Thursday, May 23, 2019

“Like writing in the sky”

Maeve Brennan, “The Carpet with the Big Pink Roses on It.” In The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

Related reading
All OCA Maeve Brennan posts (Pinboard)

“London particular”

In the opening minutes of The Divorce of Lady X (dir. Tim Whelan, 1938), two bobbies talk about the fog: “It’s pea soup, I’m afraid. The old London particular.” Wait a minute, wait a minute, thought I, I know that expression. It’s in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1853), courtesy of William Guppy, speaking to Esther Summerson:

He was very obliging, and as he handed me into a fly after superintending the removal of my boxes, I asked him whether there was a great fire anywhere? For the streets were so full of dense brown smoke that scarcely anything was to be seen.

“Oh, dear no, miss,” he said. “This is a London particular.”

I had never heard of such a thing.

“A fog, miss,” said the young gentleman.

“Oh, indeed!” said I.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites this passage as the first instance of London particular meaning “a dense fog affecting London.” What’s surprising to me is that London particular had an earlier, now obsolete, meaning: “a kind of Madeira imported through London.” As in “I uncorked a bottle of London particular” (1807). Dickens traded one particular for another, turning wine into fog.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019


Nancy Pelosi, earlier today: "I pray for the president of the United States."

Translation: “He's off his rocker.”


May 23: Kelly O’Donnell: “Are you concerned about the president’s well-being?” Nancy Pelosi: “I am.”

Q & non-A

If I were still living in Brighton, Ayanna Pressley (D, Massachusetts-7) would be my representative.

Melitta Bentz

Our household has used Melitta coffee filters for years, but I never knew how they got their name. I think the story of Melitta Bentz (1873–1950) is a recent addition to the back of the box:

It was 1908 when a German housewife, Melitta Bentz, made coffee history. Tired of the bitterness and troublesome grounds in her daily brew, Melitta poked holes in the bottom of a brass cup and lined it with a sheet of her son’s blotting paper. She then filled the cup with ground coffee and poured in hot water, thereby creating the pour-over filtration system. The result . . . rich flavorful coffee without bitterness or mess. This innovation changed the way people worldwide make their coffee, becoming the precursor to modern day drip coffee brewing. Over 100 years later, Melitta remains dedicated to the pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee.
The company website has an illustrated history of its products. A Wikipedia article about Melitta Bentz notes that her grandchildren control the Melitta Group KG.

Related reading
All OCA coffee posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Willie Perdomo on writing letters

“Letters are where we argue, say goodbye, dream, fail, forgive, and tell our secrets, and send regrets. We can't filter our lives or curate our feeds in letters. Letters are where we attempt to tell the truth and wait”: the poet Willie Perdomo talks about the value of writing letters (PBS NewsHour).

New directions in movie rentals

My little town’s Family Video has consigned half its space to an independent take-out restaurant. That’s a purely local development. The reduced-size Family Video still rents DVDs but now also sells CBD products. That’s a national development.

I’m not sure about a punchline. Any pot in a storm?

[I haven’t been to Family Video in years. I just read the signage.]

Sardines in the comics

“My phone is locked!”: in Rhymes with Orange.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Monday, May 20, 2019

The New Yorker’s Jr.

The New Yorker places commas before and after Jr.. The magazine styles Jr.-related possessives like so: Donald Trump, Jr.,’s. A house style that results in .,’ cannot stand, except, maybe, at The New Yorker.

Reading the May 6 New Yorker, I just noticed that the magazine also uses comma-Jr.-comma with first names: “Don, Jr., suggested to his father,” &c. And the possessive form: “Don, Jr.,’s role,” &c. What’s that they say about a foolish consistency?

A related post
Trump[,] Jr.

[Trivia: What film makes much of Emerson’s observation about a foolish consistency?]

A coach’s pencil and paper

A football playsheet is laminated. So why does Matt Patricia, coach of the Detroit Lions, carry a pencil?

“The one thing that I learned, especially in New England: Sharpies do not work in the rain or the snow. So even that laminate that you’re trying to write on — it doesn’t work. The only thing that works is a pencil. So you pull out a piece of paper, you pull out your note card, you’re writing down adjustments, you’re writing out calls, and the pencil still works. It’s weatherproof. So that's why I have it.”
The coach also notes that he carries “like a full Staples” in his pocket.

Decoding Manhattan addresses

“Cancel last figure. Divide remainder by 2 and add key number given below. The result is nearest street”: How to find a street nearest a number on any avenue (Ephemeral New York). It’s all on a little card, or was, and it works.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Domestic comedy

Three young women wearing high-school team jackets entered the elevator. Elaine and I followed. We were all headed to the third floor. The doors opened, and I thought of something to say as I stepped to the rear:

“I’m a gentleman. Everybody out!”

Laughter followed, all the way down the hall.

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[Not every elevator joke is inappropriate.]

Saturday, May 18, 2019

NPR, sheesh

Melee does not rhyme with smelly. As per M-W, the word is pronounced \ˈmā-ˌlā\ or \mā-ˈlā\. NPR, please take note.

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

[Have I mispronounced common words? Yes. Was I on the radio? No.]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, offers a good challenge. In other words, a challenge that can be met. There are moments of odd trivia, such as 34-Across, ten letters, “Iceland, originally.” Or 55-Down, four letters, “Salutation popularized by ‘A Farewell to Arms.’” And moments of odd opacity, such as 3-Down, four letters, “Organic digger.” Or 48-Down, four letters, “The ‘where.’” (What?)

My favorite clues from this puzzle: 29-Across, eight letters, “What strollers carry with them.” 40-Across, four letters, “She’s seen in middle names.” And 41-Across, ten letters, “Cooler in the summer.” Especially 41-Across.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Small fish, good

They are cheap, widely available, very healthy, low in contaminants, and sustainable. Modern Farmer explains: “Why We Should All Eat More Small Fish.”

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Voynich code cracked?

Has the Voynich code been cracked? Not everyone thinks so.

“She had shone at a distance”

Maeve Brennan, “The Drowned Man.” In The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

The stories of enduring failed marriages in this volume are some of the saddest stories I’ve ever read. But beautiful.

Related reading
All OCA Maeve Brennan posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, May 16, 2019


A child’s garden of numbers:

“If you have nine-nine-nine-nine, and then you add a one, you have a million dollars — and you’re rich!”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Maeve Brennan again

Channeling James Joyce’s “Eveline”:

Maeve Brennan, “An Attack of Hunger.” In The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

Another instance of literary dust.

Related reading
All OCA Maeve Brennan posts (Pinboard)

[From “Eveline”: “She looked round the room, reviewing all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on earth all the dust came from.” John is a son who has “vanished forever into the commonest crevasse in Irish family life — the priesthood.”]

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Recently updated

“Stalin as Linguist” One student has been cleared.

Deleting a podcast from iTunes

A chance discovery while tidying up: choosing Delete from Library will not remove a podcast from iTunes. What will: highlighting the name of the podcast and pressing Delete. The Delete-from-Library problem has been a problem since at least 2017. As someone wrote then, “Something’s wrong in Cupertino.”

“Impassive gray, impassive blue”

Maeve Brennan, “The Poor Men and Women.” In The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

Related reading
All OCA Maeve Brennan posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

“Like a music roll”

So if the nuns sleep in their coffins, what if a nun moves from one convent to another? Would she bring her coffin with her? Uncle Matt has the answer.

Maeve Brennan, “The Barrel of Rumors.” In The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

Related reading
All OCA Maeve Brennan posts (Pinboard)

Talking responsibilty

Taking its cue from the misspelled responsibility on Australian currency, The New York Times is inviting students thirteen and older to offer their thoughts on spelling and misspelling. Teachers, ask your students to comment. Hey, kids, you can be in the Times!

[The misspelling in the post title is deliberate.]

Nigel and Patrick

Nigel Ratburn just got married. His husband is Patrick, a chocolatier. Their marriage is news. All best wishes, Nigel and Patrick!

