Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year’s Eve 1917

[“Sober Celebration for War New Year: Drinking Parties of the Past Give Way to Seriously Patriotic Watch Meetings. Town Will Close at 1 A.M. Entertainments for Soldiers And Sailors — Churches and Y.M.C.A. Bid for Men in Service.” The New York Times, December 31, 1917.]

In 1917, as in 1916, Mayor John P. Mitchel was a party pooper, with closing time in New York City just an hour past midnight. The high and low temperatures for December 31, 1917, as recorded in Central Park: 6°, -7°. Really, who wants to be going to and coming from scenes of revelry in that kind of weather?

On December 31, 2017, another cold day, there are many factors that might drive one to “more sober considerations.” Or to less sober ones.

[Temperatures from the National Centers for Environmental Information.]

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Good advice from Ray Suarez

Here’s another fine episode of the podcast In Contrast : “Representing” in Broadcasting, with host Ilan Stavans interviewing the journalist Ray Suarez. I especially like what Suarez says about the choices he’s made in his work:

“I always thought, ‘Look, at the end of the day, I have to own myself, and I have to think I’m okay with me. And how much do I have to give away, how much do I have to transform in order to play this game as the game is being presented to me?’ And I always tried to square that circle by saying, ‘All right, who do I want to be at the end of the day: promoted and a jerk, or owning myself and owning the way I want to be in the world and maybe missing out on that promotion?’”
And on refusing to play office politics:
“I never wanted to play that game, and I never wanted to be that guy. And whether that hurt me or helped me, I don’t know. But when I look at it all, there are things that don’t add up to me. But I’ll never know what the answer is, and I don’t want to make myself crazy.”
On Twitter, Ray Suarez identifies himself as a “job-seeker.” He’d make an excellent replacement for a recently disgraced PBS host, don’t you think?

[The things that don’t add up would likely include the trajectory of Suarez’s work at the PBS NewsHour. The transcription is mine.]

BBC in Pidgin

The New York Times reports on the BBC in Pidgin. You can read BBC News in Pidgin here. My favorite headline: “Why Apple dey say sorry” [Why Apple is saying sorry]. You can also listen to the BBC Pidgin Minute and watch Bill Gates with Pidgin subtitles.

[The Times notes that seventy-five million people are believed to speak Pidgin, “either as their primary or secondary tongue.”]

From the Saturday Stumper

A clue from today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, 42-Down, five letters: “Keeps from littering.” No spoilers; the answer is in the comments.

Today’s puzzle, by Brad Wilber, is a tough one. Finishing a Saturday Stumper is always cause for minor self-congratulation.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Close the door

I heard the original radio version, by Tony Schwartz, in a recent episode of 99% Invisible. Everyone should watch and listen to this minute-long PSA — and pass it on.

[Prompted by this news story.]


January 2, 2018: A comment from Anton Schwartz, Tony Schwartz’s son, notes that Alan Bleviss, whose voice is heard on this PSA, died on December 30.

Nature v. nurture

[Zippy, December 29, 2017.]

Zippy wants to know: why is Mr. The Toad always so angry? Because he had Popeye wallpaper in his childhood bedroom.

Venn reading
All OCA Nancy posts : Nancy and Zippy posts : Zippy posts (Pinboard)

“What else could I talk about”

K.’s landlady Gardena was on three occasions a partner to the Castle official Klamm. Not four or more times, just three. It’s all she can talk about:

Franz Kafka, The Castle, trans. Mark Harman (New York: Schocken, 1998).

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Rose Marie (1923–2017)

From the New York Times obituary:

Baby Rose Marie belted her songs (some of them with very grown-up lyrics) in a mature, bluesy voice, and many listeners did not believe she was a child. To prove that she was indeed a young girl and not a petite adult, NBC organized a national tour for her. She sang at RKO movie theaters across the country, trying to dodge child labor laws as she went.
You can watch Rose Marie channel Helen Kane in the 1929 short Baby Rose Marie the Child Wonder, at YouTube.


Warner Bros. Entertainment has had the 1929 short removed from YouTube. But here are two gatherings of Rose Marie’s 78s, 1929–1938, courtesy of the Internet Archive: one and two. Baby Rose Marie singing with Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra: who knew!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Metaphors, mixed

From the news, about the weather:

“We’ll bottom out, and then we’ll start to turn a corner.”

So as to see more of the bottom?

Related reading
All OCA metaphor posts (Pinboard)

[Merriam-Webster’s definition of bottom out: “to reach a lowest or worst point usually before beginning to rise or improve.” The reporter meant of course that temperatures will begin to rise.]

“The Lives They Lived”

From The New York Times: “The Lives They Lived,” a 2017 retrospective. With photographs of John Ashbery’s collage desk, Chuck Berry’s guitar case, and other objects.

In search of lost store

[A name to conjure with.]

I was surprised to notice this name on a discolored, dinged-up no-outside-entry door in an empty corridor of a nearby mall: Sam Goody. Sam Goody filed for bankruptcy in 2006. I’m not sure when this mall’s Sam Goody disappeared. The space it occupied has long been empty.

In other news, the sad vending machine that I photographed in this mall in 2015 is now stocked with candy and snacks and back on an even keel.

A related post
Record stores

[If there’s a name for that kind of door other than no-outside-entry door , I haven’t found it.]

From Jazz Dance

[From Jazz Dance (dir. Roger Tilton, 1954).]

That’s the dancer Leon James. As I wrote in a brief take on this film, “If Weegee were to have made a film at a jazz dance, I think it would look much like this one.” Jazz Dance is at YouTube. And here’s Weegee.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Twelve more movies

[No spoilers.]

The Bloody Brood (dir. Julian Roffman, 1959). Life and death among the beatniks, with bongos, poetry, and a Leopold and Loeb murder scheme. My favorite line: “I think you’re beginning to dig the scene.” Peter Falk’s second movie. A YouTube find.


