Saturday, August 31, 2019

The war on spelling

“The president’s supporters don’t mind his linguistic slips, but lexicographers and grammarians worry about the permanent effect on language”: Bryan Garner and others offer their thoughts about the war on spelling (The New York Times).

But no one quoted in this piece mentions what seems to me to be obvious: that Donald Trump’s errors in spelling, grammar, and syntax suggest a lifetime as, to borrow Kanye West’s self-characterization, “a proud non-reader of books.”

Related posts
Donald Trump’s spelling : “Tapps” : When a “learning style” becomes an ignorance style

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Lester Ruff, looked difficult at first. I started with 50-A, seven letters, “Amadeus playwright,” which gave me a handful of words. And then I found myself reading clues that baffled: 19-A, six letters, “Tree-trunk descriptor”? 48-A, eight letters, “Eisenhower’s favorite author”? 66-A, five letters, “Word related to itself spelled backwards”? But a word here, a word there, and the puzzle proved to be not especially difficult, not especially rough. (Lester Ruff = less rough, at least usually.)

Three clues that I especially liked: 28-D, ten letters, “Collapsible?” 47-D, six letters, “Holler at home.” 64-A, eleven letters, “Makes waiters angry.” I don’t think I’ve heard the answer for that last clue since high school.

One awful pun — unless there’s a meaning I’ve missed: 3-D, four letters, “Man’s first name?” Man, that’s rough.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Valerie Harper (1939-2019)

The actress Valerie Harper, best known as the character Rhoda Morgenstern in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, has died at the age of eighty. The New York Times has an obituary.

I like what Harper is quoted as saying about Rhoda: “Rhoda, like most of us, was a victorious loser.”

Friday, August 30, 2019


My representative in Congress, John Shimkus (R, Illinois-15), has announced that he will not seek reelection. This is the same John Shimkus who has declared that we don’t need to worry about rising sea levels (because of a divine promise not to destroy the world with a flood), who has unwittingly — and favorably! — compared a Republican gubernatorial candidate to Benito Mussolini, who has wondered whether prenatal care should be part of the cost of men’s health insurance, who has called the separation of children from parents at the border an “unfortunate result” of a “broken immigration system,” whose response to a war of tariffs is to say “I’m just a legislator,” whose sole response to a mass shooting is to tweet that “Violence and hate are never the answer,” who fails to show up for debates, and who refuses to meet his constituents in town halls and advises fellow Republican members of Congress to do the same.

Good fucking riddance.

Related reading
All OCA John Shimkus posts

[If you’re reading in a reader, you’ll most likely not see the point of the post title. There’s a line through the name: Shimkus.]

“Who takes what anyone says seriously anyway?”

His Grace the Imperial Liege-Count Leinsdorf is troubled by recent developments in the Parallel Campaign, the public-relations project to celebrate Austria and the Emperor Franz Joseph:

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

This dark passage is the last excerpt from The Man Without Qualities I’m posting. Now that our household has read what was published of the unfinished novel, we have twenty further chapters (withdrawn in galleys) and various drafts and fragments to go. Worth it? Yes.

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

“What’s an ethos?”

General Stumm von Bordwehr just struggled with the idea of will. Now it’s ethos:

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

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)


We last saw General Stumm von Bordwehr trying to instill order into the discussion of great ideas. He’s still struggling:

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

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

Zippy Meadows

Audrey Meadows appears in today’s Zippy. Zippy thinks that her face says “Rage on, Ralph, nothing you do can penetrate my kabuki mask.” Exactly.

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

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest episode of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Turn In, Burn In,” hosted by our son Ben. The episode is devoted to film footage of a 1967 anti-draft protest at Boston Common and Arlington Street Church. Bonus: a Steenbeck machine.

“Apparition in Agathe’s head!”

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

The mere ten pages of Proust that Musil professed to have read must have included the madeleine moment of Swann’s Way. When Proust’s narrator recognizes the taste of madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea, the world of his childhood appears before him; “all of Combray and its surroundings” emerges, “town and gardens alike,” from his cup. Musil offers a grimly comic version: Emma Bovary, this is your life!

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

[Rudolfsgymnasium: not a typo. Quotations from Swann’s Way from Lydia Davis’s translation (New York: Viking, 2002).]

Found in an old pocket notebook

Two details from a talk by Eva Kor:

She outwitted Josef Mengele by taking the thermometer from under her arm to reduce her temperature, gradually, over three weeks.

