Monday, November 30, 2020

¿Quién es más confiable?

¿Joe Namath, o Tom Selleck?

Joe Namath did call the Medicare Coverage Helpline, or at least he said so in an earlier version of his commercial. Maybe he called, maybe he didn’t. But I’m pretty confident that Tom Selleck has never looked into getting an AAG reverse mortgage for himself. And I doubt that he’s even done his “homework.” ¿Quién es más confiable?

Such questions come up when one has watched too much cable news.

[Who is more trustworthy?]

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

Do you recognize her? Leave your best guess in a comment. I’ll drop hints if needed.


Here’s a hint: She’s best known as the co-owner of a Santa Monica aoartment complex.


The answer is now in the comments.

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

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

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with doomscrolling.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, November 29, 2020. Click for a larger view.]

I don’t know where the colors come from, but it’s weird and wonderful to see resonator guitars in today’s Hi and Lois. And the guitar on the far left, is that supposed to be a Gibson? A Stella?

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Garry Trudeau Mongols

Garry Trudeau chooses ten strips that define Doonesbury (The Washington Post ).

If you look closely at the photograph, you’ll see that in 1972 Trudeau was using Mongol pencils.

Related reading
All OCA Mongol posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, is exceedingly difficult. It's also hard, rough, tough, knotty, thorny, Herculean, and uncompromising. I’d say that this puzzle is synonymous with “difficult.” I missed by one letter, unable to rethink an answer that I knew could not be right. Oh well.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

1-A, ten letters, “Growth profession.” I defy any solver to get this answer first thing.

4-D, eight letters, “Dollar stores.” Clever.

10-D, eleven, letters, “Augustus collected them.” Nobody expects the Roman Empire!

13-D, six letters, “Bird that eats oranges (!).” This feels like a giveaway, but I’m not sure it is.

15-A, ten letters, “Brief romances, e.g.” Here’s the clue that messed me up. I never suspected that the first letter of my attempted answer could be wrong.

18-A, four letters, “Go along with, in a way.” Adding a noirish atmosphere to the puzzle.

21-D, five letters, “Candlelit performance.” Possibly. But I like the suggestion of coziness.

37-D, eight letters, “Stevenson’s ‘gift which cannot be worn out in using.’” RLS is in the air in our house, as Elaine is one of the many composers who have set his poems to music.

51-A, six letters, “Curated cuts.” I thought there must be a pun on deli meats here, but no.

58-A, ten letters, “Casual canvas shoe.” Seems very 1960s to me. I know that’s not accurate.

64-A, ten letters, “Rumble in the Jungle pairing.” At least one giveaway in this puzzle. Thanks for that.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Domestic comedy

[Shouted from floor to floor.]

“Jonathan Capehart is growing a beard!”

The people on the news, it’s like we know them now.

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

“The ethical is not halfway”

Rebecca Solnit, “On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway”:

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito just complained that “you can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Now it’s considered bigotry.” This is a standard complaint of the right: the real victim is the racist who has been called a racist, not the victim of his racism, the real oppression is to be impeded in your freedom to oppress. And of course Alito is disingenuous; you can say that stuff against marriage equality (and he did). Then other people can call you a bigot, because they get to have opinions too, but in his scheme such dissent is intolerable, which is fun coming from a member of the party whose devotees wore “fuck your feelings” shirts at its rallies and popularized the term “snowflake.”

Nevertheless, we get this hopelessly naïve version of centrism, of the idea that if we’re nicer to the other side there will be no other side, just one big happy family. This inanity is also applied to the questions of belief and fact and principle, with some muddled cocktail of moral relativism and therapists’ “everyone’s feelings are valid” applied to everything. But the truth is not some compromise halfway between the truth and the lie, the fact and the delusion, the scientists and the propagandists. And the ethical is not halfway between white supremacists and human rights activists, rapists and feminists, synagogue massacrists and Jews, xenophobes and immigrants, delusional transphobes and trans people. Who the hell wants unity with Nazis until and unless they stop being Nazis?
I wince when I hear Joe Biden say that we must come together. But notice: every description of “us,” of American culture, that he presents makes no room for hatred, racism, or delusional thinking. I think — or hope — he’s showing considerable political intelligence in a dangerous time.

On a helical staircase

I like this passage on purism in language use, from Follett’s Modern American Usage (1966):

Purism is another form of the pedantic. It singles out in the language of science and scholarship what is literal and minute, as pedantry does the abstract and long-winded. Purism haggles over trifles and refuses to know when errors and confusions no longer matter. We all understand what a spiral staircase is; the purist reminds us that a spiral lies flat in one plane, so that our staircase is properly a helix. But even if each of us has his own one or two pet pedantries, collectively we shall not go down the helical staircase. We shall continue to drink a cup of coffee aand assuredly not a cupful; we shall speak of captions below the text, though caption by a confused etymology suggests head; we shall refer to the proverbial man of straw, though he is not the subject of a proverb; we shall speak of being buttonholed by a bore and not buttonheld, from the supposedly correct buttonhold; we shall say it is no use when we speak, though we may want to write it is of no use; we shall certainly cross the bridge (but not till we come to it), instead of agonizing over the truth that it is the river that is crossed and not the bridge. And if the world, faced with a new and inspiriting phenomenon, wants to say outer space, we shall not affect to be puzzled on the plea that space cannot be inner or outer. If there is an outer darkness there can be an outer space, which we may even hope to visit.
Wilson Follett died with this book unfinished. Jacques Barzun and several other hands took up the work of revising and editing.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving 1920

[“Thanksgiving Spirit Cheers Thousands: Turkey and ‘All the Fixings’ Served in Homes, Hospitals and Prisons.” The New York Times, November 26, 1920. Click for a larger view.]

