Monday, December 9, 2019

A 2019 Nativity scene

Here is a statement from Rev. Ristine of Claremont United Methodist Church, Claremont, California. And a Newsweek story.

A 2020 calendar

[Mutts, September 24, 2019.]

Thank you, Bip and Bop. You may now return to your nest, where I have installed a small calendar.

Here, via Dropbox, is a calendar for 2020, three months per page. All Gill Sans, in Licorice and Cayenne (Apple’s names for black and dark red), with minimal markings: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Highly readable, even across a crowded room, on evenings enchanted or otherwise.

I’ve been making and sharing yearly calendars since 2010, when I realized that I could get something like the look of a Field Notes calendar for the cost of my own (unpaid) labor.

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with voice.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Lock her up

Elaine watched a little last night, just to see what it is that people tune in to. That is a straitjacket, isn’t it? It’s fancy, but still a straitjacket, or at least it should be.

Stanley Fish and “partisan politics”

From a Chronicle of Higher Education interview with Stanley Fish, “The Unbearable Virtue-Mongering of Academics”:

Let’s talk about your views on academe and social justice. One of the topics you address [in a new book] is university disinvestment in fossil fuels, a step that you object to.

My position has become a minority one; perhaps it was always a minority one. Both students and some faculty feel more and more that colleges and universities should stand for values and policies that are thought to be progressive, rather than sitting on the political sideline. That’s a prevailing sentiment, and it’s one I don’t share. Once you go in that direction, for example by declining to invest in fossil-fuel stock, you’ve transformed yourself from an educational institution into a political institution. Once you do that, there’s, in effect, no place to stop — the university becomes an extension of partisan politics, just another place where partisan politics occurs.
But to invest in fossil fuels is not to remain neutral, to sit “on the political sideline”; to invest is to take a position, however longheld or unexamined that position might be. And notice how Fish stacks the deck with his reference to “partisan politics”: to divest might better be described not as a gesture toward “partisan politics” but as a moral choice that can serve the cause of education. But while I’m taking apart Fish’s argument, I’ll add that a university is always already a political institution: who gets in, who’s kept out, what gets taught, and how. Those who seek to reduce public universities to centers for vocational training know that well.

The interviewer for The Chronicle calls Fish “one of the besieged humanities’ most prominent voices.” But see also Russell Jacoby: “With friends like him, the humanities needs no enemies.”

If you’re wondering about the interview’s title: the conversation devolves into a consideration of cars, with Fish throwing shade on Prius and Subaru owners and extolling his own recent vehicles of choice, a Mercedes and a Thunderbird.

Related posts
A review of How to Write a Sentence : Fish on Strunk and White : Russell Jacoby on Stanley Fish

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, is quite stumperrific. A very difficult puzzle. I started out down the right side with some help from L. Frank Baum: 13-D, six letters, “Auntie Em, for instance.” And then some help from Thomas Hardy: 44-D, six letters, “Ruler from a tree.” The right half of the puzzle went pretty quickly. The left, much less so. And the bottom left corner probably took me as long as the rest of the puzzle.

I know: “Who cares?” I mean, I know who cares. That’s 35-D, three letters, “Who cares?” — one of several very clever clues.

My favorites:

25-D, eight letters, “Stop being square.”

37-A, eleven letters, “Online header of a sort.”

37-D, eight letters, “Booster unit.”

38-D, seven letters, “Occasional catcher.”

45-A, three letters, “Main menu openers.” Really, I hate this kind of clue, but I respect it.

59-A, four letters, “Release a crew.” Uncle!

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Happy birthday, Willa Cather

Willa Cather was born on this day in 1873. In a letter to her brother Roscoe Cather, January 8, 1940, Cather writes about Alfred A. Knopf, who became her publisher in 1920:

Somewhere I still have a letter from him, dated “Christmas morning, 4 oclock.” I had been at his house for a Christmas Eve party (awful English, excuse!) and I took with me the ms. of “A Lost Lady” thinking he might read it over the holiday. He sat up after the party that night and read it, and wrote me that night at 4 a.m. The letter reached me by special messenger on Christmas morning. So it began:
                                 “Christmas morning,
                                               four oclock.

My dear Miss Cather.
    I think you are a very great writer.————
The story struck him hard; and he was there at the bat when I pitched him a ball. (This figure is bad baseball, I know, but it expresses the relation between a writer and a live publisher, who isn't afraid.)

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather , ed. Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout (New York: Knopf, 2013).
Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

[Re: “Christmas morning: there’s no closing quotation mark in the text.]

“A perfect summary
of this whole scheme”

Susan Glasser of The New Yorker asked Adam Schiff what he considered the most memorable moments of testimony from the House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearings:

One was from the former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, who, in a conversation with one of Zelensky’s advisers, in September, urged the new Ukrainian administration not to enact victor’s justice and investigate his defeated predecessor. The Zelensky adviser responded, in effect, “Oh, you mean like you want us to do with the Bidens and the Clintons?” To Schiff, it was a moment “pointing out the utter hypocrisy” of Trump’s scheme, in which America was now “urging other countries not to engage in politically motivated investigations, while asking for politically motivated investigations.”

The other conversation that Schiff cited was Sondland’s memorable encounter with David Holmes, a diplomat in the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. Holmes overheard Sondland talking on the phone with Trump, who asked if Zelensky would pursue the investigations he wanted. After the call, Holmes asked Sondland, “Does the President give a shit about Ukraine?” As Holmes testified, the answer was no, he only cares about “the big stuff.” Well, Holmes pointed out, there is big stuff happening in Ukraine, like a war with Russia, but Sondland said no, that was not what he meant. Trump only cared about matters that concerned him, like the investigations. “That says it all,” Schiff told me. “The President doesn’t give a shit about what’s good for our country, what’s good for Ukraine. It’s all about what’s in it for him personally and for his reëlection campaign.” In that small moment in an obscure diplomat’s testimony, Schiff reflected, was the impeachment case in all its brazen simplicity. “That is a perfect summary,” he said, “of this whole scheme.”
Post titles sometimes show up in other bloggers’ sidebars. If that weren’t the case, I would’ve titled this post “The President doesn’t give a shit about what’s good for our country.”

Friday, December 6, 2019

Wuthering Heights, tonight

I saw the TCM listing: Wuthering Heights. From 1958? The New Yorker explains: it’s a version made for television, with Richard Burton and Rosemary Harris, lost and now found. It airs tonight on TCM, 8:00 Eastern.

Kids and garbage trucks

In The Atlantic, Ashley Fetters works toward “a unifying theory of why kids are so wild about garbage trucks.”

Thanks, Ben.

Search Google Books with Alfred

[For Mac users with Alfred and the Alfred Powerpack.]

Alfred is an app launcher and boon companion that performs a dazzling array of tasks. A post from the Alfred blog inspired me, at last, to create a shortcut to search Google Books. Simple, as it turns out. The trick is figuring out the URL that will work.

In Alfred (with Powerpack), go to Features, then Web Search. Add a custom search URL like so:{query}

For Title, I used the blindingly obvious Google Books. For Keyword, gob, not likely to be confused with anything else in might type. To use the shortcut, I call up Alfred, type gob, add a space, and type whatever I want to look for in Google Books, with or without quotation marks.

