Saturday, April 20, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is a “Lester Ruff” (Stan Newman) puzzle that truly is less rough. I started with 26-A, four letters, “Lobster Telephone artist (1936)” and sailed smoothly. When I hit 14-D, eight letters, “Bridge builders,” I knew that I would have this puzzle licked.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

12-D, eight letters, “Labor leader Oscar role.” The layout of the online print version of the puzzle pushed role to the next column of text, and thus I was struggling to think of a labor leader named Oscar.

13-D, eight letters, “Net income recipients.” A clever clue, but this answer needs to be retired.

15-A, eight letters, “Churchill wore one at Yalta (2/45).” This clue feels both strangely arbitrary and strangely specific. 2/45: as opposed to some other Yalta Conference?

16-A, six letters, “Hoffman title role.” Sneaky.

17-A, eight letters, “Euphoric state.“ Me, I think of the answer as disparaging euphoria.

23-A, four letters, “Mixed, in a way.” Good grief — the 1950s want their answer back.

26-D, seven letters, “It’s signed, sealed and delivered.” Very nice.

28-D, five letters, “Type of transfer.” I was thinking of buses and subways.

35-A, seven letters, “‘Who put the ape in ____?’ (Cowardly Lion line).” Wonderful.

51-A, five letters, “Model from the Latin for ‘first.’” Represent!

51-D, five letters, “Whom Nietzsche called ‘boring.’” C’mon, he was doing his best.

59-D, three letters, “Daily deliverer of light.” The Across answers filled it in, but I imagine this clue will stymie at least some solvers who drop in a three-letter word.

My favorite in this puzzle: 63-A, eight letters, “Historic High Court decision (7/24/74).” Because no one is above the law.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, April 19, 2024

FART

Meet FART. An Infinite Jest-worthy acronym.

Belching in public, or, too much Curb

The narrator is recounting his various courtships. One night at the opera with Zoya and her family, he begins hiccuping. Zoya’s father, Colonel Pepsinov, is irate. The narrator flees the box. The next night, when he shows up at the Pepsinov house for dinner, Zoya refuses to come to the table. And her father is still furious.

Anton Chekhov, “A Confession, or, Olya, Zhenya, Zoya,” in The Prank: The Best of Young Chekhov, trans. Maria Bloshteyn (New York: New York Review Books, 2015).

It turns out that when Elaine and I read “‘I would,’” we both heard it in the voice of Larry David. Too much Curb.

Lambini & Sons

I am happy to see Lambini & Sons in today’s Far Side selection.

Related reading
All OCA tile posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, April 18, 2024

A joke in a non-traditional manner

“Knock, knock, who’s there?” And I was at a loss for words.

It’s wonderful to see the very young beginning to get the hang of jokes.

[Why did the milk cross the road? It melted.]

Zippy and Trixie

Today’s Zippy remembers Joyce Randolph. What other comic strip would go there?

And I have to add: more than three months after publication, the New York Times obituary for Joyce Randolph still has a factual error still in need of correction. I’ve written four times.

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

Norman, knocking

I posted this story in April 2020 as a great moment in pedagogy. I remembered it this morning and am reposting it in memory of Norman Spencer:

Out for a walk this morning [April 28, 2020], listening to an episode of the BBC’s Great Lives about Harold Pinter, I remembered a moment from teaching Modern British Literature twenty years ago this spring. We were reading Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter aloud and had hit — I swear it — this bit of dialogue: “If there’s a knock at the door you don’t answer it.” And there was a knock at the door. I thought I’d better answer it.

It was my friend and colleague Norman, with (I think) something I’d left behind at lunch. I don’t remember what. But I’ve never forgotten the knock. It came the one and only time I taught a Pinter play.
I added in a comment:
We were all a bit freaked out. Especially me, since I had to answer. If I know myself, I might have jokingly asked if anyone wanted to get it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Norman Spencer (1958–2024)

Our dear friend Norman Spencer died today in Oslo. Too soon, too soon.

I met Norman many years ago when we served on a university committee together. He was on the tenure track in foreign languages, teaching Latin and what he called “baby German.” I remember that at first glance he reminded me of my friend Aldo Carrasco — argyle sweaters, ties, a proper academic look. Norman and I began having lunch together before each week’s committee meeting, a perfect opportunity to talk about the absurdities of university life and those who oversee it. The records of those conversations remain sealed.

In the late 1990s, Norman followed his heart and moved to Oslo, where he began a new career as a translator. And no one was better suited for such work. Norman was a master of languages, most recently studying Georgian and Yiddish. When I was trying to figure out some years ago what the word pikakirjoitusvihko meant, all I had to do was ask Norman, who — no surprise — recognized the word as Finnish, knew a little Finnish, and checked his hunch about the meaning with another translator.

Every few summers, we would get to see Norman, or Norman and Frode, on their trips back to the States. Norman would make a circuit to visit family and friends all across the country. And though the fourth Thursday in November is just an ordinary day in Norway, Norman always wrote (and e-mailed) “I remembers” on that day, a fambly tradition that he became part of after a Thanksgiving dinner in our house many years ago.

Elaine and I had expected to see Norman here last year, but family matters made his trip to downstate Illinois not possible. We had bought a bottle of Redbreast Irish whiskey, one of his favorites, in anticipation of that visit. We’ll toast him with it tonight.

“AWOL from Academics”

In Harvard Magazine, Aden Barton, a Harvard undergraduate, writes about what it’s like to be “AWOL from Academics.” The context: a “high-level seminar” with hundreds of pages of reading each week:

Despite having barely engaged with the course material, we all received A’s. I don’t mean to blame the professors for our poor work ethic, but we certainly would have read more had our grades been at risk. At the time, we bemoaned our own lack of effort. By that point in the semester, though, many other commitments had started requiring more of us, so prioritizing curiosity for its own sake became difficult.
In my final years of teaching (decidedly not at Harvard), I used to ask students if anyone had said anything to them when they arrived on campus about college being more difficult than high school, about the work demanding more time and more effort. To a person, the answer was no. What were these incoming students told? To get involved, to join an organization — other commitments.

A place to read further about how much effort students put into college coursework: Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. I wrote a review of that book when it appeared in 2011, and I sense that the shape of things is now more dire still. In 2011, Arum and Roksa found that the less selective the college, the less likely it was that students were doing much reading and writing. If Aden Barton’s description of Harvard undergraduate life in 2023 is accurate, just imagine what undergraduate life might now be like in the lower tiers of academia — not for all students, certainly, but for too many.

One more point, which can’t be repeated often enough: the alleged death of the humanities is, in truth, a death of reading. Books! They’re why so many students hate “English.”

A few related posts
Arum and Roksa on life after college : Hours in and out of class : Rule 7 : Time-management in college

[Found via TYWKIWDBI.]

Domestic comedy

“I have no desire to sleep with Marcus Aurelius.”

