Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New Year’s Eve 1919

[“Hotels Anticipate Wet New Year Eve. They Prepare for an Old-Fashioned Celebration on a Generous Scale.” The New York Times, December 28, 1919.]

Prohibition in 1919? Yes. The Wartime Prohibition Act, meant to conserve grain, was passed on November 18, 1918, after the signing of the armistice. (An official end to the Great War was yet to come.) The act, which prohibited the sale of beverages with more than 1.28% alcohol (2.56 proof), went into effect on June 30, 1919. Two subheadlines from the Times article give an idea of what was to happen on the first dry New Year’s Eve: “To Invade Secret Caches,” and “Guests Will Take Their Liquors to Private Dining Rooms, for Which There Is Great Demand.” The Times reported that at one Manhattan hotel, “the flask party would be the most popular indoor sport.”

Brief items in the January 1, 1920 Times give an idea of what went on in other parts of the country. In Boston, “greater abandon of merrymaking.” In Philadelphia, “unlimited quantities of any drink ever seen here.” In Cincinnati, a “decidedly ‘wet’ celebration,” with the hip flask “much in abundance.” In Chicago, “large crowds who drank in wild revel,” aided by a legal ruling that provided a loophole for those drinking “on the hip.” In Milwaukee, where “beer cellars were depleted long ago,” champagne sold for $25 a quart. In New Orleans, restaurant customers “armed with their own liquor.” In St. Louis, “a wild night,” “with whisky in the lead.” And in Omaha, no cocktails, just “whiskey, brandy, gin, wine, home-brew stuffs and soft drinks.”

But in St. Paul, “little evidence of old-time frivolity.” Denver was “a drab affair.” San Francisco “found itself groping around in the gloom of a spiritless night.” And in Seattle, “less liquid cheer” than “at a Pilgrim Father’s barn raising.”

May 2020 be a year with greater reason for hope on Spaceship Earth. Happy New Year to all.

[Were those who drank from hip flasks hip? There appears to be no connection.]

Domestic comedy

[Too much Hallmark.]

“Is Kringlefest one word or two?”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[I guess my typing decided it. But should it be camel-cased?]

Monday, December 30, 2019

“Not part of my portfolio”

“Immigration is not part of my portfolio, obviously”: uh-huh. She’s complicit.

“Each morning”

Stefan Zweig, writing in 1937 about the Jews’ Temporary Shelter, a London charitable institution that provided housing and meals to Jewish refugees:

Each morning the paper barks in your face wars, murders and crimes, the madness of politics clutters our senses, but the good that happens quietly unnoticed, of that we are scarcely aware. Such things are all the more crucial in an epoch like ours, for all ethical labour by its example wakens in us truly precious energies, and each man becomes the better when he is capable of admiring with sincerity that which is inherently good.

“The House of a Thousand Fortunes,” in Journeys , trans. Will Stone (London: Hesperus Press, 2011).
I’m reminded of the advice Fred Rogers said his mother gave him when he was a boy: “Always look for the helpers.”

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Word of the day: lackadaisical

I always thought that lackadaisical suggested slackerly indifference. Merriam-Webster agrees, saying that the word “implies a carefree indifference marked by half-hearted efforts.” And lo, M-W gives this example: “lackadaisical college seniors pretending to study.”

But wait — there’s more. The Oxford English Dictionary gives this sole definition:

Resembling one who is given to crying “Lackaday!”; full of vapid feeling or sentiment; affectedly languishing. Said of persons, their behaviour, manners, and utterances.
The word comes from the interjection lackadaisy, with the suffixes -ic and -al added. The OED identifies lackadaisy as an extended form of lack-a-day, which itself is an shortened form of alackaday,
used to express grief, concern, or regret at the events of a particular day; (later more generally) used to express surprise or dismay about a current situation.
Alack the day is another way of putting it.

A choice citation, from The Tender Husband (1705), a play by Richard Steele:
Alack a day, Cousin Biddy, these Idle Romances have quite turn’d your Head.
To care and not to care: it seems that lackadaisical points in both directions. I am not lackadaisical about that. Nor am I lackadaisical about that.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper is another Lester Ruff (that is, easier) puzzle, but it proved pretty difficult for me. Many of the clues seemed to lead in no particular direction. 1-A, seven letters, “Seafood serving.” Or 47-A, six letters, “Seafood serving.” Such clues left me at sea. I had better luck with another food group: 18-A, seven letters, “Pesto tidbit.” That answer helped me work out the puzzle’s northeast corner in very little time. Everything else took much longer.

Some clues of interest:

1-D, seven letters, “Type of paint.” Pairs nicely with 1-A.

15-A, seven letters, “Annoyed.” The answer is pretty awkward.

20-A, three letters, “Something owed.” This clue continues a minor trend in Saturday Stumper clueing.

40-D, seven letters, “Land lady.” Nice.

41-D, three letters, “Ports, for instance.” Very nice.

44-D, seven letters, “Quarters with buttons.” I took a wild guess that turned out to be right.

49-A, seven letters, “Horsefeathers.” Good fun to see the answer.

