Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Word of the day: Nowheresville

I don’t know how long the link will last, but the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day is Nowheresville: “a largely unknown or uninteresting place, esp. a small, rural town; (also figurative) obscurity, insignificance, limbo; = Nowhereville n.”

The dictionary’s first citation is from 1917. A 1966 citation that caught my attention, from Time: “Sitting contentedly on the banks of the Illinois river in the very heartland of America, Peoria has for years been the butt of jokes, the gagman’s tag for Nowheresville.” Excuse me: Peoria is the second largest city in central Illinois (after Springfield). Nowheresville my eye.

You can subscribe to the OED Word of the Day from this page.

Harry’s Wagon

I like this diner, as seen in Dark Passage (dir. Delmar Daves, 1947). Harry’s Wagon was a genuine diner, at 1921 Post Street, San Francisco. Reel SF has the details.

[Click any image for a larger view.]

Vincent Parry/Allan Linnell (Humphrey Bogart) orders ham and eggs and coffee from the genial counterman (Tom Fadden). If it weren’t so early, or so late, the Hot Baked Ham might be tempting: Potatoes - Salad - Drink & Desert.

[“How’ll you have the eggs?” “Easy.” “Easy does it.”]

But that guy at the other end of the car? (That’s him in the first of these images.) He’s not just some guy. He’s a police detective (Douglas Kennedy), and that’s going to mean trouble.

Note the time: 4:45 a.m., and Harry’s Wagon is open for business.

[There’s never a conversation about how to spell Parry’s new name. In David Goodis’s 1946 novel it’s as I’ve spelled it here.]

An EXchange name sighting

[Dark Passage (dir. Delmar Daves, 1947). Click for a larger view.]

Dark Passage was filmed in part in San Francisco. According to a contributor to the Telephone Exchange Name Project, GReystone, seen on the cab’s hood, was indeed a San Francisco exchange name.

More EXchange names on screen
Act of Violence : The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Armored Car Robbery : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : The Blue Dahlia : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : The Brasher Doubloon : Chinatown : The Dark Corner : Deception : Deux hommes dans Manhattan : Dick Tracy’s Deception : Down Three Dark Streets : Dream House : East Side, West Side : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Modern Marvels : Murder by Contract : Murder, My Sweet : My Week with Marilyn : Naked City (1) : Naked City (2) : Naked City (3) : Naked City (4) : Naked City (5) : Naked City (6) : Naked City (7) : Nightfall : Nightmare Alley : Perry Mason : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Side Street : Stage Fright : Sweet Smell of Success : Tension : This Gun for Hire : Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Shelby Lyman (1936–2019)

Shelby Lyman, the chess master who hosted PBS’s real-time coverage of the 1972 Bobby Fischer–Boris Spassky world championship chess match, has died at the age of eighty-two. The New York Times has an obituary.

PBS’s coverage of the Fischer-Spassky match was a wonder. The actress Chris Chase introduced each broadcast. The moves came by teletype. The game unfolded on a large horizontal board whose squares were pockets holding flat cutout chess pieces. A small number of guest experts sat around a table with a chessboard, offering move-by-move commentary and analysis, with Shelby moving pieces on the large board to follow proposed lines of play before restoring the game in progress. I remember commentary from Edmar Mednis and the ultra-geeky Eugene Meyer (now — gasp — president of the Federalist Society). I remember working myself into a state of high anxiety watching the games.

[A photograph accompanying the Times obituary shows a different kind of display board. I remember a board with pockets, something like the pockets that hold circulation cards in library books. But I think I also remember pieces sliding down to the studio floor. Perhaps PBS switched boards at some point.]

Recently updated

Dozer A great free Mac app is now even better.

Twelve movies

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

Philomena (dir. Stephen Frears, 2013). Family separations, brought to you by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. From the true story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), who enlists the journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) in a search for her son, given to an adoptive couple without her consent fifty years earlier as she labored in a Magdalene laundry. A strange but effective combination of comedy (odd-couple-on-a-road-trip) and the deepest pain. Lee’s choice to forgive what many would consider unforgivable made me think of the late Eva Kor. ★★★★


Raw Deal (dir. Anthony Mann, 1948). If Anthony Mann is directing and John Alton is behind the camera, I know the movie is going to be good. This movie is much better than good: the story of an escaped convict (Dennis O’Keefe) in a triangle of sorts with his girlfriend (Claire Trevor) and his legal aide (Marsha Hunt). With Raymond Burr as a crime boss and pyromaniac. My favorite line: “We’ll talk about it later.” ★★★★


Swann in Love (dir. Volker Schlöndorff, 1984). Now available from the Criterion Channel, adapted from Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, with Jeremy Irons as Charles Swann, and Ornella Muti as Odette de Crecy (both dubbed in French). Proust’s unnamed narrator is missing, except perhaps for a hint of his presence at the film’s end — which might speak to the difficulty of turning this novel into a film. With cinematography by Sven Nykvist, the film is a visual feast, like a series of paintings for the screen, full of light and wealth. Bonus: Alain Delon as Baron de Charlus, eyes roaming everywhere. ★★★★


All Night Long (dir. Basil Dearden, 1962). Another Criterion find, a reimagining of Othello among jazz musicians gathered for an all-night anniversary party and jam session. Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) is a pianist, a kinda Dukish figure, married to Delia Lane (Marti Stevens), a now-retired singer. Patrick McGoohan is Johnny Cousin, drummer and schemer (cousin = cozen?) who sets out to destroy the marriage. With a post-Marty Betsy Blair and an all-too-brief glimpse of Dave Brubeck and Charles Mingus duetting. ★★★★


12 Angry Men (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1957). The television listings promised the Jack Lemmon–George C. Scott remake, which I’ve never seen, but what aired was the original, so I watched again. The film makes such a strong visual impression: the frightened face of the nameless accused, Martin Balsam’s polo shirt and tie, John Fiedler’s pipe and glasses, Jack Warden’s hat, Henry Fonda’s white suit, Joseph Sweeney’s wide-awake face, George Voskovec’s stately hair and mustache. In 2019, the story seems more timely than ever: the folklore of what some unspecified “they” are like, the rush to judgment (recall a certain public figure’s rants about the Central Park Five). And yet in this jury room, reason prevails, reminding us of the fragility, not strength, of our judicial system. ★★★★


Gabrielle (dir. Louise Archambault, 2013). Love and sex and disability. Gabrielle (Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, who herself has Williams syndrome) is a young woman who sings in a chorus of adults with disabilities, where she and fellow singer Martin (Alexandre Landry) fall in love. This film has an extraordinary humanity and tact: there’s never a name put to anyone’s disability, and the very idea of disability evaporates in the face of the young singers’ deep musicality. My favorite moment: Robert Charlesbois (is he something like a Canadian Neil Diamond?) shows up to sing with the chorus. ★★★★


