Saturday, November 18, 2017

From the Saturday Stumper

A clever clue from the Newsday Saturday Stumper, 23 Across: “With 29 Down, sight below some Lincoln Memorials.” The answers are three and four letters long. No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Today’s puzzle is by “Anna Stiga,” Stanley Newman, the puzzle’s editor. Anna Stiga, or Stan Again, is the pseudonym Newman uses for easier Saturday Stumpers of his making. Finishing a Saturday Stumper, even if it’s an easier one, is cause for minor self-congratulation.

Otto Baum Handlettering

An Instagram page: Otto Baum Handlettering. I especially like this clip, which shows some tools of the trade.

Thanks, Rachel!

Domestic comedy

“We’ve never been to the new McDonald’s — which is now old McDonald’s.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Things to do in the Valley

The San Fernando Valley, that is. The main thing to do in the Valley was to hang out with Rachel, Seth, and Talia. But I can recommend a few other things to do:

Bargain Books (14426 Friar Street, Van Nuys). A small store (estd. 1958) where the books are reasonably priced and shelved two deep. We found one book by Alexander King, two copies of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and three Robert McCloskey books for you-know-who. And the owner showed us an inscribed Truman Capote title. Capote had excellent handwriting.

Barnes & Noble (12136 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City). On the one hand, it’s a chain store. On the other hand, the location is a renovated movie theater. Location, location, location. There’s a large selection of children’s books.

Beeps Diner (16063 Sherman Way, Van Nuys). The real thing (estd. 1956), with a few tables outside, a few more tables inside, and two windows for ordering. The tuna melt is terrific. Beeps appears in a 2006 Zippy strip. A xeroxed enlargement hangs under a menu signboard.

Big Mama’s and Papa’s Pizza (Nineteen locations). Excellent pizza. That means more to me than it-was-served-at-the-Oscars, which it was, in 2014, when Ellen DeGeneres ordered Big Mama’s for the audience.

Brent’s Deli (19565 Parthenia Street, Northridge). Huge sandwiches, excellent ingredients, beautifully prepared. Pickles included. No disrespect to Canter’s or Nate ’n Al, but I think I prefer Brent’s.

Firehouse Restaurant (18450 Victory Boulevard, Tarzana). Greek food, intensely flavorful. Large portions — just the side order of hummus would probably last through three or four lunches in our house.

Puro Sabor (6366 Van Nuys Boulevard, Van Nuys). Peruvian food. We had yucca with huancaina (a tasty cheese sauce), mixed ceviche (fish and seafood marinated in lemon, with cancha, Peruvian corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes), and steak with tacu tacu (a pounded piece of tender beef atop a hash of rice and beans). A total comfort meal.

These bookstores and restaurants have earned the Orange Crate Art seal of approval.


We were hanging out with Rachel and Talia, with an Amazon Dot playing Beatles tunes. I was looking through my RSS feeds, and started reading a post from Grammarphobia. A reader had a question:

Can you give me a very simplified way to remember how to use “there,” “their,” and “they’re”? I know “there” is a place or shows ownership, and “their” is more figurative, but I still sometimes get them wrong. HELP!
You can guess what Beatles song started as I read that last word. Swear.

Related reading
All OCA synchronicity posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Mark Trail, recycled

That face . . . those beads of perspiration . . . where have I seen them before?

[Mark Trail, revised, May 10, 2014. Mark Trail, May 14, 2015; April 28, 2016; November 16, 2017.]

Today’s face is a cruder rendering: it appears that Mark’s lower forehead has been wiped clean and the eyebrows redrawn. But the beads of perspiration on the upper left forehead (Mark’s left), the cheekbones, the shadow under the nose: it’s the same face, recycled and repurposed.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

UPC misspelling

I was surprised to find what looks like a misspelled word on the back on a box of UPC. Here, look:

[“Be good to yourself this morning with a satisfing bowl of Simply Nature Organic Oats and Honey Granola.”]

To my eye, the letterforms look too various to have come from a cursive font. I think that this “note” superimposes an image of handwritten text onto an image of an exaggeratedly rustic piece of paper. Which would mean that someone wrote satisfying while leaving out the y. And that no one else noticed.

Related reading
All OCA spelling and misspelling posts (Pinboard)

Mister Memory

[Please imagine Jeff Sessions in the role.]

Q: “What are the 39 Steps? Come on, answer up! What are the 39 Steps?”

A: “I don’t recall.”

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How to improve writing (no. 72)

Page 49 of the November 20 issue of The New Yorker is a full-page ad for Ameritrade. The most prominent text element on the page is embarrassingly off:

I wondered for a moment if the ad is announcing an investment plan meant to provide for family members after the investor’s death. “The portfolio that works even when you aren’t” — in other words, when you aren’t around? But no, it’s just clumsy writing. The problem is that works and aren’t aren’t parallel elements in this sentence fragment. Parallel elements would look like these: it works even if you don’t work; it works even if you quit; it works even if you shuffle off to Buffalo. It works even if you aren’t? No. Even if you aren’t work? No.

One way to fix the problem: “The portfolio that works even when you don’t.” Or “The portfolio that’s working even when you aren’t.” But these revisions might suggest unemployment or retirement.

Better: “The portfolio that works even when you aren’t paying attention.” Or “The portfolio that works even when you’re not looking.” That sounds a little shady to me. But then again, I’m not a likely prospect for this ad.

The oddness of the banner sentence ought not to take attention away from the dangling participle in the body text: “By monitoring and rebalancing your portfolio automatically, it’s a low-cost solution that takes care of business, so you can take care of life’s essentials.”

Yes, life’s essentials, one of which is (or ought to be) striving to write good sentences.

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

[Click for a larger view. This post is no. 72 in a series, dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Domestic comedy

[After using the remote control.]

“There, that’s better. Now he’s using his inside voice.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[“Inside voice” comes from American Splendor (dir. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2003): “Remember what I told you about loud talking? Use your inside voice.”]

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Doublet and hose and usage

This passage arrived this morning with Bryan Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day:

[I]t does not follow that because a certain form of speech was current in earlier times it is therefore acceptable today — we might as well suggest that, because in Queen Elizabeth’s time our forefathers dressed in doublet and hose, we could wear the same garb without causing excitement and suspicion as to our mental condition.

Henry Alexander, The Story of Our Language (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1940).
See also mededitor’s “Jane Austen” fallacy. And here’s my take on the fallacy.

You can subscribe to Usage Tip of the Day at

Perfectionism and its discontents

From the podcast Innovation Hub : Eugenia Cheng, mathematician, talks about perfectionism and diminishing returns. With some useful observations about writing.

“On speaking terms with yourself”

Rachel Peden, from The Land, the People (Bloomington, IN: Quarry Books, 2010):

The blackberry patch in the woods was a good place for a farm woman to go if she wanted to talk aloud to herself . . . nobody was likely to embarrass her by overhearing her in that hidden place, though actually why should it be more embarrassing to be caught talking to yourself than singing to yourself, which many women love to do? And certainly, if you’re not on speaking terms with yourself, you need to do something about it.
Yes, you do. I think of an untitled poem from Lorine Niedecker’s Next Year or I Fly My Rounds Tempestuous (1934), a work made of short handwritten poems pasted over the inspirational aphorisms of a two-week-per-page calendar: “Jesus, I’m / going out / and throw / my arms / around.”

