Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Bach, revised

Elaine Fine reimagines The Coffee Cantata.

Zippy bangles

[Zippy, May 31, 2017.]

Today’s strip shows that “it isn’t easy being Zippy.” This panel shows Zippy engaged in what Bill Griffith calls “the ‘over and over.’” I was surprised to discover this morning that “stretchable diamond bangles” has real-world referents. Unlike, say, “covfefe.”

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

“He knows that he is a thinker”

Alfred Döblin, “Astralia.” 1912. Bright Magic: Stories, trans. Damion Searls (New York: New York Review Books, 2016).

The short stories of Bright Magic are expressionist, extravagant, and sometimes sharply funny. Alfred Döblin (1878–1957) is best known for the novel Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929).

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”

Another song that’s been running loose through our household: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” the subject of a Soul Music episode (BBC Radio 4). Frankie Valli himself calls this song “one of the most important songs of its time, or of all time, I should really say.” It really is an extraordinary song. This episode made me gleeful.

A related post
“Waterloo Sunset” on Soul Music

[An inspired touch: Soul Music has no announcer providing introduction or commentary. Someone begins talking, and the path to the music might be a surprising one.]

“Lamento Sertanejo”

This song is in my head and heart and shows no sign of leaving: “Lamento Sertanejo,” music by Dominguinhos, lyrics by Gilberto Gil. It’s a song of alienation and dispossession whose title might be translated as “Countryman’s Lament.” I am on shaky ground here about everything but my love of this song.

Here are the lyrics, in Portuguese and in English translation. And here are my two favorite performances of the song from YouTube. There are many, many more.

Dominguinhos, accordion; Gilberto Gil, guitar and voice. October 2010.

Mayra Andrade, voice; Yamandu Costa, seven-string guitar; Hamilton de Holanda, bandolim. Dominguinhos is the audience. August 2011.

I’m waiting on a two-CD anthology of Dominguinhos’s music. There’s no stopping.

[A sertanejo is an inhabitant of the sertão, a region in northeast Brazil. In this song the sertanejo is a long way from home. A Google Image search for sertanejo returns many cowboy hats, so perhaps “Cowboy’s Lament”? I found my way to the first performance via Richard McLeese’s Music Clip of the Day. A Flickr photograph let me date the second performance.]

Monday, May 29, 2017

Cooper-Moore on the air

From the podcast The Checkout, “The Irrepressible Ingenuity of Cooper-Moore.” Cooper-Moore is honored tonight with a Lifetime of Achievement award at the Vision 22 Festival in Manhattan. All best wishes to him.

A related post
Cooper-Moore in Illinois

Trump trumps Integritas

The New York Times reports on the Trump Organization’s “coat of arms”:

It was granted by British authorities in 1939 to Joseph Edward Davies, the third husband of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the socialite who built the Mar-a-Lago resort that is now Mr. Trump’s cherished getaway.
The Trump Organization made one change in the design it appropriated: the name Trump replaced the Latin Integritas. So now the shoe, or coat, fits.

As the Times notes, “the British are known to take matters of heraldry seriously.” The Trump Organization has to use a different coat of arms for its golf course in Scotland.


On Independent Lens

Farmer/Veteran: “Home from three combat tours in Iraq, Alex Sutton forges a new identity as a farmer, hatching chicks and raising goats on forty-three acres in rural North Carolina.” Tonight on PBS.

Memorial Day

[“Ashland, Aroostook County, Maine. Even with gasoline rationed, many people attended the Memorial Day ceremonies in cars.” Photograph by John Collier. May 1943. From the Library of Congress.]

Ashland was and is one small town among others small or smaller. The drive must have cost some drivers a good part of their weekly gasoline ration.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Representative Adrian Smith
on “the necessity of nutrition”

On Weekend Edition Saturday this morning, Scott Simon asked Representative Adrian Smith (R, Nebraska-3) whether he would vote for a budget that eliminated SNAP (food stamps). Smith, who supports farm subsidies, dodged the question:

SS: “Well, let me ask you this bluntly: is every American entitled to eat?”

AS: “Well [laughing], nutrition, obviously, we know, is very important, and I would hope that we can look to — ”

SS: “Well, not just important; it’s essential for life. Is every American entitled to eat?”

AS: “It is essential. It is essential.”

SS: “So is every American entitled to eat, and is food stamps something that ought to be that ultimate guarantor?”

AS: “I think that we know that given the necessity of nutrition, there could be a number of ways that we can address that.”
Perhaps he’s thinking of nutraloaf?

Smith might have had a career as a character in a Dickens novel. Say, Hard Times.

Seth Godin’s “I don’t care”

From a Design Matters interview with Seth Godin. Godin notes that his blog’s readership is half what it was five years ago:

“Is my blog half as good as it was five years ago? I don’t think so. So what does it mean? It means that consumption trends have changed. Fine. I don’t care.”
I like this guy’s attitude. Godin has also said that even if no one were to read his blog, he’d still write it. Seth’s Blog began in January 2002.

[“Five years ago”: that’d be before the disappearance of Google Reader.]

Friday, May 26, 2017

Veterans read from Sophocles

United States veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq read from Sophocles’s tragedies Ajax and Philoctetes: “U.S. Veterans Use Greek Tragedy to Tell Us About War” (The New York Times).

Related reading
All OCA Sophocles posts (Pinboard)
Theater of War (“Presents readings of Sophocles’s Ajax and Philoctetes to military and civilian communities across the United States and Europe”)

Iambic beer?

For the splittest of seconds, I misread a word in the definition for Kriek, the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day: “A style of Belgian beer with a distinctive sour cherry flavour, traditionally made by slowly fermenting lambic beer with morello cherries.”