So here’s one everyday task made a lot simpler. Better living through automation, at least sometimes.

[My only connection to the app is that of a happy, paid-up user.]

Subway ways

From Gothamist : “A Brief History Of NYC Subway Vending Machines.” And from The New York Times : “The New York City Subway Map as You’ve Never Seen It Before.”

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “The Pearl Harbor Radio Logs,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

“Close enough for jazz”

I missed this bit yesterday, Jonathan Turley revealing his ignorance of jazz:

“You can’t accuse a president of bribery and then when some of us note that the Supreme Court has rejected your type of boundless interpretation, say, ‘Well, it’s just impeachment. We really don’t have to prove the elements.’ That’s a favorite mantra. That it’s sort of close enough for jazz. Well, this isn’t improvisational jazz. Close enough is not good enough.”
I have no idea what Turley means.

“Close enough” is never “good enough,” not in jazz, not in any art. And what is “improvisational jazz”? Some subset of jazz?

And what does “close enough” mean anyway? Close enough to what? If Turley is talking about, say, faking a tune, that’s not “improvisational jazz” — that’s faking a tune, something countless musicians have done in trying to honor a request. (See piano bar.)

But faking one’s way through a piece of music is not what jazz musicians do. The notion that jazz musicians are content to toss off sloppy approximations of ideal musical forms is sad, misleading, and dumb, an insult to the improviser’s art. Jonathan Turley should play with his Goldendoodle and leave music to the musicians.


4:17 p.m.: In a comment, Chris at Dreamers Rise identified the likely inspiration for Turley’s comment: the expression “close enough for rock and roll.” New to me, but it’s the title of a 1976 album by Nazareth. The idea: it doesn’t matter if your guitar is in tune, as long as it’s close enough, &c. So as Turley would have it, jazz musicians, or “improvisatory jazz” musicians, don’t care enough to tune up before playing. Sheesh.


4:53 p.m.: But there’s also a 1969 album by Johnny Lytle, Close Enough for Jazz. So there’s a pretty well-established tradition of dissing vernacular musics, in seriousness or in self-deprecating jest.


6:10 p.m.: But wait, there’s more: in 1956, Stan Freberg made a parody recording of “Heartbreak Hotel.” He interrupts a going-out-of-tune guitar solo with the words “That’s good, that’s good, that’s close enough for jazz.” And it turns out that “close enough for jazz” is a well-established expression. Alan Axelrod’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jazz (Indianapolis, Alpha Books, 1999) glosses it:
Close Enough for Jazz

The prejudice classical musicians once felt against jazz musicians has pretty well died, but it died hard. For much of the 20th century, many classical musicians looked down on jazz musicians as sloppy and undisciplined.
I’ve been listening to jazz for almost my entire life, having entered the novitiate by the age of three. That might be why I’ve never imagined jazz musicians as sloppy and undisciplined.

“So nice and yellow! ”

Buddy Glass says that his brother Seymour loved horseplay from younger siblings. And:

J.D. Salinger, Seymour: An Introduction (1963).

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Johnson on bribery

In today’s impeachment hearing, Jonathan Turley cited definitions of high, crime, and misdemeanor from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary. Pamela S. Karlan then added the definition of the word Turley left out — bribery, which appears in the 1792 edition of the Dictionary. No, she doesn’t carry that dictionary around with her, though it would be pretty cool if she did: she said that she was using an online edition. Perhaps this one?

The word bribery does not appear in the 1755 edition of the Dictionary. The definition from the 1785 edition: “A reward given to pervert the judgment, or corrupt the conduct.”

There may have been more dictionary action in today’s hearing — I don’t know, because I’ve stopped watching.

Karlan +3

I would like every witness for today’s impeachment hearing to be Pamela S. Karlan.

“He was a chiropodist”

I’ll set the stage, or the cab. It’s June 4, 1942. Seymour Glass has failed to show for his wedding to Muriel Fedder. In the aftermath, Seymour’s brother Buddy (the only Glass in attendance) finds himself in a cab with the Matron of Honor and her husband, Helen Silsburn (a Fedder family friend), and Muriel’s father’s uncle. The Matron of Honor is furious: “I’d like to get my hands on him for about two minutes. Just two minutes, that’s all.” Buddy has not let these people know that Seymour is his brother. “We were boys together,” he has explained. What, the Matron of Honor wants to know, did Seymour do before the war?

J.D. Salinger, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters (1963).

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

“Artistically appointed restrooms”

George Baxter’s client has built ten new department stores in his home state in the last ten years. From the Hazel episode “What’s Bugging Hazel?” (February 25, 1965):

“I’ve spent a fortune, George, a fortune, giving my customers every conceivable convenience. Spacious parking lots, gracious restaurants and coffeeshops, baby-minding services, and artistically appointed restrooms!”
“Artistically appointed restrooms!” But it’s not a laughline. Or at least the laugh track doesn’t respond.

[Stuck in the house, getting over a sinus infection, I sometimes get stuck in a TV vortex. This episode is also online.]

Reading in the news

From The New York Times

The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000, according to the latest results of a rigorous international exam, despite a decades-long effort to raise standards and help students compete with peers across the globe. . . .

The disappointing results from the exam, the Program for International Student Assessment, were announced on Tuesday and follow those from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an American test that recently showed that two-thirds of children were not proficient readers.

Nancy, blogger

[Nancy, December 4, 2019.]

“It’s obvious”: oh, Nancy.

By the way: if you scroll to the bottom of the page and look at the sidebar, you’ll see Nancy speaking the “word” blog in 1950.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with cancel culture .

Monday, December 2, 2019

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with existential .

The Apostrophe Protection Society

“The ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!” The Apostrophe Protection Society throw’s in the towel.

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)

[I know: its really spelling, not punctuation. But as the man says, the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won! The APS website, from which I quoted above, is now dormant. Here is the Internet Archive’s most recent version of the APS front page. And here is an article from The Guardian on the demise of the APS.]

A joke in the traditional manner

How do ghosts hide their wrinkles?

No spoilers: the punchline is in the comments.

More jokes in the traditional manner
The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : Did you hear about the shape-shifting car? : Did you hear about the thieving produce clerk? : Elementary school : A Golden Retriever : How did Bela Lugosi know what to expect? : How did Samuel Clemens do all his long-distance traveling? : How do amoebas communicate? : How do worms get to the supermarket? : Of all the songs in the Great American Songbook, which is the favorite of pirates? : What did the doctor tell his forgetful patient to do? : What did the plumber do when embarrassed? : What happens when a senior citizen visits a podiatrist? : What is the favorite toy of philosophers’ children? : What’s the name of the Illinois town where dentists want to live? : What was the shepherd doing in the garden? : Where do amoebas golf? : Where does Paul Drake keep his hot tips? : Why did the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels? : Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies? : Why did the ophthalmologist and his wife split up? : Why does Marie Kondo never win at poker? : Why is the Fonz so cool? : Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. He gets credit for the Autobahn, the elementary school, the Golden Retriever, Bela Lugosi, Samuel Clemens, the doctor, the plumber, the senior citizen, Oliver Hardy, and the ophthalmologist. Elaine gets credit for the Illinois town. My fambly helped me with the phrasing for this one. My dad was making such jokes long before anyone called them “dad jokes.” I continue in the traditional manner.]

