Thursday, August 31, 2017

Blade tumbler

I asked my mom about the 1950 scare-buying frenzy, which rang no bell for her. But when I mentioned that people were stocking up on razors and razor blades, she remembered that in the WWII years, her father lengthened the life of his razor blades by sharpening them on the inside of a drinking glass.

That practice must have been common: it’s mentioned in a 1933 Everyday Science and Mechanics article by J.G. Pratt, “Delusions About Shaving.” Think of this article as an exercise in Depression-era mythbusting: “Many men,“ Pratt writes, ”fool themselves into believing that a razor blade can be sharpened on the inside of a tumbler, either with or without water.” Pratt acknowledges that a tumbler can sometimes sharpen a blade “to a very mild degree.” But he suspects that “the vast majority who are resorting to this practice are receiving no benefit from it at all.” Humph.

Pratt was Scientific Photographer for Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Entomology. Accompanying his article: a photograph of a blade held in a tumbler of water and photographs of blade edges under magnification. Because science.

[One hundred posts this month. That’s all until September.]

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Scare buying and Nancy

[Nancy, August 30, 1950. Click for a larger view.]

Sluggo is correct. “Scare buying,” a rush to accumulate in the summer of 1950, was prompted by the Korean War. Articles in the July 21 New York Times reported food hoarding, sharp rises in department-store sales, and high demand on wholesalers for appliances, housewares, and televisions. In a July 26 Times article, an executive of the American Safety Razor Corporation assured the public that there was no need for scare buying of razors, razor blades, or shaving brushes. By the time this installment of Nancy appeared, scare buying had apparently subsided. Click on the August 18 Times article for more.

And notice that in 1950 supermarket was two words.

You can read Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy six days a week at GoComics.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Recently updated

Colledge signage Now minus a sign.

Literally and figuratively

[Dustin, August 29, 2017. Click for a larger view.]

Even The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (1989), which asserts that the hyperbolic literally is “neither a misuse nor a mistake for some other word,” cautions against indiscriminate use:

Is it necessary, or even useful, to add an intensifier like literally to a well-established metaphorical use of a word or phrase? Will the use add the desired emphasis without calling undue attention to itself, or will the older senses of literally intrude upon the reader’s awareness and render the figure ludicrous, as was the case when a football play-by-play man we heard some years ago said the defensive linemen had “literally hammered the quarterback into the ground”?
That quarterback, like Jason, must have been literally as slow as molasses. Fitch, Dustin, are you listening?

See also this strip’s treatment of copyediting, phrasal adjectives, and “rocket surgery.”

A related post
Literally, a Chrome extension

It takes a forest

Peter Wohlleben writes that in Europe, giant redwoods, planted in city parks as “exotic trophies,” never grow especially tall:

What is missing here, above all, is the forest, or — more specifically — relatives. At 150 years old, they are, when you consider a potential life-span of many thousands of years, indeed only children, growing up here in Europe far from their home and without their parents. No uncles, no aunts, no cheerful nursery school — no, they have lived all their lives out on a lonely limb. And what about the many other trees in the park? Don’t they form something like a forest, and couldn’t they act like surrogate parents? They usually would have been planted at the same time and so could offer the little redwoods no assistance or protection. In addition, they are very, very different kinds of trees. To let lindens, oaks, or beeches bring up a redwood would be like leaving human children in the care of mice, kangaroos, or humpback whales. It just doesn’t work, and the little Americans have had to fend for themselves.

The Hidden Life of Trees, trans. Jane Billinghurst (Vancouver: Greystone, 2016).
On a related note: Gabriel Popkin writes in The New York Times about curing yourself of tree blindness (found via Matt Thomas’s blog).

Also from The Hidden Life of Trees
A social network

[There’s considerable repetition in this book, and I sometimes think I will never get through it. But I’ve learned a lot, and I’ll never not look at trees in the same way again. In other words, I’ll never take them for granted as just somehow there in the landscape. Please notice that Wohlleben is writing about species. There is nothing in his argument here to suggest that children from one culture cannot be raised by parents from some other culture.]

Monday, August 28, 2017

Felix culpa

After reading Steven Harper’s timeline “Everything We Know About Russia and President Trump” last week, I wrote:

The figure who stands out to me in this timeline, again and again: Felix Sater, described by the BBC as “a Russian-American gangster.” He entered the Trump story in 2002. In 2013 and 2015, Trump denied being familiar with him.
Tonight The New York Times reports that
a business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency.
The pronoun reference in that sentence is a little ambiguous, but “he” is the business associate, Felix Sater. The Times reports that Sater thought a Trump Tower in Moscow “would highlight Mr. Trump’s savvy negotiating skills and be a political boon to his candidacy.” Here is some of what Sater wrote in a November 2015 e-mail to Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen:
Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin. I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it.
Святая корова! According to Google Translate, that’s Russian for “Holy cow!”

[Ivanka Trump sitting in Putin’s “private chair”? The ick factor is high. All mistakes in the text of the e-mail are Felix Sater’s.]

