Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Nabokov, dreaming

For eighty-odd days in late 1964 and early 1965, Vladimir Nabokov wrote down his dreams, following the instructions in John Dunne’s An Experiment with Time (1927). Dunne, an aeronautical engineer and a figure straight from the Museum of Jurassic Technology, advanced a theory of time in which future events may influence our dreams. “Many dreams more or less forgotten,” Nabokov wrote on December 29, 1964. But, on the same index card:

Clear end of one: am correcting, with other people, students’ examination papers. Of the three I get, the first read proves to be a little masterpiece. The name of the student is Mostel (not known in waking life)*. I am wondering what to give him, an A or an A+. Cannot find my pencil and am, moreover, upset by a sordid and complicated love affair with another’s wife (unknown in waking life and not shown in dream). A colleague (I have never in my life corrected papers collectively!) urges me to finish my batch. I still can’t find an implement to write with and furthermore am badgered and hampered in my movements by the betrayed husband, a very small man who works with his arms as he pours out a torrent of complaints. In exasperation I take him and send him flying and spinning into a revolving door where he continues to twist at some distance from the ground, in a horizontal position, before falling. Awkward suspense: is he dead? No, he picks himself up and staggers away. We return to the exam. papers.

* (V. says there is a famous American actor of that name).

Vladimir Nabokov, Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time, ed. Gennady Barabtarlo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018).
Four observations: 1. Nabokov’s dreams don’t seem any more interesting that anyone else’s. 2. They contain scant evidence to support Dunne’s theory, but are, unsurprisingly, filled with people and places from Nabokov’s life and incidents from his fiction. 3. Nabokov doesn’t always notice the connections to his fiction, but the editor of this volume does. 4. There is no getting away from grading, not even in dreams, or especially not in dreams.

Here’s a grading dream of my own. And another.

Related reading
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[“V.” is Véra Nabokov, married to Vladimir. The actor is Zero Mostel.]

“A place remote and islanded”

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896).

I can imagine Willa Cather reading this passage and thinking, Yes, exactly.

Also from this book
“When one really knows a village” : “It wears a person out”

Monday, July 30, 2018

One last cleaning

This morning Elaine and I went to our dentist of thirty-three years for one last cleaning. Our dentist, Dr. Robert Blagg, is retiring at the age of ninety. He has been practicing for sixty years. We brought with us a gift certificate for a local restaurant and a homemade card: “For thirty-three years, our mouths have been in your hands. And your hands have been in our mouths.” We reminisced with Judy, one of his assistants (she and a co-worker have been with him for fifty-two years, having started in high school). We left with new toothbrushes, a couple of photographs, and great gratitude. And I finally learned — I had to ask — what’s behind the door that says Employees Only: a furnace, a refrigerator, some shelves.

Here are two previous posts about our dentist’s practice, one about scheduling a visit, one about what’s likely to happen if you call with an urgent problem. There won’t be another Dr. Blagg.

“It wears a person out”

Mrs. Fosdick offers an addition to the philosopher H.P. Grice’s principles of conversation:

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896).

Also from this book
“When one really knows a village”

Sunday, July 29, 2018


The New England Confectionery Company, or NECCO, maker of Sweethearts, Mary Janes, and NECCO Wafers, has closed its factory (CNN).


[Late. The television was on for “warmth.”]

“You know, you’re getting to be a walking typographical error.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

From the Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by “Anna Stiga” (“Stan again,” Stan Newman, the puzzle’s editor) is highly doable. Why do I always want to type doable with a hyphen?

Two clues that I especially liked: 17-Across, ten letters: “Common pub fare.” And 44-Down, six letters: “Word from the Greek for ‘wanderer.’” No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Domestic comedy

[Dictating a text.]

”Lynn Manuelle Maranda is on Cole bear tonight, but the phone doesn’t know how to spell Lynn Manuelle Maranda or Cole bear.”

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Friday, July 27, 2018

ProPublica on shelters

A ProPublica report on the shelters that house child refugees: “‘If You’re a Predator, It’s a Gold Mine.’”

And it’s all the result of a politically calculated theater of cruelty. Is it crimes against humanity yet?

Thanks to the dictionaries

“I sort of felt like I had them in the crosshairs”: John Mikhail, Georgetown law professor. He and Genevieve Bentz, a law student, examined every definition of emolument in dictionaries of English published between 1604 and 1806, and in dictionaries of common law published between 1523 and 1792. The conclusion: for the framers of the United States Constitution, emolument had a broad definition: “profit,” “advantage,” “gain,” or “benefit.”

Mikhail and Bentz’s dictionary work was a crucial factor in a federal court’s decision this week to allow an emoluments-clause lawsuit against Donald Trump to proceed.

A related post
Word of the day: emolument

[Thanks to the Dictionary: a 1932 prose work by Louis Zukofsky, published in 1961.]

“When one really knows a village”

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896).

That’s the opening paragraph. You can find a copy of the 1896 edition at archive.org. Later editions have additional stories. I read this novel in a 1991 David R. Godine paperback and ended up ordering the Library of America volume of Jewett’s work. The Country of the Pointed Firs is that good.

