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 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.

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Media studies: file drawers, notebook, EXchange name

[District Attorney Brander Harris (Hugh Marlowe), man with a notebook. From the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Fraudulent Foto,” February 7, 1959. Click for a larger view.]

The file drawers caught my attention well before DA Harris took out his notebook. Or pocket calendar. Or whatever it is. When he finds the crucial page (whatever it is), he reads a telephone number aloud: “DAkota 6-7054.” There are many ways to enjoy television. Or whatever it is.

More EXchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Armored Car Robbery : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : The Blue Dahlia : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : Chinatown : The Dark Corner : Deception : Dick Tracy’s Deception : Down Three Dark Streets : Dream House : East Side, West Side : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Modern Marvels : Murder by Contract : Murder, My Sweet : My Week with Marilyn : Naked City (1) : Naked City (2) : Naked City 3 : Naked City (4) : Naked City (5) : Naked City (6) : Naked City (7) : Nightmare Alley : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Side Street : Sweet Smell of Success : Tension : This Gun for Hire

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 : 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

A joke in the traditional manner

Where does Paul Drake keep his hot tips?

No spoilers. The punchline is in the comments.

More jokes in the traditional manner
The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : Did you hear about the thieving produce clerk? : Elementary school : A Golden Retriever : How did Bela Lugosi know what to expect? : How did Samuel Clemens do all his long-distance traveling? : How do amoebas communicate? : How do worms get to the supermarket? : What did the doctor tell his forgetful patient to do? : What did the plumber do when embarrassed? : What happens when a senior citizen visits a podiatrist? : What is the favorite snack of demolition crews? : What is the favorite toy of philosophers’ children? : What was the shepherd doing in the garden? : Where do amoebas golf? : Why did the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels? : Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies? : Why did the ophthalmologist and his wife split up? : Why does Marie Kondo never win at poker? : Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. He gets credit for all but the cow coloratura, the produce clerk, the amoebas, the worms, the snack, the toy, the shepherd, the squirrel-doctor, Marie Kondo, Santa Claus, and this one. He was making such jokes long before anyone called them “dad jokes.”]

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Talia Ivy Raab

[Click for a larger baby.]

Our daughter Rachel and her husband Seth have announced the birth of their daughter, Talia Ivy Raab, born not yesterday but the day before yesterday, Thursday, October 12. Talia weighed in at seven pounds, thirteen ounces. All three Raabs are doing just fine.

[“We’re excited you’re here!”: now the blog-description line makes another kind of sense. Yes, Talia, we are!]

Adjunct lives

A recent article in The Guardian: “Facing poverty, academics turn to sex work and sleeping in cars.”

The situations described in the Guardian article may be extreme, but if the median salary for adjuncts is $22,041 a year, the general message is clear: there is, for most who would teach, no real future in adjuncthood. And there is something unspeakably mad about teaching critical thinking while having to live in a car.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the exploitation of adjunct labor is the shame and scandal of American higher education.

Thanks, Fresca.

Eyes everywhere

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

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Friday, October 13, 2017

The art of the con

“The most Trumpian aspect of the executive order is that it makes life easier for con men”: Amy Davidson Sorkin writes about “Donald Trump’s Terrible Executive Order on Health Care” (The New Yorker).

The Odyssey and mentorship

At The Atlantic, Gregory Nagy, classicist, talks about Telemachus and mentorship and Homer’s Odyssey:

In general, the model of stories about mentors is a model of initiation that appeals to the inherent nobility of the person who is being initiated. That’s something that the Odyssey is putting front and center.
When I taught the Odyssey, I always found that student readers are remarkably alert to Telemachus’s alienation. The first time we see Telemachus, he is sitting apart in his household, dreaming of his father, a father from whom he feels utterly disconnected. Telemachus has no older man to guide him, and no friends with whom to commiserate. And then Athena shows up, taking the form of Mentor. You must be Odysseus’s son, she says. Well, that’s what my mother says, he replies. Who knows?

When Telemachus awakens at the beginning of Odyssey 2 (having been put to bed by his nurse!), he is ’Ὀδυσσῆος φίλος υἱὸς, Odysseus’s beloved son — and a new man.

I wish this brief interview had touched on Penelope’s suitors, the elite young men of Ithaca and surrounding kingdoms. What I imagine in the way of their upbringing: “Here, take the keys.”

Related reading
All OCA Homer posts (Pinboard)
Just one look (Odysseus and Telemachus)

[You’d think that the older male relatives of Ithacan suitors must have died at Troy or on the voyage home. But male relatives, including an angry father, are present in Odyssey 24.]