Also from Rachel Peden
Against school consolidation : Dry goods, &c. : “For pies and jelly and philosophy”

[Ellipsis in the original.]

Monday, November 13, 2017

iOS text editors

Brett Terpstra’s iOS text-editor roundup is an exhaustive guide to writing apps for the iPhone and iPad.

One iOS writing app that I especially like is Byword. I wrote most of this morning’s post about fluke life in Byword, on my phone, on a plane this past weekend.

A related post
Bear, a writing app

Fluke life

“Of course, you know there are no jobs.”

That was the director of a doctoral program in 1980, talking to me, a prospective student. The odds of securing a tenure-track position in a college or university English department were then about fifty-fifty. The odds of securing a tenure-track position with a degree from a non-powerhouse (but excellent) doctoral program must have been much longer. That hadn’t occurred to me.

“Of course,” I replied. It was all very wink-wink, as if we both understood that it was necessary to say something about the job market, if only in the form of a lighthearted disclaimer. And I remember, even now, that I was thinking to myself, Somehow I’ll get a job.

And five years later, I did. In the fall of 1984 I applied for every suitable position advertised in the Modern Language Asssociation Job Information List and ended up with half a dozen interviews at the MLA’s December convention, the annual hub for hiring in English and foreign languages. Half a dozen interviews was a pretty respectable haul. Just one interview led to a campus visit, at a state school in New England. The young and energetic department chair was really trying hard, but everything felt just sad: buildings in need of repair, ancient and kindly but disengaged faculty, and a mascot-like hanger-on student who seemed soundly stoned. My presentation of my dissertation research — about E.D. Hirsch, Stanley Fish, J.L. Austin, and speech-act theory — elicited only vague politeness: What made you choose this topic?

At home the mail was a steady drip of bad news: We have now completed our on-campus interviews, with me now out of even hypothetical consideration. I remember lying on our bed one afternoon, crying and telling Elaine, “I’ll never get a job.” But something had happened at the MLA convention that would greatly improve my chances.

Elaine and I had gone to the convention together. (Did she take off from work? I can’t recall.) We were in Washington, D.C., in late December, in spring-like weather on the first night of the convention, hungry and looking for a place to eat. We found a French restaurant, but it didn’t open for another half hour. Then we happened upon a Nepali restaurant and decided to try it. Wow: the dishes were like a cross between Chinese and Indian cuisine.

The restaurant was packed with MLA types, academics everywhere. But the table for two next to ours, literally next to ours, edge to edge, was empty, and a man and woman were seated there as we were finishing our meal. These people looked like the only non-MLA types in the place, and we somehow got to talking with them. I accounted for my presence at the convention: grad student, working on my dissertation, job interviews. And the man asked what it was about. And I said, “Well, the first chapter is about E.D. Hirsch.” And the woman said, “Oh, this is E.D. Hirsch.”

If you know Hirsch’s name, it’s probably from his work on behalf of the idea of cultural literacy. That came later. In 1984 Hirsch was best known in the context of “theory,” having written two books about hermeneutics, Validity in Interpretation and The Aims of Interpretation. In that pre-Internet world, knowing what he or any other academic looked like was not especially likely: no photographs on book covers, no photographs anywhere. It wasn’t until 1986 that The New York Times Magazine printed full-, or nearly full-page photographs of Harold Bloom, Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey Hartman, and J. Hillis Miller. Miller, I recall, was photographed in a New Haven pizza parlor.

But back to our Nepali restaurant. I couldn’t believe my dumb luck. Or awkward luck, as my chapter on Hirsch was devoted to exploring what I saw as problems with his ideas about meaning and intention. He asked me if I had seen his latest piece in Critical Inquiry. Huh? Back then the way to find out that something had come out was to go to the library and look through the periodical shelves. And here I was in Washington trying to get on-campus interviews, the next step to a job. “Uh, no, not yet,” said I.

We talked for a while, and I told Hirsch that I was looking forward to the panel at which he was reading a paper (along with David Bleich and Stanley Fish). Elaine and I probably started laughing giddily once we were out of the restaurant. Such a crazy turn of events.

But not that crazy: Elaine has a gift for running into people unexpectedly. We were waiting once for the subway in New York, and when the doors opened, the first person out was an old friend of hers. We were walking once on St. Mark’s Place and met an old friend of hers walking in the other direction. So it makes sense that Elaine ran into Hirsch the next day in a record store. She advised him on recordings, and he gave her an MLA name badge so that she could get into his panel (and everything else at the convention). As Elaine and I made our way through hotel corridors and lobbies, we noticed people noticing her badge: E D HIRSCH JR. And on our third and last day at the convention, we ran into the Hirsches at breakfast in a D.C. cafeteria.

When we got back to Boston, I went to the library and found Hirsch’s piece, and then found some things to say about it. I sent what I wrote to Critical Inquiry, where it was accepted for publication as a “critical response,” with another response to Hirsch and Hirsch’s response to both responses.

Now: Critical Inquiry is a journal of considerable renown in academia. I notified schools where I was still in the hypothetical running about the acceptance. And that spring I received calls from two schools with whom I hadn’t interviewed at the MLA, inviting me to on-campus interviews. A message from one school, on our answering machine: “This is a job offer.” (It was, in truth, an interview offer.) I opted for an interview at the other school and spent a long, exhilarating, sinus-ridden day talking with, it seemed, everyone in the department. “I hope you get it,” I remember one prof saying. And shortly thereafter, a letter came, telling me that an offer had gone to someone else. That someone else, I later learned, was an assistant professor with a book to her name, up for tenure but sure that she wasn’t going to get it.

But she got tenure and turned down the job offer, which now went to me. I took it and promptly called the New England state school to take myself out of the running. So I owe my thirty years of teaching to much more than my own smarts: to the fortunes, good or bad, of other jobseekers at the MLA and in on-campus interviews, to the faculty and administrators who decided to grant someone tenure, to a theory-minded person who took note of my Critical Inquiry acceptance, to the vagaries of business hours and seating arrangements in D.C. restaurants. And to curiosity about Nepali cuisine.

[When teaching, I sometimes told a brief version of this story to illustrate the idea of contingency. I wrote out much of what’s here in a 2013 letter.]

Sunday, November 12, 2017


I had already gone through the airport metal detector when a TSA agent asked to pat down my shoulders.

Elaine says it was because I have broad shoulders. No brag, just fact.

I don’t what the agent thought he might find. Drugs? I don’t think I look like a mule. But then again, I guess that could make me a better mule.

All the agent found, of course, was shoulders, broad ones. No brag, just fact.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Tea and truth

The words on my Celestial Seasoning tea-bag tag this afternoon are from Elizabeth Cady Stanton: “Truth is the only safe ground to stand upon.”

Unlike so many “famous quotes,” this one is genuine, and it seems particularly timely. From The Woman’s Bible (1898):

How can woman’s position be changed from that of a subordinate to an equal, without opposition, without the broadest discussion of all the questions involved in her present degradation? For so far-reaching and momentous a reform as her complete independence, an entire revolution in all existing institutions is inevitable.