Iambic beer! Offhand, I can think of only beer that is even faintly iambic: Beerlao, from Laos, which I know from Thai restaurants. A quick scan of a list of beer names brought me just one true iambic beer: Prestige, brewed in Haiti. My favorite beer is, like Haiti, trochaic: Dogfish. Cheers.


12:36 p.m.: Another iambic beer: Labatt.

1:43 p.m.: One more: Phuket. (Not a trochee. Not.)

“Gardening is the new stationery”

In other words, there will be supplies. Seen here, the Fiskars Softgrip Micro-Tip Pruning Snip. Why use scissors to cut lettuce leaves when you can use the Fiskars Softgrip Micro-Tip Pruning Snip?

Thanks to Elaine for her y-is-the-new-x observation.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Gmail: “Mark as read”

Did you know that it’s possible to add a “Mark as read” button to Gmail? Click the cog in the upper right corner, choose Settings, choose Labs, and scroll down. The “Mark as read” button is the seventh option. After you enable it, the button will appear when you click on a message’s checkbox.

I find this button useful for archiving blog comments. Over weeks and months, the “Mark as read” button is likely to save me whole seconds of archiving time. Yes, I’m being facetious, but still, seconds are seconds.

Big Bosses

Althea McDowell Altemus (1885–1965), a secretary to “big bosses” in Miami, Chicago, and New York, wrote an account of her working life, recently discovered and now published with detailed annotations and minimal editing. Altemus begins:

Neither beautiful not dumb I had received my first assignment as private secretary to probably the world’s oldest and wealthiest bachelor playboy.

With the mature judgment of twenty lovely summers and fewer winters, fortune had come my way following three years of the now elapsed matrimony which bequeathed unto me a tiny liability of the stronger sex. It was 1922, America had been at war, money was tight, work was scarce, and years loomed ahead in which to furnish the wherewithall for cute little Tidbits.

I wasn’t hard to look at, i.e. if you didn’t look too hard, and here was opportunity as secretary to the Ex-President of Teaser and Reaper, Inc.

Althea McDowell Altemus, Big Bosses: A Working Girl’s Memoir Of Jazz Age America, ed. Robin F. Bachin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).
Though Altemus passed for an unmarried college graduate (years younger than her age), she entered the workforce as a divorced mother of one. “Tidbits” is her son Robert.

Big Bosses has wonderful scenes of conspicuous consumption and workplace intrigue. And what dialogue. Here Altemus is about to reveal Tidbits’s existence to a co-worker:
Miss Hewitt shook me and said “What’s that - did you say something about going home - snap out of it Kiddo - drink that coffee straight and lets get going. Well for crying out loud - what are those tears for - for heaven’s sake whats eating you?”

“Nothing, I’m all right but I was just thinking of something. You know, Miss Hewitt, I like you and you’re my friend and I’m going to tell you a secret - that is, if you won’t tell.”

Miss Hewitt - “Well if its interesting, shoot, but make it snappy.”
My favorite episode: Altemus is hired by a big boss’s wife to find out where he spends his nights and ends up hired by that boss as well. Complications ensue, complete with a secret passageway. Drink that coffee straight and lets get going.

Related reading
Big Bosses (University of Chicago Press)

[“You know, Miss Hewitt”: That’s the way my paternal grandmother would recount a conversation. No one does that anymore.]

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The unmysterious Art of Discarding

Reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in 2015, I became curious about the book Kondo credited as her inspiration, Nagisa Tatsumi’s The Art of Discarding, which hadn’t yet been translated into English. Such a mysterious title: it suggested to me a meditation on object impermanence, a book that might be found in the gift shop of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, next to In Praise of Shadows.

The Art of Discarding is now available in English. And guess what? It's a book much like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

A related post
Tidy? (Marie Kondo’s book on a messy endtable)

Henry washes dishes

[Henry, May 23, 2017.]

In our household we still do dishes in this manner: by hand, standing in front of a curtained window. Aprons are optional. The space next to our sink that housed a dishwasher now has shelves holding pots and pans.

In a later panel in yesterday’s strip, Henry stops in front of an appliance store advertising a sale on “automatic dishwaters.” Boy, that’d make his life easier. Wikipedia: “By the 1970s dishwashers had become commonplace in domestic residences in North America and Western Europe.” The Henry world is moving toward the technology our household has abandoned.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

An observation

The Manchester-born novelist Howard Jacobson, writing in The New York Times:

If we want to find some consolation, it won’t be in speeches of municipal defiance, but in the stories, now coming thick and fast, of the assistance rendered not only by the emergency services, but by Mancunians of courage and goodwill who obeyed their deepest instincts in the face of danger and did all they could to comfort the injured and distraught.
See also Fred Rogers quoting his mother Nancy: “Look for the helpers.”

“Waterloo Sunset” at the BBC

The latest episode of the BBC Radio 4 show Soul Music is devoted to the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset.” Beautiful.

Monday, May 22, 2017

William Friedkin on Proust

William Friedkin writes about visiting Illiers-Combray and Paris in search of Marcel Proust. But, Friedkin says, “the alchemy” of Proust’s work is not to be found in places:

It exists in the genius of a person who understood there was a connection between everything — that the roads we take inevitably lead to the same place, a place within ourselves.

What Proust inspires in us is to see and to appreciate every seemingly insignificant place or object or person in our lives; to realize that life itself is a gift and all the people we’ve come to know have qualities worth considering and celebrating — in time.
Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

“Center of the World, Ohio”

An especially good episode of To the Best of Our Knowledge: Charles Monroe-Kane visits family and friends in “Center of the World, Ohio.”