Monday, May 13, 2019

FSRC: annual report

The Four Seasons Reading Club, our household’s two-person adventure in reading, just finished its fourth year. The FSRC year runs from May to May. (The club began after I retired from teaching.) In our fourth year we read twenty-three books (same as last year). In non-chronological order:

Honoré de Balzac, Cousin Bette

Maeve Brennan, The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin

Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz

Kenneth Fearing, The Big Clock, Clark Gifford’s Body

Clifford Hicks, Alvin’s Secret Code

Yoel Hoffman. ed. The Sound of One Hand: 281 Zen Koans with Answers

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs

Toni Morrison, Jazz, Song of Solomon

Alice Munro, The Progress of Love

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Arthur Schnitzler, Desire and Despair: Three Novellas, Late Fame, “Night Games” and Other Stories and Novellas

Leonardo Sciascia, To Each His Own

W.G. Sebald, Vertigo, The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn

Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey Through France and England, Tristram Shandy

Johannes Urzidil, The Last Bell

Credit to the translators whose work gave us access to the world beyond English: David Burnett, Adrienne Foulke, Michael Hoffman, Yoel Hoffman, Michael Hulse, Kathleen Raine, Margret Schaefer, and Alexander Starritt. Here are the reports for 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Recently updated

The Avital Ronell story, cont. Student-government members object to NYU’s decision to return Ronell to the classroom.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mother’s Day

[“Migrant agricultural worker’s family. Seven children without food. Mother aged thirty-two. Father is a native Californian. Nipomo, California.” Photograph by Dorothea Lange. March 1936. From the Library of Congress.]

I want to say Happy Mother’s Day, but I also want to think about what mothers endure, with and without their children. This photograph is not “the past.”

The name of the mother in this photograph: Florence Owens Thompson.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Morning Edition as madeleine

Robinson Meyer:

Five months ago, I happened to find the Morning Edition theme on YouTube, and as the hi-hat glimmered and the jazz guitar began, I was surprised to find myself transported. Suddenly, I was sitting in the back of my dad’s Mazda sedan, being driven to elementary school, listening to the NPR sports commentator Frank Deford, the car smelling of seat leather and something acrid that I couldn’t place.

The acrid smell, I realize now, as an adult, was coffee. I knew that the Morning Edition theme smelled like coffee before I knew what coffee smelled like. The next day, I bought a clock radio, and I’ve been waking up to Morning Edition ever since.
The context for this reverie: the new Morning Edition theme music. Meyer hates it. Our household hates it too. Elaine hears The Sims (as does someone quoted in Meyer’s essay). I hear the background music for The Weather Channel’s local broadcast Weatherscan.

Thanks, Ben.

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Frank Longo has made another terrific Newsday Saturday Stumper. I started with nothing. Boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretched far away, until I spied 45-Across, five letters, “‘Quack Shot’ antagonist,” and 58-Across, ten letters, “Persepolis Football Club’s home.” Then I looked back and saw 2-Down, five letters, “Playwright from Paris,” and 7-Down, three letters, “     shot.” The first letters of those answers gave me 1-Across, ten letters, “’85 film about a novice nun.” The rest of the puzzle left me feeling that I’d never get it. But words here and there, and everything fell into place.

Clues I especially admire: 40-Across, three letters, “What mice often hold.” 62-Across, ten letters, “Musical band.” 3-Down, five letters, “Potential spoilers.” 26-Down, seven letters, “Saying ‘I dunno,’ say.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

[With apologies to Percy Bysshe Shelley.]

Friday, May 10, 2019

Duke Ellington Live, a review

Duke Ellington Live (DVD)
November 16, 1973
Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium
EuroArts Music International, 2019
53 minutes

It’s bittersweet to watch things nearing an end. In March 1974 Ellington would leave the road and check into Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, where he would die in May. Other musicians from this performance who would be gone in 1974: Joe Benjamin (January), Paul Gonsalves (May), and Harry Carney (October). It was the preternaturally young-looking Carney (nickname “Youth”) who after Ellington’s death famously said, “Without Duke, I have nothing to live for.”

Almost everything here feels perfunctory, with the band playing a short set in a European concert-hall version of a Newport festival. Instrumental solos are minimal; the musician most heard from is Anita Moore, singing “New York, New York” and “Somebody Cares” and scatting in “Blem.” She arrives on stage on the arm of a tardy Paul Gonsalves, whose contributes no solos beyond an off-mic obbligato. Some awkward stagecraft has Ellington introducing the “three bearded ’bones” and asking Harold Minerve to take repeated bows, after which Minerve venerates Ellington with embarrassing jungle-speak. What was that about?

But there are at least four bright moments: the somber piano solo “Metcuria” (unlisted on the DVD package, and marred by audience chatter and shushing through the first few bars, all of it loud enough to distract the pianist), Harold Ashby’s tenor solo on “Chinoiserie” (Ashby was the last great solo voice to join the band), and brief solos by guests Raymond Fol and Claude Bolling on “Take the ‘A’ Train.” Fol makes use of lush Strayhorn ballad harmonies; Bolling begins with a witty collage of Ellington pianisms. My favorite moment in this performance: Ellington and company digging the guests, and Gonsalves laughing so hard at Bolling’s virtuosity that he fails to come in with the rest of the band.

Audio and video quality are exceptional — with many closeups. You can even see the package of reeds behind Russell Procope’s chair.

The program:

C Jam Blues : Take the “A” Train : Creole Love Call : Caravan : In Duplicate : New York, New York : Blem : Chinoiserie : Metcuria : Medley: Don’t Get Around Much Anymore / Mood Indigo / I’m Beginning to See the Light / Sophisticated Lady : Somebody Cares : Take the “A” Train

The musicians:
Johnny Coles, Barry Lee Hall, Money Johnson, Mercer Ellington, trumpets
Art Baron, Chuck Connors, Vince Prudente, trombones
Harold Ashby, Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves, Percy Marion, Harold Minerve, Russell Procope, reeds
Duke Ellington piano; Joe Benjamin, bass; Rocky White, drums
Anita Moore, Tony Watkins, vocals
Claude Bolling, Raymond Fol, piano

Related reading
All OCA Duke Ellington posts (Pinboard)

Zippy’s Tad’s

[“Red Meat.” Zippy, May 10, 2019.]

There is but one Tad’s Steaks left in Manhattan. The address is 761 7th Avenue, though the restaurant is on 50th Street, flanked by a Tim Horton’s and Bobby Van's Grill. If Zippy is at the Times Square Tad’s, it really must be 1962 all over again.

Here’s an article on the history of Tad’s Steaks, once a coast-to-coast chain. (Remember “coast-to-coast”?) The Yelp reviews for the remaining Tad’s are interesting. “This is the absolute best steak in the city”: well, okay.

Years ago I would have said to Elaine, We have to go there. Today I would say, No, we don’t.

[From Harold H. Hart’s Hart’s Guide to New York City (New York: Hart Publishing, 1964). Click for a larger view.]

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)
More from Hart’s Guide

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Chris Albertson (1931–2019)

The writer, producer, and Bessie Smith biographer Chris Albertson has died at the age of eighty-seven. The New York Times has an obituary.

Chris was a generous person in the world of music. His blog Stomp Off! (still online) offered remarkable stuff from his archives: interviews with Bessie Smith’s niece Ruby Walker, recordings of the Duke Ellington band at a benefit concert hosted by Jackie Robinson, a Charles Mingus television appearance. (Alas, some of the audio and video files appear long gone.) I read everything, linked to a number of posts, commented on occasion, and am now surprised to see that Orange Crate Art appears in a Stomp Off! list of “cyber stops.” I wish I’d known so that I could have said thanks.

Thank you, Chris Albertson, for all your contributions to music.

“The Sudden Departure”

“When a small town loses 100 people in just a few hours, kids come home to find their parents missing”: “The Sudden Departure,” reported by Lilly Sullivan, is a story from the April 19 episode of This American Life.