“And he has no desire to sleep with you. Or if he does, he’s praying to get rid of it.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts : Marcus Aurelius posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Twelve movies

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

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (dir. Tim Burton, 1985). I was surprised, having never seen it, that it’s less transgressive than Pee-wee’s Playhouse, but I suppose that’s because the movie came first. It’s silly fun, with Paul Reubens as a man-child whose quest to recover his stolen bicycle takes him to the Alamo, a rodeo, a biker bar (home of Satan’s Helpers), and a movie studio. My favorite bits: breakfast à la Rube Goldberg, “Tequila” à la Pee-wee. With Milton Berle, James Brolin, Morgan Fairchild, Ed Herlihy (from the world of newsreels), Prof. Toru Tanaka (the professional wrestler), and many more. ★★★★ (TCM)

*

Voice in the Mirror (dir. Harry Keller, 1958). Richard Egan stars as Jim Burton, a commercial artist and, since the death of his daughter, a deeply invested alcoholic. Though the movie never mentions Alcoholics Anonymous, the story is more or less a version of how that group began: with Burton and Bill Tobin (Arthur O’Connell) helping each other and, later, others. Julie London is Ellen Burton, a long-suffering and infinitely patient wife (and wage-earner); Walter Matthau is a doctor skeptical about what Jim’s chances of success. Strong atmospherics: real streets and bars, and what looks like a real and really grim apartment. ★★★★ (YT)

*

Man on a Tightrope (dir. Elia Kazan, 1953). “It’s one of two things: it’s the end for us, or it’s the beginning”: so says a circus master in Communist Czechoslovakia as he schemes his troupe’s way to freedom. Fredric March is Karel Černík, the circus master; Gloria Grahame is his indolent wife; and many circus folk play versions of themselves. Things sometimes get a little too contrived, a little too corny, but the fear and suspicion that permeate life in a police state are chillingly on display, and the grim black-and-white cinematography makes this movie feel unmistakably European, or at least not American. With Paul Hartman (Mayberry’s Emmett Clark), Pat Henning (Kayo Dugan of On the Waterfront) Adolphe Menjou, and Terry Moore (Marie of Come Back, Little Sheba). ★★★★ (TCM)

*

Gentlemen’s Agreement (dir. Elia Kazan, 1947). Philip Green (Gregory Peck), a writer asked to write an magazine exposé of antisemitism in America, decides that the only way to do so is to pretend he’s Jewish and experience discrimination firsthand — which he does, though it’s always of a genteel, mannerly variety. The movie leaves antisemitism as something to be fought with individual acts of conscience: speaking up when someone says something offensive, making a call to ensure that a landlord or employer doesn’t discriminate. Running through the movie is a love story that joins — it’s no spoiler — Peck and Dorothy McGuire, but I think Celeste Holm’s witty Anne Dettrey would be a much more interesting partner. Screenplay by Moss Hart, and also starring John Garfield, June Havoc, Anne Revere, a young Dean Stockwell, and Jane Wyatt. ★★★ (TCM)

*

The Greatest Night in Pop (dir. Bao Nguyen, 2024). Well, maybe — I think that the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show is a worthy contender. But this documentary is about a night, literally, the one during which “We Are the World” was recorded, a night stretching into the small hours of the morning. The song has never impressed me (“We’re saving our own lives”?), and the documentary is more than a bit self-congratulatory, but the details of how the project came together are endlessly fascinating. For instance: Stevie Wonder taught a helpless Bob Dylan how to sing his line, and Prince wrote a song about his non-participation: “Hello.” ★★★★ (N)

*

The Whole Gritty City (dir. Richard Barber and Andre Lambertson, 2013). Made in New Orleans: a documentary following the directors and student-musicians of three marching bands as they prepare for Mardi Gras. There’s childhood humor — two boys arguing about whether one of them can march for 29,000 hours; adolescent determination — a drum major giving his all for a dead teacher (killed in a drive-by shooting); and adult sorrow — a teacher, perhaps forty, who is now the only surviving member of a circle of eight friends: “I’m the last one living.” Running through the movie is a dedication to the joy of music despite all odds. But as you watch, you wonder what might be about to happen every time a car comes down the street. ★★★★ (DVD)

[I borrowed a DVD from a library, but the movie can be found onYouTube, free with ads.]

*

Island of Doomed Men (dir. Charles Barton, 1940). Peter Lorre plays a crazy man: Stephen Danel, the sadistic, ethnically ambiguous, vaguely gay owner of Dead Man’s Island, who purportedly gives jobs to paroled cons but in truth uses them as slave labor. Danel and his wife Lorraine (Rochelle Hudson) live on the island, in a house surrounded by an electric fence — Lorraine too is a prisoner. Things begin to change when “John Smith” (Robert Wilcox) shows up: he’s a wrongfully convicted, now paroled undercover agent (Agent 64) whose recommenced assignment is to smash Danel’s operation. Nagging question: If the authorities already know what Danel is up to, why send one person to infiltrate the island to begin with? ★★ (YT)

*

The Miami Story (dir. Fred F. Sears, 1954). The improbable premise: when Miami is overrun with mob activity, city council members tap a former gangster (Barry Sullivan) to clean things up by pretending to move in on the established rackets. While so doing, our hero also finds time to pursue a romance with a crime boss’s girlfriend’s sister (Beverly Garland, later of My Three Sons). Sullivan gets top billing, but it’s Luther Adler’s movie: as the head of the rackets, he is all brutality, with a girlfriend (Adele Jergens) who’s equally tough. A crime story told in the always appealing semi-documentary style, complete with an introductory talk by a Florida senator. ★★★ (YT)

*

Main Street After Dark (dir. Edward L. Cahn, 1945). A blue star hangs in the window, a mother knits, and a telegram arrives, with the news that a son is coming home — but from prison, not from the war. And when that mother listens to the police radio as she knits, you know you’re in for a darkly funny movie. This one’s about a small-time crime family, led by Ma Dibson (Selena Royle), preying on servicemen in a city’s nightspots. Edward Arnold is a delight as a police lieutenant who, like Porfiry Petrovich, is always showing up; Dan Duryea as Posey Dibson (Posey!) and Audrey Totter as Jessie Belle Dibson are two of Ma’s surly minions. ★★★ (YT)

*

The Houston Story (dir. William Castle, 1956). They were never going to run out of cities: here the crime is a plot to siphon oil from wells and sell it to shady distributors. We wanted to watch this one for Edward Arnold. and his performance as a second-tier crime boss satisfies — shifty eyes, sudden outbursts. But much of this movie remained a muddle, with a leading man and antagonist (Gene Barry and Paul Richards) who looked too damn similar. Adding value: Barbara Hale as a platinum-blonde singing “Put the Blame on Mame.” ★★ (YT)

*

The Barber of Little Rock (dir. John Hoffman and Christine Turner, 2023). A short Oscar-nominated documentary about the good works of Arlo Washington, a young Black Little Rock barber who created a barber school and People Trust, a 501c3 financial institution making small loans to community members. It is the only financial institution on its side of the interstate that divides the city, a point that makes the filmmakers’ larger point about the wealth gap between Black and white Americans. I was moved by the scenes in which residents explain their need for a loan and what what they hope to accomplish with the money. And then we see a mechanic working in his own shop, a beautician walking into her own salon. ★★★★ (YT)

*

Ministry of Fear (dir. Fritz Lang, 1944). From a Graham Greene novel, starring Ray Milland as a man who stops by a village fête, walks away with a cake that was meant for someone else, and finds himself in big trouble. An excellent noirish thriller, with a séance, spies, a great scene on a train, and strong overtones of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. This film makes conspicuous use of doors — one after another, each opening onto new trouble. My favorite moments: the man crumbling cake, Martha Penteel’s doorbell, light shining through a bullet hole. (These sentences mostly borrowed from a 2017 post.) ★★★★ (CC)

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

The Internets, sometimes wonderful

Yesterday when I looked at my stats, I noticed visit after visit from the Czech Republic to a post about Gilmore Girls and phrasal verbs.

From a class learning English? Investigating, perhaps, the faux-rule about never ending a sentence with a preposition? Did a teacher find this post and pass it on to students? Did a student find it and pass it on to peers? I have no idea. But the Internets are sometimes wonderful.

But I must add: if this had happened ten or more years ago, someone would likely have taken the time to leave a comment. Then again, I didn’t write that post until 2017.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Feedback in e-mail

I’m no power user, but I always find something of interest when I listen to the Mac Power Users podcast. This morning, listening to episode 740 while out on a walk, I was happy to hear a tech person confirming the wisdom of one of the bits of advice — to reply and say thanks — in my post How to e-mail a professor. That’s the one bit in the post to which some readers have objected.

