Sunday, June 30, 2019

Spotted on a walk



Yes, spotted on Friday. Spotted. We placed this lost tiger leopard cub right in the middle of the sidewalk, so that any searcher would also spot it. Yesterday the cub was gone.

Thanks to Fresca for pointing out that it’s a leopard.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

“Western-style liberalism”

From The Washington Post:

As the news conference wore on, Trump seemed to confuse a broader discussion of the fight over global governance with his personal grievances against Democrats.

When a reporter asked if the president agreed with Putin’s suggestion, in a recent newspaper interview, that “Western-style liberalism” was in decline, Trump had another thing in mind.

He criticized the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, which he said are “sad to look at” because they are “run by liberal people.”
I’d say that what’s sad to look at is the ignorance on display here. Compounded by cognitive decline?

*

The full exchange (with Peter Baker of The New York Times) is even worse. Thanks, C-SPAN:

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Thank you, Lester Ruff — that name sounds so much like something from a Nabokov novel; it must be a pseudonym, don’t you think? — for a challenging and enjoyable Newsday Saturday Stumper. It begins with a giveaway, just enough to inspire a mistaken sense of confidence: 1-A, six letters, “Big name in parliamentary procedure.” Which leads to another giveaway, 1-D, eight letters, “Tried to catch.” And then the ground steepens in all directions.

Some unusual clues:

From the Department of Lifelong Learning: 8-D, eight letters, “Device in a ‘busting miles’ crime.” An easy answer, but I didn’t know it’s called “busting miles.”

From the Department of Dimly Recalled Trivia: 9-D, five letters, “Seemingly indecisive poet.” That name too sounds like something from Nabokov.

And from the Department of Faintly Dated Foods: 46-D, six letters, “Meat served with pancakes.”

The clue and answer pairs I liked best, because they’re so fiendish: 13-D, six letters, “India and Pakistan have one.” And 38-D, eight letters, “‘Pygmalion’ lead character.” Eight? Uh, DOOLI’L’?

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Masonic grammar

“I didn’t know whom to believe!” Nellie DuBois (Jeanette Nolan), on the witness stand, in the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Betrayed Bride” (October 22, 1964). So strange to hear the proper (and now stilted-sounding) whom on TV.

Related reading
All OCA Perry Mason posts (Pinboard) : “Whom are we kidding?”

Friday, June 28, 2019

Feet on the move

The Sunset Foot Clinic is leaving Silver Lake. And with it will go a famous happy foot/sad foot sign with a connection to David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King.

Thanks, Seth.

A podcast recommendation

“John Green reviews facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale”: The Anthropocene Reviewed. Each episode is a pair of essays on seemingly unrelated topics. But only seemingly. See, for instance, “Lascaux Paintings and the Taco Bell Breakfast Menu.” Or for unexpected emotional resonance, “Googling Strangers and Kentucky Bluegrass.”

[The first person I heard use the word Anthropocene: Van Dyke Parks.]

“Here are horses!”

Count Leinsdorf’s horses:


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

Related reading
All OCA Robert Musil posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Todd

Chris Christie, on The Late Show just now: “Please, God, can we say goodbye to Chuck Todd?”

A plea that a person of any political persuasion can endorse.

[The next day: I had it as “get rid of.” Wrong.]

2020

Harris–Buttigieg.

Language debate

Re: tonight’s Democratic debate: if candidates are going to speak in languages in addition to English, Pete Buttigieg will rule.

I’m not sure what I think about last night’s speaking in Spanish. With Julián Castro, it seemed a fitting expression of identity. With Beto O’Rourke, it seemed like show-offy pandering. With Cory Booker, it seemed like a way to one-up O’Rourke. The look on Booker’s face as O’Rourke began his first (non-)answer in Spanish: hilarious.

[The correct answer to the question of how many languages Pete Buttigieg can speak is the answer Sarah Palin gave to a question about how many magazines and newspapers she reads: “All of ’em, any of ’em.”]

“Youth and sardines”

Jean, a painter (Daniel Gélin), and Joséphine, a model (Simone Simon), are breaking for lunch — some nice fish. Big fish? Jean asks. Joséphine replies from inside the house.



Jean is disappointed.



Joséphine is pragmatic.



Jean is doubtful.



Joséphine is more cheerful.



As they prepare to eat, Jean is rhapsodic. He never tires of looking at Joséphine, he says. “There’s the most extraordinary grace in your every ordinary gesture,” he tells her. “Leaning toward me, getting into a carriage, raising your arm, reaching out to me, eating sardines.” And:


[Le Plaisir (dir. Max Ophüls, 1952). Click any image for a larger view.]

It must be love.

Related reading
All OCA sardine and sardines in film posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Brief debate thoughts

In her closing statement tonight, Representative Tulsi Gabbard spoke of “ushering in a new century,” &c. It's 2019. What century is she talking about?

Senators Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren seemed to me the plausible candidates in tonight’s debate. But Warren needs to stop prefacing her responses to questions with So. As for Bill de Blasio's self-presentation as an advocate for working people: LOL, LOL.

Literal cream

“It’s going to be interesting to see how the cream of the crop rises to the top”: a voter interviewed on the PBS NewsHour, commenting on the approaching Democratic debate. I like thinking about the metaphorical cream of the crop turning back into literal cream. And rising.

Related reading
All OCA metaphor posts (Pinboard)

No mistakes

Thinking about the typewriters in a typewriter exhibit, I asked my mom, What did you do to correct mistakes? In the 1950s she was an executive secretary. I was hoping to hear some story of office supplies in pre-Wite-Out days.

“To tell you the truth,” my mom said, “I didn’t make mistakes.” Indeed, she was an ace at stenography and typing, leaving the secretarial pool for more rarefied surroundings early on. No mistakes! And, in case you’re wondering, no harassment.

Bic

At an exhibit of typewriters, the typewriters looked like anybody’s typewriters, though they had belonged to Roger Ebert, Hugh Hefner, James Jones, and Carl Sandburg. One surprise: a Bic pen, which looked like anybody’s Bic pen. But it had belonged to Gwendolyn Brooks.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

WWRCS

From Bloomberg:

The Trump administration official in charge of diplomatic protocol plans to resign and isn’t going to Japan for this week’s Group of 20 meetings, where he would have played a sensitive behind-the-scenes role, according to people familiar with the matter.

Sean Lawler, a State Department official whose title is chief of protocol, is departing amid a possible inspector general’s probe into accusations of intimidating staff and carrying a whip in the office, according to one of the people.
A whip! And now I imagine the voice of Richard Cohen: “Still, no one is being whipped and made to work until dead from exhaustion.”

[WWRCS: What would Richard Cohen say?]