For You I Die (dir. John Reinhardt, 1947). Life at Maggie Dillon’s Place, a roadside café with cabins. A convict forced to take part in an escape hides out there, leading to romance and other consequences. Comic relief from Mischa Auer as an actor/painter/taxi driver, and pathos from Roman Bohnen as a husband and father who went out to buy a pack of cigarettes and never went back. But the café, I’d say, is the star. My favorite line: “Those travelin’ salesmen ain’t no steadier than the squirrels in the trees.” A YouTube find.


Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe (dir. Maria Schrader, 2016). I saw this film in July in a theater and was happy to watch it again on DVD with friends. I was disappointed with the subtitles, different from the ones we saw in the theater, and sometimes nearly unreadable. And in a film that foregrounds matters of translation, with dialogue in English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish, a parenthetical indication that someone is praying, singing, or speaking “in a foreign language” is more than a little absurd. What, after all, is foreign? (The languages in question are Hebrew and Portuguese.)


The Loved One (dir. Tony Richardson, 1965). From Evelyn Waugh’s novel, a satire of the American way of death, with a screenplay by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood (I suspect it’s mostly by Southern). It’s a treat to see Jonathan Winters in a double role, and there’s a great turn by Liberace as a coffin salesman. Advertised as “the motion picture with something to offend everyone.” But this sort of épater la bourgeoisie hasn’t worn well. My favorite line, from Liberace, is about coffin fabrics: “Rayon chafes, you know.”


Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary (dir. John Scheinfeld, 2016). It’s a gift to see a handful of performance clips (some silent). It’s a gift to see home movies of Coltrane smoking a pipe, wearing his robe and slippers, playing with his children, joking around for the camera. But so much of this documentary (the documentary?) is devoted to adulatory blather. Bill Clinton, Wynton Marsalis, and Cornel West are the worst offenders. Example: “The totality of his consciousness expresses itself most fully on that record.” Thank goodness that Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, and Sonny Rollins are also here to say something of value about their colleague and friend. And notice that Rollins more often that not speaks of Coltrane in the present tense.


After Hours (dir. Shepard Traube, 1961). “This is Swing Street, and this is my favorite spot, a little club called After Hours”: William B. Williams takes us to a jam session in this pilot for an unrealized television series. The rehearsed proceedings, starring Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge, turn into genuine spontaneous excitement in “Just You, Just Me.” Exciting for me to hear Milt Hinton speaking, with the same sweet, foggy voice I heard when I met him in the late 1980s. At YouTube.


Jazz Dance (dir. Roger Tilton, 1954). A reminder that before jazz became an art of the soloist, its was an ensemble music made for dancers. In that spirit Jimmy McPartland leads a band at New York’s Central Plaza Dance Hall — Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Archey, and Willie “The Lion” Smith are among the players on hand. A raucous, even frenzied twenty minutes of music and movement. If Weegee were to have made a film at a jazz dance, I think it would look much like this one. At YouTube.

[Leon James and Albert Minns, who appear in After Hours as a doorman and waiter given to dancing, appear in this film as what they were: dancers.]


Freaks and Geeks (created by Paul Feig, 1999–2000). I know that an eighteen-episode television season isn’t a movie, but still, it should count for something. This series is the best thing I’ve ever seen about high school. The intimidation, the insults, the doomed efforts to be cool, the exile to right field: it’s all here. The line that resonated most strongly for me: “What’s the point?” Why, peers, do you have to be so inane? A clear influence on Stranger Things, I now realize.


Forgotten (dir. Nadia Beddini, 2016). Life among the homeless people of Los Angeles, at Venice Beach, in Hollywood, and on downtown’s Skid Row. What’s most striking is the variety of people who meet the camera: a lawyer (or so he says), as a former college student, a young mother, an electrician, another electrician. Domestic turmoil, substances, and mental illness loom large in their stories. Worst moment: a woman who describes giving birth “in the open” — in other words, on the street.


Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig, 2017). I admired Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha and 20th Century Women, and I expected to like Lady Bird. I wanted to like it. But as with La La Land, I’m bewildered by the praise given this movie. It’s based on Gerwig’s life as an high-school student in Sacramento, with Saoirse Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, at odds with her family, at odds even with her name: “People go by the names their parents give them, but they don’t believe in God.” While there are a few moments of genuine comedy and emotion and social criticism, too many plot devices come from the world of a trite sit-com, and the characters remain inert. Give me Freaks and Geeks or, for a better comparison, Ghost World.


Voyeur (dir. Myles Kane and Josh Koury, 2017). The story of Gerald Foos, a motel owner who peeped on his guests, taking extensive notes and masturbating, and Gay Talese, the writer who met Foos, peeped with him, and, years later, revealed the man’s secret life in the New Yorker. I like the Gay Talese who in a previous century wrote for The New York Times about odds and ends of New York life. I don’t like the Talese of this movie, egomaniacal, manipulative, and shamelessly self-serving — much like Foos. (And like Foos, Talese works in a private space: a basement, not an attic.) Most appalling scene, for me: Talese, who has called Foos a nut, writes an e-mail telling him to “hang in there, as athletes and pioneers must.” Runner-up scene: Talese pitching the story to a New Yorker editor.


Shockproof (dir. Douglas Sirk, 1949). “Corrosion.” “What?” “That’s what’ll happen to us.” Love and criminality, as a parole officer and a parolee (Cornel Wilde and Patricia Knight, real-life marrieds) flee the authorities and move toward an improbable end. There’s more than a touch of They Live by Night (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1948) in the story. With Esther Minciotti (Mrs. Piletti from Marty), Arthur Space (Doc Weaver from Lassie), and Los Angeles’s Bradbury Building.

What have you seen that’s worth recommending?