The situation

From “Viktor Orbán’s War on Intellect,” by Franklin Foer, in the June Atlantic. David Cornstein, a longtime friend of Donald Trump, is the United States ambassador to Hungary:

When I asked Cornstein about Orbán’s description of his own government as an “illiberal democracy,” the ambassador shifted forward and rested his elbows on a table. “It’s a question of a personal view, or what the American people, or the president of the United States, think of illiberal democracy, and what its definition is.” As he danced around the question, never quite arriving at an opinion, he added,
“I can tell you, knowing the president for a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has, but he doesn’t.”

A lost work by Raymond Roussel

Raymond Roussel had confidence. From David Wallace’s review of Roussel’s The Alley of Fireflies, a long-lost unfinished novel, now available in English, translated by Mark Ford:

Suddenly, he was overcome by a realization that he was a great genius. “I was the equal of Dante and Shakespeare,” he told his psychologist. “I felt glory.”
I’ve begun reading The Alley of Fireflies and just hit the little statue filled with frozen wine. What the review doesn’t mention is that the mold for the statue is three centimeters tall and takes the form of Voltaire’s Pangloss dressed as Ceres.

Perfect Sluggo

[“Don’t Mess with Ernie.” Zippy, May 9, 2019.]

Yes, Sluggo is saying that he’s perfect. And that Zippy’s lines and circles are “irregular and messy.” And: “In a fight between messy & perfect, Sluggo always kills Zippy!” See also this 2012 panel: “Nancy plus Sluggo equals perfection.”

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

[Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy rune six days a week; Bill Griffith’s Zippy, seven.]

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The “Wow!” child

A sweet story of musical appreciation: “Do You Know the ‘Wow!’ Child?” (WCRB).

From “Stalin as Linguist — II”

In 1985, the poet Tom Clark wrote an essay titled “Stalin as Linguist” for the publication Poetry Flash. The essay, about (so-called) language poetry, was thoroughly negative. And it paid particular attention to the work of Barrett Watten. In a follow-up essay, Clark wrote about Watten’s response:

Watten reacted by composing a two-page, single-spaced, indignant, “not-for-publication” communiqué to Poetry Flash. The letter demanded redress of grievances and threatened a boycott by advertisers. Attached was a list of people to receive copies. The list was almost as long as the letter itself. It contained the names of language school sympathizers with influential positions — institutional poetry administrators, reading coordinators, publishers, book distributors, bookstore owners and employees, university teachers, gallery representatives, etc. From these people and from others in the language school’s local rank and file, Poetry Flash received a flood of letters. A selection appeared in subsequent issues of the paper. Several correspondents, such as Robert Gluck of the San Francisco State Poetry Center, charged me with “red-baiting.” Joe McCarthy was evoked more than once, as were the “mau-maus” (by [Ron] Silliman, though that letter never made it to print).

All of this suggests that despite its dedication to the ideal of criticism as equal in importance to creative work, the language school has a very thin skin when it comes to taking criticism.

Tom Clark, “Stalin as Linguist — II.” First published in Partisan Review (1987). In The Poetry Beat: Reviewing the Eighties. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990).
I doubt that 1980s Poetry Wars will be of immediate interest to many OCA readers. I’m sharing this passage as one more bit of the Barrett Watten story, a bit perhaps unknown to present-day faculty and students at Wayne State University, where Watten has filed complaints against two students who have filed complaints against him. The Poetry Flash incident suggests a pattern of retaliation against perceived enemies that goes far back.


May 15: One of the students has been cleared. And, she says, students have been told to keep mum about Barrett Watten.

Related reading
Barrett Watten Records (Accounts from students, colleagues, poets, scholars)

[The title “Stalin as Linguist” is a phrase borrowed from Watten’s book-length poem Progress.]

Writing at the British Library

An exhibition from the British Library: Writing: Making Your Mark. Scroll all the way down and you’ll see links to four online features, which in turn have links to seven more features.

And: the BBC draws on the exhibit to tell the story of handwriting in twelve objects.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Barrett Watten story

“This is a collective effort to gather stories of official and unofficial complaints against and accounts of interactions with Barrett Watten”: Barrett Watten Records. Barrett
Watten, poet and academic at Wayne State University, is having a moment.

A related post
From “Stalin as Linguist — II” (Watten’s response to a critic of language poetry, 1985)

VDP’s “Tabu”

The Silver Lake Chorus has recorded an unreleased Van Dyke Parks song, “Tabu.”

Related reading
All OCA Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

Monday, May 6, 2019

“This particular kind of human”

In an Innovation Hub interview, Will Storr, author of Selfie: How the West Became Self-Obsessed (2017), talks about not being the funny, sunny, social person his culture prizes:

I would beat myself up. I’d be like, There’s something wrong with me — I’m broken in some way, that I’m not this person from Friends, you know. And then you discover what psychologists have known for a long time: that this idea of infinite capacity to transform is just not true. And actually what I discovered was that I’m not broken, there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just low in extroversion, which means I’m an introvert, and I’m also high in neuroticism, which means that this low self-esteem thing is pretty much embedded in my head and there’s not much I’m ever going to be able to do about it.

It’s kind of depressing when you first find that out, but it ends up being very liberating, because it’s like for the first time in my life I feel like I’m not actually broken. It’s just that there are different kinds of humans, and I happen to be this particular kind of human, and now I can finally, after decades of doing so, stop beating myself up for not being the person who I feel my culture wants me to be.
I’m reminded of W.H. Auden’s distinction between “accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.” And I’m reminded of what Peter Drucker says in Managing Oneself (2008): “Do not try to change yourself — you are unlikely to succeed.” Break a bad habit? Develop new skills? Be a better person? Of course. But you have to be the person you are.

I remember telling a friend once, “I used to be a really introverted person.” And she laughed a little, in a sweet way, and said, “Oh, Michael,” because she understood that I still was a really introverted person. Her understanding of me was clearer than my understanding of myself. But now I get it, and I can laugh too.

[Transcription and paragraphing are mine. I’ve removed a few false starts and repeated words.]


“We want to be the Silicone Valley of the Midwest.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Foxtrot, Marie Kondo, and
the eternal return

Yesterday I found a 2002 Foxtrot strip in a stack of clippings. The strip is a beautiful joke on the conventions that underlie visual representation. I should post a picture, I thought, and scrap the clipping. I mean, the clipping brings joy, but it would continue to do so as a blog post, right? And lo, I discovered that the strip is still available online. I wouldn’t even need to take a photo. So I started writing a post titled “Foxtrot and representation”, bringing in E.H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion and the New Yorker cartoon by Alain that starts off the book, a 1955 joke on the conventions that underlie visual representation. And then I wondered, Have I posted anything else from Foxtrot ?

Yes. In 2013 I made a post about this same Foxtrot strip, with the same title, “Foxtrot and representation.” The only difference: this time around I cited Art and Illusion. In the 2013 post, the Gombrich connection is clear from the link to a reproduction of the cartoon.

The eternal return — an idea I somehow picked up on as a freshman in college — is real. But the life-changing magic of tidying up poses a challenge. Because I don’t think I’ll be rediscovering this clipped strip again, at least not in my house.

Related posts
Joad’s corollary : Stubbs’s corollary

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

I will turn, as I did this past December, to cake. Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Lester Ruff, is a piece of cake. Moist? No. Luscious? Not exactly. Light as a feather? Lighter, really, given the weight of pixels. But still a piece of cake, though virtually weightless. And virtually tasty.

Clues that I especially liked: 40-Across, three letters, “Short-range missile.” 60-Across, eight letters, “What many freshmen must enroll in.” (ENGLISHI? No.) 9-Down, four letters, “Floor (as a noun or verb).” 61-Down, three letters, “Strong-connection interjection.” And best of all, 1-Down, six letters, “Carrier bought by Evenflo.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Reading or not

Behind the Chronicle of Higher Education paywall, Steven Johnson’s report on “The Fall, and Rise, of Reading” in college courses. A few takeaways (quotations from Johnson, not from his sources):

~ The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores have risen since the 1990s, while twelfth-grade scores have fallen. Only thirty-seven percent of high-school seniors “graduate with ‘‘proficiency’ in reading, meaning they can read a text for both its literal and its inferential meanings.”