Thanks to Pete Lit, whose post about the novel mentioned Willa Cather’s high praise of it. In a preface to a 1925 edition of Jewett’s fiction, Cather named The Scarlet Letter, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Country of the Pointed Firs as “three American books which have the possibility of a long, long life”:

I like to think with what pleasure, with what a sense of rich discovery, the young student of American literature in far distant years to come will take up this book and say, “A masterpiece!”
Yes, a masterpiece.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

“How did that happen?”

Hannah Gadsby, in Nanette (dir. Jon Olb and Madeleine Parry, 2018), recounting her mother’s explanation of what she regretted in raising her children:

“The thing I regret is that I raised you as if you were straight. I didn’t know any different. I am so sorry. I’m so sorry. I knew, well before you did, that your life was gonna be so hard. I knew that, and I wanted it more than anything in the world not to be the case. I now know I made it worse. I made it worse because I wanted you to change, because I knew the world wouldn’t.

“And I looked at my mum in that moment, and I thought, ‘How did that happen? How did my mum get to be the hero of my story?’”
What my transcription doesn’t convey is Gadsby’s timing and her shift in tone, as this deeply emotional anecdote ends in playful snark.

Nanette is a filmed performance, a monologue, in which comedian Hannah Gadsby talks about gender, sexuality, homophobia, misogyny, mental illness, sexual assault, art history, coming out, the cost of comedy, and the difference between jokes and stories. I highly recommend Nanette. If I were still teaching, I’d offer a warning about language and show it to a class. Instead I’m making this post.

I began reading a New York Times article about Hannah Gadbsy and Nanette and didn’t get very far before deciding to watch. Nanette is streaming at Netflix.

“The Latest!”

[Henry, July 26, 2018.]

Or as it’s now called, the stingy brim. Everything old is new again, except for the cliché itself.


August 10: Earlier this week I realized that this year’s Henry strips are last year’s strips. And today I realized that I posted this panel last August. That’s enough Henry.

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Déjà rocks

[Zippy, May 6, 2013, July 26, 2018.]

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Scenes from a marriage

On Air Force One, Melania Trump was watching CNN. Donald Trump was angry:

He raged at his staff for violating a rule that the White House entourage should begin each trip tuned to Fox — his preferred network over what he considers the “fake news” CNN — and caused “a bit of a stir” aboard Air Force One, according to an email obtained by The New York Times. The email, an internal exchange between officials in the White House Military Office and the White House Communications Agency last Thursday, also called for the ordering of two additional televisions to support Beam, a TiVo-like streaming device, to make sure the president and first lady could both watch TV in their separate hotel rooms when they travel.
Rage about television channels, separate bedrooms (each with a television): I’d hate to be a partner in such a marriage.

Soy what?

The Washington Post reports that the Food and Drug Administration will forbid the use of the word milk in the names of plant-based products: “as the head of the FDA said last week, ‘an almond doesn’t lactate.’”

[My milk: Silk, soy.]


Robert Costa, on NPR this morning, commenting on the Michael Cohen–Donald Trump tape: “This tape is a Rosetta stone. It’s open to interpretation.”

This metaphor puzzled me. Merriam-Webster defines “Rosetta stone” as ”one that gives a clue to understanding.“ If the emphasis falls on “open to interpretation,” I’d opt for “Rorschach test.” What does one see — or hear — in it?

Related reading
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The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad “Kokomo” is thirty years old.

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Ministries of Truth at work

The Atlantic reports that the White House transcript of the Putin–Trump press conference alters the meaning of a key exchange. The Russian government’s transcript omits the exchange altogether.

Thanks, Elaine.

Recently updated

Sardines of the Times I tried it. I liked it, sort of.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Sardines of the Times

In The New York Times, Tejal Rao writes about canned fish. Among them, sardines:

Good canned fish can be eaten just the way it is, dripping with olive oil, but I like a tin’s worth of sardines seasoned with plenty of lemon zest, soft oregano leaves and some fried bread crumbs, broken up a bit and warmed all the way through as it’s tossed with cooked spaghetti, olive oil and maybe a ripe tomato, squashed between my fingers.
I’ve done sardines and pasta with garlic, parsley, and red-pepper flakes. The oregano is new to me. Must try.

Again and again, Matt Thomas’s Sunday Times digests point me to items I would otherwise miss — like these sardines. Thanks, Matt.


July 25: I made this dish last night, minus the tomato. Pretty bland. Some suggestions: add salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and be prepared to use more oregano than seems plausible. I think that thyme or lemon thyme might be a good substitute for oregano.

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One tea bag, used

“My grandfather would use tea bags and then dry them on the heater to reuse them. He’d have four or five on the radiator at once. This one is a bit special. It was a tea bag my grandma put in her bath”: the artist Laure Prouvost is holding on to a fifteen-year-old tea bag.

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[Provoust’s grandfather was not alone. The artist Joseph Cornell saved and reused tea bags. Paper towels too.]