The Killers (dir. Robert Siodmak, 1946). There’s the cinematography — that light, those shadows, both by Elwood Bredell, whose name means nothing to me (yet). And there’s the great diner scene, with a fussy little proprietor (Harry Hayden) who begins to realize that he’s in a film noir (strange how that works). And there’s the increasing flexibility with which the film (a loose adaptation of a Hemingway stop) handles time, flashing back, and sometimes back again, as insurance investigator Edmond O’Brien tries to get to the bottom of the murder of “the Swede” (Burt Lancaster). Excellent performances by Sam Levene as a police detective and friend of the deceased, and Ava Gardner as a nearly silent incarnation of danger. ★★★★


Echo in the Canyon (dir. Andrew Slater, 2019). A look back at the folk-rock world of Laurel Canyon circa 1965–1967, with period footage, interviews with survivors, and not especially convincing performances by younger musicians of songs by the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas, &c. Jakob Dylan, who is front and center throughout, is a dismal interviewer, giving back little or nothing to his partners in (strained) conversation, as in the cringeworthy living-room-sofa scenes. The film presents a highly reductive Norton Anthology of music: Frank Zappa, then in the Canyon, gets a mere namecheck in an anecdote; Canned Heat and The Doors, then in the Canyon, go unmentioned; Joni Mitchell — because she wasn’t yet there? — goes unmentioned; everyone who didn’t make it as a star goes unmentioned; and the musical line of greatness goes from Rubber Soul to Pet Sounds to Sgt. Pepper and stops there. And if it’s really true that “poetic depth and grace” didn’t enter pop music until 1965 (via the Byrds), I’ll eat my Nehru jacket. ★★


Transit (dir. Christian Petzold, 2018). A brilliant movie that collapses historical time into an eternal fascist present: France then is France in some near future, falling to German forces, as people are rounded up and neighborhoods “cleansed.” A writer-as-emigre theme suggests Stefan Zweig; the film’s title and plot recall elements of Casablanca, with a German refugee holding the magical papers that will permit two people to sail from Marseille. I was also reminded of the complex strategies of substitution in Toni Morrison’s Jazz: every relationship here is a substitute for some other relationship. With Franz Rogowski (who looks like a haunted figure from a Kafka story) and Paula Beer (Frantz), Transit is the best new movie I’ve seen this year. ★★★★


Dark Passage (dir. Delmar Daves, 1947). A great vehicle for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, with Bogart as an escaped convict wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. Lauren Bacall has her reasons for helping him. Like Casablanca, the film breaks into memorable bits — the circus tent, the station wagon, “Finish your smoke,” the cab ride (Tom D’Andrea), the trumpet, the surgeon (Houseley Stevenson), Madge (Agnes Moorehead) at the little window, Harry’s Wagon, and the final scene, with Bogart as a South American Rick. How Moorehead didn’t receive third billing is beyond me. ★★★★


Obit (dir. Vanessa Gould, 2016). A compelling look at the work of the New York Times obituary writers, who daily perform extraordinary efforts of research, writing, and revision against an unyielding 6:00 p.m. deadline. With brief explorations of the lives of obituary subjects — among them, and most movingly, David Foster Wallace, with a visibly sad Bruce Weber recounting his telephoning every Wallace in Champaign-Urbana to find the writer’s parents. A teacher of writing might find this film useful for its depiction of writers at work, collecting and checking facts, roughing out a structure, sweating each sentence. And the clippings in the Times morgue — oh my. ★★★★


The Tall Target (dir. Anthony Mann, 1951). Dick Powell stars as John Kennedy, a New York City police sergeant attempting to foil an assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln (the so-called Baltimore plot). Lots of suspense and duplicity in close quarters: almost everything happens on a train, or next to a train, or under the wheels of a train, a steam engine, the Night Flyer to Washington. This unusual film is clear evidence that film noir does not require fedoras or cigarettes or the twentieth century. With Ruby Dee, Will Geer, Adolphe Menjou, and great cinematography by Paul Vogel. ★★★★

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Mike Pompeo, heat-seeking missile

From Susan B. Glasser’s New Yorker profile, “Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of Trump”:

As a former senior White House official told me, “There will never be any daylight publicly between him and Trump.” The former official said that, in private, too, Pompeo is “among the most sycophantic and obsequious people around Trump.” Even more bluntly, a former American ambassador told me, “He’s like a heat-seeking missile for Trump’s ass.”
I don’t know whether to lament or celebrate that metaphor. A heat-seeking missile would do a lot of damage to that ass.

Related reading
All OCA metaphor posts (Pinboard)

Domestic comedy

[The art-supplies store had an odd-looking wastebasket.]

“Would you recognize that as R2-D2?”

“No. My knowledge of Star Trek is pretty limited.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[Apparently it can be domestic comedy even if, or especially if, one isn’t trying to be funny.]

Sunday, August 18, 2019

“A kind of foreshortening”

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

This passage reminds me of what William Faulkner has to say about peace as a condition achieved in retrospect, “when the subconscious has got rid of the gnats and the tacks and the broken glass of experience.”

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Start sharpening

The Crow has informed me that today, August 17, is National #2 Pencil Day. It’s not to be confused with National Pencil Day, which falls on March 30.

Have you noticed that people are once again saying “Happy National Pencil Day” and “Happy National #2 Pencil Day” instead of “Happy Holidays”? No, me neither. But a slightly belated Happy National #2 Pencil Day to all.

Thanks, Martha.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

The one that got away

J.D. Lowe has discovered an overlooked murder in an episode of Perry Mason.

Related reading
All OCA Perry Mason posts (Pinboard)

Today’s Saturday Stumper

I started today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, with the question I always start with: Can I do this? For I am never exactly “Brimming with confidence.” That’s 2-D, nine letters.

I saw an easy clue right away: 24-A, “Antitheses of dystopias.” And intersecting that one, another easy one: 11-D, nine letters, “Royal Hawaiian Orchards morsel.” Those two answers gave me seven more answers or partial answers, all of which turned out to be correct. I ended up getting the right half of the puzzle, all of it, before moving to the left. Odd.

Three clues I especially liked: 1-D, nine letters, “Not edgy at all.” 12-D, five letters, “Advice to a waiter.” 31-A, ten letters, “Craftsperson a.k.a. fletcher.” I thank James Tate for the answer to that one.