~ The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that the average seventeen-year-old reads less for school than the average nine-year-old.

~ The ACT reports that in 2005, only half of high-school graduates were prepared for college-level reading. Yet sixty-two percent of students were on track to be prepared when they were in eighth and tenth grade.

~ The National Survey of Student Engagement reports than “the average college student in the United States spends six to seven hours a week on assigned reading.” In the mid-twentieth century, it was twenty-four hours a week.

~ A study from 2000 of 910 college students found that twenty percent of students made a habit of doing the reading for their classes. Sixteen years earlier it was eighty percent.

There’s the fall. As for the rise: Johnson examines several strategies to encourage reading, one proprietary, six not. The proprietary: Perusall, an online platform for what might be called collective reading, allowing students to make notes and respond to other students’ notes while reading e-books and online course materials. (E-books must be ordered through Perusall.) The six non-proprietary strategies: Make reading count toward a grade by means of quizzes and journals. Don’t summarize for students. Ask students to do more than recall brute facts. Devote time to “reading” audio and visual media. Go over confusing material in class. And teach students to be better readers.

Any capable teacher of literature has likely already put into practice the last five of these six strategies. The first is probably the point of greatest resistance: everyone hates quizzes. I think I must have been way ahead of some curve, as I began giving brief quizzes at the start of class at least twenty-five years ago. Quizzes usually counted for twenty or twenty-five percent of a semester grade. And because I dropped the two or three lowest quiz grades and offered occasional extra-credit questions, a quiz average could easily rise above 100. (I think 113 was the record high.) And because a quiz average could sink well below the lowest letter grade, students who didn’t do the reading tended to drift away mid-semester. So my classes were filled with students who did the reading.

One thing about quizzes: because there are so many ways not to do the reading in a literature class, quizzes had to be Spark- and Shmoop-proof. I would come in with a handful of questions that could be answered only from having done the reading (or so I hoped). Quizzes were fast: often just one answer to get 100. Notes were permitted. Students could cover their bets too, if they wanted. And if questions didn’t click, I’d happily supply others. Was it tedious to collect all that paper? You bet. I saved further tedium by holding on to quizzes and returning them in stapled bunches.

It occurs to me only now that doing-the-reading is a matter of Rule 7:

The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all the time who eventually catch on to things.
The long and short of it is that I was willing to pay my students, so to speak, to do the reading. It was in everyone’s interest to do so.

Sally couldn’t care less

[Peanuts, May 3, 1972.]

Sally Brown knows her usage. Alas, she’s replying to the question “Who was the father of Henry IV?”

Garner’s Modern English Usage:

Although some apologists argue that *could care less is meant to be sarcastic and not to be taken literally, a more plausible explanation is that the -n’t of couldn’t has been garbled in sloppy speech and sloppy writing.
Garner cites an explanation from linguist Atcheson L. Hench: “Couldn’t care has two dental stops practically together, dnt. This is heard only as d and slurring results. The outcome is I c’d care less.”

About “some apologists”: Garner is thinking of Steven Pinker, for one, who insists that “I could care less” is not illogical but sarcastic. I hear not sarcasm but dismissiveness: “I couldn’t care less” and “I could care less” are both dismissive, but one makes sense, while the other is, yes, illogical.

But the answer to the teacher’s question is “John of Gaunt.” Or, “John of Gaunt, though I could not possibly care less.”

Related reading
All OCA Peanuts posts (Pinboard)
Linus, nauseated not nauseous : Lucy’s whom : Woodstock’s wormwise

[Yesteryear’s Peanuts is this year’s Peanuts.]

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Kamala Harris asking questions

In The Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin writes about yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing: “Most members on the committee spoke too much, argued too frequently and failed to pin down Barr on key facts. There was one exception to the political demolition derby.” That was Senator Kamala Harris (D-California). Here she is:

Close reader, careful listener, persistent questioner. Also presidential candidate.

“The allure of ‘us’ and ‘them’”

A stream runs through a woodcutter’s settlement, a few houses on each side of the stream.

Johannes Urzidil, “Where the Valley Ends.” In The Last Bell. Translated from the German by David Burnett. (London: Pushkin Press, 2017.)

Also from this book
Apartments : “Well, that’s the Renaissance” : “Realistic underwear” : “This is now it normally works”

Another tribute in dubious taste

The latest Palomino Blackwing pencil, or “Blackwing” pencil, glows in the dark. From the box:

In a speech delivered at the New York Public Library in 2010, the late Dr. Maya Angelou poetically described the humble library as a “rainbow in the clouds” so that “in the worst of times, in the meanest of times, in the dreariest of times . . . at all times the viewer can see a possibility of hope.”

Libraries are more than just archives, they’re representations of our collective human experience. They’re reminders of where we’ve been, inspiration for where we want to go, and collections of all the beauty, pain, and wisdom that fills the gaps.

The Blackwing 811 is a tribute to libraries and the hope they represent. It features an emerald gradient finish and gold ferrule inspired by the iconic green lamps that light the halls of libraries around the world. Each pencil is coated with a special phosphorescent topcoat, so it can be a literal light in the dark. The model number 811 is a reference to the section of the Dewey Decimal System that contains some of Dr. Angelou’s most famous works, along with the works of countless other inspirational writers.
The same text appears in a company blog post . And the same text accompanies a company video for the pencil.

The curious thing: there’s no mention of Maya Angelou on the company’s page for this pencil. Instead:
The Blackwing 811 is a tribute to libraries and the hope they represent. It features an emerald gradient finish and gold ferrule inspired by the iconic green lamps that light the halls of libraries around the world. Each pencil is coated with a special phosphorescent topcoat, so it can be a literal light in the dark. The model number 811 is a reference to the American poetry section of the Dewey Decimal System that contains the works of countless inspirational writers.
I wonder if the Angelou estate got in touch.

While this pencil is indeed a tribute in dubious taste, it cannot rival the Palomino “Blackwing” tribute to Dorothea Lange’s photograph Migrant Mother.

Related reading
All OCA Blackwing pencil posts (Pinboard)

[I’ve corrected Palomino’s nonstandard ellipsis, but I’ve let their comma splice stand. Google’s cached version of the company’s page for the pencil is from April 9. If Angelou’s name was ever on the page, it must have been removed by then.]

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Word of the day: snitty

William Barr on Robert Mueller‘s letter: “The letter’s a bit snitty, and I think it was written by one of his staff people.“

Merriam-Webster has a nice entry for snitty, a word now trending.


Yes, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) pronounced malware as “mallware.”

“Mister General”

Senator John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) has now addressed William Barr as “General” and “Mister General.”

“There is now public confusion”

Listening to William Barr dissemble this morning, I looked at Robert Mueller’s now-public March 27 letter to Barr:

As we stated in our meeting on March 5 and reiterated to the Department early in the afternoon of March 24, the introductions and executive summaries of our two-volume report accurately summarize this Office’s work and conclusions. The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions. We communicated that concern to the Department on the morning of March 25. There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed a Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.
“There is now public confusion”: mission accomplished, Mister Attorney General.

[The letter bears the handwritten notation “Recieved OAG March 28, 2019.” So someone in the Office of the Attorney General doesn’t know how to spell receive. Though that’s the least of our troubles.]

“The warm sun favors the earth”

[Peanuts, May 1, 1972.]

Sounds like Linus is quoting something. But the only something I can find is a 1986 song from a-ha, “Soft Rains of April.” It begins: “The soft rains of April are over.”

The soft rains of April are far from over in east-central Illinois. Keeps rainin’ all the time.

Related reading
All OCA Peanuts posts (Pinboard)

[Yesteryear’s Peanuts is this year’s Peanuts.]

“This is how it normally works”

Johannes Urzidil, “Borderland.” In The Last Bell. Translated from the German by David Burnett. (London: Pushkin Press, 2017.)

Also from this book
Apartments : “Well, that’s the Renaissance” : “Realistic underwear”

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Zippy meets Phil Fumble

Zippy is riding the train to Baltimore.

[“Bushmiller Country.” Zippy, April 30, 2019.]