Near the end of the war, she looked across a frozen river at a girl with braids and a schoolbag.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A compliment

“I see the two of you walking all the time. You both slimmed up tremendous.”

“Thank you!”

We are conspicuous in our walking, because not enough people walk.

“Quantities of genius”

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

See also William Carlos Williams and Wallace Shawn on powders, pencils, mountains, and cigars. And this hardware store, this drugstore, and this other drugstore. Density!

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

A guide to the cigarettes
of Out of the Past

Elaine and I watched Out of the Past (dir. Jacques Tourneur, 1947) a few nights ago and were astonished by the number of cigarettes smoked in the course of the film. Here Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) offers a cigarette to Jeff Markham (Robert Mitchum):


The story goes that Mitchum, who was already absent-mindedly smoking, saved the take with quick thinking. (See this moment at YouTube). A later moment in the film seems to be a premeditated joke, when Jeff pauses after knocking out a nightclub manager to fire up the manager’s lighter and light a cigarette from the manager’s desk before fleeing.

Here, after careful review, is a guide to the cigarettes of Out of the Past:

Joe smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Fisher smokes a cigarette. Joe smokes a cigarette. (“Smoke a cigarette, Joe,” Whit says.) Whit smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. A man in a nightclub smokes a cigarette. A guide to Acapulco smokes a cigarette. Kathie smokes a cigarette. Kathie smokes a cigarette. Someone at a roulette table smokes a cigarette. Whit smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Kathie smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Whit smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Meta smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. A cabbie smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes the cabbie’s cigarette. (“Here, you finish it,” the cabbie says.) Kathie smokes a cigarette. Joe smokes a cigarette. Club manager attempts to light cigar. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Whit’s gambling crony smokes a cigarette. A man outside the municipal building smokes a cigarette. Another man outside the municipal building smokes a cigarette. A man talking with Jim smokes a cigarette. Jim smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jim smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette. Jeff smokes a cigarette.

Thus we have thirty-eight cigarettes and thirty-nine acts of cigarette smoking (via the shared cigarette) in the film’s ninety-seven minutes, or roughly one cigarette every two-and-a-half minutes. The thirty-nine smokes! And there’s one attempted cigar. Jeff smokes seventeen of the cigarettes. Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) is a distant second with four. Whit and Joe Stefanos (Paul Valentine) smoke three apiece. The film has a small non-smoking section, with The Kid (Dickie Moore), Ann Miller (Virginia Huston), Ann’s parents, and Leonard Eels (Ken Niles).

I don’t mean to make light of smoking, which killed Robert Mitchum. But I think that cigarette consumption in this film serves to quietly spoof the conventions of film noir. The Whit-and-Jeff exchange, the lighter-and-cigarette bit, and the smoking talk (“Smoke a cigarette, Joe”; “Here, you finish it”) all point in that direction. There’s also a contrarian touch: Jeff never smokes when he’s sitting alone and drinking. One more detail: on a return trip to the nightclub manager’s office, Jeff tosses a still-lit cigarette on the rug, and a thug rushes to grind it out. Damn those cigarettes.

Related posts
An Out of the Past exchange name : Dueling chin dimples (Douglas and Mitchum)

An EXchange name sighting

[Out of the Past (dir. Jacques Tourneur, 1947). Click for a larger view.]

To my eye this composition looks like a Charles Sheeler painting. But it’s not really a composition at all. That cab has already pulled away from the curb.

TUxedo was indeed a San Francisco exchange, as telephone number-cards attest.

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 : Dark Passage : 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?

Monday, August 26, 2019

Eva Brann on teaching

Eva Brann has been teaching the Great Books curriculum at St John’s College since 1957. I have learned much from her Homeric Moments (2002) and thus picked up Open Secrets/Inward Reflections (2004), the first of her two books of aphorisms and observations.

I’ve found less to admire in this book. At 435 pages, Open Secrets/Inward Reflections is exhausting in its repetitiveness and its willingness to go on; a book a third of this one’s length would be more appealing. And Brann’s perspective is often deeply uncongenial to me: she is suspicious of modernity and youthful protest; she thinks that “ethnicity” gives a person a “specimen look” that disappears when one becomes “American”; she condemns shyness as pathology or a sign of excessive self-regard. What?! Reading this book reminds me, too often, of the unpleasant experience of listening to someone given to making pronouncements, cheerfully, endlessly.

