that bastard Donald Trump!”
For the record, it’s someone else. It’s not that bastard Donald Trump.

[Why “the Rachel property”? Because Luke’s old girlfriend Rachel, no last name, photographed the dilapidated Dragonfly Inn and showed Lorelai the photographs. But also because “the Rachel property” sounds funnier than “the Dragonfly Inn.”]

Carrying on

Winston Smith has begun to keep a diary. Will there ever be someone to read it and understand? No matter:

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

Nineteen Eighty-Four, as you probably already know, has become Amazon’s best-selling book and is now out of stock there.

Related reading
All OCA George Orwell posts (Pinboard)
And re: “alternative facts”: Orwell on historical truth and totalitarian history

[Out of stock “there”? Where?]

Review: The Duke Box 2

Duke Ellington. The Duke Box 2. 7 CDs + 1 DVD. Storyville Records. 2016.

Before I sat down to write about The Duke Box 2, I took count of my Ellington recordings: roughly 130 LPs and 120 CDs. Had I taken count before ordering this Storyville release, I might have had to ask whether I really need more Ellington recordings. But I didn’t take count. I’m always in the mood for more Ellington.

The Duke Box 2 contains 142 recordings made between 1952 and 1972, ranging in length from the fanfare-ish fragment “Cross Climax” (0:27) to the piano piece “Nagoya” (8:10). Three discs collect live recordings: radio broadcasts from Birdland (1952) and concert performances in Munich (1958) and Stockholm (1963). Four discs contain 1966–1972 studio performances from what Ellington called “the stockpile,” recordings made at his expense and which remained unreleased in his lifetime. The live recordings are generally of well-known material, sometimes given new form or coloring. The stockpile recordings are where the greater surprises are to be found.

The Birdland broadcasts give us the Ellington band not long after a grievous loss: Johnny Hodges (alto) left in 1951 to form his own small group, taking Lawrence Brown (trombone) and Sonny Greer (drums) with him. Ellington promptly hired three musicians away from the Harry James band: Willie Smith (alto), Juan Tizol (valve trombone), and Louis Bellson (drums). Only Tizol is present here. But you can’t tell from listening that anything might be wrong: the band is in finest of fettles. Highlights include “Monologue,” with Ellington narrating a cautionary love-fable over a clarinet trio (followed by an enthusiastic “Yes, baby!” from a woman in the audience), and two versions of “Take the ‘A’ Train,” with Betty Roché’s hip vocal, full of scat, lyric quotations, and pop-culture appropriations. (“Who’s got the Toni?” echoes this advertising campaign.) These broadcasts marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Ellington’s opening at the Cotton Club in 1927 — and how he must have hated that reminder of time’s passing. No wonder that he has the band follow “The Mooche” with Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology.” Among the highlights of the Munich and Stockholm recordings: the boppish dexterity of Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton, and Clark Terry in “Newport Up,” an introspective Hodges solo in a quiet “Jeep’s Blues,” and energetic performances from Ray Nance on “Just Squeeze Me” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” Nance came by the nickname “Floorshow” honestly.

“And now” (to use an Ellington phrase): recordings from the stockpile. Some of its treasures are vehicles for soloists: “The Shepherd,” a fierce performance by Cootie Williams; “Chromatic Love Affair,” whose seductive half-step-by-half-step melody serves as a showpiece for Harry Carney’s tone and dynamic range; “Second Line,” with Russell Procope’s woody clarinet leading the parade; “Checkered Hat,” Norris Turney’s alto homage to Hodges. Some treasures are samples of orchestral texture: “Amta,” in 5/4, suggests both the exotica of The Far East Suite and the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s “little instruments.” “Something,” a section of The Goutelas Suite, sounds luminous and urbane. The seven sections of the Togo Brava Suite (only four of which appeared on The London Concert LP) give us Ellington mostly in the chant and groove mode of The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse. The greatest orchestral surprises might be found in the incidental music for The Jaywalker, a parable for the theater by the British actress Barbara Waring. (The brief description in Brian Priestly’s liner notes makes me think of Myles Connolly’s novel Mr. Blue.) Here we have many instrumental suggestions of traffic in all directions, and supplemental percussion from Emmanuel Abdul-Rahim’s congas. And the Jaywalker piece “Mac” turns out to be an orchestral version of “T. G. T. T.,” a piece for piano and voice from the Second Sacred Concert. Who knew there was an orchestral version?

For me, the most valuable material in the Box is on CD 4: sixteen recordings of Ellington at the piano, thirteen of them unaccompanied, recorded between 1961 and 1971. “Meditation” from the Second Sacred Concert is a solemn, deliberate statement, markedly different from the quick run-through that the piece sometimes received in live performance. An untitled and almost entirely one-chord blues anticipates by more than a decade the “Fragmented Suite for Piano and Bass” that Ellington recorded with Ray Brown on This One’s for Blanton. Piano versions of the material that became The River: A Ballet Suite (choreography by Alvin Ailey) give us Ellington the impressionist — and Ellington the procrastinator, composing at the last possible minute. And then there’s “Nagoya,” with Ellington exploring themes that would emerge in The Far East Suite’s “Ad Lib on Nippon.”

An aside: the only disappointing performances here are those in which Ellington tries to be groovy, happening, hip, with it. Genuine lyrics, from “There’s a Place”: “Peace, love, peace, love, peace, love, freedom now.” Yow. Ellington of all people should have known that those who are cool need not try to be cool. It just gets in the way.

The DVD in this Box has a fairly improbable origin: in 1962 the Ellington band was filmed, playing to its own pre-recorded performances, for a Goodyear Tire & Rubber promotion. The music is, of course, strangely detached from the visual image, but it’s a treat nonetheless to see the band working hard to lip-sync and everything else-sync.

I have only one criticism of this release: a number of glaring typographical errors mar the presentation: “Chekered Hat” and “The Shephard,” for instance. And the song “I’m Afraid (Of Loving You Too Much)” is identified in the track listing as “Duke Ellington.” Note to Storyville: Will Proofread for More Ellington.