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

The Avital Ronell story, cont.

It’s news: Avital Ronell returns to the classroom this fall, teaching a course titled Unsettled Scores: Theories of Grievance, Stuckness, and Boundary Troubles. My guess is that by semester’s end Ronell will still not understand boundaries but will have settled all scores.

From an advertisement for the course:

This course explores the literature, philosophy, psychoanalysis and political theories of straightjacketed existence. Is the stagnation of being a temptation or necessity? How are we confined within a grievance culture — by whom, to what purpose? Do we have enough agency to pull out of the psychic stalls or political stagnation fueled by misgivings and faltering assumptions? How does fiction manage these questions and reconfigure our being-toward-death?
I will admit: my skepticism about the intellectual content here makes it impossible for me to decide whether straightjacketed is a pun, a misspelling, or a deliberately chosen variant of straitjacketed.


May 13: NYU Local reports that some student-government members have condemned NYU’s decision to put Ronell back in the classroom:
Student Government Assembly (SGA) leaders wrote that the university’s decision to allow Ronell to return is “fundamentally antithetical to the University’s student-centered mission and stated commitment to survivors of sexual violence and abuse. Her reinstatement also reaffirms the status quo that survivors are not to be believed.”
A related post
The Avital Ronell story

Come to the Sunshine
(and pronouns)

Highly recommended: Andrew Sandoval’s Come to the Sunshine, a radio show/podcast devoted to 1960s pop music. It’s splendid stuff. The show, which began in 2006, takes its name from a song by Van Dyke Parks. And yet I’m finding out about this show only now.

A couple of instances of remarkably proper pronoun use from my listening: “You Are She,” by Chad & Jeremy, and “Mister, You’re a Better Man Than I,” by the New Colony Six.

Bonus pronouns: an a cappella version of “You Are She,” and a longer, freakier “Mister, You’re a Better Man Than I.”

One elegant touch: Sandoval often has the songs he’s played running one by one under his voice as he announces them — a nice way to help the audience keep track of what was what.

Monday, April 29, 2019

On Duke Ellington’s birthday

Duke Ellington was born 120 years ago today.

The cornetist Rex Stewart (1907–1967) was with the Ellington band from 1934 to 1945. Stewart played — and wrote — with great wit. Consider “Boy Meets Horn.” And consider this description of Ellington in the recording studio:

After saying hello to any guy who catches his eye, Duke seats himself at the piano and will either rhapsodize lazily, with his thoughts way up in the clouds, or he may break into a fast stomp reminiscent of a cutting session thirty-five years ago at True Reformers Hall in Washington, D.C. This is what he calls his warm-up, and we would know that the first number was to be something swinging, perhaps the still unintelligible tune that he hummed so loudly. Once that is over, the next thing we might hear is Duke saying, “All right, fellows, let’s see if the piano is in tune.” That means everybody tune up, which was the first thing we’d done on arrival, but he has to hear the sound from the various instruments.

Then, the fun begins as Duke reaches into his pocket, and with the air of a magician produces some scraggly pieces of manuscript paper — about one-eighth of a page on which he’d scribbled some notes. I recall one occasion when he’d jotted some notes for the saxophones (Toby Hardwick, Harry Carney, Ben Webster, and Barney Bigard) and each was given a part, but there was nothing for Johnny Hodges. Duke had the saxes run the sequence down twice, while Johnny sat nonchalantly smoking. Then, Duke called to Hodges, “Hey, Rabbit, give me a long slow glissando against that progression. Yeah! That's it!” Next he said to Cootie Williams, “Hey, Coots, you come in on the second bar, in a subtle manner growling softly like a little hungry lion cub that wants his dinner but can’t find his mother. Try that, okay?” Following that, he’d say, “Deacon,” (how Lawrence Brown hated that nickname) “you are cast in the role of the sun beating down on the scene. What kind of sound do you feel that could be? You don’t know? Well, try a high B-flat in a felt hat, play it legato and sustain it for eight bars. Come on, let’s all hit this together,” and that’s the way it went — sometimes.

Rex Stewart, “Duke Ellington: One of a Kind.” 1966. In Jazz Masters of the 1930s (1972).
Columbia University’s WKCR is playing Ellington all day. Right now: “The Feeling of Jazz,” from the album Duke Ellington & John Coltrane (1963).

Related reading
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)
Rex Stewart on Ellington’s composing habits

Out of the past

Revealed in today’s Nancy : the snooty girl from the magnet school is named Mildred. First Esther, now Mildred: Olivia Jaimes is bringing back the names of the past.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Exams approaching

[Nancy, June 13, 1949.]

Poor Nancy. But Sluggo is Mr. Cool, or the emperor of ice cream. He knows how to do well on a final exam.

And for contrarians: How to do horribly on a final exam.

Best wishes to all about to take — or grade — final exams.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Iambic laundry

[Zippy, April 28, 2019.]

“Th’ clothes have more personality in the dryer. They cavort & gambol with each other.” I’m guessing that the ka-CHUNK of the machines is what makes Zippy think of iambic pentameter. But look at the meter of that sentence: “All laundry is a blur of static cling.” I think I know exactly what he means.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

“I mean the opposite of hatred”

From the “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses. Leopold Bloom is speaking.

James Joyce, Ulysses (1922).

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Frank Longo, begins with two giveaways: 1-Across, five letters, “1970s subject of a Maddow podcast series,” and 1-Down, five letters, ”Tiny tots with their eyes all     .” And then things get more difficult. But not overly difficult.

The clue that broke the puzzle open for me: 32-Down, four letters, “Burn rubber?” After that, I saw answer after answer and completed with puzzle with surprising 11-Down, five letters (“Expedition”).

Two clues that I especially liked: 40-Across, ten letters, “Place to buy a round.” And 42-Across, three letters, “Casual remarks.” If I were in the habit of wearing a hat indoors, I would take my hat off to you, Frank Longo, for those clues.

But I am baffled by 29-Down, four letters, “Limo wheels, maybe.” Being a member of the 6-Across, nine letters (“They’re not noble”), I may be out of my element when it comes to limo wheels.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, April 26, 2019

A bookstore in the Bronx

Tomorrow is Independent Bookstore Day. And in The Bronx it’s opening day for a new independent bookstore, The Lit. Bar. The borough has been without a general interest bookstore since 2016. Kudos to Noëlle Santos for bringing a bookstore to The Bronx.

A related post
Bookstore-less Bronx

Politicians and Joyce

At The New Yorker, Kevin Dettmar, Joyce scholar, writes about “the politicians who love Ulysses:

When Joyce surfaces in the tweets of Pete and Beto, it reassures us that these guys are familiar enough, and comfortable enough, with a big, difficult book to just drop a reference, casual-like. At a moment when it’s not clear that our President has ever finished an entire “chapter book” — even the one that he ghost-wrote with Tony Schwartz — these small gestures provide comfort.
Biden’s in there too.

That Pete Buttigieg drew the title of his memoir from Ulysses suggests a deep connection to Joyce. But when I read Beto O’Rourke’s description of Ulysses as “the same story” as the Odyssey, ”just told in what was then modern times set in Ireland,” I cringe a little.


“We’ve had an acorn squash for, like, seven months. It looks okay though.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

[Like Marie Kondo, I must thank the room, which was a café.]


In The Atlantic, John McWhorter writes about why adults are talking like children:

Clearly, kidspeak affords its users certain rhetorical advantages—the way it playfully softens blows is part of why younger people on social media now often couch what they say to one another in the toddler-esque. But what made bright teenagers and 20-somethings start imitating 5-year-olds in the first place? And why are many older Americans following suit?
Bits of our children’s childhood kidspeak long ago entered our household language, but I’ve heard very little of what McWhorter describes. Elaine and I recently used the new all without realizing we were following a trend: “Ayexa, order all  the toys!” And I’ve used the new because just once, because Talia.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

“Does there need to be?”

Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review, in an interview about “sliding backward” on technology: “In general, when I hear the phrase ‘There’s an app for that,’ my first question is, ‘Does there need to be?’”

