Thursday, December 7, 2023

On Willa Cather’s birthday

Willa Cather was born on this day in 1873.

From a letter to Cather’s lifelong friend Carrie Miner Sherwood, written on a Sunday, possibly December 11, 1932. The editors of the Selected Letters note that “many of Cather’s old friends in Webster County, Nebraska, were, like most Americans, facing economic hardship.”

Now will you be my Santa Claus? I want them to have a good Christmas dinner. I know they won’t buy prunes or dried apricots, they felt too poor to get them last year.

Please have Mrs. Burden pack a box:

2 dozen of the best oranges,
3 pounds of dates,
5 pounds best prunes
3 cans Texas figs
3 pounds cranberries
3 bunches celery
1 peck red apples

If there is any money left over after you get these things, get some Butternut coffee — I know they will cut the old lady down on her coffee, so put whatever is left into coffee.

I’ve already sent Mrs. Lambrecht a Christmas box, a lovely sweater and a lot of toys, but that was before I got Lydia’s letter.

I’m sitting in the middle of a pile of trunks, dear Carrie. We move today. I think the new apartment will be lovely, but I’d have waited another year if I’d known so many of my old friends were going to be hard hit. I do want to help.

From The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, ed. Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout (New York: Knopf, 2013).

I know of at least one other resident of the blog-o-sphere marking Cather’s birthday today, Heber Taylor.

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard) : All OCA posts from Cather’s letters

[The inconsistent punctuation in the list is Cather’s. I would never mess up when transcribing Willa Cather.]

The Christmas sardine

From Zingerman’s Delicatessen, “The Legend of the Christmas Sardine,” by Brad Hedeman:

[Click for a much larger view.]

You can find the story on page 10 of the November–December installment of Zingerman’s News.

Thanks to Kevin Hart for sending the story in my direction.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

[From Medium: “Brad Hedeman is the Head of Marketing & Products Selection at Zingerman’s Mail Order.”]

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Speech and conduct

The New York Times reports on calls for the resignation of University of Pennsylvania president Elizabeth Magill (gift link):

Alumni, students and donors of the University of Pennsylvania called on Wednesday for Elizabeth Magill to resign as president of the school, a day after she testified at a contentious congressional hearing about campus antisemitism and evaded questions about whether students calling for the genocide of Jews violated Penn’s code of conduct.
It was Elise Stefanik who asked Magill to answer yes or no: does calling for the genocide of Jews violate the university’s rules or code of conduct? Magill’s answer: “If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment.” She then allowed that calling for genocide “can be harassment.” Claudine Gay, Harvard’s president, drew the same distinction between speech and conduct, referring to speech that “crosses into conduct that violates our policies.”

It’s difficult to imagine a call for genocide against some other group eliciting such nuanced responses. But whatever: it’s specious to draw a line that divides speech from conduct. As speech-act theory reminds us, there are many contexts in which to speak is to act. (Think of a former president’s pre-January 6 tweets.) And conduct need not constitute harassment to be out of bounds on a college campus.

[I find Elise Stefanik’s politics abhorrent. But the answer to the question should be yes, no matter who’s asking.]

Florida fail, Illinois fail

I had a surprise in the mail last week: what appeared to be an invoice from the Florida Department of Transportation for unpaid tolls. Years ago I received an e-mail with a fake speeding ticket. And I’ve been called by “the IRS.” Was this invoice, too, a scam? No, I looked online and found that the address and toll-free number on the invoice were legitimate.

The invoice included a photograph — a black rectangle with a tiny image of a license plate, 5/16″ × 2/16″. I looked with a loupe and saw the numbers of my license plate. Yikes. But next to the numbers were the letters FP, signifying fleet plate, the kind of plate issued to rental car companies.

The toll-free number offered no possibility of speaking to another human. So I went online again and found a form for disputing the charges. I explained the difference between my plates and the plate in the photograph. I attached photographs of my plates, front and rear. A little overkill never hurts. I added that I have never been to Florida.

Today I received an e-mail saying that “the case” is closed: “It was a plate misread.” But before getting that e-mail, I called the Illinois Secretary of State’s office to inquire if the state indeed issues regular plates and fleet plates with the same numbers. I spoke with someone in the Record Inquiry Section who told me to download, fill out, and mail in a form requesting a document (free) that I could then send to Florida to prove that the plate in the invoice photograph wasn’t mine. “But I’ve already sent them photos of my license plates,” said I. No matter, the guy said. They might not be accepted.

When I asked if Illinois indeed issues regular plates and fleet plates with the same numbers, I was told that it happens all the time. “Then at least I know I’m not alone,” I said, and I thanked him for his help. “Sir,” the guy said, followed by silence, and I ended the call. Was he expecting me to call him “sir”? What the actual.

I went back to the Secretary of State website and filled out another form to suggest a brilliant solution to these problems: don’t issue regular plates and FP plates with the same numbers. Imagine the hours of pointless effort that might be saved by not doing so.

Meanwhile, someone’s driving around who owes Florida $4.88 in tolls.

Nuts to dictation

When Elaine introduced me to the iOS app Flow Free, she had no idea that she was creating a monster.

But my point concerns dictation. I texted our daughter about the app, and added that I had “the not free version.” Dictation made it “the nut free version,” without even dropping in a hyphen.

Nuts to dictation.

Related reading
More fun dictation failures (Pinboard)

[If I hadn’t been dictating, I would’ve just typed paid.]

Tuesday, December 5, 2023


The narrator’s chocolate factory is going under.

Vladimir Nabokov, Despair (1966).

Can you guess?