The guest in this MPU episode was Lee Garrett, product manager, productivity coach, and owner of ScreenCastsOnline. He described four elements of communication: sender, receiver, message, and feedback. Feedback, he says, is the element that people forget.

“If you don’t get feedback on the message that you sent, there’s no guarantee that that message has been received. I see this all the time ... and it’s one of the downfalls of e-mail and instant messaging.”
Exactly. Sending an e-mail should not feel like sending a message in a bottle.

[The relevant comments begin at 1:11:11. Granted, Garrett isn’t saying to say thanks, but he is saying to reply.]

Proust Barbie

Lucy Boynton reports that Proust Barbie was cut from Barbie because audiences didn’t get the joke: “it turns out that contemporary audiences don’t know who Proust is” (Rolling Stone).

This contemporary audience does. When our fambly saw Ratatouille some years ago, my kids had to calm me down when this Proust moment happened. (”Dad!“) I was going slightly bonkers in the theater.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Long-term care insurance: my 2¢

Now that my mom's long-term care insurance (hereafter, “LTCI”) has run out, I feel free to offer some observations. My observations are drawn from experience with a single company, Genworth (hereafter, “the company”), and everyone’s mileage varies. My mom has beaten the house, but my suggestion, nevertheless, would be to avoid LTCI. Here’s why:

~ The premiums are expensive and become more so. Stop paying in and you lose everything you’ve already put in: it’s the sunk cost trap. (My mom’s last premium, four years ago: $10,000.) No one counted on so many people living long enough to try to collect.

~ It’s necessary to have a persistent (and probably much younger) advocate willing to spend considerable time submittng a claim, submitting and resubmitting power of attorney documentation and other paperwork, making repeated phone calls to check on claim status, to argue, to report changes in living circumstances, and to spend lots of time on hold.

~ The company may be reluctant to pay up. Filing a claim begins a “elimination period” of 100 days or more before the claim can be considered. Elimination indeed: the company is no doubt wagering that the policyholder might die as those days count down.

~ When the elimination period is over, the company may still be reluctant to pay up. The two conditions for honoring a claim: (1) inability to manage two of the five so-called activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, eating, “toileting,” “transferring”¹) or (2) severe cognitive impairment. Even a statement from a doctor of geriatric medicine on hospital letterhead may not be enough to convince the company that (1) applies, because the company will perform its own assessment of the policyholder by way of a Zoom call conducted by an outside agency. It’s reported that such assessments may take a policyholder’s answers to questions at face value, though it’s well known that people with dementia will give the “right” answers to questions whether or not those answers are true. As for (2), what counts as severe cognitive impairment seems to be highly subjective. A representative of the company, offering an example: “You don’t need to know what year it is to fulfill the tasks of daily living.” One need not be a thoroughgoing cynic to suspect that the company might use the fuzziness of (2) to avoid paying a claim. Notice, by the way, that making a phone call and managing medication are two activities of daily living glaringly absent from the list. Their inclusion would immediately give more claims a shot at (1).

~ It may be necessary to submit a second (or third? or fourth?) claim as the policyholder’s abilities diminish.

~ If the company does finally honor a claim, the persistent advocate will need to keep up month by month. The monthly cost of assisted living or memory care is borne by the policyholder. The advocate then sends the monthly bill to the company and waits for reimbursement to show up in a bank statement. This paperwork is the easy part of the job, after all earlier obstacles are overcome.

I’m happy that I could do the work of dealing with LTCI for my mom. I don’t begrudge a minute of the time. And I don’t mind going up against a bureaucracy. But it’s far wiser to invest money elsewhere.

A bit of browsing will confirm that my observations about this company are not unusual. But they’re the ones I’ve got.

¹ “Transferring”: sitting down, standing up.

Stormy Monday

It’s the first day of Donald Trump’s first criminal trial. Have a good rest of your day, sir!

Here’s a small section of Trump’s Saturday night fever in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania (my transcription):

”Gettysburg, what an unbelievable battle that was, the battle of Gettysburg, what an unbelievable, I mean it was so much, and so interesting, and so vicious, and horrible, and so beautiful in so many different ways. It, it represented such a big portion of the success of this country. Gettysburg, wow. I go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to look and to watch and, eh, the statement of Robert E. Lee, who’s no longer in favor — did you ever notice that? — no longer in favor. Never fight uphill, me boys, never fight uphill. They were fighting uphill. He said, wow, that was a big mistake. He lost his great general. And, eh, they were fighting. Never fight uphill, me boys! But it was too late.“
Imagine what he’d be like as a witness (which I don’t think is going to happen).

Sunday, April 14, 2024

A portal

[419 West 36th Street, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

I have to imagine that if anyone with children lived in this building, life must have been a constant battle: “Stay out of the tunnel!”

The archive photo has no date for this building, but its construction must have predated that of the Lincoln Tunnel. The building is now gone, and if you type its address into Google Maps, you get, yes, a chunk of the Lincoln Tunnel. And if you type lincoln tunnel into Google Maps and make a U-turn, you can ride one of its tubes all the way to Weehawken, New Jersey, against traffic. Even Tony Soprano couldn’t do that.

Related reading
More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard)

[U-turn: in other words, turn the little person around before moving forward.]

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

I found today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, dang near impossible at times. I slogged through and got it all, but it sparked no joy. I was happy though to be done, because doing this puzzle felt to me like doing homework.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

3-D, five letters, “One of many in night table drawers.” My first thought was NOVEL. But I was probably thinking of the New York Times “nightstand” holding books.

4-D, eight letters, “Not the parental disciplinarian.” Never heard of it. I need to bone up on my stereotypes.

5-D, three letters, “James P. Hoffa alma mater.” Is this answer likely to be known by anyone whose last name is something other than Hoffa?

8-D, nine letters, “Cockney, e.g.” I liked this one.

9-A, five letters, “Residential healthcare provider.” Like 4-D, this answer doesn’t sit well with me.

11-D, nine letters, “Green fish-and-chips side dish.” Is it really going to be — ? Yes, it’s going to be —.

13-D, four letters, “Like M. north of New York.” I didn’t understand until I typed the clue here.

23-D, five letters, “Italian word for ‘bowls.’” I can relate, not as a participant, but as an observer from a passing car.

32-A, eleven letters, “Fliers named for their blades.” I guess I learned something for future crossword use.

34-D, nine letters, “Alien monster.” See 32-A.

35-D, nine letters, “What's best on the block?” An easy one.

42-A, eleven letters, “Go together.” What an odd answer. A more apt clue might be “Go as one.”

43-D, seven letters, “The Buick stops here.” I was trying to recall an answer from some previous crossword, but no, that was ALERO, the last Oldsmobile produced. “Buick,” here for the sake of a pun, is weirdly specific in this clue.

53-D, five letters, “Many a pop.” My first thought was PEPSI. I find the logic of this clue a bit bizarre.

61-A, nine letters, “They have reduced carrying charges.” Nice one.

64-A, nine letters, “Base of some martial arts.” Also a nice one.

68-A, three letters, “Overfilled indicator.” SPILL won’t fit.

My favorite in this puzzle: 17-A, nine letters, “Many a United team supporter.” Just because I knew it.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Siduri and Marcus

Thinking about the joylessness of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations made me recall this passage from the Old Babylonian version of the Gilgamesh story. Siduri, goddess and tavern-keeper at the edge of the world, speaks to Gilgamesh, who seeks a way out of the world of living and dying:

“When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping. As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.”
Fear of death isn’t the problem for Marcus. But what he seems not to know is that life can be beautiful. And not mindlessly beautiful but beautiful even when or especially when one understands that it comes to an end.