From The Dark Past (dir. Rudolph Maté, 1948). Al Walker (William Holden), escaped killer, sneers:

“Teachers, writers — screwballs!”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Trump, child?

Alison Gopnik, who studies learning and development in children, explains why Donald Trump is “utterly unlike a four-year-old.” Four-year-olds, she writes, “care deeply about the truth,” “are insatiably curious,” “pay attention,” “understand the difference between fantasy and reality,” “have ‘a theory of mind,’” “are not egocentric or self-centered,” “demonstrate both empathy and altruism,” “have a strong moral sense,” and “are sensitive to social norms and think that they and other people should obey them.” So there, David Brooks.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A real nut job

I found this defenseless creature online, combed its tail forward, did some touching up, typed a word, and added some sepia.

[Inspired by Fresca and bink’s alphabet book.]

From Jack Benny

On The Dick Cavett Show, February 21, 1973: “I’ll tell you what kind of life insurance I got: when I go, they go!”

Friday, May 19, 2017

Word of the day: nut job

The Oxford English Dictionary has it:

slang (orig. U.S.).

A mad or crazy person; (also, occas.) a violent person. Cf. NUTCASE n.
The first citation is from 1975: “He was led and followed by nut jobs, him the biggest of all for being there.” The OED also notes a dictionary of slang that records a New York University student using the term in 1972. Was it Donald Trump? No. Trump graduated from the Wharton School in 1968. Trump did not invent nut job.

This post is prompted by an extraordinary New York Times headline: “Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation.” Let’s see how that logic works out. Perhaps nut job will be the 2017 word of the year. And it won’t be applying to Comey.

[The OED spells it as two words: nut job. Merriam-Webster spells it as one. Google’s Ngram Viewer shows nut job outnumbering nutjob 2.8:1 (2008). Nut job is an open compound word; nutjob, a closed compound.]

Modern times

A book on interlibrary loan was due today, and the lending library would not allow a renewal. So I photographed the pages still to go and will read them on my phone.

That last sentence is one I couldn’t have imagined not so long ago.


[A caffeinated blowhard.]

“It’s really loosey-goosey, and it probably wouldn’t hold up in court, but —”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Shelley’s Jerry’s

A local pizza parlor was torn down, and all that remains on its large lot is a sign. I thought of lines from Shelley in which a traveler recounts what he read on the pedestal of a broken statue in the desert:

“‘My name is Jerry’s Pizza, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
My friend Rob Zseleczky would have gotten a kick out of this post.

[I follow many modern printings of “Ozymandias” by adding quotation marks around lines 10–11 for clarity.]

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Berlin poster

[Poster for Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (dir. Walter Ruttmann, 1927). Georgii Augustovich Stenberg and Vladimir Augustovich Stenberg. Russian, 1928. 42 x 27 3/4 in. Click for a larger view.]

I am a camera — and other things. This film poster is a Cooper Hewitt Object of the Day. I wrote briefly about Berlin: Symphony of a Great City in this post. The film is available (without a musical score) at the Internet Archive.

Mongol Profile

[Disclaimer: This is not an advertisement.]

I had to do it. The 1988 Dewar’s advertisement I’ve spoofed appears in this post.

Related reading
All OCA Henry Threadgill posts
All OCA Mongol posts (Pinboard)

[Don’t miss the revised text, bottom right column.]

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dust storm

We drove back in heavy wind from the butcher’s this afternoon, on two rural routes, and found ourselves in a terrific dust storm, a wall of light brown, with just a few feet of road visible. I’ve seen photographs and film footage from the Dust Bowl years, and I know that what we experienced today was nothing comparable: no black clouds, and long stretches of clear air. But what we drove through was bad enough in itself, and we had never seen anything like it. We wondered how children coming home from school would fare in that wind.

What didn’t the president know
and when didn’t he know it

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster: “The president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from. He wasn’t briefed on the source or method of the information either.”

Ignorance is strength.

Baby’s First Resist-Story

Fresca and bink have created an alphabet book with wash-away illustrations: Baby’s First Resist-Story.

A is for alternative facts. Look, look, look. The clock will soon be striking thirteen!


Later that same day: There’s now a key to the illustrations.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Recently updated

Elaine Fine on the airwaves Now with a link to an archived broadcast.

The perception of doors

[Hi and Lois, May 16, 2017. Click for a larger view.]

The wall line above Lois’s head in the second panel suggests that the Flagstons’ front door is located just a foot or two from the house’s corner. We know from exterior shots that the door will not be found there.

But what really delights me in today’s strip: those windows. They must switch places whenever the door opens or closes.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[Post title with apologies to Aldous Huxley.]

FSRC: annual report

The Four Seasons Reading Club, our household’s two-person adventure in reading, just finished its second year. The FSRC year runs from May to May. (The club began after I retired from teaching.) In our second year we made it through thirty books. In non-chronological order:

Honoré de Balzac, The Human Comedy: Selected Stories, The Unknown Masterpiece

Willa Cather, My Àntonia, My Mortal Enemy, Obscure Destinies, One of Ours, O Pioneers!, The Professor’s House, Sapphira and the Slave Girl, The Troll Garden, Youth and the Bright Medusa

Beverly Cleary, Jean and Johnny, Ellen Tebbitts, The Luckiest Girl, Sister of the Bride

Hans Herbert Grimm, Schlump

Homer, Odyssey

Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Joseph Roth, Hotel Savoy

Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Timothy Snyder, Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

John Williams, Stoner

Stefan Zweig, Chess Story, Collected Stories, Confusion, Journey into the Past, Messages from a Lost World: Europe on the Brink, The Post-Office Girl, The World of Yesterday

Aside from a few uncollected stories, we’ve now read all of Cather’s fiction. We have much more Zweig to go. Onward.