Let us remember that all reforms are interdependent, and that whatever is done to establish one principle on a solid basis, strengthens all. Reformers who are always compromising, have not yet grasped the idea that truth is the only safe ground to stand upon.
The Woman’s Bible was published as the work of Stanton and a “revising committee” of Stanton and twenty-five other women. The introduction in which this passage appears is credited to Stanton.

On Veterans Day

The Goofein Journal is a faux newspaper, hand-lettered on cardstock, written and illustrated for an audience of one. The newspaper is the work of Marion Reh Gurfein, who sent twenty-one issues to her husband Joseph when he served in the Second World War and the Korean War.

[In 2014 Marion Reh Gurfein, then ninety-three, was interviewed about making art and living with macular degeneration. I hope that she’s still going strong.]

Friday, November 10, 2017

Talia and me

[Photograph by Elaine Fine.]

Bye, Talia. See you again soon!

An ex-ape speaks

Franz Kafka, “A Report to an Academy,” in The Complete Stories, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir (New York: Schocken, 1971).

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sluggo Lives!

[Zippy, November 9, 2017.]

It’s a good feeling.

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

“For pies and jelly and philosophy”

The gifts of woods:

Having known and loved deep woods in my childhood, I soon discovered the joys of the little woods on the hilltop on this farm. It gave us mushrooms — edible morels to eat and beautiful scarlet caps and orange shelf mushrooms and others to look at. It gave us sassafras roots for tea, wild blackberries for pies and jelly and philosophy; papaws for guests who like them, walnuts, glimpses of wildlife and flowers, snail shells; and a small demonstration of the way limestone breaks apart underground, swallows the soil above it and makes a cave. It gave us places for solitude, for thinking, a place where we could go and sort out our values and lick our spiritual wounds clean. It offered a place to walk with congenial companions and gave us, finally, a wide viewpoint. The wooded hilltop is high above and behind the farm buildings, which on a farm are customarily referred to as “the improvements.”

Rachel Peden, The Land, the People (Bloomington, IN: Quarry Books, 2010).
Also from Rachel Peden
Against school consolidation : Dry goods, &c.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Inspiration for writing

Rachel Peden refers to her father, B.F. Mason, as “the orchardist”:

If we wanted time for playing on workdays, we had to sneak away without attracting the orchardist’s notice. One of his favorite admonitions, learned from his Quaker mother, was “Satan finds work for idle hands to do.” He reminded us that she had often said to him, “Thy time, thy precious time!” He himself believed “There is no excellence without great labor.” Without ever telling us in so many words, he made us realize we were expected to carry in wood and water to the kitchen. When he wanted something done well, he encouraged us by telling us, “You can do it to a queen’s taste.”

Unwittingly, he probably fostered everybody’s writing proclivities by a bit of wry advice he gave us when we complained: “If there’s something that doesn’t suit you, just write it down and burn it up.” There were so many things that didn’t suit us that we had abundant practice in writing.

Rachel Peden, The Land, the People (Bloomington, IN: Quarry Books, 2010).
Also from Rachel Peden
Against school consolidation : Dry goods, &c.

“My Review of Wine”

From The New Yorker: “My Review of Wine,” by Roz Chast.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Dry goods, &c.

A picture of retail past, in Ellettsville, Indiana:

Cort’s store is a leisurely place that sells a great many things, and nobody is urged to buy anything. There was an assortment of men’s and boys’ clothing, dry goods, hardware, kitchen equipment. A stack of milk buckets, tin pans, and small tools were displayed carelessly in the window. There were the red and black plaid caps that are standard equipment for farm men and boys; the soft, warm, brown gloves; the stiff canvas gloves; blue denim overall jackets; assorted boots and overshoes.

Rachel Peden, Rural Free: A Farmwife’s Almanac of Country Living (Bloomington, IN: Quarry Books, 2009).
What are dry goods anyway? The Oxford English Dictionary: “A name (chiefly in N. Amer.) for the class of merchandise comprising textile fabrics and related things; articles of drapery, mercery, and haberdashery (as opposed to groceries).” Merriam-Webster: “textiles, ready-to-wear clothing, and notions as distinguished especially from hardware and groceries.” First use: 1657. An OED citation: “Sellers and buyers of produce, hardware, dry goods and what-not.” I love the what-not, and its cousin, things of that nature.

This passage made me think of a store from my Brooklyn childhood, “the dry goods store,” the only name I have for it, on New Utrecht Avenue, a street in permanent semi-darkness under the elevated train line. I remember merchandise on tables and in boxes: household chemicals, kitchenware, and what I now know were dry goods — underwear and socks, the packages priced with a marker or grease pencil. No farm fashions though. Wrong universe.

Also from Rachel Peden
Against school consolidation

Sardines are in the air

Yes, they are. The Chicago Tribune says so. And The Boston Globe has recipes. (As if sardines need a recipe.) Boston has at least two tinned-fish restaurants, haley.henry and Saltie Girl.

I think that “the small, oily fish” qualifies as an elegant or inelegant variation — like “elongated yellow fruit” for “banana.”

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Monday, November 6, 2017

Misspelled words

From Oxford Dictionaries, a handy list of words commonly misspelled. One word that always confounds me, not that I have much reason to use it: pharaoh, because a certain tenor saxophonist, last name Sanders, spells his first name Pharoah.

Related reading
All OCA spelling and misspelling posts (Pinboard)

“Ah, coherent”

Franz Kafka, “The Hunter Gracchus: A Fragment,” in The Complete Stories, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer, trans. Tania and James Stern (New York: Schocken, 1971).

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, November 5, 2017.]

Today’s Peter Max-like display of color is a marked improvement over October’s brown and green. Dig the blue and lilac tree trunks.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

People and their pencils

“They keep breaking”: artists, designers, a director and animator, a photographer, a writer, and their pencils, with photographs of the pencils (The Guardian).

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

Lassie do-overs

Taking a suggestion from bink, I’ve redone “The ’Clipse” and “The Poet” to make these Lassie fan-fiction posts easier to read on the screen. Does greater readability equal greater hokiness? You decide.

[Thanks, bink.]


[“Functional furniture.” Photograph by Martha Holmes. December 1947. From the Life Photo Archive.]

Daylight-saving time begins tonight, or tomorrow morning. To my mind, it begins when you turn your clock back. Want to go to bed early? Turn your clock back at night. Want an early start in the morning? Turn your clock back after you wake up. So much for standardization. But be sure to turn just once.

Many people profess to hate daylight-saving time. But I’m confused: if you would prefer an extra hour of daylight on winter afternoons, as I would, what you really want is to be on daylight-saving time all year, no?

[Saving, or savings? Garner’s Modern English Usage: “the plural form is now extremely common in AmE,” but “in print sources, the singular form still appears twice as often as the plural.”]

Friday, November 3, 2017

A new Odyssey

In The New York Times Magazine, Wyatt Mason writes about the classicist Emily Wilson, the first woman to translate the Odyssey into English. I am happy to find that this article begins with a discussion of πολύτροπον [polutropon, much-turned, of many turns], the first word that describes the man who is the poem’s subject. I’m less happy about Wilson’s choice of the word complicated to carry πολύτροπον across into English (“Tell me about a complicated man”), though that word does recall James Joyce’s characterization of Odysseus as a “complete all-round character”: son, father, husband, lover, conscientious objector, warrior, inventor, gentleman. I very much like what Wilson does with Homer’s further directive to the muse: “Now goddess, child of Zeus, / tell the old story for our modern times. / Find the beginning.”