Related reading
All OCA Gilgamesh posts (Pinboard)

[The Gilgamesh passage is from N.K. Sandars’s highly readable composite The Epic of Gilgamesh (New York: Penguin, 1972). For a scholarly translation, try The Epic of Gilgamesh, trans. Maureen Gallery Kovacs (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989). “Old Babylonian”: not what’s known as the Standard Version of the story.]

Bacon and Peanuts

[Peanuts, April 15, 2024. Click for a larger view.]

Remember oral reports? Sally is giving one on the importance of reading.

Yesterday’s Peanuts is today’s Peanuts.

Related reading
All OCA Peanuts posts (Pinboard)

Hidden Bar

Alas the free app Dozer doesn’t work on a M3 Mac. A fine free replacement to hide menu bar items: Hidden Bar. Found via MacMenuBar, “a curated directory of 900+ Mac menu bar apps.”

This post gives an idea of the things I fuss about when setting up a new Mac. And yes, if you’re switching from an Intel machine, the M3 Mac is unbelievably fast. And fewer typos!

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Marcus Aurelius, not wise

Marcus Aurelius:

You will think little of the entertainment of song or dance or all-in wrestling if you deconstruct the melodic line of the song into its individual notes and ask yourself of each of them: “Is this something that overpowers me?” You will recoil from that admission. So too with a comparable analysis of dance by each movement and each pose, and the same again with wrestling. Generally, then, with the exception of virtue and its workings, remember to go straight to the component parts of anything, and through that analysis come to despise the thing itself. And the same method should be applied to the whole of life.

Meditations, 11.2, trans. Martin Hammond (New York: Penguin, 2006).
Of course Marcus lived long before Art Tatum, Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, and [insert the name of an all-in wrestler of your choice here]. And it seems not to have occurred to him that music and movement take place in and across time.

Also from Marcus Aurelius
On change : On distraction : On Maximus : On revenge

[The translator’s comment on 11.2: “An extreme (and utterly unconvincing) example of the reductive analysis which Marcus frequently recommends and employs.” I’m at a loss to name an all-in wrestler.]

Marcus Aurelius, wise

Marcus Aurelius:

The best revenge is to not be like your enemy.

Meditations, 6.6, trans. Martin Hammond (New York: Penguin, 2006).
Also from Marcus Aurelius
On change : On distraction : On Maximus : On music, dance, and wrestling

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

“Frost” and Frost

I was teaching a poetry class and getting ready for our first meeting after a break, when it’s always a challenge to get back to the realities of a semester. I realized that I had forgotten to bring the two poems we were going to talk about, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight” and Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I printed out a copy of each poem in my office and went off to teach.

“Good morning,” I said to my students. “Is it okay to call it that?” In other words, was it okay to call the first morning back in class a good one? My students seemed receptive to my humor. One student announced with some excitement that a student organization was selling ten-cent hamburgers at the entrance to our building. I explained that I had left the little notebook with our next assignment at home, and that right after class I’d go home and send an e-mail with the details of the assignment. “You shouldn’t have to do that,” one student said. No, it was okay, I explained: “I live just five minutes from campus. I’ll send it at about 12:05.”

And then I realized that our class had started at noon, not 11:00.

Related reading
All OCA teaching dream posts (Pinboard)

[This dream arrived a few nights ago: no influence from the repeated name in a post yesterday. There’s a certain dream-logic to the combination of “Frost” and Frost, but in the waking world, “Frost at Midnight” would be plenty for a fifty-minute class. See also Robert Lowell’s poem “Robert Frost,” which begins “Robert Frost at midnight, the audience gone / to vapor.” This is the twenty-eighth teaching dream I’ve had since retiring in 2015. In all but one, something has goes wrong.]

Arizona 1864

“Written to police the behavior of men, the code tells a larger story about power and control”: the historian Heather Cox Richardson looks at the 1864 Arizona criminal code.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Harts, Keen’s, WIsconsin

Kevin Hart of harvest.ink shared a photograph of a letterhead from his father’s correspondence. It was 1973, and Keen’s English Chop House still had its WIsconsin exchange name.

[Click for a larger view.]

Kevin’s father was a newspaperman and a member of Keen’s Pipe Club. When Kevin sent me a link to a page with Keen’s history, I realized that I’d read about the restaurant somewhere. And I could think of only one possibility.

[Harold H. Hart, Hart’s Guide to New York City (New York: Hart Publishing, 1964). Click for a larger view.]

There seems to be no family relation, but the synchronicity of Hart and Hart is not lost on me.

Keens has lost its apostrophe, and though the restaurant still serves mutton chops, it now calls itself a steakhouse. And though the restaurant has dropped the WIsconsin, the telephone number remains the same: 212-947-3636.

Thanks, Kevin, for letting me share this piece of history here.

Ammonia coke

In Jean Stafford’s novel The Mountain Lion (1947), a brothel owner asks a boy to go to the drugstore and get her “a package of Luckies and an ammonia coke.” Luckies still probably need no footnote, but what’s an ammonia [C]oke?

Here’s an explanation.

And here’s a well-known scene from The Best Years of Our Lives, in which a fascist falls onto a drugstore display case and the store manager calls for help: “Bring some aromatic spirits of ammonia, iodine, and bandages.”

Related reading
All OCA Jean Stafford posts (Pinboard)

[New York Review Books reissued The Mountain Lion in 2010. And just in case: Luckies are Lucky Strikes, cigarettes.]

Monday, April 8, 2024

Domestic comedy

[Upon returning from a partial — partial indeed — eclipse.]

“It’s dark in the house.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Butter No Parsnips

An excellent podcast series for those who like words and rabbit holes: Butter No Parsnips, with Emily Moyers and Kyle Imperatore. Virtually every episode begins with a word and moves to explorations of etymology, history, and culture. Unlike some language-focused podcasts that exude forced hilarity, this one feels like a conversation between learned friends who can genuinely crack each other up (and who wear their learning lightly). Highly recommended.

I started with an episode that’s an exception to the usual format: an interview with Bob McCalden, chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society.

Wordle STARR

My Wordle starts with STARE, but twice in recent weeks my index finger has — oops — typed STARR instead. (No spoilers: that’s the April 4 Wordle to the left.) Starr is not to be found at the American Heritage Dictionary or Merriam-Webster. Nor is it to be found at dictionary.com or Wordnik. But starr is indeed a word, or several words, all arcane. (As well as the last name of a not-arcane drummer.) The Oxford English Dictionary has four entries. Here are short versions:

With reference to medieval England: a Jewish deed or bond, esp. one of release or acquittance of debt; a receipt given on payment of a debt.
As an Old English variant of star :
Any of the many celestial objects appearing as luminous points in the night sky; esp. any of those which do not noticeably change relative position.
As an archaic variant of stare :
With distinguishing word or words: any of various other birds resembling or related to the starling (or formerly thought to be so).
As a Scottish and English regional word, now rare :
Any of various coarse seaside grasses and sedges, esp. Ammophila arenaria (family Poaceae) and Carex arenaria (family Cyperaceae).
Pretty arcane, no? I’ve written to the Times to suggest that starr be removed from Wordle’s word-hoard.

By the way, that Wordle grid shows a trick I find helpful: adding a word with a known letter in two positions. Thus CYNIC and CIVIL, followed by CLIMB, which might have turned out to be CLIFF or CLIME — though it couldn’t have been CLIME if I’d typed STARE.

AP <3 M-W

For the 2024–2026 edition of The Associated Press Stylebook, the dictionary of choice will change from Webster’s New World College Dictionary to Merriam-Webster (Poynter).

I’m not sure what “Merriam-Webster” means here: Webster’s Third? The Collegiate? The online Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, based on the Collegiate but with significant updates? The online Unabridged, which requires a subscription? And why do I need to know?