See also Neil Postman’s six questions. The first: “What is the problem to which this technology is the solution?”

Hillary Clinton on how to proceed

Hillary Clinton, writing in The Washington Post;

The debate about how to respond to Russia’s “sweeping and systematic” attack — and how to hold President Trump accountable for obstructing the investigation and possibly breaking the law — has been reduced to a false choice: immediate impeachment or nothing. History suggests there’s a better way to think about the choices ahead.
Clinton’s recommendation: Congressional investigations to fill in the gaps in the Mueller report, an independent bipartisan commission to safeguard elections, and health-care and infrastructure legislation from the Democratic House. Clinton sees the Mueller report as a road map to “the eventual filing of articles of impeachment, or not.”

I think that Clinton’s pragmatism might be the right choice here. I want to see Donald Trump impeached — everything he’s done and not done demands it. But I think of Omar Little’s wisdom: “You come at the king, you best not miss.” Impeachment would be a miss: the Senate will not vote to remove Trump from office, which would likely leave him boasting and gloating and feeling more empowered and reckless than ever. So instead of impeachment: lingchi, death by a thousand cuts, hearing after hearing after hearing. Even if those cuts — just metaphorical ones, please — leave Trump in office, they will likely leave his credibility and chances of re-election in ruins. The idealist in me says Impeach! Because if not Trump, then whom? But pragmatism might make better sense.

[Trump has tweeted and re-tweeted nineteen times today. Imagine what he’ll be like when hearings begin.]

“Realistic underwear”

The newly married couple share a dresser.

Johannes Urzidil, “Siegelmann’s Journey.” In The Last Bell. Translated from the German by David Burnett. (London: Pushkin Press, 2017.)

Also from this book
Apartments : “Well, that’s the Renaissance”

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

“Well, that’s the Renaissance”

Wenzel Schaschek, bank clerk, has stolen from a museum a painting of Eleonor, the Duchess of Albanera. The painted Duchess has begun to tell Schaschek of her life: after killing her first husband, she was determined to forgive her second husband anything. But he betrayed her by taking a lover, so she took that lover for herself, enslaved him to her body, and “worked him” until he plunged a dagger into her husband’s heart.

Johannes Urzidil, “The Duchess of Albanera.” In The Last Bell. Translated from the German by David Burnett. (London: Pushkin Press, 2017.)

Also from this book

Oscar’s (last) Day (of teaching)

Fare forward, George.

Toilet trouble

From WBEZ, Chicago: “Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, his wife and his brother-in-law are under federal criminal investigation for a dubious residential property tax appeal that dogged him during his gubernatorial campaign last year.”

Dubious indeed: the scheme involved the removal of toilets from a mansion to render said mansion “vacant and uninhabitable.” Total Pritzker property-tax savings: $331,432.

I was never a Pritzker fan, and I have proof: this post and this one. The last thing our civic life needs is another billionaire.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


I was standing inside the front room of a narrow two-story house after a meeting of a community group and a taping of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I called my aunt, who had just moved to Montana, to tell her that a terrible snowstorm was on the way. I reached her secretary, who said that he had too many other things to do to relay the message. “Yes, but” — and we went in circles. I threw the handset into an enormous wastebasket.

Out on the front porch, I met up with our recently retired dentist. He wore a parka and a galero and walked down a long board that had been placed over the five or six steps from the porch to the sidewalk. It occurred to me that this board was a riskier proposition that the steps themselves. Our dentist was highly critical of some of the people at the meeting: they were there, he said, only to be seen.

And then I saw our old friend Margie King Barab. She was parked on the porch in an enormous sedan, the kind of car people once called a boat. I wondered how she had gotten the car up the steps. And how had she turned it around? How could there have been enough room? Margie now had to maneuver the car to drive it back down the steps. I started to push a large table toward the door of the house to free up room on the porch. As I did, a green and white sports car began to back out of the house, right toward the table. “Wait!” I yelled. “She has to get her car out.” “That’s gonna take a lot of time,” said the driver. He looked like Eric Campbell from the silents.

Later, Elaine and I saw the driver standing on the sidewalk. “Look,” I said. “He’s smoking a Gauloise and drinking espresso.” He corrected me: “Garnacha.”

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

[Possible sources: On Sunday I was listening to the Left Banke compilation There’s Gonna Be a Storm. A friend begins a job today doing a little of everything. Alexander King, Margie’s first husband, was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show in its Jack Paar days. The word prow, from a little crossword I made for Elaine, might have something to do with the car. I saw a little BMW convertible yesterday. Elaine thinks the table could be from If Beale Street Could Talk.]

Senecan advice for travelers

Wherever you go, there you are:

How can the sight of new countries give you pleasure? Getting to know cities and places? That agitation of yours turns out to be useless. Do you want to know why your running away doesn’t help? You take yourself along. Your mental burden must be put down before any place will satisfy you.
Seneca, Epistles 28.2. Quoted in Ward Farnsworth’s The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual (Boston: David R. Godine, 2018). Adapted from an unidentified public-domain translation.

Also from this book
Senecan advice for liberal-arts types : Dunning-Kruger Montaigne

Monday, April 22, 2019

“Or primitives”

My favorite sentence from a profile of Steve Stone, a Chicago White Sox sportscaster who claims psychic powers:

“Let’s say you and I as cavemen, or primitives, we come across a sabertooth tiger.”
That’s the prelude to an explanation of “the inner voice.”

Thanks, Seth.

“Personalized learning”

“I want to just take my Chromebook back and tell them I’m not doing it anymore”: The New York Times reports on students and parents in Kansas protesting the arrival of Summit Learning and its program of “personalized learning,” with a curriculum developed by Facebook engineers and funded by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. The quotation marks are fitting: what “personalized learning” amounts to is a student sitting in front of a screen for most of the day, with teachers devoting their time to “mentoring.” The Summit Learning website, which does not show children sitting in front of screens for most of the day, mentions “weekly 1:1 checkins” with teacher-mentors. Students in Kansas report anxiety, eye strain, hand cramps, headaches, seizures, and stress from lack of contact with teachers and peers.

Irony of ironies: as the Times reported in 2011 and again in 2018, tech types often do all they can to keep their children away from screens.

So many falsehoods at work in the Summit vision of what, really, is depersonalized learning, one child to one machine. And such a mistaken understanding of what it might mean for a teacher to be a mentor. My best teachers were mentors all the time. When they were standing or sitting in front of a classroom, they were teaching me how to think, how to feel, how to communicate, how to be a good human. All of which is much more valuable than “weekly 1:1 checkins.”

Income disparity at Disney

The Washington Post reports that Abigail Disney is calling attention to income disparity at The Walt Disney Company. The specifics: in 2018 Bob Iger, CEO, was paid $65.5 million dollars, 1,424 times the median Disney salary.

For comparison: in 2017 a 333:1 ratio at Honeywell International made news. There too, the ratio measured CEO compensation against median salary.

Also for comparison: the management sage Peter Drucker recommended this ratio for highest and lowest pay in a company: 20:1.

Other Drucker-related posts
On figuring out where one belongs : On income disparity in higher ed : On integrity in leadership : On efficiency and effectiveness : What Drucker might have thought about Trump and Charlottesville

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

Sunday, April 21, 2019

“Others say”

This morning on Weekend Edition Sunday, Lulu Garcia-Navarro asked Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D, CA-19) about Russian hacking of United States elections:

“I want to talk to you about Florida, because there is, uhm, a difference of opinion on this. On the one hand we have Mueller saying this did happen. There were Democrats in that state like Ben Nelson who reported that there had been an attack on the election infrastructure there. But others say that it didn’t happen.”
Lofgren replied by citing the Mueller report and noting that the Department of Homeland Security was aware of the attack. And Garcia-Navarro left it there, with no follow-up. Here’s the relevant passage from the Mueller report, volume 1, page 51, footnote numbers omitted:
In November 2016, the GRU sent spearphishing emails to over 120 email accounts used by Florida county officials responsible for administering the 2016 U.S. election. The spearphishing emails contained an attached Word document coded with malicious software (commonly referred to as a Trojan) that permitted the GRU to access the infected computer. The FBI was separately responsible for this investigation. We understand the FBI believes that this operation enabled the GRU to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government. The Office did not independently verify that belief and, as explained above, did not undertake the investigative steps that would have been necessary to do so.
There is indeed a debate about what happened in Florida, and it appears to be a matter of semantics, about what must be accomplished for an attack to qualify as an attack, or for an attack to qualify as a hack. But if the GRU sent spearfishing e-mails to Florida county officials, NPR does its listeners no service by presenting “Others say it didn’t happen” as a legitimate point of view.