Leonard Bernstein’s pencils

At the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles: Leonard Bernstein at 100, an exhibition of artifacts — desks, batons, manuscripts, an Olympia typewriter, and much more. What made me flip: five pencil stubs from the 1970s, two Eberhard Faber Blackwings, three Alpheus Music Writers. Try as I might (eight times), I could not get a satisfactory photograph: the lighting and reflections and shadows were against me. This photograph from the Skirball website gives some idea of the difficulty.

But here’s a photograph from the Bernstein Facebook page of some Bernstein pencil stubs, his “soldiers” or “little soldiers.” Look for the distinctive ferrules of the Blackwing (gold) and the Alpheus Music Writer (silver).

Sean Malone has written extensively about the Blackwing at Blackwing Pages. He has also tracked the history of the Alpheus Music Writer and a successor, the Judy Green Music Writer. His post on the Music Writers includes a photograph of Bernstein at the piano, a glass of pencils at hand, with several Alpheus pencils visible.

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[I loved seeing Bernstein’s pencils, but it was The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited that made me tear up — a reaction I did not see coming. Kermit! He’s right here!]

Monday, July 23, 2018


Sarah Huckabee Sanders (“the Huckabee Sanders woman,” as our household calls her, Dragnet-style) just said something about “more products” being made in the United States. I heard “war products.” Really.

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Our president, engaged in statecraft, tweeting at the president of Iran: “WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH.”

I look forward to the day when we are no longer a country that will stand for Donald Trump’s demented words of violence and death. Also his demented words of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and vilification of all who oppose him.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Jonathan Gold (1960–2018)

Jonathan Gold, Los Angeles food writer, has died at the age of fifty-seven. The Los Angeles Times has an obituary, an appreciation, and a sampler of his reviews.

Jonathan Gold was the subject of City of Gold (dir. Laura Gabbert, 2016), a terrific documentary.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

From the Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Brad Wilber, is very tough. I missed by one letter, a mistake I just didn’t see. Must proofread better, dammit.

Two clues that I especially liked, side by side: 9-Down, five letters: “Order blank.” And 11-Down, four letters: ”Applications for Kansas City, St. Louis, etc.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Hi and reLois

[Zippy, July 21, 2018.]

Zippy would like to relocate the Flagstons to the Sculptured House.

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Friday, July 20, 2018

More negatives

“I can’t believe Michael would do this to me”: Donald Trump, as reported by CNN a few minutes ago.

Or did Trump mean to say, “I can’t believe Michael wouldn’t do this to me"?

[Michael is Michael Cohen. I think that the wheels are finally coming off this sorry sham of a presidency. Fox News doesn’t even sound like Fox News today. It’s the beginning of the beginning of the beginning of the end.]

Not unaware

About that alleged double negative earlier this week: I’m not unaware of it. But there’s nothing (for me, anyway) to say about it. It’s a false claim meant to tie up attention. As I’m typing, I realize that I do have one thing to say: that whoever read the transcript and invented the double-negative explanation will pay a heavy price in grammar karma.

Zen wind

Wait — what?

What is the color of wind?

Taking his kimono, the pupil describes it, saying, “The front is black cotton cloth, the inside is lined in the color of rust.”

The Sound of One Hand: 281 Zen Koans with Answers, ed. and trans. Yoel Hoffman (New York: New York Review Books, 2016).
From the translator’s note (1975): “Taking into account the traditional loyalty of the Japanese to their teachers and masters, it is no wonder that scholars of Zen in Japan and the West were led to believe that there existed no written records of the koans and their answers. The present book must have created a scandalous sensation when first published nearly sixty years ago.”

Domestic comedy

[With friends.]

“I said Caribbean.”

“I thought you said Peruvian.”

“I heard Yanny.”

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

“A Lassie Classic”

[Cartoon of the Day, by Mary Lawton. From The New Yorker, July 19, 2018.]

Hurry, girl.

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A New Yorker cover: “Thumbs-Up,” by Barry Blitt.

Norman, Norway, Linie, lake

When our friend Norman visited from Norway, he brought us a great gift — the gift of his friendship. And for the second time, he brought us a bottle of aquavit. I can’t remember the name on the first bottle, which is long gone, and was our introduction to aquavit. The new bottle is Linie, an extraordinary Norwegian aquavit. By strange coincidence, we had been drinking aquavit recently (a Danish brand — sorry, Norman), after finding some at a recently opened “beverage depot.” And by stranger coincidence, I had recently heard a passing reference to Linie in a podcast. So Linie was in the air, or on the water: it is aged in sherry casks on ships that cross the equator twice, with changing climate and the motion of the ocean playing their parts in producing a distinctive flavor. The flavor is delightful, with lots of caraway and anise, and an herbal aftertaste that moves around the mouth hitting tastebuds, one after another. (Think pinball.) But aquavit is not to be trifled with: this one is 83 proof. Wonderful after dinner or later in the evening.

Thank you, Norman. Remember the lake!

Soil as a verb

[Henry, July 19, 2018.]

