Saturday, February 29, 2020

The blind king

If the mask fits, &c.

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Lester Ruff, is. Is less rough, that is. Gimmes abound: 8-D, four letters, “Whom Sam calls ‘Miss’”; 44-A, three letters, “Name associated with fins”; 48-A, four letters, “‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ depiction.”

My favorite clue-and-answer pairs:

7-D, five letters, “Backs up when one shouldn’t.” A clever way to clue a familiar crossword answer.

27-A, five letters, “No time at all.” You don’t often hear the answer in conversation these days.

30-A, three letters, “It’s just above 4.” Excellent!

38-A, fourteen letters, “Second album with ‘All My Loving.’” Why? Just because. But “Because” is on a later album.

And a clue whose answer I could not understand, until I just did: 24-D, seven letters, “She’s repurposed heaters.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Finding stories

In an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Word of Mouth, Clare Muireann Murphy, storyteller, tells Michael Rosen where she finds stories:

“That’s the life’s work, isn’t it? It’s to walk through the world and keep my eyes and ears and heart open all the time for where the next story is coming from. So I read a lot, I talk to a lot of people, and I listen carefully.”
Related reading
Clare Murphy’s website

Dover Books

Karin Falcone Krieger tells the story of Dover Books: “This Is a Permanent Book” (Contingent Magazine).

Dover editions are permanent indeed. I just took down a Dover reprint of Richard Réti’s Modern Ideas in Chess, which I bought almost fifty years ago as a young chess fanatic. Signatures tight, pages unyellowed. It is a permanent book.

Another Dover reprint has been sitting out for everyday use, the scores of the Beethoven string quartets. A little beat up (in the manner of a well-used telephone directory), but it too is a permanent book.

Dover Thrift Editions of course are another story: cheap, cheap paper.

Now where is my Dover copy of Flatland?

Related reading
Dover Publications (All the books)

Almodóvar Noris

[Pain and Glory (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 2019). Click for a larger view.]

Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is using a Staedtler Noris to mark a passage in a Spanish translation of Fernando Pessoa’s Livro do Desassossego [The book of disquiet]. Here’s the English translation provided in the subtitles:

Life disgusts me as a useless medicine. It is then when I clearly feel how easy it would be to get away from this tediousness if I had the simple strength to want to really push it away.
Here, in Spanish, is a commentary on the books Mallo reads in the film. And here is Google Translate’s best shot at a translation into English, one that turns “acotaciones a lápiz” into “pencil dimensions.” DeepL does a better job (“pencil marks”) if you’re willing to copy and paste the Spanish text in two parts.

And while I’m thinking about stationery, here are some more Almodóvar items: another Noris, a Parker T-Ball Jotter, and an array of notebooks.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

“Like a duck to water”

Robertson Davies, Fifth Business (1970).

Yes, it was water.

Also from this novel
“Fellows of the first importance” : “Visible branch establishments”

Thursday, February 27, 2020

And then there were three

Why is Mike Pence in charge of coronavirus messaging? The New York Times explains:

The decision to put Mr. Pence in charge was made on Wednesday after the president told some people that the vice president didn’t “have anything else to do,” according to people familiar with the president’s comments.
But as the Times also notes (with a straight face), Pence is “one of three people designated as the administration’s primary coronavirus official.” Pence has appointed Dr. Deborah L. Birx as White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator. And Alex M. Azar II chairs a coronavirus task force.

Pence’s record on public health is an odd one. Here, from Slate, is a summary.

Twelve movies

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

The Big Night (dir. Joseph Losey, 1951). John Drew Barrymore as George La Main, a son who seeks to avenge his father’s humiliation at the hands of a sadistic sportswriter. The depiction of night people — an alcoholic professor (Philip Bourneuf), his mistress (Dorothy Comingore), her sister (Joan Lorring), a Billie Holiday-like singer (Mauri Leighton) — gives the film something of a noir element. George’s torment looks ahead to Jim Stark and Plato in Rebel Without a Cause. George, holding a revolver: “Think I’m a kid now?” ★★★★


Mike Wallace Is Here (dir. Avi Belkin, 2019). A documentary built with many great clips of Wallace as interviewer and interviewee, aggressive, skeptical, but also painfully honesty about his failures as a father and his struggles with depression (nothing though about the toxic environment for women at 60 Minutes). What I didn’t know before watching this film: Wallace was everywhere in 1950s television: as actor, pitchman, interviewer, and game-show host. You’ll have to watch to learn what changed him. The film would benefit from captions identifying interview participants, some of whom are far from recognizable; showing their faces with their names in the closing credits (and no other information) does little to enhance the viewer’s experience (Emile-Zola-Berman-who?). ★★★


2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1967). “Her” is “the Paris region,” among other things, and the film offers an unromanticized image of the city and environs, nothing but highway construction and brutalist architecture. Scenes from the life of Juliette Jeanson (Marina Vlady), wife, mother, and part-time prostitute, recall Godard’s Vivre sa vie — as in that film a man in a café plays pinball as people chat. There’s a strong element of Wittgenstein in the narration and several conversations that evoke the idea of a language game. Those are three things I know about this film, which baffled and fascinated me. ★★★★


Edge of the City (dir. Martin Ritt, 1957). Strong overtones of On the Waterfront in this story of friendship and violence on the Manhattan docks. What’s distinctive about the film is its depiction of a friendship that crosses the color line, as longshoreman Tommy Tyler (Sidney Poitier) befriends new-hire Axel Nordmann (John Cassavetes). Tommy is a happy family man (with Ruby Dee making brief appearances as his wife); moody Axel harbors some terrible secrets. Supervisor Charlie Malick (Jack Warden) makes Axel’s life hell, with consequences both predictable and unexpected. ★★★★


Try and Get Me, aka The Sound of Fury (dir. Cy Endfield, 1950). “Unrelentingly grim,” said TCM’s Eddie Muller, as an unemployed husband and father (Frank Lovejoy) takes up work as a getaway driver for a preening and increasingly vicious criminal (Lloyd Bridges). But it’s not just a crime story: the film dwells at length on the role of journalists in stoking populist rage. Two highlights: Renzo Cesana as Dr. Vido Simone, a stiffly serious philosophical scientist, and Katherine Locke as Hazel Weatherwax, a desperately lonely manicurist. And one more: the final extended sequence, utterly gripping. ★★★★


Pain and Glory (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 2019). A work not of strict autobiography but of self-revealing humanity, as Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), a movie director in the twilight of his career, struggles with past success, present inertia, and chronic pain. Proustian moments of involuntary memory (beginning with a pianist in a restaurant) and two extraordinary coincidences lead to scenes of childhood and sexual awakening, to a meeting with an old lover, and to memories of Salvador’s adult relationship with his mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz/Julieta Serrano). (It’s no coincidence that a file name beginning “Auster” appears on Salvador’s Mac: Paul Auster has much to say about chance and coincidence as legitimate devices in fiction.) The most moving scenes: the lovers’ reunion, and Salvador with his mother in her old age. ★★★★


