Monday, April 30, 2018

Before and after

Before: “The Wikipedia article says. . . .”

After: “After some research, I unearthed. . . .”

From my dad’s CDs

I’m 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, 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, Jimmy Rushing, Catherine Russell, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, Artie Shaw, George Shearing, Horace Silver, Frank Sinatra, Paul Smith, Jeri Southern, Jo Stafford, Art Tatum, Claude Thornhill, Mel Tormé, McCoy Tyner, Sarah Vaughan, and now, Joe Venuti.

My dad had just one Venuti recording, Joe & Zoot & More (Chiaroscuro). I love the LP Joe & Zoot, so I bought him the CD reissue, which has the LP tracks (with one substitution) and a few extras. Here are two selections:


“Oh, Lady Be Good” (George Gershwin–Ira Gershwin). Joe Venuti, violin; Zoot Sims, soprano sax; Dick Wellstood, piano; George Duvivier, bass; Cliff Leeman, drums. Recorded in New York City, September 27, 1973.

“The Blue Room” (Richard Rodgers–Lorenz Hart). Venuti, violin; Spencer Clark, bass sax; Dill Jones, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar. Recorded in New York City, May 29, 1974. Yes, the sound is a little scratchy here.

Also from my dad’s CDs
Mildred Bailey : Tony Bennett : Charlie Christian : Blossom Dearie : Duke Ellington : Coleman Hawkins : Billie Holiday : Louis Jordan : Charlie Parker : Jimmy Rushing : Artie Shaw : Frank Sinatra : Art Tatum : Mel Tormé : Sarah Vaughan

Sunday, April 29, 2018

On Duke Ellington’s birthday,
a random possible discovery

It may be coincidence, but a phrase that Bubber Miley plays and repeats in “Blue Bubbles” (0:36–0:40) sure sounds like the germ of “Good Queen Bess”:

“Blue Bubbles” (Duke Ellington–Bubber Miley). Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Louis Metcalf, Bubber Miley, trumpets; Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, trombone; Harry Carney, Otto Hardwicke, Rudy Jackson, reeds; Ellington, piano; Fred Guy, banjo; Wellman Braud, bass; Sonny Greer, drums. Recorded in New York City, December 19, 1927.

“Good Queen Bess” (Johnny Hodges). Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra: Hodges, alto sax; Harry Carney, baritone sax; Cootie Williams, trumpet; Lawrence Brown, trombone; Duke Ellington, piano; Jimmy Blanton, bass; Sonny Greer, drums. Recorded in Chicago, November 2, 1940.

Miley was still a member of the Ellington band when Hodges joined in 1928. Perhaps the band was still playing “Blue Bubbles” (hardly a crucial part of the Ellington repertoire). Or perhaps Hodges had the record. Or perhaps Miley played this little phrase in other contexts. I would like to imagine that for some reason it stayed with Hodges, to reappear years later.

Related reading
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)

On Duke Ellington’s birthday

Duke Ellington was born on April 29, 1899. From “The Mirrored Self,” a question-and-answer interlude:

Q. Who are you?

A. I am a musician who is a member of the American Federation of Labor, and who hopes one day to amount to something artistically.

Q. Are you not being too modest?

A. Oh, no, you should see my dreams!

Music Is My Mistress (New York: Doubleday, 1973)
Related reading
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

From the Saturday Stumper

My favorite clues from today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper:

30-Across, six letters: “Travel channel.”

33-Across, thirteen letters: “Centers for drawing classes.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Today’s puzzle, by Matthew Sewell, is a difficult one. I think that the Saturday Stumper is getting stumpier.

Today’s Nancy

[Nancy, April 28, 2018.]

Today’s Nancy features a chorus of voices praising Nancy’s simplicity. See also Ernie Bushmiller on a preference for fewer words in comic strips.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Friday, April 27, 2018

How to improve writing (no. 75)

Every time I look at Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, I end up rewriting one or more sentences. Consider this sentence:

The fact that this taxicab family that is joined at the hip to Michael Cohen and his people is getting into the legal weed business is immaterial to me.
The fact that makes a bad start. The two instances of that don’t help. The three instances of is don’t help. Joined at the hip, his people, weed: all tiresome phrasing. (And his people turns out to refer only to Cohen’s father-in-law.) And the syntactic jumble of Michael Cohen and his people is getting into the legal weed business needs sorting out.

A larger issue: the question of agency in this sentence. Applying Richard Lanham’s command for sentence revision — “Find the action” — makes clear that nothing happens here. All we know is that the fact is immaterial.

A possible revision:
I don’t care that Semyon “Sam” Shtayner, a taxi baron close to Michael Cohen’s father-in-law, is entering the legalized cannabis industry.
Marshall uses the first-person pronoun later in his paragraph, so beginning with I makes sense: I don’t care. . . . But there’s new information. . . . I’ll follow up later. But no one needs to follow up with what Marshall calls “an explainer on what it seems to mean.” What else would an explanation seek to explain?

Related reading
All OCA “How to improve writing” posts (Pinboard) : E.B. White and the fact that

[“Find the action”: from Richard Lanham’s Revising Prose (2007). The AP calls Shtayner a taxi mogul; I chose baron in honor of the old Trump pseudonym John Baron (or Barron). This post is no. 75 in a series, dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

“I suspicioned you weren’t.”

Sophomore year:

Claudine and I studied The Century Handbook of Writing, giggling all the way. Examples seemed even funnier. When we came to Rule 68, “Avoid faulty diction,” we studied the examples: “Nowhere near. Vulgar for not nearly.” “This here. Do not use for this.” “Suspicion. A noun. Never to be used as a verb.” Our conversation became sprinkled with gleeful vulgarisms we had never used before. When I announced my presence by noisily tap-dancing on the Klums’ wooden porch and probably annoying all the neighbors on the block, Claudine said she was nowhere near ready for school.

“I suspicioned you weren’t.”

Claudine’s reply was something like, “This here shoelace broke.”

We thought our dialogue hilarious. Mrs. Klum sighed as she looked up from Science and Health and said with a smile, “Oh, you silly little girls.”

Beverly Cleary, A Girl from Yamhill: A Memoir (New York: William Morrow, 1988).

[From a 1922 edition of The Century Handbook of Writing, in Google Books.]

Related reading
All OCA Beverly Cleary posts (Pinboard)

“Thin it out”

When a “learning style” becomes an ignorance style. From a New Yorker article by Patrick Radden Keefe about H.R. McMaster and Donald Trump, “McMaster and Commander”:

The National Security Council has a comparatively lean budget — approximately twelve million dollars — and so its staff consists largely of career professionals on loan from the State Department, the Pentagon, and other agencies. When Trump assumed office, N.S.C. staffers initially generated memos for him that resembled those produced for his predecessors: multi-page explications of policy and strategy. But “an edict came down,” a former staffer told me: “‘Thin it out.’” The staff dutifully trimmed the memos to a single page. “But then word comes back: ‘This is still too much.’” A senior Trump aide explained to the staffers that the President is “a visual person,” and asked them to express points “pictorially.”