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Domestic comedy

“The brain cells are having a big party outside our heads. They’re handing out candy canes and iceskating.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[Too much Hallmark.]

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Recently updated

Roswell Rudd (1935–2017) Now with a link to a New York Times obituary.

Erle Dre

[It’s 10°F and feels like 9°. I’m just trying to entertain myself. This brief narrative has two inspirations. One: a friend who’s been reading Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The other: crosswordese.]

A 2018 calendar

I’ve been making and sharing yearly calendars since 2010. Here, via Dropbox, is one for 2018. It’s made with Gill Sans and has minimal holiday markings (Saint Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). Highly readable, even across a room. For me, making a calendar has been a fun attempt at rudimentary design — and a good way not to accumulate calendars that I can’t bear to throw out because of their great photographs.

Download, anyone?

Monday, December 25, 2017

“Buddy, the wind is blowing”

Truman Capote, “A Christmas Memory” (1956).

Buddy is seven. His friend is a distant cousin, “sixty-something,” a member of his household.

“It really does”: a touch of Holden Caulfield?

Related posts
Truman Capote meets Willa Cather : What’s for dinner

[Satsumas: mandarin oranges or tangerines.]

Christmas 1917

On December 21, 1917, a Brooklyn delicatessen owner noticed Anna Decker, age eight, looking at the foods displayed in his window. Late December, and Anna wore only a calico pinafore. The owner invited her inside, where she said that she was hungry and asked for something to eat. The owner gave her a bowl of clam chowder. A customer notified the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. A “special agent” arrived, and Anna explained that she was trying to find Santa Claus. She was wrapped in a fur coat and taken to a shelter, where she was found to be suffering from malnutrition, anemia, abrasions, and frostbitten toes, with old scars all over her body. Anna could walk only on her heels. She said that her parents beat her daily, deprived her of food, and made her sleep on the floor. “I guess they don’t like me,” she said. And: “Gee, but I would like to see Santa Claus just once.”

[“Starving, She Finds a Real Santa Claus. Policeman’s 8-Year-Old Daughter Looked for the Christmas Saint with Frost-Bitten Toes. Tells of Father’s Cruelty. Decker and Stepmother Arrested While Anna Plays with Gifts from New-Found Friends.” The New York Times, December 25, 1917.]

This post is much darker than the typical OCA one-hundred-years-ago holiday post. I chose this Times story as an example of people doing the best they can in terrible circumstances.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it.

[Anna’s parents were arraigned in January 1918. No further record in the Times of what became of them or their child.]

Sunday, December 24, 2017

In the studio

[Ink and charcoal, n.d.]

Art by my dad, James Leddy. I love it that Santa (like Frank Sinatra?) is bald.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Covered Swivel Rotary File

A Cooper Hewitt Object of the Day: a Covered Swivel Rotary File, better known as a Rolodex, circa 1960, in olive and woodgrain. See also the museum’s 1958 Rolodex.

You can sign up for Object of the Day e-mails here.

Recently updated

Roswell Rudd (1935–2017) Now with a link to Francis Davis’s 1993 profile.

From the Saturday Stumper

A clue from the Newsday Saturday Stumper, 20-Across, five letters: “Central Brussels.” No spoilers; the answer is in the comments.

Today’s puzzle is by Matthew Sewell. Finishing a Saturday Stumper is always cause for minor self-congratulation.

“Or,” or “, or”?

The teaser for a New York Times article asks, “Is it better to shower in the morning or at night?” The article’s headline asks, “Should you shower in the morning, or at night?” Is there a difference between “in the morning or at night” and “in the morning, or at night”?

Only the worst kind of curmudgeon would insist that the commaless question could be misunderstood as an inquiry about whether or not to shower. Cue the curmudgeon: “Yes, it is better to shower in the morning or at night. Do so and you will be less likely to offend.” To misread the commaless question in that way is to mistake an alternative question (x or y ) for a yes-no question (also called a polar question).

But sometimes a comma is crucial to avoid misreading. “Would you like coffee or tea?” is the question to ask if you want to know whether to boil water and get out cups. “Would you like coffee, or tea?” is a entirely different question. Read aloud and you can hear your voice mark the difference between the yes-no question and the alternative question. Since both Times questions are alternative questions, I would prefer a comma in each, if only for the sake of consistency. That’s the kind of thing people might have thought about at the (now-gone) copy desk.

Another way to justify a comma before or : the comma marks the omission of words, as in “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Should you shower in the morning, or should you shower at night? Would you like coffee, or would you like tea? Earl Grey, or Irish Breakfast?

The Times headline ends with a clever touch that turns the alternative question into a polar question: “Should you shower in the morning, or at night? Yes.” In other words, there’s no easy way to decide. Well played, Times.

[About the post title: Why the comma after the first or ? Because I’m asking an alternative question.]

NPR, sheesh

Heard yesterday on All Things Considered: “You crafted this movie from scratch.”

As I wrote in a 2015 post, “When everything from poems to pot to munchies is crafted, it’s time to say vogue word and move on.”

Better: “You wrote and directed this movie.”

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Winter afternoons

Emily Dickinson, the first stanza of 320:

We’ve had only two winter afternoons thus far, but I’ve been thinking about this poem and noticing the light over the past few days. Together the poem and the light have made me think of my undergraduate self, walking in the late afternoon on a nearly empty campus in late December, the dead zone between the end of classes and the start of final examinations. I wouldn’t call the slant of light on such an afternoon oppressive. I’d call it melancholy and assertive: pay attention as I, the only sun in the sky, sink. This afternoon there’s no sun, no slant: the sky is merely white, and now turning grey.

Dickinson’s poem sits in a folder in my head with Thomas Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush” and “Neutral Tones” and Ted Berrigan’s “A Certain Slant of Sunlight.” But I didn’t have that folder as an undergraduate.