Judy (dir. Rupert Goold, 2019). Judy Garland in 1968, booked for five weeks in London, with brief flashbacks to her life as a teenager in the studio system that did much to destroy her life. Not so much a movie as a sometimes thrilling, sometimes harrowing one-woman show, with Renée Zellweger channeling Garland’s fragile, tough presence with what seems to me eerie fidelity. As a singer, Zellweger is hardly Garland’s equal —but how could she be? The best moments: omelets, a cake, and a final performance. ★★★★


Bridget Jones’s Diary (dir. Sharon Maguire, 2001). We’d never seen it, so it seemed the appropriate follow-up to Judy. As Bridget Jones, Renée Zellweger is a charming, attractive mess of a human being. So why are the only men on her romantic horizon a pair of self-regarding twits, one without scruples (Hugh Grant), the other (Colin Firth) so emotionally constipated that he struggles to say “I like you”? As Elaine says, it’s a Bizarro World Hallmark movie, with cigarettes, vodka, sex, and strained overtones of Pride and Prejudice. ★★


The File on Thelma Jordon (dir. Robert Siodmark, 1949). YouTube comes through again, with a satisfyingly noirish film we’d never heard of. It gives little away to reveal that the story is a variation on an earlier Barbara Stanwyck film, with Stanwyck as Thelma Jordon, Wendell Corey as an assistant DA, and Paul Kelly as Corey’s boss. A little too much comedy, but also genuine suspense and mystery, particularly when old Aunt Vera wanders the house at night. My favorite line: “Maybe I like being picked up by a guy on a binge.” ★★★


He Ran All the Way (dir. John Berry, 1951). John Berry’s other films include Claudine and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan — marking him, surely, as a jack of many trades, at least. Here Nick Robey (John Garfield, in his last film appearance) and Peg Dobbs (Shelley Winters) make an awkward pair thrown together by circumstance and criminal desperation. Nice work by Wallace Ford as Peg’s father, Gladys George as Nick’s mother, and James Wong Howe as cinematographer, working in stark black and white. “Get a good car, baby, a nice car.” ★★★★


Two by Yasujiro Ozu

A Story of Floating Weeds (1934). This film, a silent, tells a story of betrayal, jealousy, and revenge among members of a traveling Kabuki troupe, as one player discovers the Master’s secret life, both past and present. The actors are understated, with the smallest gestures and changes in expression saying everything, and the cinematography is striking, with the camera stationary, and often at floor level, in what I now know is called a tatami shot, but which suggests to me the perspective of an audience sitting at the very edge of a stage. As the Gilgamesh poet says, there is no permanence: tobacco smoke drifts through the air, a lost wallet floats down a river, and players travel by train from town to town. A caution: “Don’t get mixed up with a traveling player like me.” ★★★★

Floating Weeds (1959). Which film to prefer and why: questions that must be the stuff of hundreds of film-studies assignments. The 1934 film has a concentrated intensity that’s missing from this more diffuse story, in which broad comedy with theater men and local women takes up too much screentime. Things improve when, with about an hour to go, the film begins to closely follow 1934. But the Master here seems hard-headed and self-righteous rather than agonized, and his mistress lacks the eerie blank expression we see in 1934. ★★★

[Madame Michel in Muriel Barbery’s novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog is devoted to the films of Yasujiro Ozu, so it seemed only right to see a couple after reading. ]

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

“Truck Proximity”

[“Truck Proximity.” xkcd, February 26, 2020.]

A related post
Kids and garbage trucks

Matthews and Warren

Elaine and I watched this exchange last night in disbelief, as Elizabeth Warren explained the ridiculously obvious to the dullest knife in the MSNBC drawer. Chris Matthews needs to take his eructations, figurative and literal, into a comfortable retirement.

I have never been a Matthews fan. And I still recall with pleasure this interview with Jon Stewart.

A Sonny Rollins interview

“This world is not what it’s cracked up to be”: Sonny Rollins, interviewed for The New York Times. The interview dwells mostly on matters of life and death, with many deeply Buddhist observations.

On an unrelated note, Rollins confesses that he never cottoned to the Rolling Stones, thinking them merely derivative of black music. He then tells this story:

“I do remember once I was in the supermarket up in Hudson, New York, and they were playing Top 40 records. I heard this song and thought, Who’s that guy? His playing struck a chord in me. Then I said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s me!’ It was my playing on one of those Rolling Stones records.”
Trivia: I noticed Rollins again invoking ice cream and sex as examples of fleeting, inconsequential pleasure.

Related reading
All OCA Sonny Rollins posts (Pinboard)

[Rollins played with the Stones on Tattoo You, most famously on the single “Waiting on a Friend.”]

Sluggo in the library

[Nancy, February 26, 2020.]

Bookstores too, Sluggo. See Jack Cella: “If you’re in a decent bookstore, you can look at any shelf and realize how little you know.”

Here’s all of today’s Nancy.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020


Elizabeth Warren, a few minutes ago: “I don’t care how much money Mayor Bloomberg has. The core of the Democratic Party will never trust him.”

“Catch” of a Lifetime

[Life, October 10, 1956. Click for a larger view.]

Pencils were serious business (and sometimes, as in this full-page advertisement, punny business). How serious? There’s even a 1 1/2® “Servisoft” Mirado, “smoother and blacker than a 2, stronger and longer lasting than a 1.” A gimmick, sure, but only possible when the average user took pencils seriously.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard) : Farewell, Mirado

Farewell, Mirado

[An Eagle Mikado and Webster’s Second. Click for a larger pencil.]

Stephen at pencil talk has learned that Newell Brands Office Products has discontinued the Mirado pencil. The Mirado began life in the early twentieth century as the Mikado, manufactured by the Eagle Pencil Company. As Henry Petroski’s The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance notes, Eagle changed the pencil’s name from Mikado to Mirado on December 8, 1941.

I’ve written with many a Mirado, and especially liked Mirado Woodtones, in natural colors with a clear glossy coat. Recent Papermate Mirados were pretty mediocre. I found the Eagle Mikado in the photograph some years ago, probably at a flea market. It was, and is, still unsharpened.