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

[The answer is chocolate: chock — O! — late. And the three together — chocolate — are his ruin. This post has no relation to Chock full o’Nuts, though it’s wonderful to enjoy a piece of chocolate and a cup of that heavenly coffee.]

Investing in reading

“A new study found that California schools got positive results from a targeted investment in the science of reading — even with the challenges of pandemic recovery”: “What Costs $1,000 Per Student and Might Help Children Learn to Read?” (The New York Times, gift link).

But — sigh — my daughter Rachel points out that the photograph accompanying the article shows the “whole language” approach to reading instruction in practice — the opposite of what “the science of reading” is all about.

The best place to begin learning about the work of teaching children to read: the podcast series Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong.

Related reading
All OCA literacy posts (Pinboard)

[Yes, I e-mailed the Times.]

Monday, December 4, 2023

Squirrel condo

As drawn by Geo-B: a squirrel condo.

See also the Towne Branch subdivision.

[The no. I item in squirrel HOA bylaws: Residents must look cute.]

Fish and Florida

The New York Times reports that academics — at least those who are able — are fleeing Florida (gift link).

But guess who’s signed up to teach at Florida’s New College: Stanley Fish. Len Gutkin of the The Chronicle of Higher Education asked him about it. A sample:

Given how controversial New College is, why do you want to teach there now?

Well, the simple nitty gritty reason is that I’m 85 years old, and someone who asks me to teach courses is a godsend. So I responded affirmatively.

Do you worry at all that, given that something like a third of faculty members have left New College following the new administration, you’ll be taken to be making a statement about New College or about DeSantis?

Taken by whom?

Observers in academe who might feel that your prominence as a scholar and an administrator is being used to ratify the political project that New College has become.

Yeah, I can see that as a possible way of viewing this appointment. But such matters go under the general category of consequences that I can neither predict nor control. What I can control is the kind of teaching I do, and of course I wouldn’t want to get engaged in a classroom experience if I felt that that classroom was being monitored for political or ideological reasons. But I’ve had no hint of any such monitoring in my discussions.
Russell Jacoby’s 2013 take on Stanley Fish still holds: “He has always bravely defended self-interest. With friends like him, the humanities needs no enemies.”

The Chronicle interview contains many remarkable statements. Just one: Fish, who cheerfully admits that he long ago forgot whatever Greek he learned, claims that at Ralston University, the start-up “traditional” college he’s associated with, students with just six months of Greek were reading — and discussing — the Iliad in Greek. Gutkin, who studied Greek as an undergrad, says that seems “almost impossible.”

No, no, says Fish. The discussion, he claims, “was very precise about details of the verse and how it worked, and how various words interacted with one another or were opposed to one another.” But wait a minute, wait a minute:
How did you know, if it was in Greek?

Oh, I could tell that much. There’s a certain kind of gesturing with respect to texts that is known to any of us who have worked with texts for a while.
I am now thinking about a certain kind of gesturing.

Two more Fish posts
Fish on Strunk and White : Review of Fish’s How to Write a Sentence

[Fish was previously the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and Law at Florida International University.]

Harvard, Meta, and veritas

From The Washington Post (gift link):

A prominent disinformation scholar has accused Harvard University of dismissing her to curry favor with Facebook and its current and former executives in violation of her right to free speech.

Joan Donovan claimed in a filing with the Education Department and the Massachusetts attorney general that her superiors soured on her as Harvard was getting a record $500 million pledge from Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg’s charitable arm.
The detail that really got me:
Donovan says in her complaint that [Harvard Kennedy School dean Doug] Elmendorf emailed her after the October donors’ meeting and asked to discuss her Facebook work and “focus on a few key issues drawn from the questions raised by the Dean’s Council and my own limited reading of current events.”

He wrote that he wanted to hear from her about “How you define the problem of misinformation for both analysis and possible responses (algorithm-adjusting or policymaking) when there is no independent arbiter of truth (in this country or others) and constitutional protections of speech (in some countries)?”

Donovan said in the filing that Elmendorf’s use of the phrase “arbiters of truth” alarmed her because Facebook uses the same words to explain its reluctance to take actions against false content.
That there is “no independent arbiter of truth” doesn’t mean that there are no arbiters, no facts. I like what Robert Caro says about facts and truth.

Harvard’s motto, of course, is veritas. It’s everywhere on the campus.

Munger mega-dorm nixed?

The dream of a U Cal Santa Barbara mega-dorm, built to the specifications of a billionaire donor. with thousands of students living in single-occupancy windowless rooms, appears to have died with the donor, Charlie Munger. The Chronicle of Higher Education has the story.

Related post
A UCSB mega-dorm

[In truth the rooms wouldn’t have been windowless. Ninety-percent of rooms were to have “virtual windows” with a “circadian-rhythm control system” to simulate daylight. Munger also described the faux windows as faux portholes, likening them to what those on a Disney cruise ship, where a “starfish comes by and winks at your kid.”]

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with rizz.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Generations and a settlement house

[179 Gold Street, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Just a human interest shot. I think this photograph holds three generations, maybe four. On the stoop, a daughter, I think (are those saddle shoes?), a mother, and a son. At sidewalk level, a grandmother tending to a carriage. I assume there’s a baby in it. (Is the daughter also a mother?) That face in the window: who knows?

Looking at this photograph, I remembered the Robert Caro maxim “Turn every page,” which for purposes of these tax-photograph posts, I’ve turned into “Walk the whole block.” Aha: there are more humans next door.

[179, 181, and 183 Gold Street. Click for a much larger view.]