62-A, seven letters, “‘. . . the Flying Trapeze’ guy.” I had no idea how the clue and answer go together. But they do.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Marc Brown, Arthur, and the REAL Mr. Ratburn,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Rocky mayo

Lunchtime. We scrutinized the Hellmann’s jar: “KNOWN AS BEST FOODS® WEST OF THE ROCKIES.” Okay, but what about in the Rockies? Which mayonnaise can you buy in, say, Bozeman, Montana? Is there a dividing line that runs through the Rocky Mountains? And if so, where? The questions were Elaine’s. She started it.

I called the 800-number on the jar to find out, and did my best to assure the person answering the call that my query was a matter of earnest, albeit idle, curiosity. I was told that Hellmann’s Mayonnaise and Best Foods Mayonnaise are the same product. (Yes, I know.) I was told that east of the Rockies, &c. And west of the Rockies, &c. (Yes, I know.)

“But what about in the Rockies?” I implored. “Is there some sort of dividing line?”

“No,” the answer came. “There is no dividing line.”

But of course there is, sort of. I found the answer in a book that’s long been sitting in our house: David Feldman’s Imponderables: The Solution to the Mysteries of Everyday Life (New York: William Morrow, 1987). Here is the solution to the mystery under coinsideration:

If you live in or west of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, or New Mexico, chances are you buy Best Foods mayonnaise. If you live in or east of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, or Texas, you probably buy Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Both brands are dominant market leaders where they are sold, but except for the El Paso area of Texas, their distribution does not overlap at all.
And long story short: “when [West Coast] Best Foods took over the Hellmann’s brand in 1932,”
both brands were so firmly entrenched in their areas, and had such a dominant market share, that it was decided not to change either name.
I will be applying for a position with Unilever mayo-support in the new year.

Tom Waits awaits

Tom Waits’s 1978 Austin City Limits performance is online at PBS until January 19. This episode also appears to be airing on at least some PBS stations this week. If you miss it on one screen, you can see it on another. It’s a fairly epic performance.

Other Waits posts
Frank Sinatra and Tom Waits : Out to the meadow with Tom Waits : Pianos, drinking and non- : Tom Waits on parenthood

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Cafés to banks

Stefan Zweig, writing in 1924 about Paris:

On the Boul’Mich the banks (as everywhere) have replaced the cafés.

“The Cathedral of Chartres,” in Journeys , trans. Will Stone (London: Hesperus Press, 2011).
It’s like reading Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, with one small local business after another replaced by Citibank.

Related reading
All OCA Stefan Zweig posts (Pinboard)

[Journeys was recently reissued by Pushkin Press. The Boul’Mich is the Boulevard Saint-Michel.]

“One puny blog post”

[Nancy, December 26, 2019.]

I’ll take a guess: Because, Nancy, you care about your writing, and you want to make that “one puny blog post” as good as you can. It doesn’t matter that you’re not getting paid to do so. It doesn’t matter that no one else might notice, or have any idea how much effort you’ve put in. You will notice, and as the poet almost says, that will make all the difference.

Nancy’s friend Esther has a better guess: “Because you’re using every chance you get as an excuse to be distracted.”

And Nancy: “No, no, that can’t be it . . . but it’s interesting that you feel that way, and we should spend the next half-hour exploring why.”

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[“As the poet says”? “As the poet said”? The Google Ngram Viewer helps out. The poet, of course, is Robert Frost.]

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Some Christmas

[“He’s Checking It Thrice.” Zippy , December 25, 2019.]

Today’s Zippy is devoted to list-making. With a guest star.

“Some rocks” are an abiding preoccupation of these pages.

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

Christmas 1919

[“Snow Quickly Removed. Three Thousand Street Cleaners Did a Speedy Christmas Job.” The New York Times, December 26, 1919.]

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Dalton Baldwin (1931–2019)

The pianist Dalton Baldwin has died at the age of eighty-seven. A New York Times obituary calls him “an eminence among accompanists.”

Elaine and I heard Dalton Baldwin accompany Elly Ameling, long ago, in the year something-something B.C. (Before Children). It was a blissful night. I’ve since heard Baldwin on recordings for many years. He is the sole pianist on Mélodies, the 4-CD EMI set of Francis Poulenc’s songs, accompanying Ameling, Nicolaï Gedda, William Parker, Michel Sénéchal, and Gérard Souzay, Baldwin’s partner in life and music.

Here is a BBC recording of Souzay and Baldwin, performing works by Schubert, Debussy, Françaix, Poulenc, and Roussel.

Italy’s Sardines

“They call themselves the ‘Sardines’ — because they want to quietly pack Italy’s main public squares like fish in a can. Organizers say their goal is to stop a far-right, anti-immigrant wave rising in Italian society and politics”: Sylvia Poggioli reports on the Sardine movement (NPR).

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Helicopter campuses

“The dream of some administrators is a university where every student is a model student, adhering to disciplined patterns of behavior that are intimately quantified, surveilled and analyzed”: thus a new trend in surveillance, the use of Bluetooth to track college students’ class attendance and campus habits via their phones (The Washington Post ).