Here’s some background on the Mikado/Mirado.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard) : “Catch” of s lifetime : Jean Arthur holds what looks like a Mikado : The New Yorker visits the Eagle Pencil Company : “This is the Anatomy of an Eagle”

Monday, February 24, 2020


A Google Alert for stefan zweig brought this amusing item to my attention today. Amusing, at least, to me. The SCK is The Society of the Crossed Keys, a secret organization of hotel concierges:

The SCK is an off-beat plot concoction by director Wes Craven for his colourful Oscar-winning film, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). In the movie Ralph Fiennes' meticulously slick concierge Monsieur Gustave of the titular hotel, calls on his secret society for help when he is falsely accused of the murder of a hotel guest. Black belt concierges from world renowned hotels swoop in to help save the day.
A screenshot in case the original disappears:

Related reading
All OCA Stefan Zweig posts (Pinboard)

“The 4d’s”

The Washington Post reports on Naomi Seibt, a conservative think tank’s answer to Greta Thunberg. The article quotes Graham Brookie of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, dedicating to exposing disinformation:

While the campaign “is not outright disinformation,” Brookie said in an email, it “does bear resemblance to a model we use called the 4d’s — dismiss the message, distort the facts, distract the audience, and express dismay at the whole thing.”

Brookie added: “The tactic is intended to create an equivalency in spokespeople and message. In this case, it is a false equivalency between a message based in climate science that went viral organically and a message based in climate skepticism trying to catch up using paid promotion.”
The 4d’s could be considered a playbook for the sitting president. But Donald Trump* has other tricks. Among them, the 4p’s: purges, pardons, the persecution of refugees, and the prosecution of political enemies.

“Visible branch establishments”

Dunstan (formerly Dunstable) Ramsay recalls the gravel pit in the village of Deptford:

Robertson Davies, Fifth Business (1970).

Also from this novel
“Fellows of the first importance”

Sunday, February 23, 2020


[Mark Trail, February 23, 2020.]

Last week I went out after dark to toss coffee grounds and vegetable peelings into the compost bin at the edge of our backyard. It’s a long walk. I stopped in my tracks when my flashlight showed me the yellow-green glow of five or six pairs of deer eyes.

Now I understand what I was seeing. Today’s Mark Trail gives a good explanation of eyeshine. Thanks, Mark.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Back to the USSR canard

Hearing the assertion that Bernie and Jane Sanders honeymooned in the Soviet Union, I thought, What? And then I remembered writing a post about that canard in 2016. With links to a post by Daughter Number Three and to the best-documented account of the Sanderses’ Soviet trip I could find.

This 2020 post is meant to address the canard, not to imply that I’ve cast my vote. I’ve been leaning toward Warren, but the dismay among MSNBC talking heads over what’s happening in Nevada makes me think I might want to vote for Sanders. James Carville went so far as to suggest that MSNBC has a responsibility to “appraise” [sic ] viewers of why it’s a mistake to vote for Sanders. You’ve got some nerve, mister.


February 24: I still loathe James Carville, but the enthusiasm for Sanders that I voiced in the previous paragraph has waned.

Today’s Saturday Stumper

I had considerable difficulty getting started with today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper — a word here, a word there. But Matthew Sewell wasn’t crewell after all. The pieces of this puzzle ended up falling into place fairly easily, even with a clue I still don’t understand: 18-A, three letters, “#2s.”

Lots of long, lively answers in today’s puzzle. For instance:

1-A, ten letters, “Little Havana dance style.” Partly a giveaway.

17-A, eleven letters, “Turn biomass to fuel, e.g.” Huh?

31-D, nine letters, “Uneasy feeling.” I like the colloquiality of the answer. Yes, colloquiality is a word, and not at all colloquial.

32-D, nine letters, “Certain sausage purveyor.” I had never heard of the answer.

33-A, eleven letters, “Wicca category.” I can’t imagine that the answer has a long crossword history.

39-A, eleven letters, “Corkscrew-shaped Aquarius formation.” See 17-A. (I.e., Huh?)

56-A, eleven letters, “Parting phrase.” I thought of my sardine spammer.

My favorite clue in today’s puzzle: 25-D, six letters, “Boast after a casting session.” A neat bit of misdirection.

No spoilers: I direct you to the comments for the answers.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Hat and gloves

It is cold or colder these days. Having just come in from a walk, I want to express my gratitude to my hat and gloves.

My Carhartt Acrylic Watch Hat is the warmest such hat I have worn. Dark Brown/Sandstone for me.

My Caiman 2395 Heatrac gloves are the warmest gloves I have worn. I bought them for $15 in what might be described as an Amish version of Wal-Mart (groceries and everything else). I figured that the Amish must know what’s good for working outdoors in the cold. These gloves look and feel like everyday work gloves, lightweight, not massive on the hands. But they’re very warm. Indeed, they’re warmer than another pair of gloves I have that cost three times as much and make my hands look like monster-robot hands.

Caiman’s 2395 model has been superseded by 2396, with “touch-screen capability.” I take my gloves off anyway to use the phone — better aim.

[I know the “watch cap” as a “ski cap,” or, from childhood, an “Eski cap.” Was “Eski” (as in “Eskimo,” someone living in a cold climate) a kids’ misunderstanding of “ski”? I might have to try to figure it out.]

Go phish

Yesterday morning (local time), over the span of an hour, an anonymous commenter on a distant shore left this comment on ten different sardine-centric OCA posts:

I have always fancied taking sardines, bread and a bottle of milk for breakfast every morning. I guess anyone would say i am addicted to sardines. Reading this article, i had a new perspective. Thanks, Amigo!
I am moved, deeply, to know that a fellow sardinista would take the time to say thanks, again and again and again. I’m sure my commenter won’t mind my posting this comment here, where it will receive the attention it so richly deserves. And I’m sure my commenter will thank me for omitting the sketchy credit-card-application URL that somehow found its way into the comment, again and again and again.

Thanks, Amigo!

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

[Someone took the time to create a Blogger account and deal with reCAPTCHA in order to leave these comments. What was that person thinking? “I’m being paid.”]

Trump* in Colorado

If you can stand it, Aaron Rupar has short clips from Donald Trump*’s rally last night in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The president is not well. And unlike everyone else’s crazy old relative, he’s the president. And he’s not well. And unlike everyone else’s crazy old relative — well, I could go on.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

“The truth still matters”

United States District Judge Amy Bergman Jackson, sentencing Roger Stone today: “The truth still exists. The truth still matters.”

And she called Stone’s insistence that truth doesn’t matter “a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the very foundation of our democracy.”

Cf. Adam Schiff: “If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost.”

A related post
Truth, “theory,” and Donald Trump*

[Source for Jackson’s words here.]

Make it new

In the “news”:

Shortly after the Democratic Presidential debate on Wednesday night, aides to Michael Bloomberg announced that he would spend ten billion dollars to buy an entirely new personality.

Acknowledging that some attributes of the former New York mayor’s new personality have yet to be ironed out, campaign advisers indicated that the eleven-figure outlay would be used to purchase warmth, empathy, and humanity.

Domestic comedy

[Of a correspondent on the news.]

“He looks like a boy.”

“He does look young.”

“But he has gray hair.”

“Then he’s a boy in a school play.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Disses, digital and analog

In tonight’s debate, Elizabeth Warren called Pete Buttigieg’s healthcare plan “a PowerPoint.” She likened Amy Klobuchar’s healthcare plan to a Post-it Note.