Related reading
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)
The Duke Box (My review of Storyville’s 2006 release)

[Six of the seven CDs in The Duke Box 2 are also individual Storyville releases: Duke Ellington at Birdland, The Duke in Munich, The Piano Player, The Jaywalker, New York, New York, and Togo Brava Suite. CD no. 3, Duke Ellington at Grøna Lund Tivoli, Stockholm is previously unreleased. “Those who are cool need not try to be cool”: I made that up, but it sounds to me like something Ellington could have said.]

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore (1936–2017)

[Photograph from Flickr user Tom, licensed under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.]

The actress Mary Tyler Moore has died at the age of eighty. The New York Times has an obituary.

Domestic comedy

[In light of current events.]

“That would be a nice thing to do — we can escape to the Gilmore Girls city.”


Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[Best Stars Hollow surprises so far: hearing The Free Design’s “I Found Love” and seeing Repetition Pears on the wall of the bakery. We’re hearing and seeing everything for the first time.]


[A recipe segment from the NBC show Today, as seen on Facebook. Elaine was watching. Harry Connick Jr. speaks.]

“I can’t remember the last time I had a Tater Tot. They’re so good. You forget about ’em somehow.”

For my money (or my parents’ money), Birds Eye Potato Puffs were the ultimate prefabricated potato-based food. A food of childhood. Look! They’re on sale:

[The Patent Trader, July 1, 1965.]

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

10 Actions/100 Days

From the folks who gave us the Women’s March on Washington: 10 Actions/100 Days, starting with snail mail in the form of postcards.

The Dutch Reach

Do you practice the Dutch Reach?

I learned about the Reach from the podcast 99% Invisible. For a long time, I’ve turned and checked for cyclists (not to mention cars) when opening a car door onto traffic. But the Dutch Reach — using the far hand — makes checking for cyclists second nature.

Another suggestion for safe driving: use hazard lights when highway traffic slows.

“Alternate” and “alternative” “facts”

Mary Norris: “A Small Point of Usage Concerning Those ‘Alternative Facts’” (The New Yorker).

Monday, January 23, 2017

Dan Rather on these times

Dan Rather, writing on Facebook, says that “These are not normal times”:

What can we do? We can all step up and say simply and without equivocation. “A lie, is a lie, is a lie!” And if someone won’t say it, those of us who know that there is such a thing as the truth must do whatever is in our power to diminish the liar’s malignant reach into our society. . . .

Facts and the truth are not partisan. They are the bedrock of our democracy. And you are either with them, with us, with our Constitution, our history, and the future of our nation, or you are against it. Everyone must answer that question.
[For whatever it’s worth, I’ve written to officials at Phi Beta Kappa urging them to make a public statement about truth, falsehood, and propaganda. Like Kellyanne Conway, I’m a PBK member.]

A Little Golden Book

[Click for a larger view.]

This new Little Golden Book cover has been credited to “Internet user Tim O’Brien.” This cover is an inspired piece of work. Kellyanne Conway (a Phi Beta Kappa member, by the way) referred to “alternative facts,” not “alternate facts.” I would suggest thinking of the book’s title not as a mistake but as an alternative fact “to,” as Conway says, “that.” “That” being the truth.

See also René Magritte. See also 2 + 2 = 5. See also Harry Frankfurt on the bullshitter: “He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

[Can PBK revoke one’s membership?]

National Handwriting Day

[Wally Cox. Photograph by Yale Joel. 1952. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

It’s National Handwriting Day. Mr. Peepers is sharpening in preparation. At least in my imagination he is. His knuckles are bandaged, perhaps because of sharpener mishaps. How will you be celebrating?

This photograph was one of many taken for a Life feature on Wally Cox and the television show Mr. Peepers. The feature, without this photograph, ran in the July 7, 1952 Life. Nearly all the pencils in the photograph appear to be Eberhard Faber Mongols. You can see the name Mongol on two boxes in front of the books. The ferrules though are giveaway.

Sharpen. Write. Repeat. Happy handwriting.

Related reading
All OCA handwriting and Mongol posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Dickinson at the Morgan

At the Morgan Library: I’m Nobody! Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson. The New York Times has a review, with many photographs.

[Are you — Nobody — too?]

Saturday, January 21, 2017

On the march in Champaign, Illinois

In Champaign, Illinois today, an estimated five thousand people participated in a Sister March held in conjunction with the Women’s March on Washington. Five thousand people. It was exciting and inspiring to be among them. (The organizers had begun by planning for a crowd of two hundred.) The gathering began in a park not far from a corner where in 1870 Susan B. Anthony spoke on “work, wages, and the ballot”.

Our daughter Rachel points out that Donald Trump’s pre-inauguration concert drew a crowd estimated at ten thousand. So in just one midwestern city, a crowd half that size. My favorite signs: those made and held by children. Youre not doing even a very good gob.

But the question (always): Where do we go from here?

E. B. White on America Firsters

Fascism, nationalism, and America Firsters:

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), there is a certain quality in Fascism which is quite close to a certain quality in nationalism. Fascism is openly against people-in-general, in favor of people-in-particular. Nationalism, although in theory not dedicated to such an idea, actually works against people-in-general because of its preoccupation with people-in-particular. It reminds one of Fascism, also, in its determination to stabilize its own position by whatever haphazard means present themselves — by treaties, policies, balances, agreements, pacts, and the jockeying for position which is summed up in the term “diplomacy.” This doesn’t make an American Firster a Fascist. It simply makes him, in our opinion, a man who hasn’t grown into his pants yet. The persons who have written most persuasively against nationalism are the young soldiers who have got far enough from our shores to see the amazing implications of a planet. Once you see it, you never forget it.

E. B. White, The Wild Flag: Editorials from “The New Yorker” on Federal World Government and Other Matters (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946).
See also: “With Echoes of the ’30s, Trump Resurrects a Hard-Line Vision of ‘America First’” (The New York Times). That Trump claims no grounding in the history of “America First” isn’t “liberating,” as a scholar quoted in the Times article claims. It’s frightening. Words have history. History has history.