But what does the signage say? The placard affixed to no. 179 is a For Sale sign. The three placards on nos. 181 and 183 are beyond my figuring out. But Brooklyn Newsstand came to the rescue:

[“Open Memorial to Mons. White; Catholic Settlement Association Holds Appropriate Formal Opening.” The Tablet, May 18, 1918.]

I can find no obituary for William J. White in a Brooklyn paper or in The New York Times. But I did find a few other items about Monsignor White and the settlement house. A brief backstory:

[Handbook to Catholic Historical New York City (1927).]

Two more items:

[The Catholic Charities Review (June 1917).]

[The Catholic Charities Review (September 1918). Reformatted from the original. Click for a larger view.]

And this tribute, a prelude to a motion to pass a resolution to honor Monsignor White’s memory:

[Annual Report of the [New York] State Board of Charities for the Year 1911 (1912).]

The Dr. White Memorial Settlement flourished through the 1940s. Short articles in Brooklyn papers make note of summer camps, summer school, health care, Christmas parties, and clubs devoted to citizenship, dancing, English, music, sewing, and other endeavors. The last mention I can find is from 1947.

Nos. 179, 181, and 183 are no longer standing. Those buildings and many others gave way to the Farragut Houses, a public housing project, begun in 1945, completed in 1952.

[1940 Brooklyn directory listing. From Stephen P. Morse’s website.]

For my friend Fresca: the next listing in that directory is for a Catholic Thrift Shoppe at 195 Court Street.

Related reading
More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard) : The settlement movemment (Wikipedia)

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Stan Newman, the puzzle’s editor, is a Stumper indeed. I wrote down 8:51 when I started work on puzzle (last night) and when I looked up (finished the puzzle) it was 9:46. The clues that most helped me along the way:

14-D, ten letters, “#5 in continuous Senate longevity.”

15-A, eight letters, “Literally, ’long mountain.’“

24-D, ten letters, “Most populous double-landlocked nation.”

34-D, eight letters, Troilus and Cressida warrior.”

I had 34-D right off — that was my starting point. But those other three clues (and perhaps 34-D, if you haven’t read Troilus) make for a large dollop of arbitrary trivia: ah yes, #5, not #4 or #6. And yes, this puzzle has triple-stacks of eight and triple-columns of ten, and only sixty-six answers.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

3-D, four letters, “Shortening.” Got LARD?

4-D, eight letters, “Rattled.” That’s a past-tense verb, right?

10-D, eight letters, “Pain med brand.” Sorry, but this just doesn’t feel right in a crossword.

13-D, ten letters, “Eleanor Roosevelt, to Edith.” I first thought the clue must be about a lover. Nope.

15-A, fifteen letters, “Negotiation station.” One part of the answer is more obvious than the other.

16-A, six letters, “Roast participant.” I was thinking of Dean Martin and his dais.

17-A, eight letters, “Reviewers’ hangout.” Do they still have one?

20-D, seven letters, “Spin’s #2 ll-time greatest band (2002).” Again with the trivia.

24-A, five letters, “Cheery.” Wut?

25-D, ten letters, “Rhapsody in Blue, as first written.” Yes, okay, but not as first intended.

39-A, five letters, “Queue component.” No idea what the answer means. Now I understand.

44-A, “Word from the Greek for ‘unequal.’” Somehow it seemed familiar, but only after I got it from crosses.

51-D, three letters, “Porcine purloiner of poesy.” Is it possible to misread this clue as referring to a poetry-stealing pig? I am living proof.

53-A, eight letters, “Light work.” Clever.

My favorite in this puzzle: 52-A, eight letters, “Attractions you’ve never seen.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, December 1, 2023

The Santos vote

Did my member of Congress vote to expel George Santos from Congress?

Of course she didn’t!

Did yours? The Washington Post has the results (gift link).

Related reading
All OCA Mary Miller posts (Pinboard)

A 2024 calendar

Free: a 2024 calendar, in large legible Gill Sans, three months per page. The calendar includes all the days, weeks, and months of the year, with days painstakingly distributed across weeks and weeks painstakingly distributed across months. Minimal holiday markings: MLK Day, Juneteenth, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas.

You can download the PDF from this Dropbox link.

[I’ve been making calendars in the Mac app Pages since late 2009, when the cost of outfitting my house with Field Notes calendars began to feel unjustifiable.]


[Nancy, December 1, 2023. Click for a larger view.]

This panel in today’s Olivia Jaimes’s Nancy brings back memories. In third grade I was accused of being a clockwatcher. And I think it was when the little hand was at 58 or 59, and the big hand was, for all practical purposes, already at 3. Give me a break.

Nancy’s teacher is a more reasonable sort: “But hey, at least she’s practicing the time-telling unit we’re learning.” Also more gullible, as today’s final panel reveals.

My third-grade teacher was a piece of work. It wasn’t until 2020 that I learned about her husband.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

"Orlovius was displeased”

Hermann begins a new chapter:

Vladimir Nabokov, Despair (1966).

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

[If you happen to watch the Fassbinder adaptation of the novel, in which Hermann is a character among characters, not a protagonist writing his story, you’ll discover that this kind of meta comedy is nowhere to be found.]

Thursday, November 30, 2023

How to improve writing (no. 116)

On the main page of The New York Times now:

The Sikh activist at the center of an alleged assassination plot said there was no question that India wanted him dead.
No. He wasn’t at the center of the alleged plot; he was its target. So:
The Sikh activist targeted in an alleged assassination plot said there was no question that India wanted him dead.
Everyone makes mistakes, but when you’re The New York Times, the mistakes should not be so glaring.