“We’re drowning in filth”

Walking down a corridor in his bank, K. hears groans from a junk room. Curious, he looks in and finds the work of the court going on in his own workplace: the guards who appeared at his arrest are now being flogged. K. talks with the flogger and the floggees, steps out, closes the door, walks away, and walks back:

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

The next day, unable to stop thinking about what he saw, K. opens the door again. The flogging is still going on. “Clear out that junk room once and for all,” K. tells his assistants. “We’re drowning in filth.”

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, October 12, 2017


The word is trending at Merriam-Webster.

A precipitation question

Out walking this morning, we saw some unusual precipitation: tiny specks of moisture, like miniature snowflakes, very sparse, and so slight that they bounced around on air currents instead of just falling to the ground. Temperature in the 60s.

Wikipedia’s descriptions of precipitation leave me with drizzle as the only name that fits. But that name seems misleading at best. Does anyone know a more specific name?

“Bushy black and large”

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

Dreamlike, no? And highly cinematic. The eyebrows make me think of Eric Campbell.

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Dunning-Kruger moment

From today’s Vanity Fair piece about Donald Trump’s presidency:

Several months ago, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation, former chief strategist Steve Bannon told Trump that the risk to his presidency wasn’t impeachment, but the 25th Amendment — the provision by which a majority of the Cabinet can vote to remove the president. When Bannon mentioned the 25th Amendment, Trump said, “What’s that?”
Related posts
The Dunning-Kruger effect
Dunning K. Trump
Frederick who?
Ties, misspellings, typos

Zippy on campus?

[Zippy, October 10, 2017.]

I think Zippy must be touring a college campus.

Expectations vary, natch, but for me, “We’re excited you’re here!” rings of corporate insincerity. Unless the excitement is about seeing dollar signs.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Nora Johnson (1933–2017)

The writer Nora Johnson has died at the age of eighty-four. Johnson is best known for the novel The World of Henry Orient (1958). She and her father Nunnally Johnson co-wrote the screenplay for the 1964 film adaptation.

I read The World of Henry Orient for the first time in 2011 and wrote to Nora Johnson to tell her how much I liked it. In her reply she said that she thought the novel “would go stale very fast — but seems I was wrong.” The novel now feels like a sweet, sad evocation of a lost New York.

Related posts
An excerpt from the novel
Elizabeth T. Walker speaks (The film’s Val)
Nora Johnson on falling in love at seventy-one

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

David Brooks and SNOOTs

Writing in The New York Times today about a forthcoming book by Alan Jacobs, David Brooks mentions David Foster Wallace:

Jacobs notices that when somebody uses “in other words” to summarize another’s argument, what follows is almost invariably a ridiculous caricature of that argument, in order to win favor with the team. David Foster Wallace once called such people Snoots. Their motto is, “We Are the Few, the Proud, the More or Less Constantly Appalled at Everyone Else.”
No, Mr. Brooks, no.

In the essay “Authority and American Usage,” Wallace glosses SNOOT (all caps) as his “nuclear family’s nickname for a really extreme usage fanatic.” The acronym stands for “Sprachgefühl Necessitates Our Ongoing Tendance” or “Syntax Nudniks Of Our Time.” SNOOT has nothing to do with caricaturing other people’s arguments and winning favor with a team. The acronym applies to those who obsess over matters of grammar and usage, those who know how to hyphenate phrasal adjectives and who sneer at “10 ITEMS OR LESS.” As Wallace points out in the essay, “the word may be slightly self-mocking.” Wallace identified as a SNOOT, and his spoof of the USMC slogan (“the Few, the Proud, the More or Less Constantly Appalled at Everyone Else”) is further evidence of self-mockery. He wasn’t calling other people SNOOTs. He was writing about himself.

And as Wallace said in a radio interview, “to be a SNOOT is a lonely, stressful way to be.”

Related reading
All OCA David Foster Wallace posts (Pinboard)

[“Authority and American Usage” appears in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (New York: Little, Brown, 2005). The essay appeared in a shorter form in Harper’s as “Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage.” The examples concerning phrasal adjectives and supermarket signage are from the essay. Using Amazon’s Look Inside tool to search How to Think returns no results for david foster wallace or snoot, so I’m ascribing the error to Brooks. And yes, I’m sending a correction to the Times.]