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Zippy panel for the day

[Zippy, January 20, 2017.]

That’s the God of Zippy, a triune God in today’s third panel. Perhaps Bill Griffith was thinking of a line from Tom Waits’s song “Heartattack and Vine”: “don’t you know there ain’t no devil, there’s just god when he’s drunk.”

Related reading
All OCA Tom Waits and Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Lyric from the LP’s inner sleeve.]

A song for the day

“And in a city of tents those with no recompense
are encamped on the broad White House lawn.”

Two performances, 2012 and 2013: “I’m History,” words and music by Van Dyke Parks.

What to post today? I tried a passage from Thomas Paine. The words seemed out of proportion to the occasion, though I liked what Paine had to say about the folly of swearing allegiance to “a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man.” I tried a passage from Abraham Lincoln, warning that “our common country is in great peril.” Okay. But Lincoln was attempting to persuade border states to go along with gradual emancipation, to be followed by freed slaves’ departure for colonized territory in South America. No thank you, President Lincoln. And then I thought of the idiotic claim about Cabinet IQs, remembered the story that begins Van Dyke’s lyric, and knew what to post. It’s the intensity of the live performance that especially gets me.

More about this song in this post. And if you like the music, buy something.

Related reading
All OCA VDP posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Things to do on Friday

In The New Republic, a writer suggests not watching: “A mass refusal to watch Trump on TV will deprive him of big ratings, which he routinely uses to create a false impression of widespread popularity.” An uncredited message circulating online suggests changing the channel: “if we turn off the TVs, it looks like a large majority of viewers tuned into Trump. But if our TVs are tuned to other shows, the percentage drops.” Snopes has discredited the change-the-channel tactic by pointing out that only Nielsen families make a difference to ratings. If you’re not a Nielsen family, turning off the television makes no difference either.

I too would like to think that changing the channel or turning off the television will somehow bruise a certain outsize ego. But it’s not happening. What I plan on doing late Friday morning: talking a walk, perhaps to the library and the supermarket. And on Saturday there’s a march to attend.

Recently updated

Make it known Now with a source for Walt Whitman’s “Make it plain.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mystery actor


Do you recognize him? Do you think you might recognize him? Leave your best guess in the comments. If necessary, I will add a hint.

More mystery actors
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

Margaret Atwood’s “Letter to America”

On March 27, 2003, one week after the United States-led invasion of Iraq began, The Nation published Margaret Atwood’s “Letter to America.” It begins, “This is a difficult letter to write, because I’m no longer sure who you are. Some of you may be having the same trouble.” And the closing paragaphs:

If you proceed much further down the slippery slope, people around the world will stop admiring the good things about you. They’ll decide that your city upon the hill is a slum and your democracy is a sham, and therefore you have no business trying to impose your sullied vision on them. They’ll think you’ve abandoned the rule of law. They’ll think you’ve fouled your own nest.

The British used to have a myth about King Arthur. He wasn’t dead, but sleeping in a cave, it was said; and in the country’s hour of greatest peril, he would return. You too have great spirits of the past you may call upon: men and women of courage, of conscience, of prescience. Summon them now, to stand with you, to inspire you, to defend the best in you. You need them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

“Oh, Jesus — God — no —”

The Washington Post reports that the Beach Boys will be headlining an inaugural ball — when even a Bruce Springsteen cover band has stepped away from a Jersey-themed inaugural event. Way to go, Mike and Bruce. Or just Mike, really.

A related post
Caroline, no!

[Post title with thanks to Benjamin Braddock.]

A misspelling in the news

In Maryland, Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS, motto: “Expecting Excellence Everywhere”) has fired Katie Nash, a “web experience coordinator,” apparently for a reply to a student on Twitter. The exchange, from January 5, followed a forecast of a winter storm:

Student: close school tammarow PLEASE

Nash, writing as @FCPSMaryland: but then how would you learn how to spell "tomorrow"? :)
The student’s comment on Nash’s response, tweeted the next day: “i didn't take it like personaly.”

I have four thoughts:

1. Students are always hoping that school (or classes, if they’re in college) will be canceled. That’s a fact of educational life. I think it’s safe to say that a tweeted request to a school system to close up for the day is a cheeky, joking gesture. Replying with a degree of cheek is not necessarily inappropriate.

2. Nash’s response was meant to be cheeky and joking, not mean-spirited. The smiley makes that clear. Twitter is a medium that lends itself to jokes and banter (and, of course, to much else). Whether jokes and banter are appropriate in a school system’s communication with students is a good question. Tone can be tricky. Perhaps FCPS should develop guidelines (or clearer guidelines) for its use of social media.

3. Nash could have responded without acknowledging the misspelling. Using tamarrow or tacitly correcting the misspelling by writing tomorrow might itself have seemed sarcastic or mean-spirited. Instead, Nash corrected the mistake and offered a gentle reminder about the value of school: there are reasons to show up, kid; there’s stuff that you need to learn. The correction serves as a reminder, too, about how words represent a writer in social media.

4. Whatever one thinks about Nash’s response, it certainly doesn’t merit firing. A more reasonable response: “Ms. Nash meant no harm by her tweet. FCPS will be working to develop clear guidelines for our future use of social media.” End of story. Instead, Nash is the focus of two hashtags, #FreeKatie and #KatieFromFCPS.

Related reading
All OCA misspelling posts (Pinboard)

The tiny-house reach

We were idly watching a few minutes of Tiny House Hunters a show our daughter Rachel recommended to us as a trove of unwitting comedy. We especially like the lingo: “cabin aesthetic,” “coastal look,” “cottage feel,” “eclectic,” “great for entertaining,” and other bits of harmless fun.

Last night a fellow inspecting a house exclaimed, “It makes me feel like I can reach from the toilet to the fridge!” Was he celebrating, or complaining? It wasn’t clear at first. But he was complaining. A recurring theme of the show: people want a small house, but not that small.