I think that crosswords teach their solver, mostly, how to solve crosswords. But a clue that taught me something about the outside world: 13-D, five letters, “GPS forerunner.” Like last week’s green wave, new to me.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, August 16, 2019

To “have seen”

“We rush to exhibitions and rush through them, in part to have seen them”: the perfect infinitive in that line from Eva Hoffman’s How to Be Bored (2016) made me recall what I wrote in a 2015 memo about proposed sophomore-level survey courses in the English major:

Wide-ranging surveys always make me think of the experience of going to a museum to “have seen” the paintings, moving from one to another at a brisk pace as if the point is to cross things off a list. The better way to go is to spend some time, real time, looking at a handful of things. I think that’s the kind of attention to texts we should encourage at the 2000-level.
And I still do. I went on to invoke Richard Wollheim on patiently looking at a painting.

Homer and Cain

I was teaching the Odyssey. Odysseus was with the Phaeacians, and the students were skeptical about him, and lively in expressing their skepticism. It was Odysseus as Trump: an ancient who’ll tell any lie to get what he wants and who always displaces blame.

I had forgotten to introduce the epithet πολύτροπος [polytropos], “of many twists and turns,” from the poem’s first line, so I asked the students to turn back to the beginning of the poem. I quoted Robert Fitzgerald’s version of the epithet, “skilled in all ways of contending,” but I couldn’t find the words on the page. This translation began with a long prose passage, with the first lines of poetry appearing at the bottom of the second page. Was I using something other than Fitzgerald?

The class was supposed to end at 11:50, and it was now 12:10. No matter. No one was knocking at the door to get in, and no one in class showed any urgency to leave. But I had to get to another class.

But first Fred MacMurray came up to talk to me. He wouldn’t be in my next class today because he had to study for a grammar test, after which he wanted to talk to me about his dissertation. “Sure. Come by my office after my class,” I told him.

I walked to my next class, a small seminar, carrying a tall stack of books that included Roland Barthes’s Mythologies (the older orange-covered paperback). I was teaching a James M. Cain novel in this class, but which one? My copy had a binder clip marking where we had left off the week before. I hadn’t looked at the book since then, and now I was surprised to see that we had only four or five pages left. How was I going to get a class’s worth of discussion from that? I looked at the text but still couldn’t figure out which Cain novel I was teaching. I didn’t think to look at the cover.

A group of older women walked in, single file, to observe the class. One woman was blind and held the shoulder of the woman in front of her. The women all took seats in a long row at a table against the far wall. They wore dark suits and white blouses with high collars. They looked like members of a women’s organization from the 1930s. I still hadn’t figured out what novel I was supposed to be teaching.

[Some sources for this dream: seeing Fred MacMurray in The Caine Mutiny, thinking about books as armor, seeing Dorothy Neumann in an episode of Lassie. This is the fifteenth teaching-related dream I’ve had since retiring. The others: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12, 13, 14.]

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Books as armor

As a striving student in the late 1970s, I would take the 166 bus from New Jersey to Manhattan, walk downtown to the Strand Book Store, and make my way back to the Port Authority with two big shopping bags of books. The Strand then was mostly remainders and “review copies.” I found all kinds of academic remainders on the sale tables: a collection of essays on the metaphysical poets, studies of John Dryden, an anthology of selections from The Spectator (the 1711–1712 version). Shorter Novels: Elizabethan for $1.49? Sold!

In a post about an old Strand bookmark, I characterized this buying as a matter of Accumulation Mode. I realize now that it would be more accurate to say that I was in Armoring Mode: I was accumulating books as armor, as protection, as certification that I belonged in the academic world I aspired to enter. I didn’t wear my armor: it just sat on shelves at home, where it could come in handy as needed.

Of course I made no use of many of the odds and ends I bought at the Strand. But then again, I did.

Are books-as-armor a common experience for aspiring academics? For aspiring academics from working-class backgrounds? Asking for a friend.

[“Review copies”: widely understood to be a euphemism, as many were sold by enterprising editorial assistants on their lunch hour.]

Waving realism

[Nancy, November 9, 1949. Click for a larger view.]

I like the realism in today’s yesteryear’s Nancy. Earlier in the strip, a bottle of Hair Waving Lotion (For an Instant Wave) stood close to the edge of a living-room table. The bottle crashed and splashed when the cat’s tail hit it. In this final panel, we see the result. We all know that Hair Waving Lotion could never alter the appearance of tables, lamps, frames, vases, sills. But fringe, electrical cords, picture wire, tails, stems, shade pulls: why not?

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

“A night in October”

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Musil’s style is built on metaphor. Here the tenor and vehicle, or ground and figure, switch places.

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

Branding amok

The Ohio State University has filed a trademark application for the word the.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Donald Trump has claimed, many times, that China is paying the United States “billions of dollars” in tariffs. But now, as reported by The New York Times:

The Trump administration on Tuesday narrowed the list of Chinese products it plans to impose new tariffs on as of Sept. 1, delaying levies on cellphones, laptop computers, toys and other goods to spare shoppers from higher prices during the back-to-school and holiday seasons. . . .

“We’re doing this for the Christmas season,” [Trump] told reporters around noon. “Just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers.”
Just in case. So China pays tariffs, but tariffs need to be delayed because to impose them would raise prices for American consumers. So who’s paying tariffs?

A related post
Don’t know much about an economics book

Fifty blog-description lines

Google’s Blogger calls the line that sits below a blog title the “blog description line.” I’ve added a hyphen. For years, the first words of Van Dyke Parks’s “Orange Crate Art” were this blog’s line: “Orange crate art was a place to start.” In May 2010, I began to vary the line, using a word, phrase, or sentence from a recent post. And just for fun, I began keeping saving the lines. I think of them as little bits of found poetry. Here are the fifty most recent blog-description lines:

“To cause passers to stop in wonder”
“Goes with almost anything”
“Does anything really matter when you’re this small?”
“Whom are we kidding?”
“No barista”
“Principiis obsta”
“Not unaware”
“How did that happen?”
“Employees Only”
“I take refuge in prose”
“Are those Tater Tots on top?”
“What time was all that?”
“Small town, car, screen”
“This is a most involved subject”
“Uh, no”
“‘I told you — I was in Las Vegas!’”
“Missing strawberries”
“Years of dependency of computers”
“All in there, in shorthand”
“Almost everything”
“Of great utility”
“Slow Reading”
“A home entertainment system”
“Kinda sorta maybe”
“More and less locally”
“Goodbye, FilmStruck”
“The how manyth time”
“Begins in delight and ends in __”
“Research and creative activity”
“No open refrigerators”
“A whole cup of coffee for myself!”
“La vida es como la espuma, por eso hay que darse como el mar”
“Look at the color palette”
“It's automatic”
“Just scribble it all out and add a label”
“Involuntary memory meets the slot-car craze”
“With mustard!”
“You take yourself along”
“Troublesome grounds”
“Bah bah, bah bah, bah bah bah”
“As if a person had suddenly materialized”
“One small room, with minimal explanation”
“Carhartt pants, Carhartt hat, Carhartt logo front and bat”
“‘Actually,’ I said, ‘I’m a pretty serious person.’”