When one reads online, it’s so easy to miss something that’s plainly there. Replying to a comment this morning, I made up an acronym for this phenomenon: OOPS, Online Oversight in Processing Syndrome. And then I improved it: OOP, Oversight in Online Processing.

OOP, not OOPS, because the S is missing.

[Inspired by a discussion of TLAs (three-letter acronyms) in the “Technobabble” episode of Helen Zaltzman’s podcast The Allusionist.]

Thelonious Monk centennial

[A helpful label. My son Ben made it when he was five or six or so. Explanation here.]

Thelonious Sphere Monk was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, one hundred years ago today. Forty-odd years ago, as a commuting college student, I heard a radio newscaster mention Double Ten Day, and I thought, “Oh, yeah, Thelonious Monk’s birthday.”

Here are my favorite Monk compositions, as performed by the composer and his colleagues:

“Crepescule with Nellie” : “Monk’s Mood” : “Pannonica” : “Reflections” : “Ruby, My Dear” : “Ugly Beauty”

I can play four of these tunes passably well on the piano. The other two, someday.

Other Monk posts
T. MONK’S ADVICE (1960) : Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane : Thelonious Monk in Weehawken : Thelonious Monk, off-balance : Thelonious Monk plays Duke Ellington

[“Ruby, My Dear” has Coleman Hawkins, not John Coltrane, on tenor.]

Hi and Lois SWODNIW

[Hi and Lois, October 10, 2017.]

There must be a new trainee on the Hi-Lo Amalgamated assembly line. Yesterday, a a color fail. Today, wrong-way window-writing is back. These strips will be receiving recall notices.

Sometimes Hi-Lo gets windows right. Here, for instance, and here, and here. But again and again, passersby in this comic-strip world see signs for ECNARUSNI, ETATSE LAER, and KCIUQ TRAM. And in Beetle Bailey, NUB N’ NUR. Sheesh, guys, DAERFOORP!

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[ETATSE LAER runs across one line of lettering; KCIUQ TRAM and NUB N’ NUR are split up. You read LAER before ETATSE but KCIUQ before TRAM and NUB before N’ and NUR. I am beginning to like these “words.”]

Monday, October 9, 2017

Josef K. in motion

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

So cinematic. It’s so easy to imagine such a scene as the stuff of silent film.

When I was in high school, Borges and Kafka were my passports to real literature. How I found my way to their work, I’ll never know. What I didn’t understand back then: Kafka is funny. I’m glad to have figured that out.

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Hi and Lois watch

Dot Flagston has just wished that it were possible to celebrate “the holidays” earlier. Because right now the world is a carousel of color, sort of:

[Hi and Lois, October 9, 2017.]

Today’s Hi and Lois makes me think of the first sentence of a poem I made from remarks of my then-very-young daughter Rachel: “The colors are / broken.” They are, indeed. And I’m certainly not going to take the time to fix them. Tinkering with what’s in the balloon makes things dumber and funnier:

[Hi and Lois, altered, October 9, 2017.]

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Good cop, bad cop

This metaphor for a Tillerson–Trump North Korea strategy is, let’s say, faulty. And not merely because there is no evidence of a coordinated strategy. The metaphor is faulty because it doesn’t fit the circumstances. Good cop–bad cop works, when it works, because the options available to a person being held for interrogation are few. Those options, typically, do not include the use of nuclear weapons.

Domestic comedy

[Talking about roads not taken.]

“That program? It would have been like galley slaves, but with grading instead of oars.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[I finally got it right, or wrong: I thought I’d said “freshman papers” and “oars,” or “grading” and “rowing.” But no, it was “grading” and “oars,” not parallel, I know.]

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Recently updated


The figure on the left is from Rudolf Modley’s Handbook of Pictorial Symbols (New York: Dover, 1976). I removed the hat, lampshade, and typewriter and added a laptop to make the image on the right. For a faux-industrial coffeehouse look, you could always put the lampshade back in.

[I draw a line at the hat. No hats indoors.]

Friday, October 6, 2017

“Bob & Timmy & Lassie”

Fresca, l’astronave, has made a photo-collage to go with my story “The Poet”: it’s “Bob & Timmy & Lassie.”

[All of this silliness reminds me of something the owner of a corner grocery in Brookline, Massachusetts, said to Elaine and me one night in the mid-1980s: “It’s good to get away from reality once in a while.” Confirming what we already knew.]

“A radiance behind it”

Once a year, Robin travels by train to Stratford, Ontario, to see a Shakespeare play:

Alice Munro, “Tricks,” in Runaway (New York: Vintage, 2005).