Donald Trump’s spelling

In The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo makes a contrarian suggestion: “There are lots of reasons to criticize Mr. Trump’s policies, conduct and statements, especially his tweets. But we should lay off his spelling.” Manjoo makes three arguments: In a medium that encourages immediacy and error, a spelling mistake “suggests humanity.” To criticize spelling is “elitist.” And to focus on spelling “blinds us to content.” I’ll address each point:

~ Trump’s spelling mistakes — hear by, unpresidented, for instance — suggest much more than their writer’s “humanity.” They are signs of someone who reads very little. One learns how to spell words correctly by seeing them, again and again, in print, correctly spelled. Trump is, famously, a non-reader of books, and his errors are often those of a writer who spells by ear. And his administration’s carelessness about names and words in non-Twitter contexts suggests not ”humanity” but carelessness.

~ Manjoo argues that it’s an elitist mistake to equate correct spelling “with a good education and outsize intelligence.“ No. If anything, only the most naïve among us would equate correct spelling with intellectual superiority. Correct spelling, like correct punctuation, calls no attention to itself. When we read words in print, correct spelling should be something to take for granted. It’s certainly not evidence of a brainiac at work.

And to argue that ”everyone’s sloppy sometimes” and that Barack Obama and his staff also made spelling mistakes is a feeble defense. Carelessness is carelessness. But one can also look at the evidence of Obama error that Manjoo cites and consider whether, say, misspelling Frantz Fanon’s first name as Franz is at all comparable to mistaking, say, heel for heal. The first mistake is evidence of a writer who reads; the second, evidence of someone who doesn’t.

~ Yes, misspellings can blind us to content. And here I’ll cite Bryan Garner, writing about what he calls “the fallacy of intelligibility”:

Wrong words are like wrong notes in music: they spoil the tune. And wrong words make readers stop thinking about your message and start pondering your educational deficits.

If anyone tells you otherwise (that is, if someone says it don’t make no never-mind), don’t believe it.
I’ve had relatively little to say about Donald Trump’s misspellings, which speak for themselves. This post, like Farhad Manjoo’s column, has no mistakes in spelling.

Related reading
“Tapps” (A poem)
“No challenge is to great” (An inaugural poster)
No job too small (A handbill)
All OCA spelling and misspelling posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Donate to the Red Cross

The Red Cross has a page for donations to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Memorizing poetry

“Is it difficult to learn a poem by heart? Of course”: Molly Worthen, historian, writes about the value of memorizing poetry: “Memorize That Poem!” (The New York Times).

Or as Brisbane once said, “Learn that poem.”

What do I know by heart? Poems by Ted Berrigan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Philip Larkin, Lorine Niedecker, the Shake, William Carlos Williams, William Butler Yeats. All by osmosis. How about you?

Saturday, August 26, 2017


At The New Yorker, Margaret Talbot asks why Donald Trump likes Joe Arpaio. An excerpt:

Trump is likely a fan of Arpaio’s because Arapio is a fan of his — an early supporter who also went all in for birtherism, at one point sending members of a so-called Cold Case Posse to Hawaii to dig up something incriminating about Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

But Trump probably also likes Arpaio because the former sheriff represents in miniature what the President would like to be more maximally — a successful American authoritarian.
With a link to William Finnegan’s 2009 New Yorker profile of “Sheriff Joe,” who once called his jail “a concentration camp.”

Chock full o’Nuts on the screen

[From The King of Comedy (dir. Martin Scorsese, 1982). Click any image for a larger view.]

This Chock full o’Nuts location was ready for its close-up but spent most of its screen time in the company of Sandra Bernhard (Masha) and Robert De Niro (Rupert Pupkin). And when the close-up came, the restaurant shared the screen with a wall.

Masha and Rupert stand and sit in front of Paramount Plaza, 1633 Broadway, Manhattan. The Chock full o’Nuts stood at 1627 Broadway, the southwest corner of 50th and Broadway. A clue: the now-gone Rivoli Theatre is across the street in the background (second screenshot).

In 1989 a New York Times article mentioned a 50th and Broadway location, likely this same southwest corner, as home to a food court, “adorned with an enormous electric sign that lures customers with the quintessential promise of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Nathan’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizza Hut and Le Croissant Shop.” The food court’s parent company, the Riese Organization at one time owned Chock full o’Nuts.

The 1627 location is now home to — what else? — a Duane Reade.

Related posts
Chock full o’Nuts (Reverie)
A 1964 guidebook description
Chock full o’Nuts lunch hour, 1955
Paige Morton Black (1915–2013)
Chock full o’Nuts returns

[In our household right now, five cans of Chock full o’Nuts coffee. And one empty can, whose silhouetted Manhattan skyline includes the World Trade Center. Missing from this post but in The King of Comedy: Jerry Lewis.]

Friday, August 25, 2017

To all those on the Gulf Coast

Stay safe, Gulf Coast residents.

Colledge signage

A sign outside a bar, right across the street from a campus in Anytown, USA:

Yes, that’s a space between the A and the S. If I were a student, I might laugh — for a few seconds. And then I’d think about how this sign is serving to cheapen my school’s reputation and my degree. If I were a prospective student, I would wonder whether the school right across the street was a good choice.

I have no animus against alcohol or humor. But I do think of college as a serious endeavor, not something to treat as a joke. The joke is what I call colledge: “the vast simulacrum of education that amounts to little more than buying a degree on the installment plan.” Colledge students and college students can be found on the very same campus, perhaps right across the street from some bar.

I have brought this sign to the attention of those who might be expected to have sway. Right now the sign still stands. And on another corner, in front of a rental property:

August 29, 9:48 p.m.: Just saw that, for whatever reason, the bar sign has been removed. Something beginning with LADI was taking its place as I drove by.