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, April 7, 2024

“The ’Clipse” redux

You don’t have to be in the path of totality to enjoy “The ’Clipse.” It’s a piece of Timmy and Lassie fiction that I wrote in 2017, after the last solar eclipse that passed through Illinois. “The ’Clipse” is both tongue-in-cheek and genuinely reverential, if that’s possible. I think it is.

Related reading
All OCA Lassie posts (Pinboard)

And four more pieces of Lassie fan-fiction
“The Poet” (with Robert Frost) : “Bon Appétit!” (with Julia Child) : “On the Road” (with Tod and Buz from Route 66) : “The Case of the Purloined Prairie” (with Perry Mason and friends)

BILLI  RDS

[232–234 West 37th Street, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Back in the Garment District. When I first spotted those windows, I thought the ascended letter might be a B. Billi Bros., wholesale fabric distributors? After all, it’s the Garment District. Then I looked more closely.

Google Maps shows a fifth floor added to the building. In August 2022 the first floor housed two fabric companies, one or both now defunct. The second and third floors, which once housed Kay-Atkin Co. (buttons) and BILLI RDS, were available to rent: 929-434-7018.

Related reading
More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard)

[Kay-Atkin: so spelled in the 1940 Manhattan telephone directory.]

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Kate Chin Park, a maker of crosswords and furniture, is a solid sender, difficult, misdirective, punny, and blessedly free of trivia and strain. Please, more KCP Stumpers.

I began with 22-A, four letters, “Be crawling” (easy, I think) and 37-A, thirteen letters, “Paradoxical ‘I know,’” which I knew had to be the answer I was writing in. And was.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

4-D, ten letters, “Not actually.” More difficult to see than one might think, I think.

9-A, six letters, “What some pie crusts are.” Uh, FLAKEY? LARDED?

11-D, four letters, “Unit of outer space.” A good example of the puzzle’s unstrained misdirection.

17-A, eight letters, “Comes back.” See 11-D.

23-A, six letters, “Prime directives, sometimes.” I tried to think of an answer related to interest rates.

30-A, four letters, “Preceder of body work.” My first thought was DENT.

30-D, ten letters, “Players’ positions.” See 17-A.

31-A, thirteen letters, “It holds a lot at the dinner table.” Really clever.

32-D, five letters, “Refuse passage.” My first thought was of a someone thrown off a bus or train.

40-D, three letters, “Silence, possibly.” Brilliant, and for just three letters.

48-D, five letters, “Small club.” Having seen a similar clue a week or two ago, I was not fooled.

53-D, three letters, “Shortened yardstick.” The clue redeems the answer.

58-A, six letters, “Crown molding?” I laughed, loudly.

61-A, eight letters, “Many happy returns.” Yet another example of the puzzle’s unstrained misdirection.

My favorite in this puzzle: I know it has to be 37-A.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Helen Keller’s sources

The New York Review Books volume of Helen Keller’s writing, The World I Live In (2012), has a few pages of notes identifying sources for quoted material, but many such passages are left unidentified. Having looked up the unidentified bits in Keller’s prose (thank you, Google Books), I thought it appropriate to share them here, for anyone who might looking. They reflect a great breadth of reading and are someimes quoted imperfectly, from memory perhaps, or from a faulty source.

Format: quoted material, page number in the NYRB edition, source. I have left poetry unlineated where Keller quotes it without line breaks.

From The World I Live In (1908)

“there’s a sound so fine, nothing lives ’twixt it and silence” (10)

A sound so fine, there's nothing lives
’Twixt it and silence.

James Sheridan Knowles, Virginius, 5.2 (1820)

*

"Kind letters that betray the heart’s deep history,
In which we feel the presence of a hand” (16)

Kind messages, that pass from land to land;
Kind letters, that betray the heart's deep history,
In which we feel the pressure of a hand —
One touch of fire, — and all the rest is mystery!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dedication to The Seaside and the Fireside (1850)

*

“dormouse valor” (10)

To awake your dormouse valor, to put fire in your heart, and brimstone in your liver.

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (c. 1601–1602)

*

                                                        “may right
Her nature, shoot large sail on lengthening cord,
And rush exultant on the Infinite” (96)

                                                Jehovah Lord,
Make room for rest, around me! out of sight
Now float me of the vexing land abhorred,
Till in deep calms of space my soul may right
Her nature, shoot large sail on lengthening cord,
And rush exultant on the Infinite.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Finite and Infinite” (1850)

*

“put life and mettle into their heels” (105)

But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.

Robert Burns, “Tam o’Shanter” (1791)

*

“idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean” (105)

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1834 text)

*

“high and disposedly” like Queen Elizabeth (106)

Agnes Strickland’s Lives of the Queens of England (1840–1848). When Sir James Melville, envoy from Mary, Queen of Scots, was asked by Elizabeth which queen was the better dancer, Melville said that Mary danced ”not so high or disposedly“ as Elizabeth. Strickland takes that to mean that Mary danced like ”an elegant lady.“

*

“a rakish craft” (110)

’Twas Fiddledeedee who put to sea
With a rollicking buccaneer Bumblebee:
An acorn-cup was their hollow boat —
A rakish craft was their acorn-boat

Madison Julius Cawein, The Giant and the Star: Little Annals in Rhyme (1909)

*

From “Optimism: An Essay” (1903)

“the source and centre of all minds, their only point of rest” (136)

Thou are the source and centre of all minds,
Their only point of rest, eternal word!

William Cowper, “The Task” (1785)

*

“the evil but ‘a halt on the way to good’” (136–137)

The world an image of the divine, everything perfect of its kind, the bad simply a halt on the way to the good.

Richard Falckenberg, History of Modern Philosophy from Nicolas of Cusa to the Present Time (1893). From a chapter about Nicolas of Cusa.

*

“labored, foredone, in the field and at the workshop, like haltered horses, if blind, so much the quieter” (138)

The dull millions that, in the workshop or furrowfield, grind foredone at the wheel of Labour, like haltered gin-horses, if blind so much the quieter?

Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution (1837)

*

“Now touching goal, now backward hurl’d,
Toils the indomitable world” (141)

Now touching goal, now backward hurled —
Toils the indomitable world

William Watson, “The Father of the Forest” (1912)

*

“There are no substitutes for common sense, patience, integrity, and courage.” (144)

Harvard Baccalaureate Sermon, June 18, 1899. Author unidentified.

*

“whose bones lie on the mountains cold” (145)

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
        Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold

John Milton, Sonnet 18 [On the Late Massacre in Piedmont] (1655)

*

“Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth this autumn morning!” (152)

Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,
This autumn morning!

Robert Browning, “James Lee’s Wife” (1864)

*

“fashion of the smiling face” (153)

And in the midst of the winter, when his life runs lowest and he is reminded of the empty chairs of his beloved, it is well he should be condemned to this fashion of the smiling face.

Robert Louis Stevenson, “A Christmas Sermon” (1888)

*

“Drill your thoughts,” he said; “shut out the gloomy and call in the bright. There is more wisdom in shutting one’s eyes than your copybook philosophers will allow.” (153)

He records in his early diary how he said to a friend, depressed by painful reflections, “Drill your thoughts — shut out the gloomy, and call in the bright. There is more wisdom in ‘shutting one’s eyes,’ than your copy-book philosophers will allow.”

Letters of John Richard Green, ed. Leslie Stephen (1901). Green was an English historian.

*

“pasteboard passions and desires” (154)

After our little hour of strut and rave,
    With all our pasteboard passions and desires

James Russell Lowell, “Commemoration Ode” [Ode Recited at the Harvard Commemoration] (1865)

*

“They are more precious than gold of Ophir. They are love and goodness and truth and hope, and their price is above rubies and sapphires.” (158)

Biblical phrasing. For instance: “It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire”; “No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies” (Job 28:16 and 18, King James Verson).