Also from this book
One Munro sentence : “That is what happens” : “Henry Ford?” : “A private queer feeling”

Thursday, October 5, 2017


The New York Times, from a story about Rex Tillerson:

Although he insisted he had never considered resigning, several people close to Mr. Tillerson said he has had to be talked out of drafting a letter of resignation on more than one occasion by his closest allies, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff. And they said he has regularly expressed astonishment at how little Mr. Trump understands the basics of foreign policy.
I’m astonished that he’s astonished.

Nancy rain

[Nancy, September 26, 1950.]

I’ve been waiting for the chance to identify with Nancy. We had less than a quarter-inch of rain in September. Today, it’s raining, for real.

Rain or no rain, you can read Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy six days a week at GoComics.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Stoner movie

The Hollywood Reporter reports that John Williams’s 1965 novel Stoner is being adapted as a movie, directed by Joe Wright and starring Casey Affleck. A press release from the companies behind the movie describes the novel as the story of

the hardscrabble life of William Stoner, a dirt-poor farmer turned academic, who emerges as an unlikely existential hero while making his way through the first half of the 20th century.
Key elements in that description — “hardscrabble,” “dirt-poor,” “unlikely existential hero” — are lifted from the back cover of the New York Review Books paperback edition. But the press release still manages to get something wrong: Stoner is not “a dirt-poor farmer turned academic”: he’s the son of a farming family.

I’m sure I’ll see this movie, though I’m prepared to be disappointed.

Other Stoner posts
John Williams on Stoner and teaching : On “the true nature of the University” : Stoner and adjunct life : Stoner FTW

[And what’s with the producer’s claim that the novel is “not well-known”? It is. In 2013 NPR reported that the novel was a bestseller through much of Europe.]

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

“The Poet”

This post contains the text of a second short piece of fan fiction, by me: “The Poet,” a Timmy and Lassie story. Featuring a Major American Poet! This story began as what if and quickly turned into why not. Why not?

“The Poet” assumes a working acquaintance with the Lassie world, “outside Calverton,” and with some poetry. Click on each image (left, right, and again) for a readable page. Whistling the opening and closing Lassie themes is optional. In its Martin-farm form, Lassie was a major part of my childhood.


Related reading
All OCA Lassie posts (Pinboard) : “The ’Clipse” (more Lassie fan fiction)

[Sources for the old poet’s words: “The Figure a Poem Makes” (1939), “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (1923). Suffice to say that the old poet of this story is a figment of someone’s imagination.]

Proustian music

In 2008, I wished for “a CD or two assembling Proust-related music: likely inspirations for Vinteuil’s sonata, songs by Reynaldo Hahn, all in period recordings, if possible.” And lookit: violinist Maria Milstein and pianist Nathalia Milstein are releasing a CD, The Vinteuil Sonata, with music by Claude Debussy, Reynaldo Hahn, Gabriel Pierné, and Camille Saint-Saëns.

The Milstein sisters suspect that Gabriel Pierné’s Sonata for violin and piano in D minor, op. 36 is a source for the Vinteuil Sonata, the imaginary composition with the “little phrase” that so moves Charles Swann in In Search of Lost Time.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard) : “One phrase rising” : Swann’s little phrase : The “little phrase” again

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Garner quiz

Bryan Garner offers a quiz in minimalist editing: “Eyes for Errors” (ABA Journal). How many errors, glaring and venial, can you spot?

Related reading
All OCA Garner-related posts (Pinboard)

Muriel who?

[Henry, October 3, 2017.]

Henrietta is not pleased. Muriel probably wouldn’t be pleased either. If Henrietta and Muriel decide that Henry isn’t worth fighting over, they could argue about which girl’s name is more remote for early-twenty-first-century readers.

But Muriel may be a lost love. Perhaps she has left town. If so, and if Henry (whose own name remains popular for early-twenty-first-century newborns) could sing, he might offer these words: “Muriel, since you left town, the clubs closed down, and there’s one more burned-out lamppost on Main Street, down where we used to stroll.” But he can’t.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)
Vic loves Muriel / Muriel loves Victor

Monday, October 2, 2017

Shimkus fail

My representative in Congress, John Shimkus (R, Illinois-15), has offered nothing more than this tweet. He hasn’t even mentioned the now-obligatory “thoughts and prayers.”

Shimkus has an A lifetime rating from the NRA. He leads Illinois Congressional Republicans in total contributions from the NRA. Truly, his concern about “the destruction of human life” seems limited to prenatal life.