Collect them all!
Two hundred blog-description lines : Fifty more : And fifty more : But wait — there’s more : Another fifty


Dozer, a free app for macOS, hides one or more or nearly all menu bar icons. (The Notifications icon doesn’t budge.) Follow the directions on the download page to select icons for hiding. Then click on the Dozer dot in the menu bar to show or hide icons. Yes, irony: an app designed to hide menu bar icons adds an icon of its own to the menu bar. You can also use a keyboard shortcut to show or hide.

In my experience, Dozer is solid — a much more reliable app than the free app Vanilla, which again and again makes parts of my Safari menu bar disappear. I give Dozer the Orange Crate Art seal of approval.


August 20: An update makes Dozer better still, with options to hide menu bar icons automatically, hide the Dozer menu bar icon, and show and hide less frequently used menu bar icons.

Thanks to Morten, the developer, for a great free app.

[I want to write menu-bar icons, but according to the Apple Style Guide, it’s menu bar icons.]

Monday, August 12, 2019

Nick Walusko (1960–2019)

Nick Walusko, aka Nicky Wonder, cofounder of the Wondermints and longtime guitarist with Brian Wilson, has died at the age of fifty-nine. Too soon. Too soon. Rolling Stone has a brief obituary.

I was fortunate to see Nicky Wonder with Brian Wilson in 1999 (the Pet Sounds tour) and 2004 (the Smile tour). The music of the spheres, or at least some of it. Here’s Wonder doing the guitar solo on “Pet Sounds.” And it’s Wonder, by the way, who, on “Heroes and Villains,” shouts “You’re under arrest!”

New Proust

Some Marcel Proust news in The Guardian:

Nine lost stories by Marcel Proust, which the revered French author is believed to have kept private because of their “audacity,” are due to be published for the first time this autumn.

Touching on themes of homosexuality, the stories were written by Proust during the 1890s, when he was in his 20s and putting together the collection of poems and short stories that would become Plaisirs et les jours [Pleasures and Days]. He decided not to include them.
The title of the forthcoming volume: Le Mystérieux Correspondant. A translation, I trust, will arrive.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[“Audacity” is a characterization offered by the volume’s editor.]


Some J.D. Salinger news in The New York Times:

This week, in the first step of a broader revival that could reshape the world’s understanding of Salinger and his writing, Little, Brown is publishing digital editions of his four books, making him perhaps the last 20th-century literary icon to surrender to the digital revolution.
Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Word of the day: flea-bane

Elaine and I went on a walk not long ago, following the paths through a ten-acre wildflower-covered prairie (“Savanna,” someone corrected) on the property of friends who live out in the country. Way out in the country. Our guide would pause every so often to point to and talk about a plant or tree or some change in the natural world. Many of the people on this walk are as knowledgeable as our guide is: they know the Latin and common names of countless species. I know a small number of flowers, mostly from literature — gentians, daffodils, sunflowers, Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed Susans. I didn’t see any daffodils on our walk. I did see lots of Queen Anne’s lace. It occurred to me at one point that I must resemble a person for whom most of the paintings in a museum register only as “art” and “more art”: I saw mostly “flowers,” and “more flowers.” But I still found this walk through nature a beautiful, restorative experience. And because I asked about one tiny flower I’ve seen many times in town, I brought back a word: flea-bane. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as

a name given to various plants: esp.

a. A book-name for the genus Inula (or Pulicaria), esp. Inula dysenterica and I. Pulicaria.

b. A book-name for the genus Erigeron, esp. E. acre (called also blue fleabane).

c. Applied to Plantago Psyllium (from the appearance of the seed).
The dictionary’s first citation for flea-bane is from William Turner’s Names of Herbes (1548): “Coniza maye be called in englishe Flebayne.” Yes, Conyza is yet another (Latin) name for flea-bane. And yes, Inula dysenterica was used to treat dysentery.

Out on the prairie, I was already wondering if flea-bane is trouble for fleas. And indeed, the dictionary’s second citation confirms it. From Thomas Hill’s Arte Gardening (1593): “The Gnats also be . . . chased away with the decoction of the herbe named Flebane, sprinckled on the beds.” And here’s a page of botanical lore that describes flea-bane being burned to repel fleas and other insects. Flea-bane, bane of fleas!

Back in the OED, the word flea has since 700 signified “a small wingless insect (or genus of insects, Pulex, the common flea being P. irritans), well known for its biting propensities and its agility in leaping; it feeds on the blood of man and of some other animals.” From Geoffrey Chaucer, The Manciple’s Prologue (c. 1386): “Hast thou had fleen al night or artow dronke?”

And sometime before 800, bane signified “a slayer or murderer; one who causes the death or destruction of another.” By 1398 the word meant “poison” and was joined to other words to name poisonous plants or substances. For instance, wolf’s bane or wolfbane. (As in vampire movies, right?)

I did not get a photograph of the prairie’s flea-bane: I was too busy seeing. But here’s a particularly good photograph of some other flea-bane, via Wikipedia.

And here, to provide a stately ending to this post, is an observation Elaine and I just encountered in a little anthology of writing about walking. From Richard Jeffries, Nature Near London (1905): “It is not only what you actually see along the path, but what you remember to have seen, that gives it its beauty.” I remember flea-bane.

See also Verlyn Klinkenborg’s account of “deep taxonomic yearning.” And thanks to Stefan Hagemann for reminding me of the Klinkenborg passage.

Further reading
Savanna vs. prairie

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Imaginary Bedminster

It’s been many hours without a presidential tweet. I shall imagine the scene at Bedminster after yesterday’s NYT-North Korea-Maher-China-Clinton-Epstein-conspiracy-Biden-Mooch frenzy. A doctor (straight from central casting) turns to the First Lady:

“I’ve given him something that will help him sleep.”

The doctor picks up the presidential phone, walks to the far end of the bedroom, removes a decorative book or two from a shelf, places the phone in the gap, and returns the books to their places.

“He’ll never find it there.”

Klean Kanteens and denture tablets

We stood in the store looking at our phones, trying to figure out how to get the coffee stains out of our Klean Kanteens. Elaine had tried the official vinegar-and-baking-soda with no luck. I thought of denture tablets.

We bought three-minute store-brand tablets. Two tablets per Kanteen, warm water, an hour-long soak, and the stains were gone.

There is, of course, a body of lore concerning household uses for denture tablets. This use is the one I thought of and the one I can vouch for.