*

“the achievements of the warrior are like his canvas city, ‘today a camp, to-morrow all struck and vanished, a few pit-holes and heaps of straw’” (159)

Truly it is a mortifying thing for your Conqueror to reflect, how perishable is the metal which he hammers with such violence: how the kind earth will soon shroud-up his bloody foot-prints; and all that he achieved and skilfully piled together will be but like his own “canvas city” of a camp, — this evening loud with life, tomorrow all struck and vanished, ”a few earth-pits and heaps of straw!”

Thomas Carlyle, “Voltaire” (1829)

*

“paints yet more glorious triumphs on the cloud–curtain of the future” (160)

Seldom can the unhappy be persuaded that the evil of the day is sufficient for it; and the ambitious will not be content with present splendour, but paints yet more glorious triumphs, on the cloud-curtain of the future.

Thomas Carlyle, “Signs of the Times” (1829)

*

From “My Story” (1894)

“though fled fore’er the light” (166)

’Tis as the light itself of God were fled —
So dark is all around, so still, so dead;
Nor hope of change, one ray I find!
Yet must submit, though fled fore’er the light,
Though utter silence bring me double night,
Though to my insulated mind
Knowledge her richest pages ne’er unfold,
And “human face divine” I ne’er behold
Yet must submit, must be resigned.

Morrison Heady, The Double Night (1869). Heady was a deafblind poet. The Double Night is a long poem, dedicated “to the Shades of Milton and Beethoven.”

*

“How the beavers built their lodges,
Where the squirrels hid their acorns,
How the reindeer ran so swiftly,
Why the rabbit was so timid” (171)

Of all the beasts he learned the language,
Learned their names and all their secrets,
How the beavers built their lodges,
Where the squirrels hid their acorns,
How the reindeer ran so swiftly,
Why the rabbit was so timid,
Talked with them whene’er he met them,
Called them “Hiawatha’s Brothers.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha (1855)

*

“Into each life some rain must fall” (177)

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
    Some days must be dark and dreary.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Rainy Day” (1842)

*

“Love, — no other word we utter, Can so sweet and precious be” (179)

Trust —no other word we utter
    Can so sweet and precious be,
Tuning all life’s jarring discords
Into heavenly harmony!

Herbert Newbury, “The Sweetest Word” (1867)

*

“Love is everything! And God is Love!” (179)

These words seem to be Helen Keller’s own. They are introduced thusly: “Every day brings me some new joy, some fresh token of love from distant friends, until in the fullness of my glad heart, I cry: ‘Love is everything! And God is Love!’”

Three related posts
Helen Keller on horizons : On lines : On tolerance

Too many movies?

We knew that we may not have watched too many old movies when the Criterion Channel feature 1950: Peak Noir had two movies — count ’em, two (of seventeen) — that were new to us, Born to Be Bad and The Damned Don’t Cry.

And now we’ve watched them both, and once again, we may have watched too many old movies.

A related post
Too many movies?

Thursday, April 4, 2024

“A time outside our experience”

At the zoo. Mr. Palomar looks at the crocodiles. They lie asleep or “sleepless in a dazed desolation,” moving from time to time, then becoming motionless again.

Italo Calvino, “The order squamata.” In Mr. Palomar, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt, 1985).

Related reading
All OCA Italo Calvino posts (Pinboard)

Fishwife sardines

Fresca alerted me to the existence of Fishwife sardines. Such beautiful packaging. I have never seen these sardines in stores, but I will be on the lookout.

Thanks, Fresca.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

“An old, empty tire”

At the zoo, Mr. Palomar observes Copito de Nieve, or Snowflake, still the world’s only known albino gorilla. “In the enormous void of his hours,” Copito de Nieve clings to a tire, “a thing with which to allay the anguish of isolation, of difference, of the sentence to being always considered a living phenomenon.”

Italo Calvino, “The albino gorilla.” In Mr. Palomar, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt, 1985).

Related reading
All OCA Italo Calvino posts (Pinboard)

Paxlovid, expensive

I read my monthly health-insurance info and was astonished the see the price of a five-day run of Paxlovid (which cost me nothing): $1381.15.

Pfizer more than doubled the price last year.

Too many movies?

We know that we may have watched too many old movies when, at a glance, we recognize the servant Mr. Oates in The Spiral Staircase (1946) as the auto mechanic in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950). The actor: Rhys Williams.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Jim has spoken before

On the PBS NewsHours tonight, Jeffrey Brown spoke with Percival Everett about Everett’s new novel James. The Jim of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Everett said, “has never had a chance to speak.”

Certainly not at length, certainly not at novel-length. But there’s an unusual piece of literary criticism in the form of a letter from John Isaac Hawkins, Jim's son, to “Mister Finn,” in which John recounts his father’s commentary on Huck’s tale. It’s Gerry Brenner’s “More than a Reader’s Response: A Letter to ‘De Ole True Huck.’” You can read it by creating a free account at JSTOR.

Joe Flaherty (1941–2024)

The actor Joe Flaherty has died at the age of eighty-two. On SCTV he was Guy Caballero, Count Floyd, Sammy Maudlin, and Slim Whitman, among others. On Freaks and Geeks, Harold Weir.

The New York Times has an obituary.

Domestic comedy

[The Salada teabag tag read: “Crashers at the boat party just barge in.”]

“God, it’s like being stuck in a room with a bad version of me.”

“How do you think the other teabags feel?”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[Did you know that Salada is still a brand? I didn’t. The tea is not very good. But each bag has a tag with a punny or fortune-cookie-like sentence that reminds me of the little fillers in Parade or Reader’s Digest. When we found a box of Salada in a nearby salvage grocery store (weird adventures in shopping), I had to buy it — the box, not the store.]

Baking soda for the dishes

We have hard water. It’s been a fact of our east-central Illinois household forever. Sometimes we need a chisel.

But seriously, if you have hard water and do the dishes by hand:

~ Close the drain and put everything in the sink.

~ Add a small amount of dishwashing liquid and a tablespoon of baking soda.

~ Fill the sink with hot water.

~ Proceed as usual.

Yow! Everything almost washes itself. For the first time in many years we have dishes and glasses that sparkle, with virtually no hard-water stains.

How did I hit on this fix? We’ve taken to adding a dash of baking soda to a stock pot of (hard) water when we make pasta. Elaine found that tip, somewhere. So if it works for pasta, &c.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Monday in Manhattan

[From The Window (dir. Ted Tetzlaff, 1949). Click for larger clothes.]

It must have been a Monday — wash day and a high-wire show. That’s what laundry looked like when I was a kid in Brooklyn, long after this movie was made.

See also these WPA tax photographs: one from The Bronx, one from Brooklyn.

Bloody Trump

In The Washington Post, Philip Kennicott writes about a Getty Museum exhibit and “the ancient, volatile Christian ideas behind Trump’s obsession with blood”:

Whether or not Trump intended to suggest a literal “bloodbath” when he threatened economic chaos if he isn’t reelected, the reference to blood was part of a more thoroughgoing effort to tap into the violent energies of the pre-scientific and pre-modern symbolics of blood that is evident throughout this show. He is disgusted by women’s blood; he has good genes or blood running through his veins; he is defending the “blood” of pure Americans against infection and immigration; and the power he seeks is deeply connected to blood and violence. His inaugural address is remembered for a particularly blood-soaked image, American carnage, which is etymologically derived from butchery, flesh and slaughter. All of this gives some of his Christian supporters permission to reembrace the darkest aspects of the symbolics of blood that saturated their religion for centuries.