Credit to the translators whose work gave us access to the world beyond English: Linda Asher, Anthea Bell, Jamie Bullock, Simon Carnell, Carol Cosman, Richard Howard, John Hoare, Benjamin W. Huebsch, Helmut Ripperger, Joel Rotenberg, Joe Sachs, Damion Searls, Erica Segretrans, Will Stone, and Jordan Stump.

A related post
FSRC: first annual report

Monday, May 15, 2017

Orange stereogranimator art

GIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator - view more at
[“Orange Blossoms and Fruit, Los Angeles, Cal., U.S.A. 1870?-1906 1897.” Made with the New York Public Library’s Stereogranimator.]

A joke in the traditional manner

Where do amoebas golf?

No spoilers. The punchline is in the comments. (And yes, “On a miniature golf course” would be much too obvious.)

More jokes in the traditional manner
The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : Did you hear about the thieving produce clerk? : Elementary school : A Golden Retriever : How did Bela Lugosi know what to expect? : How did Samuel Clemens do all his long-distance traveling? : How do amoebas communicate? : How do worms get to the supermarket? : What did the doctor tell his forgetful patient to do? : What did the plumber do when embarrassed? : What happens when a senior citizen visits a podiatrist? : What is the favorite toy of philosophers’ children? : What was the shepherd doing in the garden? : Which member of the orchestra was best at handling money? : Why did the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels? : Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies? : Why did the ophthalmologist and his wife split up? : Why does Marie Kondo never win at poker? : Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. He gets credit for all but the cow coloratura, the produce clerk, the amoebas, the worms, the toy, the shepherd, the squirrel-doctor, Marie Kondo, Santa Claus, and this one. He was making such jokes long before anyone called them “dad jokes.”]

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mother’s Day

[Photograph by James Leddy.]

That’s my mom Louise Leddy and me. My dad Jim made a notation in the baby book next to this photograph: B.M.

Today seems like an appropriate time to say that our daughter Rachel and her husband Seth are going to have a baby girl, due in October. Which means that my mom, Rachel’s Grandma Louise, will soon be someone’s great-grandmother. And Elaine and I will soon be grandparents. Grandparents? But we’ve always been “a nice young couple.” [Insert moment of stunned silence.]

Happy Mother’s Day to all.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


Mark Shields:

There have been three memorable American presidents, the story goes. President George Washington could never tell a lie. President Richard Nixon could never tell the truth. And President Donald Trump cannot tell the difference.


“Have either of you ever been to a French restaurant?”

And from the same speaker, a minute or two later: “You set it on fire and drink it.”

I would like to have heard whatever was said in between.

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Carhartt B324

A recommendation to my fellow man: Carhartt B324 Washed Twill Dungarees. They’re carpenter pants, not heavy or stiff, not baggy or saggy, and their slightly longer length begins to look perfectly appropriate after a few days. A pocket on the right leg solves the problem of carrying a cellphone. And there’s another pocket on the left leg. And because they’re carpenter pants, there’s also a hammer loop, which seems to me weirdly cool, even if I don’t often carry a hammer. B324s come in five colors: Black, Dark Coffee, Army Green, Dark Khaki, and Field Khaki.

I just retired a pair of Carhartt B18 jeans after seven years. I’m pretty sure I’ve never had a pair of jeans last that long. I hope the B324s are as durable.

[A caution: the cellphone pocket easily holds an iPhone 6 or 7, but the Plus size may not fit. Try before you buy. May 2019: The iPhone XR fits. But try before you buy is still good advice.]

Domestic comedy

[After warbling a couple of lines of “It Ain’t Me Babe.”]

“Aren’t you glad I’m not Bob Dylan?”

“Yes — you’d be insufferable.”

“But I’d be out on the road all the time.”

“Then it’d be okay.”


Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Mongol sighting

[From Call Northside 777 (dir. Henry Hathwaway, 1948). Click for a larger view.]

P.J. McNeal (Jimmy Stewart) is all het up. Must be on a jag. But Photo Lab Technician (his only name) is a mellow fellow, though a bit worldweary. His pencil: Mongol, right there in his vest pocket.

Related reading
All OCA Mongol posts (Pinboard)
More from Call Northside 777

[I think the actor playing Photo Lab Technician may be Ben Erway. But it’s difficult to put together one of several nameless roles and a photograph or two. The actor looks old enough to Ben Erway (b. 1892). The actor who plays Police Photographic Technician looks much too young.]

Call Northside 777
for supplies and technology

I sometimes wonder what Henry Hathaway’s office must have looked like. His 1945 film The House on 92nd Street is filled with supplies and technology: file drawers, ledgers, rubber stamps, teletype machines, the works. Call Northside 777 (1948), filmed (at least mostly) on location in Chicago, is a close second.

The Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Information has a wire file basket, files, desk lamps, and overhead caged lamps. Also cops:

The department’s Communication Center has desk lamps and schoolhouse fixtures. Also telephony:

[Is that a quart of milk to the front right?]

[The only proper reaction to this shot in 1948 or now: “It’s complicated.”]

P.J. McNeal (Jimmy Stewart), newspaper reporter, has a tiny camera. He’s almost a spy, having passed himself off as a detective:

[A nifty touch: Joseph MacDonald, the film’s cinematographer, shows us the arrest record as it comes into focus in McNeal’s viewfinder.]

McNeal also knows how to work a typewriter:

Someone else handles the Linotype:

The shots of signage that precede the scenes in the Bureau of Information and the Communication Center strongly suggest (at least to me) that these scenes were filmed on location. If not, they’re pretty remarkable sets.