Related reading
All OCA Homer posts (Pinboard)

[Annette Meakin translated Odyssey 6 as Nausikaa (1926). Barbara Leonie Picard created “a retelling of the entire story for young people” (1952). The first word that names Odysseus is the poem’s first word, ἄνδρα [andra, man]: Odysseus is a man, god-like at times in his ability to dazzle, but thoroughly fallible and mortal. Joyce’s remarks on Odysseus are found in Frank Budgen’s James Joyce and the Making of “Ulysses” (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1960). Wilson’s Odyssey comes out next Tuesday, published by W.W. Norton.]

Pages ’09 spelling window fixed

[The spelling window, as seen with Sierra and High Sierra.]

I am amazed to see that the spelling and grammar window for Pages ’09, broken with macOS Sierra, works properly with macOS High Sierra. A welcome fix, as Pages ’09 (version 4.3) remains a better app than the newer Pages (version 6.3). There’s been no update to Pages ’09, so the fix must lie somewhere in the operating system’s management of windows.

In other news, High Sierra appears to have done away with the shadows that have long accompanied screenshots of Mac windows. I took a picture of the screen, not the spelling window, to match the shadow of my Sierra screenshot.

Honered is, of course, a Donald Trump misspelling. And Pages really is suggesting hone-red as a correction. There’s the danger of choosing whatever is at the top of a spellcheck list: the Cupertino effect.


A later discovery: a screenshot of a window made by using Shift-Command-4, followed by the Space bar, adds shadows. But Mac’s Grab tool take screenshots of windows without shadows. Go figure.

Related reading
All OCA spelling and misspelling posts (Pinboard)

Cypress (sp)

“Paul Manafort’s lawyers misspelled Cyprus throughout his bail memo.”

As, of course, Cypress.

Related reading
All OCA misspelling posts (Pinboard)

[Found via Language Log.]

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Wrong mailbox

Junk mail:

We’re HelloFresh. And we have this crazy idea: Cooking can be fun.

We know, we know. Your days are as long as lines at the grocery store.
And so on. Jeez, did they mail the wrong household. We know, we know that cooking can be fun. We do it, we do it, almost every day. But what, what made them think that we were a good prospect?

Muhal Richard Abrams (1930–2017)

Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist, composer, bandleader, co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, has died at the age of eighty-seven. He was a giant of modern music. The Chicago Tribune and New York Times have obituaries.

Here via YouTube is a sampler of Abrams as pianist, composer, bandleader, and interpreter of tradition:

“Young at Heart” (1969) : “Maple Leaf Rag” (1976) : “Miss Richarda” (1987) : “Bermix” (1989) : “Blu Blu Blu” (1990) : Solo performance (2007) : “Improvisation for John” (2016) : The Trio (2017)

I am fortunate to have heard Abrams play in Chicago in 2009 and 2013.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Library slip (1934–1992)

See also this slip from a book borrowed just twice, in 1941 and again forty-one years later.

[There’s a watermark on this slip, not visible in the scan: DARD, missing, I assume the STAN.]

The Card Catalog

[A catalog card from The Card Catalog. Click for a larger view.]

From the Library of Congress: The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2017) is an illustrated history of the card catalog, from cuneiform days onward. With full-size photographs of more than 200 cards from the Library of Congress catalog.

Even if you prefer e-books, it’d be a mistake to buy this book in digital form. You’d miss out on the book pocket and circulation card affixed to the front pastedown (also known as the inside front cover). Not to mention the pastedown itself.

For more about card catalogs, see Nicholson Baker’s 1994 New Yorker essay “Discards.” And more recently, Tim Carmody’s “Card catalogs and the secret history of modernity” ( Thanks to Gunther for the Carmody link.

See also this library slip (1941, 1992) and this one (filled with musicians’ signatures). And see also the Catalog Card Generator.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

On John F. Kelly

Josh Marshall, writing about John F. Kelly’s spoken comments on the Civil War, Robert E. Lee, and Representative Frederica Wilson:

Kelly is not an adult in the room. He’s an example of what we might call Total Quality Trumpism, Trumpist ideology in a more disciplined, duty-focused, professional package. The core ideology and beliefs about reclamation and rectitude are the same. It’s not an accident that he ended up in the tightest circle of Trump’s orbit. . . .

Kelly’s eyes appear wide open. His tie to Trump seems to be based on a deep commonality of belief and a desire to sand away the rough edges of Trump to ensure the core goals of Trumpism succeed.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, in a series of tweets:
But, like, when the “adult in the room” believes a war for slavery was honorable. . .

Believes that the torturer of humans, vendor of people, who led that war was honorable. . .

When that dude portrays a sitting member of Congress as some shucking and jiving hustler. . .

When he sticks by that portrayal of a black women, in the face of clear video evidence, when he has so descended into the dream. . .

You really do see the effect of white supremacy.

Halloween advice

From a PSA for trick-or-treaters: “Make sure you’re well lit.”

Yes, kids, stay lit. Happy Halloween.

Separated at birth

[The actors Andrew Tombes and Don Lake.]

Andrew Tombes was in many, many movies. I know Don Lake best from Christopher Guest’s faux documentaries.

Also separated at birth
Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti : Bérénice Bejo and Paula Beer : Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop : David Bowie and Karl Held : Victor Buono and Dan Seymour : John Davis Chandler and Steve Buscemi : Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt : Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov : Ted Cruz and Joe McCarthy : Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Gough : Henry Daniell and Anthony Wiener : Jacques Derrida, Peter Falk, and William Hopper : Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln : Barbara Hale and Vivien Leigh : Harriet Sansom Harris and Phoebe Nicholls : Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks : Steve Lacy and Myron McCormick : William H. Macy and Michael A. Monahan : Fredric March and Tobey Maguire : Molly Ringwald and Victoria Zinny

Monday, October 30, 2017

Proust’s letters online

“The first tranche of the letters, several hundred related to World War I, is expected to be published online by Nov. 11, 2018, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of the war”: M. Proust’s letters are going online.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

A pocket notebook sighting

[Ministry of Fear (dir. Fritz Lang, 1944).]

The men with hats, knife, and notebook are from Scotland Yard. Ray Milland wishes he could have a notebook like that.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : Cat People : City Girl : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dragnet : Extras : Foreign Correspondent : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : The Palm Beach Story : Perry Mason : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window

[And yes, that is Ray Milland, not Paul Manafort.]

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Scabs and banjos

Chris Matthews, speaking of Donald Trump on Meet the Press today: “He knows he can find the issues that rip the scab off this cultural divide, and he plays it like a banjo.”

Matthews has turned to rip the scab off before. He’s invoked the banjo before as well. But to compare scab-ripping facility to banjo chops — four-string? five-string? clawhammer? Scruggs-style? — that’s something new. I’d liken that move to straining after rhetorical greatness and pulling a groin muscle. Or something.

As you may have guessed, I’m not a Chris Matthews fan. I still recall with pleasure his 2007 appearance on The Daily Show: “This is a book interview from hell!”