Related reading
All OCA how to improve writng posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 116 in a series dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Costa, Guerriero, and Sued

[Yamandu Costa, Brazilian guitar; Luís Guerreiro, Portuguese guitar; Martín Sued, bandoneon. July 3, 2021.]

“Viva música, bendita música,” says Yamandu Costa, in this Instagram reel and elsewhere. Long live music, blessed music. The music begins at 3:05.

Related posts
Yamandu Costa in Illinois : “Lamento Sertanejo”


I overthink, or at least I think I do; therefore, I am.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Recently updated

How to improve writing (no. 115) Now with “with Joe and me.”


I drove my friend Aldo to the bus station and drove back to a large room filled with pews — not a church but a meeting room of some sort. I walked to the row in which I had been seated and found the evaluation packet for a newbie professor’s Intro to Film Studies class. The evaluation questions were meant for someone in the class: what percentage of the final grade was allotted to writing, what percentage to participation, and so on. Having no idea what to write, I just wrote OK in the margin next to each question. I also wrote the words retired prof somewhere on one of the pages.

A question about movies asked me to rate two: the Larry David movie Spite and a comedy about three nurses. I gave LD a 10, the other a 4. There were also questions about yogurt and juice, with samples. I skipped the yogurt but tried one juice, which was bland and mealy.

One of the authority figures presiding over the evaluations came and stood over me and asked why I was holding everyone else up. I replied that I had taken a friend to the bus station and was working as quickly as I could. I also pointed out that all the hectoring was just making my work take longer. I said “Yes, I took my friend to the bus station, and now I am planning a great train robbery. Just watch.” I started to write exactly that on my evaluation before realizing that doing so would identify the evaluation as mine. So I started erasing.

Possible waking-life sources: thinking of my friend Aldo Carrasco; watching some of Rosalynn Carter’s memorial service; watching a bit of Hanukkah on Rye, a Hallmark movie about rival delis that made me think of the spite store from Curb Your Enthusiasm; buying a variety of Greek yogurts; admiring a four-year-old’s erasing skills; giving out evaluation forms at the end of every semester but my last.

This is the twenty-seventh teaching dream I’ve had since retiring in 2015. In all but one, something has goes wrong. But at least in this dream I got to see a friend.

Related reading
All OCA teaching dream posts (Pinboard)

[“Only fools and children talk about their dreams”: Dr. Edward Jeffreys (Robert Douglas), in Thunder on the Hill (dir. Douglas Sirk, 1951).]

At another rest stop


They weren’t kidding. But there wasn’t a mop in sight.

A related post
Welcome to Illinois

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with cozzie livs.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Recently updated

A. Leddy The mystery of the name on the nameplate, solved.

Pence, comma

ABC News reports on what Mike Pence told special counsel Jack Smith’s investigators:

Sources said that investigators’ questioning became so granular at times that they pressed Pence over the placement of a comma in his book: When recounting a phone call with Trump on Christmas Day 2020, Pence wrote in his book that he told Trump, “You know, I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome” of the election on Jan. 6.

But Pence allegedly told Smith’s investigators that the comma should have never been placed there. According to sources, Pence told Smith’s investigators that he actually meant to write in his book that he admonished Trump, “You know I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome,” suggesting Trump was well aware of the limitations of Pence’s authority days before Jan. 6 — a line Smith includes in his indictment.
“You know I don’t think I have the authority to change the outcome”: and the absence of a comma has the authority to change everything.

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)

The doctor is in

[From Mad Love (dir. Karl Freund, 1935). Click for a larger view.]

Peter Lorre makes his American debut as Dr. Gogol.

A pocket notebook sighting

[From Mad Love (dir. Karl Freund, 1935). Click for a larger view.]

Peter Lorre as the skilled but mad surgeon Dr. Gogol. It’s not the notebook he’s after.

More notebook sightings
All the King’s Men : Angels with Dirty Faces : The Bad and the Beautiful : Ball of Fire : The Big Clock : Bombshell : The Brasher Doubloon : The Case of the Howling Dog : Cat People : Caught : City Girl : Crossing Delancey : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dead End : Deep Valley : The Devil and Miss Jones : Dragnet : Extras : Eyes in the Night : The Face Behind the Mask : The Fearmakers : The Flight That Disappeared : A Foreign Affair : Foreign Correspondent : Four in a Jeep : Fury : The Girl in Black Stockings : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : I See a Dark Stranger : If I Had a Million : L’Innocent : Ivy : Journal d’un curé de campagne : Kid Glove Killer : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Lost Horizon : M : Ministry of Fear : Mr. Holmes : Mr. Klein : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : Now, Voyager : The Palm Beach Story : Perry Mason : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Portland Exposé : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : The Racket : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : La roue : Route 66The Scarlet Claw : Sleeping Car to Trieste : The Small Back Room : The Sopranos : Spellbound : Stage Fright : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : Stranger Things : Sweet Smell of Success : Time Table : T-Men : To the Ends of the Earth : 20th Century Women : Union Station : Vice Squad : Walk East on Beacon! : What Happened Was . . . : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window : You Only Live Once : Young and Innocent

[Deflating balloon sounds]

In Olivia Jaimes’s Nancy , a speech balloon breathes its last.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Typography of the young

In today’s Family Circus : “Italics make it look like the wind’s blowing.”

Monday, November 27, 2023


On NBC Nightly News tonight, these words appeared next to an image of shallow boxes in stacks:

And my first thought — honest — was of LPs.

Related reading
All OCA misreading posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with one from Merriam-Webster.