“By the time I left, we had these cards,” the former staffer said. They are long and narrow, made of heavy stock, and emblazoned with the words “THE WHITE HOUSE” at the top. Trump receives a thick briefing book every night, but nobody harbors the illusion that he reads it. Current and former officials told me that filling out a card is the best way to raise an issue with him in writing. Everything that needs to be conveyed to the President must be boiled down, the former staffer said, to “two or three points, with the syntactical complexity of ‘See Jane run.’”
The description of these cards seems to fit the card Tump held while he was listening to children and parents affected by school shootings. Or was he listening? Also in this article, an account from Ken Pollack, a friend of McMaster’s:
Initially, Pollack said, McMaster gave Trump “the benefit of the doubt,” assuming that he could understand complicated issues. Every day, McMaster subjected Trump to detailed briefings. According to Pollack, the President just sat there. “He would look like he was interested,” Pollack said. “He was probably trying to imagine how many times H.R. has to shave his head every day, while H.R. is going on and on about the complexities of Russia policy.” Only later, Pollack said, did McMaster realize that “the guy wasn’t absorbing a fucking thing he said!”
Related posts
Kanye West, “proud non-reader” : Learning styles

Thursday, April 26, 2018


[The Washington Post, April 26, 2018.]

And I thought the allegations were limited to alcohol, Ambien, and Percocet.

“Say telephone.”

High school, and Beverly Bunn and Claudine Klum are friends:

In freshman English, tiny Miss Hart led us through Treasure Island, which pleased the boys. The book bored me. This was followed by As You Like It and Silas Marner. We also waded into a compact little green book, The Century Handbook of Writing, by Garland Greever and Easley Jones, a valuable book that was to accompany us for four years. Completeness of thought, unity of thought, emphasis, grammar, diction, spelling, “manuscript, etc.,” and punctuation — we went over it all every year.

Claudine and I, who were inclined to giggle at almost anything, found The Century Handbook entertaining. We often quoted examples. If I said, “Phone me this evening,” she replied, “‘Phone. A contraction not employed in formal writing. Say telephone.’”

After a test, one of us quoted, “‘If I pass (and I may),’ said Hazel, ‘let’s celebrate.’” This, from a rule on the use of quotation marks, was worth a fit of giggles.

Beverly Cleary, A Girl from Yamhill: A Memoir (New York: William Morrow, 1988).

[From a 1922 edition of The Century Handbook of Writing, in Google Books. But no sign of Hazel.]

Related reading
All OCA Beverly Cleary posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

“Volunteer adjuncts”

Says one professor, “It looks like an attempt to outsource work to unpaid labor.” I agree. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Southern Illinois University at Carbondale is looking for alumni with terminal degrees to serve as what the school calls “volunteer adjuncts”:

In an email to department chairs, Michael R. Molino, associate dean for research, budget, and personnel, asked for help in finding alumni with terminal degrees who would apply “to join the SIU Graduate Faculty in a zero-time (adjunct) status.“

Alumni who accepted the three-year positions might serve on graduate students’ thesis committees, teach graduate or undergraduate lectures, or collaborate on research projects, according to Molino’s e-mail.
I suggest that Associate Dean Molino visit the SIU School of Medicine and have his head examined.

“What would I have done
without the library?”

Sixth-grade, and Beverly Cleary (then Bunn) has moved from fairy tales to the Myths and Legends shelves of the Rose City Branch Library:

There I came upon the story of Persephone and her mother, Demeter. The flowers that enticed Persephone to stray from her companions reminded me of our pasture in Yamhill, where I had often been enticed to run on to a thicker clump of buttercups or a patch of fatter Johnny-jump-ups. In my imagination I became Persephone. Turning into the daughter of a Greek goddess was easy — I had had so much experience turning from a brown-haired girl with crooked teeth into a golden-haired or raven-haired princess in fairy tales. At home, the wet Oregon winter with its sodden leaves became the dark underworld, and somehow Mother’s telephone soliciting kept the world from blooming. Demeter’s search for Persephone comforted me. What would I have done without the library?

A Girl from Yamhill: A Memoir (New York: William Morrow, 1988).
Related reading
All OCA Beverly Cleary posts (Pinboard)

[“Telephone soliciting”: selling magazine subscriptions.]

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


“Worse than a travesty, it’s a tragedy”: Bryan Garner writes about the trend of “deaccessioning” books from university libraries (ABA Journal).

This trend threatens public libraries as well. A nearby library was the site of a disgraceful adventure in “weeding” a few years back, when the library’s director ordered the removal of all non-fiction more than ten years old. The library board ended up removing the director.

A related post
Preventing discards

LY 1–7116

Sean at Blackwing Pages and Contrapuntalism passed on this photograph of the back of a photograph. Two contributors to the Telephone EXchange Name Project identify Irvington’s LY as LYric.

You’d wonder about Daniel Berry too, wouldn’t you? Emmett Daniel Berry (1927–2011) worked as a photographer before devoting himself to the cause of fire safety. For more than fifty years, he was a volunteer firefighter in Irvington, serving as chief from 1973 to 1974. His obituary describes him as strong advocate for fire-safety legislation, “responsible for sprinkler code legislation throughout municipalities in New York State.”

Hot pillows

Beverly Cleary (then Bunn) continues to make her way through school:

The third-grade teacher at Gregory Heights Grammar School soon became ill and was replaced by a substitute who stayed the rest of the semester. Schoolwork was easy, but the substitute, I felt, could not be very bright. One day she asked a boy to make a sentence using the word “hot.” He answered, “My pillow is hot.”

“Don’t be silly,” she said. “Stoves are hot. Fires are hot. Pillows can’t be hot.”

Yes they can, I thought. I felt sorry for the little boy, who looked ashamed. Pillows could be very hot. Dumb teacher.

Beverly Cleary, A Girl from Yamhill: A Memoir (New York: William Morrow, 1988).
This substitute reminds me of the student teacher who told fourth-grader Bryan Garner that shan’t isn’t a word and refused to acknowledge otherwise. Dumb teacher.

Related reading
All OCA Beverly Cleary posts (Pinboard)

Monday, April 23, 2018

Learning styles

A study of 426 undergraduate anatomy students finds no correlation between preferred “learning style” and learning:

Results demonstrated that most students did not report study strategies that correlated with their VARK assessment, and that student performance in anatomy was not correlated with their score in any VARK categories [visual, aural, reading/writing, kinesthetic]. Rather, some specific study strategies (irrespective of VARK results), such as use of the virtual microscope, were found to be positively correlated with final class grade. However, the alignment of these study strategies with VARK results had no correlation with anatomy course outcomes. Thus, this research provides further evidence that the conventional wisdom about learning styles should be rejected by educators and students alike.
Or in plainer language: Most students did not keep to their supposed learning style when studying. Students’ grades showed no correlation with keeping or not keeping to a supposed learning style. And certain study strategies led to better grades, regardless of a student’s supposed learning style.