In her response, Klobuchar pointed out that the Post-it Note was invented in her home state of Minnesota.

“Fellows of the first importance”

Young Dunstable Ramsay aspires to the life of a magician:

Robertson Davies, Fifth Business (1970).

Fifth Business is the first novel of The Deptford Trilogy, one of Elaine’s favorite works of literature. The trilogy is now the stuff of the Four Seasons Reading Club, our two-person adventure in reading. Ninety-eight pages in, I can say that Fifth Business is indeed a wonderful novel, mysterious in small ways (so far, at least, they’re small), and highly Dickensian. How can you not love a novel whose second section is titled “I Am Born Again”?

[David Copperfield, Chapter One: “I Am Born.”]

EXchange name sighting

[Safety Last! (dir. Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, 1923). Click for a larger view.]

A list of Los Angeles County exchange names drawn from the now-offline Telephone Exchange Name Project has no BRyant on record. The numbers on the most famous Hester Street, in Manhattan, never ran to 1110. So where was Uncle Ike’s Pawn Shop? The best answer: in the movies.

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 : Danger Zone : 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 : Out of the Past : 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, February 18, 2020

Trump* pardons miscreants

He wants the death penalty for drug dealers. Not so much for white-collar criminals, a number of whom just received presidential pardons or commutations. One miscreant whose sentence Trump* commuted: Rod Blagojevich, ex-governor of Illinois.

I can think of four reasons for Trump* to issue pardons and commutations today:

1. Send a message to Roger Stone.

2. Exercise power, because that’s what Trump* likes to do.

3. Eat up news time and distract attention from the Democratic primaries.

4. Send a message to Roger Stone. I have your back, Roger, Nixon tattoo and all.
And did you notice Trump*’s use of a plural pronoun in speaking of himself? “Yes, we commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich.” As in “I would like you to do us a favor though.” Himself, not the country.

And now that the disgraced Illinoisan is back in the news: How do you pronounce “Blagojevich”?

Related reading
All OCA Blagojevich posts

Stop-and-frisk in LA

Elaine and I shared in a long, lively conversation riding to LAX last fall. At one point our driver, an African American man, was talking about his daughter, fourteen, an honors student, and wondering what to say to her about current events. It’s crazy, he said. And he took care to add, “whatever side you’re on.”

“Oh,” I said, “I suspect we’re all on the same side here.” And we were.

The talk turned to one Rudolph Giuliani, whom our driver knew as the good guy of 9/11, “America’s Mayor.” What happened there ? I took the opportunity to point out Giuliani’s role in the development of stop-and-frisk policing. Not exactly a good guy. Our driver had no idea.

It didn’t occur to me last fall that it would be helpful to know about stop-and-frisk in thinking about 2020 presidential candidates.

Recently updated

Stopping at a rest stop with your swim team while black Now with an interview with swimmer Jaylan Butler and ACLU attorney Rachel Murphy.

The police violence recounted in this interview is the logical extension of stop-and-frisk, with any young man of color automatically a suspect, automatically suspected of — what? Of something.

“What the future is for”

Pamela Josse, twelve, writing in her notebook:

Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, trans. Alison Anderson (New York: Europa Editions, 2008).

Kid’s smart. I recommend The Elegance of the Hedgehog with great enthusiasm.

Also from this novel
“The art of scything”


From the BBC Radio 4 series The Boring Talks : “Pencils,” with Brian Mackenwells. An excerpt:

“Now most people don’t think about pencils. They’re part of the array of stationery one can steal from at work, and that’s it. I am not most people. I bring pencils into work. And it’s that free work pencil that I intend to ruin for all of you.”
One correction: John Steinbeck did not write with Eberhard Faber Blackwings only. His three favorites: the Blaisdell Calculator, the Blackwing, and the Mongol.

Mackenwells is also partial to the typewriter, which he uses to make art. I dig this map of Dublin.

Thanks, Steven, for pointing me to this talk.

Monday, February 17, 2020


[The fourth cyber freedom: “Freedom from Online Scams (End to Violations of Private Space and Being Duped by Techno Pirates).” Art by Viktor Koen.]

Most of the scam-mails I receive — “Hello, my dear,” &c. — go straight to spam. But two unusual scam-mails recently showed up in my inboxes. Here’s one that came to my blogging e-mail address:


I hope this message finds you well. I am       from      . I was looking for some artwork online and I found your contact while surfing and I must tell you, You are doing a great job, I would really love to purchase some of your works for my wife as a surprise present regarding our forthcoming 30th anniversary, I would like to receive further information about your piece of work and what inspires you. However, I would greatly appreciate if you could possibly recommend a few completed pieces of your artworks that is ready for immediate sales within my price range ($1,000- $15,000).

Hope to hear from you soon.

Best regards,

I enjoy close-reading this sort of nonsense to see how many tells I can spot. The lack of a name after “Hello,” the weirdly genteel “I hope this message,” the announcement of a name that has no relation to the sender’s e-mail address, the wobbly syntax and grammar and punctuation, the utter improbability of “looking for some artwork online,” the lack of specificity about what the sender likes about my art.

My art? This e-mail no doubt results from a search for blogs with “art” in their titles or close by. And I’ll add: the only people who ever tell me that I'm doing “a great job” online are spammers, when they leave comments telling me to keep up the good work and that they’ll definitely be back, followed by a link for whatever. (That’s why I moderate comments.)

I was not surprised to discover that this e-mail is one instance of a ploy, explained in a public Facebook group, Stop Art Scams. Long story short: the “buyer” 1. overpays with a fake check and asks the seller to wire back the overage or 2. sends a fake PayPal receipt. I assume that with 2. the same overpayment scheme kicks in.

Here’s a second, loonier scam, which came to my university e-mail address:
Hi, my name is     .I am a staff here in       .My uncle is moving to the school area and needs someone who can pet sit or and walk his English Bull dog 2 hours daily within 9am-11pm.Pay is $300 weekly. Kindly email him for more info are to contact him with your personal email NOT school email so he can receive your email because most times I email him with my school email he hardly receive my emails.
This e-mail appears to spoof a student (not staff) account. Here too there’s plenty in the sender’s syntax and grammar and punctuation to arouse suspicion. There are also the improbably convenient conditions and great pay: just two hours a day, at $21.42 an hour. Even a professor emeritus might leap at that kind of money. While the art scam-mail is sketchy in its lack of specificity, this e-mail is sketchy in its elaborate explanation of why it’s necessary to use a personal e-mail account. I think that we can all figure out why the sender wants to keep further correspondence off the university server.