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it. May there be better days ahead.

Related reading
The one-cent coffee stands for poor New Yorkers (Ephemeral New York)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Heroes and villains

“Heroes don’t lie to the FBI about contacts they had with hostile foreign powers”: Representative Adam Schiff (D, California-18), a few minutes ago, commenting to CNN on Donald Trump*’s pardoning of Michael Flynn.

A message from NYC Health

[From the New York City Health Department. Found at Gothamist. Click for a larger view.]

Recently updated

Words of the year From the Cambridge Dictionary, quarantine.

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

“That’s him!” I said. Because I would never say “That’s he!” But by him I didn’t mean the actor. I meant a character, one I’ve seen dozens of times. Only that wasn’t him — meaning the character. It was the actor who played him, an actor whose name I had to look up.

Do you recognize this face? I’m guessing that if you do, you, too, will need to look up the name. Leave your answer in the comments. I’ll drop a hint if needed.


One name I’ll rule out: he’s not Bill Macy, the actor who played Walter Findlay on Maude. No, not him.


Here’s a hint: this actor may be best known for dancing in a Brooklyn apartment.


Oh well: it’s been about four hours. I’ll reveal this actor’s name in the comments.

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

Recently updated

How to improve writing (no. 89) “Is it right to speak of a pair of twins ?”

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

“Look it up”

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is coming to network television, and The New York Times has an article about the appeal of the original series, with reflections from the people of Stars Hollow. Did you know that Lauren Graham (Rory Gilmore) and Scott Patterson (Luke Danes) gave up smoking to have wind enough to manage the show’s dialogue?

My favorite bit from the Times article:

Popular culture was the lifeblood of the series, and Rory and Lorelai’s conversations, speckled with rapid-fire allusions to bad television shows and great books and distant historical epochs, were the joyous center of the show, offering fans a utopian fantasy of familial love grounded in the deep appreciation of Cop Rock. A single episode might reference Nikolai Gogol, The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, the punk band Agnostic Front, the Velvet Underground collaborator Nico, Fiddler on the Roof, David Hockney, and the Franco-Prussian War.

“There was going to be an Oscar Levant mention in there, and if you don’t know who he is, that’s OK! Look it up,” [the show’s creator Amy] Sherman-Palladino said.
Related reading
All OCA Gilmore Girls posts (Pinboard)

Meet H. Neil Matkin

Something to be thankful for: that you’re not teaching at Collin College, with H. Neil Matkin as your president. From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

The news arrived on Friday, nested deep in an email that landed during a Faculty Council Zoom meeting. Only after someone had reached the 22nd paragraph did professors learn what had happened, and when they did, a few began to cry.

“To date, we are aware of one Collin College student who has passed away from complications from Covid-19 and, as of last week, one faculty member,” H. Neil Matkin, president of the community-college district in Texas, wrote. The student’s death had been reported in late October, but the announcement that a colleague had died came as a fresh blow. In the same paragraph, near the bottom of the email, Matkin also disclosed that a staff member was hospitalized.

All of it appeared in an email beneath the subject line “College Update & Happy Thanksgiving!”
One of Matkin’s talking points about COVID-19: “I have chosen to never live my life in fear.” Sounds familiar.

Here’s another example of Matkin in action.

Recently updated

Words of the year From Oxford Languages, many words.

Monday, November 23, 2020

“Initial protocols”

Donald L. Trump*, tweeting, has recommended that General Services Administration head “Emily [Murphy] and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

Initial protocols? About what? He can’t even say.

It’s difficult to imagine a less graceful loser. Hurry, January.

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

This one’s tough, I think. Do you recognize her? Leave your best guess in the comments. I’ll drop hints as appropriate.


Here’s a hint: She’s best known for her work in commercials. But even then, you’ll probably need to look up her name.


This one is tough. I’m adding the answer in the comments.

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

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

A joke in the traditional manner

This one is from my son Ben, shared with permission: Why are supervillains good at staying warm in the winter?

The punchline is in the comments. Thanks, Ben.

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 ghosts hide their wrinkles? : 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’s the worst thing about owning nine houses? : 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 sharpen your pencil to write a Dad joke? : Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

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

Recently updated

Hagoromo Fulltouch Chalk Now with a tour of the factory.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Safari 14.0.1 problems

If you use Safari on a Mac, you might want to hold off on the 14.0.1 update. It breaks things. Blogger can no longer upload images. (Dragging images into Blogger still works, sometimes.) Gmail can no longer upload attachments. Both problems have been reported by users, including me. (In other words, it’s not Just Me.)

My workaround is Brave, minus the “rewards.”


November 23: It appears that this problem affects Macs still using Mojave. Any button that serves to open the Finder and browse files for uploading no longer works. The current recommendation is to reinstall the operating system. A simpler recommendation might be to ditch Safari.

Really disappointing, Apple. I download an update that’s supposed to be for my device and it breaks my browser.

“Rule number one of scholarship”

Simon Darcourt is unhappy.

Robertson Davies, The Lyre of Orpheus (1988).

Any academic who’s emptied their office before retiring can attest to what Rev. Darcourt says — if, of course, that academic is a true scholar.

But wait — true scholars don’t empty their offices. They keep their offices or just move everything to a new location.

The Lyre of Orpheus is the third novel of The Cornish Trilogy.

Related reading
All OCA Robertson Davies posts (Pinboard)

[True scholar, or no? Only the janitor knows for sure.]