Related reading
All OCA colledge posts (Pinboard)
Homeric blindness in colledge

Information retrieval

[From À nous la liberté (dir. René Clair, 1931). Click any image for a larger view.]

Louis (Raymond Cordy) obliges his friend and employee Emile (Henri Marchand) by requesting information about employee Jeanne (Rolla France). The request travels by pneumatic tube; a worker types in the necessary information (each employee at the factory is known by a number); a drawer springs open; and there’s Jeanne. There must be a cross-reference on her card. More typing, another drawer, and her uncle appears. Into the tube they go. And Louis and Emile smile.

A series of tubes, just like the Internet. See also the New York Public Library and an earlier post with Emile and a butterfly.

Escapees in nature

[Emile (Henri Marchand) contemplates a flower. From À nous la liberté (dir. René Clair, 1931).]

[Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) contemplates a butterfly. From O Brother, Where Art Thou? (dir. Joel Coen, 2000). Click either image for a larger view.]

Perhaps a coincidence. But both Emile and Delmar have escaped from prison, and Tim Blake Nelson does resemble Henri Marchand, at least vaguely. And phonographs and records play an important part in each film. I’m going with more than coincidence. I’m going with tip o’ the hat.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Words, can’t stand ’em

Fresca at l’astronave has written a post about words she can’t stand.

We all have words and phrases we can live without. My friend Stefan Hagemann and I were talking about that just this morning. And then Fresca mentioned the word ginormous in a comment on a post about hyperbolic indefinite numerals. And now I’m here.

What words can’t you stand? What words can you live without? Comment on Fresca’s post, and comment here, too, if you like. Think of yourself as contributing to a merry little culture of complaint.

[I’ve written several posts about words I can live without: this one, about the educationese expressed that, has links to the others.]

Rita Felski on “critique”

On “critique” as a way of reading literature:

Critique proves to be a remarkably efficient and smooth-running machine for registering the limits and insufficiencies of texts. It also offers a yardstick for assessing their value: the extent to which they exemplify its own cardinal virtues of demystifying, subverting, and putting into question. It is conspicuously silent, however, on the many other reasons why we are drawn to works of art: aesthetic pleasure, increased self-understanding, moral reflection, perceptual reinvigoration, ecstatic self-loss, emotional consolation, or heightened sensation — to name just a few. Its conception of the uses and values of literature is simply too thin. . . .

[I]ts overriding concern with questioning motives and exposing wrongdoing (the moral-political drama of detection) results in a mindset — vigilant, wary, mistrustful — that blocks receptivity and inhibits generosity. We are shielded from the risks, but also the rewards, of aesthetic experience.

Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).
If I were a young teacher hoping to inculcate in my students some reverence for works of the imagination, I’d take great heart from this book.

Related posts
Hoagies, pizzas, and English studies
Politics and theory
Verlyn Klinkenborg on the English major

[My snarky quotation marks around “critique” signal that critique itself is under suspicion here. I think I reached my limit when I heard a graduate student give a paper arguing that Charles Dickens showed “sexist bias.” That was the point, and the student’s condescension toward Dickens was unmistakable. O benighted nineteenth-century fool!]

“You must go offline
to view this page”

This page. You really do. Go to it and turn off your network connection. Via Daring Fireball.

[But the thing is, I like spending “hours caught in webs of my own curiosity.”]

Domestic comedy

[Concerning some bit of television trivia.]

“You’re asking the wrong person.”

“I know, but you’re the only other person here.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Word of the day: zaatar

The word of the day, or of my day, is zaatar, or za’atar. Cue the Oxford English Dictionary:

1. Originally in the Middle East: any of a number of aromatic culinary herbs. The precise herb referred to is variously identified as thyme, oregano, marjoram, hyssop, or savory.

2. In Middle Eastern cuisine: a condiment made from any of these herbs (esp. thyme) singly or in combination, with dried sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt.
The British pronunciation: /ˈzaːtaː/. The American pronunciation: /ˈzaˌtar/.

The etymology:
Arabic saʿtar, ṣaʿtar, zaʿtar wild thyme, also a condiment made from this herb or similar herbs (see definition), probably < Syriac ṣatrā' (Aramaic ṣatrā'; > post-biblical Hebrew ṣatrāh savory, in modern Hebrew also satureia, thymbra). Compare Turkish zatar (probably < Arabic; the indigenous Turkish word for ‘thyme’ is kekik).
Got all that? No matter. If you’ve ever had hummus with a dark sprinkle of seasoning atop, you’ve tasted zaatar, or some version of zaatar. As a Wikipedia article explains, zaatar is a various thing. From what I’ve tasted, I’d describe the flavor as light and savory.

I looked into zaatar after a great lunch of falafel, salad, and zaatar-seasoned fries at Terre Haute’s Saratoga Restaurant. And now our household now holds a container of Sadaf Mix Green Zaatar: thyme leaves, oregano leaves, sesame seeds, salt, soy oil, sumac. The Saratoga no doubt makes it own.

[The ː symbol in /ˈzaːtaː/ marks extra-long sounds.]


A fine episode of Helen Zaltzman’s podcast The Allusionist, about hyperbolic indefinite numerals: “Zillions.”

Our household’s favorite hyperbolic indefinite numeral is eleventyteen, from Elaine’s father Burton Fine. What’s your favorite hyperbolic indefinite numeral?