[Post title inspired by the expression boardinghouse reach. One of my grandfathers encouraged that reach at the table. And yes, the show’s title should really be Tiny-House Hunters. It’s not the people who are small.]

W(h)ither grammar

David Mulroy, a classicist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, asked students in large mythology classes to paraphrase the opening sentence of the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Mulroy offered the opportunity to paraphrase as an extra-credit option on an exam: two points for a “good-faith effort,” five points for an excellent paraphrase. About half the students took up the challenge. Sample results:
When dealing with events in life, one should drop preconceived knowings and assume that everything that happens, happens for a reason, and basically life goes on.

Cut your earthly bonds and wear the mantle of Nature and God. Wield the power and declare justly your ascension from man’s law. Then all shall bow before your might.

When man loses all political structure and is reverted back to tribal and instinctive nature, man should figure out what happened, so it won’t happen again.

It doesn’t matter where you came from. In the end we are all human beings. Humans are at the top of the food chain, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respect nature. Because we have one earth, learn to preserve it.

David Mulroy, The War Against Grammar (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003).
For Mulroy, such responses (which I’ve chosen as representative from the fourteen responses he cites) suggest “a kind of higher illiteracy,” that of students who speak proficiently and express themselves adequately in writing but who cannot work out the complexities of other people’s sentences:
This kind of illiteracy boils down to an ignorance of grammar. If a student interprets the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence as an exhortation to “preserve the earth,” then how can you demonstrate the error? There is no way to do so that does not involve grammatical analysis: the subject of the main clause is respect to the opinions of mankind, the main verb is requires, and so forth.
I’d add: a grasp of the sentence’s sense requires a recognition that its first fifty words form one long dependent clause.

How many problems in reading stem from an ignorance of basic grammar? I think back to a poem I often taught, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight,” and a difficult sentence that I always unpacked for students (lines 17–23). “It” is a piece of soot fluttering on a fireplace grate:
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.
I realize now that what I was explaining to students was not just diction (methinks) and pronoun reference (whose) but the very grammar of the sentence: It seems to me that its motion, &c.

And how many problems in writing stem from an ignorance of basic grammar? A writer who doesn’t know the difference between a clause and a phrase, between an independent clause and a dependent clause, cannot reliably tell a sentence from a sentence fragment or understand what it means to subordinate one clause to another. And making sentences that are not merely adequate but that serve one’s purposes in writing depends at least in part on some understanding of grammar. See, for instance, Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style (2006).

I used to ask students in writing classes: What does it mean to go through twelve or more years of schooling and not be able to recognize a sentence in your language? There’s something rather crazy about that, no? I added (always) that the students themselves were not to blame. Mulroy’s book is especially useful in showing the background to this state of affairs: the educational theorizing (complete with “studies”) that cast instruction in grammar as harmful, as something contrary to the improvement of student writing.

My English teachers in middle school and high school must have not gotten the message: every year began with a review of basic grammar: parts of speech, phrases, clauses, kinds of conjunctions, on and on. We even diagrammed sentences. It was tiresome stuff. But so is any effort to lay a foundation.

Related reading
All OCA grammar posts (Pinboard)

[A 2008 statement from the National Council of Teachers of English acknowledges the importance of grammar instruction: “Teaching grammar will not make writing errors go away. . . . But knowing basic grammatical terminology does provide students with a tool for thinking about and discussing sentences.” The NCTE still stands by a 1985 resolution urging “the discontinuance of testing practices that encourage the teaching of grammar rather than English language arts instruction.” Notice that the resolution casts grammar as distinct from “English language arts.”]

Monday, January 16, 2017

Words from Edward G. Robinson

Edward G. Robinson, speaking at an event to honor his hundred-and-first film appearance, in Soylent Green (dir. Richard Fleischer, 1973):

“To work, to create, to grow, and to give of yourself: that is one of the chief aims in life. To have experienced it once: that is a great experience. To do it a hundred and one times, well, that’s really a small miracle.”
Soylent Green was Robinson’s last film. (He died before its release.) In it, he plays Sol Roth, once a full professor, now a ”book,” a police analyst: ”You know, I was a teacher once, a full professor, a respected man.” With his beard, beret, worn jacket, and Phi Beta Kappa key, Roth looks like a teacher of, say, art history, or comparative literature.

[My punctuation, following the speaker’s pace.]


From “Where Do We Go from Here?,” Martin Luther King’s last presidential address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, August 16, 1967:

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World (New York: HarperCollins, 1992).
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Book battles

From The Wall Street Journal: “When Couples Fight Over Books.” A claim therein: “If you and your partner haven’t bickered about books, you’re probably not readers.” A related matter: 積ん読 [tsundoku].

Our household’s book situation has become pleasantly complicated by the formation of our two-person reading club. The copies of books we’ve yet to read sit together on a couple of shelves for new stuff. But once we’ve read a book, the two copies go their separate ways.

Bellerby & Co., Globemakers

Sean at Contrapuntalism passed on the link to a short film about Bellerby & Co., Globemakers: The Whole World Is in Their Hands (Great Big Story). See also the Bellerby website, which includes an origin story.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A sardine tin in the news

You might think that the headline says it all: “‘It all seems a bit fishy’: Audacious theft of sardine tin costume from Lamb pub sparks appeal for its return before Surbiton’s Seething Festival” (Your Local Guardian). But that’s not all: there are photographs. And this description of the Seething Festival: “The surreal procession last year saw children dressed as cheese and guinea pigs led through the streets by the legendary ‘goat boy.’”

I hope there wasn’t a wicker man.

And now that I’m free-associating: I knew some college students, years ago, who had a band called Goatboy. The name came from not from Surbiton’s procession (and not from the Spiritus Mundi) but from the toddler son of a band member. Another member was in a class with me and wrote what I still remember as one my favorite student evaluations: “Beats the shit out of any speech-comm class I could have taken.” He was a speech-comm major, and an honest sort. Too bad I couldn’t include that evaluation in my tenure portfolio.