A. Leddy

[Man Afraid (dir. Harry Keller, 1957). Click for a much larger view.]

Do you see it? Elaine spotted it first: the nameplate on the desk in the background:

Leddy (Irish, old) is not a common name. Was there an A. Leddy in the industry? There was, at least sort of: Ann Leddy, who appeared in a single episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Was a prop person sneaking her name into this scene? Only Paul Drake knows for sure.


November 28: A reader figured it out and shared in the comments. Ann Leddy was married to the actor John Archer. One of this movie’s set designers: Russell A. Gausman. Archer and Gausman worked on several movies together.

The other set designer for this movie: Julia Heron. And the name on the other nameplate: J. Heron. Someone was having fun.

Twelve movies

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers. Sources: Criterion Channel, DVD, TCM, YouTube.]

Moana (dir. Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall, Chris Williams, 2016). As grandparents to three young girls, we sometimes need to set aside the film noirs and fancy books to watch a kids’ movie. I’m relieved to report at this late date that Moana is a wonderful one. Mythic themes, great songs (Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda), and brilliant animation — and now we know how to play Moana. (It’s called lifelong learning.) ★★★★ (DVD)


The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (dir. Richard Lester, 1959). Lester, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, et al., at play in an open field. Surrealism abounds: e.g., a man puts a record on a tree stump, holds a needle to the surface, and runs around the stump to produce music. If you wonder where the zaniness of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! comes from, it’s here: the Beatles were fond of this short movie film. A clear influence on Monty Python as well. ★★★★ (CC)


The Girl in the Kremlin (dir. Russell Birdwell, 1957). Bonkers: Stalin undergoes plastic surgery and flees the Soviet Union with piles of cash as a double takes his place. Meanwhile, a defector to the United States (Zsa Zsa Gabor) comes to Berlin to ask an ex-OSS agent (ex-Tarzan Lex Barker) to locate her twin sister (also Zsa Zsa Gabor), last known to be working as Stalin’s plastic surgeon’s nurse. Jeffrey Stone provides some cheesy fun as a one-armed Russian: he’s Buz Murdock to Barker’s Tod Stiles. Two more reasons to watch: William Schallert (the father from The Patty Duke Show) as Stalin’s son Jacob, and an unnerving scene, unrelated to anything else in the movie (or to historical fact), with Stalin watching excitedly as his minions shave — yes, really — the head of a peasant girl (Natalie Daryll). ★★ (YT)


High Tide (dir. John Reinhardt, 1947). Two men lie gravely injured after their car has gone off the road and onto a beach, one man in the car, the other trapped underneath, and as the tide comes in, their story unfolds in one long flashback. It includes a newspaper, big-city rackets, adultery, and revenge — all non-GMO ingredients. Clark Gable lookalike Don Castle plays a reporter turned private investigator; Lee Tracy is a newspaper editor. Like The Guilty and Lighthouse, it’s a Jack Wrather production, and another reminder that not every movie made in 1947 was a great one. ★★ (YT)

[Elaine once observed in passing that 1947 might be our ideal year for movies. It’s the year of The Lady from Shanghai, Nightmare Alley, and Out of the Past.]


Man Afraid (dir. Harry Keller, 1957). A minister (George Nader) accidentally kills a violent burglar, and a family is thrown into turmoil: the minister’s wife (Phyllis Thaxter) is at least temporarily blinded by the burglar’s attack, the press demands access to its newly minted hero, and the burglar’s father (Eduardo Franz) begins to stalk the minister’s young son. The movie looks back to The Window and ahead to Cape Fear, and it offers several eerie, terrifying moments, but Nader’s lifeless acting and every character’s lack of common sense are serious weaknesses. Free advice: When you see obvious evidence, when you hear strange noises in your house, when someone presents as an obvious danger, call the police (or if you are the police, do something). Henry Mancini’s score and Reta Shaw’s performance as a nurse add value (though even the nurse lacks common sense). ★★ (YT)


The Price of Fear (dir. Abner Biberman, 1956). O, contingency: Dave Barrett (Lex Barker) and Jessica Warren (Merle Oberon) are an unlikely pair, brought together by circumstance in the form of a hit-and-run accident, a gangland murder, and a stolen car. The relationship that develops between the principals is compellingly ambiguous — it’s never clear who’s using whom. The supporting cast makes for an especially strong movie, with Warren Stevens as a smoothfaced villain, Gia Scala as the accident victim’s daughter, Konstantin Shayne as a pawnbroker, Stafford Repp (later Chief O’Hara in Batman) as a cabdriver, and Mary Field as the cabbie’s wife. The final scene in a railway baggage car is worth the wait. ★★★★ (YT)


Cat People (dir. Jacques Toruneur, 1942). Nicholas Musuraca’s cinematography makes scene after scene a brilliant composition of utter darkness and sharp flashes of light. The movie itself is a clash of darkness and light, animality and reason: when Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), who believes the stories about her Serbian village’s cat-people and loves the dark (“It’s friendly,” she says), marries Oliver Reed (Kent Smith), a friendly, well-adjusted architect who works at light tables (!), worlds collide. A Val Lewton production, filled with real scares, real panthers, and Tom Conway as a sleazy psychiatrist whose The Anatomy of Atavisim gives the movie its over-the-top epigraph. ★★★★ (TCM)

[“Even as fog continues to lie in the valleys, so does ancient sin cling to the low places, the depressions in the world consciousness.”]