Saturday, November 21, 2020

What next?

As the walls close in and clichés multiply, how long before Donald L. Trump* makes an explicit claim that COVID-19 was created to destroy his chances of re-election?

[L. is not a typo.]

Nancy, poet

[Nancy, November 19, 2020. Click for a larger view.]

I saved Thursday’s strip because I’m a sap about fall. I didn’t realize until I looked again today just how clever Olivia Jaimes is.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[Yes, there’s a typo. A typo, not a lettering mistake, since Nancy, like so many comic strips, uses a digital typeface.]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Brad Wilber, and it’s an especially good puzzle, with many clues that look impossible until a cross suggests an answer. For instance, 15-A, eight letters, “Go too far with your scheme.” Or 42-D, seven letters, “Frenzied but entertaining.” And I’m lost.

I started solving with 58-A, four letters, “Overly inventive one,” which gave me 53-D, five letters, “Make merry.” And that gave me 61-A, eight letters, “MGM Roman blockbuster.” As I filled in the bottom right corner, things got much easier. But aside from 58-A, I needed a cross for nearly every answer in this puzzle, which made the solving feel weirdly methodical. That’s me. In the words of 65-A, six letters, “See what you think.”

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked (with a slight hint or two but no genuine spoilers):

7-D, seven letters, “‘Why, oh why, can’t I?’ lyricist.” It’s a nice touch to use the perhaps less familiar closing line (and not “Why then, oh why can’t I?”). I was thinking Harold Arlen and — who? And I remembered, thought it took a cross. But here’s a name that should not need a cross to be remembered.

9-D, four letters, “Katy Perry visited their Stockholm museum.” Their ? Hmm.

17-A, eight letters, “Either half of a bonded pair.” I was thinking about atoms and stuff.

22-A, three letters, “Parisian’s ‘Rats!’” I would think first of a five-letter word. I wonder what Charlie Brown says in translation.

24-D, five letters, “High-calorie, as some crusts.” Extra credit for a hilarious adjective that looks like a misspelling.

32-A, four letters, “’60s What’s My Line? regular, pre-TV stardom.” But wait: how would someone get to be a regular on a game show before becoming a TV star? Ah, it’s a little tricky. And surprising to me.

66-A, eight letters, “Oral exams of a sort.” Well, yes.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Misreading the cookie

The cookie said

An enjoyable vacation is awaiting
       you near the mountains.
I read vaccination.

Mountains or no, anyplace is fine.

NYRB sale

New York Review Books is having a sale on all books.

Orange Crate Art is a NYRB-friendly site.

Dunning Kruger & Associates

Opacity? Come see us!

[Context here.]


A wonderful sentence.

Robertson Davies, What’s Bred in the Bone (1985).

What’s Bred in the Bone is the second novel of The Cornish Trilogy.

Related reading
All OCA Robertson Davies posts (Pinboard)

Domestic comedy

[Reading Robertson Davies prompted us to look up some details of clerical garb.]

“You know where you can buy those?”

“In a surplice store.”

Elaine knew I’d have the punchline.

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 19, 2020


A wonderful headline from The Washington Post: “Rudy Giuliani’s post-election meltdown starts to become literal.”

“Tick-tack-toe on your apple”

Frank Cornish and Art.

Robertson Davies, What’s Bred in the Bone (1985).

I’ve known of teachers like that, the kind who can never allow a student to exceed their own knowledge or ability. Miss McGladdery doesn’t even know that she doesn’t know the terms hatching and crosshatching. Hatch, from the Middle French hacher, “to chop, slice up, incise with fine lines.”

Hatching and crosshatching make me think right away of R. Crumb and Bill Griffith. See, for instance, today’s Zippy.

Griffith’s graphic memoir Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist (2015) includes this excerpt from Lawrence Lariar’s Cartooning for Everybody  (1941):

Cross-hatching is rapidly disappearing from the comic business. There is a small demand for the cross-hatch system in certain comic strips, but the more modern comic artists forgot about the cross-hatch long ago.
Not To which Crumb and Griffith say “Oh yeah?”

What’s Bred in the Bone is the second novel of The Cornish Trilogy. Academia, art, astrology, family secrets, fortune-telling, Gnosticism, hatching and cross-hatching, E.T.A. Hoffman, intelligence gathering, King Arthur, murder, opera, Romanticism, stringed-instrument repair, theology: it’s fiction with something for everyone. Totally great. And I still have several hundred pages to go.

Related reading
All OCA Robertson Davies posts (Pinboard) : A review of Invisible Ink

Cal Newport on Getting Things Done

A long and not especially satisfying New Yorker piece by Cal Newport: “The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done.” Newport says that approaches to productivity such as the one described in David Allen’s Getting Things Done

don’t directly address the fundamental problem: the insidiously haphazard way that work unfolds at the organizational level. They only help individuals cope with its effects.
His conclusion: we must
acknowledge the futility of trying to tame our frenzied work lives all on our own, and instead ask, collectively, whether there’s a better way to get things done.
That’s an odd conclusion, as it follows Newport’s own suggestions toward a better way — virtual task boards and daily morning meetings to “confront” those boards, so that everyone knows who’s doing what. More meetings!

Until a better way comes along, I’d say that GTD can be immensely useful to anyone contending with the insidiously haphazard demands of work — not to mention the insidiously haphazard demands of life. I speak from experience.

Related reading
All OCA GTD posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Time passes

How strange and sad, thought I, that the Go-Go’s song “We Got the Beat” is now the stuff of a television commercial for a prescription drug that treats heart disease and high triglycerides. What?