These are old ideas. They are deeply and historically Christian ideas. And they are terrifying.

Recently updated

Castorini and Cammareri “Cher, she goes crazy when she eats the lard bread.”

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Musicians, before or after it’s too late

A column by Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post advises seeing one’s musical heroes (his word) before it’s too late (gift link). The problem though is that it may already be too late.

Thiessen mentions, for instance, seeing Frankie Valli just last weekend: “though he does not move much onstage anymore, his voice is still crisp and strong.” And there’s a link to a 2022 performance.

All respect to Frankie Valli, who might be my first pop-music memory (via a Zenith transistor radio). But browse through that performance and it’s clear that Valli is not doing that much singing. It’s his recorded voice that we’re hearing.

I think it’s sometimes better to know the musicians one respects from their recordings. I am happy that I got to see Brian Wilson in 2000 and 2004 (the first Pet Sounds and SMiLE tours). But I would not want to have seen the Brian Wilson of recent years, sitting behind a silent piano and staring straight ahead. Some performances are too sad to witness. And I’d never want to see the Beach Boys in their present incarnation.

I have deeply mixed feelings about linking to anything written by Marc Thiessen (defender of waterboarding), but I think the topic here makes linking worthwhile. Readers’ thoughts about musicians seen before or after it’s too late are welcome in the comments.

[First pop-music memory: I would like it to have been the Beatles, but ”Sherry“ came out in August 1962. But I know I didn’t have a transistor radio of my own then.]

Castorini and Cammareri

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

That’s the Castorini family’s house in Moonstruck (dir. Norman Jewison, 1987). It’s a wow of a house, with considerable history in the world of non-fiction.

And here’s the Cammareri Bakery, which became the corner bakery in Moonstruck. It didn’t even have to change its name. “Cammereri’s Bake Shop,” Chrissy (Nada Despotovich) says when she answers the phone.

[502 Henry Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

In 1940 Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Cammareri lived at 502. I’d like to think that’s Mr. Cammareri out in front.

[Click for a larger view.]

[Click for a larger telephone directory.]

And look: another bakery, in Boro Park. Any relation? That’s a rabbit hole down which I will not go. But you can see Cammareri’s Bakery (as its sign says) in the Municipal Archives.

A 1943 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article about the 11th Avenue bakery mentions Angelina and Grace Cammerini, “handsome Italian girls,” originally from Palermo. A plaque in the bakery marked their brother Andrew’s second year in military service.

In 1998, the Henry Street bakery, by then known as the Cammereri Brothers Bakery, closed after nearly eighty years. No. 502 today houses MozzLab, a cheesemaker and food purveyor. No. 5910 is now a residential behemoth.

A wonderful bit of TV from when the bakery was flourishing: WABC-TV’s Chauncey Howell went to Carroll Gardens and interviewed residents about Moonstruck. Priceless stuff.

*

April 1: A reader sent links to the Daily News articles with the bakery: one and two. “Cher, she goes crazy when she eats the lard bread.” Related reading
More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard)

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Stella Zawistowski, and it’s very difficult. I had at it for about forty-five minutes, went out to dinner, came back, tried, tried, tried some more, and looked up three or four words to finish.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-A, nine letters, “Speak up for.” I may be missing something, but I don’t see how the clue and answer mesh.

5-D, fifteen letters, “I might stand for it.” I learned something.

10-D, fifteen letters, “Subject of The Whole-Brain Child.” Last nine letters easy, first six not so much.

11-D, five letters, “Relative of Rudolph.” All I could think was reindeer. I had to look it up. And then later last night I saw the name in movie credits.

12-D, four letters, “Relative of Inga.” All I could think was Frozen. I had to look it up.

17-A, nine letters, “Rising cost.” Clever.

18-A, five letters, “Monroe’s opposition in 1820.” It’s a trick, I tell ya.

24-D, five letters, “End of a ‘wrathful’ palindrome.” I think many solvers will invent this palindrome on the spot. A value-added clue.

25-D, five letters, “Name derived from an evergreen.” Poetry pays off.

32-A, nine letters, “Urban kids’ pastime.” It was, and I hope it still is.

35-A, fifteen letters, “Notes on notes.” Not an exciting answer, but the clue makes it worthwhile.

37-A, nine letters, “Regional figures.” I caught on right away, but I would have liked AREAWOMEN as the answer here.

49-D, four letters, “I might stand for it.” See 5-D.

50-D, four letters, “Husky parts.” Really sneaky.

53-A, nine letters, “ARTMOBILE anagram.” You never know how awkwardly untimely an answer might turn out to be.

56-A, nine letters, “Prior to delivery.” I have never heard or seen the answer before, and I suspect that if I see it again, it’ll only be in a crossword.

My favorite clues in this puzzle: 29-D, five letters, “Horned mascot (associated with 30 Down)” and 30-D, five letters, “Horned mascot (associated with 29 Down).”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Washington Week in Review misses the point

Talk about missing the point: the important thing to say about Donald Trump’s God Bless the USA Bible is not that it’s expensive or that it’s tacky, both points made on tonight’s Washington Week in Review. The important thing to say, and what no one said, is that this Bible is an exercise in Christian nationalism.

Is it the case that “all Americans need a Bible in their home,” as Trump says? No, not all, and not all those who need “a Bible” need one in two parts. And printing this two-part Bible with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Pledge of Allegiance included is an unmistakable effort to brand the United States as a Christian nation.

Bad job, WWiR.

[Slightly puzzling: Trump is hawking is a King James Version, not the first choice of evangelicals. But: the KJV in the public domain.]

“Meticulous,” “commendable,” “intricate”

Erik Hoel, neuroscientist and novelist, on the “insidious creep” of artificial intelligence into culture:

Consider science. Right after the blockbuster release of GPT-4, the latest artificial intelligence model from OpenAI and one of the most advanced in existence, the language of scientific research began to mutate. Especially within the field of A.I. itself.

A study published this month examined scientists’ peer reviews — researchers’ official pronouncements on others’ work that form the bedrock of scientific progress — across a number of high-profile and prestigious scientific conferences studying A.I. At one such conference, those peer reviews used the word “meticulous” more than 34 times as often as reviews did the previous year. Use of “commendable” was around 10 times as frequent, and “intricate,” 11 times. Other major conferences showed similar patterns.

Such phrasings are, of course, some of the favorite buzzwords of modern large language models like ChatGPT. In other words, significant numbers of researchers at A.I. conferences were caught handing their peer review of others’ work over to A.I. — or, at minimum, writing them with lots of A.I. assistance. And the closer to the deadline the submitted reviews were received, the more A.I. usage was found in them.
Thanks, Ben.

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Look closely

[Olympia Dukakis as Rose Castorini. From Moonstruck (dir. Norman Jewison, 1987). Click for a much, much larger view.]

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Marcus, Wal-Mart, pickleball

Word has it that “the old Wal-Mart” — the building left empty after the company decided to build a bigger one on the edge of town — is to be converted into a pickleball facility. In other words, “Pickleball infrastructure!”

Elaine pointed to this passage from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, 7.25:

All that you see will in a moment to be changed by the nature which governs the Whole: it will create other things out of this material, and then again others out of that, so that the world is always young.
Also from Marcus Aurelius
On distraction : On Maximus : On music, dance, and wrestling : On revenge

[Translation by Martin Hammond (Penguin, 2006).]