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The TLL continues

“Most dictionaries focus on the most prominent or recent meaning of a word; this one aims to show every single way anyone ever used it, from the earliest Latin inscriptions in the sixth century B.C. to around A.D. 600”: the work of the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae is ongoing. The New York Times has a report, with photographs. Those slips!

The TLL website has a short film about the project.

Related posts
A 2016 NPR story : The TLL and NEH funding

The prodigal failson

Last year the word failsonry had me stumped. The word I really needed to look up: failson. Molly Jong-Fast explains (The Daily Beast ).

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with upcycling.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper is credited to “Lester Ruff.” That’s the pseudonym Stan Newman uses for easier Saturday Stumpers of his making. Today’s puzzle though seemed to me decidedly not easy, though still solvable. I’d change the byline to Maura Ruff.

Some choice clues: 1-A, ten letters, “Stumpery clue for ‘broom.’” 13-D, nine letters, “What the Remember the Milk app helps with.” (I nerded out there.) 37-A, three letters, “Blower, briefly.” 45-A, ten letters, “Hippie quest.”

A clue that baffled me, even after I had the answer: 27-A, three letters, “Letters associated with ticker tape.” Another: 54-D, four letters, “Guy from Jericho.” Maura Ruff, you sneak!

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Margaret Atwood on Little Lulu

In The New Yorker, Margaret Atwood writes about “The Life Lessons of Little Lulu.” The first three:

1. It’s O.K. to have curls.

2. It’s O.K. to be short.

3. It’s O.K. to be female.
Follow the link to find them all.

Related reading
All OCA comics posts (Pinboard)

The age of “40”

This photograph, a few weeks old now, is as close as I will get to our friendly neighborhood multinational retailer on this Bleak Friday. Or to any store today.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “A Vegetarian Thanksgiving,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

Thanksgiving 1919

In 1919 Thanksgiving fell on November 27. This ad appeared in The New York Times on November 16, 1919.

[Click for a larger squirrel.]

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it.

[Today 223 and 225 Fulton Street are ghosts in a pedestrian area between One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial North Pool. But 309 Madison Avenue is fresh&co, offering a “blended nut & nut-free and gluten-free & gluten environment.”]

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


A headline today: “Trump tweets doctored photo of his head on Sylvester Stallone’s body” (The Washington Post). Keep scrolling and you’ll see it.

It’s time — for impeachment, or the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, or a resignation for “medical reasons,” none of which T.S. Eliot had in mind.

Sailing out of Walden Pond

Bessie Glass has just left the bathroom where she’d been talking to her son Zooey, who is still in the bathtub, on the other side of the shower curtain. So many wonderful bits of phrasing in this passage:

J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey (1961).

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Warfighter on The Late Show

On The Late Show last night, Stephen Colbert commented on the appearance of the word warfighters in a presidential tweet:

Warfighters? Nobody calls them that. I’m pretty sure that’s the name of the generic video game your grandmother buys when you ask for Call of Duty. ‘It was in a three-dollar bin outside of Jo-Ann Fabrics.’”
Watch here.

Warfighter does appear in both movie and video game titles. But as Language Log pointed out in 2012, the word has its origin in military culture.

As regular readers already know, I made a post about warfighter yesterday.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Recently updated

From “Stalin as Linguist — II” Barrett Watten has been removed from teaching and advising at Wayne State University.

The ubiquitous warfighter

The word warfighter suddenly seems ubiquitous. Neither Merriam-Webster nor the OED has an entry yet. The American Heritage Dictionary gives these definitions:

1. A soldier, especially a US soldier who is engaged or has engaged in combat.

2. A person, especially a member of one of the US armed services deployed to an area of conflict, who is responsible for making decisions involving the use of military force.
Google’s Ngram Viewer has nothing for the word before 1971, with use sharply rising since 1988.

Here is an excerpt from William Treseder’s thoughts about the word. Treseder served in the United States Marines and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan:
Sometime in the mid 2000s, a strange new word started to get popular: “warfighter.” It catapulted out of obscurity from the military, quickly becoming the de facto label for all active-duty and reserve personnel. This word is seriously misleading; it presents the exact opposite of military reality at a time when Americans need to be questioning our role in global security more than ever before.

[“From the military”: a link to a Language Log post on the word’s origin.]
To my ear, warfighter has something of the sound of a kenning. As spoken by our president, it sounds like a sanction for war crimes. A service member belongs to a community with norms and values; a warfighter is an independent agent. A warfighter: so anything goes.

Pallet pencils

Making 1,000 pencils from pallet wood: a short video from Jackman Works.

Paul Jackman is ultra-adept at woodworking. But I think he’s less familiar with pencils. The question that begins the project: “Do people even use pencils anymore?” Heck, yeah.

But they don’t slam or throw their pencils around. That might crack the lead, leading to endless resharpening as new points break off, one after another. Remember Turkish Taffy?

Thanks, Ian, for letting me know about these pencils.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

[For slamming and throwing, see 7:44 and 8:06 in the video. Note that this project doesn’t really contradict the claim that no single person knows how to make a pencil. The materials and tools are of course the work of others.]

Monday, November 25, 2019


Here, from Meghan Bogardus Corteza of EdTech, is a profile of the overhead projector of classrooms past. I remember these projectors from high school, in several ways:

I remember digging the markers that teachers used for writing on transparencies, in class, in real time. Corteza asks, “Who doesn’t remember the thrill of being allowed to write on the transparency with a dry-erase marker and seeing the results projected on the wall?” That would be me — because we never got to write on transparencies. Teachers only!

Were they really dry-erase markers? I think I remember grease pencils, with a rag to wipe the transparency clean.

I remember the tremendous heat that the projector threw off. And the blinding light from inside the machine.

I remember that some projectors were equipped with one long scrolling transparency: write, crank, write, crank. The erasing later on must have been a pain.
I can’t recall a projector ever in use in one of my college classes. (I do remember a slide projector in art history class.) As a professor, I would notice the overhead projector stashed on the wall convector, next to lost scarves and notebooks and a little box or two of spare bulbs. A sad, neglected projector in every classroom. But every once in a while, even in the age of document readers and PowerPoint, I’d enter a classroom to find a projector sitting on the instructor’s desk at the front of the room. Someone must have been making a presentation.

I made use of an overhead projector just once in my teaching career: when reading Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” I asked my students to write a short stanza about a way of seeing the projector that sat in the room. We put the stanzas together (in a chance sequence) to make what turned out to be a pretty wonderful poem. I wish I could find it now.

Thanks, Mike, for thinking about old tech and sending the link.

The vanishing hardware store

Worth reading: a New York Times opinion piece, “The Life and Death of the Local Hardware Store.” The killers: Amazon and high rent.

Our local hardware store — Ace — is an incredibly valuable resource. Ask a question: someone will know the answer. An air filter for a gas water-heater? No, manufacturers don’t sell them separately, only with the [whatever the expensive part is]. But here, here’s one that someone left last week. They bought the part but didn’t need the filter. How much? Just take it.