Related posts
Chris Matthews disappoints : Chris Matthews explains it all for you : Chris Matthews on sex

[I’ve added a comma to the Meet the Press transcript. Why not?]

Domestic comedy

“It’s gotten to the point where he’s finally lost all of his lack of respect for me.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

From the Saturday Stumper

A nice touch in today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Andy Kravis. The clue for 53-Across, seven letters: “They fill take-out orders.” No spoilers; the answer is in the comments.

Finishing the Saturday Stumper is always cause for minor self-congratulation.

Kafka, strange and stranger

From two manuscripts of a story, one strange, the other stranger:

Franz Kafka, “Wedding Preparations in the Country,” in The Complete Stories, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer, trans. Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins (New York: Schocken, 1971).

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Friday, October 27, 2017

World Book Things

[Mom holds the cat as Dustin tears out of the house. Click for a larger view.]

Five minutes into the first episode of the new season of Stranger Things, I was thrilled to see the World Book Encyclopedia, or at least a partial set, on a shelf in Dustin’s house. In this screenshot, the World Book volumes are at the top left. The white, green, and gold are recognizable anywhere, at least for a viewer of a certain age. Admirably fanatical care goes into set decoration for this show: the World Book is onscreen for mere seconds, just enough for someone to notice.

[I’m the proud child of a World Book family. See also this Atlantic piece.]

Little Luther

It appears that my representative in Congress, John Shimkus (R, Illinois-15), likes to play with paper dolls. Okay. But it’s not okay to affix a paper doll to a painting that doesn’t belong to you. This 1881 painting of Frederick Muhlenberg hangs in the United States House of Representatives. Representative Shimkus has also shared a photograph of the doll nestled in the arm of a statue of John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg. The 1889 statue stands in National Statuary Hall.

Related reading
All OCA John Shimkus posts

[Look closely and you’ll see that there’s no photoshopping involved. The doll is attached to the frame. The doll’s shadow falls on the wall.]

Shine on, Hallmark Channel

Our fambly has found reliable entertainment in the local cable company’s plot summaries of Hallmark Channel movies, summaries at least as good as the movies themselves. Here’s one for Harvest Moon:

A rich girl loses her wealth when her family goes bankrupt, so she heads to a pumpkin farm they own and uses her ingenuity to create a line of pumpkin skin care.

~ It’s a good thing that even in bankruptcy, the family owns a pumpkin farm.

~ But wait: should that be owned?

~ Between the time I photographed the description and wrote this post, Harvest Moon seems to have come and gone. The Hallmark Channel has already moved on to Christmas movies. And it’s not even Thanksgiving. Or even Halloween.

~ As Elaine reminds me, Illinois is The Great Pumpkin State. If this movie didn’t take place in Illinois, well, it should have.

~ Skin care for pumpkins probably takes a lot of ingenuity.

Related posts
I am a prisoner of Hallmark Movies and Mysteries : Hallmark ex machina : The Bridge, continued

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Two fine podcasts

Gastropod : Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley look at “food through the lens of science and history.” I’ve listened to the episodes about Fluff, seltzer, and tea.

Innovation Hub : Kara Miller and guests explore “new avenues in education, science, medicine, transportation, and more.” I’ve listened to the episodes about groupthink and obsession.

Both podcasts offer substantial content, no fluff (the lowercase variety).

Proust: “To love life today”

A question posed in the Paris newspaper L’Intransigeant, summer 1922:

An American scientist announces that the world will end, or at least that such a huge part of the continent will be destroyed, and in such a sudden way, that death will be the certain fate of hundreds of millions of people. If this prediction were confirmed, what do you think would be its effect on people between the time when they acquired the aforementioned certainty and the moment of cataclysm? Finally, as far as you’re concerned, what would you do in this last hour?
Marcel Proust responded in a letter:
I think that life would suddenly seem wonderful to us if we were threatened to die as you say. Just think of how many projects, travels, love affairs, studies, it — our life — hides from us, made invisible by our laziness which, certain of a future, delays them incessantly.

But let all this threaten to become impossible for ever, how beautiful it would become again! Ah! If only the cataclysm doesn’t happen this time, we won't miss visiting the new galleries of the Louvre, throwing ourselves at the feet of Miss X, making a trip to India.

The cataclysm doesn’t happen, we don’t do any of it, because we find ourselves back in the heart of normal life, where negligence deadens desire. And yet we shouldn’t have needed the cataclysm to love life today. It would have been enough to think that we are humans, and that death may come this evening.
The question and Proust’s answer are quoted in Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life (New York: Vintage, 1997). I’ve had these passages typed and waiting to be posted for — ahem — years.

What I would do if the world were to end in an hour: call my children, my mom, my brother, a few friends, and sit with Elaine and listen to music, if she’s agreeable. Maybe Bach? But Elaine just told that she’d rather play than listen. So we could play together. I’m assuming we’d be together.

What would you do?

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[By the time I read de Botton, Proust had already changed my life. In other words, I read In Search of Lost Time first. I’m taking “this last hour” literally, as did at least some of those who responded in 1922.]

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

More Salinger?

David Shields and Shane Salerno’s execrable biography Salinger (2013) made the claim that five new Salinger books would appear “between 2015 and 2020.” Now a New York Times reporter asks a reasonable question: “So Where Are the New J.D. Salinger Books We Were Promised?”

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

K., duh

Leni, nurse and perhaps mistress to the lawyer Huld, chastises Josef K.:

Franz Kafka, The Trial, trans. Breon Mitchell (New York: Schocken, 1998).

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Goodbye, Smart Trend by Sunglow

[2 7/8" × 1 15/16".]
Goodbye, Smart Trend by Sunglow dresser, a mid-century modern dresser that long outlived its time, traveling from Elaine’s parents’ bedroom to Elaine’s childhood bedroom, to her first and second apartments, to a house we rented, to an apartment we rented, to another house we rented, to the house we now live in and own, to the furniture store that brought us a new dresser yesterday. Packing tape could do only so much to keep the split boards in place.

I have determined that the name for this kind of label (woven cloth, glued to the inside of a drawer) is the disappointingly obvious “furniture label.”

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Not “normal”

In a speech announcing his decision to leave the Senate, Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), spoke today of “the new normal”:

We must never regard as “normal” the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.

None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal.
Amen. Jeff Flake and I would agree about very little in the way of policy. But on this point we would agree. Something I wrote in a February post: “Nothing about this presidency is normal. And nothing about this presidency is for getting used to.”

MSNBC, sheesh

Dear Craig Melvin and Andrea Mitchell,

Whatever it was you were talking about: it doesn’t beg the question; it raises the question.


A concerned viewer, one of no doubt many

From Garner’s Modern English Usage (2016):

the use of beg the question to mean raise another question is so ubiquitous that the new sense has been recognized by most dictionaries and sanctioned by descriptive observers of language. Still, though it is true that the new sense may be understood by most people, many will consider it sloppy.
Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

“Making Progress”

[“Making Progress,” xkcd, October 23, 2017.]

Don’t miss the mouseover text. See also this post about making slow progress.

[I just realized that xkcd almost certainly owes something to Rudolf Modley’s pictorial symbols.]