The study, by Polly R. Husmann and Valerie D. O’Loughlin, is behind a paywall. But here’s an article that summarizes its findings.

I remember some years ago being told that I am a “visual learner.” Yes, I prefer to read a text than have it read to me, though in VARK terms that makes me an R, not a V. But if I’m really an R, how did I ever manage to get so much from all the classes in which I sat and listened and took notes as professors lectured? Or how did I figure out fingerpicking patterns by listening to Mississippi John Hurt records?

As Husmann and O’Loughlin write, “the adage of ‘I can’t learn subject X because I am a visual learner’ should be put to rest once and for all.” I look back at this post and cringe.

Sean Hannity’s “property empire”

The Guardian reports on Sean Hannity’s “property empire.” And here I was, thinking that Hannity was asking Michael Cohen for advice about buying that cute little split-level ranch in the new subdivision.

From my dad’s CDs

I’m 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, 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, Jimmy Rushing, Catherine Russell, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, Artie Shaw, George Shearing, Horace Silver, Frank Sinatra, Paul Smith, Jeri Southern, Jo Stafford, Art Tatum, Claude Thornhill, Mel Tormé, McCoy Tyner, and now, Sarah Vaughan.

Here are two Vaughan performances from the 1961 Roulette recording After Hours: “Sophisticated Lady” (Duke Ellington–Irving Mills–Mitchell Parish) and “In a Sentimental Mood” (Ellington–Mills–Manny Kurtz). Accompanying Vaughan: Mundell Lowe (guitar) and George Duvivier (bass). Recorded in New York City, July 18, 1961. Hypnosis!

Also from my dad’s CDs
Mildred Bailey : Tony Bennett : Charlie Christian : Blossom Dearie : Duke Ellington : Coleman Hawkins : Billie Holiday : Louis Jordan : Charlie Parker : Jimmy Rushing : Artie Shaw : Frank Sinatra : Art Tatum : Mel Tormé

[No, Irving Mills didn’t write a note. But he got his name on the songs, which meant royalties.]

Sunday, April 22, 2018


Fans of Van Dyke Parks should know that Turner Classic Movies is airing The Swan (dir. Charles Vidor, 1956) today, 6:00 Eastern. VDP plays young George.

See also VDP in The Honeymooners.

Related reading
All OCA Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

Bad mail days

The opening paragraph of a story in today’s The New York Times:

A mail carrier in Brooklyn stashed about 17,000 pieces of undelivered mail for more than a decade because he was “overwhelmed” by the amount he had to deliver, the authorities said.
“The authorities”?

And if you read the article, you’ll see that it’s never made clear who “the authorities” are.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

From the Saturday Stumper

A neat clue from today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper: 17-Across, ten letters: “Battery side?” (Notice the question mark, which signals a tricky clue.) My first guess: CONGADRUMS. No spoilers; the answer is in the comments.

Today’s puzzle, by Greg Johnson, is challenging, extremely so. I was ready to say DNF (did not finish) and give up, but finish I did. A good strategy, always, with puzzles: when you reach an impasse, step away and start again later. Sure enough, it worked.

[CONGADRUMS? I imagined conga players standing still as a drumline marches.]

The new Nancy

I think Olivia Jaimes’s new Nancy is just plain terrific, with a distinctively dry, snarky sense of humor. But I learned from The A.V. Club that the pseudonymous artist’s strip has become the subject of heated debate, with some readers fiercely loyal to Guy Gilchrist, the strip’s previous artist and writer: “It’s 2018, and people are suddenly screaming at each other about 85-year-old comic strip character Nancy.”

Four things I like about Jaimes’s Nancy:

~ The spareness of the art, which, however spare, could never be mistaken for Ernie Bushmiller’s art. Jaimes’s cartooning is more severe; her strip, lonelier.

~ The meta touch that was often evident in Bushmiller’s Nancy, with characters who comment on their cartoonist and comic-strip conventions, and a cartoonist who posts messages for the reader.

~ Traces of contemporary reality: bots, earbuds, Marie Kondo, Snapchat filters. In his day Ernie Bushmiller referenced hippies, television, and abstract art.

~ A plaintiveness that I think would please Bushmiller, as when Nancy opens her report card next to fly-ridden dumpsters because she doesn’t want to ruin a landscape of butterflies and flowers with a painful memory. Guy Gilchrist’s final Nancy strip is all flowers and cheer. I vote for Our Nancy of the Dumpsters.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Union Iron Works

[“Union Iron Works. Decatur, Ill.” As seen in downstate Illinois. Click for a larger front step.]

Union Iron, est. 1852, is still going. I’m glad the company signed its work.


On NPR’s Morning Edition this morning, David Greene cited Donald Trump’s remark to James Comey about putting reporters in jail for a few days to get them to reveal their sources — something Trump suggested after Comey spoke of the value of “putting a head on a pike as a message.” Jailing reporters would be bad enough. But Trump said more. From Comey’s memo describing a meeting on February 14, 2017:

He replied by saying it [finding leakers] may involve putting reporters in jail. “They spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk.” I laughed as I walked to the door Reince Priebus had opened.
“Make a new friend”: it doesn’t take great powers of imagination or inference to conclude that Trump was joking about sexual assault. NPR did not mention that part of Trump’s remark.

See also remarks by Trump’s lawyer Jay Goldberg, speaking to CNN‘s Erin Burnett yesterday about Michael Cohen’s unfitness for “the rigors of prison life”:
“I think, in many ways — and it’s difficult to say this — prison has a racial overtone, and a person like Michael doesn’t see himself walking down Broadway while people are clamoring, ‘You’re going to be my wife.’”
Nothing about the pain of separation from loved ones and everyday life: just fear of becoming a black man’s “wife.” Burnett didn’t address Goldberg’s remark: instead, she followed up by asking whether Cohen has “the goods” on the president.

Media decorum about such brutal imaginings won’t help our democracy, or what’s left of it.

[Broadway: “the ground floor of a prison.”]

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Recently updated

“Salacious material” The release of James Comey’s memos clears up a question I had about who said what.

Mark and Mark

“He just didn't tell the truth”: Mark Hurst, who has deleted his Facebook account, catalogues the deceptions in Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony, with links to many other commentators.

“Trump’s mystery mansion”

Reveal, from The Center for Investigative Journalism, has become one of my favorite podcasts. Here is one short Reveal story, about a Beverly Hills property changing hands in exceedingly strange ways: “Trump’s mystery mansion.” And a longer version for reading. There’s sketchy stuff in them there Hills.


1:45 p.m.: I listened to another episode while walking: “Checking into Trump’s Washington hotel.” All about doing the laundry, and much more.