I cut and pasted part of the text of this e-mail into DuckDuckGo, and look what I found (with the same Hotmail address, which I’ve redacted):
Hi, my name is      .I am a staff here in      .My uncle is moving to the school area and needs someone who can pet sit or and walk his English Bull dog 2 hours daily within 9am-11pm.Pay is $300 weekly. Kindly email him for more info are to contact him with your personal email NOT school email so he can receive your email because most times I email him with my school email he hardly receive my emails.
What puzzles me is how this scheme is supposed to work. Do I, as an aspiring dog-walker, wire a deposit to show my good faith? Does the uncle send me a check for a month’s pay and then — oops — ask me to send part of it back? What say you, Uncle?

Related posts
Coley Georgette and others : English professor spam : Fake speeding ticket : Horace Fish, Madge Herring, and others : Lothario Vanvliet and others : Mr. Berenguer Bolivar Basilio : The National Dean’s List : Nuclear physics scam : Remembrance of spam past : Smog Q. Carafe and others

Sluggo goes to a museum

[Nancy, May 13, 1950.]

I like the sign inside the museum, just in case you have stumbled in and don’t know where you are. What are all these pai — oh, museum.

I like the way the paintings in this museum look like Ernie Bushmiller’s realities, with a little more shading. One painting even has “some fruits.”

I admire Sluggo’s manners (no hat), but given what’s about to happen, my admiration is short-lived.

I wonder if five might be the requisite number for “some paintings.”

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, February 16, 2020


“I love your tattoo. I love aloe vera.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

[For a moment I thought that the speaker was referring to an entertainer with a stage name — like, say, Awkwafina. But then I heard the tatted person’s reply: “I was gifted an aloe vera plant,” &c.]

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Phonics again

Phonics. Everything old is new again.

Stopping at a rest stop with
your swim team while black

I think that this story deserves wide attention. Here is the lawsuit.


4:36 p.m.: The story has made it to The Washington Post.


February 18: From Illinois Public Media’s The 21st, an interview with Jaylan Butler and ACLU attorney Rachel Murphy.

[My post title is meant to recall the expression “driving while black.”]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Given the difficulty of last Saturday’s puzzle, I thought that this week’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Brad Wilber, would have to be easier. And it was, much easier. I began solving with 1-A, eleven letters, “Gets no help.” I needed no help getting an answer, and I didn’t realize until long after I finished the puzzle that I might have started with an equally plausible, nearly right answer. The longer steps beneath 1-A posed more difficult: 12-A, thirteen letters, “Cast layer” and 14-A, fifteen letters, “Frequent letter carriers.” But still, I got them, without help.

Some good cultural stuff, old and new, in today’s puzzle:

2-D, five letters, “Vague ‘rumeur.’” Probably my favorite clue in the puzzle, if only because I was pleased with myself for nailing the answer right off. I did have help from 1-A.

8-D, seven letters, “‘To thine own self be true’ addressee.” Easy, I think, but I’m not sure.

22-D, five letters, “Mayflower Cafe entrée.” I had never heard of the Mayflower Cafe (no accent), but thinking about its name helped me get the answer. After looking up the Mayflower, I think I may have eaten there, many years ago.

34-A, six letters, “Poet/novelist/critic/inventor from Ottawa.” Inventor? I didn’t know that.

40-D, six letters, “‘Benighted walks under the      sun’: Milton.” I will admit though to not knowing the source, having last read it forty or more years ago. But I do remember, forty or more years ago, typing out lines from that work — “Offering to every weary traveller / His orient liquor in a crystal glass” — and taping them to a magazine ad for Suntory whisky featuring George Raft in black tie. I cannot find the ad online, so you’ll have to take my word that such an ad existed.

50-A, fifteen letters, “College news of 2019.” The challenge here was just how to phrase the answer.

55-A, eleven letters, “Creator of ‘the miserable monster.’” No, the answer predates reality TV.

And no, no spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Beethoven, anyone?

If you, too, were inspired by this New York Times article to listen to all of Beethoven’s string quartets, Elaine has a detailed and well-received post with suggestions for listening. Two of her favorite recordings of the quartets are available from Amazon for ridiculously low prices: those by the Alban Berg Quartet (7 CDs, $16.74) and the Végh Quartet (10 CDs, $20.99). The Végh set includes Bartók’s string quartets.

I’m listening to quartets as performed by the Guarneri Quartet, if only because I brought their boxed set years ago with the thought that it would be fun to, &c. And now I am. I find that having the score in hand (courtesy of Elaine, of course) is tremendously helpful. My music-reading ability is minimal, but looking at the score still helps me to follow the movement of the music and the interplay of instruments.

When I checked Amazon last night, the Guarneri set (a CD reissue of 1969 recordings) was listed as out of print. Today there’s a December 2019 reissue available (8 CDs, $24.98). Another bargain.

But for furthering one’s humanity and lifting one’s spirits in difficult times, Beethoven is a bargain at any price.

Analog rising

“Sales of stationery and cards are actually up among younger and youngish people”: so says Marketplace Morning Report, in a brief item on young people and greeting cards. With this comment: “I love my friends’ handwriting, because it’s personal.”

The story begins at the 5:26 mark.

Related reading
All OCA stationery posts (Pinboard)

Five cyber freedoms

From Print Mag, and in the form of posters, five cyber freedoms: freedom from election tampering, freedom from identity theft, freedom from hacking and malware, freedom from online scams, and freedom from misinformation.

I think the poster about online scams is esp. striking. Which reminds me — wait, that’ll be another post.

Valentine’s Day

[“Heart Amulet.” From Egypt, Upper Egypt, Thebes, Deir el-Bahri, ca. 1070–945 B.C. Lapis Lazuli. 3/8″. Metropolitan Museum of Art. From the online collection. Click for a larger view and you’ll see what the red is.]

More about amulets and the heart, or ib, at this museum page.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

iOS autocorrect and alcohol

John Gruber suggested last year that iOS 13 autocorrect is drunk:

One thing I and others have noticed is that when you type a dictionary word correctly — meaning you hit the exact right keys on the on-screen keyboard — iOS 13 autocorrect will replace it with a different dictionary word that makes no contextual sense. Even beyond dictionary words, I’m seeing really strange corrections. Two nights ago I typed “Dobbs”, including the Shift key for the “D”, and iOS 13.1 autocorrected it to “adobe”, with a lowercase “a”.
Last night I typed toast on my iPhone (letter by letter) and found the word changed to toaste. (What?) I typed have twice, letter by letter, and each time found it changed to gave. I said to Elaine, “It changes random words — words that are correctly smelled.”

That was no autocorrection. That was domestic comedy.

The problems arise with both letter-by-letter typing and iOS 13’s Slide to Type option. I can’t decide which form of text entry is more prone to error. Incidentally: on an iOS 13 device, the keyboard settings offer Slide to Type. In Apple’s online documentation the feature is called QuickPath. The only “QuickPath” on my phone is an entry in the Apple Dictionary.