A related post
Harvey’s Hardware (Density!)

“O.K.,” “K,” “kk”

In The New York Times, a Q & A column about workplaces covers “kk,” which some younger people apparently prefer to “OK” or “K” in e-mail and texts.

The Q A-er, Caity Weaver, endorses kk:

You reply to an email with “O.K.”: For the briefest twinkling, I think “Rude.”

You reply to an email with “K”: For one terrible millisecond, I think (sobbing and feeling attacked), “He’s acting like he’s the only one who’s stressed out!”

You reply to an email with “kk”: I think “O.K.”

“Kk” is an ice-cold glass of blood: mostly neutral, slightly basic.
“An ice-cold glass of blood”? That’s a good thing? A MetaFilter thread is devoted to figuring out this brand-new metaphor. Someone there discovered Weaver’s tweeted explanation:
It’s ice cold because that’s my preferred drink temperature and when I wrote that down I thought it was funny — no other reason 🤪 And it’s blood because I wanted a glass of something that was slightly basic on the pH scale
I'm amused that a writer who appears so attuned to the damaging effects of one- and two-letter abbreviations is willing to use a metaphor that is, well, baffling — and blood-chilling!

“A nice hot cup of tea” or “a warm cup of cocoa” might be a better metaphor. (It would certainly taste better.) And the problems (or non-problems, I’d say) of “O.K.” and “K” could be avoided by making a keyboard shortcut to turn “OK” into the friendly, dowdy “Okeydoke.”


One practical reason to avoid “kk”: the danger, especially on a phone, of accidentally adding a third “k.”

Sunday, November 24, 2019

James Brown and Mutts

Today’s Mutts lets us know that Patrick McDonnell is a fan. The title panel for today’s strip is a bonus. Look here and here.

My dad turned me on to Mutts some years back. Thanks, Dad.

Related reading
More Mutts posts

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Stooges as amigos

[The Stooges as Sondland, Perry, and Volker. Click for a larger view.]

The Three Stooges — Larry Fine, Moe Howard, Curly Howard — will star as Gordon Sondland, Rick Perry, and Kurt Volker in the forthcoming release The Three Amigos. Talk about straight out of Central Casting.

Gosh, I’d love it if this post were to become celebrated.

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Brad Wilber, reminded me of what it was (sometimes) like to take a final exam: sit down; feel a bit 40-D, seven letters, “Put off”; dig in; and find everything falling into place.

I noticed suggestions of domestic life in today’s puzzle: 1-D, five letters, “Potpourri quality” and 18-A, eight letters, “What potpourri is meant to be” paired nicely. Note: meant to be. I suspect that Wilber is not a fan of that smelly stuff.

Another nice domestic touch: 34-D, nine letters, “Starting points in crocheting” and 35-D, nine letters, “Thick as thieves.”

Some clues I especially liked: 2-D, “Telenovela ‘Yikes,’” which started my solving. 21-D, five letters, “Bach-era dance,” whose answer I wouldn’t have known B.E. And 60-A, six letters, “Place for an ace” SLEEVE? No.

My favorite clue in today’s puzzle: 11-D, five letters, “Rattling adders.” Again and again, Newsday strikes the right note in its trickier cluing for common words, preferring concision to overly elaborate, farfetched cuteness. Yes, New York Times crossword, I’m looking at you.

One question: is 38-D, five letters, really a “Bogart foe in five films”? No.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

[B.E.: Before Elaine.]

“Hello? Is this 1973?”

In today’s Zippy, pay phones, postcards, and letters. The post title is Zippy speaking into a broken pay phone.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Gahan Wilson (1930–2019)

The cartoonist Gahan Wilson has died at the age of eighty-nine. The New York Times has an obituary and a sampler of his work. The New Yorker has a reminiscence from fellow cartoonist Michael Maslin, with more Wilson cartoons.

“I love a good calendar graphic”

On the PBS NewsHour last night, in a report on what happens next in the impeachment inquiry:

Judy Woodruff: What does the calendar look like, as far as we know?

Lisa Desjardins: Ah. You know I love a good calendar graphic. Our producer Jess helped put this together.
I love a good calendar graphic too, and these are really nice work, with the month of December followed by a series of week-by-week closeups:

[Click for bigger days.]

Reading the staff roster, I’m guessing that “Jess” is Jessica Yarvin, production assistant. Kudos to her.

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with climate emergency.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Joe Biden’s stutter

Worth reading: John Hendrickson’s “Joe Biden’s Stutter, and Mine” (The Atlantic ). I knew, vaguely, that Biden stuttered as a child. I didn’t know that his stuttering persists. Reading this article helped me to think about his “gaffes” with far greater compassion.

[An aside: A recent CNN broadcast had Biden on a stage answering questions from an audience. What a difference from his debate performances: he was blazingly fluent.]

William Taylor’s notebook

My heart leaped up when I read this passage in a short piece about William Taylor, ambassador to Ukraine:

Throughout his career, Taylor was rarely seen without a little green notebook, friends and colleagues recall. In it, he took meticulous notes of meetings, discussions, ideas.
A green notebook! Could it be this Memorandum notebook? It seems a good fit: well-made, durable, inexpensive, and with something of a military provenance. (Taylor served for six years in the United States Army.)

And then I saw this excerpt from Taylor’s October 22 deposition:
“Handwritten notes that I take on a small, little spiral notebook in my office of phone calls that take place in my office.”
Spiral. Drat.

But then I went to the deposition itself to look at that passage in context. Taylor is describing three sources he used in putting together an opening statement. One: WhatsApp messages.
“Number two. I’ve always kept careful notes, and I keep a little notebook where I take notes on conversations, in particular when I’m not in the office. So, in meetings with Ukrainian officials or when I’m out and I get a phone call and I can — I keep notes.

“The third documents are handwritten notes that I take on a small, little spiral notebook in my office of phone calls that take place in my office.”
So perhaps his traveling notebooks are, after all, of the Memorandum variety.

You can see the the top-opening version of the Memorandum notebook at work in the 2016 film 20th Century Women.

Related reading
All OCA notebook posts (Pinboard)

The green chairs of Bryant Park

From Gothamist, the story of the green chairs of Bryant Park.

To my surprise, the man behind movable chairs was William H. Whyte, who wrote the 1956 bestseller The Organization Man before turning to the study of urban public space.

A tenuously related post
Whyte on anti-intellectualism in education

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “John Heard and The Scarlet Letter,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

Fiona Hill’s accent

In her opening statement to the House Intelligence Committee, Fiona Hill, former National Security Council official, explained that she is “an American by choice, having become a citizen in 2002.” She came to the United States in 1988 to do graduate work at Harvard:

Years later, I can say with confidence that this country has offered for me opportunities I never would have had in England. I grew up poor with a very distinctive working-class accent. In England in the 1980s and 1990s, this would have impeded my professional advancement.

This background has never set me back in America.
I find these comments, made by someone who never expected to be a public figure, moving.

[Granted, there are distinctive accents that can and do impede possibilities (employment and housing, for instance) in the United States — for people native-born and non-native-born. But the contrast here is between what would have been available to Hill in England and the United States.]