For me, the most dispiriting bit in this article is a comment from a professor about surveillance and attendance: “‘They want those points,’ he said. ‘They know I’m watching and acting on it. So, behaviorally, they change.’” Yep. Behaviorally.

[The surveillance company SpotterEDU would not permit the Post to publish a photograph of its Bluetooth devices, saying that “‘currently students do not know what they look like.’” A curious student might find an image search for iBeacon a useful workaround.]

Domestic comedy

“I can’t believe you walked past that multi-tool display.”

“Where?! WHERE?!”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[Not really multi-tools, after all. Knives and flashlights. With this one, it’s probably easy to figure out who said what.]

Today’s Ticonderoga

[“Nervig Endings.” Zippy , December 24, 2019.]

In today’s Zippy, cartoonist Conrad Nervig seeks a new career. Stand by for the Dixon Ticonderoga no. 2.

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

Monday, December 23, 2019

Scribbles & Ink

For kids and those who think like kids: Scribbles & Ink, an online game (or drawing environment, I’d call it) to go with the PBS Kids series of the same name.

If you like Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon, you will probably like Scribbles & Ink. Be your own Harold!

Roz Chast, profiled

By Adam Gopnik, in — where else? — The New Yorker. An excerpt:

“Throughout my childhood, I couldn’t wait to grow up. I wanted to be a grownup. Being a child was just not working for me. I didn’t understand little kids. ‘Let’s play! Let’s hit each other!’ Why do you want to do that ? Don’t you want to stay indoors where it’s safe, and read and draw?”
Our household is a Chast-friendly zone.

Related reading
All OCA Roz Chast posts (Pinboard)

Hallmark rising

The New Yorker looks at the Hallmark Channel(s): “How Hallmark Took Over Cable Television.”

Last Friday we tried about half an hour of Christmas in Evergreen: Tidings of Joy, the movie whose making runs through the article. Half an hour was enough. But I came away with a favorite line: “I was just leading a workshop on ornament making.” Sounds to me like the start of a John Ashbery poem.

You’re out

Yesterday our local paper published USDA guidelines for when to toss Thanksgiving leftovers. The USDA’s advice: leftovers can be stored in the fridge for three to four days, or in the freezer for two to six months.

We gave up on our local paper eleven years ago. I look at the paper online once in a while, but there is little news, which is one reason why we ended our subscription. When I look, I am sometimes baffled.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Robots writing

The Washington Post reports on Handwrytten, a robot-driven card-writing service. The article cites a user who finds the service “cheaper — and easier — than going to the store, picking out a card and paying for postage.” And, the user adds, you can schedule in advance.

I noticed Handwrytten in 2014 and am surprised, kinda, that the company is still going. It must serve a need. But you could also schedule in advance by writing in your datebook: “Buy and mail card.” Or you could schedule and send an e-mail — much cheaper and easier still than setting up an account to pay for robots. But cheaper and easier are not always the point. TV dinner, anyone?


I forgot: in The New York Times last week, a counter-narrative, in defense of handwritten notes and cards.

Land O’Lines

In The New York Times, Roger Cohen writes about missing the landline:

I remember my son asking me how I managed to meet anyone in the pre-cellphone era. I could hardly remember. I said you arranged to meet a friend at a certain place at a certain time and you showed up. He was skeptical.
In 2010, also in the Times, Virginia Heffernan wrote a wonderful elegy for the landline.

[Neither writer mentions what any dedicated user of the phone of yore will remember: waiting until “the rates” went down to make a long-distance call. And even then, the astonishing cost of the occasional forty-five-minute long-distance call.]

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

I found today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, exceedingly difficult. It was a forty-six-minute puzzle for me, with an especially difficult northwest corner. I started with 8-A, seven letters, “Preparing to steal, perhaps” and 8-D, eight letters, “Out of sight.” Some gimmes helped:

33-D, eight letters, “Battle of the Bulge forest.” In the news, but also in my head from reading about J.D. Salinger.

39-A, five letters, “Whom Aristotle mentions in ‘On the Parts of Animals.’” Ancients? animals? Easy to guess.

56-A, seven letters, “‘Daughter of the wind’ plant.” Well, I think it’s a gimme. YGMV: Your Gimmes May Vary.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

14-D, seven letters, “New Yorker’s hero.” Clever, and for me at least, pretty arcane lingo.

17-A, seven letters, “Press passes?” Groan.

18-A, seven letters, “     weather.” Nicely dowdy.

24-D, eleven letters, “Kid’s art supply.” I just liked seeing this supply in a puzzle.

42-A, eleven letters, “Fog machine user of yore.” I will take the constructor’s word for it.