Three mistakes

Richard Cohen, writing in The Washington Post, asserts that the “immigrant detention centers” on the southern border are not concentration camps:

The internment centers at the border are bad — granted. People have died in them, some of them children. Sleeping conditions can be harsh, and it was White House policy to separate children from their parents — an unconscionable cruelty so patent that even President Trump backed down. The president himself agreed Sunday that conditions at some centers are “terrible.”

Still, no one is being held for political, ideological or religious reasons. No one is being whipped and made to work until dead from exhaustion. There is no crematorium
— and I’ll stop quoting right there.

Cohen makes three mistakes. One is to insist that a place must match a particular historical instantiation of the concentration camp to be called a concentration camp. A second is to minimize the horror of a present reality by the use of the word still. A third is to use still to introduce the utterly fallacious assertion that “no one is being held for political, ideological or religious reasons.” Of course the people being held on the southern border are being held for political and ideological reasons. They have been conscripted as extras in a theater of cruelty whose purpose is to gratify the inchoate fear and hatred of a racist, xenophobic president’s so-called “base.” The cruelty, as many people have observed, is a feature, not a bug.

The Merriam-Webster definition of concentration camp:
a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard —used especially in reference to camps created by the Nazis in World War II for the internment and persecution of Jews and other prisoners.
And the Oxford English Dictionary definition:
a camp in which large numbers of people, esp. political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labour or to await mass execution.
Either definition is a fair description of our twenty-first-century American “detention centers.” If the best Richard Cohen can do is to say that no one is being whipped, no one is being worked to death, he has chosen to see what is not normal as already normal.

A related post
Masha Dessen on “concentration camp”

[And re: the internment of Japanese-Americans, Cohen says, ”Atrocious, but not a concentration camp.”]

#WithImmigrantChildren

There are many ways to help. Last year I gave money to The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, and now I’m giving again.

The Young Center is too new to have a record at Charity Navigator, but I’ve heard from them just once, in a letter to acknowledge my donation, which makes me think that they don’t devote inordinate funds to further mailings. Their website must be overwhelmed — the only way to donate right now is by check. Fine.

Domestic comedy

“Do we really ‘take in’ exhibits?”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

“Also like a metaphor”


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

Related reading
All OCA Robert Musil posts (Pinboard)

Monday, June 24, 2019

Amazon’s counterfeits

From Jorge Luis Borges to The Linux Command Line: Amazon’s counterfeit-books problem (The New York Times).

Twelve movies

[One to four stars each. No spoilers.]

The Man Who Laughs (dir. Paul Leni, 1928). This film, from a Victor Hugo novel, has everything one might want from a silent. There’s a pathos-filled backstory of a child mutilated, his mouth turned into a perpetually leering grin; another child, blind, whose mother dies in a snowstorm; and a crazed-looking “professor” who takes both children into a traveling wagon. As Gwynplaine and Dea, Conrad Veidt and Mary Philbin play out a touching love story. And for good measure, there’s a jaded, trouble-making aristocrat, the Duchess Josiana, played by Olga Vladimirovna Baklanova, perhaps best known as the evil Cleopatra in Freaks. ★★★★

*

The Magnificent Ambersons (dir. Orson Welles, 1942). This adaptation of a Booth Tarkington novel appears to be a model for every television saga of a wealthy, messy family. But wealthy TV families stay wealthy; this film tells the story of the fall of the house of Amberson. The film is also the story of a city (Indianapolis) and of changes wrought by technology, present here by way of the automotive entrepreneur Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten). Told with great imagination, with narration by Welles and beautiful cinematography by Stanley Cortez, whose stark closeups and shadowy edges give the viewer the feeling of observing a lost world. ★★★★

*

The Children Act (dir. Richard Eyre, 2017). From Ian McEwan’s novel. Emma Thompson is such a good actor: here she plays a judge who must rule whether a minor (almost eighteen) can be compelled to receive a blood transfusion despite his religious objections. But things happen abruptly and oddly: we’re just minutes into the film when the judge’s husband (Stanley Tucci) announces that he wants to have an affair. Further developments in the judge’s public and private lives are both improbable and predictable. ★★★

*

Escape (dir. Mervyn LeRoy, 1940). Robert Taylor, Norma Shearer, and Conrad Veidt star in the story of a visiting American trying to rescue his mother (Alla Nazimova) from a concentration camp in pre-war Germany. The escape plot demands and rewards suspension of belief. Greater interest lies in the Taylor-Shearer-Veidt love triangle, or something triangle. I suspect I’m not the first viewer to suspect that this film had some influence on Casablanca. ★★★★

*

Mr. Skeffington (dir. Vincent Sherman, 1944). I haven’t seen that many Bette Davis films, but right now I’m thinking of this one as her finest. Here she plays Fanny Trellis, a beautiful woman with a social register’s worth of suitors. She marries the beta-male Job Skeffington (Claude Rains) and remains stuck in that marriage, then unstuck, before finally discovering, decades later, what real love is. An unusual element in this film: Skeffington is Jewish, and anti-Semitism, at home and abroad, is a significant element in the plot. ★★★★

*

Somewhere in the Night (dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1946). The plot becomes a little muddled, but who cares? John Hodiak and Nancy Guild (rhymes with wild) star in a superior noir story: GI returning from the war, amnesia, steam baths, train station, night club, duplicitous bartender, police lieutenant who jokes about not wearing a hat when everyone in the movies does, mysterious dangerous woman, less mysterious but at least equally attractive (if not more attractive) helpfui woman, wisecracks and retorts, nightclub owner, fortune-telling gimmick, mental institution, lonely pier, mission house, and honest, I haven’t given away a thing. One of the film’s strengths is a supporting cast full of memorable actors: Whit Bissell, Richard Conte, Fritz Kortner (Pandora’s Box), Sheldon Leonard, Harry Morgan, Louis Mason (the unnamed man in The Grapes of Wrath who’s going back home to starve), Lloyd Nolan, and Houseley Stevenson (the surgeon in Dark Passage). A second strength: John Hodiak’s performance as a man who, like Oedipus, is determined to uncover the truth of his identity, whatever the cost. And a third strength: Nancy Guild’s nightclub singer/caregiver, a cross between Lauren Bacall and Teresa Wright. ★★★★

*

The Brasher Doubloon (dir. John Brahm, 1947). Films made from Raymond Chandler novels remind me of what it must be like to be caught in a three-card monte game: things start out slowly; you can follow the action; and then you’re lost. As I was here. No matter: George Montgomery’s Philip Marlowe is a cocky boor; Nancy Guild as Merle Davis is a private secretary who can’t stand to be touched until Marlowe wins her over. With support from Conrad Janis, Fritz Kortner, Houseley Stevenson. ★★★

*

Young Törless (dir. Volker Schlöndorff, 1966). From Robert Musil’s novel The Confusions of Young Törless, a story of brutalization and sexual humiliation at an Austrian boarding school for boys. The novel (1906) seems to anticipate later historical consequences of indifference and obedience in the face of cruelty. Sixty years later, the film makes one wonder what the boys of this story grew up to become. With a compelling score by Hans Werner Henze. ★★★★