In Maniac Ridge

I was in Maniac Ridge, New Jersey, uncertain whether maniac was an adjective or a noun. The car needed gas, so I pulled into the garage of a Sunoco station. I popped the gas cap and an attendant filled the tank. (No self-service in New Jersey.) The garage was filled with vehicles in need of repair: a golf cart, a sedan, a bus. I had thirty-one papers with me, all of which needed grading, and I needed to find a place to work.

This is the eighteenth teaching-related dream I’ve had since retiring, and the third with grading. All the others: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17.

[The number of papers probably owes something to J.D. Salinger’s Zooey : “Advanced Writing 24-A loaded me up with thirty-eight short stories to drag tearfully home for the weekend.”]

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

“A continuum of insidiousness”

“A continuum of insidiousness”: Adam Schiff’s phrase, which expands Gordon Sondland’s reference to Rudolph Giuliani’s ever more insidious demands, interests me. The thing about a continuum of insidiousness is that every point on it is insidious, some just more so than others.

I have to imagine this continuum as existing in both space and time, because Gordon Sondland was in way over his head as he traveled it.

The Musgrave Single Barrel 106

From the Musgrave Pencil Company: the Single Barrel 106, a pencil made from a cache of 1930s Tennessee Red Cedar found “in the wreckage of an ill-fated storage building.” I like the origin story, the design, and the play on single-barrel whiskey. The 106 is one nifty-looking pencil.

Found via Lexikaliker. Or in Google Translate’s English, Lexikaliker.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard) : Musgrave 1930s or ’40s refill leads

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Telling the truth

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a few minutes ago, addressing his father: “Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.”

WordPress 5.3: Kirk

The latest version of WordPress, 5.3, is named Kirk, for Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

[“Cabin in the Sky” (Vernon Duke–John La Touche). Kirk, manzello; Tete Montoliu, piano; Tommy Potter, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.]

Lots of Kirk recordings on YouTube, pre- and post-Rahsaan (a name he added in 1970), but not that many filmed performances. This one is my favorite, found long ago via Music Clip of the Day. Aside from the music — and what music! — I love Tommy Potter’s puzzled look at the end. Who needs a rest?

At the movies

Holden Caulfield is killing time at Radio City. The stage show has ended, and “the goddam picture” begins:

The Catcher in the Rye (1951).

The summary that follows — an amnesiac duke, a failing publisher, a meet-cute, a sudden bestseller, the return of an old fiancée, the end of amnesia, temporary complications, happy endings all around — sounds an awful lot like a Hallmark Christmas movie. It’s still 1951, in some ways, and people still hate-watch the goddam movies. They really do.

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Monday, November 18, 2019

Robert Walser on TAL

In Episode 687 of This American Life, “Small Things Considered,” Lilly Sullivan looks at the life and work of Robert Walser: “What the Eye Can’t See.” A photograph of a Walser microscript appears on the episode’s front page.

Related reading
All OCA Walser posts (Pinboard)

Word of the day: franistan

[“Torking the Sneem.” Zippy, November 18, 2019. Click for a larger view.]

Th’ word franistan rings a bell. Readers of a certain age will recognize it from I Love Lucy : in the episode “The Publicity Agent” (May 12, 1952), Lucy poses as the Maharincess of Franistan. But franistan, no cap, has a longer history, which goes back to the comedy of double-talk. Here’s a short piece that mentions both franistan and kravistate (also in today’s strip). And then there’s frammis. I love harmless nonsense.

Here are samples of double-talkers Al Kelly and Cliff Nazarro at work. I’m pretty sure that the fellow who asks “How’s th’ thingamajig, Zippy?” in the last panel of today’s strip is a cartooned Kelly.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Click for a larger Kelly.]

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Domestic comedy

[It’s Hallmark season again.]

“Do we have to watch this? It looks really stupid.”

“Can we find something stupider?”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, November 16, 2019

What’s up with Trump?

Something strange here:

~ Unannounced indeed: when I checked the presidential public schedule at Factbase this morning there was no mention of a trip to Walter Reed. Trump’s first two physicals as president were announced in advance.

~ Those physicals took place on January 12, 2018 and February 8, 2019. This one is taking place a little over nine months after the previous one.

~ Nothing White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham says can be believed. Her claim about taking time on a “free weekend” is plainly laughable. Total time for this visit, including travel from the White House to Walter Reed and back: three hours and twenty-five minutes, probably less time than it takes Trump to play a round of golf on one of his unfree weekends.

~ The press secretary’s subsequent claim that “the President remains healthy and energetic without complaints, as demonstrated by his repeated vigorous rally performances in front of thousands of Americans” is plainly dubious. Standing and yelling are not typically considered signs of good health. Standing and reading robotically from a teleprompter are not typically considered signs of good health. The joke about “without complaints” writes itself.

~ It seems to me reasonable to suspect that something is wrong or that Trump and company have begun laying the groundwork for resignation. Don’t laugh. I’ve been telling family and friends for weeks now that I think Trump might resign rather than face the humiliation of impeachment. A medical diagnosis of some sort might pave the way for a brokered resignation, with a deal to cover his trouble with the Southern District of New York. It wouldn’t be the first time Trump relied on a doctor’s diagnosis to avoid trouble.

~ Finally, since nothing the president says can be believed, his insistence in June 2019 that he, unlike Richard Nixon, won’t leave in the face of impeachment counts, I think, for naught.

There’s more about today’s unannounced trip at CNN.


Trump’s explanation of this visit changed via tweet later last night:
Visited a great family of a young man under major surgery at the amazing Walter Reed Medical Center. Those are truly some of the best doctors anywhere in the world. Also began phase one of my yearly physical. Everything very good (great!). Will complete next year.
So now we’re meant to think that he went to Walter Reed to visit a family, and — because he was already there? — he “also” began his physical? None of it makes sense.

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, November 16, 2019. Click for a larger view.]

Beware of Irmas bearing gifts. But I think the butt in the ashtray blurs the joke, especially if you’re given to overthinking.

Thirsty Thurston first appeared in Hi and Lois on June 9, 1961. In 2017 I noticed that he was still smoking. He has now been smoking for more than fifty-eight years.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, looked to me like a sea of troubles. I drifted to the middle of the sea — 38-A, seven letters, “Quack creation” — before finding a way to proceed. That answer gave me 24-D, four letters, “Old-style ‘used to be,’” which in turn gave me 23-A, five letters, “Had a home plate.” That answer let me make an educated guess at 9-D, six letters, “What sweetens some soy sauce,” which yielded 20-A, seven letters, “Foxy.” And then more drifting. The northeast and southwest corners gave me the most difficulty, and I managed to solve by trying and giving up on one corner, then the other, over and over. I know that seas don’t have corners though.

Some outstanding clues: 11-D, seven letters, “They fly for a union.” 28-D, five letters, “One shooting stars.” 37-D, eight letters, “Veggie dish specification.” 45-A, nine letters, “Explanation for passing.” 60-A, nine letters, “Bursting in.” And 66-A, nine letters, “They’re not drips.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, November 15, 2019

NYT commentary

Better late than never: The New York Times has a running commentary on today’s impeachment hearing, with seven reporters. Very helpful.