Soil is a verb you don’t hear much these days. It’s one dowdy verb. See also darn.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A clarification

A friend speaks: “I’m not happy to be retired. I’m damn happy to be retired.”

Information overload

[“Photograph shows a postal worker carrying a bag of mail and a bundle of the magazine The Literary Digest dated May 22, 1920.” From the George Grantham Bain Collection of the Library of Congress. Click for a slightly larger view.]

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018


A column in The Washington Post says, “Stop calling it ‘meddling.’” I’m there. Or was there and am there. Here’s a post from February 2018: Needed: a word other than meddle.

A mystery of the deep

[Photograph by Michael Leddy.]

Do you know what you’re seeing here?

“Thus the world was lost”

A chemical engineer, working in a “defense plant” (“a war plant, of course”), tells Milton Mayer that the world was lost on a day in 1935. The engineer was required to take an “oath of fidelity,” refused, and was given twenty-four hours to reconsider. The next day, he took the oath:

“There I was, in 1935, a perfect example of the kind of person who, with all his advantages in birth, in education, and in position, rules (or might easily rule) in any country. If I had refused to take the oath in 1935, it would have meant that thousands and thousands like me, all over Germany, were refusing to take it. Their refusal would have heartened millions. Thus the regime would have been overthrown, or, indeed, would never have come to power in the first place. The fact that I was not prepared to resist, in 1935, meant that all the thousands, hundreds of thousands, like me in Germany were also unprepared, and each one of these hundreds of thousands was, like me, a man of great influence or of great potential influence. Thus the world was lost.”

Quoted in Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–1945 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955).
Also from this book
Principiis obsta and finem respice

Monday, July 16, 2018


Found: a nearly complete screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Calder Willingham for an adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s novella Burning Secret.

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“Wake up”

Representative Adam Schiff (D, California-28), characterizing Donald Trump’s performance in Helsinki:

President Trump’s performance today was the most damaging and shameful surrender of American values and interests in modern history.

I say again to my Republican colleagues: Wake up.


“Love is what keeps us together and afloat”: Fred Rogers, in Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (dir. Morgan Neville, 2018).

Related reading
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Twelve movies

[Three sentences each. No spoilers.]

Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie (dir. Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, 2018). The story of Mattel’s Barbie, from origins and early success to Project Dawn, the 2016 transformation of the original doll into a gang of four: curvy, tall, petite, and original. What I found most interesting: the seriousness with which Mattel’s designers treat the evolution of this plastic signifier. Barbie is big, unironic business.


Un pequeño festival de Pedro Almodóvar

Matador (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1986). A melodrama, played straight, that approaches John Waters territory in its sheer lunacy. Bullfighting, sex, death, and psychic visions, in a black and red color scheme. Not nearly as good as The Skin I Live In, but stranger.

Law of Desire (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1987). A high-flying writer and director, his tangled relationships with two younger men, a transgender sister, and further tangles. The ancient Greeks and Romans would have understood this movie at once: the law of desire is to know no law. Desire destroys everything, even a beautiful Olympia manual typewriter.


Richard III (dir. Richard Loncraine, 1995). A condensed version of Shakespeare’s play, set in a 1930s fascist England, all red and black and brown. Ian McKellen is brilliant as Richard Gloucester, chatting with the camera as he schemes and murders his way to the top. Especially fun to watch this adaptation after the madness of two Almodóvar films.


Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (dir. Morgan Neville, 2018). A documentary about Fred Rogers that skirts some matters (among them, a deeply difficult childhood) but offers many surprises, including Rogers’s political affiliation, the meaning of “143,” and a 1968 Neighborhood storyline about King Friday’s wall. What comes as no surprise: Fred Rogers’s deep love and respect for children, with scene after scene that will reduce many viewers to tears. I wish that the PBS overlords would wake up and put Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood back on the air.


The Phone Call (dir. Mat Kirkby, 2013). A short film with Sally Hawkins as a crisis hotline worker and Jim Broadbent as the voice on the other end of the line. Great performances on and off camera — it’s easy to forget that the voice on the telephone is that of an actor. The ending — well, no, just watch.


Madame Bovary (dir. Sophie Barthes, 2014). Mia Wasikowska as Emma Bovary, married to a clueless husband, seeking solace in louche men and fancy drapes. There must be more than this provincial life! A painterly film (Vermeer, pretty obviously), but beautifully composed scenes give way to more erratic camerawork as Emma’s life spins out of control.


Walls of Sound: A Look Inside The House of Records (dir. David Gracon, 2012). A record store in Eugene, Oregon, its owner, its employees, and its customers, all of whom speak of it with affection (even if those employees have no health insurance). Established in 1972, The House of Records — and it’s really a house, with a former resident making an appearance — is still going strong in 2018. Word: if you have a local treasure to support, bookstore or record store, support it now, so that it will be there to enjoy your support tomorrow.


Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary (dir. Gay Dillingham, 2014). Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert) and Timothy Leary, ex-Harvard promulgators of psychedelics, meet not long before Leary’s death for one last conversation about life and death — or as Leary calls death, “the last taboo.” As if no one ever spoke of death before? Too much glibness and self-congratulation for my taste.


Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (dir. Paul McGuigan, 2017). Annette Bening as the fading star Gloria Grahame, in love with a young Liverpudlian, actor Peter Tuner (Jamie Bell). The story arc is predictable, but Bening gives a great performance. Best watched with subtitles.


In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (dir. Jessica Yu, 2004). An excellent introduction to the life and work of Henry Darger, menial worker and outsider artist, with reminiscences from his landlord and neighbors. A particular strength of the film: the use of excerpts from Darger’s fiction to illuminate his life. A strange touch: ten-year-old Dakota Fanning as the film’s narrator.


Come Sunday (dir. Joshua Marston, 2018). Based on a This American Life episode about Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a charismatic African-American Pentecostal minister who begins to preach a doctrine of universal salvation, salvation even for backsliders, even for people who have never accepted Christ — at which point, all hell breaks loose. I would have appreciated more attention to the biblical texts at issue in Pearson’s challenge to his tradition’s accepted theology. With Martin Sheen as a disturbingly plausible Oral Roberts.

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Asset and handler

Jonathan Chait, writing in New York, presents a compelling argument that Trump–Russia has been going on for a very long time: “it would be dangerous not to consider the possibility that the summit is less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.” The year of wonders: 1987.

A message for Donnie

“Yer jaiket’s oana shoogly peg, Donnie”: the message on a sign held by Helen Broussard, a retired schoolteacher protesting at the Trump golf resort in Turnberry, Scotland. That is, “Your jacket’s on a wobbly peg,” which The Washington Post paraphrases as “You are on your way out.”

For more on Trump and golf courses in Scotland, you might seek out the film You’ve Been Trumped. Too long, but revealing.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

MSNBC, sheesh

“If he demures. . . .”

Garner’s Modern English Usage on the intransitive verb demur (“to object; take exception”; “to hesitate or decline because of doubts”) and the adjective demure (“reserved, modest,” "coy in an affected way"): “The words are also confused in speech, when demure /di-myuur/ is said instead of demur /di-mǝr/.”

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From the Saturday Stumper

I found today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Erik Agard, way, way difficult. I filled in words here and there, left the browser open, and went out for the usual morning walk. And when I came back, I made a LASTDITCHEFFORT. And everything fell into place.

Two clues that I especially liked, side by side: 9-Down, three letters: “Family first.” And 10-Down, three letters: “Lions’ zebra.” Huh?

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Meditation rock

[Zippy, July 13, 2018.]

One rock, two rocks, three — but what is stage four? You’ll have to click through to find out.

I’m pretty sure Zippy’s practice is not what Allen Ginsberg had in mind.

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What‽ An episode of 99% Invisible about punctuation.

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You Call That a Punctuation Mark?! (The Millions)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Principiis obsta and finem respice

A professor of philology (“Middle High German was my life”) speaks:

“The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about — we were decent people — and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it — please try to believe me — unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice — ‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have changed here before they went as far as they did; they didn’t, but they might have. And everyone counts on that might.”

Quoted in Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–1945 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955)
Resist the beginnings. Consider the end. Consider too what Chris at Dreamers Rise wrote earlier today: “Stay alert.”


[Mutts, July 12, 2018.]

Cf. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations II, xi (1958): “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Twin State Typewriter

“He had a Remington, a Royal. And he loved this place”: in White River Junction, Vermont, Twin State Typewriter is closing. The Remington and Royal owner was J.D. Salinger, who went to Twin State for ribbons and repairs.

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Sliding pond

I heard the term while listening to an episode of A Way with Words not long ago: sliding pond. It brought me back to my Brooklyn childhood.

A sliding pond (or sliding pon) is what most English-speaking United States residents would call a slide or, less commonly, a sliding board or sliding plank. A wonderful article by David L. Gold, “Three New-York-Cityisms: Sliding Pond, Potsy, and Akey” suggests three possible origins of sliding pond : 1. Sliding on a frozen pond or on a slide built at the edge of a frozen pond. 2. The Dutch glijbaan or German Rutschbahn, each of which means “slide,” with baan or bahn morphing into pahn. 3. An “indigenous creation,” deriving from slide-upon or sliding-upon. Gold leans to a “partial loan translation” of glijbaan as the most plausible explanation.

All I know is that I hadn’t thought of a sliding pond in ages. And all of a sudden, there one was, all metallic and blazing hot, right in the playground at New Utrecht and 43rd.

[“Three New-York-Cityisms: Sliding Pond, Potsy, and Akey” appeared in American Speech 56, no. 1 (1981).]

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

“Extended controlled inundation”

From an episode of the podcast Reveal, about families separated by government and by storms: “This subdivision [in Houston] is adjacent to Barker reservoir and is subject to extended controlled inundation.” That’s an Orwellian way of saying that you’re living in a reservoir, that the land on which your house sits can be flooded, under the auspices of the United States Army Corp of Engineers. And the text is in very fine print. And it’s not the most disheartening part of the episode.