*

The Scapegoat (dir. Robert Hamer, 1959). (dir. Joseph H. Lewis, 1945). From the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Alec Guinness in a dual role as a man who finds himself in a new role in life. The twist, which arrives late in the story, is the why. Would pair well with My Name Is Julia Ross. ★★★★

*

Le Plaisir (dir. Max Ophuls, 1952). From three Maupassant stories, with the author present as a voice in the dark. On screen, all is light and movement, with the camera moving from room to room, window to window, up and down staircases. Plot is of minimal importance here; the first and third stories are anecdotal. In the middle, a warm, funny story of a Parisian madame traveling with her ladies to the countryside for her niece’s first communion. ★★★★

*

L'École des facteurs (dir. Jacques Tati, 1947). A short film with Tati as an indefatigible novice postman. Wonderful physical comedy and sight gags, reminiscent of Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. I must admit: I found my one try at a full-length Tati (Jour de fête) less than satisfying. But this short film is just right. ★★★★

*

Routine Pleasures (dir. Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1986). Partly an exploration of the world of model-train enthusiasts, partly an exploration of the world of film critic and painter Manny Farber. The link between the two worlds seems to be Farber’s idea of “termite art,” though that link is left largely unexplained. The train guys are a delight: rising through hidden doors to survey their layout, descending from on high to touch up land masses, they are as gods. But the film (just eighty minutes) feels interminable. ★★


[Click for a larger god.]

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, June 23, 2019

“Laurie, powl ’em”

Sundry stories:

A many Idle tales are told of Sterne in the Country. Once it is said that as he was going over the Fields on a sunday to preach at Stillington it happened that his Pointer Dog sprung a Covey of Partridges, when he went directly home for his Gun and left his Flock that was waiting for him in the Church, in the lurch.

Another time when he was skaiting on the Car at Stillington, the Ice broke in with him in the middle of the Pond, and none of the Parishioners wou’d assist to extricate him, as they were at variance. Another time a Flock of Geese assembled in the Church Yard at Sutton, when his Wife bawl’d out, “Laurie, powl ’em,” i.e. pluck the quills, on which they were ready to riot and mob Laurie.

*

Sterne’e Popularity at one time arose to that pitch, that on a Wager laid in London that a Letter addressed to Tristram Shandy in Europe shou’d reach him when luckily the Letter came down into Yorkshire and the Post Boy meeting Sterne on the road to Sutton pulled off his hatt and gave it him.

From “Yorkshire Anecdotes,” in The Complete Works and Life of Laurence Sterne (1904).
Related reading
All OCA Laurence Sterne posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, June 22, 2019

“Political Teamsmanship”

“Even if we were all, as Americans, very, very similar people, which we’re not — but even if were, it would be possible for us to see a lot of hatred and animosity between our political teams, simply because they’re teams.” A dispiriting story from WGBH’s Innovation Hub: “Political Teamsmanship.”

Concentration camps

At The New Yorker, Masha Gessen writes about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s characterization of detention facilities for migrants as concentration camps:

It is the choice between thinking that whatever is happening in reality is, by definition, acceptable, and thinking that some actual events in our current reality are fundamentally incompatible with our concept of ourselves — not just as Americans but as human beings — and therefore unimaginable. The latter position is immeasurably more difficult to hold — not so much because it is contentious and politically risky, as attacks on Ocasio-Cortez continue to demonstrate, but because it is cognitively strenuous. It makes one’s brain implode. It will always be a minority position.
As I read only yesterday in The Washington Post, detained migrant children are being held without soap, without toothbrushes, without adequate food, in conditions that make sleep impossible. Those conditions should make sleep impossible for all Americans.

*

Later the same day: The New Yorker has an interview with Warren Binford, a lawyer and law professor who has interviewed children at a Border Patrol “facility” in Texas. An excerpt:
“They told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them described that they only brushed their teeth once. This facility knew last week that we were coming. The government knew three weeks ago that we were coming.”

Today’s Saturday Stumper

If I were using the Romper Room magic mirror with today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, I’d say “I see Walt” (16-A, five letters, “Whitman's Civil War job”). And “I see Edie” (40-A, five letters, “Birth name of Mrs. Soprano’s portrayer”). And then I’d have to ask, “Can I say ‘Mister’ on Romper Room”? That’d be 25-A, five letters, “Sotomayor’s TV inspiration.” I guess I just did.

I liked this puzzle, a lot. Short on names, short on trivia, big on words. Clue and answer pairs I especially liked:

The dowdy 21-D, ten letters, “Campfire entertainment.”

The I-never-heard-of-it 28-D, ten letters, “Encouragement for a homer hitter.”

The homey 36-A, ten letters, “Caruso, by birth.”

The very clever 51-A, five letters, “Totally blocked?”

The clever 52-A, five letters, “Two-way address.”

And the kind of obvious but still clever 56-A, three letters, “Size or three sizes, briefly.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, June 21, 2019

“As if a person had
suddenly materialized”


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

Musil’s understanding of contingency and the formation of an adult identity is eerily similar to Willa Cather’s: see The Professor’s House. The difference is that Cather’s protagonist, Godfrey St. Peter, notices — and in so doing, undoes his life.

Related reading
All OCA Robert Musil posts (Pinboard)
Fluke life (My story of contingency)

50 Things: “Pencil”

From the BBC: the latest episode of Tim Harford’s podcast 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy: “Pencil.” Nothing here that a pencil-lover won’t already know. And the episode treats the pencil not as something that helped make the economy but as something made. But still worth a listen.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

“Scientifically” vs. “just words”

Donald Trump, yesterday: “It’s documented scientifically, not just words.” An odd sentence, in several ways:

It misunderstands science: “knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.” Answers supported by evidence are not necessarily answers to scientific questions.

It bespeaks extraordinary hypocrisy, because Trump so often dismisses science, as in his statements about global warming and vaccinations.

It reduces language to a medium in which anyone can say anything, without evidence, free of any obligation to truth. “Just words”: language as a medium not of inquiry and knowledge but of lies. Of course, that’s the way Donald Trump has treated language for many years.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Moleskine sandwich



Re: ice-cream sandwiches: it occurred to me this afternoon, and not for the first time, that the Moleskine twelve-month hardcover pocket Daily Planner is the ice-cream sandwich of planners.

Related reading
All OCA Moleskine posts (Pinboard)

“Constellations, bacteria,
Balzac, and Nietzsche”

Ulrich, lovesick lieutenant, explains the world to the major’s wife:


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

Related reading
All OCA Robert Musil posts (Pinboard)

Carvel apostrophe


[“Lost in the Stars.” Zippy, June 20, 2019.]