Watching Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony (on my phone, while getting an oil change), all I can think is thuggery, thuggery, thuggery. Complete with witness intimidation in real time! How much longer will this president’s enablers permit his thuggery to continue? As long as it takes, I fear.

Toni Morrison’s pencils

Toni Morrison, from a 1993 Paris Review interview:

What is the physical act of writing like for you?

I write with a pencil.

Would you ever work on a word processor?

Oh, I do that also, but that is much later when everything is put together. I type that into a computer and then I begin to revise. But everything I write for the first time is written with a pencil, maybe a ballpoint if I don’t have a pencil. I’m not picky, but my preference is for yellow legal pads and a nice number two pencil.

Dixon Ticonderoga number two soft?


[From Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (dir. Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, 2019). Click for a larger view.]

No Ticonderoga in the documentary. That’s a Paper Mate SharpWriter. But it is a no. 2.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

Nancy’s blog

[Nancy, November 15, 2019.]

Click here to learn more!

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “War Photography and Public Domain,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

Planet Madeleine

[Click for a larger treat.]

When we journeyed east a couple of weeks ago, our friends Jim and Luanne had madeleines for us. Homemade madeleines, Jim-made madeleines. They were great — slightly spongy and deeply flavorful, with a touch of lemon. This picture makes me think of Jim and Luanne, and their friendship, and, uhh, madeleines.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard) : Madeleine, the word

Two Frosts

From my story “The Poet,” in which Robert Frost visits the Lassie world:

Timmy had been right: Mr. Frost was an old poet. He looked tired. Even his clothes — a baggy shirt, baggy pants, a tattered scarf, and a rumpled jacket — looked tired.
Here’s Frost in a short documentary, heading off to a reading:

[From Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World (dir. Shirley Clarke, 1963). Click for a larger view.]

Granted, there’s no scarf. But I think I must have seen this film years before I wrote the story. Either that or I’m just good at imagining tired old poets.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Object vs. subject

I’m impressed by William Taylor’s distinction between Ukraine as object (a nation to be exploited, manipulated) and Ukraine as subject (a nation seeking to exercise agency, autonomy).

Everything George Kent and Ambassador Taylor have said this morning is a rebuke to the clownish lies and obfuscations of those seeking to defend Donald Trump. High seriousness is winning the day here.

NYT commentary

The New York Times has a running commentary on today’s impeachment hearing, with eight reporters. Very helpful.

[But so far: no mention of George Kent’s dangerously uncapped Nalgene water bottle.]

Gods and mud

I was in a colleague’s house, standing in the kitchen next to a salad bar where you weighed your plate to determine how much to pay. Then I walked downstairs to an event sponsored by my department. The gist of it: each participant, faculty member or student, chose the identity of a god and rolled around on a floor full of mud. Jesus, predictably, was already taken. “What about the Father and the Holy Spirit?” I asked. “Are they still available? Because it’s one God in three Persons. Write this down: A question from Thomas Aquinas.” I stripped to my T-shirt and underwear but couldn’t bring myself to roll in the mud, so I walked back upstairs to dress. I had two or three shirts to choose from. A friend from high school was standing next to the refrigerator. “We should really try to stay more in touch,” I said.

This is the seventeenth work-related dream I’ve had since retiring, and the first about a service activity. The others have been about teaching: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16.

[Playing god and rolling in the mud might both be considered elements of academic life. In waking life I did neither.]

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

From: Stephen Miller

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch is examining leaked e-mails between Stephen Miller and Breitbart News. First up, a look at Miller’s source materials:

That source material, as laid out in his emails to Breitbart, includes white nationalist websites, a “white genocide”-themed novel in which Indian men rape white women, xenophobic conspiracy theories and eugenics-era immigration laws that Adolf Hitler lauded in Mein Kampf.
Why am I not surprised?

Twelve movies

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers.]

All the King’s Men (dir. Robert Rossen, 1949). From Robert Penn Warren’s novel: the rise and fall of populist politician Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford), whose idealism gives way to corruption and the general destruction of those around him. (Everything Stark touches dies, as Rick Wilson might say.) The parallels to a certain presidential career are eerie, as Stark throws away a written speech in favor of improvisation, rouses “the people,” and merges himself with them: “Remember, it’s not I who have won, but you.” Alas, the hope in the film’s final moments does not ring true. ★★★


The Spider Woman (dir. Roy William Neill, 1943). The real mystery with this Sherlock Holmes film is how it got to the top of our Netflix queue. The print we watched gives the date as MCMXVIII — 1918! — which is the first of many problems, large and small. The premise is beyond farfetched, and Holmes (Basil Rathbone) is a lucky bumbler in solving the case. A touch of racism and several dashes of misogyny put a damper on what fun there is, which comes from seeing Rathbone is several disguises. ★★


Produced by Val Lewton (via the Criterion Channel)

The Seventh Victim (dir. Mark Robson, 1943). One of the strangest films I’ve seen. A young woman (Kim Hunter) leaves a religious boarding school to search for her only relation, an older sister who’s gone missing (Jean Brooks), and the search leads to a small group of Greenwich Village Satanists. The rewards of the film are many — unforgettably eerie images (the door to apartment no. 7, the trio on the subway, the shower, the empty streets of an unreal city), a vague same-sex subtext, the mysterious next-door neighbor Mimi, a failed poet in a garret, the improbable presence of Hugh Beaumont — and they more than make up for a sometimes incomprehensible plot. The previous sentence is long enough to count as two, but here’s a fourth. ★★★★

[Did this shower scene influence Hitchcock?]

The Ghost Ship (dir. Mark Robson, 1943). Low-budget, for sure, but stylishly filmed and engagingly weird. A young man (Russell Wade) takes a position as third officer on a merchant ship, where he finds himself serving under an autocratic captain (Richard Dix) who appears — appears — to be murderously out of his mind. But no one else sees it — or almost no one. With deep shadows, strong suspense, a brutal knife fight, and the unnerving presence of Skelton Knaggs. ★★★★

Bedlam (dir. Mark Robson, 1946). A plucky young woman (Anna Lee) seeking to improve conditions at St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum (Bedlam) ends up in indefinite detention there, under the eye of the menacing Master Sims (Boris Karloff). Not as compelling as The Ghost Ship or The Seventh Victim, but vaguely literary, with overtones of Poe and explicit references to Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress. And the first glimpse of Bedlam’s interior suggests a scene out of Dante’s hell. Look for Ellen Corby, Billy House (the druggist Mr. Potter in The Stranger), Skelton Knaggs, and Ian Wolfe. ★★★


Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World (dir. Shirley Clarke, 1963). A portrait of the artist as an old man, an amateur farmer, and homespun entertainer. Invaluable, of course, as a portrait of Frost nearing the end of his life, muttering and puttering in his writing cabin (in what looks like rural squalor), joking with John F. Kennedy, and charming audiences of college women. But the film leaves untouched the darkness and sorrow of Frost’s life. And that of course is just as the poet must have wanted it. ★★


Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (dir. Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, 2019). A portrait of the artist as a fierce, witty sage and storyteller. The best moments come from Morrison herself, speaking to the camera about her life and work — I wish there were even more of her and less praise from the large supporting cast. Farah Griffin and Fran Lebowitz are the bright lights in that cast, commenting on Morrison as writer and friend. A second wish: more discussion of the distinctive qualities and complexities of Morrison’s fiction, as hinted at in brief glimpses of pencilled pages working out genealogy and narrative structure in Beloved. ★★★


Derrida (dir. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman, 2002). I watched with a mixture of curiosity and dread, as one who was once deeply into “theory” before finding my way out. We see Jacques Derrida doing everyday things (looking for keys, getting a haircut, eating potato chips), sparring with the filmmakers over their questions (some of which he refuses to answer), and making nonsensical pronouncements: there are two futures, one predictable, the other not; the human eye doesn’t age or change (tell that to someone with macular degeneration); a biography fixes the sense of someone’s life for centuries (example?). How revealing to see Derrida trotting out the same distinction between what and who in a discussion of romantic love and a discussion of forgiveness and reconciliation. I see here not a philosopher but a rhetorician with a designer-knockoff bag of tricks. ★★


Detour (dir. Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945). Oh contingency, understood here as “fate, or some mysterious force,” which “can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.” I love this film’s thrifty minimalism: bandstand + tables + candles = nightclub, street sign + fog = city, darkness = the open road. Doomed Al (Tom Neal) and vicious Vera (Ann Savage) are joined till death do them part, as, in a different way, are Al and Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald). A twinning detail I never noticed before: the matching fedoras. ★★★★


Following (dir. Christopher Nolan, 1998). It’s something like a contemporary Detour — a short, low-budget noir — but here the small budget makes Detour look like a major studio production. A tricky mystery, with a young would-be writer who follows strangers in search of inspiration for his fiction and falls into a life of crime. Like Nolan’s Memento, Following presents a non-linear narrative, with visual cues that help the viewer put the pieces of the story together. And then there’s an extra twist that no one will see coming. ★★★★


Zazie dans le Métro (dir. Louis Malle, 1960). The premise: a ten-year-old girl is left with her uncle for a weekend. Wanting to find an open Métro station (there’s a strike on), she breaks free, sort of, and anarchy in various forms ensues on the streets of Paris. It’s all fun and jokes and tricks and car chases, but the fun gets to be exhausting, so that the movie feels much longer than its eighty-nine minutes. I suspect that Zazie influenced the tiresome lunacy of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the energizing lunacy of A Hard Day’s Night. ★★★

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2018). Six stories of the old west: a singing cowboy, a robber and rustler, a traveling show, a prospector, a young woman traveling with a wagon train, and a mysterious carriage ride. Everything here moves west — in other words, toward death, in ways that are comic, poignant, stupid, and inevitably surprising. A great cast (Tyne Daly, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tim Blake Nelson, Tom Waits, &c., &c.), a charmingly stylized screenplay (“He would upbraid me for being ‘wishy-washy’”), and extraordinary detail to sets and costumes. My favorite stories: “Meal Ticket,” “All Gold Canyon” (all Waits), and “The Gal Who Got Rattled.” ★★★★

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard) : Frost and Sandburg

Monday, November 11, 2019

Words of the year

From the Australian National Dictionary Centre, voice : “‘a formal channel for Indigenous input into the making of laws and policies affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.’ Voice increased greatly in usage this year, as the idea of an Indigenous voice became prominent in public discussion.”

From the Cambridge Dictionary, upcycling : “Stopping the progression of climate change, let alone reversing it, can seem impossible at times. Upcycling is a concrete action a single human being can take to make a difference.”

From the Collins Dictionary, climate strike : “a form of protest that took off just over one year ago with the actions of Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg and which has grown to become a worldwide movement.”

From, existential : “It captures a sense of grappling with the survival — literally and figuratively — of our planet, our loved ones, our ways of life.”

From Macquarie Dictionary, cancel culture : “an attitude which is so pervasive that it now has a name.”

From Oxford Dictionaries: climate emergency : “This year, heightened public awareness of climate science and the myriad implications for communities around the world has generated enormous discussion of what the UN Secretary-General has called ‘the defining issue of our time.’”

I’ll add to this post as more words arrive.

My embarrassingly obvious word of the year: impeachment. Elaine’s: though, as in “I would like you to do us a favor though.”

I collected last year’s words in this post.

Veterans Day

“All London Silent at Armistice Hour: Traffic Stops, Men Uncover, and Women Bow Their Heads at 11 o’clock Signal.” The New York Times, November 12, 1919.

The Great War ended on November 11, 1918. Armistice Day was observed the next year. In the United Kingdom Armistice Day is now Remembrance Day. In the United States, Armistice Day is now Veterans Day.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

“Language that will clarify”

In The New York Times, a plea from thirty-three writers: “Please use language that will clarify the issues at hand.” “Bribery” or “extortion.” Not “quid pro quo.” “Create false evidence,” “find incriminating evidence,” or “tell lies about.” Not “dig up dirt.”

“89.9, Manahawkin”

When I’m driving at night with the radio on, the announcement of an unfamiliar NPR affiliate’s frequency and location always makes me think of a lonely tower standing at the edge of a field in some tiny village. There may be moonlight. Or the moon may be obscured by clouds. Or there may be no moon at all. Is anyone else listening?

That’s what my imagination does with, say, “89.9, Manahawkin.”

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, begins with a clue that baffled me: 1-A, seven letters, “Pharaoh-era figurine.” Oh, but look, there’s 1-D, eight letters, “Place to buy inedible peanuts.” And off I went. And I found further gimmes helpfully scattered through the grid: 14-D, eight letters, “+ or -, to mathematicians.” 24-D, eleven letters, “California flag depiction.” 44-D, six letters, “Astronaut who found Eden (1965).” 48-D, six letters, “LeVar’s mom on Roots.”

Three non-gimmes I especially liked: 38-A, nine letters, “What cats crave.” 57-A, seven letters, “How some cars are made.” (BYROBOT? No.) 59-A, seven letters, “Volume control device.” And two clues that, along with 1-A, taught me something: 18-A, seven letters, “Dogood, for Franklin.” And 21-D, four letters, “Word from Old English for ‘useless.’”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Eleanor Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger, and the Atomic Bomb,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

How to ruin “English,”
one small example

I looked, from morbid curiosity, to see what one dreadful book says about that passage from “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period”:

As he gazes at the contents on exhibit — enamel bedpans and urinals overseen by a wooden dummy wearing a rupture truss — [Daumier-Smith] experiences an abrupt stripping of his ego that reveals his alienation. He suddenly comes to realize that no matter how technically perfect his art might become, it is tied to intellectual logic and he will always remain uninspired, adrift in a world he considers mundane and ugly. He recognizes that he is spiritually unconscious, with no connection to the divine inspiration that true art requires or true living demands. His art is polluted by ego.
Oh yeah? That’s the kind of reading that ruins “English” for so many students: skip the details of the surface in favor of an “interpretation” of a sort that seems available only to teachers. When I was in high school, we called it “deep reading.”

What might be more deserving of attention in that passage: Daumier-Smith’s feeling of being out of place (which recalls his earlier feeling of being a loser in a game of musical chairs), the awkwardness of navigating the garden (as in Eden, you have to watch your step), the “dummy-deity” (a blind god, or a self-effacing lavatory attendant). And: the price of the truss has been marked down.