48-D, five letters, “Inedible spreadable.” Once again a Newsday puzzle chooses concision over farfetched cuteness in a tricky clue for a common word. Bravo.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, December 20, 2019

How to improve writing (no. 85)

An odd sentence from The New Yorker :

No one running for the Democratic Presidential nomination seems to irk his or her opponents quite like Pete Buttigieg, the thirty-seven-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
I understand why the writer chose “his or her”: because both men and women are running for the nomination. But Pete Buttigieg doesn’t irk “his or her” opponents. “His or her” is an unnecessary complication. It makes me think Wait, what?  Follow the logic of the syntax:
No one irks his or her opponents like Pete Buttigieg [irks his or her opponents.]
See? Better:
No one running for the Democratic Presidential nomination seems to irk opponents quite like Pete Buttigieg, the thirty-seven-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Maybe better still:
No one running for the Democratic Presidential nomination seems to irk opponents the way Pete Buttigieg, the thirty-seven-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, does.
I’m not crazy about the gap between Buttigieg’s name and “does.” It might be better still to save the identifying phrase for a later sentence:
No one running for the Democratic Presidential nomination seems to irk opponents the way Pete Buttigieg does.
All OCA “How to improve writing” posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 85 in a series, dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

A digital timer

Many digital timers are shoddily made: flimsy buttons, crummy display, a barely audible beep. Here is a digital timer that works well: the Ozeri Kitchen and Event Timer. Solid construction, clear display, and a loud, really loud, beep. Comes in five colors. 3 3/16″ × 13/16″ × 3″. I like the idea of a gadget that can time both kitchens and events.

As they say, Makes a Great Gift.

An analog timer

If it’s sheer (or mere?) to-the-second accuracy you’re after, only a digital timer will do. But here is an analog timer that works well: the Dulton Kitchen Timer. Solid metal construction and a happy jingling alarm. Comes in nine colors (seven from that link, two more from this one), and dowdy as all get out. 2 7/8″ × 1 1/2″. The timer is reasonably accurate, to within a minute in my experience. The Dulton website identifies this item as a timer and clock, but trust me, it’s not a clock. Nor is it a thermostat.

As they say, Makes a Great Gift. Thank you, Rachel.

Fred Astaire’s shadow

We stood in a massive building owned by an old woman who had been a dentist. A delivery man brought packages. Somehow we knew that they held materials for a spiritualist practice.

We wandered the building and found a long wall against which we could make shadows. Mine looked like Fred Astaire’s. Another wall showed an illustrated timeline of spiritual leaders. What, we wondered, will happen when people find out?

Outside we found a big hole in the ground through which we could see a cave filled with old cars in storage: VW Bugs.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, December 19, 2019

“Queens man impeached”

That’s the headline from the Queens Daily Eagle, which is having fun keeping the news local:

Former Jamaica Estates resident Donald Trump was impeached Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives. He is the third president to be impeached in United States history — and the first from Queens.
I’m reminded of the years-ago National Lampoon parody of a small-town newspaper. On the front page, a gigantic headline: “Two Dacron Women Feared Missing in Volcanic Disaster.” And underneath, in smaller print: “Japan Destroyed.”


From last night’s Trump* rally:

“It doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached,” the president said. “The country is doing better than ever before. We did nothing wrong. We have tremendous support in the Republican Party like we’ve never had before.”
It’s the presidential plural. Cf. “I would like you to do us a favor though.”

“The world in our conceit of it”

William Hazlitt:

All that part of the map that we do not see before us is a blank. The world in our conceit of it is not much bigger than a nutshell.

“On Going a Journey,” in Table Talk (1822).
Cf. Saul Steinberg’s View of the World from 9th Avenue.

Library fight

The Washington Post reports on the battle over “Little Free Library” — the battle, that is, over the name, a legal trademark.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019


Donald Trump has been impeached, and whatever happens in the United States Senate, this president’s name will henceforth be accompanied by a stain. Or a taint. Or an asterisk. An impeachment is forever.

The asterisk is a fitting symbol to accompany the Trump* name, I’d say.

An idea

“What is at risk here is the very idea of America”: Adam Schiff, just now. And the voting begins.

A visit to a sardine cannery

“Why haven’t I been eating sardines all this time?” Here’s a short film documenting a visit to the Conservas Pinhais sardine cannery.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

[I can vouch for Nuri. They’re good.]

Defending cursive

“If I’m, like, handwriting it, I just tend to write better”: “A Defense of Cursive, From a 10-Year-Old National Champion” (The New York Times).

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The night before

Impeachment Eve — Ah, bitter chill it was!

[18 °F, feeling like 8 °F. With apologies to John Keats.]

Tunes, looney

From Donald Trump’s letter to Nancy Pelosi protesting impeachment, a passage that sounds as if the president himself is the writer:

Even worse than offending the Founding Fathers, you are offending Americans of faith by continually saying “I pray for the President,” when you know this statement is not true, unless it is meant in a negative sense. It is a terrible thing you are doing, but you will have to live with it, not I!
I notice here the vague passive-voice accusation “unless it is meant in a negative sense.” Meaning what? That Pelosi prays for the president’s destruction? “But you will have to live with it” has something of the self-righteousness of Lucy van Pelt. And that hypercorrect “not I!” There’s our president on his best grammar (though unable to resist an exclamation point, one of eight in a little over five pages).