I called Shimkus’s office this afternoon to suggest that while violence and hate are never “the answer,” legislation concerning gun-ownership would be at least a large part of an answer to the problem of gun violence. No hunter needs an assault rifle to hunt. No hunter needs a “bump stock” or “gat crank” to turn a semi-automatic rifle into a homemade machine gun. No modern industrial nation knows the levels of gun violence that we in the United States know.

Have you called your representative and senators today?

Other john Shimkus posts
At work and play : No town halls (1) : No town halls (2) : Shimkus on prenatal care and men’s health insurance : Shimkus and the telecommunications industry : Shimkus unwittingly likens an Illinois gubernatorial candidate to Benito Mussolini

“The Weight”

After the Boston Marathon bombing, and in other times of sorrow since, I have watched and listened again and again. It’s never made me feel better, but it’s made me feel. That’s the best explanation I can offer. Maybe you will find it helpful too. Mavis Staples, Nick Lowe, and Wilco rehearse Robbie Robertson’s “The Weight.” Filmed by Zoran Orlic at the Civic Opera House, Chicago, December 2011.

Too early?

Is it still too early to be discussing gun-ownership rights? As it has been for a long time now?

“A private queer feeling”

Alice Munro, “Trespasses,” in Runaway (New York: Vintage, 2005).

Details like these are wonderful stuff.

Also from this book
One Munro sentence : “That is what happens” : “Henry Ford?”

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Nineteen hours

“The hallucinations began around 4 a.m.”: a New York Times critic attends a performance of Erik Satie’s Vexations.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

George Blood, L.P. 78s

At the Internet Archive: 78rpm recordings digitized by George Blood, L.P. The sound is excellent, made possible by a turntable that records with four different needles. The preferred version of each recording is the one with the simple (“more friendly”) filename.

Try Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines’s 1928 recording of King Oliver’s “Weather Bird,” and listen past the surface noise. The music is all there, with surprising clarity.

Thanks, Linda, for pointing me to this resource.

[I grew up on the surface noise of 78s, courtesy of LPs from Yazoo Records. LP: long-playing. L.P.: limited partnership, I think.]

Friday, September 29, 2017

Another Henry

[Henry, September 29, 2017.

The Henry world seems to know only one modern sculptor: Henry. Moore, that is. See also this panel.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

“Technocracy Debunked”

[Everyday Science and Mechanics, February 1933. Found here. Click for a larger view.]

I became curious about Everyday Science and Mechanics after looking into the Depression-era trick of sharpening a razor blade on a drinking glass. “Technocracy Debunked”: I’d like to see page 214 and find out what that article had to say.

“Henry Ford?”

Juliet is talking about belief with a minister. Millions of people believe in Buddha, Juliet says. The minister says that Christ is alive and Buddha isn’t. Juliet says that she sees no proof that either is alive.

Alice Munro, “Soon,” in Runaway (New York: Vintage, 2005).

Also from this book
One Munro sentence : “That is what happens”

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Lettermate

The Lettermate is the perfect tool for those who have difficulty addressing an envelope in straight lines. Yes, you could just put a piece of lined paper in the envelope to use as a guide, but why would you, when you can use a nifty tool instead?

My daughter Rachel gave me the Original Lettermate several years ago. I now have the 2nd Edition Lettermate as well. Highly recommended accessories for analog communication.

Related reading
All OCA letter posts (Pinboard)

“The ‘nailing’ of crates”

Marcel Proust to Madame Williams, July or August 1915:

From Letters to His Neighbor, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: New Directions, 2017).

Letters to His Neighbor collects twenty-six letters that Proust wrote to his upstairs neighbors at 102 Boulevard Haussmann, Charles D. and Marie Williams. Charles (“the Doctor”) was a dentist, whose third-floor office was directly above Proust’s apartment. The Williamses lived above the office on the fourth floor. All but three of the letters are written to Marie Williams (always addressed as “Madame”), and they suggest a light friendship between shut-ins. Proust offers compliments (celebrating Madame’s “Youth, Beauty and Talent”), sends gifts (books, flowers, pheasants), laments the war, and, again and again, draws attention to noise. Cork-lined walls were evidently no real defense. This beautifully produced book gives us something fairly unusual: a portrait of the artist as a neighbor.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Helping Puerto Rico

The PBS NewsHour lists ways to help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

And here is food for thought from Dana Milbank, writing in The Washington Post about the Trump administration’s responses to hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria:

No question the logistics are harder in Puerto Rico. But the 3.4 million U.S. citizens there have long endured second-class status: no voting members of Congress, no presidential vote, unequal benefits and high poverty. The Trump administration’s failure to help Americans in Puerto Rico with the same urgency it gave those in Texas and Florida furthers a sad suspicion that the disparate treatment has less to do with logistics than language and skin color.
No number of individual contributions can offset a lethargic government response. But that’s just more reason to contribute.

 a l          l Gon    e

How much does Amazon Digital Services care about the music it sells in CD-R form?