Related reading
All OCA sardines posts (Pinboard)

[I’ve corrected the headline’s typo of Surbtion, which did seem like a strange name for a town. The headline needs a hyphen: sardine tin costume should read sardine-tin costume. A Facebook page explains the purpose of the Seething Festival: “to remember Lefi the Goatboy of Mount Seething who drove the giant away through the power of making cheese.”]

Zippy as Henry

[Zippy, January 14, 2017.]

Zippy rushes to tell the scientific community but stops himself: “Oh no! I just remembered that most Americans no longer believe in science — or even facts!”

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts : All OCA Henry and Zippy posts : All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Please imagine the links in the form of a Venn diagram.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Word of the day: tyrant

The classicist and translator Paul Woodruff on the ancient idea of the tyrant:

A tyrannos is not a legitimate king (Greek basileus, Latin rex), but a ruler who has won power by his own efforts . . .

In Greek thought at the time, a tyrant . . . is subject to insatiable desires, which drive him to a career of wanton injustice. This is the one mark of the tyrant in Plato‘s Republic, written sixty or more years after Oedipus Tyrannus. . . .

But Plato has captured only part of the classic notion of the tyrant. Several tragic plays of Sophocles’ period dwell on the tyrant as a model not so much of injustice, as Plato would have it, but of irreverent and unholy behavior — behavior that indicates a failure to recognize the limits separating human beings from gods, the principal limits being mortality and ignorance. . . .

Oedipus shares three traits with stage tyrants . . . : he is prone to fear of rebellion, he is liable to subvert the law when frightened, and he is a poor listener who flies into a rage when given advice that he does not want to hear.

Introduction to Theban Plays, by Sophocles, trans. Peter Meineck and Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003).
You get the idea. Our president-elect appears to possess the traits of both Platonic and theatrical tyrants.

What got me thinking about ancient tyrants was the president-elect’s recent extraordinary claim: “I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created.” I think we’re beyond hubris here. Another word made from Greek parts seems to apply: megalomania.

Words for these times

Throughout history, wherever there have been monarchs, dictators, or strongmen there have been crowds of followers eager to gain influence and reap material rewards by doing their leader’s bidding. English has a wide and colorful assortment of terms for such persons.
From the American Heritage Dictionary, words for these times: “Minions, sycophants, toadies, and other creatures.” Another word that’s relevant: tyrant.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Preventing discards

A tale of librarians seeking to prevent discards: “To save books, librarians create fake ‘reader’ to check out titles” (Orlando Sentinel, via Arts & Letters Daily).

Reader, have you ever checked out a book to try to save it from being discarded? I will admit to checking out from two libraries, as an adult, the formative book of my childhood, Clifford Hicks’s Alvin’s Secret Code. When one library finally discarded its copy, I was lucky enough to find it at the book sale. But I would rather have found it still on the shelf.

Speak, Emenee

Somehow it came to mind. Do you too — yes, you, in front of the screen — remember this commercial?

I’d like to hear the sounds that a “rockin’ band” might have made with these instruments. Instant outsider music.

[Post title with apologies to Vladimir Nabokov and Mnemosyne.]

Ten bits and a jar

[Zippy, January 12, 2017.]

Fresca linked to something helpful: John Scalzi’s ten bits of advice for getting work done in these times. Though the advice is meant for “creatives” (Scalzi’s word), it’s good advice for all.

Something Elaine suggested: every day we’re each writing down one good thing from the day on a slip of paper. The slips go into a jar. We decided that we’ll keep going no matter what happens this year. (Like the comics, I suppose.) For us, the jar is not an exercise in “gratitude”; it’s to remind us that life doesn’t suck. I know that what we’re doing involves an element of privilege: we don’t have to fear deportation, say, or the loss of health insurance, though we do have more to fear than fear itself. But see especially Scalzi’s nos. 5 and 8.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Elaine saw the jar idea somewhere on Facebook.That’s a straw in Zippy’s hand — the last straw?]

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The making of soup

“To paraphrase the food writer M.F.K. Fisher, there is a slippery slope from water to soup. If you have water around, you can have soup”: so says “How to Make Soup,” a New York Times guide whose title needs no further explanation.

Related reading
All OCA soup posts (Pinboard)

Word of the day: emolument

The word is in the air. Merriam-Webster’s legal definition:

a return arising from office or employment usually in the form of compensation or perquisites <the President shall, at stated times, receive for his services, a compensation . . . and he shall not receive within that period any other emolumentU.S. Constitution art. II>
I would add: See also kleptocracy.

I wondered whether emolument is related to emollient, but the resemblance is just coincidence. Emolument comes from the Latin verb emolere, “to produce by grinding.” Merriam-Webster explains that by 1480, when emolument first appeared in English,
Latin emolumentum had come to mean simply “profit” or “gain”; it had become removed from its own Latin predecessor, the verb molere, meaning “to grind.” The original connection between the noun and this verb was its reference to the profit or gain from grinding another’s grain.
Emollient comes from the Latin emollire, “to soften.” A president who receives many emoluments might be said to live a soft (not to mention corrupt) life, but that president would still need to pay for creams and lotions to soften the skin, unless that president’s preferred emollients are already among his or her emoluments.

Snarking at waffles

A local restaurant, owned by a local man, a local mogul, our own Mr. Potter, has a large sign out front touting the breakfast menu, which includes “Belgium Waffles.” Sigh — not for the waffles but for the use of a country name as a modifier. Do they also serve cheese Denmark and England muffins and France toast at breakfast? Probably not — it’s easy enough to distinguish Danish from Denmark, &c. But it’s not really that difficult to distinguish Belgian from Belgium.

Google’s Ngram Viewer shows Belgian waffles taking off in American English in 1959 and reaching its height in 1996. There’s no trace of Belgium waffles before 1977, and very little sign of it thereafter. In 2008, the most recent year for which the Ngram Viewer has results, Belgian waffles outnumbers Belgium waffles 20.5:1. Which means that Mr. Potter’s restaurant is serving some fairly rare waffles. Reservations only.