But I’m glad that I stuck around for Brann’s thoughts on education. It’s there that I feel I’m in the company of a kindred spirit — meaning not someone I agree with but someone I can admire and learn from. Here are four samples of Brann on education:

I think of myself — as do my colleagues — neither as a professor nor a scholar, nor even as a teacher, but as one of a company of curators of a community of learning.

A community of learning is people together in one place talking to each other about that which has gone out of time and beyond place.

What is good teaching? Not a performance, though one certainly has a strenuous sense of “being on”; not a broadcast, though where there is a classroom of students one can’t help now and then talking to the air between them. The teacher’s problem then is how to talk with students rather than to them and how to address each student rather than all. But that’s the least of it; listening to them is the real art.

There is an almost voluptuous surrender in the narrow specialization of academics. Some professions are so engrossing or demanding that an exchange of breadth for depth is required. But that a teacher should live with a willfully incomplete humanity? For the mastery of what? For preeminence over whom?

Open Secrets/Inward Prospects: Reflections on World and Soul (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2004).
See also Michael Oakeshott on education as emancipation from “the immediate contingencies of place and time of birth” and Carl Cederström and Michael Marinetto on micro-megalomaniacs in academia. And I still stand by what I wrote in this post: The gold standard, haircuts, and everyone else.

[Brann’s other book of aphorisms and observations is Doublethink/Doubletalk: Naturalizing Second Thoughts And Twofold Speech (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2016).]

“An infinitely interwoven surface”

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

Not an “orderly sequence of facts” but “an infinitely interwoven surface”: Musil’s novel itself.

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Today’s Nancy

Today’s Nancy, by Olivia Jaimes, is a delight, from the title panel(s) to Aunt Fritzi’s frown.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Recently updated

Today’s Saturday Stumper With some alternative clues.

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Bruce Sutphin and Erik Agard, seems to me best characterized by a word I saw in another recent crossword: UNFUN. Not because it took me an hour and four minutes to finish, but because too many clues seemed strained or dubious in their attempts to be stumpy or clever. For instance, 10-Down, four letters, “Upper-level arrangement.” Or 17-A, six letters, “How some ice cream is made.” Or 22-D, five letters, “Heavy lifting?” Or 52-D, “Roast beef.” Or 61-A, eight letters, “V sign in a selection process.” No, no, no, no, and no.

Not everything here was a no. Three clues I especially liked: 13-D, nine letters, “Proposal phrase.” 29-D, nine letters, “One not called.” 36-D, eight letters, “Smooth pass.” Even this last one though feels a bit strained.

No spoilers: the answers, and the explanations for my no votes, are in the comments.


10:55 a.m.: I tried to come up with plausible alternative clues:

10-D: “Head arrangement.” Or, “It’s offered at a head shop.”

17-A: “A typo, believe it or not.”

22-D: “It starts as a sneeze.” Yes, I’m trying for stumpy.

52-D: “Youthful offense.”

61-A: “Rock hater.” Or, “Snippy sort.”

I wouldn’t claim that these clues are particularly good, but I think they’re better than the ones that came with the puzzle.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Why go?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article (behind the paywall, natch) on the job prospects of doctoral students in English at Columbia University. The prospects are not good: in the last academic year, one Columbia student found a tenure-track position. And new students continue to enter the doctoral program — nineteen this academic year.

Alan Stewart, chair of Columbia’s English and comp-lit department, is paraphrased in the article:

Professors have to be honest from the minute students arrive on campus, or even the minute they turn up on visiting day, about the fact that this very likely won’t turn into a tenure-track job after six years, Stewart said.
I’d revise that: professors have to be honest from the minute undergrads begin talking about the dream of becoming a professor — a dream with less and less chance of realization. And why wait for students to show up to tell them how bleak the prospects are? And why have a “visiting day” if the prospects are so bleak?

And then there’s this:
The department will spend this year developing a course that will directly introduce graduate students to careers outside of academe, Stewart said. Faculty members are looking into bringing people to campus who have been part of its graduate program in the past, who currently work outside of academe, he said. The department wants to emphasize internships and help students spend summers working in galleries or museums and perhaps “find where else they might be happy.”
But here’s the thing: if you’re looking for a career outside academia, devoting five or six or more years to the pursuit of a doctoral degree in English is neither necessary nor wise. And to the best of my knowledge, those often-touted gallery and museum positions are typically the stuff of personal connections within ultra-privileged circles.