I just bought a CD-R copy of one of my favorite LPs, Earl Hines and Paul Gonsalves’s It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing! (Black Lion BL-306). What’s missing:

~ The LP’s original title. The CD is titled Paul Gonsalves Meets Earl Hines.

~ The details of the recording sessions: December 15, 1970, at National Studios; November 29, 1972, at Hank O’Neal Studio, New York City. Stanley Dance and Michael James, producers.

~ The names of the composers of the six tunes therein: “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)” (Duke Ellington-Irving Mills), “Over the Rainbow” (Harold Arlen-E.Y. Harburg), “What Am I Here For?” (Ellington), “Moten Swing” (Benny Moten), “Blue Sands” (Hines), “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” (Ellington-Paul Francis Webster).

~ The names of the other musicians on hand: Al Hall, bass; Jo Jones, drums.

~ The wealth of detail in Alun Morgan’s liner notes. Morgan mentions, for instance, the sequence in which the five quartet performances were recorded. “Blue Sands,” a solo piano performance from almost two years later, was recorded on the same day as pieces on another Hines album.

Each of these omissions is unfortunate. I grant that reproducing liner notes may not be feasible for a CD-R, but the first four omissions are particularly glaring. The fourth is disgraceful: it’s impossible for me to imagine anyone with an interest in this recording who would not want to know the names of the bassist and drummer. Four musicians, and only two are named?

Most of the information missing from this CD-R is available, at least for now, at a website devoted to Paul Gonsalves. And I have it all on the back cover of my LP. But there is no good reason for this information not to be included with the recording. The transformation of music into files ought not to mean the erasure of that music’s history.

See also Donald Norman’s observation: “What a technology makes easy to do will get done; what it hides, or makes difficult, may very well not get done.”

[The post title reduces the names of Earl Hines and Paul Gonsalves to  a l          l Gon    e.]

“This Cather stuff”

“Even in Red Cloud, some locals still think there’s something off about Cather and the people she attracts. If you stop by the lunch counter at Olson’s gas station, you might hear a farmer grunting at his paper, ‘I don’t like this Cather stuff’”: Alex Ross visits Willa Cather’s Nebraska.

Related reading
All OCA Willa Cather posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

“That is what happens”

Juliet has been trying to recall a word that describes Briseis and Chryseis in the Iliadkallipareos, of the lovely cheeks. Juliet hasn’t been teaching Greek, and she realizes that it’s as if her knowledge of the language has been ”put in a closet for nearly six months now”:

Alice Munro, “Chance,” in Runaway (New York: Vintage, 2005).

Juliet goes on to consider that even if you make your living from your knowledge of a language, the language is not necessarily your treasure: “Few people, very few, have a treasure, and if you do you must hang on to it. You must not let yourself be waylaid, and have it taken from you.”

A related post
One Munro sentence

On the shelf

[Zippy, September 26, 2017.]

Griffy’s and Zippy’s brains are on the top shelf, taking a break. That’s some other brain below.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Current events

Commentary from The New Yorker on the latest from Donald Trump. Jelani Cobb:

It’s impossible not to be struck by Trump’s selective patriotism. It drives him to curse at black football players but leaves him struggling to create false equivalence between Nazis and anti-Fascists in Charlottesville. It inspires a barely containable contempt for Muslims and immigrants but leaves him mute in the face of Russian election intervention. He cannot tolerate the dissent against literal flag-waving but screams indignation at the thought of removing monuments to the Confederacy, which attempted to revoke the authority symbolized by that same flag.
And David Remnick:
Rather than embody any degree of dignity, knowledge, or unifying embrace, Trump is a man of ugliness, and the damage he does, speech after speech, tweet after tweet, deepens like a coastal shelf. Every day, his Presidency takes a toll on our national fabric. How is it possible to argue with the sentiment behind LeBron James’s concise tweet at Trump: “U Bum”? It isn’t.
[Bonus points for recognizing Remnick’s allusion to a Philip Larkin poem.]