The Curse of the Cat People (dir. Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise, 1944). Here Musuraca brings mostly enchantment and light, with mysterious shadows at night and in the big old house down the block. Smith and Randolph return as the parents of a young daughter, Amy (Ann Carter), a dreamy, lonely child who has difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy. She wishes for a friend: enter Irena (Simon again). As Mrs. Julia Farren, the old woman in the old house, Julia Dean steals the movie. ★★★★ (YT)


Mad Love (dir. Karl Freund, 1935). Peter Lorre’s American debut as the grotesque surgeon and incel precursor Dr. Gogol. Obsessed with Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake), an actress in a Grand Guignol-style show, he visits her backstage and buys a wax effigy to keep at home (think Pygmalion and Galatea). Gogol insinuates himself into Yvonne’s life when her concert-pianist husband’s hands are mangled in a train accident: the skilled Gogol transplants the hands of a murderer, with predictable but still startling results. Best moment: Gogol in disguise — yow! ★★★★ (TCM)


Dangerous Mission (dir. Louis King, 1954). The plot is common: Louise Graham, a witness to a murder (Piper Laurie) runs for her life, and an undercover cop (Victor Mature) tries to protect her from a hit man (Vincent Price) as the two men vie, sincerely or not, for Louise’s affections. What makes the movie unusual: Louise flees to Glacier National Park, so there’s lots of natural scenery and wonderful mid-century interiors (oh, those postcard racks on the gift-shop counter). Genuine suspense at the end, with a desperate chase through the snow. It’s sobering to see the way the death of a Native man is utterly forgotten — but you’ll have to watch to understand. ★★★ (TCM)


From the Criterion Channel’s Pre-Code Divas feature

Safe in Hell (dir. William A. Wellman, 1931). Dorothy Mackaill plays Gilda Carlson, a New Orleans prostitute who flees to Tortuga (no extradition) when she’s sought for killing the man who first trafficked her. Mackaill gives an extraordinary performance as a “bad” girl who vows to be “good” for “the one good man” she’s ever met, but on Tortuga, her past catches up with her. The movie is a profound lesson in the male gaze, as the various criminals hiding out on Tortuga sit back and stare at “the only white woman on the island.” Noteworthy supporting players: Nina Mae McKinney (who sings “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South”) and Clarence Muse, the owner of a hotel and her employee. ★★★★

The Cheat (dir. George Abbott, 1931). Lordy: had I seen this movie in 1931, I might have thought about putting together a production code. Tallulah Bankhead stars as Elsa Carlyle, a spendthrift partier married to endlessly forgiving workaholic Jeffrey (Harvey Stephens). When Elsa loses an impulsive expensive bet, she finds herself in the debt of the sinister explorer and man about town Hardy Livingstone (Irving Pichel),who has his own ideas about how Elsa can repay him. Lurid in the extreme, with details I won’t divulge here. ★★★

Related reading
All OCA “twelve movies” posts (Pinboard)

Attention education

In The New York Times, three members of the Strother School of Radical Attention make a case for a new way of thinking about education (gift link):

Our attention is born free, but is, increasingly, everywhere in chains. Can our systems of liberal education rise to this challenge? The Harvard political philosopher Danielle Allen recently wrote: “I have a hunch that if we are to put this problem of attention at the center of what we are asking the humanities to do right now, we might find a huge appetite for the work of the humanities. We might change the dynamics we see on college campuses and in other contexts, where the practice of the humanities seems to be slipping away.”

All those who have given their attention to as supposedly arcane a topic as ancient Greek will know that the word “crisis” derives from a word that can mean “to decide.” And that is precisely what’s before us: a decision about what ends, exactly, the liberal arts will serve in the 21st century. No form of education can solve all our problems at a stroke. But attention education can produce a new generation of citizens who are equipped to take on those problems conscientiously and with care.
Something I wrote in a 2012 post: “As more and more attractions and distractions compete for our eyes and ears, I think that the ability to pay attention, to attend, will become ever more prized in the twenty-first century.”

And it occurred to me this morning that browsing through WPA tax photographs and finding out as much as I can about an address is a way of practicing attention. Which reminds me: when I taught a poetry class, the overarching question was not “What does it mean?” but “What do you notice?” Much less intimidating, much more useful.

Related reading
All OCA attention posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Drake Lives

I think I had better memorialize today’s Zippy before the day runs out. Carl Fenway is a member of the Dingburg Welks Club (named for Lawrence Welk, natch). The group meets “behind Lady Foot Locker every Tuesday”:

[Zippy, November 26, 2023. Click for a larger view.]

I have channeled Paul Drake twice in these pages: in a telephone call with Perry Mason and in a short story, “The Case of the Purloined Prairie.”

Venn reading
All OCA Perry Mason posts : Perry Mason and Zippy posts : Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Post title with apologies to Charlie Parker.]

On Chauncey Street

[384 Chauncey Street, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

On The Honeymooners it was always “Freitag the delicatessen’s.” From Donna McCrohan’s The Honeymooners’ Companion (1978):

That's how they say it on The Honeymooners, and that's how they said it in the old Bushwick neighborhood where Jackie [Gleason] used to stand in front of it (on the corner of Chauncey Street and Saratoga Avenue), in his black chesterfield and white scarf, swinging his keychain and looking sharp.
Never seen, only spoken of, the delicatessen plays an important role in The Honeymooners episode “Please Leave the Premises” (March 10, 1956). Facing an eviction notice after refusing to pay a rent increase, Ralph has barricaded the door to the Kramden apartment. What to do for food? Tie some bedsheets together and go out the bedroom window into Freitag the delicatessen’s yard. But uh-oh — the sheriff has a man stationed on the street below.

Notice the White Rose Tea signage in Freitag’s windows. As I wrote in a previous post, ubiquitous. You can see an advertising card for Rheingold beer in the right window.