Today’s Nancy

The pareidolic face in today’s Nancy is thoroughly in the Bushmiller tradition. Nancy remains in good hands with Olivia Jaimes.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Andrew Bell Lewis, was, for me, an adventure in scanning the grid, over and over, for something, anything, that might yield an answer, It was a very difficult puzzle, forty minutes of difficulty. It was the Jillian Michaels workout of Saturday Stumpers.

I began with 1-A, nine letters, “Flash stash.” But no. I-D, four letters, “Britannic forebear,” meant that my clever answer couldn’t be right. Apt clues: 34-A, three letters, “Evince antsiness.” Yes. 39-D, “End up off.” Yes. I did.

Three clue and answer pairs I especially liked: 8-D, five letters, “Verbal slip cover.” 12-D, ten letters, “Exceed what’s deemed to be possible.” And 13-D, ten letters, “Unrealistic.” 12-D and 13-D are worth the price of admission.

A clue that taught me something: 61-A, nine letters, “Traffic flow facilitator.” Does everybody but me know that already?

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Bob Wilber (1928–2019)

Bob Wilber, clarinetist and saxophonist — soprano saxophonist par excellence — has died at the age of ninety-one. The New York Times has an obituary.

Here are just two samples of Wilber’s art: “Nagasaki” (Harry Warren–Mort Dixon) and “Some of These Days” (Shelton Brooks), both recorded in 1976 with Soprano Summit: Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern, soprano saxes; Marty Grosz, guitar; George Duvivier, bass; Fred Stoll, drums. I just looked at my LP, thinking that the liner notes might tell me who’s doing what, but no dice. Fair to say though that the more Bechet-like horn is Wilber’s. If “Bechet-like” means nothing to you, no matter: just listen for instant joy.

“It was an intelligent country”

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

The country is “Kakania,” a name of Musil’s devising. From the novel: “On paper it was called the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, but in conversation it was called Austria.” “Everything and every person in it . . . bore the label of kaiserlich-königlich (Imperial-Royal) or kaiserlich und königlich (Imperial and Royal), abbreviated as “k.k.” or “k.&k.” Yes, suggesting kaka.

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, hosted by our son Ben. Be sure to pause to read the full text of Julia Child‘s letters.

Saving Barnes & Noble

The New York Times profiles James Daunt, founder of Daunt Books and managing director of the Waterstones bookstore chain. Daunt is soon to leave London for New York to serve as the new chief executive at Barnes & Noble:

His guiding assumption is that the only point of a bookstore is to provide a rich experience in contrast to a quick online transaction. And for now, the experience at Barnes & Noble isn’t good enough.

“Frankly, at the moment you want to love Barnes & Noble, but when you leave the store you feel mildly betrayed,” Mr. Daunt said over lunch at a Japanese restaurant near his office in Piccadilly Circus. “Not massively, but mildly. It’s a bit ugly — there’s piles of crap around the place. It all feels a bit unloved, the booksellers look a bit miserable, it’s all a bit run down.

“And every year, fewer people come in, or people come in less often. That has to turn around. Otherwise . . .”
The opening anecdote in this Times piece — three degrees? four? — suggests that Daunt brings to his work a Steve Jobs-like intensity of attention to detail.

Related posts
Whither Barnes & Noble? : A as in Dante : Barnes & Noble & the future : Barnes & Noble, “final bastion of hope”?

“Our civilization”

The narrator speaks of what he calls “our civilization”:

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Can you see why I love this novel?

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

James D. Wallace (1937–2019)

James D. Wallace, professor of moral philosophy, has died at the age of eighty-two. This obituary, which appears to have been written by his family, has a detail that would be very much at home in his son David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest:

When Mr. Wallace was a brand new professor, students actually threw rocks at him, mistaking him for a fellow student sufficiently geeky to carry a briefcase.
James Wallace’s mentor in grad school days was the philosopher Norman Malcolm. Malcolm had been Ludwig Wittgenstein’s student. Wittgenstein–Malcolm–Wallace: two degrees of separation.

I remember once roaming the hallway of the University of Illinois philosophy department with my son Ben. We passed James Wallace’s office. I had read both father (Virtues and Vices) and son, and wondered what, if anything, I might have said had the door opened.

“Tearing America apart”

In The New Yorker, John Cassidy writes that “Donald Trump and lax gun laws are tearing America apart”:

Let us not kid ourselves: in many ways, the United States was failing before Donald Trump took his famous ride down the escalator at Trump Tower. . . .

But what the United States didn’t have, until January, 2017, was a President whose personal instincts and political strategy drive him to inflame the country on a daily basis.
The president of the United States, the ostensible leader of the free world, is a liar, a misogynist, a predator, a white supremacist. I’d say send him back: but where to? We have no time machines. Better: vote him out. After which, I fear, he’ll be sowing hatred and division from the toxic (and Russia-friendly) One America News Network.

[And why is Trump smiling in the posed photographs from Dayton? And why are the people around him smiling? Did the president question doctors and nurses and first responders about the traumatic injuries that assault weapons inflict on the human body? Did he talk to members of law enforcement about the danger such weapons pose to them? And to shooting victims in the hospital: “You had God watching.” Was a divinity picking winners and losers early Sunday morning? I have no more words.]

“Getting real things done”

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

Needs studied

“A Downstate Illinois Dictionary” (Chicago). With fronted o, need + past participle, and positive anymore.

Related posts
Illinoism : “Need worked” : Positive anymore

[“Illinois”? “Ellinois?” I think either pronunciation is acceptable. But only Sufjan Stevens can get away with “Illinoise.”]

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

It Depends

“Pa-pa doesn’t wear diapers.”

Talia is right.

But you never know, Talia. If Pa-pa lives long enough, he might someday wear diapers. It Depends.

[Elaine is Gamma. I who was Ba-pa am now Pa-pa, still with equal stress on each syllable. Language evolves.]

Toni Morrison (1931–2019)

Toni Morrison, novelist, critic, Nobel laureate, has died at the age of eighty-eight. The New York Times has an obituary.

The final paragraphs of Morrison’s Jazz are one of my favorite things in all literature. Getting a kick from these paragraphs requires, really, reading all that precedes them. So I’ll share these paragraphs while preserving a mystery:

Toni Morrison, Jazz (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992).

Other Morrison posts
“Hi” vs. “hello” : Slow down and read : “Undercover whispers” : “Why not ghosts”

Dad, i.m.

My dad, James Leddy, died four years ago today. He’d have been ninety-one this year, climbing to ever higher and more dangerous altitudes.

In telephone conversations my dad used to bring up the names of old-time film stars and bit players for me to look into online. He’d always want to know if those under investigation were “still around.” Almost always, they were not.

In 2016, I encountered this passage, attributed to John Chrysostom, but easy enough for a non-believer to agree with: “Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.” Dad, you’re still around.