Dick Cavett’s Vietnam

Tonight, on many PBS stations: Dick Cavett’s Vietnam, with excerpts from episodes of The Dick Cavett Show, period footage, and new interviews.

“Really too small for an atelier”

K. has called on Titorelli, a court painter who turns out portraits of judges:

Franz Kafka, The Trial, trans. Breon Mitchell (New York: Schocken, 1998).

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Close reading

“While Trump has disputed the story [of what happened in his phone call to Myeshia Johnson] — even claiming to have still-yet-to-be-produced “proof” to back it up — the White House has largely seemed to confirm that he said the things he has been accused of saying”: a good example of close reading, from Aaron Blake of The Washington Post.

I suspect that close reading will at some point extend to the “is” of “There is no collusion.” And notice that it’s always “no collusion with Russia” or “no collusion with the Russian government,” omitting reference to interested individuals.

Proust at auction

On October 30 Sotheby’s will auction an extremely rare copy of Du côté de chez Swann, one of five first-edition copies printed on Japanese paper. The book carries this inscription:

A Monsieur Louis Brun
Ce livre qui passé à la N[ouve]lle Revue française n’a pas oublié son amitié première pour Grasset
Affectueux souvenir
Marcel Proust
Estimated price: €400,000–600,000. Must start saving up!

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[Sotheby’s translation: “To Mr. Louis Brun: this book, which is moving over to the Nouvelle Revue Française, has not forgotten its first friendship for Grasset. With affectionate memories, Marcel Proust.” Brun worked for Bernard Grasset, whose eponymous publishing house brought out Du côté de chez Swann in 1913. In 1916 Proust changed publishers, from Grasset to Gaston Gallimard and Éditions de la Nouvelle Revue Française.]

“Dig the gonest”

Still making progress through my dad’s CDs: Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Ivie Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire, Mildred Bailey, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Art Blakey, Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins, Clifford Brown, Dave Brubeck, Joe Bushkin, Hoagy Carmichael, Betty Carter, Ray Charles, Charlie Christian, Rosemary Clooney, Nat “King” Cole, John Coltrane, Bing Crosby, Miles Davis, Matt Dennis, Doris Day, Blossom Dearie, Paul Desmond, Tommy Dorsey, Billy Eckstine, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Erroll Garner, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Stéphane Grappelli, Bobby Hackett, Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, Earl Hines, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Dick Hyman, Harry James, Hank Jones (my dad did tile work in his house), Louis Jordan, Stan Kenton, Barney Kessel, Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, Peggy Lee, Mary Ann McCall, Susannah McCorkle, Dave McKenna, Ray McKinley, Marian McPartland, Johnny Mercer, Helen Merrill, Glenn Miller, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Gerry Mulligan, Red Norvo, Anita O’Day, and now, Charlie Parker.

By way of YouTube, here are two great ballad performances, from the Parker compilation Best of “The Complete Savoy & Dial Studio Recordings” (Savoy Jazz, 2002), with Parker, alto; Miles Davis, trumpet; Duke Jordan, piano; Tommy Potter, bass; and Max Roach, drums:

“Embraceable You” (George and Ira Gershwin). Recorded in New York City, October 28, 1947. This is the take in which Parker begins his solo by quoting Sam Coslow’s “A Table in the Corner.” Gary Giddins gets credit for identifying the source.

“Out of Nowhere” (Johnny Green–Edward Heyman). Recorded in New York City, November 4, 1947.

And here, from the Parker compilation Best of “The Complete Live Performances on Savoy” (Savoy Jazz, 2002), is my transcription of a bit of patter from a radio broadcast. The announcer is Symphony Sid, broadcasting from the Royal Roost, March 5, 1949. Please imagine Parker’s group playing Lester Young’s “Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid” as Sid speaks:

“Oh what a frantic place, the Royal Roost, ladies and gentlemen, the Metropolitan Bopera House here on Broadway between 47th and 48th Street, right opposite the Strand Theatre. Aww, the music is so crazy where the lights are low and the music is a real knocked-out groove, ninety-cents admission, and all you got to do is sit back and relax, from nine-thirty till four, and dig the gonest.”
The Royal Roost stood at 1580 Broadway, Manhattan. The Strand Theatre: 1579. The Metropolitan Opera House was eight blocks away, at 1411 Broadway.

Also from my dad’s CDs
Mildred Bailey : Tony Bennett : Charlie Christian : Blossom Dearie : Duke Ellington : Coleman Hawkins : Billie Holiday : Louis Jordan

[As much as I like Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, I wasn’t about to separate all those individual names with semicolons for the sake of one vocal trio. Why links to the recordings? It’s increasingly difficult to find YouTube uploads of commercial recordings that can be embedded.]

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Still smoking

[Hi and Lois, October 22, 2017.]

Oh, wait — they’re birds. I thought there were little flecks of ash around him.

Thirsty Thurston first appeared in Hi and Lois on June 9, 1961. He has been smoking for more than fifty-six years.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[Even Andy Capp gave up cigarettes, in 1983.]

“An essay test!”

[Peanuts, October 22, 1970. Click for a larger view.]

Yesterday’s Peanuts is today’s Peanuts. Or more precisely, October 22, 1970’s Peanuts was this past Thursday’s Peanuts.

You can read the entire run of Peanuts at GoComics. Begin here.

Related reading
All OCA Peanuts posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Night at The Garden

Available for online viewing: A Night at The Garden, Marshall Curry’s seven-minute assemblage of archival footage of a 1939 German American Bund rally at Madison Square Garden. The 20,000-strong event was advertised as a “Pro-American Rally.” George Washington, swastikas, and a protester beaten. Draw your own parallels and conclusions.

Churchill on looking at nature

Once you begin to study it, all Nature is equally interesting and equally charged with beauty. I was shown a picture by Cézanne of a blank wall of a house, which he had made instinct with the most delicate lights and colours. Now I often amuse myself when I am looking at a wall or a flat surface of any kind by trying to distinguish all the different colours and tints which can be discerned upon it, and considering whether these arise from reflections or from natural hue. You would be astonished the first time you tried this to see how many and what beautiful colours there are even in the most commonplace objects, and the more carefully and frequently you look the more variations do you perceive.

Winston Churchill, Painting as a Pastime (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1950).
No painter, I. But this passage makes me think of the way everything looks different after a day at a museum, where you might see Cézanne’s House in Provence or House and Trees or The House with the Cracked Walls. Churchill’s essay is about much more than hobbies and pastimes; it’s about attention.

[This passage so captured me that I didn’t even stop to ask whether a wall should be considered part of nature.]

Friday, October 20, 2017

The language of a military coup

At The New Yorker, Masha Gessen writes about John Kelly and the language of a military coup:

When Kelly replaced the ineffectual Reince Priebus as the chief of staff, a sigh of relief emerged: at least the general would impose some discipline on the Administration. Now we have a sense of what military discipline in the White House sounds like.
Consider, in light of Gessen’s commentary, today’s comment from Sarah Huckabee Sanders about Kelly’s claim that Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson took credit for securing funding for an FBI building: “I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general — that’s highly inappropriate.”

I think of a line from a great Specials song: “Don’t argue.”

[Sanders’s sentence was split in two by a question from a reporter. I’ve reproduced it as an uninterrupted sentence.]