I’ve left out two elements of technology, one of which might be a spoiler. The other is a Mongol pencil.

More Hathaway, offices, and supplies
A pocket notebook in The House on 92nd Street notebook sighting
Dixon Ticonderogas in The House on 92nd Street
A police station in Niagara

This blog in Spin

My blog and me in Spin: “It’s Been Ten Years Since Brian Wilson Said His Favorite Movie Was Norbit.”

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Pocket notebook sighting

[The Naked Edge (dir. Michael Anderson, 1961). Click for a larger view.]

The Naked Edge shows George Radcliffe (Gary Cooper) making frequent use of this notebook. Someone took care to have it look well-used. Notice the ragged edge of a page torn from a spiral notebook and saved here.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : Cat People : City Girl : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dragnet : Extras : Foreign Correspondent : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The Last Laugh : The Lodger : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window

Twelve movies

[No spoilers, one caution.]

The Other Side (dir. Roberto Minervini, 2015). A documentary shot in West Monroe, Louisiana (the home of Duck Dynasty). Meth, alcohol, petty crime, economic exploitation ($20 for how many hours work?), illness, squalor, racism, paranoia, and a militia in training. As William Carlos Williams wrote, “The pure products of American / go crazy.” A caution: there are scenes that are difficult to watch, of addicts having sex, of Kelley shooting up a pregnant stripper. What I found most revealing: a scene of meth-making, with nothing but a welder’s mask and bandana for protection. It’s a long way from Breaking Bad.


The Suspect (dir. Robert Siodmak, 1944). It’s 1902. Philip (Charles Laughton) is a tobacco-store manager, a model of propriety, a husband in a loveless marriage. He befriends Mary (Ella Raines), a young unemployed typist. Their ambiguous (and surprisingly plausible) relationship becomes less ambiguous, and Philip’s life becomes much more complicated. A YouTube find.


The Naked Edge (dir. Michael Anderson, 1961). Gary Cooper plays George Radcliffe, a suddenly successful businessman who may have committed a murder. Deborah Kerr plays his increasingly suspicious wife Martha. A variation on Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and Suspicion, with great suspense and some shocking scenes. This was Cooper’s last film, made when he was already suffering from the cancer that would take his life. His preoccupied look must have owed something to those circumstances. Another YouTube find.


The Strange One (dir. Jack Garfein, 1957). Something Wild (1961), Garfein’s second (and last) film, is strange and brilliant. This film is merely strange: a stagey overwrought drama set at a southern military school. Jocko De Paris (Ben Gazzara) is a cadet who bosses around and humiliates his peers. An allegory of fascism, with heaps and heaps of the Method.


Blonde Ice (dir. Jack Bernhard, 1948). Fatal attractions: a society columnist kills her husband to be with her lover, and then kills the lover when a better prospect comes her way. My favorite line: “You’re not a normal woman.” Yet another YouTube find.


The Rabbit Trap (dir. Philip Leacock, 1959). Ernest Borgnine as Ever Ready, Steady Eddie Colt, underpaid (no college degree) and overworked, a draftsman and family man whose boss sees human resources as endlessly exploitable. Like The Apartment, this film is about standing up to executive power. My favorite line: “The company doesn’t own you.” The most unnverving moment: the boss calls Eddie’s co-worker and downstairs neighbor Judy (June Blair) back to work one night. You can guess why. “You don’t have to go,” everyone tells her. But she does.


Call Northside 777 (dir. Henry Hathwaway, 1948). Jimmy Stewart plays P.J. McNeal, a Chicago reporter looking into the guilt or innocence of Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte), who is serving a ninety-nine-year sentence for killing a cop. I hadn’t seen this movie in years, and I watched it with a much greater appreciation of McNeal’s investigative journalism, which at one point calls for tricking the police into taking him for a detective. Based on a true story and shot on location in Chicago.


Faust (dir. F.W. Murnau, 1926). Faust is the fourth Murnau silent I’ve seen. It has great special effects and dizzying scenes of flight, but the real stars of the film are the faces of Gösta Ekman (Faust old and young), Emil Jannings (Mephisto), and Camilla Horn (Gretchen). Mephisto’s kabuki costume is a strange and inspired bit of orientalism.


Action in the North Atlantic (dir. Lloyd Bacon, 1943). Merchant marines at sea and on land, but mostly at sea. It’s odd to see Humphrey Bogart in a film among so many other manly man, among them Raymond Massey (as Bogart’s captain) and Alan Hale. Great action sequences, lots of colloquial American English (“Sure, sure”), a healthy, irreverent contempt for fascism, and an idiosyncratic belief system: “I got faith in God, President Roosevelt, and the Brooklyn Dodgers, in the order of their importance.”


The Big Lebowski (dir. Joel Coen, 1998). All I can say is that this movie is much funnier and much more enjoyable when one stays awake, which I did. And I am happy to have figured out for myself the connections to The Big Sleep. My favorite line: “These men are nihilists — there’s nothing to be afraid of.”


Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (dir. Walter Ruttmann, 1927). A montage of day and night in the life of Weimar Berlin: empty streets at first; then trains, trolleys, buses, men and women walking to work, children walking to school, window-shoppers, streetsweepers, produce sellers, typists, a wedding, a funeral procession, and café life; and then on into the night. Juxtapositions: well-dressed men in their cars and carriages, then beggars and cigarette-butt scavengers. What’s on the screen is often modern technology reduced to beautiful abstractions: electrical wires against the sky, a single part of a machine revolving. For Ruttmann, a great city is a matter of motion. With a 1993 score by the composer Timothy Brock.