Related reading
All OCA Dickinson posts (Pinboard)

Roswell Rudd (1935-2017)

The trombonist Roswell Rudd has died at the age of eighty-two. The Ottawa Citizen has an obituary. Like Jaki Byard or Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Rudd played the whole history of jazz on his instrument. A YouTube sampler, with music by Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols, Rudd, and Traditional:

“Blue Turning Grey Over You” (with Lafayette Harris) : “Ko-Ko” (with Steve Lacy) : “Brilliant Corners” (with Steve Lacy) : “Twelve Bars” (with Lafayette Harris) : “Bamako” (with Toumani Diabaté) : “Dry Bones” (with Sonic Youth)

Bonus: Rudd appears in Jazz on a Summer’s Day (dir. Bert Stern and Aram Avakian, 1960) as a member of Eli’s Chosen Six, the Yale Dixielanders who motor their way through the film.


December 23: Francis Davis’s 1993 profile of Roswell Rudd, “White Anglo-Saxon Pythagorean,” is online.


December 26: The New York Times has an obituary.

Zippy and Proust

[Zippy, December 22, 2017.]

The title of today’s strip: “Remembrance of Flings Past.”

Related OCA posts, Venn-style
Proust : Proust and Zippy : Zippy (Pinboard)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

What’s for dinner

Holly Golightly’s cooking:

Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958).

A related post
Truman Capote meets Willa Cather


[Henry, December 21, 2017.]

No WI-, not in the Henry world.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)
Maslow, revised

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Found via an episode of The World in Words about speech synthesis: Lyrebird. Read a minimum of thirty sentences into your computer’s microphone (example: “I usually like to eat flying tomato salad”), and Lyrebird creates a digital version of your voice.

I tried Lyrebird this afternoon, with just thirty sentences, and the voice that resulted is pretty plausible. (A demonstration.) I could never mistake this voice for my own, but it does sound something like me, a sleepy me, a world-weary me, a me beset by ennui. But Lyrebird doesn’t know how to pronounce ennui, not yet anyway.

I don’t want to begin to imagine the uses that such technology might serve. (That’s me talking.)

Imaginary movie

The Hallmark Zone. Troubled by the state of the world, a gentle scholar travels to a quaint town to watch the making of a holiday movie. Pressed into service for a cocoa-shop crowd scene, the scholar learns the true meaning of figurant, and discovers that his new reality is one that he cannot — and does not want to — escape.

Related reading
All OCA Hallmark Movies posts
Merriam-Webster on figurant

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Recently updated

Pronouns and institutions There’s now a fact-finding report and a university president’s statement.

Hallmark hypercorrection

I don’t know where my cable company gets descriptions for its programming. But I know that its description of the Hallmark movie My Christmas Love can be found here and there online:

A woman receives presents from an anonymous suitor who’s inspired by the “12 Days of Christmas,” and she tries to uncover whom the mysterious gift-giver is.
Who, not whom.

Just as whom is not to be confused with who, My Christmas Love is not to be confused with 12 Gifts of Christmas, a Hallmark movie in which an unemployed artist gets hired as personal shopper for an executive type. I know, twelve, right. But they are two entirely different movies.

[From the Garner’s Modern English Usage entry for hypercorrection: “Sometimes people strive to abide by the strictest etiquette, but in the process behave inappropriately. The very motivations that result in this irony can play havoc with the language: a person will strive for a correct linguistic form but instead fall into error. Linguists call this phenomenon ‘hypercorrection’ — a common shortcoming.” And from the same entry, on using whom for who: “Perhaps writers should get points for trying, but those who don’t know how to use whom should abstain in questionable contexts.”]

Monday, December 18, 2017

Autocorrect fail

I texted my son Ben, who’s working hard on his Spanish: ¡Es verdad!

But iOS changed it: ¡Es ver Dad!

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger, perhaps more recognizable view.]

Do you recognize him? Leave your best guess as a comment, and enter as often as you like. I’ll drop a hint if necessary.


11:15 a.m.: A hint: he’s best known for a role that might make you think of aviation or jazz.

2:00 p.m.: A better hint: he’s best known for playing a character whose nickname might make you think of jazz. The name of the organization the character belongs to might make you think of aviation.

4:30 p.m.: It’s Russ Tamblyn, best known as Riff, leader of the Jets in West Side Story (dir. Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 1961). Here, billed as Rusty Tamblyn, he plays young Bart Tare in Gun Crazy (dir. John H. Lewis, 1949).

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

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Savory Collection

Now for sale: music from “the Savory Collection,” audio engineer Bill Savory’s archive of 1935–1940 radio broadcasts by jazz musicians. Apple Music and iTunes have the recordings to stream or download. A 6-CD boxed set from Mosaic Records arrives in February. To my mind, it’d be crazy to buy this music as anything other than a boxed set, but I’m funny that way. I like my music with liner notes and data.

Related reading
“Museum Acquires Storied Trove of Performances by Jazz Greats” (The New York Times)
A Savory Collection sampler (The New York Times)
The Savory Collection (National Jazz Museum in Harlem)

[I posted the news of the Savory Collection in 2010 and soon forgot all about it. How wonderful to be reminded now.]

NPR on Hallmark Movies

Today’s Weekend Edition Sunday has a segment on Hallmark Christmas movies. Linda Holmes and Lulu Garcia-Navarro are fans, even as they acknowledge that Hallmark’s unreality is utterly heteronormative and nearly all-white.

Related reading
All OCA Hallmark Movies posts

More bad words

The Washington Post reports that the Centers for Disease Control is not alone in cuts to vocabulary:

A second HHS [Health and Human Services] agency received similar guidance to avoid using “entitlement,” “diversity” and “vulnerable,” according to an official who took part in a briefing earlier in the week. Participants at that agency were also told to use “Obamacare” instead of ACA, or the Affordable Care Act, and to use “exchanges” instead of “marketplaces” to describe the venues where people can purchase health insurance.