Indeed, it’s Carvel, not Dairy Queen, who can claim the Flying Saucer. So it must have been a Carvel stand that we walked to sometimes in summer. (Yes, it was.) I remember the Saucer’s cookie: like Masonite, without the cakey softness of the typical ice-cream sandwich cookie. Maybe the Flying Saucer cookie kept better in outer space.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A parade of phone booths


[The Brasher Doubloon (dir. John Brahm, 1947). Click for a larger view.]

Six of them, I think, or seven. The proper term of venery for phone booths is parade. Here’s another parade.

Also from this film
An EXchange names sighting : A pocket notebook sighting

An EXchange names sighting:
The Brasher Doubloon


[The Brasher Doubloon (dir. John Brahm, 1947). Click for a larger view.]

Morningstar Elisha Coin Dlr is, alas, already out of business. His name also appears in this pocket notebook. At the Telephone EXchange Name Project, ARizona, BRighton, MUtual, and ROchester all are topics of discussion. Nothing for BUrnside.

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 : 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?

Pocket notebook sighting:
The Brasher Doubloon






[The Brasher Doubloon (dir. John Brahm, 1947). Click any image for a larger view.]

You know you’re in sketchy territory when a plain old pocket notebook is doing duty as address book and storage unit for claim tickets. What’s next to fall from between the pages? An Ace comb? A rare coin?

The Brasher Doubloon is a YouTube find. Still to come from this film: telephone exchange names and a handsome parade of phone booths.

If the name Elisha Morningstar sounds familiar, it’s because the film is adapted from Raymond Chandler’s novel The High Window (1942).

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : The Big Clock : Cat People : City Girl : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dead End : Dragnet : Extras : Eyes in the Night : Foreign Correspondent : Fury : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : Kid Glove Killer : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Ministry of Fear : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : The Palm Beach Story : Perry Mason : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : The Racket : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : La roue : Route 66 : The Small Back Room : The Sopranos : Spellbound : Stage Fright : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : Time Table : T-Men : 20th Century Women : Union Station : Walk East on Beacon! : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window : You Only Live Once

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

“Dictionaries at War”

Merriam-Webster tells the story of the Armed Services Edition of Webster’s New Handy Dictionary: “Dictionaries at War.”

Last month Elaine and I saw two Armed Services Edition paperbacks in the New York Public Library’s Walt Whitman exhibit: Great Poems from Chaucer to Whitman (ed. Louis Untermeyer) and A Wartime Whitman (ed. William A. Aiken). Both with the same tiny format, 5 1/2″ × 3 3/4″.

“An asphalt spring”


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

Related reading
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Got it

Stephen Colbert last night, channeling Donald Trump: “I’ve always said, ‘You can’t trust any poll that doesn’t have a dancer on it.’” And Jon Batiste responded with four bars of Duke Ellington's “Dancers in Love.”

You can hear Colbert’s line and Batiste’s response at the 4:19 mark.

A related post
Colbert, Batiste, and Bill Strayhorn’s “U.M.M.G.”

[How many of these musical comments must I not get?]

Monday, June 17, 2019

Apostrophes in the news

The lyrics site Genius has caught Google swiping its stuff. Daring Fireball quotes from a Wall Street Journal article (behind the paywall):

Starting around 2016, Genius said, the company made a subtle change to some of the songs on its website, alternating the lyrics’ apostrophes between straight and curly single-quote marks in exactly the same sequence for every song.

When the two types of apostrophes were converted to the dots and dashes used in Morse code, they spelled out the words “Red Handed.”
At Daring Fireball, John Gruber mentions Encyclopedia Brown. To my mind, the Genius stratagem is worthy of Alvin Fernald.

Here’s a short video showing Genius’s apostrophes at work.

Lunch


[Life, September 23, 1966. Click for a much larger lunch.]

I went looking for something else and found Lunch. Five things about Lunch:

1. I like the idea of a recipe card, even a virtual one, titled Lunch. File between Breakfast and Dinner, also made with Pepperidge Farm White Bread.

2. I am enough of a child to find the prospect of frankfurter ’n cheese appealing, at least in theory, especially if there’s ketchup. Though the name of the dish should read frankfurter ’n’ cheese: ’n,’ as in rock ’n’ roll.

3. I like the way the carrot sticks resemble fries. A child might be fooled, at least briefly.

4. There’s no good explanation of why the plate and cup in this advertisement rest on what appears to be the tray of a very old high chair. Hot soup in a high chair?

5. HowStuffWorks offers a good explanation of crusts and curly hair. I was always told that eating the crusts puts hair on your chest. Nonsense. What’s not common knowledge: not eating the crusts puts hair on your chest and back.

That’s Lunch.

Grocery’s

Curtis Honeycutt on weird and wonderful practice of adding -’s to the name of a grocery store: Aldi’s, Kroger’s, Meijer’s, &c. He missed my favorite: Jewel’s, which might also be heard as the value-added plural Jewels.

Mac Open Web

Brian Warren’s Mac Open Web, “a collection of open and indie Mac, iOS, and web apps that help promote the open web.” Of the apps listed, I use six: Acorn, BBEdit, Byword, Instapaper, MarsEdit, and Pinboard.

[Via Daniel Jalkut’s Bitsplitting.org.]

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Dad jokes

“Accept no substitutes”: Oscar’s Day No. 2492.

Bloomsday 2019

From “Ithaca,” my favorite episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). In the wee small hours of the morning of June 17, 1904, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus arrive at Bloom’s place, 7 Eccles Street, Dublin:



Bloom, a wily Odysseus, gains entry by climbing over the railing, dropping down into the area, and opening the door to the kitchen. He then walks upstairs and lets Stephen in through the front door. No. 7 was torn down in 1967. The door and its frame were saved.

Other Bloomsday posts
2007 (The first page)
2008 (“Love’s Old Sweet Song”)
2009 (Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses)
2010 (Leopold Bloom, “water lover”)
2011 (“[T]he creature cocoa”)
2012 (Plumtree’s Potted Meat)
2013, 2013 (Bloom and fatherhood)
2014 (Bloom, Stephen, their respective ages)
2015 (Stephen and company, very drunk)
2016 (“I dont like books with a Molly in them”)
2017 (Bloom and Stephen, “like and unlike reactions to experience”)
2018 (“One sole unique advertisement”)

[Bloomsday : “the 16th of June 1904. Also: the 16th of June of any year, on which celebrations take place, esp. in Ireland, to mark the anniversary of the events in Joyce’s Ulysses.” Area : “a sunken court giving access to the basement of a house, separated from the pavement by railings, with a flight of steps providing access.” Definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary.]

Father’s Day

FaceTiming with Rachel and Talia earlier this week, I started whistling for Talia. First, the alphabet song. She smiled and laughed. “Again.” I obliged. “Again.” I obliged. For an encore I whistled “The Wheels on the Bus.” And for a second encore, a little song Elaine and I sing for Talia every time we see her, in person or in pixels.