Interview with a lexicographer

“Nobody gets rich being a lexicographer”: from an interview with freelance lexicographer Orin Hargraves (The University of Chicago Magazine).

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Liar, scary

“Why is the president lying? Because he’s a liar”: Bakari Sellers on CNN a few minutes ago.

And James Clapper, just now on CNN, on Donald Trump’s access to nuclear codes: “It’s pretty damn scary.”

Something has to change.

Subway pay phone, 1932

Ephemeral New York shows us what a New York City subway pay phone looked like in 1932.


[While eating ice cream.]

“Whenever I call him, he says, ‘I’m with my two friends, Peace and Quiet.’”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

[Elaine says it’s an old line. But it’s new to me.]

Thanks to the library

I wanted to determine the age of our piano from its serial number. The Internet? Useless, at least for our piano. But my university’s library had the answer, in the Pierce Piano Atlas (1965): 1908.

And now that I was in the library, I thought to look up the ghost word dord and see it in print for myself. The word was right there in the reference stacks, in the second edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary (1934):

[A real ghost: dord & co.]

Emily Brewster, Merriam-Webster lexicographer, tells the story of dord in a short video. So yes, back to the Internet. But sometimes only the library will do.


April 24, 2020: Merriam-Webster now has an illustrated history of dord.

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

[Our piano is a Beckwith Empire Upright. (It looks like this one). Ours is unrestored but stays in tune (for a good long while) and plays beautifully. It was a lucky addition to our household, acquired for the cost of moving. The movers said it was the heaviest piano they had ever handled. It’s possible to see a photograph of the dord entry online, but the thing itself is found only on paper.]

Monday, August 21, 2017


Artisanal eclipse viewers. We start with the finest cereal boxes — Cascadian Farms Granola or Post Grape-Nuts, your choice. Inside, a viewing surface made from a generous double-thick layer of Strathmore Ultimate White Wove 24 lb. writing paper, hand-cut to each box’s shape and size. On top, a sturdy square of Reynolds Wrap with custom-drilled pinhole, locked down with Scotch Brand packing tape. A second square, hand-cut, serves as viewfinder. Durable, lightweight. Slightly used.

Shipping not included.

[Well outside the path of totality, I found this eclipse to be No Great Shakes. Cue Miss Peggy Lee.]

Twelve more movies

[Five sentences each. No spoilers.]

War for the Planet of the Apes (dir. Matt Reeves, 2017). Apes together strong! The apes and their planet (their planet?) are a fond memory for Elaine, who loved the movies in childhood. I was a willing partner. This film holds the attention, very well, briefly jumps the shark, or the primate (with the Colonel’s long speech), recovers quickly, but begins to leave the mind the moment one leaves the theater. With clear political overtones (internment camps, a maniacal leader who wants to build a wall) and generous helpings of Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, The Great Escape, and other films.


Little Men (dir. Ira Sachs, 2016). Art-minded Jake (Theo Taplitz) and theater-minded Tony (Michael Barbieri) have become the best of friends. They hope to go on to LaGuardia High School together (New York’s arts high school). Jake’s parents own the Brooklyn storefront that houses Tony’s mother’s dress shop, and now they’re going to raise the rent — not because they want to but because they have to. A sweet and sad picture of male friendship on the verge of adolescence, just as girls begin to complicate things (or not). With a special appearance by Owl’s Head Park, where I played as a little kid.


Blue Gold: American Jeans (dir. Christian D. Bruun, 2014). “In the least expected quarters, there they are: American mining pants.” A look at everyday, utilitarian apparel turned into the stuff of connoisseurship, in the United States, in Japan, and everywhere. Do people really pay hundreds of dollars for old 501s, and tens of thousands of dollars for ancient off-brand pants? Yes, they do, and right on camera. I still call my Carhartts dungarees.


Who Was Kafka? (dir. Richard Dindo, 2006). Kafka’s words, read by a narrator, and the words of Max Brod, Gustav Janouch, Felice Bauer, Milena Jesenská, Dora Diamant, and others, read by actors. Archival photographs of people and places. Prague, beautifully filmed, fills the screen, skies, buildings, and not one person. Interiors, beautifully filmed, remain unidentified. Whether one knows knows something or nothing at all of Kafka’s life and work, there is just not enough here.


I Called Him Morgan (dir. Kasper Collin, 2016). Lee Morgan was a brilliant trumpeter who established himself in music while still a teenager, succumbed to addiction as a young man, and was brought back from the living dead by a woman who called him Morgan — and who shot him to death in a New York club when he was just thirty-three years old. (Shades of Frankie and Johnny.) The centerpiece of this documentary is an interview with Helen Morgan, the trumpeter’s wife and killer, taped just a month before her death by her adult-ed instructor (who had mentioned that he was a jazz fan). On-camera interviews with fellow musicians piece together Morgan’s story, with abundant performance footage and period photographs. Most moving moment: Wayne Shorter talking as he looks at a photograph of himself looking apprehensively at Morgan, whose head is bandaged after he nodded out against a hot radiator: “Lee, hey Lee, what you doin’?”


Journey to the Center of the Earth (dir. Henry Levin, 1959). Pleasant fun, in a movie that Elaine remembers from Saturday mornings in childhood. But I will admit that I liked the movie less as it began to abandon its focus on mysterious marks and rocky passageways for more colorful underground wonders. Underground and above, there are some nice Odyssey touches for those who love Homer. The strangest thing about this movie is not that the journey is to the center of the earth: it’s that the journey is led by James Mason, and that he brings along Pat Boone — who sings. And that Billy Wilder’s longtime collaborator Charles Brackett co-wrote the screenplay and produced.