At the State Department, meanwhile, certain documents now refer to sex education as “sexual risk avoidance.”
Related reading
All OCA George Orwell posts (Pinboard)
The seven words you can’t write at the CDC

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The seven words you can’t write
at the CDC

From The Washington Post:

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
Related reading
All OCA George Orwell posts (Pinboard)

From the Saturday Stumper

A nice clue from the Newsday Saturday Stumper, 20-Down, nine letters: “What a pump might hold.” No spoilers; the answer is in the comments.

Today’s puzzle is by Lester Ruff. Finishing a Saturday Stumper is always cause for minor self-congratulation.

A Bob and Ray motto

Bob and Ray did much to foster my youthful appreciation of incongruity and silliness. When I see an ad for prune shakes or read about tie slimming, I think of Bob and Ray.

A photograph of Bob and Ray’s stationery in David Pollock’s Bob and Ray: Keener Than Most Persons (Milwaukee: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2013) shows a company motto:

Words to live by!

Here is a photograph of a Bob and Ray letter to a young Keith Olbermann. Motto top left.

Related reading
All OCA Bob and Ray posts (Pinboard)

[Of course, using the word puissance might be the very essence of hauteur.]

Friday, December 15, 2017

Cartoon of the day

[“Net Neutrality,” by Ellis Rosen. The New Yorker, December 15, 2017.]

Manually operated elevators

“Collectively they form a hidden museum of obsolete technology and anachronistic employment, a network of cabinets of wonder staffed round the clock”: The New York Times visits some of the city’s manually operated elevators.

See also The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd. And in Chicago, the Fine Arts Building.

The boy with the orange scarf

[Henry, December 15, 2017.]

This comic strip does not predate the invention of the winter coat: plenty of Henry people wear coats, just not the protagonist. I like the scarf and the scarf rack, the wintry weather in the window, and the concessionaire’s uniform. Henry would have been better off sans scarf: an irked moviegoer will soon be using it to tie Henry’s mouth shut and silence his popcorn.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Sunny Murray (1936–2017)

The drummer Sunny Murray has died at the age of eighty-one. The New York Times has an obituary. I know Murray’s music mainly from my small cache of ESP-Disk LPs. This one, for instance. And this one.

Recently updated

Words of the Year Oxford Dictionaries announces its word.

Thursday, December 14, 2017


A long feature in The Washington Post: “Hacking Democracy.” An excerpt, with my emphasis:

U.S. officials declined to discuss whether the stream of recent intelligence on Russia has been shared with Trump. Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update — known as the president’s daily brief, or PDB — is often structured to avoid upsetting him.

Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter. In other cases, Trump’s main briefer — a veteran CIA analyst — adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.
Yet another indication that our president is virtually a non-reader.

A related post
Donald Trump’s spelling

At the Manor

At a nursing home called Princess Manor:

Alice Munro, “What Is Remembered,” in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (New York: Vintage, 2002).

Also from Alice Munro
“Rusted seams” : “That is what happens” : “Henry Ford?” : “A private queer feeling” : “A radiance behind it” : Opinions

Quilted steel

Dingburg beatniks:

[Zippy, December 14, 2017.]

Quilted steel? Like, this.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

“Seven Years”

Today’s xkcd is beautiful: “Seven Years.”

Heavens, gosh, shucks

From a 2011 Time interview with John Ashbery:

Q: Do you currently make a living off your poetry?

A: Heavens, no. I mean, gosh, no. Or shucks, no. [Laughs.] No, not at all.
Related reading
All OCA John Ashbery posts (Pinboard)

[Ashbery worked as a copywriter and art critic and taught at Brooklyn College and Bard College.]

About last night

I checked Twitter last night to see what Donald Trump had to say about Doug Jones’s defeat of Roy Moore:

I’d feel confident wagering that Trump did not write this tweet, for two reasons:

~ The restrained tone. A true Trump tweet would focus on the Fake News and what it did to poor Roy Moore. A true Trump tweet would not focus on a opponent’s win, much less ennoble that win as “a hard fought victory,” much less delight in the ongoing ups and downs of politics (“It never ends!”). This tweet expresses the sentiment of a good sport, someone willing to congratulate an opponent and celebrate the electorate who voted for that opponent. But Donald Trump is not a good sport, and I doubt that he can even pretend to be one. I can find no comparable Trump tweet of congratulation to Ralph Northam when he defeated Ed Gillespie last month in the Virginia gubernatorial race.

~ The utter absence of eccentric capitalization, punctuation, spacing, or spelling. I’m especially focused on the startling hyphen in write-in. Where did that come from? I don’t think that iOS dictation accounts for it: my phone, again and again, comes up with “right in votes.”

Last night’s tweet does contain two bits of standard Trump phrasing, which anyone familiar with his diction will recognize: “very big factor” and “a very short period of time.” But then anyone attempting to channel Trump’s voice — Dan Scavino? — could make use of such phrasing.

I have to add that I love the attempt at analysis and explanation: “the write-in votes played a very big factor.” That’s like saying that the votes of people who refused to vote for a candidate contributed to that candidate’s loss. Yep, a tough break. If I weren’t for the people who voted against you, you would have won! The feeble logic makes me suspect Kellyanne Conway as the writer.

This morning’s tweets suggest that the president himself is back on the Twitter, claiming that he knew Moore could never win “the General Election” and complaining about a stacked deck, “Fake News Media,” “Mainstream Meadia,” and the need for “GREAT” candidates. And the problem of “razor thin margins in both the House and Senate” — notice, no hyphen.

In my imaginary White House this morning: a cracked television screen, and a dented six-pack of Diet Coke on the floor.

Related posts
Donald Trump’s spelling
Who’s tweeting?

[Meadia: not my mistake.]