I’ll quote something I wrote in a previous post on these matters:
The very telos of doctoral study in the humanities is a life of teaching and scholarship on the tenure-track. That’s what grad school is supposed to be for.
If a tenure-track position is not likely to be in the offing, why go? So that senior professors can run graduate seminars, while you, a student in those seminars, teach the freshmen? There are better ways to be happy.

I’m all out of rhetorical questions, so I’ll link to a post that describes my fortunate stumble into a tenure-track position: Fluke life. Talk about contingency.


Apropos the mad king’s most recent Twitter decrees: the vice president and Cabinet are hereby ordered to invoke the 25th Amendment.

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

The boy on the right — who knows? But the woman on the left — do you recognize her? I knew her voice right away, but couldn’t match it to a person. Which makes me think that someone else will figure this one out in no time at all. Leave your best guess in the comments, and the glory may be yours.


11:48 a.m.: The answer is now in the comments.

More mystery actors (Collect them all!)
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

[Garner’s Modern English Usage notes that “support for actress seems to be eroding.” I’ll use actor.]

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest episode of WGBH’s The Rewind, “I Met Susan B. Anthony,” hosted by our son Ben.

Strange near-synchronicity: the Dark Passage streetcar was manufactured in 1891. Florence H. Luscomb heard Susan B. Anthony speak in 1892.

Recently updated

Dark Passage streetcar Now with a date of manufacture.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Spider, short-order cook

I went looking for short-order cooks and found Spider, a short film by Gary Anderson:

Spider was Ken Osgood, seen here at Paul’s Diner in Laconia, New Hampshire. Osgood was the subject of a 2007 newspaper article about Laconia’s diner culture. He died in 2012.

If anyone can date this film with more than a guess, I’d like to know.

Dark Passage streetcar

J.D. Lowe wondered what kind of streetcar Harry’s Wagon might have been. That made me want to look at Dark Passage (dir. Delmar Daves, 1947) again to see the streetcar that Vincent Parry/Allan Linnell (Humphrey Bogart) rides. Here it is, turning around at the intersection of Powell and Market. There’s more on this streetcar ride at Reel SF.

[Click any image for a larger view.]

How I’d like to step off that streetcar and into Owl Drug to pick up some shave cream and dentifrice.


August 23: J.D. Lowe identifies no. 520 as a streetcar manufactured in 1891.

More from Dark Passage
GReystone 3-1311 : Harry’s Wagon

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Larry Taylor (1942–2019)

The bass guitarist Larry Taylor has died at the age of seventy-seven. Billboard has an obituary. Larry played with musicians as various as Jerry Lee Lewis, the Monkees, and Tom Waits, but he is best known for his long tenure with Canned Heat.

I’ve been a Canned Heat fan since 1968 or so. In 2010 my son Ben and I went to hear the band in Effingham, Illinois. Story and photographs in this post. Ben was a good sport. I was in bliss, getting to meet and talk with Larry and Canned Heat’s long-serving, almost-only drummer, Fito de la Parra.

Here’s Canned Heat at Woodstock: Bob Hite, Alan Wilson (Gibson Les Paul), Harvey Mandel (Fender Stratocaster), Larry Taylor, and Fito de la Parra, doing “A Change Is Gonna Come,” with Larry often front and center. This incomplete version is the only version available online. There’s a story about how the guy who bums the cigarette got on stage, but I don’t know if it’s true and won’t recount it.

“Now in order to have a good boogie, you gotta have a bottom. And on that bottom, babies, we got Mister Larry Taylor, alias ‘The Mole’”: thus spake Bob “The Bear” Hite, on the 1968 Canned Heat recording “Fried Hockey Boogie.” Larry’s death is a major loss to music.

Related reading
All OCA Canned Heat posts (Pinboard)

[Corrections to the Billboard obituary: Larry and Fito were on board very early on, but neither was a founding member of Canned Heat.]

The present King of Greenland

This reality-television show, now in its third season, is going off the rails.

[Post title with apologies to Bertrand Russell.]

Word of the day: Nowheresville

I don’t know how long the link will last, but the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day today 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 toiled 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 story) 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 simile. A heat-seeking missile would do a lot of damage to that ass.

Related reading
All OCA simile 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, 12, 13, and 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.