Cohen, Cohen, Cohen

At Talking Points Memo, three pieces on Michael Cohen: 1, 2, 3.

[I wish though that Josh Marshall were a more careful writer. “Cohen has worshiped Trump since he was a high schooler”: see what I mean?]


MUrray Hill-Seven Seven-Five-Hundred. MUrray Hill-Seven Seven-Five-Hundred. MUrray Hill-Seven Seven-Five-Hundred.

[An “over and over,” resulting from my excitement at discovering this bit of the past online. I love the shot of the furtive, slightly stooped figure entering the house and the door closing behind him. But most of all, I love MUrray Hill-Seven Seven-Five-Hundred. MUrray Hill-Seven Seven-Five-Hundred. Typing “7500” would leave the pronunciation ambiguous.]

Zippy metamorphosis

[Zippy, April 19, 2018. The third panel adds: “Hint inside each balloon.”]

It’s Samsa-time again. (See also Zippy as Betty Boop and Woody Woodpecker.) The comments on today’s Zippy identify the six characters who appear in the strip.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

MSNBC, sheesh

Chuck Todd just referred to the nonprofit investigative organization ProPublica as “Pro Pube-lica” — twice.

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

[Elaine heard it too — twice. As she points out, Chuck Todd was caught with his pants down.]

Coffee shocker

A shocking headline: “This is what drinking just tea and coffee all day does to your body, according to a registered dietitian” (Business Insider).

I’ll save you the work of clicking through. As most people who read the article will already know, drinking just tea and coffee all day hydrates your body. The shocker: “You’ll probably be extremely over-caffeinated!” Yes! You will be!

Related reading
All OCA coffee and tea posts (Pinboard)

[My over-caffeination is feigned. I’ve had just one cup of tea, one cup of coffee today. I can’t speak for the dietitian.]

“A right or wrong hand”

Beverly Cleary, writing about first grade:

The teacher was a tall, gray-haired woman who wore a navy blue dress and black oxfords. “Good morning, children,” she said. “My name is Miss Falb. It is spelled F-a-l-b. The l is silent. Say, ‘Good morning, Miss Falb.’”

“Good morning, Miss Fob,” we chorused.

She then wrote Miss Falb in perfect cursive writing on the blackboard and instructed us to get out our tablets and copy what she had written.

The whole thing seemed unreasonable to me. If the l was silent, why was it there? I picked up my pencil with the hand closer to the pencil. Miss Falb descended on me, removed the pencil from my left hand, and placed it in my other hand. “You must always hold your pencil in your right hand,” she informed me.

No one had ever told me I had a right or wrong hand. I had always used the hand closer to the task. With her own pencil, Miss Falb wrote Beverly Bunn on my paper in the Wesco system of handwriting with its peculiar e’s, r’s, and x’s that were to become a nuisance all my life.

A Girl from Yamhill: A Memoir (New York: William Morrow, 1988).
Cleary’s signature, stamped on the cover of this hardcover edition, shows the Wesco e and r.

[A library copy, with a ballpoint slash through the final y.]

For further reading: a biographical sketch of John Austin Wesco and a 1939 edition of Wesco System of Writing.

Related reading
Beverly Cleary on writing by hand : Ramona Quimby and cursive : All OCA Cleary posts (Pinboard)

[Miss Falb turns out to be a real piece of work. I suspect that those of us who’ve had miserable teachers are never reluctant to identify them by name.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Hyphen needed

From a New York Times article about the ugly incident in a Philadelphia Starbucks:

The chief executive, Kevin R. Johnson, said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” that what happened to the men was “wrong,” and that he wanted to meet with them personally to apologize.

“It’s my responsibility to understand what happened and what led to that, and ensure that we fix it,” Mr. Johnson said. He said that the company was reviewing its guidelines, which can differ among its 28,000 stores worldwide, and that it would invest in unconscious bias training.
Make that unconscious-bias training. Unconscious bias training, a lifetime’s worth, is what might prompt an employee to call the police when two men of color are waiting on a friend before ordering.

Great crosswords, free

At bewilderingly, Will Nediger posts a free crossword puzzle of his making every Monday. He describes his puzzles as erudite and witty, and vows never to make a puzzle with the answer EMAG. I found quite a range of reference in this week’s puzzle: Bach, Howard Hawks, Japanese beer, Nancy Drew’s boyfriend, Rihanna, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Six circled letters in three answers add up to an obvious-once-you-finally-see-it theme. But it was the clue for 60-Across, sixteen letters, that really won me over: “Classic Thelonious Monk album with the track "Pannonica.” Holy cow!

I must have found my way to Will Nediger’s puzzles via Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle, an always interesting and often contentious daily discussion.

[No spoilers for possible solvers. The Monk album title is in the comments.]


“Anyone weary of black-box algorithms controlling what you see online at least has a respite, one that’s been there all along but has often gone ignored.” At Wired, Brian Barrett votes for RSS.

I’ll add a suggestion: if you follow a blog in RSS, click through and say something every now and then. Hint, hint.

Opening Safari links in iOS

Lifehacker explains a nifty iOS Safari feature: tapping with two fingers will open a link in a new tab. If you have Safari set to open new tabs in the background, you can watch the link jump down to the tabs icon, at the bottom right of the screen.

What I can add: if the link is short, you’ll need to embiggen the page first.

Monday, April 16, 2018

At the center

I turned on the television and heard an MSNBC anchor describe Stormy Daniels as the person “at the center of Michael Cohen’s legal troubles.” No, that would be Michael Cohen.

Or better: Michael Cohen’s legal troubles are a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

From my dad’s CDs

I’m 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, 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, Jimmy Rushing, Catherine Russell, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, Artie Shaw, George Shearing, Horace Silver, Frank Sinatra, Paul Smith, Jeri Southern, Jo Stafford, Art Tatum, Claude Thornhill, and now, Mel Tormé.

My dad and I never agreed about Mel Tormé. I think of Tormé as an acquired taste that I’ve yet to acquire. The voice is a wonder; the technique, unlimited. But Tormé’s taste is, for me, too often questionable. Too much show business, too much showing off: scatting the name Jobim, interpolating “Superstar” — yes, that “Superstar” — in a tribute to Fred Astaire (“Fred Astaire, superstar, you know we admire who and what you are”), ending numbers with an extended “Yeah.” Help! I once told my dad about one of John Lennon’s recording aliases: Mel Torment. My dad was not amused.

But listen: here are two unembeddable and unremittingly terrific performances from the 1963 Atlantic album Mel Tormé Sings “Sunday in New York” and Other Songs about New York. Frank Sinatra introduced “The Brooklyn Bridge” (Sammy Cahn–Jules Styne) in the 1947 film It Happened in Brooklyn. Tormé introduced “Sunday in New York” (Peter Nero–Carroll Coates) in the 1963 film of that name. Johnny Williams did the first arrangement; Dick Hazard, the second. The second of these songs immediately puts me in touch with the 1960s Manhattan of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The World of Henry Orient.