But wait a sec — that song is now more than forty years old, released in 1980 and then in a slightly longer version in 1982. So anyone who dug the song back then is now of an age to perhaps be thinking about things like heart di —

Forty years! Well, that’s enough posting for one day.

Mystery actors

[Men with hats.]

Do you recognize either actor? Both? A tweet about this image reveals the identity of the fellow on the right. But if you don’t peek, you have two mysteries to solve. I’ll drop hints if needed.

Daughter Number Three pointed me to the tweet with this movie shot. Thanks, Pat.


9:47 a.m.: That was fast. Both actors are now identified in the comments.

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

Operator speaking

From the Naked City episode “To Dream Without Sleep” (May 24, 1961). Poor Fran Burney (Lois Nettleton) has lost her last dime to a pay phone. An operator speaks:

“If your coin was not returned, please send us a postcard with your name and address, and we will forward the proper amount in United States postage stamps.”
In 1961, that would have meant sending a three-cent postcard to get ten cents in stamps. It hardly seems worth the effort. Would an audience have heard this message as a joke about an offer that few, if any, callers took up? Or did seven cents matter?

There must be eight million pay phones in the Naked City.

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Side-by-side images in Blogger

Oh, the fun of figuring out how to have it your way in the new Blogger. Maybe everyone knows this trick already. But if not:

To get images to display side by side, remove display: block; from the code for each image.

Related posts
Clear images in the new Blogger : Images in the new Blogger

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with iso.

Cloudy gray skies

  [Sluggo and Mooch. Nancy and Mutts, November 17, 2020. Click for larger views.]

In Mutts, as in Nancy, the skies are gray. Cloudy gray skies are general all over comics, as Joyce might have put it.

Today’s xkcd

Caution: Today’s xkcd, “Ten Years,” is likely to bring tears.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Neat’s-foot madeleine

[Peanuts, November 19, 1973.]

Yesteryear’s Peanuts is this year’s Peanuts.

And now, fifty-plus years after my baseball boyhood, I finally know what neat’s-foot oil is. I’m glad I didn’t know back then.

Hidden Mongols

At Oddments of High Importance, Mike found a box of ten Mongols in a filing cabinet. Bonus: an Artgum eraser.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Staying put

I think John Gruber’s words deserve to be shared:

If you’re planning a “small” family get-together for Thanksgiving, it’s every bit as irresponsible as planning a “short” drunk drive.
Gruber’s post links to a cautionary tale: one “smallish” wedding, fifty-five guests, 176 infections, seven deaths. Of the seven people who died, not one attended the wedding.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Today’s Saturday Stumper

I don’t track a “best time” for doing the Newsday  Saturday Stumper. All I care about is whether I can do the puzzle. But I know that whatever my best time might be, it wasn’t for this Greg Johnson puzzle, one of the most difficult Stumpers I’ve done. Fifty minutes’ worth of difficult. Holy moly.

I had to travel all the way to the bottom right corner to find a way in, with 58-A, three letters, “Pilot’s paperwork,” and 59-D, three letters, “’50s USAF coinage.” Those two gave me 61-A, seven letters, “‘Pictures deface walls ___ than they decorate them’”: Frank Lloyd Wright.” That Frank Lloyd Wright. Sheesh, what a grouch.

I looked again at 11-D, three letters, “Letters often near ‘fax,’” and took a guess at 14-D, nine letters, “Sub-Saharan menace.” And that answer gave me 38-A, four letters, “Year-end number.” Ah, that answer again, which shows up more often in crosswords than in life. I’ll take it. I had a hunch at 35-A, four letters, “Spanish surname related to ‘Roderick.’” And things continued, hit and miss.

My final answer: 1-D, five letters, “Oxens’ humped cousins.” What?

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

4-D, six letters, “Glue-bound product.” The answer more often refers to something else these days.

8-A, seven letters, “Ready to crush the curve.” Nerdy me, I was thinking of someone all set for a final exam.

12-D, nine letters, “‘Colorful’ Federal Reserve report.” Never heard of it.

30-D, nine letters, “Lights used in navigation.” HIGHBEAMS? No.

53-A, four letters, “Name on many posters with McDormand and Buscemi.” I insist that this clue is an instance of misdirection, not a gimme.

60-A, seven letters, “Swell place.” I like the dowdy swell, as in “Gee, you’re swell,” even if it tricked me.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Sidebar revision

For anyone reading via RSS: The “I” in my sidebar now wears a mask and is socially distanced. Elaine took the photograph on November 6.

Words of the year

From the Australian National Dictionary Centre, iso : “I think iso will be one way that we will talk about this period for a long time.”

From the Cambridge Dictionary, quarantine: “Our editors . . . were interested to find a new meaning emerging: ‘a general period of time in which people are not allowed to leave their homes or travel freely, so that they do not catch or spread a disease.’”

From the Collins Dictionary, lockdown : “a unifying experience for billions of people across the world, who have had, collectively, to play their part in combating the spread of COVID-19.”

From, pandemic : “The pandemic defined 2020, and it will define the years to come. It is a consequential word for a consequential year.”

Also from, the People’s Word of the Year, unprecedented : “Overfamiliarity, if not overuse, has prompted the popular sentiment that we should send the word into retirement. But in 2020, unprecedented is the word that just won’t go away.”

From Macmillan Dictionary’s crowdsourced Open Dictionary, lockdown : “a word that came to us from American English but in 2020 has acquired a new meaning that will surely resonate with those who experienced it for the rest of their lives.”