Here is what I wrote after my dad died.

Monday, August 5, 2019

What another president has to say

“Do something!”

Jennifer Rubin, writing in The Washington Post:

Trump is uniquely unsuited to the moment not only because he lacks empathy and decency. If we as a country truly want to speak with one voice and condemn hate, we must collectively throw him out of office. He’s the largest, loudest megaphone for white nationalism and for anti-immigrant fervor. He’s an implacable opponent of serious gun safety legislation. He is not merely in the way. He is the problem.
And if other politicians who hear the chant of “Do something!” respond by doing nothing, it’s up to voters to do something: to organize, donate, vote, and throw those politicians, too, out of office.

“The Case of the Purloined Prairie”

Here is a fifth (and almost certainly final) piece of Lassie fan-fiction. I’m thinking of it as distraction, diversion, respite. Click on each image for a slightly larger page. Enjoy.

All OCA Lassie posts (Pinboard)

Four more Lassie stories
“The ’Clipse” : “The Poet” : “Bon Appétit!” : “On the Road”

[The odd naming conventions for the Masonic characters — Mason, Paul Drake, Della — are my invention. “California”: wherever Calverton is, it’s not in California. “Statues of elimination”: not a typo. The “Juliett” of the NATO phonetic alphabet puzzles me too.]

Sunday, August 4, 2019

On Louis Armstrong’s birthday

[“Musician Louis Armstrong with neighborhood kids.” Photograph by John Loengard. Queens, New York, 1965. From the Life Photo Archive.]

From “Our Neighborhood” (c. 1970):

When my wife Lucille + I moved into this neighborhood there were mostly white people. A few Colored families. Just think — through the (29) years that we′ve been living in this house′ we have seen just about (3) generations come up on this particular block — 107 Street between 34th + 37th Ave. Lots of them have grown up — Married′ had Children. Their Children + they still come and visit — Aunt Lucille + Uncle Louis.

Louis Armstrong, in His Own Words, ed. Thomas Brothers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).
Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901. Columbia University’s WKCR is playing Armstrong today.

In light of current events, I’ll borrow from something I said I said to my students when I played a recording in class not long after a 2013 mass killing: There are people whose work is to perpetrate suffering, and there are people whose work is to create joy. Musicians engage in that second endeavor.

Nobody more so than Louis Armstrong.

Related reading
All OCA Louis Armstrong posts (Pinboard)

[I’ve followed the editor’s use of the prime for the apostrophe, a mark Armstrong used to convey emphasis.]

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Lester Ruff, broke into four pieces for me: two easier (top-right and bottom-left), two more difficult. The easy pieces each had a fairly blatant giveaway: 17-A, nine letters, “World’s highest paid actress in 2017”; 59-A, eight letters, “Notable who cofounded Cynicism.” A more difficult name, which I’ve heard but don’t think I’ve ever seen in print: 27-D, seven letters, “Axel’s cousin.”

Clue and answer pairs that I especially liked: 32-D, nine letters, “Swell to the max.” 33-D, nine letters, “Mediterranean Diet fare.” 12-D, five letters, “p as in Portsmouth or Plymouth.” Especially nice, that last one.

A clue I consider ill-considered: 14-A, nine letters, “Minor bump in the road.” No, not necessarily, not at all.

And a clue that taught me something: 28-A, fourteen letters, “Billionaires, collectively.” I suppose that clue is a giveaway if you’re a billionaire. Not that billionaires need a giveaway.

No giveaways here for anyone: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, August 2, 2019

“‘Old Town Road’ Hebrew Remix”

The a capella group Listen Up! mixes Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” with the tenth- and eleventh-century prayers “Dror Yikra” and “Yom Shabbaton”: “Old Town Road” Hebrew remix.

Earlier this evening I was singing Thomas Campion’s “There Is a Garden in Her Face” to the tune of “Old Town Road.” Sort of. If the shoe fits, &c.

Recently updated

Things my children no longer say Cold cream got away from me.

Back to church

Ben and I walked up the steps to a church. The service had already begun. We slid into two seats in the last pew. “Please turn to something-something, verse something,” the minister said, too fast for the words to register. I looked at the pew rack and picked up what I thought might be a Bible. It was, sort of: a small, thick looseleaf binder, with typed passages laminated in hard plastic. Each “page” had countless vinyl-covered paper clips stuck to the side — a colorful display.

The minister was walking up and down the center aisle, looking at his congregants. When he got to our row, he stopped. “You should be a fine student of Scripture,” he said to me. “But you’re a class clown.” “Actually,” I said, “I’m a pretty serious person. But I try to add a certain lightness.” I was in trouble because the day before I had devised a mnemonic to remember the name of a battle — something to do with a tank wearing a petticoat.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

[I suspect that Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities has something to do with this dream. At least the blue, pink, and green Post-its running down the side of my copy do. The petticoat-wearing tank seems to me related to the increasingly military cast of the novel’s salon-based Parallel Campaign.]

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, hosted by our son Ben. With 1990 footage of Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell and “an unaired introduction from a familiar face.”

[The circle of life: in 2004 our fambly met the person who introduced Bell. And Ben went on to earn a graduate degree from Harvard.]


Writing a letter while boiling potatoes for potato salad.

But I know that’s not what “the age” demands.

Epstein and Pinker again

Two more thoughts about this exchange between Jeffrey Epstein and Steven Pinker, reported in The New York Times:

At one session at Harvard, Mr. Epstein criticized efforts to reduce starvation and provide health care to the poor because doing so increased the risk of overpopulation, said Mr. Pinker, who was there. Mr. Pinker said he had rebutted the argument, citing research showing that high rates of infant mortality simply caused people to have more children. Mr. Epstein seemed annoyed, and a Harvard colleague later told Mr. Pinker that he had been “voted off the island” and was no longer welcome at Mr. Epstein’s gatherings.
The Survivor metaphor is either decidedly careless or decidedly purposeful, given that Epstein owns an island, Little St. James Island, that’s prominent in his career of exploitation and trafficking. But also, though I might be stating the obvious: according to the account in the Times, it was Epstein who walked away from Pinker, not Pinker who walked away from Epstein.

A related post
Epstein and Pinker

[For clarity: I mean walking away metaphorically.]

A debate review

Hank Stuever, television critic, writing in The Washington Post:

Having subjected us to two nights of garishly adorned, overproduced, conflict-obsessed live “debates” among a field of 20 Democratic hopefuls (its own delusional gridlock of egos), CNN and the Democratic National Committee summoned the worst aspects of some of TV’s most popular genres and visual tropes.

The overall tone, of course, was cable-news alarmism, but the debates also resembled those celebrity-packed, prime-time game shows that litter the schedule all summer. One also got wafts of the blaring bombast of professional football broadcasts, and, yes, the stage-managed awkwardness of the lesser styles of reality TV.