Three mountain ranges remain: Sarah Vaughan (I hadn’t realized how many CDs), Fats Waller (see previous parenthesis), and Lee Wiley. And smaller hills along the way.

Also from my dad’s CDs
Mildred Bailey : Tony Bennett : Charlie Christian : Blossom Dearie : Duke Ellington : Coleman Hawkins : Billie Holiday : Louis Jordan : Charlie Parker : Jimmy Rushing : Artie Shaw : Frank Sinatra : Art Tatum

Zippy pens

[Zippy, April 16, 2018.]

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Typewriter ribbons

[Henry, April 16, 2018.]

Henry, surrealist? Not really: he has just passed Notions, a store with hair ribbons in the window.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

“Varied and impenetrable”

W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz, trans. Anthea Bell (New York: Modern Library, 2001).

Also from Austerlitz
Austerlitz on time : Marks on time : Language as a city : Objects in windows

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Smells like childhood

In The New York Times, Sofija Stefanovic’s essay on the smells of her childhood prompts readers to recall smells from their own childhoods.

Me: bus exhaust, bubble gum, Camel cigarettes, caps for toy guns, my elementary school’s basement, laundry air-dried in my grandparents’ basement. I think it’s odd that three of these six smells are the result of combustion. Or maybe four: the school basement’s smell was due at least in part to cooking for school lunches. I always thought of the smell as years of spilled soup.

See also David Owens’s essay on the smells of his childhood. Also this post about fresh cookies and fresh ironing, and this one about revisiting my elementary school, whose basement still had the same smell.

[I am well aware that childhood can also smell like burning buildings and chemical weapons.]

From the Saturday Stumper

A distant memory in today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper: 14-Across, nine letters: “Early Internet radio format.” No spoilers; the answer is in the comments.

Today’s puzzle is by “Anna Stiga,” or “Stan again,” Newsday ’s crossword editor, Stan Newman. The pen name is meant to signal an easier Saturday puzzle. But I found today’s Stumper difficult. Why? The grid offers very few ways to move from one part of the puzzle to another.

Friday, April 13, 2018

“Demagogues and charlatans”

Rob Riemen:

The institutions that should protect us exist only by grace of the trust that people have in them. Put demagogues and charlatans in charge, use the mass media to cultivate the belief that this leader, the antipolitical politician, is the only person who can save the country — and the constitutional, democratic institutions will disappear just as quickly as the authorities become impotent because no one believes in them anymore.

“The Eternal Return of Fascism,” in To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism (New York: W.W. Norton, 2018).
The essay in which this passage appears was first published in Dutch in 2010.

You can watch and listen to a short conversation with Riemen at Salon. I’ll have something to say about this book soon.

Strunk and White and Comey

James Comey, in a New York Times interview about reading:

What books over the years have most influenced your thinking?

Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society and The Nature and Destiny of Man had a huge impact on me, as did Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, which was one of 12 books in my college course “Significant Books in Western Religion.”
But Comey explains: “The professor believed that all ideas are wasted that can’t be clearly expressed.” The Elements of Style must have been supplemental reading.

Related reading
All OCA Strunk and White posts (Pinboard)

The uni-ball Roller

I don’t know what made me want to buy and write with a uni-ball Roller. I hadn’t used one in many years, not since my grad school years. Back then I bought these pens one or two at a time from a stationery store. Now I could find them only by the dozen in an office-supply store. Back then these pens were state of the art. Now they’re relatively cheap, about a dollar apiece, and their packaging touts eco-friendliness: “Plastic components made from 80% post-consumer waste (majority from recycled electronics).” Back then I would have written Uni-Ball. Now I’m using the company’s lowercase, though uni-ball Roller looks more than slightly odd.

What’s strange and wonderful: uni-ball Rollers (0.7 and 0.5mm) look and feel virtually the same as they did when I was a grad student. The clips have lost their “EF” (for Eberhard Faber) and now sport a tiny “eco” on a leaf, and the 0.5 clip no longer says “Micro.” But everything else looks the same: the same slightly flexible black plastic, the same notches at the top of the cap (three for 0.7, five for 0.5). And the pens feel the same on paper: slippery, with far less control than a fountain pen affords. I used a 0.7 to make some notes yesterday, and my handwriting turned into the same fast scrawl I fell into more than thirty years ago, when I’d write on a legal pad before typing a first draft. I don’t like what the uni-ball Roller does to my handwriting, but I like seeing it happen.

You can see the Roller on this page of uni-ball products. Select roller and capped, and there it is.

A related post
Five pens (My life in pens)

Word of the day: aegis

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day is the noun aegis:

1 : a shield or breastplate emblematic of majesty that was associated with Zeus and Athena

2 a : protection
2 b : controlling or conditioning influence

3 a : auspices, sponsorship
3 b : control or guidance especially by an individual, group, or system
The dictionary explains:
We borrowed aegis from Latin, but the word ultimately derives from the Greek noun aigis, which means "goatskin." In ancient Greek mythology, an aegis was something that offered physical protection, and it has been depicted in various ways, including as a magical protective cloak made from the skin of the goat that suckled Zeus as an infant and as a shield fashioned by Hephaestus that bore the severed head of the Gorgon Medusa. The word first entered English in the 15th century as a noun referring to the shield or protective garment associated with Zeus or Athena. It later took on a more general sense of "protection" and, by the late-19th century, it had acquired the extended senses of "auspices" and "sponsorship."
The modern meanings of aegis always throw me for a moment, because when I see the word I think of Athena, whose aegis scares the bejeezus out of people, as when she shows it to the suitors in Odyssey 22: “At this moment that unmanning storm cloud, / the aegis, Athena’s shield, / took form aloft in the great hall.”

And the suitors, “mad with fear,” stampede.

[From Robert Fitzgerald’s 1961 translation.]

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Some SuihoEn rocks

[As seen in SuihoEn, Van Nuys, California.]

SuihoEn, “garden of water and fragrance,” also known as the Japanese Garden, is a beautiful landscape created next to a water reclamation plant. From the SuihoEn website: “The garden’s purpose was to demonstrate a positive use of reclaimed water in what is generally agreed to be a delicate environment.” The fish seem to like reclaimed water just fine.

Alas, I was unable to photograph the garden’s Tortoise Island in a way that clearly suggested “some rocks.” But I did spot this group of three elsewhere in the garden, and I didn’t need to stray from the walking path to get a photograph. “Some rocks” is a minor Orange Crate Art preoccupation.


[From a menu for Lums, a restaurant chain of the past. As seen at the Museum of the San Fernando Valley.]

My guess is that this menu dates from the 1970s, early enough for the idea of being anti-Establishment to seem timely, late enough for it to have become the stuff of a mild joke. How long has it been since I enjoyed an old-fashioned milkshake? Less than twenty-four hours. But it’s a rare thing. We are here to eat ice cream only occasionally.