From Macquarie Dictionary, doomscrolling : “a very salient marker of 2020, with its barrage of troubling news, from the bushfires to the US elections and, of course, coronavirus.”

From Merriam-Webster, pandemic : “This has been a year unlike any other (the word unprecedented also had a significant spike in March), and pandemic is the word that has connected the worldwide medical emergency to the political response and to our personal experience of it all.”

From Oxford Languages, many words: “Given the phenomenal breadth of language change and development during 2020, Oxford Languages concluded that this is a year which cannot be neatly accommodated in one single word.”

I’ll add to this post as more words arrive.

Nail-biter and others

Nail-biter and others: Peter Sokolowski of Merriam-Webster looks at words of the 2020 election.

And yes, people have been looking up interregnum.

“Himes nailed it”

Seth Jacobs, historian:

“The highest compliment that I can pay to a Jesuit education is that I really, really wish I had received one. Father Michael Himes nailed it when he said, ‘The purpose of an undergraduate education, particularly a Jesuit education, is a rigorous and sustained conversation about the most important questions relating to the human condition with the widest possible circle of the best possible conversation partners.’ And as he points out, many of those conversation partners aren’t breathing anymore, which is why we have libraries and teachers.”

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Items in a series

Mara Gay, speaking on The 11th Hour a few minutes ago, suggested that it’s necessary to now marginalize Donald Trump* and bring people back to “reality, science, kindness, and democracy.” Yes.

“5:00 p.m.”?

[Catching up on podcasts.]

From This American Life, “Late Registration,” a story about Kanye West, Wisconsin, and the true meaning of “5:00 p.m.”

Barack Obama, writing by hand

Barack Obama, in “an adapted and updated excerpt” from A Promised Land, his forthcoming memoir:

I still like writing things out in longhand, finding that a computer gives even my roughest drafts too smooth a gloss and lends half-baked thoughts the mask of tidiness.
His tools of choice: a pen and a legal pad.

One great mistake in college comp classes: equating writing with word processing.

Related reading
Obama revisions : OCA posts about writing by hand

“Big with significance for someone”

From the second novel of The Cornish Trilogy, a moment in the growth of the artist’s mind.

Robertson Davies, What’s Bred in the Bone (1985).

That final sentence makes me think of Willa Cather.

Related reading
All OCA Robertson Davies posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

COVID follies

In Illinois’s Region 6, things are bad. And yet.

Today Elaine saw a Facebook ad for a nearby restaurant’s Thanksgiving buffet. An indoor buffet, $25 per person, $12.50 per “kid,” $62.99 for a family of four. If ever there could be a buffet worth risking one’s life for, it wouldn’t be this one: ham, turkey, fried chicken (choose one), mashed potatoes, noodles, gravy, green beans, dressing, rolls, pumpkin pie. What, no cranberry sauce?

The mitigation measures for our region of the state include no indoor dining at restaurants. Outdoor tables must be at least six feet apart. So how can this restaurant be offering an indoor buffet? Because we have county sheriffs who have proudly announced that they will not enforce COVID restrictions. These sheriffs see themselves as standing up to J.B. Pritzker, our (Democratic) governor, who cannot be allowed to take away our freedoms, &c.

Comments on the Facebook ad run mostly along those lines. I’ll reproduce a couple as typed:

I hope you’re going to be open for thanksgiving it’s a virus or the government don’t shut you down

just please dont close or go to carry out only! We need to have strong businesses! Not cowl down to the govt!! You guys stand strong and stay open!
One comment describes calling the restaurant and being told that employees don’t wear masks and that there’s no social distancing. And they’re planning a buffet? It’s a recipe (sorry) for disaster.

On terse comment caught Elaine’s eye: “On my bucket list.”

Elaine’s reply, surprisingly, stands, at least for now:
Isn’t the bucket list a list of things you want to do before you die? An unmasked Thanksgiving COVID hotspot might do the trick for a lot of people. Take-out food tastes just as good as in-restaurant food.
The best way to support a restaurant in the COVID era: order takeout directly from the restaurant. Pay in cash and tip generously. We’ve been doing just that with our favorite restaurant since mid-March. But we’ll be making our own Thanksgiving dinner, which will be a safer and tastier choice than that buffet. And we’ll have cranberry sauce. Also sweet potatoes.

[About those sheriffs: Yes, Illinois is a blue state. But move away from a handful of metropolitan areas, and it’s a sea of red.]

“No Cap!”’

[Life, June 10, 1946. Click for a larger view.]

After reading a BBC history of the ballpoint pen, I had to go looking for Reynolds. All I can say is that the claim of a four- to fifteen-year supply of ink fills me with existential dread. Notice (bottom left) that the pen is gendered — not unusual in the twentieth century.

The Reynolds name is still around, as an Indian brand owned by Newell Brands. And look closely: the Reynolds Xpres-Dri gel pen appear to be a Paper Mate Ink Joy with slightly different packaging. The tell-tale Paper Mate hearts remain. Newell owns Paper Mate too.

Related reading
All OCA pen posts (Pinboard) : Photographs of the Reynolds 400

[Gendered pens: among others, the Parker Compact Jotter (“for girl-size hands”), the Parker Lady Duofold, the Lady Sheaffer, the Sheaffer PFM (Pen for Men).]

Veterans Day

[From “Armistice Day.” Editorial. The New York Times, November 11, 1920.]

Then and now: the need to reinstate the United States “in the esteem of the world” by means of significant alliances.