As with People on Sunday (dir. Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, 1930), it’s impossible to watch this film without wondering: what became of all these people post-Weimar?


Lichtspiel Opus I (dir. Walter Ruttmann, 1921). Light-play: the movement of swirls, blobs, fields, and pointed forms. It’s easy to see this short film as a preparation for the grand montage of Berlin. One moment seems to presage Mark Rothko. All of it seems to point to light shows and screensavers. Available at Vimeo.

[From Lichtspiel Opus 1.]

[From Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. A train in motion.]

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen 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 : Another twelve : And twelve more : Is there no end? No, there’s another twelve : Wait, there’s another twelve

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Trump fires Comey

An extraordinary bit of reasoning:

While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.
I.e.: You’re not investigating me — great! But there are still problems with your performance.

Is it Watergate yet?

[Yes, informing is a fused participle. Should be your informing me, not you.]

“Day after day after day”

Hal Incandenza is thinking of his future as endless repetition:

Maybe the worst part of the cognitions involved the incredible volume of food I was going to have to consume over the rest of my life. Meal after meal, plus snacks. Day after day after day. Experiencing this food in toto. Just the thought of the meat alone. One megagram? Two megagrams? I experienced, vividly, the image of a broad cool well-lit room piled floor to ceiling with nothing but the lightly breaded chicken fillets I was going to consume over the next sixty years.

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (Boston: Little, Brown, 1996).
Yikes. But this passage is what came to mind when I read that a high-school junior amassed enough retweets to receive a year’s worth of Wendy’s Chicken Nuggets. Carter Wilkerson is sixteen. Hal is seventeen.

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)

[One megagram: 2204.62 pounds.]

“Lunch Order”

[xkcd, May 8, 2017.]

A somewhat better hair day

[Mark Trail, May 9, 2017.]

“Something strange? Like what? My hair?”

But today’s hair is better than yesterday’s. Or is it “hair”?

Related reading
All OCA posts (Pinboard)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Bad hair day

[Mark Trail, May 8, 2017. Unaltered.]

“. . . and we still cannot figure out what happened to your hair.” Poor guy.

See also this other guy.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Elaine Fine on the airwaves

Hurrah for Elaine: Music of Our Mothers, a weekly radio show devoted to classical music written by women, will air a recording of Elaine’s More Greek Myths by Susan Nigro (contrabassoon) and Mark Lindeblad (piano). The show airs on WCFC-FM, Wednesday, May 10, 1-3 p.m. Eastern, with an online live stream. An archived broadcast will be available a few days later.


May 16: It’s in the archives, in this downloadable file. Elaine’s piece is introduced at 12:44.

“The narrow aperture
of national interest”

In a 1939 lecture, Stefan Zweig describes his reaction to looking into his old high-school history textbook:

And instantly it dawned on me — that here history had been artfully prepared, deformed, coloured, falsified, and all with clear, deliberate intention. It was obvious that this book, printed in Austria and destined for Austrian schools, must have rooted in the minds of young men the idea that the spirit of the world and its thousand outpourings had only one objective in mind: the greatness of Austria and its empire. But twelve hours by rail from Vienna — a couple of hours today by plane — in France or Italy, the school textbooks were prepared with the directly opposing scenario: God or the spirit of history laboured solely for the Italian or French motherland. Already, before our eyes had barely opened, we were forced to don different-coloured spectacles, according to the country, to prevent us during our entry into the world from seeing with free and humane eyes, ensuring we viewed everything through the narrow aperture of national interest.

“The Historiography of Tomorrow,” in Messages from a Lost World: Europe on the Brink, trans. Will Stone (London: Pushkin Press, 2016).
Related reading
All OCA Stefan Zweig posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

Le Steak de Paris A vanished Manhattan restaurant, now with photographs.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

New York v. Los Angeles

Susanna Wolff, “No, I’m from New York”:

“Welcome to Los Angeles”? Thanks, but no, thanks — I’m from New York. I don’t need to engage in cordial small talk with strangers. In New York, we greet newcomers by giving them incorrect directions to Times Square and criticizing the way they spread their cream cheese.
This short piece hits the right notes, coast to coast.

Thanks to my daughter Rachel, who points out that “No, I’m from New York” dates from September 2016. But she discovered the New Yorker linking to it today and sent the link on to the fambly.

Steven Heller on humility

From the podcast Design Matters. Steven Heller, graphic designer, has said that when he was a twenty-four-year-old art director at The New York Times, he was “a dismisser.” Debbie Millman asks him to explain:

SH: Old guys would come to my office who had had a history, and I would just ignore them.

DM: Why?

SH: Because I had — I was arrogant. I was shortsighted. I was arrogant. I had a sense of myself that was disproportionate to all reality. And I was ignorant. . . . When you start out, there are all sorts of things you have to learn, and humility is one of them.
This episode is not yet available at the Design Matters website. But it’s available at iTunes.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

John Shimkus at work and play

Mike Viqueira, a reporter from NBC News, asked some Republican members of Congress if they had read the bill that they were about to vote on to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Some said they had. Some walked on by. And then there was our representative, John Shimkus (R, Illinois-15):

“Good morning, Mr. Shimkus, have you had a chance to read this bill?”

“Uh, I just got back from baseball practice.”
When I heard about it, I thought someone was kidding. But it’s no joke. It’s on tape.

There are no words. (It’s before 10 p.m.)

Related reading
All OCA Shimkus posts

Folk facade

[Panel Division Study for Facade, Museum of American Folk Art, New York City, early 1998. Designed by Tod Williams and Matthew Baird. Pen and black and red ink, brush and white gouache, graphite on tracing paper. 25 1/4 x 12 inches. Click for a larger view.]