The Museum of the San Fernando Valley, a small all-volunteer museum housed in an office suite, was a wonderful part of our trip to Los Angeles. Hats off to docent Jackie, who told us great stories of her life and of life in the Valley.

[The Oxford English Dictionary dates the Establishment to 1923, with the term taking on clear meaning in 1955: “By the ‘Establishment’ I do not mean only the centres of official power — though they are certainly part of it — but rather the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised.” Anti-Establishment dates to 1958.]

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

T-Ball Jotter sighting

[“Young voice.” From Shattered Glass (dir. Billy Ray, 2003). Click for larger handwriting.]

A journalist should be making notes during a telephone conversation, no? Document everything.

I’ve also noticed Parker T-Ball Jotters in Homicide and Populaire. I can’t help it.

Other T-Ball Jotter posts
A 1963 ad : Another 1963 ad : A 1964 ad : A 1971 ad : My life in five pens : Thomas Merton, T-Ball Jotter user

“What are we here for?”

Sonny Rollins:

“We got a short life, and what are we here for? To eat ice cream and have fun with girls? No, I think we’re here to try and improve ourselves, become better people, nicer people, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Related posts
“I’m one of the last guys left, as I’m constantly being told” : Rollins on golf : Rollins on music : Rollins on paying the rent : Rollins, J.D. Salinger, Robert Taylor : Sonny Rollins in Illinois

[Ice cream and girls: I wonder if Rollins had a certain president in mind.]

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

“The ſhrill Trumpe”

[Othello, act 3, scene 3.]

As seen in the Bodleian First Folio. When Elaine and I watched Orson Welles’s Othello last night, these words jumped out.

Judging books by their covers

The New York Times reports on people who, well, fetishize New York Review Books Classics. Yes, the covers do look great, they really do.

Orange Crate Art is a NYRB-friendly zone. The first NYRB Classic I read: William Lindsay Gresham’s novel Nightmare Alley.

Domestic comedy

“And you asked him?”


“And he deigned to reply?”

“Yes, he deigned.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

At the office with Louis Malle

[Click any image for a larger view.]

The opening scenes of Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (1958) are office-centric. Man, are they ever. Julien (Maurice Ronet) sits at his well-appointed desk: Gitanes, Parker 51 fountain pen (it at least looks like a Parker 51), miniature camera, and telephone. The odd object that looks like an small hourglass? It’s a clock.

It’s 7:04. No, now it’s 7:05. Or 7:5? 75? “HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME”: time, that is, to put away the card file and get going.

Meanwhile, Anna (Jacqueline Staup) runs the switchboard and sharpens pencils. “The inexorable sadness of pencils”? Phooey. Life is good. Anna’s sharpener resembles a telephone. Nothing terrible has happened — yet. And nothing terrible will happen to Anna, or to her sharpener.

[With lines borrowed from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Theodore Roethke’s “Dolor.”]

Monday, April 9, 2018

Got warrants?

From The New York Times:

The F.B.I. on Monday raided the office of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, seizing records related to several topics including payments to a pornographic-film actress.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan obtained the search warrant after receiving a referral from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, according to Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, who called the search “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.” The search does not appear to be directly related to Mr. Mueller’s investigation, but likely resulted from information he had uncovered and gave to prosecutors in New York.

“Today the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York executed a series of search warrants and seized the privileged communications between my client, Michael Cohen, and his clients,” said Stephen Ryan, his lawyer. “I have been advised by federal prosecutors that the New York action is, in part, a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”
One warrant? More than one? Whichever. Seize! Seize!

I trust that the president’s lawyer’s lawyer has a lawyer.

[“Pornographic-film actress”: an elegant use of the hyphen.]

Chuck McCann (1934–2018)

The actor, comedian, and television host Chuck McCann has died at the age of eighty-three. The Daily News has an obituary.

I haven’t thought of Chuck McCann in many years. But for city kids like me, he was one of the faces of TV. I think of them now: Sandy Becker, Officer Joe Bolton, Sonny Fox, Miss Louise, Chuck McCann, Cap’n Jack McCarthy, and Soupy Sales. O local television!

Here’s a seven-part McCann sampler from YouTube: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Don’t miss the typewriter sketch (at 3:48 in part one).


April 10: The New York Times now has an obituary.

Twelve movies

[No spoilers.]

La Bête Humaine (dir. Jean Renoir, 1938). Jean Gabin (of Grand Illusion) as Jacques Lantier, a railroad engineer whose genetic inheritance causes him to suffer moments of murderous rage. He is one figure in a tangle of relationships, murderous and otherwise, that play out against an exhilarating backdrop of trains and more trains.


I'll Be Seeing You (dir. William Dieterle, 1944). As my mom would say, "I never heard of it." It was in our Netflix queue because Joseph Cotten stars. A surprisingly frank movie about a guarded romance between people with secrets. Cotten is a veteran suffering from what we can recognize as PTSD; Ginger Rogers is a woman who — well, you'll have to watch. Shirley Temple provides comic relief and creates complications as Rogers’s teenaged cousin. I especially liked the scenes of the dowdy world: a soda fountain, a train-station newsstand, a kitchen with white enamel cookware. Please pass the mashed potatoes.


Undertow (dir. William Castle, 1949). An ex-mobster (Scott Brady) travels home to Chicago, where he’s promptly framed for murder. A detective friend (Bruce Bennett) and a plucky schoolteacher (Peggy Dow) help him to see his way clear. Surprisingly good, with some scenes shot in Chicago. At YouTube.


Please Murder Me (dir. Peter Godfrey, 1956). Angela Lansbury as an unhappily married woman, Raymond Burr as her lawyer, in a story that owes everything but a couple of plot twists to Double Indemnity. Crazy good to see Burr’s character with the same courtroom manner as Perry Mason. And fun to see Dick Foran (Ed Washburne of the Lassie world) in film noir. Indeed, this film puts the noir in film noir: just one scene, in a painter’s studio, has any daylight, and that light becomes a subject of conversation. Got meta? At YouTube.


Harry and Tonto (dir.Paul Mazursky, 1974). Art Carney’s shining hour, as Harry Coombes, a retired teacher displaced when his Manhattan apartment building is torn down to make way for a parking lot. Where to go? On a journey, with his cat Tonto. Two things strike me about the United States depicted in this film: the variety of its inhabitants, and the way a three-TV-network world provided some semblance of a shared culture. Say, did you watch Ironside last night? Harry and Tonto would pair well with De Sica’s Umberto D.


I, Daniel Blake (dir. Ken Loach, 2016). A widowed Newcastle carpenter (Dave Johns), still recovering from a heart attack, navigates a bureaucratic maze to attain his Employment and Support Allowance. Along the way, he befriends a young single mother (Hayley Squires) and her two children. Often funny, often infuriating, and always deeply moving. Most heartbreaking scene: the food bank. This film too would pair well with Umberto D. or Stéphane Brizé’s The Measure of a Man.