Misquoting from memory

I’m glad that I reread Yeats’s “Easter, 1916” before spoofing one of its lines in a post yesterday. Writing from memory, I had “The stone’s in the midst of it all.” That’s how I’ve had the line in my head since I was an undergrad. But no. Yeats’s poem reads, “The stone’s in the midst of all.” There is no it, not in the variorum text of Yeats’s poems, not elsewhere. I must have turned the last five words of the line into a pair of anapests: x x / x x /, in the MIDST of it ALL. Yeats’s anapest and iamb make a more oracular sound: x x / x /, in the MIDST of ALL.

The curious thing, as I’ve discovered, is that I’m not alone in my mistake. Here’s a lit-crit it from 1953. Here’s one from 2000. And here’s Harper’s in 2008, adding an it not to a quotation but to the poem itself.

Now I’m wondering what else I’ve misquoted from memory. July is the cruellest month.

[A Yeats typescript. From the Huntington Digital Library.]

On Proust’s birthday

Marcel Proust was born on July 10, 1871.

I don’t know whether I have told you that this book is a novel. At least it deviates least from the novel form. There is a Monsieur who narrates and who says “I”; there are a great many characters; in the first volume they are “prepared” in such a way that what they do in the second is exactly the opposite of what one would expect from the first. From the publisher’s point of view, unfortunately, this first volume is much less narrative than the second. And from the point of view of composition, it is so complex that it will not be clear until much later when all the “themes” have begun to be combined. You see, there is nothing very engaging about all this. But under the conditions we have discussed, it seems to me that M. Grasset cannot lose anything, and, literarily speaking, I do not think that he will be “déclassé ” because of it.

Marcel Proust, in a letter to René Blum, February 24, 1913. From Letters of Marcel Proust, translated by Mina Curtiss (New York: Helen Marx Books / Books & Co., 2006).
René Blum arranged for the publisher Bernard Grasset to publish “this first volume,” Du côté de chez Swann, at Proust’s expense. Blum (1878–1942) was a journalist, art collector, and ballet impresario. He died in Auschwitz.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Double articles

Grammarphobia offers everything you always wanted to know about double articles, as in “the El Niño effect.” Which reminds me of the El Phoenix Room. Gone but not forgotten.

I have the strongest of suspicions that the El Phoenix is the model for The Unexamined Life, a Boston bar in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Notice the capitalized article in the bar’s name. In the El Phoenix’s place stands Harry’s Bar & Grill, unless something has already taken its place.

A related post
Infinite Jest, “night-noises”

Life before air-conditioning

“Broadway had open trolleys with no side walls, in which you at least caught the breeze, hot though it was, so that desperate people, unable to endure their apartments, would simply pay a nickel and ride around aimlessly for a couple of hours to cool off”: in 1998, Arthur Miller wrote for The New Yorker about life before air-conditioning.

See also 99% Invisible on “thermal delight.”

A coffee quiz

[Life, October 31, 1938. Click for a slightly larger view.]

Insomniacs drinking coffee — sounds like homeopathy. Football teams drinking coffee at halftime — I wouldn’t know. Regular habits — like golf? No, not golf. “The gentle wave-like motion” — my inner twelve-year-old is snickering. Hangovers — my inner twenty-four-year-old is thinking that coffee cures them.

So many claims, such “oceans of notions” — and, as William Butler Yeats might have put it, “The coffee cup’s in the midst of all.” Yes, where there’s life — there’s coffee! I like that dowdy cup, steam rising, message written in cream by an exceedingly skilled barista. Oh, wait: it’s 1938. No barista.

Related reading
All OCA coffee posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Trump vs. breast-feeding

“The intensity of the [Trump] administration’s opposition to the breast-feeding resolution stunned public health officials and foreign diplomats, who described it as a marked contrast to the Obama administration, which largely supported [the World Health Organization’s] longstanding policy of encouraging breast-feeding”: “U.S. Opposition to Breast-Feeding Resolution Stuns World Health Officials” (The New York Times).

For someone like Donald Trump, women’s breasts have but one purpose, no?

And even in this story, there’s a Russia connection.

Domestic comedy

[While watching 90 Day Fiancé. It was very late.]

“It’s like Jerry Springer.”

“In houses.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

From the Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Frank Longo, is a tough one. I had to look up three answers to finish: a bit of crosswordese, a fairly obscure quotation, and a term that left me baffled, ending in BOX. (A what?)

Two clues that I especially liked: 1-Across, four letters: “Galaxy cluster.” And 11-Down, four letters: “Joiner of many clubs?”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, July 7, 2018. Click for a much larger view.]

I doubt that Nancy has ever stepped into a church. Or if she has, it was probably to “borrow” a dime from the collection box (for a soda). Or candles for Sluggo’s birthday cake. Or something. All that aside: today’s strip is a pleasing assembly of comic-strip characters, all of whom attend a Christian house of worship with non-representational stained-glass windows. From front to back, left to right, I see Nancy, Curtis Wilkins, Dennis the Menace, Mary Worth, Archie Andrews, Earl Pickles (where’s Opal?), Popeye the Sailor, Perfesser Cosmo Fishhawk (Shoe), and Dick Tracy. The couple in the second row, the guy with the red tie, and the angry-looking bird: no idea. Anyone? A little help?