“A visitor in a garden”

It is 1939. “Jean de Daumier-Smith” — not his real name — is in Montreal, working as an instructor at Les Amis Des Vieux Maîtres, a husband-and-wife correspondence art school. One night de Daumier-Smith stops and looks into the window of the orthopedic-appliances store on the ground floor of the building that houses Les Amis. And “something altogether hideous” happens:

J.D. Salinger, “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period,” in Nine Stories (1953).

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Is guys a pronoun?

I am puzzled as to why anyone would consider guys a pronoun. A plural noun that includes everyone — folks , people — is a noun. When you precedes such a noun — you folks, you peopleyou functions as a vocative, denoting the person or thing addressed or invoked. And as the Oxford English Dictionary says, the vocative you is used “chiefly in apposition to a following noun or noun phrase” (my emphasis). And now I’m remembering the children’s book: “You monkeys, you! You give me back my caps.”

Bill of Occam can help here: we need not multiply entities unnecessarily. To my mind, calling guys a pronoun is just such a feat of multiplication. But if I’m missing something here, please let me know.

A related post
The guys problem

Soup’s on

[Nancy, November 30, 1949.]

Good idea, Nancy.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[Earlier today: 33 °F, feeling like 23 °F. Now: 35 °F, feeling like 26 °F.]

The Eye of Sauron in the news

On Morning Edition, David Greene asked Andrew Weiss, who served under two administrations in the Pentagon, State Department, and National Security Council, if it’s possible for National Security principals to disagree with the current president. Weiss’s response:

“I think the best analogy I’ve heard for how things work comes from the movie The Lord of the Rings, where there’s this disembodied eye, the Eye of Sauron, that hovers over everything. In the Trump administration, if the Eye is looking at you, it’s basically all hope is lost.”
[I don’t know The Lord of the Rings. But I know people who do.]

“Letter-writing types”

April 1944. Devon, England. Of “some sixty American enlisted men” taking a pre-Invasion training course, “there wasn’t one good mixer in the bunch”:

J.D. Salinger, “For Esmé — with Love and Squalor,” in Nine Stories (1953).

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Duane who?

Duane Reade drugstores are disappearing from New York City (Gothamist).

Hi and Lois lore

Eight Things You Might Not Know About Hi and Lois (Mental Floss). If you’ve read Mort Walker and Dik Browne’s The Best of “Hi and Lois” (1986), you probably already know or once knew one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, or all eight of these things.

Related reading
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“What we make happen”

Fonny’s father Frank, Tish’s father Joseph, planning for the future:

James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk (1974).

Also from James Baldwin
“The burden is reality” : “Life is tragic” : “She was Sanctified holy” : “Somewhere in time”

Tuesday, November 5, 2019


Blue moon of Kentucky, keep on shining, or shinin’. I hope.

[With 98% of the vote in.]


Florida man, or men, strike again.


Gaby Moreno and Van Dyke Parks. ¡Spangled! (Nonesuch, 2019). Playing time: 37:31.

A beautiful album (CD/LP/MP3) of music from the Americas, ten songs for singer and orchestra, in English, Portuguese, and Spanish, with Gaby Moreno’s deeply soulful voice and Van Dyke Parks’s always surprising and apt orchestrations and vocal arrangements.

The overtly political notes here are clear: “Across the Borderline” (Ry Cooder, John Hiatt, Jim Dickinson) speaks of the peril and pathos of the journey to “the broken promised land,” with a traveler who is still always “just across the borderline,” yet to find a place in the United States. But “The Immigrants” (David Rudder) strikes a different note: “The immigrants are here to stay, to help build America.” Elsewhere, the songs of this album, many of them venerable popular classics (one from 1914), speak of love and death and the power of song. My favorites, after repeated listening: “Historia de un Amor” (Carlos Eleta Almarán), “Nube Gris” (Eduardo Márquez Talledo), “Esperando na Janela” (Targino Gondim, Manuca Almeida, and Raimundinho do Acordeon), “O Cantador” (Dorival Caymmi and Nelson Motta), and “Espérame en el Cielo” (Francisco López Vidal).

A line from “O Cantador”: “Cantador só sei cantar”: Singer, I only know how to sing. ¡Spangled! is all-American song of the highest order.

Here is “Across the Borderline,” with Jackson Browne and Ry Cooder. Dig the strings at 2:42, and everything else:

Related reading
All OCA Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

[The songs I’ve named, from first to last, come from the United States, Trinidad, Panama, Peru, Brazil (two songs), and Puerto Rico.]

Monday, November 4, 2019

J.D. Salinger, the exhibit

Walk through the glass doors of the New York Public Library exhibition titled J.D. Salinger — after checking the phone with which you assumed you could take photographs — and you’ll see a long glass case. Front and center, an elderly manual typewriter, a Royal, in remarkably good condition. To the left, a metal Study-Stand, much the worse for wear, for holding books or manuscript pages. To the right, a cup full of yellow crayons (proto-highlighters) and a pair of wire-frame bifocals. If you’re so disposed (I wasn’t), you can step to the side of the case, turn, crouch, and attempt to see the world through J.D. Salinger’s lenses.

Elaine and I visited this exhibition last week, as part of a day in Manhattan with our friends Jim and Luanne. The NYPL has done the Salinger reader a great service, presenting, among other things, family photographs, a copper bowl made at summer camp, war memorabilia, letters (to William Maxwell, William Shawn, WWII comrades, the occasional member of the public), a film projector and small selection of films (The 39 Steps on enormous reels), pipes, a tin of Balkan Sobranie tobacco, a revolving bookcase (detective fiction, folk medicine, Christian Science, Vedanta, Zen), manuscript pages, recipes, pocket notebooks with typed spiritual texts and Salinger’s handwritten commentary, and — here and there — evidence of a writer long at work after he stopped publishing. See, for instance, a key ring with small tabs (cut from a manila folder?) holding phrases and sentences for use in some work(s) of fiction.

Again and again, the materials of Salinger’s life belie the media image of a hermit or recluse. Did Salinger insist on privacy? Indeed. But here he is, writing with immense kindness to decline an invitation to speak to a graduating high-school class of six. Here he is, writing to a WWII comrade and promising “an enclosure” by overnight mail (the comrade had asked, not for the first time, for financial help). Here he is, sitting in a park in Cornish, New Hampshire. Here he is playing with a grandchild, with shelves of detective fiction and a Sesame Street farm in the background.

This exhibition, assembled by Salinger’s widow Colleen Salinger, and his son Matt Salinger, is a portrait of the artist with some elements absent. There’s nothing here of Salinger’s marriages, nothing of his relationship with Joyce Maynard, almost nothing of his daughter Margaret, whose memoir Dream Catcher offers a pained account of life as her father’s child. And there’s nothing to suggest what unseen writing is forthcoming from the Salinger estate. But the optimist in me (or is it the cynic?) thinks that this exhibition may be meant to stoke interest in some book soon to be announced. That’s me seeing things through my lenses.

Here are links to four reports with photographs or video, from NBC News, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and Voice of America.

And here’s Elaine’s post about our visit.

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)