Wonder (dir. Stephen Chbosky, 2017). R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel (recommended to me by my daughter) is a beautiful and moving narrative for young readers — with multiple narrators, no less. The film version simplifies and sweetens and upscales the novel, which tells the story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters the fifth grade after a childhood of home schooling. I’ll quote another fifth-grader, Sol Ah, who appears in the documentary The Hobart Shakespeareans: “Even if the movies they make are good, they won’t be as good as the book.” The elementary and high-school kids in this film are impossibly, annoyingly photogenic. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson seem utterly miscast as Auggie’s parents. Read the novel instead.


California Typewriter (dir. Doug Nichol, 2016). A then-struggling typewriter shop in Berkeley gives this documentary its name. But the scope is wider, bringing in an artist, a streetside poet, a singer-songwriter, well-known writers, a collector of nineteenth-century machines, and a Hollywood mega-star who owns hundreds of typewriters. That would be Tom Hanks. The claims we hear some of these people make — that the typewriter is magical, that it allows the perfect emotional distance from words, that the text it produces has a permanence that other written text lacks — are, plainly, the claims of lovers who have lost all objectivity about the objects of their desire. And it’s wonderful, even if trying out your old machine leaves you wondering what all the fuss is about.


Batman & Bill (dir. Don Argott and Sheena N. Joyce, 2017). The life, death, and posthumous story of Bill Finger, the comics writer who devised many crucial elements of the Batman story, a story long credited to Bob Kane alone. Among Finger’s contributions: Batman’s costume, the names Bruce Wayne and Gotham City, the characters of the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, and more. “Bill was Batman’s secret identity,” children’s author Marc Tyler Nobleman says, and this documentary follows his efforts to get Finger’s contributions known and credited. A heroic story of creativity, business ethics, familial struggles, and the sleuthing that the Internet makes possible. Nobleman is aptly named.


Elevator to the Gallows (dir. Louis Malle, 1958). Malle’s first film follows the unexpected consequences of a murder plot gone awry. Julien (Maurice Ronet) spends most of the film attempting to escape from a stuck elevator. Florence (Jeanne Moreau) is a spoof existentialist, interior monologuing as she wanders through the Paris night. Louis (Georges Poujoly, from Forbidden Games) and Véronique (Yori Bertin) seem to have watched Gun Crazy one too many times. The plot is both wobbly and clever, the characters’ plights both amusing and suspenseful. A Hitchcock-like delight. Music by Miles Davis.


Freaks (dir. Tod Browning, 1932). Moviegoers of a certain age may recall seeing Freaks in the form of a “midnight show.” Now the movie plays on TCM. What makes the film bizarre is not the cast of sideshow performers but the scarcity of plot, which surfaces here and there between vignettes of circus life and has its violent conclusion off-screen. The most compelling scenes are those in which the so-called freaks, those at whom others stare, turn their gaze on those others — in particular the scenes in which Angeleno (Angelo Rossitto) peers through a window and Johnny Eck and company watch and wait beneath a circus wagon’s steps. “One of us! One of us!”


Shattered Glass (dir. Billy Ray, 2003). The short unhappy career of the journalist Stephen Glass, who created fake article after fake article for The New Republic from what seem to have been considerable imaginative resources. As Glass, Hayden Christensen is a brilliant chameleon, cocky, concerned, defensive, contrite, either playing to his editors and fellow writers or playing the one group against the other. And he is quick-thinking, always, inventing fresh explanations each time one of his falsehoods is exposed. I think what explains Glass is what explains those who engage in academic misconduct: they count on getting away with it.

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

New Nancy

[Zippy, April 9, 2018.]

A panel from Olivia Jaimes’s first Nancy strip. Nancy is a sweet girl. Also a salt girl. And butter: that is a stick of butter in her hand, yes? It’s all a welcome change from the work of Nancy‘s most recent caregiver.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A new Nancy

From The Washington Post, exciting news in comics:

For more than eight decades, Nancy, the bushy-haired, red-bowed comic character, has been rendered by a man. This week, Nancy’s syndicate will change that.

On Monday, Andrews McMeel Syndication will announce that the cartoonist Olivia Jaimes has inherited the iconic strip and will provide a “21st-century female perspective,” says John Glynn, Andrews McMeel’s president and editorial director.

The first strip by Jaimes — the female cartoonist’s “nom de toon” — runs Monday.

“Nancy has been my favorite sassy grouch for a long time,” Jaimes says in a syndicate statement. “I’m excited to be sassy and grouchy through her voice instead of just mine, and I can complain to the whole world about things that bother me instead of just my friends and family.”
I’ve never been a fan of Guy Gilchrist’s Nancy — too much color, too much cuteness, too much religiosity, too many positive messages. I’m hoping for much better things from Olivia James. You can read new Nancy and Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy at GoComics.

Nancy is having a moment.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Not exactly a profile in courage

Our representative in Congress, John Shimkus (R, Illinois-15), commenting on the possibility of Chinese tariffs on soybeans and other crops: “I’m just a legislator.”

And: “I think what I can do is publicly talk about, which I do, that there is a dilemma here that we’re facing.”

And: “I don’t think anyone wins a trade war. Maybe Trump thinks he can. But we have to try to get him to be more targeted on these things.”

Shimkus is in a sticky situation: his gerrymandered district (whose shape suggests a dancing dinosaur or feeble rooster) is the reddest congressional district in Illinois. (In the 2016 presidential election: 71% R, 24% D.) That stunning disavowal of agency — “I’m just a legislator” (not a member of a co-equal branch of government?) — makes it clear that Shimkus is unwilling to cross the boss. I wonder though how many voters in the 15th District have begun to regret their choice for president.

Related reading
All OCA John Shimkus posts

Saturday, April 7, 2018

From the Saturday Stumper

A cleverer than clever clue from the Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Frank Longo, 53-Down, four letters: “Compliment that some complain about.” The answer: KUDO. I thought, Wait, that can’t be right. And then I read the clue again.

We get kudos from the Greek κῦδος, a singular noun meaning “glory, renown.” As Garner’s Modern English Usage explains, kudos “is sometimes erroneously thought to be a plural.” Thus kudo, a false singular, and a compliment that some people complain about.

I think the Saturday Stumper is getting easier. I’m not sure that makes me happy. No kudos for finishing. But I’m not complaining.

A related post
Word of the day: kudos

Friday, April 6, 2018

Beginning with say

“Say, did you ever see a bellhop that didn’t want to be a fighter?” Spoken in Kid Galahad (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1937), back when people prefaced all kinds of utterances with say.

Say, why not write this down and turn it into a short post?

The real fake news in Illinois

The Chicago Tribune reports on Liberty Principles and Think Freely Media: “Conservative Illinois publications blur lines between journalism, politics.” Issues of one of these pseudo-newspapers, the East Central Reporter, went from our mailbox to our garbage can in 2016.