Rachel said to Talia, “My grandpa whistled for me.” And now I’m the grandpa. Or as Talia says, “bah-pah.”

As Davey McQuinn once said, “Life goes on.” Happy Father’s Day to all.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The magnificent Andersons

Caution: Antenna TV is running a Father Knows Best marathon tomorrow, from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (Eastern). Having seen the entire run, I feel no compulsion to watch. But other people — who knows?

What I know is that there’s more to Father Knows Best than the twenty-first-century viewer might expect to find. I’ll quote from one of my posts about the show:

Yes, Father Knows Best presents a colorless (that is, all-white) world — at least in its first two seasons. And yes, Father Knows Best presents a world in which tradespeople and members of the working class are predictably quaint or wise or deferential or gruff. But Pleasantville it ain’t. Nor is it Leave It to Beaver. The Andersons — Jim (Robert Young), Margaret (Jane Wyatt), Betty (Elinor Donahue), Bud (Billy Gray), and Kathy (Lauren Chapin) — are smart and witty people. They say things that are genuinely funny, often at one another’s expense. They are far from simple and cheerful: Jim is a deeply fallible, poetry-loving father; Margaret, like Jim, is a college graduate, and she struggles with the limitations of life as a “housewife.” The kids are a handful: Betty, histrionically critical; Bud, moody and resentful; Kathy, maniacally energetic and, sometimes, destructive. The Anderson house is filled with books; its residents never (at least in the show’s first two seasons) go to church. I suspect that if Jim and Margaret’s makers had let these characters think about politics, they’d have voted for Adlai Stevenson.
I’m not embarrassed to say it: I like Father Knows Best.

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

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Brad Wilber, was brutally difficult. I started with 18-A, four letters, “Part of every Julian month.” That gave me 2-Down, six letters, “Talk Like a Pirate Day shout,” and I thought I was off to a good start.

But no. Too many odd facts for my taste: 16-A, six letters, “Southernmost OPEC member.” 24-D, five letters, “Mogul Empire capital after Lahore.” 25-A, four letters, “Home of winetrain.com.” 36-D, eight letters, “Stepford creator.” 37-D, eight letters, “Coffee-flavored sponge cake.” 56-A, four letters, “‘Caffeine free’ Pez flavor.” Even when such answers are guessable, as some of those were for me, getting them isn’t particularly satisfying. I dislike clues that look like the obvious result of starting with the answer and finding a fact to go with it. “Southernmost OPEC member”? Like that’ll ring bells? For me, solving this puzzle (one hour and two minutes) sparked little joy.

But two clues I especially liked: 40-D, six letters, “Lack of pitching ability.” And 63-A, seven letters, “Half a court pairing.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Related reading
All OCA crossword posts (Pinboard)

Bloggers blogging

In response to the query “Did you write a blog post TODAY?”:

At 30 Squares of Ontario, J D Lowe wrote about Bill Schopp and Streetcars through the Dowdy World. This post made me look into the history of the interurban line than connected two cities in downstate Illinois, 1904–1927.

At Oscar’s Portrait, George Bodmer drew Oscar’s Day No. 2490, a picture of waiting at the post office while someone shops for the right stamps.

At Musical Assumptions, Elaine Fine wrote about Musical Assumptions in a Free and Open Internet. My favorite sentences: “I always thought that if I worked really hard, my work would be recognized. At Juilliard I learned that if I worked really hard I would be observed by my peers, who would then try to work harder.”

At l’astronave, Fresca “just blogged to say I love you, fellow bloggers who remain!” With several answers as to why she blogs, including this striking one: “Nostalgia makes the present sweeter.”

At Oddments of High Unimportance, Mike shared Kill Sticky, a bookmarklet that removes sticky headers and footers from websites. (Mike, your blog disappeared from my RSS some time ago. Now I have it back.)

And at Slywy, Diane offered a reminder that Pollinator Week is coming up, with a photograph of a bee celebrating with a handstand.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to share a link. Long live the open Internet.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Imaginary call

[This morning: “If I thought anything was incorrect or badly stated, I’d report to the FBI or law enforcement, absolutely.”]

“Hon, get my AG on the phone. And bring me a Diet Coke please. Not too much ice. Thank you. ICE: heh.”

“Hello, Bill? How are you? Thank you. Listen, I thought I should let you know — the oppo from Norway — no, the new one, the one they sent yesterday — yes, it will be helpful to us, very, very helpful. But the second paragraph, the third sentence, there’s something the Norwegians say is a dangling participle. Yes, they call that a dangling participle. Not many people know that. The Norwegians called me about it. And they’re very sorry about it. I just thought I should let you know so that you can take of it. Because it needs to be fixed, and quickly. Yes, and you’re doing it beautifully. Okay? You too. Thank you.”

[Hangs up.]

“Know the Answers”



“What kind of pencil am I using?”



“Hold on — it says right here on the supply form.”



“Yeah, here it is. ‘Mongol.’ Funny name for a pencil, eh?”

In Somewhere in the Night (dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1946), Richard Benedict as “Marine Desk Sergeant” shares the screen with a Mongol. But he shouldn’t need to look at a supply form: the ferrule is the giveaway, if not the name Mongol, printed on the pencil.

The Mongol is my favorite pencil, and I’m always on the lookout.

Related reading
All OCA Mongol posts (Pinboard)

[Click any image for a larger view. And if it doesn’t go without saying, the dialogue in this post is strictly imaginary. You can find this film at YouTube.]

“Did you write a blog post TODAY?”

I like this idea, from Daniel Jalkut, creator of the blogging app MarsEdit:

I’m not on Twitter. But if you write a blog post today, send me the link in a comment, and as long as what you’ve written is not offensive, I’ll put the link in a post. Write. Write as if your blog depended on it.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

B & N, “final bastion of hope”?

Nostalgia for Barnes & Noble:

Barnes & Noble and its defunct competitor Borders were, once upon a time, themselves the disruptors and destroyers, big box stores driving mom-and-pop shops out of business. Now, however, Barnes & Noble is the final bastion of hope, the tiny remnant of an industry that has traded cramped stacks delivering instant gratification for distant warehouses offering you anything your heart desires — albeit 24-48 hours later.
I think that a better bastion of hope is an independent bookstore, one in which the emphasis is on books, not toys, not games, not buy-one-get-one-free cookies. As Calvin Coolidge said, the business of a bookstore is books, or should be.

Related posts
Whither Barnes & Noble? : A as in Dante : Barnes & Noble & the future

“Full of soap, radio frequencies”

Hermine Tuzzi, also known as Ermelinda, also known as Diotima, has discovered in herself “the well-known suffering caused by that familiar malady of contemporary man known as civilization”:


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

Related reading
All OCA Robert Musil posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The limits of simile

Watching Donald Trump respond to reporters’ questions earlier today, I thought, “This is like watching a train wreck.” Except that train wrecks are over quickly and don’t lie. (“No collision.”) They’re honest about the damage they inflict.