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

M-W sentence challenge

Fresca made a suggestion in a comment: write a sentence using Merriam-Webster’s nine runners-up for Word of the Year. The runners-up: complicit, recuse, empathy, dotard, syzygy, gyro, federalism, hurricane, and gaffe.


“In the name of federalism, show some empathy, or at least some syzygy, you complicit gaffe-prone dotard,” the hurricane warned, “before I turn you into a gyro platter and recuse myself!”
Want to play? Leave a sentence as a comment, or write one in a post of your own and I’ll link to it.

Words of the year

Several picks. I’ll add others as I find them:

From the Australian National Dictionary Centre: kwaussie.

From Cambridge Dictionary: populism.

From Collins Dictionary: fake news.

From complicit.

From Merriam-Webster: feminism. M-W’s runners-up: complicit, recuse, empathy, dotard, syzygy, gyro, federalism, hurricane, gaffe.


December 15: From Oxford Dictionaries: youthquake. The runners-up: Antifa, broflake, gorpcore, kompromat, Milkshake Duck, newsjacking, unicorn, white fragility.


January 6, 2018: From the American Dialect Society: fake news, defined as “disinformation or falsehoods presented as real news” and “actual news that is claimed to be untrue.”

Monday, December 11, 2017

“Save the Country”

[Laura Nyro, “Save the Country” (Nyro). Kraft Music Hall Presents the Sound of the Sixties. NBC Television, January 15, 1969.]

A good national anthem, then or now. Especially now.

James Rushing Esq.

Still making my way through my dad’s CDs: Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Ivie Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire, Mildred Bailey, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Art Blakey, Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins, Clifford Brown, Dave Brubeck, Joe Bushkin, Hoagy Carmichael, Betty Carter, Ray Charles, Charlie Christian, Rosemary Clooney, Nat “King” Cole, John Coltrane, Bing Crosby, Miles Davis, Matt Dennis, Doris Day, Blossom Dearie, Paul Desmond, Tommy Dorsey, Billy Eckstine, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Erroll Garner, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Stéphane Grappelli, Bobby Hackett, Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, Earl Hines, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Dick Hyman, Harry James, Hank Jones (my dad did tile work in his house), Louis Jordan, Stan Kenton, Barney Kessel, Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, Peggy Lee, Mary Ann McCall, Susannah McCorkle, Dave McKenna, Ray McKinley, Marian McPartland, Johnny Mercer, Helen Merrill, Glenn Miller, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Gerry Mulligan, Red Norvo, Anita O’Day, Charlie Parker, Joe Pass, Art Pepper, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, Boyd Raeburn, Django Reinhardt, Marcus Roberts, Sonny Rollins, and now, Jimmy Rushing.

Here are two tracks from The Jazz Odyssey of James Rushing Esq. (Columbia, 1957), an LP I remember vividly from childhood. I found an expensive used copy in adulthood. When the recording was reissued on CD, I bought a copy for my dad. That’s what I’m listening to now.


“New Orleans” (Hoagy Carmichael). Buck Clayton, trumpet; Tony Parenti, clarinet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Cliff Jackson, piano; Walter Page, bass; Zutty Singleton, drums.

“Doctor Blues” (Ed Lewis–James Rushing). Buck Clayton, Ernie Royal, trumpets; Hilton Jefferson, alto sax; Buddy Tate, tenor sax; Danny Banks, baritone sax; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Hank Jones, piano; Skeeter Best, guitar; Milt Hinton, bass; Jo Jones, drums. Both recorded November 6, 1956.

Listening at the age of three or four or five, I had no idea what these songs were about. But I knew that I liked Jimmy Rushing’s voice.

Also from my dad’s CDs
Mildred Bailey : Tony Bennett : Charlie Christian : Blossom Dearie : Duke Ellington : Coleman Hawkins : Billie Holiday : Louis Jordan : Charlie Parker

[Yes, there should be a comma before Esq . But I’m following the LP title.]

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Domestic comedy

[Watching an episode of Freaks and Geeks.]

“I’m so glad our kids are not in high school anymore.”

“I’m so glad I’m not in high school anymore.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

TV days

Donald Trump, quoted in a New York Times report on the course of the presidential day:

“I know they like to say — people that don’t know me — they like to say I watch television. People with fake sources — you know, fake reporters, fake sources. But I don’t get to watch much television, primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents a lot.”
Yep, lots of documents, with lots of pictures.

The Times reports that “people close to him estimate that Mr. Trump spends at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television.”

Myth appeal

[Zippy, December 9, 2017.]

I admire Bill Griffith’s willingness to reference American ephemera with little or no explanation. Will someone get it? Who knows.

That sphinx’s face belongs to Bert Piel. He and his brother Harry were cartoon spokesmen for Piels Beer, with voices by Bob and Ray. (Bob Elliott was Harry; Ray Goulding, Bert.) In 2013 the cartoon brothers appeared on a television screen in a Zippy strip. And who knows in how many Zippy strips before that.

A Wikipedia article about Piels cites a beer expert who explains that the popularity of the Bert and Harry commercials hurt the brand:

“Unfortunately, the beer itself was not very good. Because of the great ads, all kinds of people bought it for the first time, hated it and spread the news everywhere about how awful it was. It was a case of terrible word of mouth caused by a wonderful ad campaign.”
YouTube has a goodly number of Bert and Harry television commercials.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Finals approaching

[Nancy, May 17, 1950.]

Jim, Nancy, don’t!

You’ll find better advice in this post: How to do well on a final exam. And for those inclined to the dark side: How to do horribly on a final exam. My StatCounter stats this week show that entire classes are looking at the first of these posts: visit, visit, visit, as exams loom, loom, loom.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[Nancy, a literalist of the imagination, looks up cram in a dictionary and sits down with cake, cookies, a donut, fruit, jam, popcorn, and a sandwich.]

New AHD entries

Burner, saltimbocca, GOAT: among the additions this year to the American Heritage Dictionary.