Born to Kill (dir. Robert Wise, 1947). Lawrence Tierney plays Sam Wilde, an eerily Trumpian sort who dominates and destroys everyone in his way as he attempts to maintain relationships with two sisters (Audrey Long, Claire Trevor), one of whom he marries for her money, the other of whom he wants for other reasons. Elisha Cook Jr., who bears a more than slight resemblance to Donald Trump Jr., plays Sam’s friend Marty. This movie begins and ends with over-the-top scenes of jealousy and brutal violence. In between, nearly everything is magnificent squalor. Even a scripture- and hymn-quoting detective (a great turn by Walter Slezak) has his price.


Hidden Figures (dir. Theodore Melfi, 2016). A story of invisible women, African-American “computers” (mathematicians) working for NASA in the 1960s. The principals — Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, and Octavia Spencer — are fine actors, and the movie’s blue and grey and tan workplace evokes the 1960s far more successfully than does, say, Mad Men. But Hidden Figures feels to me like a movie about black people made to appeal to white people. By means of righteous indignation, rhetorical charm, or stoic dignity, each of the three principals manages to win over a white authority figure who makes things right: one who knocks down a Colored Only sign outside a NASA bathroom (as black women stand and watch), one who gives permission to attend night classes on a white campus, one who grants a long-hoped-for promotion to supervisor. As Atticus Finch taught us, white people can be so good.


Un pequeño festival de Pedro Almodóvar

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). Women! Men! Crises! Many! Along with gazpacho and sleeping pills, terrorism, a scene from Johnny Guitar being dubbed into Spanish, and a taxi stocked with all kinds of sundries for sale. An enormously funny film.

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989). A variation on the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, I’d say. Marina (Victoria Abril) is an ex-junkie, ex-porn star, and actress. Ricky (Antonio Banderas), a patient at a mental institution, has been acting sane long enough to be released. Ricky forces his way into Marina’s apartment, determined to make her fall in love with him, marry him, and have his children. Funny and frightening, deliriously unhinged, and somehow, in the end, strangely normal.

Volver (2006). An ultra-melodramatic melodrama, with themes of betrayal and loyalty, and dark family secrets. The setting is La Mancha, with wind turbines everywhere. Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) is the newly single mother of a teenaged girl. Raimunda’s mother, aunt, and sister are also important figures in the story that unfolds, a story I don’t want to even try to explain. Volver is my favorite of the five Almodóvar films I’ve seen.


Le Million (dir. Réne Clair, 1931). This sweetly charming comedy begins with some tricky set design and a happy ending: a midnight party that gives way to an extended flashback. The flashback begins with a dashing painter, his romantic rival, sexual intrigues, and angry creditors, and soon turns into the story of a missing lottery ticket, left in a jacket, and the various efforts to find it. The search leads to an opera house, some hilarious goings-on (my favorite moment: rugby, with crowd sounds), and, at last, back to the happy ending. As in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, live performance becomes the material of film, which can also take us behind the closed curtain and into the audience. That meta observation should not distract from this other observation: Le Million is one of the greatest film comedies ever made.

More Almodóvar and Clair to come, for sure.

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 : And twelve more : At least eleven more : And twelve more


Last Thursday’s local forecast for this Monday, as heard on an NPR station: “mostly sunny.” Was that a joke?

Today’s Wertham

[Zippy, August 21, 2017.]

The title of today’s Zippy: “It’s Wertham-Man!!” Fredric Wertham was an American psychiatrist whose criticism of comic books helped bring about the Comics Code. But God (that’s God with the neckerchief) pulls no punches. Take that, Henry!

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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Trump–Russia timeline

At Moyers & Company, Steven Harper has made a detailed timeline: Everything We Know About Russia and President Trump. If this is the kind of timeline that can be put together from the public record, I can only imagine the timeline that Robert Mueller must be putting together.

The figure who stands out to me in this timeline, again and again: Felix Sater, described by the BBC as “a Russian-American gangster.” He entered the Trump story in 2002. In 2013 and 2015, Trump denied being familiar with him.

Jerry Lewis (1926–2017)

[“Jerry Lewis and Chimpanzee.” Photograph by Peter Stackpole. February 2, 1950. From the Life Photo Archive.]

It feels like the end of a show-business era. The New York Times has an obituary.


A library-sale find: Anna Jane Grossman’s Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By (New York: Abrams Image, 2009): anonymity, bellhops, correction fluid, and so on. On the back flyleaf, stamped in red: DISCARD.

“In a Sentimental Mood,” two takes

“If a student wants to sound like Ellington, there’s no point in looking at The Real Book”: at The New Yorker, the pianist Ethan Iverson writes about Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, “In a Sentimental Mood,” and “scalar thought.”

Related reading
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, August 19, 2017


[The New Yorker, August 28, 2017.]

This cover illustration, by David Plunkett, is titled Blowhard. Says the artist, “A picture does a better job showing my thoughts than words do; it can have a light touch on a subject that’s extremely scary.”

Related images
Protesting Racism and Hate with Political Art (Print)

In the news

Our local newspaper has had a 1200 × 675 version of this image front and center on its website, all week. That’s the big story, at least online: the fidget-spinner craze and whether it will last. That’s the news.