I gave my phone a sobriety test this morning, entering the name of my favorite Scotch with Slide to Type. I went from letter to letter six times, with absolute accuracy. The results:
The name I was trying to enter: Glenmorangie. I think that John Gruber is correct: autocorrect is drunk, and it’s only 8:17 in the morning. And it’s gonna stay drunk all day.

Is there one in Hawkins?

Aldi Breakfast Best Homestyle Waffles are better than Eggo Homestyle Waffles. More delicate, not so wooden. Aldi waffles cost less too.

Is there an Aldi in Hawkins?

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Oxford and its comma

Beadnell comma doesn’t have the same ring to it as Oxford comma”: CMOS Shop Talk, from The Chicago Manual of Style, presents the history of the Oxford comma.

Related reading
All OCA comma and punctuation posts (Pinboard)

Campaign typography

George Butterick (as in Butterick’s Practical Typography) considers the campaign logos of Democratic presidential candidates: “A Special Listicle for America”: “Over­all best in show: I am sur­prised to say it’s Joe Biden.”

Elsewhere, Print Mag invites your participation in a game of logo brackets.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Joseph Shabalala (1941–2020)

Joseph Shabalala, founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, has died at the age of seventy-eight. The New York Times has an obituary.

Here’s a song written by Joseph Shabalala, performed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, “Hamba Dompasi (No More Passbook).” The Zulu lyrics may be found in the liner notes for the album Journey of Dreams (1988), along with a summary and sample lines in English: “This song hails the abolishment of the abhorrent pass laws in South Africa while at the same time detailing the beauty of the land.”

The requirement that black people in white areas carry a passbook ended in 1986. I remember playing this song and teaching the play Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (Athol Fugard, John Kani, Winston Ntshona) when apartheid was still the order of things in South Africa.

Nancy, champeen

[Nancy, May 8, 1950.]

In today’s yesterday’s Nancy, Nancy seeks employment advertising a “store.” The final panel (what Ernie Bushmiller called “the snapper”) reveals a pawnshop. Three bubbles, three balls. Memorable.

But what got me here is a word. Yesterday, grand. Today, champeen. The ghosts of my grandparents are speaking through Nancy.

I can find little background on champeen. Nothing in the OED, nothing in Webster’s Third, nothing in Green’s Dictionary of Slang. Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English identifies champeen an Australian variant of champion, in use before 1915. The Champeen is the title of a 1923 Our Gang short. Did the word come back to the States with soldiers from the Great War? No. Looking in the New York Times via ProQuest, I found this bit in a column titled “Nuggets” (June 29, 1899):

The Pug — I know I ain’t been able to git a battle on fer eight months, but you bet I’ll be champeen yet.

The Backer — Yes, if this keeps up, you will be the champion long-wait fighter of the world.
An earlier article about a teachers’ strike refers to a children’s song, “The School’s Champeen” (December 22, 1892). And that’s as early as I can find in the Times

Google’s Ngram Viewer shows champeen first turning up in American English in 1886. All but one of the pre-1892 appearances of champeen in Google Books have it as a variant of champagne or as a surname. The exception: an 1889 appearance in a grotesque parody of African-American speech: “de champeen livin’ skellington in de kentry.”

Long story short: champeen was in use in the States well before 1915. You’d have to be a champeen searcher to come up with more than that.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Monday, February 10, 2020

Homer, revised

I’ve thought about this possibility for several days. How best to end infighting among Democratic candidates? Have Athena step in, raising a shout that stops “all fighters in their tracks”:

Homer, Odyssey 24, trans. Robert Fitzgerald (1961), revised by me.

Come together, Democrats, “or Zeus who views the wide world may be angry.”

Related reading
All OCA Homer posts (Pinboard)

“The art of scything”

Renée Michel is the concierge at 7 rue de Grenelle, Paris. She keeps a journal. Here she likens her writing to scything, “conscious, automatic motion, without thought or calculation”:

Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, trans. Alison Anderson (New York: Europa Editions, 2008).

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a beautiful novel, made of the journal entries of Madame Michel and Paloma Josse, a twelve-year-old child of affluence and resident of the building. As their journal entries show us, Madame Michel and Paloma think in remarkably similar ways about art and life and language. Rather similar to Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, in which we see characters, at least sometimes, thinking along parallel lines, or looking at the same thing, neither of them knowing it.

But The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a perfect antidote to To the Lighthouse. Madame Michel is the kind of character who would be a mere figurant in the Woolf world, without consciousness and virtually silent. So many such characters (if they can even be called characters) populate Woolf’s novel: the maid, the cook, the women who clean up the Ramsays’ summer house, the man who helps them, the tradesmen who do repairs, the sailor and son who take Mr. Ramsay and two of his children to the lighthouse. They’re all more or less figurants, and the novel has little or no interest in what they might think and feel.

I know — To the Lighthouse is that kind of novel, and there is much in it that dazzles me, especially the eerie middle section, “Time Passes.” But there’s something wonderful about leaving that kind of novel for one in which a concierge who describes herself as “born in a bog and bound to remain there” is a secret reader of Husserl and Tolstoy and a connoisseur of Dutch still lifes and Japanese cinema. We learn about all of it from her journal. Things, or people, ain’t always what they appear to be.

My identity as a child of the working class is at work in my ambivalence about Woolf: I know that in the world of To the Lighthouse, my dad would be knocking out and redoing a wall in the Ramsays’ twenty-years-neglected bathroom. And I might be helping him if I weren’t off at university on scholarship.

[This post began as a sort of scything, texting back and forth with a friend. I don’t know how the final paragraph showed up.]

A grand cake

[Nancy, May 6, 1950. Click for a larger cake.]

Stan Carey offers a helpful commentary on the uses of grand in Ireland and elsewhere.

Nancy herself will feel grand once she cuts herself “a slice” — that is, the top half of the cake, the part with the icing. Enjoy, Nancy, and watch out for Aunt Fritzi.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)
“Mother, you always pick the grandest things”

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Whale, oil, beef, hooked

From NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, an interview with Sam Lilja, the dialect coach for Little Women and other films. With a quick lesson in how to do an Irish accent:

Say the words whale, oil, beef, hooked.

Then say them all together, fast.

[This lesson came in handy when I learned about Orson Bean’s later-life politics.]

Recently updated

Orson Bean (1928–2020) Now with Bean’s later-life swerve to the right, unmentioned in his New York Times obituary.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Orson Bean (1928–2020)

From a New York Times obituary for the actor and television personality Orson Bean:

While he eventually performed in some 50 television series and 30 films, he may be best remembered for his appearances on early panel shows, which, in contrast to the greed, noise and kitsch of many modern game shows, were low key, relatively witty and sophisticated.

“We were much more intelligent then,” Kitty Carlisle Hart, a frequent panelist with Mr. Bean, told The Times in 1999. “It sounds like an awful thing to say, but it’s true.”
Yes, it is.