And now that jingle is running through my head.

Chauncey Street is also home to Jackie Gleason’s birthplace, 364. The Kramdens lived at 328, the address Gleason’s family moved to in his childhood. Both apartment buildings stand. Today 384 is all residential. But next door at 386 is Calderas Deli Grocery.

[364 and 328 Chauncey Street. Click either image for a larger view.]

Related reading
All OCA Honeymooners posts (Pinboard) More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard)

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by “Lester Ruff” — the puzzle’s editor, Stan Newman, offering an (allegedly) easier Stumper of his making. I found this one none too easy. Hilarity abounded in the background — and foreground — as I solved. And an answer with a variant spelling had me flummoxed for a while. But I solved.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

5-D, four letters, “Venue for vaults.” Tricky.

19-A, fourteen letters, “Stop order.” Sounded faintly legal.

36-D, eight letters, “After-dinner drinks.” For a while, 48-A made this one impossible for me to see.

40-D, seven letters, “Like bleach bottles.” Well, yes, but good grief.

41-A, six letters, “Bodies of bees.” Good grief.

46-A, three letters, “Hard-hats’ wet concrete.” I’m not sure if it’s meant as a giveaway. As the son of a tileman, I found it a giveaway.

48-A, five letters, “Certain Pillar fulfiller.” I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. But not, at first, with this variant spelling.

51-D, five letters, “Rapper’s distinctive style.” A bit dated.

52-A, four letters, “It’s not impossible.” Good grief.

53-A, fourteen letters, “Like dictionaries.” Like, good grief.

60-A, eight letters, “Handle headings.” Good grief.

My favorite in this puzzle: 11-D, seven letters, “Tower with the power.”

Friday, November 24, 2023

Towne Branch subdivision

[Click for a larger view.]

I photographed this tree — I’m calling it the Towne Branch subdivision — in fall 2020 and again in 2022. In 2023 it continues to be popular with squirrel families. Close to schools, shopping, and public transportation (power lines). On a black-and-white afternoon this week I saw four nests — with a possible fifth under development.

A joke in the traditional manner

How do birds communicate with distant family and friends?

The punchline is in the comments.

More jokes in the traditional manner
The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : Did you hear about the new insect hybrid? : 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 do cows like to watch on TV? : What do dogs always insist on when they buy a car? : What do ducks like to eat? : What happens when a senior citizen visits a podiatrist? : What is the favorite toy of philosophers’ children? : What kind of pasta do swimmers like? : 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? : Who’s the lead administrator in a school of fish? : Why are supervillains good at staying warm in the winter? : 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 and this one. Ben gets credit for the supervillains in winter. My dad was making such jokes long before anyone called them dad jokes.]

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Thanksgiving 1923

[“Pumpkin Pie Cooked With Crust on the Top Astonishes Americans at London Dinner.” The New York Times, November 30, 1923. Click for a much larger view.]

Crust or no, Happy Thanksgiving to all.

[“Former Ambassador Harvey”: George Brinton McClellan Harvey, ambassador to the UK from May 12, 1921 to November 3, 1923. The Times reported in another article that Harvey was expected for Thanksgiving dinner at his aunt’s house in South Peacham, Vermont, but did not show up.]

Five and ten and fifteen

[“Five and ten and fifteen cent turkey dinner. Woolworth’s Dime Store.” Photograph by John Collier Jr. Amsterdam, New York, October 1941. From the Library of Congress. Click for a larger view.]

I think that window displays at night are inherently mysterious. And I thought so long before reading Steven Millhauser. This window has an added element of mystery: just what constitutes a “Farmer Week” lunch or a “Country Style” meal — in addition, that is, to pie, ice cream, donuts, and hot fudge sundaes? Where’s the turkey?

This display is in the window of a Kresge’s, not a Woolworth’s, but who am I to contradict the Library of Congress?

A related post
A Boro Park five-and-ten

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Your work age

A quiz from The Washington Post (gift link): “How to tell your real work age.”

I came out as a mix of mostly Millenial and Gen X:

~ 39% Millenial
~ 34% Gen X
~ 20% Boomer
~ 7% Gen Z

Please don’t tell anyone I’m retired.

The Apostrophe Protection Society

The Apostrophe Protection Society, founded in 2001, ceased operations in 2019. Its founder, John Richards, died in 2021. Now, under the leadership of Bob McCalden, the APS is back (The Irish Times ). Here’s the society’s website.

The apostrophe plays a small but critical role in these pages. My favorite apostrophe: the one that brought me a box in the mail, marked RATTLE OK.

Related reading
All OCA apostrophe posts (Pinboard)


For Mac users only: Adam Engst explains The Hidden Secrets of the Fn Key (TidBITS).


“I’m a mash-up of childhood innocence and toxic masculinity, Zippy!” Zippy meets a Sluggo-head with muffler-man pants in today’s Zippy.

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Healing up

Our narrator, Hermann Karlovich, is nothing if not self-conscious. He boarded a metaphorical bus when embarking on his narrative:

Vladimir Nabokov, Despair (1966).

I was surprised to see “heal up” here. I think of it as contemporary (right now) American language, but the Oxford English Dictionary has a citation from 1676: “A fontanel had been made in the same leg, which he was forced to heal up.”

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

[First published as Отчаяние [Otchayanie] in a Russian literary journal in 1934; then in book form in 1936; then in Nabokov’s English translation in 1937; then in revised form in 1966.]