At other points, the letter sounds like something from the prosecutor in a totalitarian state’s show trial:
Yet, when the monstrous lie was debunked and this Democrat conspiracy dissolved into dust, you did not apologize. You did not recant. You did not ask to be forgiven. You showed no remorse, no capacity for self-reflection. Instead, you pursued your next libelous and vicious crusade-you engineered an attempt to frame and defame an innocent person.
The president — or whoever wrote this passage — is projecting: that phrase “no capacity for self-reflection,” as any search engine will confirm, has often been applied to Trump himself. Here too there’s a dash of Lucy van Pelt: “You showed no remorse, Charlie Brown, no capacity for self-reflection!”

And oh, that hyphen.

[A tweet from Jonathan Karl, ABC News, identifies Eric Ueland (White House Director of Legislative Affairs), Stephen Miller (yes, that one), and Michael Williams (an aide to Mick Mulvaney) as the letter’s drafters.]

Pocket notebook sighting

[Crossing Delancey (dir. Joan Micklin Silver, 1988). Click for a larger view.]

Sam (Peter Riegert) thinks Isabelle (Amy Irving) should write down the stories her grandmother tells:

“I carry a little notebook for this purpose. I put down questions too. When they’re clearly in my mind, I write them on the page. Then I leave room for the answers. Here’s one I’ve been looking at: How do I talk to Isabelle?”
More notebook sightings
All the King’s Men : Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : The Big Clock : The Brasher Doubloon : Cat People : City Girl : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dead End : Dragnet : Extras : Eyes in the Night : The Face Behind the Mask : 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 66The Scarlet Claw : The Small Back Room : The Sopranos : Spellbound : Stage Fright : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : Stranger Things : 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

The Lincoln Project

A Times opinion piece by George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, and Rick Wilson, “We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated,” announces the Lincoln Project. From the Times:

Over these next 11 months, our efforts will be dedicated to defeating President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box and to elect those patriots who will hold the line. We do not undertake this task lightly, nor from ideological preference. We have been, and remain, broadly conservative (or classically liberal) in our politics and outlooks. Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain, but our shared fidelity to the Constitution dictates a common effort.

The 2020 general election, by every indication, will be about persuasion, with turnout expected to be at record highs. Our efforts are aimed at persuading enough disaffected conservatives, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in swing states and districts to help ensure a victory in the Electoral College, and congressional majorities that don’t enable or abet Mr. Trump’s violations of the Constitution, even if that means Democratic control of the Senate and an expanded Democratic majority in the House.
I wonder if the Conways read the Times at the breakfast table. But I wonder too if there is a Conway breakfast table.

Bryan Garner leaves the party

Bryan A. Garner: as in Garner’s Modern American Usage and Garner’s Modern English Usage. Grammar-wise and usage-wise, Orange Crate Art is a Garner-friendly zone. His name appears often in these pages. Links to OCA posts appear in three Garner tweets.

Two ways to gauge the significance of Garner’s announcement: 1. Garner collaborated on two books with Antonin Scalia, and the two men developed a deep friendship. 2. A Garner-edited volume on judicial precedent has Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh as two of its twelve contributors.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Twelve movies

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

Motherless Brooklyn (dir. Edward Norton, 2019). Norton stars as Motherless Brooklyn, a ticcing private detective (born in Brooklyn, then orphaned, thus the nickname) whose effort to uncover the truth about his mentor’s murder leads him to the heart of municipal corruption and personal scandal. This film feels interminable at first but picks up considerably with the entry of Alec Baldwin as Moses Randolph, a thinly disguised and highly Trumpian version of Robert Moses, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Laura Rose, a citizen who fights against so-called urban renewal with Gabby Horowitz (Cherry Jones), a thinly disguised version of Jane Jacobs. Alas, the film tries hard to check all boxes (detective has an audience with Mr. Big, detective arranges to meet someone and finds a dead body, detective begins an inevitable romance) and thus always seems like it’s trying to be noir. Bonus: Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire ’s Omar Little) as a thinly disguised, unnamed version of Miles Davis. ★★★


Moontide (dir. Archie Mayo, 1942). It went into the Netflix queue because of Jean Gabin and Ida Lupino, and I was happily surprised by how good — and strange — this film is. Bobo (Gabin) is a longshoreman who falls in with unemployed waitress Anna (Lupino). Waterfront types Tiny (Thomas Mitchell) and Nutsy (Claude Rains) are visitors to the bait barge where Bobo and Anna have made a home of sorts. Terrible events lurk in the past, and terrible events are to come, all presented in a stagey, dream-like setting, with brilliant effects of light and fog. ★★★★


Sapphire (dir. Basil Dearden, 1959). A police procedural with a focus on race in British culture, with two (white) detectives moving through white and black London to solve the murder of a beautiful young woman. The film is so steeped in casual racism — sometimes blatant, sometimes more genteel — that it’s possible to imagine any of the principals having committed murder. Most interesting scene: the visit to International Club, the one place in the film where humankind in all its varieties is welcome and at home. Sapphire is the third Dearden film we’ve seen (after All Night Long and Victim). ★★★★