I found this editorial a welcome contrast to the language of “swift triumph” and “unconquerable spirit” that ran through the observances of Armistice Day 1920.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Gillian Welch, Pessoa reader

Gillian Welch, talking with The New York Times:

“About a month ago, my eye was drawn to a book that has sat mostly unread on my shelf for some time, The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. I picked it up and randomly read a passage of such beautiful poignancy, such exquisite human precision, that the wonderment of creative expression flooded me. I told no one about it, but kept it to myself, and the impulse to write, the need to grapple with this moment has returned to me and grown from that little seed.”
Thanks to Stefan Hagemann for pointing me to this passage. Stefan guest-wrote an OCA post that still pulls in readers, How to answer a professor.

Related reading
All OCA Pessoa posts (Pinboard)

The ballpoint pen

“On 29 October 1945, the New York City branch of Gimbels department store unveiled a new product. Billions upon billions would follow in its wake”: the BBC tells the story of the ballpoint pen.

The fountain-pen expert Frank Dubiel used to call the Bic the most reliable pen of all. But he was devoted to fountain pens. And in truth, fountain pens require only modest care and occasional feeding to work well.

Related reading
All OCA pen posts (Pinboard)

Enlightenment value

“We’ve spent the last four years debating the value of the Enlightenment with a reality-show host”: Stephen Colbert, last night.

Monday, November 9, 2020

A Vivaldi for our time

[Click for a bigger joke.]

Elaine noticed the cover of a remarkable musical score in the wilds of Facebook. The name that goes with this cover is Stephanie Michele Ruddy, but I don’t know whether Stephanie is the creator or the sharer or both. Perhaps she is both, just as Four Seasons is both a hotel and a total landscaping company. At any rate, I thank her. And Elaine.

Just say no to interregnum

The word seems to be everywhere on cable news and Twitter. Merriam-Webster’s definitions:

1 : the time during which a throne is vacant between two successive reigns or regimes

2 : a period during which the normal functions of government or control are suspended

3 : a lapse or pause in a continuous series
There is no throne. There is never not a president. And we don’t (yet) have a declaration of martial law.

Wirecutter ’s "best” pencils

The New York Times Wirecutter picks the “best” pencils for writing and schoolwork. The picks are, let’s say, idiosyncratic.

Some pencil brands have been excluded as “less widely available” (a little odd in the age of the Internets), but several of the pencils under review I’ve never seen in stores. Brands that the average shopper is likely to see in stores (Paper Mate, Staples) aren’t here. I’m not sure that two of the top three Wirecutter picks are widely available in stores. And I’m disappointed that those two top picks are manufactured by a company whose ethics are shoddy, shoddy, and shoddy. No doubt no one at Wirecutter knows the history there.

With the pencils under consideration, at least one judgment of quality seems dubious: Wirecutter deems the blue Staedtler Norica “one of the most expensive pencils we tested, as well as one of the worst performers.” I haven’t used the blue Norica, which seems not especially expensive and is well reviewed ($6.85 a dozen and 4.5 stars at Amazon). I do know Staedtler’s black Norica. It’s a bargain, and it too is well reviewed ($4.49 a dozen and 4.5 stars at Staples). I wrote a rave review five years ago.

Long story short: I don’t find Wirecutter particularly helpful or reliable on pencils.

When my children were tykes, back-to-school shopping was a happy summer ritual. Choosing pencils for the year was always a big deal. (Dad’s a fanatic; humor him.) A sad truth that my kids broke to me long after their school days were over: all supplies were pooled for class use. So when you buy a dozen good pencils, you might want to buy another dozen for your child’s private stash — along with a pencil case.

And keep any pink perfect-attendance pencils in a secure location.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Ellington at Fargo

Eighty years ago yesterday, the Duke Ellington Orchestra played a dance at the Crystal Ballroom, Fargo, North Dakota. Two fans recorded the proceedings. Ulf Lundin tells the story here.

Fargo 1940 is one of the great moments in music. The best way to hear it today: as a 2-CD set from Storyville Records. Here’s one number from late in the evening, a killer “St. Louis Blues,” featuring Ray Nance, Barney Bigard, Ellington, Ivie Anderson, Ben Webster, Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, and Rex Stewart.

Related reading
My take on Fargo 1940 : All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Joe and Kamala

I’ve had to remind myself several times today: it’s not just that Donald Trump* lost; it’s that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won. As I watched them speaking tonight from Wilmington, Delaware, I kept thinking of them as Joe and Kamala. I’d never before thought of a president and vice president as a pair of first names. Barack and Joe? Uh-uh.

The best way I can explain it to myself: after the psychopathy and sycophancy of the past four years, the sight of well-adjusted, apparently authentic humans prepared to assume positions of leadership is nothing less than giddying. They’re just like us, sort of, but with a great deal more courage.

Hurry, January. Joe and Kamala are ready.

Edged in black

[CNN and The New York Times have called it.]

Mistah Trump* — he not dead, but he lost, and he is lost, in a bronze-tinted fog of rage, denial, self-pity, dishonesty, grandiosity, and conspiracy-mongering. To hell with him.

Now more hard work awaits, to counter his toxic effect on truth, justice, democracy, and public health, an effect that promises to endure.

And see? Even this post, rather than celebrating a Democratic and democratic victory, mocks the autocrat’s defeat. (It’s always about him.) So I’ll also say: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, you did it. And to everyone who voted, donated, and volunteered: we did it.