“Others say” that so many things didn’t happen: the Holocaust, the moon-landing, the Sandy Hook shooting. I could go on. Not every question has two sides.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, is a tough one. It’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard. It’s a hard Saturday Stumper, but it was a-gonna fall, I knew it, if I could keep at it. I did. It did. I wonder if Bob Dylan likes crossword puzzles.

A clue that taught me something: 41-Across, five letters, “Word from the Latin for ‘it lacks.’” Another clue that taught me something: 35-Down, eight letters, “Art that can fluoresce.” A third clue that taught me something: 51-Down, five letters, “Work signed on Mary’s sash.”

One bit of snark: 66-Across, ten letters, “Rolls Royce Ghost, e.g.” PRICEYAUTO? Nah. (By the way, that should be Rolls-Royce, with a hyphen.)

An especially odd and inventive clue: 62-Down, three letters, “Treat ‘served’ by Elvis, Gandalf, Glinda, etc., etc.” LSD? Wha?

No spoilers: the answers are blowin’ in the wind in the comments.

“The uh, rhapsody maker”

[Baby Blues, April 20, 2019.]

“What’s this group of stars, Dad?” I like the way Darryl takes his nonsense one step further — not just “Bohemia” but a description thereof.

It’s funny, yes, but an authentic professor would confess to not knowing. And then try to find out.

See also “Keats’ Eremite.”

[A P.S. to S.H.: I remember your presentation on “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” beginning with the dictionary.]

Friday, April 19, 2019

George Conway
on fiduciary obligations

George Conway, writing in The Washington Post:

The Constitution commands the president to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” It requires him to affirm that he will “faithfully execute the Office of President” and to promise to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” And as a result, by taking the presidential oath of office, a president assumes the duty not simply to obey the laws, civil and criminal, that all citizens must obey, but also to be subjected to higher duties — what some excellent recent legal scholarship has termed the “fiduciary obligations of the president.”

Fiduciaries are people who hold legal obligations of trust, like a trustee of a trust. A trustee must act in the beneficiary’s best interests and not his own. If the trustee fails to do that, the trustee can be removed, even if what the trustee has done is not a crime.

So too with a president.
A friend with a background in estates and trusts thinks that Conway’s analogy is dead-on. Conway’s conclusion:
White House counsel John Dean famously told Nixon that there was a cancer within the presidency and that it was growing. What the Mueller report disturbingly shows, with crystal clarity, is that today there is a cancer in the presidency: President Donald J. Trump.

Congress now bears the solemn constitutional duty to excise that cancer without delay.

“Because I never. . . .”

“Because I never. . . .” Never what? Never took notes in class?

Oh, wait:

And now it’s been four hours. A . . . long time between tweets. Maybe they’ve taken his phone.

And talk about angry, and talk about conflicted. No collusion, no obstruction, he says, but, he also says, it’s all the work of “Angry Democrat Trump Haters.” He fully cooperated, he says, but, he also says, he never agreed to testify. Donald Trump gives new covfefe to the word incoherence.


Marška’s sister Joška has been snooping around, trying to find the money Marška’s employers have left with her.

Johannes Urzidil, “The Last Bell.” In The Last Bell. Translated from the German by David Burnett. (London: Pushkin Press, 2017.)

From the jacket flap:

Johannes Urzidil (1896–1970) was a German-Czech writer, poet, historian and journalist. Born in Prague, he was a member of the Prague Circle and a friend of Franz Kafka and Max Brod. He fled to England after the German occupation in 1939, and eventually settled in the United States. Best known during his lifetime for the collections The Lost Beloved and Prague Triptych, he won numerous awards for his writing, and even had an asteroid named after him.
I knew nothing about Johannes Urzidil before seeing this book on a table at Three Lives & Company. What swayed me: a page-ninety test and the name of the publisher. Pushkin Press has brought out Stefan Zweig’s novellas and short stories in English translation. Aside from this volume, Urzidil’s fiction is unavailable in English. I hope that more will appear.

Domestic comedy

“Where’d I put it?”

“What’re you looking for?”

“My mind — I think I’ve lost it.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, April 18, 2019

“No matches were found”

[Click for a larger view.]

Leave it to Mr. Barr to make the redacted report available as non-searchable PDF. But someone’s already made a searchable version. Browsing in a cursory way, I found pages 1–2, 8, 156–158, and 182 in Volume II of special interest, along with this scene of On the Waterfront pathos, as recorded by a witness, Volume II, page 63:

“This is terrible Jeff. It’s all because you recused. AG is supposed to be most important appointment. Kennedy appointed his brother. Obama appointed Holder. I appointed you and you recused yourself. You left me on an island. I can’t do anything.”
I believe the word the president was looking for is marooned.

I wonder what accounts for that little artifact in the bottom right corner of my screenshot. It’ll be in your copy of the report too. None genuine without this mark?

[On the Waterfront: “You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit.”]


[Nothing to do with redactions.]

Wipr, by Giorgio Calderolla, is a macOS and iOS app that blocks ads in Safari:

Wipr blocks all ads, trackers, cryptocurrency miners, EU cookie and GDPR notices, and other annoyances, so you can focus on the content that matters to you. It works in Safari and all apps that use Safari to display web pages.
I’ve been happily using Wipr on my Mac and iPhone for several days. On my Mac, Wipr replaces the old reliable Safari extension uBlock Origin, which is no longer especially reliable. (Two problems: uBlock Origin doesn’t keep whitelisted pages whitelisted, and it doesn’t come back on after being temporarily disabled). Wipr works perfectly and unobtrusively, remembering settings for websites, and blocking even the video ads on the Washington Post crossword page. One shortcoming of Wipr in iOS: while it’s possible to reload a site without without content blockers, there’s no whitelisting. But Wipr’s extensive blocklist makes for a reasonable tradeoff. $1.99 for macOS or iOS.

Barr code

“For now the four hues are as closely guarded as the report’s contents” (Los Angeles Times, April 15).

[The proper color for the press conference: white, as in whitewash.]

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Source sans attribution,
attribution sans source

Our household has been hit with an improbable double whammy.

The first whammy: some years ago, my university’s student newspaper published a column about how to e-mail professors. The column was the work of a former student and borrowed without attribution from my post How to e-mail a professor. The column began with links to my post and to a couple of other items online. The column went on to present what was purported to be the writer’s own considered advice, with three passages following, very closely, the phrasing of three passages in my post, with no indication of a source. The student writer thought I’d be happy to see his effort. Yikes.

I explained to the student and to the newspaper’s advisors in the journalism department why this column was a problem. I cited the responses of colleagues and friends who had read the student’s column. I quoted statements about plagiarism and paraphrase and attribution from the websites of prestigious college-journalism programs. As Schlitzie would say, “Y’see? Y’see?” I was told in response that one can’t copyright ideas. There’s no arguing with Messrs. Dunning and Kruger.

The second whammy: last week, the university’s student newspaper has published a review of Elaine’s recent recital. One problem: the writer included comments from imaginary audience members. A second problem: the writer included comments purported to be from Elaine (identified as a former English professor), about the difficulty of being a woman in “the music industry.” (“The music industry”! Lordy.) A third problem: the writer did not attend the recital. Why try to build a résumé with such inane fabulation? It’s beyond me.