What would Drucker think?

Rick Wartzman of the Drucker Institute writes about what Peter Drucker might have thought about Donald Trump’s response to events in Charlottesville:

Drucker would have discerned one aspect of an extremely disturbing pattern: a nod and wink from a man who rode into the nation’s highest office by playing on “the despair of the masses” (or at least those of the white working class); by promising them “a miracle . . . which belies the evidence of one’s reason” (like the return of their old manufacturing and coal jobs); and by creating “demonic enemies” for them to rail against (whether Muslims or Mexican immigrants, or his African-American predecessor in the Oval Office). Tellingly, each of these quotations is from The End of Economic Man, Drucker’s 1939 book about the origins of fascism in Europe.
Other Drucker-related posts
On figuring out where one belongs : On income disparity in higher ed : On integrity in leadership : On efficiency and effectiveness

[I am an unlikely reader of Peter Drucker’s work. No management type, I. I caught on by way of the excellent little book On Managing Onself (2008).]

Friday, August 18, 2017

More resignations

On an arts and humanities note:

The New York Times reports that all sixteen members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities have resigned. A dozen other members had already resigned rather than serve under Donald Trump. All members, it seems, had been appointed by Barack Obama. From the Times article: “The committee never convened under Mr. Trump, members said, and the president has not appointed members so far.”

An excerpt from the committee members’ August 18 letter of resignation:

Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.
The first letters of the letter’s five paragraphs and closing spell R-E-S-I-S-T.

How long before resignations of far greater political consequence begin? Who will be the first Cabinet member to resign in protest?


10:20 p.m.: From The Washington Post: “In a statement late Friday, the White House claimed that Trump had decided earlier this month to disband the committee by not renewing its charter when it expires at the end of the year.”

Yeah, sure. Here we see a repeat of what happened when members of the American Manufacturing Council resigned and the members of the Strategic and Policy Forum agreed to disband: Trump dissolved the groups. You can’t resign, because I’m firing you. The committee website makes no mention of a presidential decision to disband. A picture of Melania Trump sits in the sidebar, where she is identified as both Honorary Chairman and Honorary Chair. Jeez, proofread.

Paul Oliver (1920–2017)

Paul Oliver, a prolific writer on blues music, has died at the age of ninety. The New York Times has an obituary.

As a teenager, I borrowed Oliver’s The Story of the Blues (1969) from the library, again and again. The first blues record I ever bought: the Columbia double-album The Story of the Blues (1969), designed to accompany the book. A world opened.

I learned from the Times obituary that Oliver was a distinguished architectural historian. Who knew? (Not me.) Blues was what a colleague of mine would call Oliver’s sidebar life.

Pocket notebook sighting

[Le Million (dir. René Clair, 1930).]

The winning number in the Dutch lottery is 27009. But who bought that ticket, Prosper, or Michel? This notebook holds the answer. The camera pans across the page as if reading: thus what looks like a faulty screenshot.

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 Naked Edge : 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


[Henry, August 18, 2017.]

This panel looks a bit too pixelated as a 2017 rerun. It belongs in the past, with that circus and that billboard.

Today’s Henry shows once again that the strip’s billboards are of the lattice variety.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

News of the future

It’s not yet in The New York Times, not yet in The Washington Post: Congressman Steve Cohen (D, Tennessee-9) “will be introducing articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump following the President’s comments on the horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia.”

Zippy’s Darkroom

[Zippy, August 17, 2018. Click for a larger view.]

It’s real, and I found it by searching for vintage camera shop. Here’s a page with a color photograph. And here’s a photograph in living black and white:

[“The Dark Room, 5370 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, CA.” Photograph by Marvin Rand. 1972–1977. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Click for a larger view.]

Bill Griffith has drawn The Darkroom in a more recent incarnation as La Boca del Conga. That restaurant disappeared before Google Maps, which does preserve El Toro Cantina, which itself for a time preserved La Boca’s awning. (See the second panel.) Today 5370 is the home of Spare Tire Kitchen & Tavern. The background in the first panel checks out: that tower is real, and dammit, I’ve been to the Staples (not pictured) right across the street from it. And missed The Darkroom. (Not next time!) The signage in the second panel — THERAPY, DRUGS — is, I think, Griffith’s commentary on the function of nostalgia.

[El Toro Cantina, 2009. Spare Tire Kitchen & Tavern, 2016. From Google Maps.]

You can read Zippy every day at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Orange pump art

[“Far-go gas pump, Main Street.” Photograph By John Margolies. Barstow, California, 1979. From the Library of Congress feature John Margolies: Roadside America.]

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

Eleanor Roosevelt on happiness

Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product. Paradoxically, the one sure way not to be happy is deliberately to map out a way of life in which one would please oneself completely and exclusively. After a short time, a very short time, there would be little that one really enjoyed. For what keeps our interest in life and makes us look forward to tomorrow is giving pleasure to other people.

Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1960).
Also from this book
On doing what you think you cannot do : On honoring the human race : On attention : On maturity : On optimism

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Metaphor, off-course

A commentator on CNN this afternoon: “Corporate America has become the moral compass that is leading the argument.”

Related reading
All OCA metaphor posts (Pinboard)

[I’ve broken my no-cable-news vow, repeatedly, repeatedly.]