“A brief overview of his life”

Franz Kafka, The Trial, trans. Breon Mitchell (New York: Schocken, 1998).

I think of the “portfolio” that accompanied my application for tenure, assembled in three three-inch looseleaf binders.

The thought of “a brief overview” of one’s life that nevertheless documents “each event of any particular importance”: there’s the madness of the Trial world. I suppose that among the events accounted for would be the decision to write the overview itself. And also, perhaps, the decisions about what to leave out, in which case events of no particular importance would also find their way into the brief overview.

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Benguiat beatniks

[Zippy, October 20, 2017.]

Dig the lettering of BeATnik, inspired by Ed Benguiat’s Interlock. Just right for beatniks.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)
Benguiat style

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Elaine and I like an expensive-ish oat-and-honey granola that we call FPC, or Fancy Pants Cereal. Yesterday we bought a box of the Aldi version, which, it turns out, is just as good and much less expensive-ish. So we have decided to call this cereal UPC: Underpants Cereal.

A related post

Wrong professor

Elaine and I were walking and found ourselves in front of City Lights Books. The windows had been smashed, and the shelves were nearly empty. We stepped in through an empty window and saw that a poet was preparing to give a reading. She asked us about ourselves. When I told her I was a retired English professor, she pushed a book of her poems at me. “Here,” she said, “this better end up in a book.”

Wrong professor. But it did end up in a blog post.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

[A dream likely inspired by recent conversations Elaine and I have had about our shared distaste for self-promotion.]

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

More blizzardous

I went looking for John Ashbery’s word blizzardous in Google Books and found this passage:

The word “blizzard” seemed to strike many people here as a good novelty, and many looked upon it as a clever American invention of the moment. And yet “blizzard” has long been in Nuttall’s Standard Dictionary, with its proper definition, “a sudden, violent, cold snowstorm.” A modern humorist has invented a novel application of the word. Where anything is absolutely wretched, disastrous and disagreeable, he speaks of it as “blizzardous.” This makes a fearful and strong-sounding adjective that will probably achieve a very great popularity. As we receive some of our most popular and most expressive words from America, it seems only fair that we should occasionally attempt to send them something in return. I really think that “blizzardous” ought to suit some of your people down to the ground.

J. Ashby-Sterry, “English Notes,” The Book Buyer (May 1888).
So a word in a John Ashbery diary entry also shows up in a column by one J. Ashby-Sterry. Crazy! Ashby-Sterry further glosses blizzardous: “I think it a mistake to call some of these expressions ‘slang.’ Slang very often arises by the adoption of technical terms in general conversation, and what is the slang of one generation not infrequently becomes the refined language of the next.”

The Oxford English Dictionary on the origin of blizzard:
As applied to a “snow-squall,” the word became general in the American newspapers during the severe winter of 1880–81; but according to the Milwaukee Republican 4 Mar. 1881, it had been so applied in the Northern Vindicator (Estherville, Iowa) between 1860 and 1870. It was apparently in colloquial use in the West much earlier.
Which would suggest that blizzard was indeed “a clever American invention,” earlier than 1888. The OED’s first definition for the noun blizzard: “a sharp blow or knock; a shot,” with an 1829 citation from the journal Virginia Literary Museum. The verb, “of snow, sleet, etc.: to form a blizzard,” first appears in 1880 in the newspaper The Idaho Avalanche: “Oh, the snow, The bee-yew-tiful snow! It made last night so jolly, you know, Belating the trains and grounding the Wires, as blizzarding over the land it fires.”

[I can find nothing to suggest the identity of the “modern humorist.”]

Martha Penteel

[Ministry of Fear (dir. Fritz Lang, 1944).]

In a movie full of doors, this one is the oddest. The eye is the doorbell.

A blizzardous Wednesday

From a diary, February 19, 1941. The writer, John Ashbery, was thirteen years old:

Wednesday (written on Wednesday). February 19. Wea. Blizzardous Ther. 16° Today (Wednesday) the weather was extremely blizzardous. The day seemed so much like Wednesday. In English we are reading poems. At noon I walked uptown even though the weather was blizzardous (I think I mentioned that before). I made up the Social Studies which was given on the Friday I was absent. 92%. The marks in the Latin test yesterday were very poor, but I managed to get 100%. For dessert tonight we had a sealtest ice cream cherry pie, a rare treat. After supper I started to illustrate Poe’s “Hop-Frog” But I did not get on very well. I listened to Eddie Cantor and Mr. D.A. Wednesday. Wednesday. I am feeling silly today. Blizzardous. Written (oh definitely) on Wednesday.
This diary passage is reproduced in Karin Roffman’s The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017).

Related reading
All OCA Ashbery posts (Pinboard)

[The Oxford English Dictionary has the adjective forms blizzardy, blizzardly, and blizzardous. But no citation for blizzardous.]

“The end of walking”

“There are vast blankets and folds of the country where the ability to walk — to open a door and step outside and go somewhere or nowhere without getting behind the wheel of a car — is a struggle, a fight”: Antonia Malchik writes about “The end of walking” (Aeon).

[Found via Daughter Number Three.]

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trump as student

Watching today’s joint press conference with Donald Trump and Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, I thought of characterizations of Trump from associates past and present. These two Trump responses to reporters’ questions put me in mind of a student who comes into an exam with almost nothing to say. Transcriptions from the White House Press Office:

Q: Why would you encourage the U.S. companies to invest in Greece? And how can the U.S. support the Greek efforts to fully turn the page, attract investments, and manage its debt? Thank you.

A: I can say that we have a great confidence in Greece. I think it’s a land of tremendous potential. I know many people are looking to invest in Greece. A lot of the problems are behind it. They’ve had some very good leadership. They’ve really made done a lot of — they’ve made a lot of difficult decisions.

We are helping, as you know, with a massive renovation of their air force and also of airplanes, generally, going to Greece. They’re looking at buying additional planes from Boeing. And we are helping — we’re very much involved with Greece and with helping Greece get back on its feet. We have a tremendous Greek population in this country, people whose heritage is Greece. And we love that country, special country, one of the most beautiful countries in the world. So I think it’s got great potential, and we are helping it along.
There’s nothing in that response to answer the question. And really just one specific: Boeing airplanes, mentioned in Trump’s opening statement.

One more:
Q: Mr. President, you praised Greece’s role in NATO with the contribution and in Souda Bay amid the volatile region of the Eastern Mediterranean. What do you see as the potential of Greece being as a pillar of stability in the region? And what would the U.S. like to see happening in order for Greece to achieve its potential? Thank you.

A: Well, I’d just start by saying that I think it has a great role in stability in the area. We have a feeling that it will get stronger and stronger. Very stable people. It's got the potential to be — once it gets over this tremendous financial hurdle that it’s in the process of working out, we think that there will be great stability in Greece, and militarily and in every way we look at it as very important, and very important to the United States.

We have great confidence in Greece as a nation. We have great confidence in what they’re doing relative to their military, because I know they have plans to do some terrific things. And we know they will be an ally for many, many years to come. You know, they’ve always been a very reliable ally, and we’ve always been very reliable to them. So we look forward to that for many years. We’re going to be friends for many, many years, and stability is very important. And we look upon that, with respect to Greece, as being a key.