Code Red

A downstate-Illinois meteorologist is off the air after criticizing the Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s melodramatic “Code Red Day” weather alerts.

Weather is for taking seriously. But overdramatizing it is a way of life in these parts. Anyone remember this bit? And here’s the full commercial.

Return of the Jed


[Citizen Kane (dir. Orson Welles, 1941).]


[The Magnificent Ambersons (dir. Orson Welles, 1942). Click either image for a larger view.]

If Jedediah “Jed” “Broadway Jed” Leland (Joseph Cotten) is the theater critic, the Indianapolis Daily Inquirer must be a Kane paper. Nicely meta to have Leland’s column appear in The Magnificent Ambersons, in which Joseph Cotten stars as automobile developer Eugene Morgan.

If you click the page of Susan Alexander reportage for a larger view, you’ll see that the Leland/Kane review and the first paragraph of “Many Plaudits” are, indeed, about Susan Alexander’s debut.

[Leland/Kane: Recall that Kane finishes writing the review after firing Leland.]

More red and blue

At Lexikaliker, Gunther has added more red and blue, in the form of a display card holding a dozen Venus Postal pencils. Here is Google Translate’s version. See also an earlier Lexikaliker post about the uses of red and blue pencils, also available in a Google Translate version.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that back in the day “mail was coded with red or blue for routing purposes.” And which color meant what? I wish I knew.

All this red and blue makes me think of a origin story I wrote about a pencil with an unlikely name: National’s “Fuse-Tex” Skytint 516 Red & Blue. Yes, really.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

“Research has shown”

Diana Senechal raised a question at a training session for teachers of English language learners:

“There must be other factors —”

“Research has shown,” the session leader said.

“But how can it be if —”

“Research has shown.”

Before that day, I had thought of research as investigation of uncertainties; now it seemed to put an end to all questions. If research showed something, well, there was nothing you could say; you had to go along with it. “Research has shown” — the phrase struck me with its vagueness, its exaltation of research (regardless of quality), and its use as a mallet to quash discussion.

Diana Senechal, Mind Over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).
I just got this book from the library and went straight to the chapter about “research has shown,” thinking of a friend who has long been skeptical about that mantra. In English studies, “research has shown” might preface a wildly general claim about writing instruction based on a researcher’s (i.e., a teacher’s) experiment with one semester’s classes. Research has shown: end of discussion.

A few passages from Senechal’s Republic of Noise
“A little out of date” : Buzzwords and education : Fighting distraction : Literature and reverence : “Greater seriousness”

“A particular genius”

Ulrich’s friend Walter:


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

Also from this novel
“At least nine characters” : “Constructed like the early stages of the automobile”

Monday, June 10, 2019

Chrissie Hynde plays Mingus

Chrissie Hynde offers an interpretation of Charles Mingus’s “Meditation on a Pair of Wire Cutters” (aka “Meditations on Integration” and “Meditations”). Hynde nicely reimagines one of the piece’s themes, highlighting the element of exotica. But there’s an awful lot missing.

Here’s a 1964 recording from Mingus at Cornell, with Johnny Coles (trumpet), Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet, flute), Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Jaki Byard (piano), Charles Mingus (bass), and Dannie Richmond (drums).

Three Lives & Co. on the sidewalk

Three Lives & Company is selling books from the sidewalk while awaiting approval to reopen after structural repairs.

Three Lives is a great bookstore. Elaine and I are happy to spend big bucks there whenever we visit New York. Well, modestly sized bucks.

Phalanges and phalanxes

The question came into my head when we were walking: are the words phalanges and phalanx related? Because a phalanx is like a whole bunch of phalanges, isn’t it? From Merriam-Webster:

The original sense of “phalanx” refers to a military formation that was used in ancient warfare and consisted of a tight block of soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder, several rows deep, often with shields joined. The word phalanx comes from the Greeks, though they were not the only ones who used this formation. The Greek term literally means “log” and was used for both this line of battle and for a bone in a finger or toe. The word and its senses passed into Latin and then were adopted into English in the 16th century. These days, a “phalanx” can be any arranged mass, whether of persons, animals, or things, or a body of people organized in a particular effort.
The plural form for the arranged mass is usually phalanxes. For bones, phalanges. And if you’re wondering, neither word is related to phallus. M-W has that word covered, so to speak.

Thanks, dictionary.

Overheard

“I only care about three things: the Catholic Church, swimming, and dancing. And I had to give them up”: Little Edie, Edith Bouvier Beale, in Grey Gardens (dir. Albert and David Maysles, 1975).

Why “overheard”? Because I was watching with only cursory attention. And having seen the film before, I didn’t watch to the end. I had to get out of that house.

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Mr. ZIP

Steven Heller writes about Mr. ZIP. With a large likeness of the now-retired public servant.

Related posts
New York 19 : Snail Mail : A ZIP Code promotional film

The red and the blue

At Lexikaliker, Gunther has listed some established uses for two-color pencils: Rot und Blau. Google Translate offers an unbeautiful but readable translation.

*

June 12: More red and blue from Lexikaliker, in the form of Venus Postal pencils. And here’s the Google Translate version.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Nineteen Eighty-Four at seventy

At The New Yorker, Louis Menand writes about why we still read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, published seventy years ago today. Menand says that we’re all Winston Smiths, “knowing that something is wrong, that we are losing control of our lives, but also knowing that we are powerless to resist”:

A trivial example is when we click “I Agree” on the banner explaining our app’s new privacy policy. We did not know what the old privacy policy was; we feel fairly certain that, if we read the new one, we would not understand what has changed or what we are giving away. We suspect everyone else just clicks the box. So we click the box and dream of a world in which there are no boxes to click. A non-trivial example is when your electoral process is corrupted by a foreign power and your government talks about charging the people who tried to investigate this interference with treason. That’s Orwellian. And it’s no longer a prophecy. It’s a headline.
Related reading
All OCA Orwell posts (Pinboard)

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Once again, Frank Longo has made my life difficult — I hope not for the last time. Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper felt like a challenge and a half. I started in the southwest with 49-D, eight letters, “What a cranial nerve serves,” got that section of the puzzle done, moved through the middle to the northeast, then to the northwest, and stumbled around lost for a long time in the southeast. Had I been more familiar with the ingredients of old-timey candy, as in 1-D, six letters, “Morsel in Chunky,” I might have had a different solving experience. But solve I did.

Clue and answer pairs I especially admired: 52-A, eight letters, “Many nicknamed eras.” 56-A, six letters, “Book report of a sort.” And the strange 42-D, five letters, “Tongue depressor?” It’s a lovely answer, when you finally see it.

One odd clue: 35-A, nine letters, “Common romcom feature.” To say that it’s common in romcoms is like saying that songs are common feature of musicals. How about “Hugs and kisses for the camera”?