[I’m borrowing from Joseph Conrad, of course, but also from Virginia Heffernan, whose “Mistah Trump” approximates Michael Cohen’s pronunciation of the boss’s name. The asterisk is mine.]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Geography to the rescue: 14-A, eight letters, “Chicago IMAX theater site on the Lake.” That’s a start. And 4-Down, four letters, “English coal port”? That’s guessable. As is, somehow, 15-A, seven letters, “Presidential summit, today.” But today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by “Andrew Bell Lewis” (Matthew Sewell and Brad Wilber), was an undelightful slog. Nine abbreviations and acronyms and initialisms. Too many, IMHO. Too much trivia: 1-A, eight letters, “App used by MLB for player evaluation.” And I wonder if the constructors were trying to outdo each other in the farfetchedness department. 29-D, nine letters, “Appliance needing good food release.” What? Or rather, Wut?

Some clue-and-answer pairs I liked:

12-D, nine letters, “What you don't have to take.” Clever.

34-A, seven letters, “Misses surfing, perhaps.” Thank you, Brian Wilson.

44-D, five letters, “Crème brûlée ingredient.” Ridiculous, but enjoyable.

55-A, six letters, “Teem members?” Cute.

One really unconvincing clue: 43-D, six letters, “Staple of Chinese cuisine.” I have never heard anyone refer to this six-letter answer. Some online searching suggests that it’s a reach. Just toss it in that appliance needing good food release.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.


Donald Trump*, spreader of disinformation, sower of discord, speaker at the headquarters of a landscaping company. Who’s writing this script?


It seems that his lawyers will be speaking. And lo: the landscaping company sits across the street from a crematorium and a few doors down from a so-called adult bookstore (“DVD’s/Lotions,” “Novelty Gifts,” “Viewing Booths”). Look up 7739 State Road, Philadelphia, and you can see the whole street. Did Trump*’s people think they were booking space at the Four Seasons Hotel?

Friday, November 6, 2020

The best thing I’ve read today

[While waiting.]

Philip Kennicott, writing in The Washington Post about Trumpism as “a chronic condition of American public life,” “a lifestyle disease rooted in sedentary thinking”:

No matter what happens to Donald Trump or who assumes the presidency in January, we can say this: He brought the truth of America to the surface. I’ll leave his policies and his politics — to the extent that he ever had policies or coherent politics — to the pundits. As a critic, I can say that he embodied, embraced or inflamed almost everything ugly in American culture, past, present and perhaps future. He made it palpable and tangible even to people inclined to see the bright side of everything. That this week’s election wasn’t a repudiation of Trumpism, that some 6 million more Americans believe in it now compared with four years ago, is horrifying. But it’s also reality, and it’s always best to face reality.

He also gave our unique brand of ugliness — rooted in racism, exceptionalism, recklessness, arrogance and a tendency to bully our way to power — a name. Trumpism is now rooted in the lexicon, and although white supremacy may be the better, more clinical term for what ails America, Trumpism is a useful, colloquial alternative.

This way, please

Andrew Bates, speaking for the Biden campaign:

“As we said on July 19th, the American people will decide this election. And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
[From Bloomberg.]


[While we are waiting.]

[“An Intense Tense.” Zippy, November 6, 2020.]

Today’s Zippy raises a question hitherto unasked in comics. Having thought of “hitherto unasked,” I couldn’t not type it.

What’s your favorite part of grammar? I want to say, with Sarah Palin, “All of ’em.” But my genuine answer might be adjective order, an astonishing example of how rules are built into language in ways that we may not even realize. As they say, language speaks us.

I also like the past subjunctive, because it can be a challenge, like an extreme sport.

When did you last hear someone speak of the pluperfect tense? For me, it might have been in eighth-grade English with Mrs. Skewes. And now she wants me to correct Zippy. It is called the pluperfect, or the past perfect, Zippy, not “past pluperfect.”

See also the “future pluperfect.”

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Music to wait by

[“Georgia on My Mind” (Hoagy Carmichael–Stuart Gorrell). Mildred Bailey and a sextet directed by Matty Malneck: Nat Natoli, trumpet; John “Bullet” Cordaro, clarinet; Malneck, violin; Roy Bargy, piano; Fritz Ciccone, guitar; Mike Trafficante, tuba. November 24, 1931.]

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Son House and Buddy Guy

[While we are waiting.]

I went on a Son House kick yesterday and discovered that an episode of Camera Three with Son House and Buddy Guy is now available at YouTube. The last few minutes, a House and Guy duet, have long been available online. The scant information at the IMDb gives the episode title as “Really the Country Blues,” aired August 17, 1969.

The term “country blues” is an invention of record collectors of course, and the host’s characterization of Guy’s music as “the new country blues” is bizarre. But there’s nothing wrong with the music.

[Really! The Country Blues is the title of a 1962 compilation LP from Origin Jazz Library.]

A Naked City mail chute

[While we are waiting.]

That’s a pretty spiffy mailbox. Detective Arcaro, could you step away so we can get a good look? Please?

[A hotel manager (Charles Tyner), Detective Adam Flint (Paul Burke), Detective Frank Arcaro (Harry Bellaver), and Lieutenant Mike Parker (Horace McMahon). From the Naked City episode “C3H5(NO3)3,” May 10, 1961. Click any image for a larger view.]

Here’s the one good glimpse of the box:

[Flint and mailbox.]

I don’t see the name, but I’m assuming it’s a Cutler Mailing System. Notice the pre-ZIP Delivery Zone label. I spotted one of those in 2013, on a visit to the Tibor de Nagy Gallery. The gallery’s address was 724 Fifth Avenue, in Zone 19. The ZIP Code for that address: 10019. The hotel in this Naked City episode was the Spencer Arms Hotel, 140 West 69th Street. The ZIP Code for that address: 10023. See? The world makes sense: 19, 10019; 23, 10023. Elaine remembers seeing the hotel when was a Juilliard student living on the Upper West Side. In 1986 the building became a co-op.