A pencil sighting

[From Broken Embraces (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 2009). Click either image for a larger view.]

Mateo Blanco (Lluís Homar) is using a Staedtler Noris 122.

A related post
Geoffrey Hill, Noris user

Notebook sightings

Notebooks are prominent in Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces (2009). Ray X’s notebook has a pattern of holes on the outside margin. Ray X? X-ray? An eye that penetrates to the heart of things? Could be.

[Click any image for a larger view.]

Mateo Blanco uses a Miquelrius notebook. The cover reads “Chicas y maletas” / Cuaderno de montaje [Girls and suitcases / Editing notebook]. Was the black-and-white marble cover embellished with red?

The notebook’s grid pages record Mateo’s choices of the best takes for his film.

One more: a lectora de labios (lip-reader) with a reporter’s notebook transcribes conversations filmed from afar and reads them aloud to a horrifed Ernesto Martel.

A wonderful exchange between Martel and the lip-reader:

“What do you do with your notebooks?”

“I fill them.”
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 : The Lodger : Mr. Holmes : Le Million : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : The Palm Beach Story : 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

Sunday, September 24, 2017

“An image of the audience”

On television the politician does not so much offer the audience an image of himself, as offer himself as an image of the audience.

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Viking Penguin, 1985).

Against consolidation

Consolidation is short for school consolidation, the process whereby smaller, usually rural schools, are replaced by a larger school:

It is my basic belief about elementary schools that consolidation is not the answer; the schools should be small, well equipped, and have superb teachers, highly paid. Expensive, certainly, but all good things are. Peace is expensive; freedom, the basis of peace, is even more expensive. Life itself is extremely expensive.

Rachel Peden, The Land, the People (Bloomington, IN: Quarry Books, 2010).
Rachel Peden (1901–1975) was a newspaper columnist, also known by the pen names “the Hoosier Farmwife” and “Mrs. R.F.D.” A terrific writer.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Clock and season

Matt Thomas suggests living less by the clock, more by the season:

We live in a world of seasons — and increasingly more variable and violent seasons at that — but productivity advice seems to always think in terms of the day, the week, the year, or five years, never the season, the sun, and the shadow.
Which means not that we get to throw away alarm clocks and ignore deadlines but that our habits of work might change with the seasons. People who teach are likely to have their work already organized by the seasons.

[One benefit of gardening: greater awareness of time’s passing. The cucumber vines in our garden are now old folks.]

Friday, September 22, 2017

“All this analog stuff next door”

Erik Spiekermann, designer and typographer:

I just got my IBM Selectric out of storage. It works, so I made a resolve yesterday that in my letterpress workshop I will not bring my computer anymore. I’ll keep my iPhone, but I will not be a slave to my screen all the time when we have all this analog stuff next door. We have a dozen presses, lots of paper, lots of type, and I spend all my time looking at a fucking screen? It’s ridiculous.
Other OCA Spiekermann posts
How to make quotation marks : “I’m obviously a typomaniac” : “Obsessive attention to detail” : “Start reading. Stop Googling.”

Nambian Covfefe

[“All-Natural Nambian Covfefe.” Artist unknown.]

A 400×422 image out of Spiritus Mundi, found here. If there’s a specific source to credit, I’d like to know.


8:52 p.m.: Sarah Palin has been named as ambassador to Nambia.

[As for whataboutism: yes, everyone makes mistakes. But as president of the United States, you don’t get very many free passes.]

“Grammar Nazi”

Reese Lansangan explains: “I’m not a Nazi. I just care about good grammar.” Funny and charming, even if what she cares about is, in most cases, spelling or usage.

Did you spot The Elements of Style?

Related reading
All OCA grammar posts (Pinboard)

[I remember telling a student who approvingly described his high-school English teacher as a “grammar Nazi,” “Please don’t call anyone who cares about language a Nazi.” Better: Don’t call anyone who isn’t a Nazi a Nazi.]

Pianos, Joel’s and Waits’s

Did Tom Waits’s “The Piano Has Been Drinking” begin life as a parody of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”?


And the piano, it sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
And the carpet needs a haircut
Aand the spotlight looks like a prison break
And the telephone’s out of cigarettes
And the balcony is on the make
Just an idle thought. If you see Tom Waits, please ask.

Here, from Fernwood 2 Night, is a 1977 performance of “The Piano Has Been Drinking.”

There are three other Waits posts on Orange Crate Art.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

One Alice Munro sentence

Alice Munro, “Runaway,” in Runaway (New York: Vintage, 2005).