[The 1959 starting point marks the Belgian waffle as a mid-century American adventure in food. Belgian waffles were sold at the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair. If anyone other than Mr. Potter owned this restaurant, I would not have written this post.]

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Yes, again

From President Barack Obama’s farewell address: “Yes, we can. Yes, we did. Yes, we can.”

I take that to mean that the effort begins anew.

What I most noticed in Obama’s words: echoes of Bernie Sanders, the invoking of Atticus Finch in the call for people to understand the other person’s point of view, and the reminder that younger Americans will soon outnumber “all of us” and will have the future in their hands. Here come 2018 and 2020.

The New York Times has the text as prepared. You can watch at YouTube if you missed it.


I would like to think that my habit of misreading signage has some relation to the childhood practice of introducing mistakes when reading aloud to enliven classroom texts. My signage misreadings result not from prankishness but from willful guessing at a distance. Today, on the road:

More misreadings

[For the first sign, outside a church, read GOOD. For the second, outside a business, DOORS.]

Alex Katz meets Lionel Hampton

The painter Alex Katz, in a 1975 lecture:

“If we stay on style, I’ll say, the first time I ever met anyone . . . I was serving hot dogs at a black dance, and Lionel Hampton was playing. And he came over, and I had never seen anything like it. He had a royal blue, one-button lounge suit. He was the most glamorous person I had ever seen, and no one has ever surpassed it. I said, ‘Mustard?’ and he said, ‘Yes, please,’ and I said, ‘Wow!’ And, as I went on, I found myself attracted to style.”

Quoted in Katy Siegel, “Manual of Style.” In Diana Tuite, Brand New & Terrific: Alex Katz in the 1950s (Waterville, ME: Colby College Museum of Art and DelMonico Books, 2015).
Here’s the exhibit to go with the book.

Related posts
Alex Katz, focusing : Alex Katz, painter, eater

[Ellipsis in the original.]

Monday, January 9, 2017

That’s a good idea, Nancy

[Nancy, November 30, 1949.]

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Movies, twelve of them

[No spoilers.]

Shadow of a Doubt (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1943). One of my favorite films. Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) comes to visit his sister Emma’s family in placid Santa Rosa. Emma (Patricia Collinge) adores him. Her daughter Charlotte, “young Charlie” (Teresa Wright), adores him. But young Charlie comes to know the terrible truth about her uncle, a truth she cannot share with anyone. The sexual undertone in the uncle-niece relationship is unmistakable: Uncle Charlie gives young Charlie an emerald ring as a present, placing it on her finger as if marrying her. He sleeps in her bed while she moves to her younger sister’s room. I think that in 2016 this film, which Hitchcock often called his favorite, looks more disturbing than ever — and that’s before we get to the terrible truth about Uncle Charlie.

[The two Charlies.]


La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle, 2016). Not as bad as the 2014 Whiplash (by the same director) but not good. No one in our four-person fambly liked it. No one. The opening expressway sequence has more energy than the rest of the movie, which feels like a musical for people who aren’t comfortable with the mastery of, say, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Though Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are middling dancers, their singing is amateurish. The story is predictable in places, predictably unpredictable in others, with an absurd overlay about jazz, “free” and otherwise. The protagonists, Seb and Mia, are ciphers. The city of Los Angeles looks deserted. The color scheme and other elements are pretty blatantly swiped from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (dir. Jacques Demy, 1964). But how many moviegoers will know that? Watch The Umbrellas of Cherbourg instead.

My daughter Rachel adds that Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) is also an influence.


The Edge of Seventeen (dir. Kelly Fremon Craig, 2016). Is the word seventeen standing in for doom? Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is seventeen, a high-school junior, awkward, alienated, and sardonic: “There are two types of people in the world. The people who radiate confidence and naturally excel at life and the people who hope all those people die in a big explosion.” And: “I had the worst thought: I have to spend the rest of my life with myself.” Hint to Nadine: self-acceptance sometimes begins with accepting others. Three of us watched this film and loved it.


Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins, 2016). And all four of us watched this film and loved it. Another coming of age movie, with a boy named Chiron (played by Alex Hibbert) becoming a teenager (played by Ashton Sanders) and man (played by Trevante Rhodes). Chiron is growing up gay, in a world that makes no room for that human possibility except as a target of insults, threats, and beatings. Midnight is a story of African-American life, of family life, of mentorship and its dangers, of friendship, of love, of being or not being who one is. As one character puts it, “Who is you, Chiron?” Best scene: the restaurant, as Barbara Lewis’s “Hello Stranger” plays. Best Picture: this one.


The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (dir. Ronald Neame, 1969). I have always distrusted charismatic teachers. Miss Brodie (Maggie Smith) is charismatic. She is in her prime. She has opinions about aesthetic matters that allow for no disagreement: Giotto not Leonardo is the greatest Italian painter. Period. Miss Brodie adores Mussolini and Franco, men of action. Miss Brodie gathers a select group of students whom she calls the Brodie set. And she shapes those students’ lives in increasingly horrifying ways. Unlike, say, the sentimental Dead Poets Society (dir. Tom Schulman, 1989), this film is well aware of the dangers of charisma. I couldn’t help thinking of the monstrous teacher Robert Berman, the subject of a long New Yorker piece. He too had a strong opinion about Leonardo.

[Small world: Pamela Franklin, who plays the student Sandy, later married the actor Harvey Jason. He and Louis Jason, one of their children, own Mystery Pier Books in Los Angeles. We met Louis in 2014 when we visited the bookstore. He was an extraordinarily generous host to some self-confessed non-customers.]


Scotland, Pa. (dir. Billy Morrissette, 2001). A grimly hilarious retelling of Macbeth, set in 1970s Pennsylvania. Fast-food and murderous ambitions, as Duncan’s hamburger joint gives way to McBeth’s. With a funny turn by Christopher Walken as Lieutenant McDuff, a well-mannered vegetarian. My favorite lines are from Pat McBeth, at the drugstore: “I don’t give a fuck what you see or don’t see. Just get me the ointment, all right? And I don’t want one of those little baby shit-ass tubes. I need a vat of it. My fucking hand is falling off!”