Recently updated

A resignation Now with two more resignations and two fewer councils.

“The burden is reality”

James Baldwin on what makes achieving a revolution different from overthrowing a dictator or repelling an invader:

Time and time and time again, the people discover that they have merely betrayed themselves into the hands of yet another Pharaoh, who, since he was necessary to put the broken country together, will not let them go. Perhaps, people being the conundrums that they are, and having so little desire to shoulder the burden of their lives, this is what will always happen. But at the bottom of my heart I do not believe this. I think that people can be better than that, and I know that people can be better than they are. We are capable of bearing a great burden, once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.

“Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region of My Mind,” in The Fire Next Time (1963).
I started this post planning to quote a passage from this book about why life is tragic, but I see that I already did so in a 2006 post.

Eleanor Roosevelt on optimism

It is true that I am fundamentally an optimist, that I am congenitally hopeful. I do not believe that good always conquers evil, because I have lived a long time in the world and seen that it is not true. I do not seek the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow or think that “everything will have a happy ending” because I would like it too.

It is not wishful thinking that makes me a hopeful woman. Over and over, I have seen, under the most improbable circumstances, that man can remake himself, that he can even remake his world if he cares enough to try. And I have seen him, by the dozen, by the thousands, making that effort.  . . .

Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try.

Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1960).
Also from ER
Doing what you think you cannot do : Honoring the human race : Attention : Maturity

Escaping in a Buick

[Zippy, August 16, 2017.]

Our president was tweeting at 3:12 and 3:18 this morning (EDT). Not normal. I’ll take the Buick.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[I’m well aware that this kind of nostalgia involves a significant element of privilege. A 1947 Buick would be a different proposition if, say, one had to rely on the Green Book when driving, or if, say, one could not afford a car. Or if, say, one had been killed in World War II.]

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Recently updated

A resignation Now with still more resignations from Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council.

Must be read to be believed

Here is a transcript of Donald Trump’s remarks and exchanges with reporters at a news conference this afternoon. Must be read to be believed.

Trump has obviously been given some additional talking points. He now says that his statement on Saturday was non-specific because it was too early to say more: “Before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.” (A gift to late-night hosts, that line.) Everyone thought the statement was “beautiful.” There were “very fine people on both sides” of Saturday’s events. (Back to “on both sides.”) And Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were slave owners: “So will George Washington now lose his status?” To shift from Robert E. Lee to Jefferson and Washington is a pretty daring instance of whataboutism. And when Donald Trump speaks of slavery, it’s not to mourn the original American sin: it’s only to proclaim that everybody did it.

Most remarkable to me: the casting of those who oppose neo-Nazis and white supremacists as “the alt-left.” As if opposing neo-Nazis and white supremacists is itself a form of extremism.

Recently updated

A resignation Now with more resignations from Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council.

Gui, c’est toi?

[Detail. Adolf Dehn, The Battery. Casein on panel. 29 × 60 inches. 1953.]

Adolf Dehn (1895–1968) was an American lithographer and painter. The Battery was part of a recent exhibition at Terre Haute’s Swope Art Museum, Adolf Dehn: Midcentury Manhattan. This stroller, from the painting’s bottom left corner, bears a marked resemblance to Guillaume Apollinaire, so marked that it immediately announced itself to me.

The Battery, or Battery Park, is a park on the southern tip of Manhattan. This image, not nearly large enough, gives an idea of the entire painting.

Words from Whitman

[As seen in May.]

A detail of the New York City AIDS Memorial, designed by Jenny Holzer, at the intersection of Twelfth Street, Greenwich Avenue, and Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village. The memorial includes excerpts from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, arranged in a spiral and narrowing to a triangle: “Missing me one place search another, / I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

Password advice

From All Things Considered: Paul Grassi of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, offers advice for creating good passwords: simple, long, and memorable. “If you can picture it in your head, and no one else could, that’s a good password.”

Monday, August 14, 2017

A resignation

“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental views by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal”: Kenneth Frazier, chairman and chief executive officer of Merck & Co., in a tweet announcing his resignation from Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council. Trump’s response is crass and predictable.

Who else will have the good sense to step away from Trump?


8:42 p.m.: The Times reports that another member of this council has resigned:

Kevin Plank, the founder of Under Armour, announced on Twitter that he was resigning from the American Manufacturing Council, saying, among other things, that his company “engages in innovation and sports, not politics.” He did not refer to the president, though.

10:49 p.m.: And another, Brian Krzanich, chief executive of Intel. From his statement:
I have already made clear my abhorrence at the recent hate-spawned violence in Charlottesville, and earlier today I called on all leaders to condemn the white supremacists and their ilk who marched and committed violence. I resigned because I want to make progress, while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them. We should honor — not attack — those who have stood up for equality and other cherished American values. I hope this will change, and I remain willing to serve when it does.

August 15: Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, has also resigned.


9:22 p.m.: Two more, Richard Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff:
“We cannot sit on a council for a president who tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism,” Mr. Trumka said. “President Trump’s remarks today repudiate his forced remarks yesterday about the KKK and neo-Nazis. We must resign on behalf of America’s working people, who reject all notions of legitimacy of these bigoted groups.”

August 16: Following two more resignations from the American Manufacturing Council (Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup and Inge Thulin of 3M) and an agreement by members of the Strategic and Policy Forum to disband, Donald Trump has dissolved both councils.

[Elon Musk resigned from this council in June.]