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

[When did you last see a Chunky?]

Friday, June 7, 2019

Moony

After reading and commenting on student writing for more than thirty years, I’m very good at discerning what a writer may have meant to say. Though Donald Trump said that the moon is part of Mars, I don’t think that’s what he meant to say. I can think of two possible explanations of “of which the Moon is a part”:

1. Trump thinks that the moon orbits Mars. If so, he is, on this point as on so many other points, misinformed.

2. Trump envisions a trip to the moon as part of a long-range project to reach Mars. That’s NASA’s Project Artemis. But you can’t go to Mars from the moon without going to the moon first. If going to the moon is part of getting to Mars, NASA should be talking about going to the moon.

Imagine Trump’s sentences as they might appear in a first-year college essay taking a position on space exploration:
For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon - We did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!
You’d wonder — or at least I would — how the hell this guy ever got into college. But those sentences are the public thoughts of the ostensible leader of the free world.

And as for “doing” “Science!”: “White House blocked intelligence aide’s written testimony saying human-caused climate change could be ‘possibly catastrophic.’” In The Washington Post tonight.

[Mars? I don’t think of the human future as playing out on other planets. Earth’s the right place for love, as the poet said.]

Word of the day: coolth

Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times crossword, by Stu Ockman, traded in rarely used antonyms: couth, gainly, kempt, ocuous, onymous, ruthful. And one more, which was new to me. From Webster’s Second:

coolth (kōōth). n. [cool + 1st -th.] Coolness. Humorous.
Webster’s Third offers a nuanced definition and drops the usage label:
coolth \'külth\ n -S [cool + -th (as in warmth)]: the state or occasion of being cool
The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word to 1547, gives the definition “coolness,” and adds the tags “chiefly literary, archaic, or humorous.” A citation I like, from Tom Taylor (1863): “In pleasant dreams Of English coolth and greenery.”

A later meaning (1748?): “a cold; the common cold. Now rare.” And from 1966:
colloquial (orig. U.S.). Chiefly humorous. The quality of being relaxed, assured, or sophisticated in demeanour or style.
A citation from The Christian Science Monitor (1983): “Music lovers might argue the relative coolth of the newer jazz groups.” Which makes me imagine that in a parallel universe, people might be listening to Miles Davis’s The Birth of the Coolth.

Domestic comedy

“New Age-y at this point is sort of like Old Age-y.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Peanuts and D-Day

As I discovered only after making a post earlier today, Charles Schulz marked D-Day in a number of Peanuts strips. So I looked them up:

1993 June 6
1994 June 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
1996 June 6
1997 June 6
1998 May 31
No D-Day strip in 1999. The last new Peanuts strips appeared in January and February 2000.

Pianos, drinking and non-

Billy Joel: “And the piano sounds like a carnival, / And the microphone smells like a beer.”

Tom Waits: “And the carpet needs a haircut, / And the spotlight looks like a prison break.”

It took me lo these many years to realize that Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” (1973) must have been the jumping-off point for Tom Waits’s “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) (An Evening with Pete King)” (1977). Here is Waits’s studio version, from the album Small Change. My favorite Waits performance of the song is from Fernwood 2 Night (August 1, 1977). In the post-performance interview with Barth Gimble (Martin Mull) and Jerry Hubbard (Fred Willard), Waits plays his part to the hilt.

And of course, in 1939 Earl Hines and His Orchestra recorded “Piano Man,” a Hines composition, no relation.

June 6


[Peanuts, June 6, 1996. Click for a larger view.]

Yesteryear’s Peanuts is this year’s Peanuts.

*

Later in the day: I made a post with links to all the Peanuts D-Day strips.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Madhouse

“This place isn’t a country. It’s a Coney Island madhouse!”

Dialogue from Escape (dir. Melvyn LeRoy, 1940), spoken by Mark Preysing (Robert Taylor), who, in 1936, comes to Germany in search of his actress mother. As he will learn, she is being held in a concentration camp.

Recently updated

The Barrett Watten story, cont. Wayne State’s Graduate Employees Organizing Committee has released a statement.

[Unlike the Avital Ronell story, the Watten story has attracted relatively little interest. How did I notice it? By way of a chance search, prompted by a years-ago interest in (so-called) “language poetry.”]

Schools and TV dinners

Fresca suggested in a comment that virtual schools are to school as TV dinners are to dinner. Right on.

And that made me realize: the TV dinner and the virtual school proceed from the same model: one person, in front of a screen. Get out your laptop, or TV tray; it’s time for “school,” or “dinner.”

“Constructed like the early stages
of the automobile”

There are many questions to be asked about engineers:


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

Also from this novel
“At least nine characters”

Virtual schools

The Washington Post examines the case for the “virtual school.” Conclusion: “It sure sounds good. As it turns out, it’s too good to be true.”

A related post
“Personalized learning”

[A “virtual school” is not a school. And “personalized learning” is utterly depersonalized.]

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

“Which dinner isn’t a Swanson?”

 
[Life, August 22, 1966.]

Click either image for larger servings.

I hadn’t thought about TV dinners in years. And then I listened to an episode of 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy. The Swanson TV Dinner had only slight representation in Life. But, fittingly, there were also commercials.

50 Things

An excellent podcast from the BBC: Tim Harford’s 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy. Each episode (and there are more than fifty) is short and ultra-informative, with a list of sources on the podcast’s website. Concrete, cellophane, TV dinners: what will they think of next?

“At least nine characters”

The narrator says that it’s wrong to “to explain what happens in the country by the character of its inhabitants”:


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

Elaine and I are climbing Mount Musil, in two volumes, no lines, no waiting. See also Mount Proust.

Monday, June 3, 2019

“Qualifiers”


[“Qualifiers.” xkcd, June 3, 2019.]

Personally, I’d suggest not skipping the mouseover text.

How to make an Old Fashioned

Here is a demonstration — apparently not a parody — of how to make an Old Fashioned. Was someone confusing the Old Fashioned with the Mint Julep? Muddled mint, yes. Muddled cherry and orange, no. A tumblerful of bourbon, no.

Here is a more reliable guide to the Old Fashioned:

Shake 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura, then a splash of seltzer, on a lump of sugar. Muddle, add 2 cubes of ice, a twist of lemon peel, and a cherry, if desired. Pour in 1 1/2 oz. of your favorite liquor, stir well and serve. Simple syrup in place of the lump sugar eliminates muddling and makes a much smoother drink and if simple syrup is used, you don’t need the seltzer.)

The Old Fashioned family circle is a large one. Try Rye, Bourbon, Scotch, Rum, Apple or Irish — each one represents a cordial invitation to the appetite.

Professional Mixing Guide: The Accredited List Of Recognized And Accepted Standard Formulas For Mixed Drinks. (Elmhurst, NY: Angostura-Wuppermann, 1961).
I’ve had this little (4 11/16 × 2 3/4) mixing guide forever. I think of it as a passport to a lost world, one in which people ordered a Gin Daisy or a Jack-in-the-Box and bartenders knew what to do. I certainly wouldn’t. But I do know how to make an Old Fashioned.