A Blueprint for Murder (dir. Andrew L. Stone, 1953). Joseph Cotten and Jean Peters, back from Niagara (dir. Henry Hathaway, 1953). An odd story of strychnine and suspicion, shifting between psychodrama and police procedural. Did she, or didn’t she? And can he allow himself to think she did? And did she, really? And besides, what proof is there? And could she have, really? Joseph Cotten never looks exactly happy to be here, not because he suspects his sister-in-law but because he knows he’s caught in a less than great film. (Running time: one hour, seventeen minutes.) Baffling at first (a good thing), then weakened by some too-quick exposition, but overall, surprisingly good, and well-designed to keep an audience guessing. Jean Peters, whom I also know from Pickup on South Street (dir. Samuel Fuller, 1953), was an actress of considerable range.


Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (dir. Werner Herzog, 2016). Our digital world, past, present, future. The perspectives are at times extreme: a pioneering computer scientist calls the UCLA room from which the first ARPANET message was sent “a sacred location,” “a holy place.” A mother whose family has suffered greatly from online cruelty calls the Internet “a manifestation of the antichrist.” We also hear from Internet addicts, a famous hacker, and futurists who prophesy glibly about robot companions and trips to Mars. (An unasked question: what if the robots like other robots better?) The film’s brief closing scene leaves little question as to what Herzog thinks about it all. Missing from this film: the everyday joys of the Internets.


Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (dir. Matt D'Avella, 2015). Elaine and I chose it with genuine interest but ended up hate-watching. The trouble begins with the sanctimonious title. One could conclude that the important things are bare white walls, blonde hardwood floors, skinny jeans, hair gel, and almost no furniture. (Got privilege?) Endless pieties and generalizations: “Everyone is looking for more meaning in their lives.” And did you know that owning one car leads to dissatisfaction with it and a craving for a second car, and a third? There must be something wrong with me, or with my Prius. The film focuses on Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, The Minimalists, so-called, as they undertake a ten-month book tour. It’s curious that in a movie about the folly of consumption, most of those onscreen have something to sell. From the headnote to a Wikipedia article about The Minimalists: “This article contains content that is written like an advertisement.” Yep.


The Witness (dir. James Solomon, 2016). Bill Genovese, brother of Kitty Genovese, pursues a private investigation of the circumstances of his sister’s murder, tracking down and talking to surviving witnesses, a prosecutor, a newspaper editor, newspaper and television reporters, even the killer’s son. “How can anything be believed about this story?” Bill asks. The post-truth world has been with us for some time now: the The New York Times editor A. M. Rosenthal was instrumental in promulgating the story that thirty-eight people watched from their windows and did nothing as Kitty Genovese was killed. What’s most moving in this film is its presentation of Kitty Genovese as more than a victim known from a single photograph. We learn about her as a daughter, sibling, high-school student (the class cut-up, according to her yearbook), bar manager (not “barmaid”, as the press called her), neighbor, friend, and partner (from the woman whom the family knew only as a “roommate”).

[Kitty Genovese, in a photograph shown in the film. The photograph of Genovese that everyone knows turns out to be a (cropped) mugshot, taken when she was booked on a misdemeanor charge for carrying bar patrons’ bets to a bookie.]


Whistle and I’ll Come to You (dir. Jonathan Miller, 1968). “Who is this who is coming?” A short adaptation of a supernatural tale by M. R. James. A nervous, frumpy professor (here, a professor of philosophy, and clearly one who does ordinary-language philosophy) goes on holiday, discovers a strange object, quibbles about what it means to believe, and learns that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in his philosophy. Beautiful cinematography by Dick Bush, with long shots and unnerving perspectives that make the ordinary eerie. I was reminded of Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls.

“The Evidences of Spiritualism,” the 1885 essay our professor reads in his room, is by the philosopher F. H. Bradley, whose work strongly influenced T. S. Eliot. (Eliot wrote a dissertation on Bradley and quotes his Appearance and Reality in “Notes on The Waste Land.”) Bradley is a denier:

“Spiritualism, if true, demonstrates mind without brain, and intelligence disconnected from what is termed a material body. . . . It demonstrates that the so-called dead are still alive; that our friends are still with us though unseen. . . . It thus furnishes that proof of a future life which so many crave.” The present article may be taken as a denial of these theses.
The Bradley essay is at Google Books; the film, at YouTube.

Fresca recommended this one. Thanks, Fresca.


The Act of Becoming (dir. Jennifer Anderson and Vernon Lott, 2016). A documentary about John Williams’s 1965 novel Stoner. I think of words from W. H. Auden’s “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”: “he became his admirers.” There are a great many admirers of Stoner in this film, nothing but admirers, and far too much reverence. (Mark Moskowitz’s documentary Stone Reader, about Dow Mossman’s novel The Stones of Summer, is a similar effort.) Missing from this film — literally — is John Williams. Not even a photograph. All that we hear about him is that he and a fellow writer were drinking a lot when they first met. I know that Williams was married four times, founded the Denver Quarterly, and ran a creative writing program: none of that comes into the film. Nor does the rest of his writing. What I found most interesting in the film: the tracing of recommendations, from a writer to a writer to a bookseller to a publisher who put the novel back in print. The film is available to rent or purchase at Vimeo.

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more films : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Still another twelve : Oh wait, twelve more : Twelve or thirteen more : Nine, ten, eleven — and that makes twelve

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Nat Hentoff (1925–2017)

The writer — and reader — Nat Hentoff has died at the age of ninety-one. Here, from one of Hentoff’s memoirs, is a recollection of early reading:

I was addicted to books. Both the reading of them and the physical possession of them. On the way home from Boston Latin School, I would sometimes stop at an astonishing building that had nothing but used books, four floors of them. And while hunting for jazz records in other parts of the city, I would often find some in the backrooms of bookshops. And every time my father took me for a ride to the railroad station to make the last mail connection to New York, it was understood that I would not return home without at least one new book. Soon the books burst out of my bedroom and took over nearly all the wall space in the front hall of our apartment as well as the living room.