I know burner from The Wire; GOAT, from Infinite Jest, where it’s turned into P.G.O.A.T., a name for Joelle van Dyne, the Prettiest Girl of All Time. Saltimbocca? As my mom would say, I never heard of it. Saltimbanque, yes. Saltimbocca, no. The words have a common source in the Italian saltare. A saltimbanque jumps on a bench or platform to perform. Saltimbocca, as you may have already figured out, jumps into one’s mouth. I know about saltimbanques from Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso.

[The Apollinaire link goes to Ron Padgett’s translation of an Apollinaire poem. The Picasso link goes to a catalogue from the National Gallery of Art. I always love a free PDF. Also, free association.]

Thursday, December 7, 2017

How to start a sentence

In the ABA Journal, Bryan Garner offers some advice about how to start a sentence. Key principles:

(1) A fair percentage of sentences should begin with short contextualizing phrases, often adverbial. (2) A fair percentage should begin with one-syllable transitional words—normally But, Yet, So or even And.
[If you noticed the absence of a comma before or: the ABA Journal follows AP style, sans serial commas. As Garner writes in an earlier column, “I don't have the clout to overrule them. It's as simple as that.”]

Imaginary local news

“Well, they don’t call it FALL for nothing. Leaves this week continue to ‘fall’ from area trees. The small colorful objects have been spotted on lawns, sidewalks, and streets in many communities. Experts say this trend will continue for some time, followed by — you guessed it — the white stuff. And Jack here is going to tell us when we can expect the first of that white stuff.” Segue to weather.

[This post started as one sentence in a letter to a friend.]

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Bully for Woolly

A short New Yorker piece, “Disruption Spreads to the Nightstand,” describes a new product from the mattress company Casper: Woolly, “a magazine that embraces the hunger for hygge and covers the bedtime beat.”

I thought I was reading a spoof, but no, Woolly is real. The first issue contains, among other things, a feature on sweatpants comfort pants and an “Adulting Coloring Book.” A picture caption: “I flossed!”


One narrator’s family:

Alice Munro, “Family Furnishings,” in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (New York: Vintage, 2002).

Also from Alice Munro
“Rusted seams” : “That is what happens” : “Henry Ford?” : “A private queer feeling” : “A radiance behind it”

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Pronouns and institutions

Lindsay Shepherd is a graduate student and teaching assistant in communication studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. Teaching first-year students about pronoun use, Shepherd showed a short clip from a television debate about gender-neutral singular pronouns — and specifically, about whether speakers and writers should be required by law to honor the pronouns that other individuals choose for themselves. As Shepherd tells it, she was not taking sides; she was presenting a debate and inviting students to comment. Later, one or more students complained. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on what followed.

Part of what followed: a meeting in which two faculty members and a staff member questioned Shepherd and opined about what happened (and about much else). The recording of that meeting offers a deep experience of the Kafkaesque. No one will tell Shepherd who or how many students complained, or the nature of the complaint or complaints. Shepherd’s presentation of a current debate about language is deemed by her interlocutors to have created a “toxic climate.” Shepherd is told that she has targeted “trans folks” and committed an act of “gender-based violence” and transphobia. Even as a faculty member tells Shepherd that there are “two sides” to every story, it’s clear that he and his colleagues have already made up their minds about what happened.

What might be the most extraordinary moment: “Your role as TA is not really to be teaching about the politics of grammar; it’s to be teaching grammar.” And yet teaching grammar includes teaching the use of singular pronouns, which, in English, are gendered — which is to say, political. Someone then asks Shepherd if she’d be willing to stick to “more traditional” matters in grammar. And yet a “more traditional” presentation would likely prohibit any consideration of gender-neutral singular pronouns. As I said, Kafkaesque.

Lindsay Shepherd describes herself as “a reasonable leftist.” The conclusion she has reached about her university, as presented on her Twitter page: “Confirmed: WLU is a mental institution.”


December 19: An investigation has exonerated Lindsay Shepherd of any wrongdoing. From a statement issued by Wilfrid Laurier president Deborah MacLatchy:

There were numerous errors in judgement made in the handling of the meeting with Ms. Lindsay Shepherd, the TA of the tutorial in question. In fact, the meeting never should have happened at all. No formal complaint, nor informal concern relative to a Laurier policy, was registered about the screening of the video. This was confirmed in the fact-finding report. . . .

There was no wrongdoing on the part of Ms. Shepherd in showing the clip from TVO [TVO: TVOntario, an educational television station] in her tutorial. Showing a TVO clip for the purposes of an academic discussion is a reasonable classroom teaching tool. Any instructional material needs to be grounded in the appropriate academic underpinnings to put it in context for the relevance of the learning outcomes of the course. The ensuing discussion also needs to be handled properly. We have no reason to believe this discussion was not handled well in the tutorial in question.
[A specifically Canadian context for this controversy: Bill C-16. See also a recent post by Geoffrey Pullum, unrelated to events in Canada: “I’m on the same side as my non-binarist and gender-neutral and transsexual friends,” Pullum writes, but he thinks of singular they with a personal name for antecedent as ungrammatical.]

John Gruber on Messenger Kids

John Gruber’s comment on Facebook’s Messenger Kids app: “This is like Philip Morris introducing officially licensed candy cigarettes. You’re nuts if you sign your kids up for this.”

All the books are green, almost

The Washington Post reports on “the odd assortment of books that make up the White House Christmas book tree.” The books were chosen for their green covers — or, in the words of Stephanie Grisham, director of communications for first lady Melania Trump, “their varieties of green color tones.” The green books set off Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s copy of A Christmas Carol, bound in red.

[See also Nicholson Baker’s “Books as Furniture.”]

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger, perhaps more recognizable view.]

He’s appearing in his first film role. Do you recognize him? Leave your best guess as a comment, and enter as often as you like. I’ll drop a hint if necessary.