Cold War (dir. Paweł Pawlikowski, 2018). Love and doom across decades and borders, in a story set in Poland, East Germany, France, Yugoslavia, Poland, and elsewhere. Wiktor (Tomasz Kot), composer, pianist, director of a state-sponsored folk-music ensemble, meets Zula (Joanna Kulig), singer, at an audition. What might have been a bittersweet episode consigned to memory becomes a relationship revived again and again, with ever more terrible consequences. The already harrowing story becomes more harrowing when you learn that it’s inspired by the relationship of the director’s parents. ★★★★


Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 (dir. Frank Stiefel, 2016). My library now requires the completion of an online form for a Kanopy film (the cost to have all films available to stream is prohibitive), so for “Reason” I typed “Curiosity,” and that was enough. Thank you, library. This is a beautifully made short documentary about Mindy Alper, a Los Angeles artist who turns her childhood traumas and psychiatric struggles into profound pen-and-ink drawings and papier-mâché sculptures. My favorite line: “I wish to want to make art.” ★★★★


Crossing Delancey (dir. Joan Micklin Silver, 1988). Isabelle, or Izzy (Amy Irving), works at a tony Upper West Side bookstore, in awe of the writers who gather there, including alpha-male Anton (Jeroen Krabbé). But down on the Lower East Side, Izzy’s bubbie (Reizl Bozyk) and a matchmaker (Sylvia Miles) have another man in mind for Izzy: a plainspoken, unassuming mensch, Sam the pickle man (Peter Riegert). If Izzy could only figure out that she’s a character in a film, everything that you know is going to happen would happen a lot sooner — but where would be the fun in that? Favorite moments: the utterly pompous literary “soiree,” with Rosemary Harris channeling (I think) Elsa Lanchester as the eccentric painter in The Big Clock; the mix of Run-D.M.C. and “Some Enchanted Evening” in Gray’s Papaya; Benny Goodman playing on what must be a magical radio. ★★★


The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story (dir. Gregory V. Sherman and Jeffrey C. Sherman, 2009). I knew in a vague way that Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman were the sound of Disney: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and all that. I didn’t know that their songwriting also included, say, “You’re Sixteen” (a hit for Johnny Burnette and, years later, Ringo Starr). Filled with interviews and clips from movies, this documentary tells a story of musical collaboration and brotherly alienation, though just what went wrong between the Shermans is never really explained (but it’s easy to guess). The filmmakers are their fathers’ sons, working together, which suggests some element of next-generation healing. ★★★★


The Mask of Dimitrios (dir. Jean Negulesco, 1944). For years, never having seen this movie, I’ve had a bit of nonsense from it in my head, something I read somewhere, something about Algerian coffee: “It takes a little longer to prepare it, but I prefer it.” The premise is pretty plain: a meek and mild writer of mysteries (Peter Lorre) uncovering the story of the dead criminal Dimitrios Makropoulos (Zachary Scott) teams up with a suave criminal (Sydney Grenstreet) who is also on the Dimitrios trail. Flashbacks follow, but alas, there’s nothing especially interesting about Dimitrios or the big plot twist — painfully obvious, and yet a mystery writer misses it. But I liked the movie for its atmosphere (that staircase!), its Maltese Falcon overtones, the chance to see Lorre and Greenstreet as a serio-comic duo, and the opportunity to finally hear the line about — is there such a thing? — Algerian coffee. ★★


Wuthering Heights (dir. Daniel Petrie, 1958). A television adaptation from The DuPont Show of the Month, rediscovered and recently aired on TCM. Richard Burton and Rosemary Harris are an excellent partnership as Heathcliff and Catherine. The sets are spare, the camera is right in the actors’ faces, and somehow the larger-than-life performances seem strangely suited to the small screen. I give major props to the mid-century American culture that found Emily Brontë suitable for prime-time television. ★★★★


Being Canadian (dir. Robert Cohen, 2015). Cohen, a writer for television comedies, does something of a Michael Moore imitation, going on a road trip in search of what it means to be Canadian. As I watched this documentary, I thought of a moment from a long-ago graduate seminar: as we went around the room introducing ourselves, our prof asked one student, “And you are?” and she replied, “Canadian.” Apologies, diffidence, and self-deprecation are on full view here, but the film is little more than an increasingly tedious shtick, with too many comedians, too much belaboring the obvious (maple syrup, maple syrup), and a forced last-minute epiphany. Margaret Atwood, Glenn Gould, Joni Mitchell, Alice Munro, Neil Young: there’s no sign of their Canada here. ★


Berlin Express (dir. Jacques Tourneur, 1948). The first time I watched, I followed the plot. This time I had a better chance to marvel at the locations, as the film was made largely in post-war Frankfurt. Remarkable to see Merle Oberon and Robert Ryan and company striding past and into the ruins. A bonus in this brilliant movie: the two clowns. ★★★★


The Limits of Control (dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2009). I can make sense of it, of some of it, some sense of some of it, if I have to. The protagonist, known in the credits as Lone Man (Isaach de Bankolé), is, I think, a character in “the movies,” in costume, taking direction, moving through Spain as he completes tasks and has a series of (one-sided) conversations with colorful cameo-appearance strangers. Lone Man’s mission seems to be the destruction of some Burroughsian Reality Studio (“Break though in Grey Room,” I kept recalling). Beautiful landscapes and one extraordinary moment of flamenco, but overall, a slog. ★★

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

[The phrase “Break though in Grey Room” appears in William Burroughs’s three cut-up novels: Nova Express, The Soft Machine, and The Ticket That Exploded. After-the-fact discovery: Jarmusch’s title comes from an essay by Burroughs.]