When Miss Carlisle (as she was known) died in 2007, I wrote in a post,
She was one of the people who seemed to be living on television when I was a boy, along with Steve Allen, Peggy Cass, Arlene Francis, Phyllis Newman, and Nipsey Russell, friendly presences every weekday after school.
I should have remembered Orson Bean as well.

Here’s an entertaining episode of To Tell the Truth from 1964 with Orson Bean and friends.


February 9: Daughter Number Three has a post about Orson Bean’s later political life and his influence on Andrew Breitbart. See also this Hollywood Reporter article: “The men had a weekly meal together at Hal’s, a restaurant in Venice, and many point to those chats as the source for Andrew’s brand of populist-conservatism.” All the Times obituary says is that Bean’s daughter Susie married Breitbart, with no reference to Bean’s later-life swerve to the right. A Los Angeles Times obituary quotes Breitbart on Bean’s “sharp ideological metamorphosis.”

Bleach, please

Aaron Rupar confirms that this photograph is genuine. Now I need to rinse my eyes.

Donald Trump*’s orange of choice is reported to be a Swiss brand, Bronx Colors. More here and here.


4:12 p.m.: The photographer is apparently a Trump* enthusiast with access to open press events. A Getty Images photograph of the same reality shows less orange but the same grotesque mask.

4:54 p.m.: But here’s another Getty image, same time and place, with much more orange. And another with even more orange.

[Caution: no matter how many photographs, never really use bleach to rinse your eyes.]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

was a killer.

If this post were a Marianne Moore poem, that’s how it might continue from its title, if Moore were in a slangy mood and writing about crosswords. Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, is exceedingly difficult. Do “Marmoset cousins” (44-A, eight letters) turn up in Moore’s poetry? Not that I can find. But that clue is, for me, a fair sample of this puzzle’s difficulty. Working at it, I felt — sigh — so “Totally alone” (44-A, eight letters), and not in the way that clue’s answer would suggest.

Not everything here is difficult. I had early help from 24-A, eight letters, “‘Fun to make’ snack brand.” And from 60-A, nine letters, “Current successor of the ’60s slogan ‘Let's Eat Out!’” Or rather, I had help from my TV-saturated life. “Let’s Eat Out!”: what a sad slogan when you think about its source.

But elsewhere, difficulty, difficulty, difficulty. 31-D, nine letters, “Not pressing.” 38-D, eight letters, “Like a chill in the air.” NODUEDATE? No. SEASONAL? Uh-uh. I ended up doing something I’ve never done before with the Saturday Stumper — checking letters in the browser, never more than one to a word, the only way I could rule out wrong guesses. I still needed eighty-one minutes to finish the puzzle.

Clue-and-answer pairs I especially admired:

1-A, nine letters, “Occupation associated with Tennessee.” I thought whiskey. DISTILLER? No.

1-D, five letters, “Drizzle on some leaves.” Just a bit of misdirection.

13-D, nine letters, “They’re taken when leaving home.” HOUSEKEYS? No.

26-A, six letters, “Red state.” I’m back in E.M.W. Tillyard’s The Elizabethan World Picture. Good times.

32-A, nine letters, “Write.” PUTININK? No, that’s eight. (PUTIN INK is what’s Donald Trump*’s to-do lists are written in.) The correct answer is straight from the dowdy world.

40-D, seven letters, “Novel assumption, now and then.” REALISM? No.

45-D, six letters, “Where strikes are seen.” No great cleverness is needed to see the context, but there’s still a bit of rethinking needed to get the answer.

I’d say that 1-A and 13-D tie for first in today’s Stumper. No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Stephen Joyce (1932–2020)

James’s grandson. From a New York Times obituary:

Stephen Joyce gleefully maintained an iron grip on his grandfather’s printed works, unpublished manuscripts, letters and other material, although his hold loosened somewhat on the 70th anniversary of James Joyce’s death, when most copyrights on his masterpieces like Ulysses and Finnegans Wake expired. He said he was safeguarding the material’s literary integrity and defending them from critics and biographers, whom he likened to “rats and lice” that “should be exterminated.”
According to a New Yorker piece that the obituary cites, it wasn’t just “critics and biographers” but all academics: “Academics, he declared, were like ‘rats and lice — they should be exterminated!’”

Not a good guy.

I hope that Stephen Joyce and his admirer Paul Zukofsky (“‘What I’ve heard sounds very, very good. He is a staunch defender of rights.’”) have a chance to chat in that other world.

[“That other world”: from Ulysses. “I do not like that other world” is a sentence in Martha Clifford’s letter to Leopold Bloom, who corresponds with her as “Henry Flower.” Did you catch the agreement error in the passage from the Times?]

Domestic comedy

“Just so you know — it’s pronounced Stōffer’s.”

“What did I say?”

Stauffer’s. Just so you don’t embarrass yourself in public.”

“I wouldn’t embarrass myself. It’s not like a shibboleth — except among the astronauts.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[If nothing here makes sense, see this post.]

Sherrod Brown on fear and power

Sherrod Brown, Democratic senator from Ohio, writing in The New York Times, says that “For the stay-in-office-at-all-cost representatives and senators, fear is the motivator”:

They stop short of explicitly saying that they are afraid. We all want to think that we always stand up for right and fight against wrong. But history does not look kindly on politicians who cannot fathom a fate worse than losing an upcoming election. They might claim fealty to their cause — those tax cuts — but often it’s a simple attachment to power that keeps them captured.

As Senator Murray said on the Senate floor in 2002, “We can act out of fear” or “we can stick to our principles.” Unfortunately, in this Senate, fear has had its way. In November, the American people will have theirs.
[In 2002 Patty Murray (D-Washington) voted against authorizing the use of military force against Iraq.]

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Unhinged and wired

Donald Trump* is speaking and sniffing. He’s unhinged and wired, which might sound like a contradiction in terms. But he’s not wired together. Just wired.

Sniff. Sniff. Sniff.


Nancy Pelosi, just now: “He has shredded the truth in his speech. He’s shredding the Constitution in his conduct. I shredded his State of His Mind address.”

You can watch the press conference at C-SPAN.

[My capitalization.]

Rituals and talismans

“Hairbrush, tackle box, tiny toy car”: The Washington Post reports on ballet rituals and talismans. The brush, box, and car belong to Rebekah Rimsay of the National Ballet of Canada:

The childhood brush she’s used throughout her 30-year career; the decades-old tackle box that holds her makeup, with every lipstick and eyeliner carefully sorted; and the wee plastic car she found in a candy Kinder Egg maybe 25 years ago — organizing these sentimental treasures is just the finishing touch to an hours-long pre-show routine.