One more glimpse before parting, with a good view of the chute:

[Flint and Parker with Jack Lubin of the bomb squad (Terry Carter). Carter, by the way, was the first Black actor to appear in the series.]

Looking through the Spencer Arms’ lobby windows in Google Maps’ Street View leads me to believe that the Cutler Mailing System has left the building.

This post is for my friend Diane Schirf, who likes Cutler Mailing Systems.

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

“I will arise and go now”

Donald Trump’s lunatic performance on Twitter this afternoon (“we hereby claim the State of Michigan”) makes me think he might be happiest in a country of his own. Greenland is already taken. Let him retire then to the (tax-free!) Principality of Mar-a-Lago. “I will arise and go now, and go to Mar-a-Lago,” &c. And stay there, as it has no extradition treaty with the United States.

Did I really have this conversation?

Yes, I did, last week at the gas station.

“Just so you know — the card reader at the first pump isn’t working. I tried two cards.”

“How isn’t it working?”

“It doesn’t read the cards.”

[True, the machine could have eaten my card. But in that case, I would have said “The card reader ate my card.” And I wouldn’t have been able to try a second card. The technical term for this sort of stuff: conversational implicature.]

NPR, Son House, and Brünnhilde

NPR, a few minutes ago:

President Trump falsely claimed that he won the 2020 election. That is wrong.

Millions of votes are still being counted, and races in six key states remain too close to call.
Elaine went to sleep at nine-something last night, after one glass of wine. As she said, it wasn’t a drinker-y night. I followed at ten — I thought it was midnight — after two ounces of Scotch. When I woke up and checked my phone for more news, I guessed it was close to morning. It was midnight.

I know what Son House meant when he sang that the minutes seem like hours, hours seem like days.

So that’s one singer. But with Griffy and Zippy, I am waiting for Brünnhilde.

[I did some arithmetic before reading anyone else’s: 227 + 6 + 11 + 10 + 16 = 270. Nevada + Arizona + Wisconsin + Michigan = Biden.]

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Today’s Zippy

[Zippy, November 3, 2020.]

Today’s Zippy is titled “Not a Praying Man . . . Until Today.” That pose suggests George Bailey, doesn’t it? “Dear Father in Heaven, I’m not a praying man,” he whispers in Martini’s.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

“Yes, Nancy”

Today’s Nancy is sweet. “Yes, Nancy” is the perfect touch.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Monday, November 2, 2020

Even Dr. Birx has her limit, sort of

From The Washington Post:

A top White House coronavirus adviser sounded alarms Monday about a new and deadly phase in the health crisis, pleading with top administration officials for “much more aggressive action,” even as President Trump continues to assure rallygoers the nation is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic.

“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic . . . leading to increasing mortality,” said the Nov. 2 report from Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force. “This is not about lockdowns — It hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.”

Birx’s internal report, shared with top White House and agency officials, contradicts Trump on numerous points: While the president holds large campaign events with hundreds of attendees, most without masks, she explicitly warns against them. While the president blames rising cases on more testing, she says testing is “flat or declining” in many areas where cases are rising. And while Trump says the country is “rounding the turn,” Birx notes the country is entering its most dangerous period yet and will see more than 100,000 new cases a day this week.
But then comes this sentence: “Through a spokesperson, Birx did not respond to a request for comment.”

I hope you, too, remember Dr. Birx’s transparently ridiculous praise of Donald Trump* in late March: “He’s been so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data.” “Intellectual prostration,” I called it, borrowing a phrase from a historian. If only Birx would be willing to respond now to a request for comment. Silence is complicity. Tomorrow is Election Day.

“Free Letters”

On a recent foggy morning, Brandon Woolf was sitting on a foldable chair, in front of a foldable table, next to a Brooklyn mailbox, writing letters on a 1940s-vintage portable Royal typewriter. He was dressed in a navy blue T-shirt emblazoned with the U.S. Postal Service logo. A chalkboard sign in front of him explained the project to passers-by: “Free Letters for Friends Feeling Blue.”
The New York Times reports on a theater professor’s COVID-era letter-writing service.

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

Recognize her? Leave your best guess in a comment. I’ll drop a hint if necessary.


Here’s a hint: She’s best known for her work on television, but not as an actor.


I thought this one would be easy. Oh well. Here’s another clue: This actor was half of an odd couple.


One last hint: She spent much of her career filling in blanks.


The answer is now in the comments.

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

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

Good Reports

Mark Hurst, who wrote the excellent book Bit Literacy, has a new website, Good Reports, with recommendations for online products and services that are “viable alternatives to exploitative Big Tech services.” The recommendations start with the DuckDuckGo search engine. Worth a careful look.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Nancy in the wind

[Nancy, March 7, 1953.]

Today, winds from the nothwest, 25 to 30 mph, with gusts up to 45 mph. And Elaine and I are about to join Nancy on a walk.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

To read today

Heather Cox Richardson’s latest installment of Letters from an American might be just the thing you, too, need to read today.

Nancy 11/1/2020 strip”

Today’s Nancy is a winner. Olivia Jaimes once again expands the possibilities of what’s possible in panels.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

The death tour, continued

From The New York Times:

A group of Stanford University economists who created a statistical model estimate that there have been at least 30,000 coronavirus infections and 700 deaths as a result of 18 campaign rallies President Trump held from June to September.
See also a USA Today analysis of the fallout from five Trump* rallies. Truly, Trump* = death.