A mystery of the Hi and Lois interstice: the guy with the red tie changes his seat between the first and second panels.

July 8: Eric Reaves, the strip’s artist, explained in a comment at Comics Kingdom: “The couple is my wife and I (the artist of the strip). The red tie guy is a character I created many years ago for a rejected comic strip idea, and the lady in purple is my grandmother!”

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[Perhaps that bird is an Angry Bird. The Angry Birds now have a comic strip.]

Friday, July 6, 2018

Beautiful libraries

From the BBC, some of the world’s most beautiful libraries.

The most beautiful library I’ve ever used: Fordham University’s Duane Library, with tiers, nooks, crannies, passageways, mysterious doors, and spiral staircases. Here is a 1951 photograph that gives a good idea of the library’s main space. Dig the tiers! (When I was a student, tables alternated with the shelves, making for cozy little workspaces.) And here are recent photographs of the remodeled multi-purpose Duane, tiers and shelves removed, no longer a library. I liked working in the little room with the spiral staircase, which I think was in the Bs: philosophy. What’s the most beautiful library you know?

“All coming out of a tube”

Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz. 1929. Trans. Michael Hoffman (New York: New York Review Books, 2018).

A great novel, and not nearly as intimidating as you might think.

Related reading
All OCA Döblin posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Claude Lanzmann (1925–2018)

“A relentless interviewer, he used whatever it took — filming surreptitiously, posing as a French historian trying ‘to set the record straight’ — to pry astonishing stories out of his subjects”: the journalist and filmmaker Claude Lanzmann has died at the age of ninety-two. The New York Times has an obituary.

Lanzmann’s nine-and-a-half-hour documentary Shoah is available from Netflix.

[“The New York Times has an obituary”: how I hate typing those words.]

Henry Butler (1948–2018)

The pianist and singer Henry Butler has died at the age of sixty-nine. The New York Times has an obituary.

Henry lived and taught in our university town in the 1990s. He was often away, on leave to perform or record. He gave a concert here in which he played solo piano — I remember “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “Yesterdays” — and sang an Italian aria. He was a pianist of tremendous intensity, and a great unhurried conversationalist, with a dry sense of humor. When Elaine and I had Henry over for dinner, I picked him up at his house, where I noticed a copy of Robert Johnson’s Complete Recordings out for listening. I remember that after dinner Henry told us a story about driving a car and getting pulled over by the police. (I should mention that Henry was blind.) We played a duet or two for him, guitar and violin, probably “Pennies from Heaven.” We didn’t own a piano at the time.

Here’s Henry Butler at the Library of Congress, talking and performing.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Gateway

A six-part podcast series from Gizmodo: The Gateway, about Teal Swan, self-described “spiritual catalyst.” All episodes are now available, and they make for compelling listening, though there’s less of a narrative arc than the mysterious music and audio effects might lead you to expect. And Jennings Brown, the podcast’s creator, has an annoying habit of left dislocation that I was unable to unnotice.

I have two questions and no answers: Why is there no Wikipedia article about Teal Swan? And why does Google include in its capsule biography claims from Swan herself? This sentence, for instance, which appears in descriptions accompanying some of her YouTube videos:

Teal Swan was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico with a range of extrasensory abilities, including clairvoyance, clairsentience, and clairaudience.
Thanks a lot, Google.

[About left dislocation: I think of scripted podcast reportage as writing, not speech. Left dislocation sounds conspicuously informal there.]

The Fourth

[“Hungarian refugee Irene Csillag pledging allegiance to new flag on first day in American school.” Photograph by Carl Mydans. Indianapolis, Indiana. December 1956. From the Life Photo Archive. This photograph appeared in a Life story, “They Pour In . . . And Family Shows Refugees Can Fit In” (January 7, 1957). The principal at the Csillag children’s school: “They’re not the first to come here, strangers to the country and to English, and soon be at home.”]

I’ve had a Jasper Johns work, Flag on Orange, ready for months. But on this Fourth of July, I’m reposting a photograph that I posted in 2016. Let’s learn from our American past.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

“The Immigrants”

A new recording from Gaby Moreno and Van Dyke Parks: “The Immigrants.” The song is by the calypsonian David Rudder. Background at NPR. Proceeds from downloads and streaming go to the Central American Resource Center of California.

Five questions

The Washington Post asks “the five hardest questions in pop music.” I am happy to provide answers:

1. The question stacks the deck, but yes.
2. Yes.
3. Yes.
4. With open ears.
5. Yes and no.

“First find out what you are capable of”

Studying at Brigham Young University, Tara Westover is trying to figure out how she “could be a woman and yet be drawn to unwomanly things” like the study of history and politics. She goes to talk to Paul Kerry, her history professor, and blurts out that she arrived at Brigham Young having never heard of the Holocaust. Her parents didn’t believe in public education. Kerry suggests that Westover stretch herself and “see what happens.” He suggests applying to a study-abroad program at Cambridge. If she’s accepted, the program may give her an idea of her ability. She thinks it over:

I walked to my apartment wondering what to make of the conversation. I’d wanted moral advice, someone to reconcile my calling as a wife and mother with the call I heard of something else. But he’d put that aside. He’d seemed to say, “First find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are.”