“School supplies and fun

[Life, August 31, 1953. Click for a larger view.]

Notice the date on this Life advertisement: it’s almost September, and there’s still time to buy school supplies. Perhaps you tarried after reading last week’s full-page Pedigree ad? No rush. And speaking of “no rush”: do click for a larger view of the pencils and cases, the cheerful copy, the reference to last week’s ad, and the spritely figures scampering about the page.

Related reading
Back-to-school shopping : Pedigree pencil

“Cheaper buy the dozen”

[Life, August 24, 1953. Click for a larger view.]

Oh, they’re clever, what with their puns and their pencil named after the largest of the British Virgin Islands. And with their not even mentioning s-c-h-o-o-l by name. But school is around the corner: why else would there be a full-page advertisement announcing that Pedigree pencils are on sale?

Notice the date of this Life: August 24. When I was a boy in Brooklyn, school began after Labor Day. School in New York City and other northeastern places still begins after Labor Day. In downstate Illinois and many other places, school begins in mid-August. In 2015 CNN offered some explanations of “why August is the new September.”

Back to pencils (briefly): I have never liked Pedigree. But I always loved shopping for school supplies with my children, even for “1 box tissues” and the elusive “oilcloth.” I’m not sure we ever figured out that one.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)
Pedigree pencil (With a photograph of an old one)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Mandela via Obama

Barack Obama’s response to the events in Charlottesville, in three tweets, two hours ago, is a passage from Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom (1994):

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
[I’ve added two commas to match the source.]


Michael Eric Dyson, writing in The New York Times about “Charlottesville and the Bigotocracy”:

It is depressing to explain to our children that what we confronted as children may be the legacy they bequeath to their children as well.

It is more dispiriting still to realize that the government of our land, at least in the present administration, has shown little empathy toward victims of white bigotry, and indeed, has helped to spread the paralyzing virus of hatred, by turning a blind eye to what is done in their name.

Now is the time for every decent white American to prove he or she loves this country by actively speaking out against the scourge this bigotocracy represents. If such heinous behavior is met by white silence, it will only cement the perception that as long as most white folk are not immediately at risk, then all is relatively well. Yet nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could more clearly declare the moral bankruptcy of our country.
All is not well at all. The horror of the events in Charlottesville is compounded by the response of our president, whose words, tweeted and spoken, reveal his inability to grasp that horror (“So sad!”) and his absolute lack of moral clarity (“on many sides, on many sides”).

Here, via Cameron Glover, are six organizations in Charlottesville deserving of support: Beloved Community Charlottesville, Charlottesville NAACP, Charlottesville Pride, Charlottesville Solidarity Legal Fund, Legal Aid Justice.

All publicity is good publicity

Our president, in a telephone call to Eddie Calvo, the governor of Guam:

“Eddie, I have to tell you, you’ve become extremely famous. All over the world they’re talkin’ about Guam, and they’re talkin’ about you, and I think you’re gonna — tourism, I can say this — in tourism, you’re gonna go up in, like, tenfold, with the expenditure of no money, so I congratulate you.”
Both the president and the governor seem to be operating under the mistaken show-biz assumption that all publicity is good publicity. I think that we’ve just passed some outer limit of what’s plausible in our political reality.

[The passage I’ve quoted begins at 0:57. My transcription.]

Fifty blog-description lines

Google’s Blogger calls the line that sits below a blog title the “blog description line.” I’ve added a hyphen. For years, the first words of Van Dyke Parks’s “Orange Crate Art” sat there: “Orange crate art was a place to start.” In May 2010, I began to vary the line, using some word, phrase, or sentence from a recent post. And I began keeping track. Here are the fifty most recent blog-description lines, beginning in November 2016. I like looking at them as pieces of found language:

“Use more glue”
“Bleak enough”
“Low ceiling”
“Availability ‘Unknown’”
“A single instrument played with two hands”
“Specially crafted”
“Long overdue”
“Caroline, no!”
“Hardly a horn”
“The missing pixel”
“Great for entertaining”
“Down the slippery slope”
“Save 7¢”
“Thinking especially of produce”
“Anne Frank is a Syrian girl”
“Oh, who listens to the lyrics?”
“No challenge is to great”
“Elementary particles”
“Monkey, monkey, underpants”
“Old-fashioned posting”
“Fresh perked”
“Goodnight little house”
“Work dreams”
“Truck amok”
“My own notebook”
“Correct to one-tenth of a second”
“Irrelevancies and solid objects”
“What is something I’ve never heard of?”
“Superb views”
“Small and fast”
“Meal after meal, plus snacks”
“Probably wouldn’t hold up in court”
“Drink that coffee straight and lets get going”
“Begins talking”
“May transmit moods”
“‘I’m supposed to believe this?’”
“‘I’ll get it!’”
“Clickety clack, clickety clack”
“Keep showing up”
“It’s Mueller Time”
It’s still Mueller Time, but my, that coffee does smell good.

Related posts
Two hundred blog-description lines : Fifty more : And fifty more

[If you read Orange Crate Art via RSS only, you’ve been missing out.]

Sardines, et al.

Fish and bigger fish: a sardine disco ball (or bait ball) comes to a bad end, as documented by the BBC. “Tuna. Their arrival changes everything.” Also sea lions, sharks, dolphins, and a whale.

Thanks to Matt Thomas at Submitted for Your Perusal for passing on the link.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)