Domestic comedy

[Elaine singing.]

”Carhartt pants, Carhartt hat, Carhartt logo front and bat.”

Yes, she’s married to a Carhartt man, sort of. Meaning sort of a Carhartt man, not sort of married.

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard) : Carhartt B18 : Carhartt B324

Crossover candidate

This MyPillow commercial keeps running through my head, but with a different pitch: “Hey, you’re that guy!” ”The thousand-dollar-a-month guy!” The time is running out for Andrew Yang to make this pitch.

[“MyPillow”: must everything be camel-cased?]

Wednesday, July 31, 2019


It ain’t over till it’s over, but I’m pretty confident that Elizabeth Warren has already won tonight’s debate.

Epstein and Pinker

Whenever I think reality can’t get any worse, along comes a headline. Like, say, this one from The New York Times: “Jeffrey Epstein Hoped to Seed Human Race with His DNA.” Really. Read if you dare.

An exchange between Epstein and Steven Pinker recounted in this article caught my attention:

At one session at Harvard, Mr. Epstein criticized efforts to reduce starvation and provide health care to the poor because doing so increased the risk of overpopulation, said Mr. Pinker, who was there. Mr. Pinker said he had rebutted the argument, citing research showing that high rates of infant mortality simply caused people to have more children.
I just left a comment at the Times:
It’s striking that we don’t hear Pinker telling Epstein that withholding food and health care from poor people is cruel, immoral, depraved. Instead Pinker rebuts the argument with statistics. The lack of moral outrage here speaks volumes about how Epstein found audiences and allies in academia.
And I have to wonder: what if research showed the opposite, that high rates of infant mortality caused people to have fewer children? Would that make withholding food and health care appropriate? I can only repeat what I wrote in my comment: The lack of moral outrage here speaks volumes about how Epstein found audiences and allies in academia.

Related reading
All OCA Steven Pinker posts (Pinboard)

[Good grief: my comment, five minutes old, is now a “NYT Pick.”]

Mingus and Brubeck

“I see you got here first,” says an unidentified musician. And Charles Mingus replies: “Yeah, baby, and I’ll be the last one to leave.”

[Click for a larger view.]

Mingus and Dave Brubeck appear briefly in All Night Long (dir. Basil Dearden, 1962), a reimagining of Othello. The two musicians are among those gathered to celebrate the first wedding anniversary of pianist Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) and singer Delia Lane (Marti Stevens). Mingus, who’s there from the get-go, has a few quick lines early on before disappearing from the film. Brubeck leads a small group in his “It’s a Raggy Waltz.” At another point, an offscreen band that might include Mingus is playing his “Peggy’s Blue Skylight.” Near the film’s end, Mingus and Brubeck have a few seconds duetting. I thought they might be improvising on Mingus’s “Boogie Stop Shuffle.” But no — it’s Mingus’s “Non-Sectarian Blues.” The few seconds in the film seem to be from this performance, right down to Mingus’s “Yeah, baby” at the 2:04 mark.

[File under Wait, what? And click for a larger view.]

Elaine has written about the film at greater length. All Night Long is available from the ever-rewarding, ever-surprising Criterion Channel.

Related reading
All OCA Charles Mingus posts (Pinboard)

Sebald exhibitions

In Norwich, England, two exhibitions mark what would have been W.G. Sebald’s seventy-fifth birthday. Lines of Sight: W.G. Sebald's East Anglia has “celebrated artworks, curious objects, archive material and the author’s own, unseen photographs.” And W.G. Sebald: Far away — but from where? has previously unseen photographs related to Austerlitz, source materials for the images in Vertigo, and visual art made in response to Sebald’s work.

Related reading
All OCA W.G. Sebald posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

College these days

You can find nuance in this piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education if you like, but here’s the bottom line: a professor invited his students to read a book — a “physical book” — for extra credit. With the breathless line “Our students are multitasking masters.” And a takeaway: “Reading a print book, it turns out, is actually enjoyable.”

Books in college? What an intriguing idea! As the poet said, I guess I just wasn’t made for these times.

Not competent, not well

Our tax dollars at play.

I wondered this morning what might happen if network news broadcasts were to devote a chunk of each night’s broadcast to a word-for-word reading of the day’s presidential tweets: no funny voices, just straightforward reading. Would that sober up at least a few people? If you had a close relation who carried on in this way, you’d want to intervene.

Eat a peach?

J. Alfred Prufrock’s “Do I dare to eat a peach?” makes sense as a trivialized version of his “overwhelming question” and as a speculation about transgression and forbidden fruit. “No, thank you, I don’t think I should,” Prufrock might have said to the woman in the garden. And then there’s the messy juiciness of peach-eating, perhaps a painful thought for one who is painfully self-conscious.

But it may be worse than that. Imagine trying to eat a peach, or even an apple or an orange, in the manner described in Mrs. Humphry’s Etiquette for Every Day (London: Grant Richards, 1904):

However sharp or strong the dessert knife might be, this procedure seems (to me, anyway) to guarantee Prufrockian angst. Either that or Three Stooges hijinks.

In 1914, after protracted discussion, Grant Richards published James Joyce’s Dubliners. T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” appeared in Poetry in 1915.

Fast software, best software

Craig Mod: “Fast software is not always good software, but slow software is rarely able to rise to greatness.” Mod praises the Mac app nvALT, “the fastest piece of text cataloging software” he’s used. At the bottom of the heap: iTunes, “the absolute nadir of software clunkery.”

[Found via Michael Tsai.]

Monday, July 29, 2019

“Only one head, his own”

The “woman-killer” Christian Moosbrugger in his cell:

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Reminds me of someone — I just can’t put my finger on it, or him.

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

The Honeymooners and Zippy

[“Meanwhile, at 328 Chauncey Street.” Zippy, July 29, 2019.]

The Flintstones, natch. But Seinfeld? If, as Ralph explains, he’s George, and Norton is Kramer, and Elaine is Alice, where’s Jerry? Down at the Gotham Bus Depot? In Trixie’s arms?

Related reading
All OCA Honeymoooners posts : Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Also saying what must be said

From an opinion piece by Clarence J. Fluker, C. Kinder, Jesse Moore, and Khalilah M. Harris, co-signed by 145 more staff members of the Obama administration. This piece was published in The Washington Post this past Friday, before Donald Trump began telling Elijah Cummings (Democrat, Maryland-7) to go back to Baltimore:

As 149 African Americans who served in the last administration, we witnessed firsthand the relentless attacks on the legitimacy of President Barack Obama and his family from our front-row seats to America’s first black presidency. Witnessing racism surge in our country, both during and after Obama’s service and ours, has been a shattering reality, to say the least. But it has also provided jet-fuel for our activism, especially in moments such as these.