Barnum and Dennison

[Catching up on podcasts.]

At Innovation Hub, Kara Miller talks about P.T. Barnum with Stephen Mihm, editor of a new edition of Barnum’s autobiography. The conversation touches briefly on similarities and differences between Barnum and Dunning K. Dennison. Thr IH website pointed me to Mihm’s 2017 New York Times opinion piece “No, Trump Is Not P.T. Barnum.” A sample:

Barnum would have recoiled from Mr. Trump, especially from his cynicism about principles and truth. In a widely read exposé of swindles, quack medicines and other “humbugs,” Barnum declared that the “greatest humbug of all” was the individual “who believes — or pretends to believe — that everything and everybody are humbugs.” This person, Barnum observed, “professes that there is no virtue; that every man has his price, and every woman hers; that any statement from anybody is just as likely to be false as true; and that the only way to decide which is to consider whether truth or a lie was likely to have paid best in that particular case.”

Barnum was a consummate American: a fast talker, a self-promoter and a relentless striver. He also exemplified many of the qualities that have long made America great in the eyes of the world: generosity, humor, optimism and a willingness, in the end, to do the right thing.

Mr. Trump represents something different. Indeed, if Barnum were alive today, he might be interested in exhibiting Mr. Trump: not as a paragon of business acumen, political prowess or any of the other main attractions in the circus of contemporary life, but as an extreme embodiment of humbug — worthy of a sideshow, perhaps, but nothing more.

Cecil Taylor (1929–2018)

The pianist and composer Cecil Taylor has died at the age of eighty-nine. In the absence of an obituary, here is an appreciation from his fellow pianist and composer Ethan Iverson.

When I think of Taylor’s music, I think of words from David Bowie’s “Modern Love”: I try. I try. I recognize that a genius is at work and want to engage what’s happening. Sometimes I can. Two performances I’ve listened to again and again: the two versions of “After All” on the 1974 concert recording Silent Tongues (Arista). (It’s a Taylor composition, not Billy Strayhorn’s composition of the same name.) Start with the short encore. Then try the longer version. See what you hear.


The New York Times has an obituary.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Cloudflare’s DNS

Numbers to know: and, the numbers for Cloudflare’s new DNS service. I’m trying it, and it seems exceedingly fast. Here, look: Boing Boing and Lifehacker offer context and instructions.

With Cloudflare’s DNS at work and Safari’s prefetching disabled, my Mac feels as if it’s made for 2018 and beyond. Knock on aluminum.

A conversation from another world

From the Father Knows Best episode “Love and Learn” (April 11, 1960). Margaret Anderson (Jane Wyatt) is speaking to her college-freshman son Bud (Billy Gray):

“I had a conversation with the Dean of Men at the college today.”

“You did? Why?”

“Because he sent me a note.”

“Yeah? What about?”

“Your English grades.”
As the Anderson children grow up, the sexual politics of Father Knows Best become intolerable. But after watching all six seasons, I can say that in other respects Father Knows Best holds up surprisingly well. A 1950s domestic comedy with characters quoting Shakespeare and Whitman and talking about the Wordsworths, Dorothy and William? I’ll take it.

Other FKB posts
“Betty’s Graduation” : Flowers knows best : “Languages, economics, philosophy, the humanities” : “Margaret Disowns Her Family” : Scene-stealing card-file : “A Woman in the House” : “Your dinner jacket just arrived”

How to read Nancy and Zippy

[Zippy, April 5, 2018.]

Today’s Zippy has a Bushmillerized Zippy and Griffy discussing Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden’s How to Read “Nancy”: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels. Bill Griffith has already written a guide to his comic strip: today’s strip includes a URL that goes to a six-strip primer on how to read Zippy.

Notice the lower right corner of this panel, where the sequence 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 fuses the material and temporal dimensions of the narrative space. Some rocks! Some date!

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Objects in windows

Objects in the windows of the Antikos Bazar, in Terezín, the Czech Republic:

W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz, trans. Anthea Bell (New York: Modern Library, 2001).

Also from Austerlitz
Austerlitz on time : Marks on time : Language as a city

Eating at Corky’s

[Zippy, April 4, 2018.]

I know the feeling: the Dunning K. Dennison presidency is eating my soul too. My way to deal, at least for now: no television news. Just reading the news, mostly the online New York Times and Washington Post.

Corky’s is in “the Valley.”

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, April 3, 2018


After reading Diane Schirf’s thoughts about a Royal Sabre manual typewriter, I heard a voice: “Fool, look in thy heart and type.” No, not really: that was Sir Philip Sidney. But I did get out my manual, an Olympia SM, and typed an overdue letter, my second letter in two days. (I wrote the first with a fountain pen and brown ink.)

I was surprised by how quickly the mechanics of typing came back to me — even the delicate work of inserting a piece of correction tape to fix a typo. By the time I started the second page of my letter, I remembered to mark a bottom margin in pencil. What most surprised me was that without even thinking or looking I was hitting the margin-release key to fit extra characters at the end of a line. Typing on a typewriter must be the new riding a bicycle. Ding!

That bell belongs to a typewriter not a bicycle.

Red Vines and vodka

As host of a cooking show, Valerie Bertinelli wondered what to prepare for Betty White:

“She likes tuna fish, she likes hot dogs, she likes Red Vines and vodka. So what am I going to make for Betty?”
My suggestion: hot dogs and tuna fish, with Red Vines and vodka on the side.

[Found while waiting at the register and browsing the National Examiner, a tabloid with no Internet presence. According to the Examiner, White found Bertinelli’s remark hurtful and doesn’t want Bertinelli at her funeral.]

Monday, April 2, 2018

Feminist Baby

[As seen in Los Angeles.]

Loryn Brantz’s Feminist Baby (New York: Disney-Hyperion, 2017) is a board book: few pages (or boards), few words, and big silly pictures. A sample passage: “Feminist baby likes pink and blue / Sometimes she’ll throw up on you.”

Complaints on Amazon — for instance, that the book doesn’t help the title character “grow to be a strong, open-minded individual who recognizes all the paths available to her” — seem to forget that this book is about the very young, who do indeed throw up and throw their toys. And there’s nothing bratty about throwing toys: it’s what babies do.

Rachel and Elaine and I loved this book on sight. A sequel arrives in May: Feminist Baby Finds Her Voice!

[This post is the first non-Zippy post to feature a topknot and bow.]

Naked Zippy

[Zippy, April 2, 2018.]

Today’s strip (no pun intended) is set in Dingburg’s “nudist enclave.” I like seeing Bill Griffith adapt the closing words of The Naked City (the film) and every episode of Naked City (the television series): “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

Griffith is no doubt a fan of the film or the television series or both. Reading his Invisible Ink, I was thrilled beyond reason to recognize that one panel had a street scene from an episode of the series as its source. Yow.

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)