Thursday, March 28, 2024

One series, eleven movies

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

Let Us Prey: A Ministry of Scandals (dir. Sharon Liese, 2023). “I was born and raised in a strict religious environment, or as most people would call it, a cult”: so says one interviewee in this documentary series. Women who were raised in Independent Fundamental Baptist households speak their piece: about patriarchy and pedophilia, about preachers with the power of mini-gods, about schools (so called) that are, in effect, prisons, and about the effort to speak out and get justice. Given one woman’s account of languishing in an isolation room and wondering why God would let that happen to her, I would have liked to hear these women speak about their present religious belief or lack thereof — it seems an urgent matter to address. Harrowing stuff, and there are many reasons to proceed with caution, or not at all. ★★★ (M)

*

Moonstruck (dir. Norman Jewison, 1987). Two days and nights in Brooklyn Heights, as the moon gets in everybody’s eyes. At the center of the story, the Castorinis: a father (Vincent Gardenia) having an affair, a mother (Olympia Dukakis) sensing that he is, a grandfather (Feodor Chaliapin Jr., son of the great bass) devoted to his dogs, and a daughter, Loretta (Cher), who’s about to marry a diffident yet boorish fellow, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). And then there’s Johnny’s estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage), whom Johnny asks Loretta to invite to the wedding — and heck, everyone knows this movie already, right? Wonderful Italian-American stuff, never piled on too thick. ★★★★ (T)

*

Underworld U.S.A. (dir. Samuel Fuller, 1961). A great late noir, with Cliff Robertson as Tolly Devlin, who at fourteen sees unknown gangsters beat his father to death, continues in his own life of crime, and now, in his thirties, is prepared take revenge. Economical, fast-paced storytelling at first, but things get bogged down later with endless scheming. Standouts in the supporting cast: Beatrice Kay as a surrogate mom, Robert Emhardt as a crime boss with a sun lamp, and Dolores Dorn as Cuddles, a low-level drug runner who dreams of a new life with Tolly. I love the bare and utterly unrealistic streetscapes: watching the action, I know that it’s taking place in the movies. ★★★★ (YT)

*

The Window (dir. Ted Tetzlaff, 1949). From a story by Cornell Woolrich. I could watch this movie again and again, for its tenement apartments, narrow staircases, fire escapes, and its sense of the city as a secret maze best navigated by children. It’s a fable, a cautionary tale about a boy (Bobby Driscoll) given to making up stories, and who finds his parents and the police skeptical when he announces that he’s just seen someone murdered. It’s beyond sad that Driscoll would be found dead at the age of thirty-one in an abandoned building — the very setting for much of the action here. ★★★★ (TCM)

*

The City of the Dead (dir. John Llewellyn Moxey, 1960). I found it in a list of great B-movies. Perhaps not great, but it teems with atmosphere and unease. The premise: a college professor (Christopher Lee, yikes) directs a diligent college student (Nan Barlow) to a Massachusetts village to further her research on witchcraft in colonial America — a village that appears to be made of fog, gravestones, and strange voices. If you admire Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls (1962), you’ll likely admire this movie, which might be one of Harvey’s influences. ★★★★ (YT)

*

Bad Education (dir. Cory Finley, 2019). Based on the true story of Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman), a school superintendent who with his assistant Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) defrauded a high-achieving Long Island district of millions. That’s no spoiler: the real surprises here come in the way that the truth, with all its complications, emerges, as Rachel Bhargava, a student-reporter for the school paper (Geraldine Viswanathan), begins to ask awkward questions. (Here is Rebekah Rombom, the real-life model for the student-reporter, on her role in breaking the news of the scandal (gift link).) My favorite moments: the visit to Park Avenue, the call to the “consulting firm.” ★★★★ (M)

*

So Well Remembered (dir. Edward Dmytryk, 1947). It feels like two movies, both taking place as the war in Europe comes to an end, and neither to be missed. One is the story of a crusading newspaper editor and former member of Parliament (John Mills) who looks back on his life in journalism and public affairs; the other, the story of a man (John Mills) who looks back on the damage wrought across three generations by an ambitious heiress (Martha Scott). The political and the personal merge in unexpected ways in this movie, long believed lost, and recovered by a member of the Macc Lads, a punk band from Macclesfield, England, where the movie’s exteriors were shot. With Trevor Howard as an alcoholic doctor and Richard Carlson as an RAF pilot. ★★★★ (TCM)

*

Dangerous (dir. Alfred E. Green, 1935). “I’m bad for people,” says Joyce Heath (Bette Davis), once a icon of the American theater (modeled on Jeanne Engels), now a shambles of an alcoholic who’s convinced that she’s a jinx who brings harm to anyone she comes close to. Aiming to bring her back to stardom is Don Bellows (Franchot Tone), a suave architect who renounced life as a banker after seeing Heath on the stage. Their relationship takes two wild turns late in the movie (Elaine called them both), but the story then speeds to a sudden, ultra-sappy resolution. Great performances (Davis won an Oscar), clichéd script, and it’s fun to wonder what this movie might have been before the Code. ★★★ (TCM)

*

Black Friday (dir. Arthur Lubin, 1940). The two cultures, the humanities and the sciences: when gangster Red Cannon (Stanley Ridges) and courtly old professor of English George Kingsley (Stanley Ridges) are the victims of a drive-by shooting, Dr. Ernest Sovac (Boris Karloff), Kingsley’s best friend, works a miracle by saving Kingsley’s life with a transplant of the gangster’s brain. No wonder the revived professor occasionally morphs into Red, losing his pince-nez and acquiring slicked-down hair and a chalk stripe suit. What’s odder: even though he now has Red’s brain, the professor can still recite swaths of English poetry. Bela Lugosi plays a gangster, but the real star of the movie is the fellow who gets third billing: Stanley Ridges, who really seems to be two actors. ★★★ (YT)

*

A Matter of Life and Death (dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1946). A deeply strange and deeply moving story that begins with an RAF pilot, Peter Carter (David Niven), at the controls of a burning plane, talking with surnameless radio operator June (Kim Hunter), giving her some last words to convey to his mother and sisters. Peter, it appears, has been scheduled to die, but he doesn’t, due to an error in the workings of an undefined great beyond, and still alive, he promptly meets up with and falls in love with June. When a representative of the beyond demands that Peter come along so that the books remain properly balanced, a celestial trial begins, with Peter and June’s future in the balance. Extraordinary imagination, extraordinary celestial set design, and, in the aftermath of World War II, extraordinary pathos in the scenes of all those service members making their way into the world beyond. ★★★★ (CC)

*

The Revolt of Mamie Stover (dir. Raoul Walsh, 1956). I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jane Russell in a movie, and I’m happy to know from this one that she could act. Here she plays Mississippi-born Mamie, who we’re meant to understand is a sex worker, forced by the police to leave San Francisco, determined to make a new life in Honolulu, where she’s hired as a hostess at a dance hall (with a hallway of private rooms behind a curtain). Mamie’s life is complicated by a romance with a serviceman and writer (Richard Egan) who’s determined to take her away from the life she’s leading. The dance hall’s proprietor, Bertha Parchman (Agnes Moorehead) — named for the prison farm? — has other ideas. ★★★★ (CC)

*

American Fiction (dir. Cord Jefferson, 2023). Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is a Black American writer and professor who who draws upon ancient materials (The Frogs, The Persians) for his novels, and he’d like those novels to be shelved in the Fiction section of the bookstore, not in African-American Studies. With a mother (Leslie Uggams) sinking into dementia and needing memory care, Monk hits upon a scheme to make some money: like Jim Trueblood in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, he will give a white audience what it wants: a story of dysfunction, sorrow, and violence, presented to a publisher as the work of a fugitive ex-con writing under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh. And the white folks love it, with predictable and unpredictable results. I loved this movie for its cutting comedy and its depiction of a family both whole and scarred — and now I need to read Percival Everett’s novel Erasure. ★★★★ (V)

[I take back what I wrote about The Holdovers: I now think that American Fiction might be the best new movie I see all year. Here is the bookstore scene, filmed in what I immediately recognized as Brookline Booksmith, posing as a chain store.]

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