“Snow again”

[Nancy, February 20, 1950.]

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, December 15, 2019

A short paws

On the shelf at our friendly neighborhood multinational retailer: chicken paws. I thought paws might be a cuter way of saying feet. But it turns out that chicken paws are, indeed, not feet.

[Click through at your own risk — there will be paws.]

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper has a Lester Ruff byline (“less rough”), but it’s another puzzle that I’d credit to Maura. Or maybe to one of the other Ruff siblings: Mo? Riley? I staggered around for forty minutes before finishing. Is that 60-A, ten letters, “Epic!”? No, not really. But the ten-letter answer for that clue fits, at least sort of.

Some clues I liked:

16-A, ten letters, “Overposter’s affliction.”

19-A, “Capital southwest of Timbuktu.” Thanks, Roswell Rudd and Toumani Diabaté.

24-D, four letters, “Only Oscar winner/Nobelist before Dylan.” Think about it for a bit and you might say, “Oh, yeah, of course.”

31-D, nine letters, “Dreamlike and distorted.” This clue drove me bonkers, because I never think about what’s in the answer. I just don’t care. But maybe I should think about what’s in the answer when I do crosswords.

36-A, three letters, “Something set to keep things in line.”

40-A, eight letters, “Didn’t charge.” Also drove me bonkers. (WENTDEAD? No.)

52-D, five letters, “Simmer or steal.”

One awkward clue with an awkward answer: 42-D, seven letters, “E-tailer’s count.” E-tail seems hopelessly corny to me. The answer is corny too.

No spoilers: the answers, corny and non-, are in the comments.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Novels in Three Lines

Clerk, journalist, editor, publisher, Félix Fénéon (1861–1944) worked for a time at the French daily newspaper Le Matin, for which he wrote 1,220 brief news items, miniature narratives of crime, misadventure, and mystery. All but 154 of them are collected in Novels in Three Lines, trans. Luc Sante (New York: New York Review Books, 2007). Barns burn; poor boxes disappear from churches; telephone wire is stolen by the mile. Line by line, the population drops, with lives lost to disease, accident, murder, and suicide. The overall effect is wearying, but then these items were never meant to be read all at once. The more startling ones have something of the casual, sudden brutality of the incidents that form much of the material of Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony: The United States (1885-1915) Recitative (1978, 1979). Three Fénéon samples:

The Blonquets stank of drink. A saloonkeeper in Saint-Maur dared refused them service. They slew him with an indignant dagger.

Responding to a call at night, M. Sirvent, café owner of Caissargues, Gard, opened his window; a rifle shot destroyed his face.

In Oyonnax, Mlle Cottet, 18, threw acid in the face of M. Benard, 25. Love, obviously.
In lighter moods, Fénéon suggests the terse strangeness of a caption to a drawing by Glen Baxter or Edward Gorey:
Equipped with a rattail file and deceptively loaded with a quantity of fine sandstone, a tin cylinder was found on Rue de l’Ouest.

Since the church in Miélin, Haute-Saône, has been barricaded, the faithful have been climbing in through the windows for services.

The sinister prowler seen by the mechanic Gicquel near Herblay train station has been identified: Jules Menard, snail collector.

To the sound of a bagpipe, the strikers of Hennehont closed their meeting at the union field with dancing.
Novels in Three Lines is one of the more unusual NYRB volumes. Not everyone’s cup of tea, perhaps not even mine, but certainly worth tasting.

[Luc Sante’s introduction mentions Rezknikoff. But the thought was mine long before I read the introduction.]

Pat the chair

Have you noticed how often Jerrold Nadler’s Democratic colleagues give him a pat on the back as he makes his way to or from his place as chair of the House Judiciary Committee? Such a toxic environment — it’s like the worst meeting in the world raised to the hundredth power. In such a setting the human touch has to help, no?

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “What Does WGBH Stand For?,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

All dais long

They keep saying \ˈdī-əs\.

The Merriam-Webster app has \'dā-əs\. M-W Online gives \ˈdī-əs\ as “nonstandard.” The more we hear members of Congress sounding a long i, the more difficult it becomes to hear the long a as right.


Representative Matt Gaetz (R, Florida-1) just referred to the Rorkshire — or was it Yorkshire? — inkblot test.

[It’s Rorschach.]

“The Standing Family Joke”

Seymour’s take on his brother Buddy’s fiction:

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

Buddy Glass, writer, bears a more than passing resemblance to a certain Salinger.