This drawing is a Cooper Hewitt Object of the Day. The Museum of American Folk Art opened in 2001 and was torn down in 2014 at the behest of a next-door neighbor and new owner, the Museum of Modern Art. I spent most of a day at the Museum of American Folk Art in March 2002, visiting a Henry Darger exhibit and attending a poetry reading by John Ashbery. Still gotta tell that story someday.

A related post
Farewell, 45 West 53rd

Friday, May 5, 2017

The real reason for “no town halls”

I know that speaking to a member of Congress is unlikely to change that member’s mind. I know that speaking to the district director for a member of Congress is even less likely to change that member’s mind. I read The New Yorker.

But I went this morning to the office hours of Representative John Shimkus’s (R, Illinois-15) district director, as did fifty or so other voters, and we made our concerns about yesterday’s vote on the Affordable Care Act — and much else — heard. The director had no explanation of why Shimkus voted to repeal the ACA: he was on a plane; she was busy organizing a dinner for him.

In the aftermath of this meeting, I think I figured out the real reason why a member of Congress might choose not to hold town halls. When you meet with people only in ones and twos, they have much less opportunity to see themselves as members of a polis, as participants in a political community. Likeminded citizens have less opportunity to identify one another and find common cause. Citizens at odds on matters of policy have less opportunity to listen to each another and perhaps rethink their allegiances. (Imagine, for instance, hearing an argument for gun legislation from a firearms owner and hunter in your own community. It happened this morning.) Talking to constituents in ones and two means that there are, in effect, no witnesses, no one else listening and thinking and making up or changing her or his mind. No reporters either.

Related reading
All OCA Shimkus posts

[“He was on a plane; she was busy organizing a dinner for him.” I know: what?!]

Bear, a writing app

Bear is a writing app of great simplicity, shown here in its plainest macOS view. The basic Bear is free. Bear Pro (by subscription) adds exporting, syncing, and themes. What can I say? I love the no-title-bar look.

Bean lives!

I discovered the free word-processing app Bean in 2007, not long after switching from Windows to a Mac. James Hoover stopped developing the app a few years ago. I’m not sure what made me check the Bean website, but lo: a new version for macOS Sierra appeared in November of last year.

As I wrote in 2008, “Bean is small and fast, like this sentence.” It still is. The screenshot shows Bean as I’ve configured it. You might prefer a toolbar with colorful icons. And you can have one, just by downloading and installing the app.

Thanks to James Hoover for continuing to work on Bean.

Inopportune, opportune

In late April, when Representative John Shimkus (R, Illinois-15) scheduled time for a staff member to meet with voters, no one could have foreseen that the meeting would be taking place the day after Shimkus voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

It should be an interesting morning.

A regular reader may recall that Rep. Shimkus does not do town halls.

Related reading
All OCA Shimkus posts

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mosaic Records

Mosaic Records, a label devoted to limited-edition jazz releases, sent out an e-mail today reporting that the label is in financial difficulty. An excerpt:

We are not certain how Mosaic Records will continue going forward or how many more sets we will be able to create and release. We’ve got a lot of great plans but few resources.
And: “If you are thinking about acquiring a certain set, now's the time.”

At a time when major labels handle the music in their vaults with indifference, or even contempt, every Mosaic release, with its extensive documentation, serves an act of cultural preservation, as if to say: these musicians and what they created will not be forgotten.

[I have five Mosaic box sets on my shelves (forty CDs): Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang. I should order at least one more, don’t you think?]

Pocket notebooks FTW

James Lileks: “Writing by hand is making a comeback. Notebooks are fashionable again.” Again? Did they ever really go away? With attention to Field Notes and Moleskine.

And in the May 8 New Yorker, a cartoon by Harry Bliss. Two servers eye a guy standing at the bar, a man purse satchel over his shoulder: “Twenty bucks says he pulls out a Moleskine.”

Related reading
All OCA notebook posts (Pinboard)

Word of the day: nixie

The Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day is the noun nixie:

U.S. Post which cannot be forwarded by the postal services because it is illegibly or incorrectly addressed. Freq. attrib.
The first citation, an entry in the Century Dictionary, dates from 1890. Here’s a 1929 citation that provides food for thought:
The similarity in appearance of the letters N.Y. and N.J. . . . is responsible for many letters reaching the “Nixie” division.
So yay for ZIP codes!

A page-ninety test

I bought the book a few years ago and never got around to reading it. So I took it from a shelf this week and began. I lasted six or seven pages before deciding to do a page-ninety test. It’s a Ford Madox Ford practice: turn to page ninety, choose the first paragraph of any real length, and read it to gauge the quality of the writer’s prose:

This is another of the ironies of the melancholy existence. In feeling fractured and fragmented, isolated and bereft, one actually comes to experience wholeness and unity. To suffer melancholy is also to understand its polar opposite, joy. Lacking joy, one broods on it more deeply than when one possesses this state. Contemplating this condition, one eventually comes to understand it more profoundly than one would if one were actually experiencing joy. In vacillating between sorrow and joy, one grasps the secret harmony between these two antinomies. Doing so, one apprehends the rhythms of the whole cosmos, itself a dynamic interplay between opposites. To get this fact is to move close to the core of the world, to become acquainted with how the universe works and breathes and is. In such moments as this — those instants when we feel connected to the whole — we return, in a strange way, to innocence.
Or we return the book to the shelf — or better, we bring the book to the nearest library sale or used-book store. In its redundancies (“fractured and fragmented,” ”isolated and bereft,” “polar opposite,” “whole cosmos,” “moments” and “instants”), inelegant variations (“this condition” for “this state,” “opposites” for “antinomies”), slackness (“actually” twice, “this — those”), and vague pseudo-profundities (“wholeness and unity,” “the rhythms of the whole cosmos,” “a dynamic interplay,” “the core of the world,” “the whole,” “in a strange way,” “innocence”), this writer’s prose is, for me, unreadable. I wish I’d figured that out before buying the book.