To its credit, the paper has removed the review from its website. The paper gets just one or two points partial credit for issuing (in print only) an oddly worded correction. The correction does not acknowledge that the audience members were imaginary, that Elaine never spoke to the writer, and that the writer did not attend the recital. The correction says instead that the names of the audience members quoted cannot be verified and that Elaine says that she did not say the words attributed to her. Thus the paper leaves the truth of the article in the eye of the beholder.

The first whammy was a matter of source sans attribution. The second, attribution sans source. Each absurd. Together, absurder.

Nancy interstice

[Nancy, April 17, 2019. Click for a larger view.]

Snooty nameless girl from the magnet school has reappeared: “Well, well — what a coincidence. Fancy running into Esther’s friend here.”

Olivia Jaimes is rocking the interstice.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[I owe my acquaintance with interstice to the poetry of Ted Berrigan. “Interstices” is a one-word poem in In the Early Morning Rain (1970) and the title of a poem in A Certain Slant of Sunlight (1988). I’ve had occasion to use interstice only in relation to comic strips.]

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Brilliant Mac corners

From The Sweet Setup, a guide to using Hot Corners in macOS. I remember being vaguely aware of Hot Corners when I began using a Mac in 2007. I’d long forgotten about them. Very useful for accessing the desktop or finding one window beneath another. Many other uses too.

[Post title with apologies to Thelonious Monk.]

“Whatever people did then”

At the Home for Mentally Handicapped Adults, once known as “the Misses Weir’s house”:

Alice Munro, “Circle of Prayer.” In The Progress of Love (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986).

Also from Alice Munro
“Rusted seams” : “That is what happens” : “Henry Ford?” : “A private queer feeling” : “A radiance behind it” : Opinions : At the Manor : “Noisy and shiny” : “The evening lunch” : “Mr. X and Mr. B” : “Emptiness, rumor, and absurdity”

Monday, April 15, 2019


[Almon C. Whiting (1878-1962). Notre Dame, Paris. “Photograph of a painting signed ‘Whiting, Paris, ’97.’” Between 1897 and 1912. From the Library of Congress.]

I found many images more beautiful — lithographs and photographs — but this image, a photographic negative of a painting, seemed more solemn and appropriate. The cornerstone of Notre-Dame de Paris was laid in 1163.

Twelve movies

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

The Player (dir. Robert Altman, 1992). A studio executive (Tim Robbins) is receiving death threats from — whom? And an appropriately noirish plot develops. A brilliant movie about movies, with an extended opening shot that promises many meta pleasures to follow, including cameo after cameo. It’s something like the feeling of walking around Los Angeles — at any moment you might see a star. ★★★★


Private Life (dir. Tamara Jenkins 2018). Paul Giamatti and Kathyrn Hahn play an E. 6th Street couple in their forties, desparately trying to have a baby. Strong performances all around, especially from Kayli Carter as an artsy niece, but the movie feels at times interminable, with too many odds and ends tossed in. Most moving scene: silent contemplation of a wall of baby photos. Jumps the shark near the end on an utterly implausible trip to Yaddo — Yaddo, sheesh, why? ★★★


Let There Be Light (dir. John Huston, 1946). A short documentary, suppressed for decades, about veterans of World War II suffering from “psychoneurosis,” or what we would call post-traumatic stress, with extended scenes of hospitalized veterans speaking with psychiatrists about wartime experiences and hopes for the future. I was struck by the many moments that recalled accounts of combat trauma in Jonathan Shay’s book Achilles in Vietnam. Troy, WWII, Vietnam: all wars are one in the damage they do to the participants. The most painful and poignant element of Let There Be Light is the notion that post-traumatic stress can be solved with eight to ten weeks of treatment: even as veterans prepare to go home, their faces say otherwise. ★★★★


The Two Killings of Sam Cooke (dir. Kelly Duane, 2019). This documentary offers less and much more than the title promises. Though the circumstances of Sam Cooke’s death belie the official account, the film quickly dismisses the hints of a corporate or political murder scheme that the film’s own trailer suggests. What the documentary does offer is a detailed, interview-rich portrait of an immensely talented, charismatic, politically aware, and forward-looking entertainer. Did you know that Cooke refused to perform for segregated audiences, and that he was a pioneer in the movement away from processed hair? ★★★★


Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham, 2018). Elsie Fisher gives a great performance as Kayla Day, a girl in the last days of eighth grade. Kayla makes YouTube videos with tips on being yourself even as she tries desperately to fit in and be liked. I was especially moved by the scene of this resilient outsider watching her pre-middle-school video message to her future self. Only young adults will really know whether this film’s depiction of the phone-driven life is exaggerated, but from everything I’ve heard and read, I think it’s not. ★★★★


The Cakemaker (dir. Ofir Raul Graizer, 2017). An odd segue: here’s a film about being and not being yourself. A German baker travels to Israel, finds his dead lover’s wife, and begins to work his way (literally) into her life. Will she come to learn who he is? A character-driven story with strong echoes of Vertigo and, more recently, of François Ozon’s Frantz. ★★★★


Mr. Symbol Man (dir. Bob KIngsbury and Bruce Moir, 1974). A short documentary about Charles Bliss, originally Blitz, an engineer who survived Buchenwald and went on to create Blissymbolics, an ideographic writing system meant for universal use. Bliss, as the camera presents him, is indefatigably joyful, or joyfully indefatigable. “Never give in!” is his watchword. The most remarkable scenes in the film are those of children with cerebral palsy using Blissymbolics to communicate — an unanticipated boon of Bliss’s work. ★★★


The Small Back Room (dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1949). Britain, the Second War: Sammy Rice (David Farrar) is an expert in bomb defusal who suffers chronic pain from a prosthetic foot. Only alcohol helps — until it doesn’t, as Sammy alienates his girlfriend Susan (Kathleen Byron) with his self-pitying and self-destructive behavior. The film is a bit scattered, but becomes its best self when Sammy is brought into the work of defusing German explosive devices, in an utterly harrowing, nearly silent scene. Keep an eye open for the Gregg Toland influence in Christopher Challis’s filming of interiors. ★★★


Stan & Ollie (dir. Jon S. Baird, 2018). Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are uncannily convincing as Messrs. Laurel and Hardy, found here at the end of their performing partnership, playing to sparse audiences in provincial theaters on a tour patched together by a distracted promoter. A lovely portrait of friendship and genius and determination, Stan ever at the typewriter working up new material, Ollie getting on stage despite rising health troubles. The arrival near the tour’s end of “the wives,” Ida (Nina Arianda) and Lucille (Shirley Henderson), adds another element of comedy and humanity. A beautiful, sentimental film, and if you can’t be sentimental about Laurel and Hardy, well, it’s your loss. ★★★★


Hello, Criterion Channel

My Name Is Julia Ross (dir. Joseph H. Lewis, 1945). A cross between Gothic fiction and film noir. A young Nina Foch plays Julia Ross, who takes a job as a personal secretary and wakes up in a grand cliffside house where everyone calls her by another name. Fine turns by Dame May Whitty and an ultra-creepy George Macready. Excellent cinematography by Burnett Guffey. ★★★★


So Dark the Night (dir. Joseph H. Lewis, 1946). A mild-mannered Parisian detective (Steven Geray) leaves the city for a much-needed vacation at a country inn — and murders beginning piling up. I cannot decide if the twist in this story is an improbable possibility or a probable impossibility. Either way, I accept it, sort of. Burnett Guffey’s cinematography is especially imaginative here: watch the windows. ★★★


Human Desire (dir. Fritz Lang, 1954). Burnett Guffey is on the job again in this highly sanitized version of Zola’s La Bête humaine (which was also adapted by Jean Renoir). Jeff (Glenn Ford), Korean War veteran and train engineer, returns to the States, takes up his old job, and becomes involved with Vicki (Gloria Grahame), who’s already involved in a triangle of her own with her husband Carl (Broderick Crawford) and yet another man — and yes, this is a sanitized version. Grahame and Crawford are the reasons to watch this movie: with Vicki and Carl, as with Cora and Nick in The Postman Always Rings Twice, you have to wonder what they were thinking when they married. You have to wonder about Jeff too, who seems to take everything in this film a little too much in stride. ★★★

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)