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Nadler’s Jotter

The New York Times has an array of photographs online, “Inside the Private Moments of Impeachment.” Among those (semi-private?) moments: Representative Jerrold Nadler (D, New York-10) signing draft articles of impeachment with a Parker T-Ball Jotter. Go to the Times the full photograph.

Related reading
Other Parker T-Ball Jotter posts

Wednesday, December 11, 2019


In the House Judiciary Committee: Rep. Doug Collins (R, Georgia-9) must really be losing it. He just referred to the Democratic (not “Democrat”) Party.

M-W’s Word of the Day

For an English major of a certain age, sodden , like sempiternal , immediately suggests T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”:

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown
Other words, other works of lit
Apoplexy, avatar, bandbox, heifer, sanguine, sempiternal : Artificer : Expiate : Fuliginous : Gutta-percha : Ineluctable : Iridescent : Magnifico : Opusculum : Palaver

Borrowing privileges

Inside Higher Ed asks, “How many books should a professor be able to check out?” I take no position on the borrowing privileges described therein. But reading the article made me recall a happy moment from Thomas Merton’s The Seven Story Mountain (1948).

The scene: the library at St. Bonaventure College (now St. Bonaventure University). Robert Lax is introducing his friends Merton and Ed Rice to Father Irenaeus Herscher, the college’s librarian:

“They were at Columbia too,” said Lax.

“Ah, Columbia,” said Father Irenaeus. “I studied at the Columbia Library School,” and then he took us into his own library and with reckless trust abandoned all the shelves to us. It never occurred to him to place any limit upon the appetites of those who seemed to like books. If they wanted books, well, this was a library. He had plenty of books, that was what a library was for. You could take as many as you liked, and keep them until you were through: he was astonishingly free of red tape, this happy little Franciscan. . . .

Presently we came out of the stacks with our arms full.

“May we take all these, Father?”

“Sure, sure, that’s fine, help yourself.”

We signed a vague sort of a ticket, and shook hands.

“Good-bye, Mr. Myrtle,” said the Friar, and stood in the open door and folded his hands as we started down the steps with our spoils.
Merton adds:
As far as I know, Father Irenaeus has never been robbed of his books on a larger scale than any other librarian, and on the whole, the little library at Saint Bonaventure’s was always one of the most orderly and peaceful I have ever seen.
No wonder: εἰρήνη [eiréné ] means “peace.”

Related reading
All OCA Merton posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with they.

Joyce in LA

In Los Angeles, Charlene Matthews, bookbinder, has written out the text of James Joyce’s Ulysses on thirty-eight ship dowels.

Thanks, Sean.

Related reading
All OCA Joyce posts (Pinboard)

Proust in SF

“I am into this kind of thing”: Nathalie Vanderlinden is reading Proust aloud, in French, in San Francisco BART stations.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Brother Thelonious

“With all the interest in Belgian ales and in the monasteries that brew them, it’s time to remind the world that here in the U.S. we have a Monk of our own”: Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale is licensed under an agreement with the Thelonious Monk Estate.

When I saw this ale in our beverage mart, I did a doubletake. When I saw the ABV — 9.4% — I did another.

Related reading
All OCA Monk posts (Pinboard)

Monday, December 9, 2019

A 2019 Nativity scene

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

A 2020 calendar

[Mutts, September 24, 2019.]

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

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

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

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with voice.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Lock her up

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

Stanley Fish and “partisan politics”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

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

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

My favorites:

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

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

37-D, eight letters, “Booster unit.”

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

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

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

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Happy birthday, Willa Cather

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

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

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

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

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

“A perfect summary
of this whole scheme”

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

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

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

Friday, December 6, 2019

Wuthering Heights, tonight

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

Kids and garbage trucks

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

Thanks, Ben.

Search Google Books with Alfred

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

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

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


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

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

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

Subway ways

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

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

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

Thursday, December 5, 2019

“Close enough for jazz”

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


January 17, 2020: My friend Stefan Hagemann passes along this passage, from a Harper’s article about Liz LeCompte and the Wooster Group, by David Gordon:
I am not surprised when Liz tells me that her father played jazz. One of her mottoes, repeated constantly, is “close enough for jazz.” Ari [Fliakos] laughs at the thought of how often he hears this, but notes the paradox it contains: jazz is a loose form that requires total precision; it is improvisation by people who practice obsessively.
Thanks, Stefan.

“So nice and yellow! ”

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

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

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Johnson on bribery

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

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

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

Karlan +3

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

“He was a chiropodist”

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

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

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

“Artistically appointed restrooms”

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

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

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

Reading in the news

From The New York Times

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

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

Nancy, blogger

[Nancy, December 4, 2019.]

“It’s obvious”: oh, Nancy.

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

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with cancel culture .

Monday, December 2, 2019

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with existential .

The Apostrophe Protection Society

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

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)

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

A joke in the traditional manner

How do ghosts hide their wrinkles?

No spoilers: the punchline is in the comments.

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

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

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The TLL continues

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

The TLL website has a short film about the project.

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A 2016 NPR story : The TLL and NEH funding

The prodigal failson

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

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