Tara Westover, Educated: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 2018).
“First find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are”: I love that. As Westover will later write: “a life is not a thing unalterable.”

Educated is a great story about the ways in which education can open up a world beyond one’s upbringing. As Elaine suggests, the book would be excellent choice for “one book, one campus” purposes. But I doubt that many schools would dare to make Educated required reading. The book raises too many difficult questions about responsibilities to oneself and to one’s family. For Westover, there’s a price to becoming educated, and it’s not tuition and fees.

Coffee or die

In the news: “Drinking coffee is associated with a lower risk of early death — virtually regardless of how much you drink and whether or not it’s caffeinated, concludes a paper published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.”

Related reading
All OCA coffee posts (Pinboard)

Monday, July 2, 2018


I understand the name Backblaze, I think: it’s a backup service that’s meant to be blazingly fast. Or it’s something like a backfire, a protective measure. Still, I’m not crazy about the sight of flames with an app meant to protect data. But I’m using and can recommend using Backblaze, Wirecutter’s choice for best online backup service. Wirecutter’s recommendation — not mine — is the one that should carry weight.

I’ve used Mozy forever, or at least for the past fourteen or sixteen years, so switching was a difficult decision. Did I want to back up everything from scratch? No. But I switched anyway, because of Mozy’s high cost and disappointing customer service. Mozy charges $5.99 a month for 50GB of storage, and $9.99 a month for 125GB, with a $2 a month charge for every additional 20GB. Backblaze: $50 a year for unlimited backup. $119.88 v. $50: that’s an easy choice. And here is a recent example of Mozy’s customer service. In sharp contrast: when I had a couple of questions about how Backblaze manages large files, I filed a support request and had a reply within a day.

If you’d like to try Backblaze, here’s a link that will get you and me a free month each. One suggestion: look carefully at what Backblaze is backing up. You don’t really want to back up your Dropbox folder, do you?

[What’s the deal with prices ending in “.99”? A Mozy joke, like “reticulating splines”?]

An Almodóvar Jotter

[Matador (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1986. Click for a much larger view.]

The police commissioner (Eusebio Poncela) holds a Parker T-Ball Jotter. I’ve also noticed Parker T-Ball Jotters in Homicide, Populaire, and Shattered Glass.

The Parker T-Ball Jotter is my favorite ballpoint pen. Stop me before I notice again!

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

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Como dice Borges

Yes, as The New Republic says, Jorge Luis Borges hated soccer and its fan culture. But did Borges say or write these words?

El nacionalismo sólo permite afirmaciones y, toda doctrina que descarte la duda, la negación, es una forma de fanatismo y estupidez.

[Nationalism only allows for affirmations, and every doctrine that discards doubt, negation, is a form of fanaticism and stupidity.]
The New Republic piece on Borges and soccer includes the sentence in English, with a link to a source with the Spanish sentence. But TNR’s source gives no source for Borges’s words. Here’s a page that cites a 1994 issue of the periodical Tendencias. But look at what’s there:

[Google Books shows this periodical only in snippet view. But some searching and pasting makes the passage available.]
“Como dice (Jorge Luis) Borges”: as Borges says, followed by a statement not enclosed in quotation marks, and slightly different from the above: “En el nacionalismo sólo se permiten afirmaciones, y toda doctrina que descarte la duda, la negación, es una forma de fanatismo y de estupidez.” My translation: “As Borges says, in nationalism only affirmations are allowed, and any doctrine that discards doubt, negation, is a form of fanaticism and stupidity.”

And notice the guillemet (») at the end? Striking as this statement about nationalism may be, it’s a paraphrase of Borges’s attitude, not something Borges said or wrote. The more closely I look at the sentence, the more I suspect that perhaps only the first main clause is to be attributed to Borges: “As Borges says,” &c., and [let me add that] “any doctrine,” &c.

I finally found the source for this statement about nationalism by searching for “Quiero ser una persona internacional” [I want to be an international person]. The source is a 1994 interview with Mario Vargas Llosa. Here it is, in Spanish and in Google Translate’s English. The source for what Borges is said to have said is something I’d still like to discover.

More words for our times from this interview: “El nacionalismo es la negación de lo extranjero, y eso me parece una fuente de violencia.” [Nationalism is the negation of the foreign, and that seems to me a source of violence.]

Related reading
All OCA Borges posts (Pinboard)

[Nacionalismo, even in a paraphrase, seems to mean more than nationalism: in Borges: A Life (2004), Edward Williamson contrasts nacionalismo (“right-wing nationalism”) with Borges’s criollismo.]

Zippy Bumstead

[Zippy, July 1, 2018.]

Zippy as Dagwood Bumstead, Griffy as Mary Worth. Or is it Dagwood as Zippy, Mary as Griffy?

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)