On the waterfront, continued

Those three guys hanging out on the waterfront? Geo-B has them covered.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Vagaries of shopping (Premium edition)

Might someone have an idea why a store would be wiped out of Premium Saltines days before Thanksgiving? Is there some traditional dish that makes use of them? I welcome your thoughts.

Three mascots

In today’s Zippy, three mascots: Gertrude, L’il Softee, and Good Sam. I remember Gertrude from childhood. I remember Good Sam from a highway. L’il Softee is known to me only from today’s Zippy and a subsequent Internet search.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Yes, you can buy vintage toilet paper on eBay.]

Being a liberal

“Perhaps more than ever, there is an urgent need for a clear understanding of liberalism — of its core commitments, of its breadth, of its internal debates, of its evolving character, of its promise, of what it is and what it can be”: Cass Sustein offers thirty-four statements to explain why he is a liberal (The New York Times, gift link).


Jimmy Carter’s statement on the death of his wife Rosalynn is worth thinking on.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

White Rose Tea

I went to Brooklyn Newsstand to look for White Rose advertisements. Why not? In the 1930s they were plentiful. In the ’40s and ’50s, the brand appears mostly in supermarket advertisements — just a name and a price. As I’ve said in a previous post, White Rose was once ubiquitous in New York.

I see a strong modernist impulse in these seasonal ads:

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 9, 1934. Click for a larger view.]

The stylized server puts me in mind of the work of Otto Neurath and Rudolf Modley: see, for instance, Modley’s Handbook of Pictorial Symbols (1978). If you don’t have an Internet Archive account, take a look at The New York Primer (1939). Modley founded Pictorial Statistics Incorporated (what we might now call an infographics company) in 1934.

[Brooklyn Times-Union, January 21, 1935. Click for a larger view.]

I was startled to see this image: are those cheeks, or eyes? Either way, these home-bound pedestrians seem to have stepped from a page of Art Spiegelman’s Maus.

Related reading
All OCA tea posts (Pinboard) : A short history of White Rose, Inc. : White Rose pencils, from the collection of my late friend Sean Malone

On the waterfront

[31 President Street, Waterfront District, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Just some grocery store in the Waterfront District. Notice in the windows the signage for White Rose Tea, a brand once ubiquitous in New York. Notice too the three gentlemen standing on the corner. The guy on the right certainly looks ready for his close-up. He puts me in mind of Tony Galento, the ex-fighter who played Truck in On the Waterfront. And here we are, on the waterfront.

And if you look closely, you can see next to the corner store an outpost of the International Longshoremen’s Association.

The corner store and several adjacent President Street properties are now gone. In their place today, GreenSpace@President Street, a community garden. The darker brick building past the fire hydrant, 115 Van Brunt Street, is the only building still standing on that block.

[Click for a larger view.]

Related reading
More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard) : A short history of White Rose, Inc. : White Rose pencils, from the collection of my late friend Sean Malone

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Steve Mossberg, is YAUDS — Yet Another Ultra-Difficult Stumper. I made an inauspicious start with 9-D, three letters, “Eight dashes, for short.” I can’t believe I got the whole thing.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-A, letters, “Patagonian purrer.” I guesed. Could it be? It could.

1-D, four letters, “Jump-on-tail skateboard stunt.” OLLIE doesn’t fit. Now I know two skateboard stunts.

3-D, four letters, “Word from the Greek for ‘measure.’” I think I knew this, sort of.

6-D, twelve letters, “Venue offering theme rooms and costumes.” I’m relieved to find a tame answer here.

11-D, ten letters, “Unimaginable extent.” Happy to have seen it right off.

16-A, nine letters, “Drop-off remark.” Ha.

21-A, ten letters, “Understood.” The answer feels like something from a more reasoning time.

22-D, three letters, “What I might mean.” Tricky.

24-A, six letters, “Head turners.” My first thought was SPINES. Chalk that up to Pilates.

25-D, ten letters, “Salmon and squid.” The answer shouldn’t have surprised me but did.

30-D, three letters, “Proposal prelude.” A word due for a comeback.

31-A, three letters, “Craft that benefits craft.” A value-added clue.

35-A, four letters, “Delivered pitches.” I am wise to you, Steve Mossberg.

40-A, seven letters, “Folders for photos.” Very clever.

42-D, six letters, “Where clerical work is done.” Unexpected, even given the misdirection.

43-A, ten letters, “It’s not just a number.” I like the quaintness.

54-A, three letters, “He covered RMN’s reelection campaign for Rolling Stone.” Maybe the only giveaway in the puzzle.

56-A, nine letters, “Treat in a snow-capped wrapper.” But is it? Is it really? To me, the name itself says No, I am not a treat.

My favorite in this puzzle: 26-A, seven letters, “Modern verification solicitation.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, November 17, 2023

How to improve writing (no. 115)

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris want to have coffee with me — or tea, whichever I want:

One of Joe and my favorite parts about being on the campaign trail is meeting supporters just like you. I truly mean that, Michael.
“Joe and my” is just embarrassing.

Get me rewrite:

“Joe and I agree that one of our favorite parts,” &c.

“Something Joe and I both love about being on the campaign trail,” &c.

And yes, I’ve told them, or someone.


I finally read to the end of the e-mail:
If you’d like the opportunity to sit down for a Cup of Joe — with Joe and I — consider making a contribution to our campaign today.

November 29: They got it together. Witness this invitation on the platform formerly known as Twitter: “Have a cup of joe with Joe and me.”

Thanks, Rachel.

Related reading
All OCA How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[Formatting as in the original. Bold, underlining, and italics always add authenticity to one’s writing. This post is no. 115 in a series dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]