Such a great sentence. Nine of its fourteen words form prepositional phrases, but the sentence moves as quickly as the truck, or the air. And notice that it’s air, not wind. The final seams is a bonus.

Fujitsu Mini-Split FTW

Our utility company sends us a monthly page about our energy use. Granted, many variables are at work. Still, the advantage of a mini-split over an air conditioner is clear.

[But they’re houses, not homes.]

Speak, rock

[Zippy, September 21, 2017.]

Three (“some”) rocks, but only no. 2 is talking.

Venn diagram
Nancy posts : Nancy and Zippy posts : Zippy posts

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

New glasses (once again)

A new picture with new glasses in the sidebar. The previous new one had begun to look too dour to me, too suggestive of disgruntled silence. I am neither silent nor disgruntled, or at least not often. Though I acknowledge that there isn’t an awful lot to smile about in the larger world these days.

[RSS-ers, you’ll have to click through.]

“Like a leaf sinking in the current”

Stefan Zweig, Fear. 1936. The Collected Novellas of Stefan Zweig. Trans. Anthea Bell (London: Pushkin Press, 2015).

Related reading
All OCA Stefan Zweig posts (Pinboard)

First-Class Mail Shape-Based
Pricing Template

Is that envelope too long or high or thick to be mailed as a letter? The U.S. Postal Service’s First-Class Mail Shape-Based Pricing Template has the answer. It’s the cool postal tool with the unwieldy name. If you’re lucky, your post office might have one on hand for you.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: Roscoe Mitchell,
Bells for the South Side

Roscoe Mitchell. Bells for the South Side. 2 CDs. ECM Records. 2017. Total playing time: 2:07.31.

Here are five pieces for trio performances, with the composer and multi-instrumentalist Roscoe Mitchell joined by James Fei and William Winant, Hugh Ragin and Tyshawn Sorey, Kikanju Baku and Craig Taborn, and Jaribu Shahid and Tani Tabbal. And another six pieces, with the musicians (all multi-instrumentalists) regrouped in “new configurations,” as the liner notes put it, leaving the listener to make educated guesses as to who’s playing what and when. The music that results, notated and improvised, is sometimes spare, sometimes dense, with a special emphasis on bells, drums, and gongs.

A few highlights: “Spatial Aspects of the Sound” begins with bells and pianos (keys dampened or struck sharply, strings plucked) and ends with the delicate interplay of glockenspiel, piano, and piccolo. “Prelude to a Rose” (whose title recalls Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss”) begins and ends with sinuous horn ensembles, with free-ranging communication among saxophones, trumpet, and trombone (Mitchell, Ragin, Sorey) in between. “Bells for the South Side” begins with sleighbells, a ringing telephone, and a siren; Ragin’s piercing piccolo trumpet enters against a ghostly thicket of percussion, suggesting a lament for those lost to violence on Chicago’s streets. “Red Moon in the Sky” evokes the Art Ensemble of Chicago in high gear, with horns and percussion blazing. And “Odwalla,” the Art Ensemble’s closing theme, is a final surprise: a slow groove, with Mitchell introducing each musician for a brief solo. These two hours of music travel by in what feels like much less time.

I have heard Roscoe Mitchell in performance with the Art Ensemble of Chicago (five times); with Thomas Buckner, Harrison Bankhead, and Jerome Cooper; with Muhal Richard Abrams and George Lewis; and with Jack DeJohnette’s Special Legends Edition Chicago. And on dozens of recordings. I’m grateful for the chance to open my ears once again.

These performances were recorded in September 2015 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in conjunction with The Freedom Principle, an exhibit marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. As it’s an ECM recording, the sound is impeccable. Full personnel details, samples, and a video clip at the ECM website.

The program:

Spatial Aspects of the Sound : Panoply : Prelude to a Rose : Dancing in the Canyon (Taborn-Baku-Mitchell) : EP 7849 : Bells for the South Side : Prelude to the Card Game, Cards for Drums, and The Final Hand : The Last Chord : Six Gongs and Two Woodblocks : R509A Twenty B : Red Moon in the Sky/Odwalla. All compositions by Roscoe Mitchell except as noted.

Dream commercial

In last night’s sleep, a commercial for The Tonight Show: Johnny was welcoming Angie Dickinson, the United States Marine Band, and “a great deal of thinkers.” Make that a great many thinkers. Mass nouns v. count nouns.

I can fix usage problems, even in dreams. But there’s no ad-blocker to use while sleeping.