Related reading
Ford Madox Ford’s page-ninety test
My Salinger Year, a page-ninety test
Nature and music, a page-ninety test
The history of handwriting, a page-ninety test

[The book’s writer is a professor of English, or as he describes himself, “a literary humanist searching for a deeper life.” Though it’s not clear from this passage, he makes a sharp distinction between melancholia and depression. Still, “polar” is an unfortunate choice in this territory. And the whole passage strikes me very wishful thinking.]

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

In other news

In other news: rain. Keeps rainin’. All the time.

Jeez, rain — cease!

A related post
Armstrong and Arlen, blues and weather

Zweig on “the technological spirit”

Sefan Zweig, from a lecture given in 1932:

The technological spirit working today towards the unification of the world is more about a way of thinking than anything to do with humanity. This spirit has no country, no home, no human language; it thinks in formulae, reckons in figures and it creates machines which, in their turn, create us, almost against our will, in an exterior form which is more and more identical.

“European Thought in Its Historical Development,” in Messages from a Lost World: Europe on the Brink, trans. Will Stone (London: Pushkin Press, 2016).
At so many points in these essays, Zweig is eerily relevant to our times.

Related reading
All OCA Stefan Zweig posts (Pinboard)

“A French garden in Hamilton”

Godfrey St. Peter, professor, historian, writer of an eight-volume Spanish Adventurers in North America, is something of a conquerer in his own midwestern town:

Willa Cather, The Professor’s House (1925).

Elaine and I just finished reading The Professor’s House, and we’ve now read, aside from a handful of uncollected stories, all of Willa Cather’s fiction. Elaine was reading the novel for the second time; I was reading it for perhaps the twentieth time (still finding new things to notice). I’ve been trying to decide upon a passage that might interest a reader, and this paragraph is the best I can do. If the professor seems like a mock version of his — it’s a telling word — “adventurers,” imposing a foreign order upon a place, well, he is. But set against that mockery are the generous descriptions of the garden’s delights: slender poplars, geraniums dripping over a wall. Tom Outland’s name at the end of the paragraph, the first reference to him in the novel, adds a note of mystery.

To my mind, The Professor’s House is Cather’s greatest novel and one of the greatest American novels. It’s an experiment in form (with lapidary, musical, and painterly analogies to account for its three-part structure), an exploration of cultures modern and ancient, and an examination of what Cather calls “the double life” of human connection and utter aloneness. The novel has haunted me from the time I first read it. I was younger than Tom Outland then, and older that Godfrey St. Peter now.

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


A Republican political analyst opines:

“Broom Clean Daily”

[While stopped at a red light.]

I like this sign, whose rules, for the most part, might apply to any workplace: “Work Safe / Hardhats Required / Broom Clean Daily / No Smoking / Fine: $250.00.”

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, May 2, 1017.]

The lettering on the window reads correctly: no more ETATSE LAER. But that bald spot, or rather, the hair that surrounds it: yikes.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Monday, May 1, 2017

An Obama thought

From a New York Times editorial:

It is disheartening that a man whose historic candidacy was premised on a moral examination of politics now joins almost every modern president in cashing in. And it shows surprising tone deafness, more likely to be expected from the billionaires the Obamas have vacationed with these past months than from a president keenly attuned to the worries and resentments of the 99 percent.
If I were Barack Obama, I would have skipped the $400,000 speech and sought an opportunity to speak at an Illinois state university’s commencement. Not at the state’s flagship institution: at a second-tier (“regional”) school, any second-tier school. I would have used the occasion to speak about higher education as a public good, as something deserving of strong support from the state’s governor, legislature, and people. I would have done it for no fee. I would have paid for the cost of security myself. But I’m not Barack Obama. And neither, in some ways, is he.

Related reading
All OCA Illinois budget crisis posts (Pinboard)
Obama on the Titanic (In Springfield)

[Illinois has gone nearly two years without a full state budget.]

The “Jane Austen” fallacy

In 2013 a medical editor who calls himself mededitor coined the term “the ‘Jane Austen’ fallacy” to describe a strategy that informs some discussions of grammar and usage:

In many discussions of usage, you’ll find language experts pointing to past authors’ works as evidence that a particular point of grammar is OK because so-and-so used it. For example: singular they.

Yes, you can find instances of singular they used by Shakespeare, Austen, and many others. Likewise you’ll find idiosyncratic spellings and constructions that today would be disallowed in edited prose.

The point here is that past usage does not justify modern practice.
Exactly. As I wrote in a review of a new book about lexicography:
Yes, Shakespeare used double negatives and Austen used ain’t and the possessive it’s. But so what? Try using them in a letter of application to Merriam-Webster and see how far you get.
I wish I’d known the term “the ‘Jane Austen fallacy’” when I was writing that review.

And why is it the “Jane Austen” fallacy? I think that mededitor’s quotation marks are meant to suggest a speaker or writer invoking a name — which, now that I think of it, is a favorite strategy of childhood argument: “But Jane Austen’s going. And Bill Shakespeare’s going too!” And the parental reply: “If Jane Austen and Bill Shakespeare jumped off a bridge, would you follow?”

Related posts
Orient and orientate (Invoking W.H. Auden and others)
Pullum on Strunk and White (Invoking “classic texts”)

[I’ve italicized the two instances of they in mededitor’s prose.]