More mystery actors (Collect them all!)
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Robin Wright on words
and sentences

Ilan Stavans’s podcast In Contrast offers an excellent interview with the journalist and foreign correspondent Robin Wright. Wright offers, in passing, some provocative observations about the teaching of writing in the United States:

There is the illusion that the longer the sentence, and the more multisyllabic words are used, the longer the paragraph, the better the writing, when in fact, it’s exactly the opposite. I always say “Tight is right”: write short, write pithy, write to the point, write things people understand in one bite, rather than compound ideas in a single sentence. . . .

Unfortunately, in universities, people write quite dull prose.
Wright is right, of course. One idea, one sentence is a good maxim, as long as one acknowledges that ideas come in all sizes and may be made of many parts. (See, for instance, Proust.) If you look at any of Wright’s recent pieces for The New Yorker, I think you’ll agree that her sentences, whatever their length, are models of clarity.

A related post
Sentences, short and long

[Transcription mine.]

Stefan Zweig in Turkey

Stefan Zweig is reported to be the most-read writer in Turkey.

Related reading
All OCA Stefan Zweig posts (Pinboard)

Van Dyke Parks meets
Merle Haggard

As told by Kinky Friedman:

“Van Dyke was worried he’d get lynched because, well, he’s a sort of Noel Coward type,” Friedman says. “So he asked everybody, ‘How long have you known Merle?’ And every one of them would answer, ‘Ever since.’ ‘Ever since,' 'Ever since,’ ‘Ever since.’ So he asked me, ‘What does that mean, ever since?’ I told him, ‘Ever since prison, stupid!’ Stupid is one thing Van Dyke is not. But ever since prison.
Related reading
All OCA Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

[“A sort of Noel Coward type”? What?!]

Charles Simic on the pencil

Charles Simic writes about “The Poet’s Pencil”:

I knew a poet who could only write his poems with a stub of a pencil. Nothing else worked for him as well. His family and friends bought him fountain pens, ballpoints, typewriters, and laptops, but he kept away from them. “It’s like giving a dog a wristwatch for Christmas,” his wife said.
The poet, of course, is Simic himself.

About Simic’s offhand characterization of “an age of computers and smartphones when pencils are becoming extinct”: with enough use, individual pencils have always become extinct. But the species? No. Not now. Not yet.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Word of the day: wrangler

At many a performance of The Nutcracker, the volunteering parents who manage the young dancers backstage are called wranglers. For obvious reasons.

Is this bit of language heard backstage more generally? I have no idea. Anyone?

For Safari users only

I’m not an IT guy, but I play one at home. That’s how I found a page about how to speed up page loads in Safari. Disabling DNS prefetch — who knew? — makes an enormous difference.

I’ve long used Google Code’s namebench to select DNS servers. That helps. And we just received a new modem/router from our cable company. That helps too. But disabling prefetch — well, as Timmy Martin would say, Gosh!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

From the Saturday Stumper

A nice clue from the Newsday Saturday Stumper, 40-Across, eight letters: “Unwritten constitution.” No spoilers; the answer is in the comments.

Today’s puzzle is by Lester Ruff, whose name sounds like an anagram (Re: Truffles), but who knows? Finishing a Saturday Stumper is always cause for minor self-congratulation.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Pottery Barn Kids [sic]

My daughter Rachel has alerted me to the existence of Pottery Barn Kids merchandise: Le Creuset toy cookware and Williams Sonoma toy food, costing much more than many people can afford to spend on real cookware and real food. You can guess what we think about this stuff.

In our household the crucial culinary toy was a 1980s Little Tikes Kitchen, a topic of conversation in a piece of fambly videotape. “Vintage” Little Tikes Kitchens are now even more expensive than Pottery Barn toys.

Barack Obama talks about
social media

Barack Obama told an audience in New Delhi that he uses spellcheck and punctuation:

“Which my daughters think is odd. They were explaining to us how if you put a period at the end of a sentence it sounds harsh. I said, ‘No, that’s English. That’s how you know the thought is finished.’”

He said he sees people getting in trouble for their tweets, and says they should follow the old advice of thinking before you speak: “Think before you tweet,” Obama said. “Same principle.”

He said social media is a powerful tool, for both good and ill. “And look, I’ve got 100 million Twitter followers. I actually have more than other people who use it more often.”

Who’s tweeting?

WNYC reports on Dan Scavino, Donald Trump’s social-media guy. An observation from a Huffington Post reporter, Ashley Feinberg:

“The time of day is usually a good indicator [to decipher Trump’s tweets]. In the morning, Dan’s not at work yet, and Trump is sitting on his couch watching Fox News and tweeting himself, so those are usually him — when it’s before 10:00 AM or so. Late at night, too, the 10:30 tweets are usually Trump. But during the day, it’s more up for grabs.”
The eccentric capitalization of ordinary words— “The Failing @nytimes has totally gone against the Social Media Guidelines” — seems to be a good sign that it‘s Trump. Lots of words in all caps — RESTORE AMERICAN PROSPERITY — I think that’s more a Scavino tic.

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger, perhaps more recognizable view.]

I think this one is tough, but when I think they’re tough, other people find them easy — and vice versa. At any rate, the actor is appearing in his first credited film role. Do you recognize him? Leave your best guess as a comment, and enter as often as you like. I’ll drop a hint if necessary.


11:00 a.m.: Here’s a hint: medicine.

11:26 a.m.: Another: water.

12:56 p.m.: This post has had many, many visits but no more guesses. I could add another hint: think boat. But I’ll reveal: it’s Bernie Kopell, best known as Dr. Adam Bricker, “Doc,” from The Love Boat. Here he plays an assistant to the Guru Brahmin (notice the photo, lower left) in The Loved One (dir. Tony Richardson, 1965).

That was tough.

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