Twelve movies

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

The Green Book (dir. Peter Farrelly, 2018). Two excellent actors — Mahershala Ali as the pianist Dr. Donald Shirley, Viggo Mortensen as Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, Shirley’s driver on a 1962 tour through the American south — stuck, alas, in a dreadful movie, full of clichés and cartoonish moments that permit no real consideration of the color line in American culture, or of what it might mean to live as a gay man on one side of that line. There’s a cringe-inducing insistence that each of the principals has something to learn from the other: “the doc” teaches Tony how to write good letters home; and Tony teaches “the doc” about fried chicken and R&B. What might be the corniest moment of all: Shirley, still in tails, sits down in a roadhouse to play Chopin before jamming the blues with the house band. It’s unfathomable to me that this film won the Oscar for Best Picture. ★★

*

Drive a Crooked Road (dir. Richard Quine, 1954). This was the Criterion Channel’s Columbia noir that I least looked forward to, thinking it would be about race cars. And it is, but only sort of. Mickey Rooney plays Eddie Shannon, a short, shy, horribly scarred auto mechanic and aspiring racer; Dianne Foster is Barbara Mathews, the glamorous woman who uses her influence to pull Eddie into a criminal scheme. Dig the mid-century modern interiors of the big party scene. ★★★

*

The Burglar (dir. Paul Wendkos, 1957). Not an especially good film, but an interesting one. Dan Duryea (b. 1907, playing a man who’s supposed to be thirty-five) engineers a jewel heist full of complications. Along
for the ride: an emoting gemologist, a dumb lug, and Jayne Mansfield (b. 1933) as a young woman who’s supposed to be just a few years younger than Duryea. Psychological hokum, snappy patter, location shots of Atlantic City and Philadelphia, and Martha Vickers in her next-to-last film appearance. ★★★

*

Experiment in Terror (dir. Blake Edwards, 1962). The experiment begins about twenty seconds after the opening credits end, and it never lets up, as a rapist and murderer (Ross Martin) presses a bank teller (Lee Remick) into stealing $100,000 — or else. Glenn Ford leads the FBI effort to catch the culprit. With excellent cinematography by Philip H. Lathrop, an atmospheric score by Henry Mancini, and strong HItchcock overtones (the bathroom and the ballpark). And in the Department of Wait, What?: this is the film that Blake Edwards directed just after making Breakfast at Tiffany’s. ★★★★

*

If Beale Street Could Talk (dir. Barry Jenkins, 2018). A story of familial love and romantic love, with two young people, Tish and Fonny (KiKi Layne and Stephan James), tangled in the cruelties and falsehoods of a criminal-justice system — make that a criminal justice-system. If Hollywood wanted to honor a film about color and American culture, this film, not The Green Book, would have been the appropriate choice. Or do films about color have to arrive at feel-good endings? The story this film tells (from James Baldwin’s novel) broke my heart. ★★★★

*

This Happy Breed (dir. David Lean, 1944). From a play by Noël Coward. The life of a married couple (Robert Newton and Celia Johnson), their children, friends and relations, joys and sorrows, minor and major, from 1919 to 1939. Very British (see the title, from Richard II), with stiff upper lips and many cups of tea. I wonder if this film might have been a secret influence on It’s a Wonderful Life: the Charleston scene got me thinking about that. ★★★★

*

The Room (dir. Tommy Wiseau, 2003). Rebecca Doppelganger, in Ghost World, evaluating the band at a graduation party: “This is so bad, it’s almost good.” Enid Coleslaw’s response: “This is so bad it’s gone past good and back to bad again.” Lacking the pep and pluck of an Ed Wood production, Tommy Wiseau’s cult film (starring Tommy Wiseau) seems to me just bad — banal, inane, stilted, witless, the product of a delusion of grandeur (see the moments of homage to James Dean and Orson Welles). This mysteriously financed story of love and friendship and betrayal is like dull outsider art. ★

*

The Disaster Artist (dir. James Franco, 2017). The story of The Room, with James and Dave Franco as Tommy Wiseau and best friend Greg Sestero (Johnny and Mark in The Room). Even a viewer who fails to see the appeal of The Room can enjoy this portrait of an auteur realizing his vision. My favorite moments: the movie premiere and the hilariously exact recreations of scenes from The Room. My favorite line, spoken by the auteur: “I have to show my ass or this movie won’t sell.” ★★★

*

Searching (dir. Aneesh Chaganty, 2018). A satisfying thriller with both predictable and unexpected and twists, as a father (John Cho) seeks clues to his daughter’s disappearance (Michelle La) by looking at what’s on her laptop and in her social media accounts. What makes the film unique is its approach to narrative: at every moment we ’re watching something on a screen: Facebook, Instagram, news reports, FaceTime calls, text messages, Google searches, YouTube videos, family photographs. It’s a highly inventive way to tell a story, one in which Set as Desktop Picture or Move to Trash takes on new and surprising meaning. Major props to Juan Sebastian Baron, Nicholas D. Johnson, and Will Merrick, the film’s cinematographers. ★★★★

*

On the Basis of Sex (dir. Mimi Leder, 2018). The early life and trials (pun intended) of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones). A reductive story of triumph that feels like a made-for-TV movie, with a blue and brown palette and lots of cigarette smoke to let us known we’re in “the past.” Justice Ginsburg deserves better, and she got it: the documentary RBG (dir. Betsy West and Julie Cohen, 2018). Watch that instead. ★★

*
Moonrise (dir. Frank Borzage, 1948). What a strange movie, we thought, before realizing that a Criterion Channel glitch was slowing down the audio. But even with proper playback, it’s a gloriously strange movie, a bewildering love story set against a backstory of a murderous parent (“bad blood”). Dane Clark and Gail Russell star, but minor characters steal the show: Rex Ingram as Mose, a sage hunter straight out of Faulkner, and Harry Morgan as Billy Scripture, a mute man fascinated by mirrors and pocket knives. Hurrah for the Criterion Channel: here’s the real meaning of that overused word curation. ★★★★

*

Watch on the Rhine (dir. Herman Shumlin, 1943). It’s 1940 in Washington, D.C., and the story is something like Casablanca in reverse, though you’ll have to watch to understand (no spoilers). Bette Davis, Paul Lukas, and George Colouris are outstanding as the leads. The film moves very slowly at first, with some pleasant scenes of train travel; the tension later rises sharply, though not quite enough to counteract the deliberate dialogue and overall staginess. Screenplay by Dashiell Hammett, from the play by Lillian Hellman. ★★★

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

[There’s next to nothing said about in The Green Book about The Negro Motorist Green Book itself. If you’re curious, the New York Public Library can help. ]