We stand with congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, as well as all those currently under attack by President Trump, along with his supporters and his enablers, who feel deputized to decide who belongs here — and who does not. There is truly nothing more un-American than calling on fellow citizens to leave our country — by citing their immigrant roots, or ancestry, or their unwillingness to sit in quiet obedience while democracy is being undermined.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Victor Blackwell says
what must be said

Today’s Saturday Stumper

I’m tiring of the word difficult as a descriptor of the Saturday Stumper. So I’ll say that today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, was difficile — at least for me. How do you say “at least for me” in Italian?

I began in the midwest with 29-D, ten letters, “Here’s something to think about,” not sure about the answer, obviously, but pretty sure that it might be right. (It was, mostly.) That answer gave me 45-A, seven letters, “Major influence on Matisse.” Then I saw 38-A, seven letters, “Scholar who debated Luther.” Ah, a random obvious answer that took me back to college reading. But then things became more difficile.

Choice quality: 6-D, four letters, “Servers with squad goals.” 7-D, five letters, “Spirit of fulfillment.” 51-D, five letters, “Rolls at the ballpark.” 52-A, five letters, “Hash tag.” And my favorite: 30-A, seven letters, “Come to question?” How might those clues might be translated into Italian? I lift my hands and shoulders and shrug.

No spoilers: the answers, in English, are in the comments.

Robert Musil in the Times

“No culture can rest on a crooked relationship to truth”: Robert Musil, quoted by Roger Cohen in a New York Times column. Cohen quoted a longer version in a 2018 column:

That which we call culture presumably does not directly have the concept of truth as a criterion, but no culture can rest on a crooked relationship to truth.
The source for this passage (translator uncredited) is not easy to find. Cohen references printed matter accompanying a 2018 art exhibition, Before the Fall: German and Austrian Art of the 1930s. Searching for the longer or shorter passage or any assortment of key words yields Cohen’s columns and little more. I decided to search for musil and kultur and wahrheit in Google Books, and that’s where I found the source. The passage is part of a much longer sentence:
was wir Kultur nennen, wohl nicht unmittelbar den Begriff der Wahrheit zum Kriterium hat, doch aber keine Kultur auf einem schiefen Verhältnis zur Wahrheit ruhen kann.
This passage appears in notes for a talk Musil gave in Paris, in July 1935, to the First International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture. The words bear repeating in translation:
That which we call culture presumably does not directly have the concept of truth as a criterion, but no culture can rest on a crooked relationship to truth.

I found another translation, by Burton Pike and David S. Luft, Precision and Soul: Essays and Addresses (1995), a gathering of Musil’s non-fiction. This volume makes clear that the passage comes from Musil’s notes, not from the talk itself:
what we call culture is not directly subservient to the criterion of truth; but no great culture can rest on a distorted relationship to truth.
Related reading
All OCA Robert Musil posts (Pinboard)

Hi-tems in a series

[Hi and Lois, July 27, 2019.]

Looks like Hi has been reading Bruce Ross-Larson’s Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words (1982). See this post for an explanation.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Friday, July 26, 2019

About retronyms

“An unexpected delight of summer”: Caren Lissner writes about retronyms.

As an acoustic guitarist, I like retronyms. Thanks, Murray.

Related posts
Old-Fashioned : “Snail Mail,” 1968

“Buddha, Gautama”

General Stumm von Bordwehr has been attending meetings of the Parallel Campaign and is trying to instill order into the discussion of great ideas. He’s outlined the main ones:

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s “Relax and Enjoy Your Garden,” the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, hosted by our son Ben. Bonus: puns.

Hi and Lois negation watch

[Hi and Lois, July 25, 2019. Click for a larger view.]

Let’s overthink it a little, long enough to realize that Ditto’s “did” really means that he did not take the sunscreen:

“I told you not to drive without your license.”

“I did [drive without a license].”
So in the second panel, Ditto has to reply “I didn’t. I just forgot,” &c., which would turn today’s strip into a mess of negations: “I didn’t [not go out without sunscreen].” The problem can be avoided by assigning Lois a new line to read:

[Hi and Lois revised, July 25, 2019. Click for a larger view.]

Am I really overthinking it? I don’t think so. I think of Ernie Bushmiller laboring over every word.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Winehouse and McTell

Two especially affecting episodes of the BBC podcast Soul Music : Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London.”

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

“By our people, through our franchise, and not by some
hostile foreign power”

House Intelligence Committeee chair Adam Schiff (Democrat, California-18), in his opening statement this afternoon, addressing Robert Mueller:

Your report laid out multiple offers of Russian help to the Trump campaign, the campaign’s acceptance of that help, and overt acts in furtherance of Russian help. To most Americans, that is the very definition of collusion, whether it is a crime or not.

They say your report found no evidence of obstruction, though you outline numerous actions by the President intended to obstruct the investigation.

They say the President has been fully exonerated, though you specifically declare you could not exonerate him.

In fact, they say your whole investigation was nothing more than a witch hunt, that the Russians didn’t interfere in our election, that it’s all a terrible hoax. The real crime, they say, is not that the Russians intervened to help Donald Trump, but that the FBI had the temerity to investigate it when they did.

But worst of all, worse than all the lies and the greed, is the disloyalty to country, for that too, continues. When asked, if the Russians intervene again, will you take their help, Mr. President? Why not, was the essence of his answer. Everyone does it.

No, Mr. President, they don’t. Not in the America envisioned by Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton. Not for those who believe in the idea that Lincoln labored until his dying day to preserve, the idea animating our great national experiment, so unique then, so precious still — that our government is chosen by our people, through our franchise, and not by some hostile foreign power.

This is what is at stake. Our next election, and the one after that, for generations to come. Our democracy.

This is why your work matters, Mr. Mueller. This is why our investigation matters. To bring these dangers to light.

“I take your question”

Robert Mueller’s “I take your question” is the most gentlemanly “Go fuck yourself” I’ve ever heard.

A joke in the traditional manner

The New York Times reports that “People find corny jokes funnier when they are paired with laughter.” Research has shown!

Here’s one Elaine and I worked up while walking: Did you hear about the shape-shifting car?

No spoilers. The punchline is in the comments. Please pair it with laughter.

More jokes in the traditional manner The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : 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 dad was making such jokes long before anyone called them “dad jokes.”]

Masonic Toad

[“The Case of the Avaricious Amphibian.” Zippy, July 24, 2019.]

Mr. the Toad (or just “Mr. Toad” in today’s strip) has good taste in television.

Related reading
All OCA Perry Mason and Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[You can read Zippy daily at Comics Kingdom.]