Boston Boy: Growing Up with Jazz and Other Rebellious Passions (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2001).
The New York Times has an obituary. The Village Voice, whose management fired Hentoff in 2009, has an obituary and excerpts from his Voice columns.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Alain de Botton and Mark Trail

Alain de Botton, writing in The New York Times:

We should learn to accommodate ourselves to ‘wrongness,’ striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners.
And Mark Trail, speaking in today’s Mark Trail:
“Come on, baby, it’s not as though I plan on bad things happening!”
[Not perfect synchronicity: the de Botton piece is from May, but the front page of the online Times has a link to it today.]

New Koch

The New York Times reports on Charles and David Koch’s efforts to promote fossil fuels by winning over minority voters: “The Kochs’ public relations drive takes a page from minority outreach by other industry lobbies, like those representing tobacco and soft drinks.” Cigarettes, soda, and fossil fuels: a winning combination for personal and planetary well-being. The Times quotes the director of a nonprofit group who describes the Koch strategy as “exploitative, sad and borderline racist.” Borderline?

It’s never too late to begin boycotting Koch products. No Brawny, no Dixie, no Georgia-Pacific, &c.

Recycle that kiss

[Mark Trail , December 12, 2015; January 7, 2017. Click for larger if not steamier views.]

Look closely: that kiss has been recycled. Telltale details in today’s strip: Cherry’s hair bumps, Mark’s ear, the missing pixel below the rear corner of Mark’s sideburn. Or did he cut himself shaving?

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[In the first panel of today’s strip, Mark attempts to placate Cherry: “Come on, baby, it’s not as though I plan on bad things happening!” Those words sound like a tender variation on Mark’s 2015 effort to placate his editor: “Ha! . . . That wasn’t exactly my fault!”]

Friday, January 6, 2017

“Standing outside your life”

Stefan Zweig, “Letter from an Unknown Woman.” 1922. The Collected Stories of Stefan Zweig. Trans. Anthea Bell (London: Pushkin Press, 2013).

Zweig’s stories are so conventional, so mannered in form, that today they seem almost avant-garde. Whatever: I’m so happy to have found my way to this writer.

Other Zweig posts
Destiny, out of one’s hands : Erasmus ekphrasis : Fanaticism and reason : Happy people, poor psychologists : Little world : “The safest shelter” : School v. city : “A tremendous desire for order” : Today’s weather : Urban pastoral, with stationery : “With no idea where he was going” : Zweig’s last address book

[Forget Calvin Klein: it’s Stefan Zweig who knows obsession.]

“Am I post-modern yet?”

[Zippy, January 6, 2017.]

That’s Ulul, the Zippy-verse’s Little Lulu. In the second panel of today’s strip (pre-cleaver), pieces of paper on the floor read “John Stanley was here” and “Irving Tripp was here.” Stanley and Tripp wrote and drew Little Lulu comic books. The character and strip were the creation of Marjorie Henderson Buell, Marge’s Little Lulu.

More Ulul here and here.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Deep story, deep resentment

I recently made my way through Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (New York: The New Press, 2016). In other words, I turned every page but read just here and there, lacking the patience to follow along with Hochschild’s investigator-on-a-journey approach and its predictable narrative markers: “As I take leave of the Arenos,” “as I take my leave,” “we climb back in his red truck,” “we climb into her tan SUV,” and so on. The core of the book may be found between pages 135 and 145, which present the “deep story” that informs the thinking of the Louisiana Tea Partiers whom Hochschild has sought to understand. You can also find the deep story in condensed form in this New York Times review.

Hochschild’s book helped me to understand something I have never understood: why it might be that so many people in my state-university-dependent town seem unfazed by and even gleeful about the effect of Illinois’s manufactured budget crisis on higher education — declining enrollment, hundreds of faculty and staff positions lost, maintenance and repairs left undone. “They need to live within their means,” “they need to work harder instead of protesting”: that’s the sort of stuff that shows up in comments in the local newspaper. It can’t be anti-intellectualism and distrust of academics alone that account for these attitudes: carpenters, clerical workers, electricians, groundskeepers, and janitors have also lost jobs in the absence of state funding.

I found a possible explanation of local attitudes in two of the “common impressions” shared by people Hochschild spoke with. One: ”A lot of people — maybe 40 percent — work for the federal and state government.” Two: “Public sector workers are way overpaid.” As Hochschild points out, these impressions have no foundation in reality. In 2014, she notes, “less than 17 percent of Americans worked for the government,” and that percentage includes all enlisted and reserve military personnel and all employees of federal, state, and local government, including teachers and hospital workers. Hochschild also points out that private-sector workers “earn 12 percent more than their public sector counterparts.”

A deep resentment of “government” and those it employs seems hard at work in my town. But it’s still remarkable to me that any resident of a town that depends upon a public university for its economic well-being would not be troubled to see that university in decline. It’s like cheering as your own house burns.

Separated at birth

[Karl Held and David Bowie.]

The actor Karl Held appeared in several Perry Mason episodes as David Gideon, young legal assistant to Mr. Mason. Young indeed: in the closing minutes of “The Case of the Malicious Mariner” (1961), he drinks a glass of milk while the grown-ups sip coffee.

Everyone knows David Bowie.

Also separated at birth
Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti : Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop : John Davis Chandler and Steve Buscemi : Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt : Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov : Ted Cruz and Joe McCarthy : Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Gough : Jacques Derrida, Peter Falk, and William Hopper : Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln : Harriet Sansom Harris and Phoebe Nicholls : Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks : Steve Lacy and Myron McCormick : Fredric March and Tobey Maguire : Michael A. Monahan and William H. Macy : Molly Ringwald and Victoria Zinny