“Down-to-earth food”

A good episode of WGBH’s Innovation Hub : “The American Achievement of Advertising Apollo,” with Kara Miller interviewing David Meerman Scott, co-author, with Richard Jurek, of Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program. A reference to a Stouffer’s advertisement with an Apollo tie-in made me curious. So I found it, in the August 8, 1969 issue of Life:

[“Everybody Who’s Been to the Moon Is Eating Stouffer’s.” Food for “the critical postlunar quarantine period.” Click for a larger view.]

One tricky feature of Apollo-related advertising: companies could not depict an astronaut using a product or imply that a particular astronaut used a product. Here we must imagine the astronaut of our choice eating main dishes, side dishes, and meat pies.

I was surprised but not surprised to learn that NASA gave Life exclusive access to astronauts’ families. The money the families received in exchange for that access supplemented the astronauts’ modest salaries.

The August 8, 1969 issue of Life — “On the Moon” — is full of Apollo-related advertising. Here, look.

And here’s a 1969 non-Apollo-related TV spot with the slogan “Stouffer’s plays it straight.”

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Kirk Douglas (1916–2020)

[Kirk Douglas as Ulysses, in Ulysses (dir. Mario Camerini, 1954). Image via Wikipedia. Click for a larger view.]

Kirk Douglas has died at the age of 103. The New York Times has an obituary.


A clue in today’s Los Angeles Times crossword, by MaryEllen Uthlaut, made me realize something about myself.

The clue was “Concert gear.” Before seeing the number of letters in the answer, I immediately thought TUXES. The correct answer, just four letters: AMPS. My first thought brought me face to face with my concert-going habits. These days TUXES are far more likely than AMPS.

[The link goes to the LAT puzzle as offered by The Washington Post — a much friendlier design.]

Reaching Q

Thought as an alphabet of progress. Mr. Ramsay, metaphysician, has reached Q:

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927).

Much later in the novel: “But now, he felt, it didn’t matter a damn who reached Z (if thought ran like an alphabet from A to Z). Somebody would reach it — if not he, then another.”

Also from this novel
“A scrubbed kitchen table”

The Elements of Penguins

The BBC reports that “new research suggests” penguin speech follows rules of human language:

The animals follow two main laws – that more frequently used words are briefer (Zipf’s law of brevity), and longer words are composed of extra but briefer syllables (Menzerath-Altmann law). Scientists say this is the first instance of these laws observed outside primates, suggesting an ecological pressure of brevity and efficiency in animal vocalisations.
Omit needless sounds!

Related reading
All OCA Elements of Style posts (Pinboard)

[I know, of course, that the laws in play here describe the workings of language. They have nothing to do with William Strunk Jr.’s “Omit needless words,” which stresses concision in the sentence. I’m just having fun.]

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

George Steiner (1929–2020)

The (astonishingly erudite) literary critic George Steiner has died at the age of ninety. From the New York Times obituary:

“I’d love to be remembered as a good teacher of reading,” he told The Paris Review in 1994. Characteristically, he had a specific, lofty notion of reading as a moral calling. It should, he added, “commit us to a vision, should engage our humanity, should make us less capable of passing by.”
A related post
George Steiner on reading

Brian and Al in the news

Thank you, Brian Wilson and Al Jardine:

Beach Boys founding members Brian Wilson and Al Jardine alerted fans Monday that they have no part in an appearance later this week by a version of the group fronted by cofounder Mike Love at a trophy-hunting convention where Donald Trump Jr. will be the keynote speaker.

Love’s touring edition of the Beach Boys, for which he holds the legal rights to the name, also includes longtime band member Bruce Johnston. They are slated to play Wednesday, Feb. 5, at the Safari Club International Convention in Reno, where hunting enthusiasts can arrange trips to hunt exotic animals. Trump Jr. and his brother, Eric, are longtime trophy-hunting supporters.

“This organization supports trophy hunting, which both Al and I are emphatically opposed to,” Wilson tweeted on Monday. “There’s nothing we can do personally to stop the show, so please join us in signing the petition” protesting the private event at
Here’s the petition, which won’t change a thing but will at least register public disapproval of Mike Love and company.

Related reading
All OCA Beach Boys and Brian Wilson posts (Pinboard)

Iowa as metaphor

Frank Bruni asks, “Is Iowa a metaphor?” He offers this one after spending the past week in the state:

I’d never seen voters so twisted into knots. I’d never seen pundits so perplexed by the tea leaves in front of them and so hesitant to play fortuneteller. I’d never been so stymied for insight, so barren of instinct. This wasn’t a political contest; it was a kidney stone.

And by late Tuesday morning, it still hadn’t passed.
What I wonder about right now is “the mobile app” used with last night’s caucuses. Is it for Android? iOS? Both? Is the app’s security certain? (I doubt it.) Should an election require the use of Apple or Google products for results to be reported?

And should any state, much less a state with a population estimated as 90.7% white, play a singular role in shaping presidential elections? My awkward metaphor for the Iowa primary process, what with its pancake breakfasts and coin tosses: a Norman Rockwell painting with delusions of grandeur.


5:45 p.m.: from a New York Times article about the app, its creator, Shadow Inc., and Shadow’s backer Acronym:
Regardless of how it got the job, Shadow was put into a race that engineers at the most well-resourced tech giants, like Google, said could not be won. There was simply not enough time to build the app, test it widely to work out major bugs and then train its users.

Shadow was also handicapped by its own lack of coding know-how, according to people familiar with the company. Few of its employees had worked on major tech projects, and many of its engineers were relatively inexperienced.

Two people who work for Acronym, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to risk their jobs, acknowledged that the app had problems. It was so rushed, they said, that there was no time to get it approved by the Apple store. Had it been, it might have proved far easier for users to install.

Instead, the app had to be downloaded by bypassing a phone’s security settings, a complicated process for anyone unfamiliar with the intricacies of mobile operating systems, and especially hard for many of the older, less tech-savvy caucus chairs in Iowa.

The app also had to be installed using two-factor authentication and PIN passcodes. The information was included on worksheets given to volunteers at the Iowa precincts tallying the votes, but it added another layer of complication that appeared to hinder people.

“A scrubbed kitchen table”

William Bankes thinks that Mr. Ramsay, metaphysician, depends too much upon people’s praise. Lily Briscoe encourages Bankes to be more generous: “‘Oh, but,’ said Lily, ‘think of his work!’”

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927).

Monday, February 3, 2020

Goodnight commas

The title of Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon is without a vocative comma. Now that our household has a new copy of the book (where’s the old one?), I can attest that the text, too, is comma-free. And nearly punctation-free: just one em-dash and two pairs of quotation marks, for the quiet old lady’s hushes.

Goodnight stars

Goodnight air

Goodnight commas everywhere

Some boulders

George Bodmer pointed me to New Zealand’s Moeraki Boulders. Granted, there are more than three. But they are some — “remarkable, striking” — boulders.

[“A cluster of highly spherical boulders.” New Zealand. 2006. Photograph from Wikipedia. Click for larger boulders.]

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

Thanks, George.