Thank you.
Here too there’s just one specific: a financial hurdle. Other than that, it’s all stability, great confidence, and some terrific things. And the emptiest phrasing: “And we look upon that, with respect to Greece, as being a key.” A Greek key!

Imagine these answers not as presidential responses to the press but as responses to exam questions in a college course on foreign policy. I think a D (as in Donald) would be generous.

Separated at birth

[The actresses Bérénice Bejo, as seen in The Artist, and Paula Beer, as seen in Frantz.]

Also separated at birth
Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti : Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop : David Bowie and Karl Held : Victor Buono and Dan Seymour : John Davis Chandler and Steve Buscemi : Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt : Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov : Ted Cruz and Joe McCarthy : Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Gough : Henry Daniell and Anthony Wiener : Jacques Derrida, Peter Falk, and William Hopper : Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln : Barbara Hale and Vivien Leigh : Harriet Sansom Harris and Phoebe Nicholls : Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks : Steve Lacy and Myron McCormick : William H. Macy and Michael A. Monahan : Fredric March and Tobey Maguire : Molly Ringwald and Victoria Zinny

Twelve more movies

[No spoilers.]

The Salesman (dir. Asghar Farhadi, 2016). From the director of A Separation (2011), the movie that made me want to see this one. When an apartment building is shaken to its foundations and rendered uninhabitable, two of its tenants, a husband and wife in “the arts” (theater), move to a new building, where their marriage is shaken to its foundations by an assault and its aftermath: the victim’s self-doubt and shame, her partner’s need for revenge. All against a backdrop of Death of a Salesman, whose relevance isn’t always especially clear. A DVD-extra interview with the director helps.


Columbus (dir. Kogonada, 2017). In Columbus, Indiana, a town filled with modernist architecture, Jin (John Cho), the son of an dying architectural historian, and Cassandra, or Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young local, meet and talk and walk and look at buildings, again and again. Their relationship (which begins as they stand on opposite sides of a fence) cuts across barriers of age, culture, and class. The leads are excellent: Cho as a son who professes no interest in architecture and resents the gestures of mourning that will be required of him; Richardson as a young woman obsessed with architecture who sees no way to escape her obligations to her mother and get away to college. The film was too perfect, too pretty for me, with virtually every shot displaying symmetry or pleasing asymmetry. And yes, Jin and Cassandra talk about symmetry and asymmetry. But unlike Elaine, I was able to refrain from checking the time while watching. Columbus has had rave reviews, so consider these sentences a minority report.


Más Pedro Almodóvar

What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984). Domestic comedy and tragedy, with three dysfunctional generations in a tiny apartment: a grandmother who keeps her mineral water under lock and key, her cabdriver/forger son Antonio, his amphetamine-addled cleaning-lady wife Gloria, a drug-dealing elder son, and a younger son who’s prostituting himself to men. And Gloria’s next-door best friend Cristal, also a prostitute. This movie felt to me like preparation for Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988).

Broken Embraces (2009). A brilliant, richly plotted story of fathers and sons; love, loss, and revenge; and movie-making, informed by the spirits of Audrey Hepburn, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo), and Michael Powell (Peeping Tom). With Penélope Cruz and other Almodóvar regulars. Prerequisite: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. I now have three favorite Alomdóvar films: All About My Mother, Volver, and this one.


Good Morning, Miss Dove (dir. Henry Koster, 1955). Something like a schoolroom version of It’s a Wonderful Life, with Jennifer Jones as an elementary-school geography teacher, strict, severe, devoted to duty, and somehow loved by her students and townspeople. In the one extended scene of Miss Dove (no first name) at work in her panopticon, she interrupts the “lesson” again and again, stopping to address every transgressor of the rules. What’s really being taught here? Not just the products of the Argentine pampas. I was made to read Frances Gray Patton’s story “The Terrible Miss Dove” in middle school. What was that about?


L’Argent (dir. Robert Bresson, 1983). “O money, god incarnate, what wouldn’t we do for you?” Bresson’s last movie, all tans and blues, with money as a means not of exchange but of betrayal. A young man passes a counterfeit bill, and that one act proves to have disastrous consequences in other lives, far removed. Bresson works with extraordinary economy, letting the viewer fill in the implications. From a Tolstoy novella, The Forged Coupon.


Deux films avec Isabelle Huppert

Things to Come (dir. Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016). Huppert as a philosophy teacher who finds her life — no spoilers — upended. And then — no spoilers — life goes on. I loved this film, which makes intellectual work feel as everyday as any other kind of work. How could I not love a film that begins with a protagonist grading papers while on a family outing? For advanced grown-ups only.

Elle (dir. Paul Verhoeven, 2016). Huppert as the owner of a video-game company, a woman whose life is saturated in violence, sex, and sexual violence. This film is by turns intensely disturbing and strangely funny. It’s like a comedy of musical beds interrupted by scenes of stylized terror, or a whodunit interrupted by scenes of domestic farce. Excellent, but Things to Come is the film I’d choose to see again.


Ministry of Fear (dir. Fritz Lang, 1944). Had we seen it before? Yes? No? Maybe? Yes, I think, years ago. Ray Milland plays a man who stops by a village fête and walks away with a cake that was meant for someone else. Trouble follows. 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.


The Outrageous Sophie Tucker (dir. William Gazecki, 2014). Sometimes a movie appears to rise of its own accord to the top of the Netflix queue. I became idly curious about Sophie Tucker after seeing her in
an Ed Sullivan clip that evoked a lost world of stage performance. But Tucker, singer, entertainer, the Last of the Red Hot Mamas, was made, really, for these times. She was frankly sexual and frankly fat, a pioneer of commercial endorsements (in English and Yiddish), and an early social networker, collecting names and addresses in her travels and sending out cards when she was about to play a city. This documentary has too little Tucker, too many talking heads, and several awkward moments of digital trickery to put old photographs into motion. (Why?) Fortunately, YouTube is full of Tucker herself.


Ninotchka (dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1939). “Garbo laughs,” as the movie poster promises. Ninotchka, Nina Ivanovna Yakushova (Greta Garbo), grim, prim Soviet envoy, comes to Paris to check on the doings of three comrades who have been sent to reclaim jewels from a Russian duchess. Ninotchka proceeds to fall in love with a Parisian count (Melvyn Douglas). The famous Lubitsch touch might now seem like the stuff of a hundred rom-coms since. But those pictures don’t have screenplays by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (and Walter Reisch). “You’re the most improbable creature I’ve ever met in my life, Ninotchka . . . Ninotchka.” “You repeat yourself.” And when Ninotchka asks for raw beets and carrots: “Madame, this is a restaurant, not a meadow.”


Frantz (dir. François Ozon 2016). The vaguely Zweig-like premise made me curious about this film: a young woman who has lost her fiancé in the Great War sees an unknown young man leaving flowers at her fiancé’s grave. There's nothing more I can say about the story without giving something away. I can say that Frantz is a remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby (1932), an atypical Lubitsch film (which I first learned of from a DVD-extra interview with Ozon). Frantz is a delight to the eye, filmed in rich black and white with occasional elements of color. Paula Beer and Pierre Niney offer understated, deeply moving performances. If I were running the Academy Awards I'd have chosen Frantz (not The Salesman) as the best foreign-language film of 2016.

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All OCA film posts (Pinboard)