Apropos of Nothing

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I heard good things about this Woody Allen autobiography, and the Portsmouth Public Library had the large-print edition. (For some reason, they didn't splurge on the normal-print edition.) I was kind of an Allen fanboy back in my (and his) early days. But I was unimpressed with Manhattan and Stardust Memories and my consumption of Woody movies became more sporadic.

I read this shortly after I read Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Decades separate those stories, one is fictionalized, but it's pretty interesting to note the similarities between the Brooklyn strivers in the books.

Near the end, Allen has a good summary:

In my lifetime I had written gags for nightclub comics, written for radio, written a nightclub act for myself and done it, written for television, played clubs and concerts and TV, wrote and directed movies, wrote and directed in the theater, starred on Broadway, , directed an opera. I've done it all from boxing a kangaroo on TV to staging Puccini. It's enabled me to dine at the White House, to play ball with major leaguers at Dodger Stadium, to play jazz in parades and at Preservation Hall in New Orleans, to travel all over America and Europe, to meet heads of state and meet all kinds of gifted men and women, witty guys, enchanting actresses. I've had my books published. If I died right now I couldn't complain—and neither would a lot of other people.

Allen's prose is like that: straightforward, with just a dash of wit. No hilarity, just many mini-zingers as above. There are literally hundreds of names dropped, a goodly fraction of them famous. And mostly complimentary too, especially to those actors and crew that worked on his movies. When he doles out criticism, he's hardest on himself. Very self-deprecating.

Of course, the One Big Elephant in the room is the allegations of sexual abuse, which Allen strongly denies, and the one person to which he's not complimentary at all is Mia Farrow, who (he charges) is behind the attempted assassination of his character, as revenge for taking up a romantic/sexual relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, Mia's adopted daughter. I think he makes a pretty good self-defense. But I haven't heard much from his accusers.

Pro tip: don't leave naked pictures of your much younger girlfriend on the mantel of your swanky Manhattan penthouse.

The book has no chapters, it's pretty much just one page after another. At some points, for no apparent reason, there will be some extra whitespace between paragraphs, with the first few words after the whitespace being in a slightly larger font size. Go figure. I also noticed a few apparent typos, and since I am not a particularly diligent reader, I assume there are more.

City on Fire

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This book is billed at Amazon as the first book in "The Danny Ryan Trilogy". So (spoiler!) he survives to the end. It's a near thing, though.

As the book opens, Danny is a minor thug in the Irish mob in Rhode Island. The occasional friendly truck hijacking, some collections of high-interest loans and protection money, that sort of thing. He has a day job working on a fishing boat. There's also an Italian mob, And a Black mob. But everyone seems to know their place, corrupt cops and judges are divvied up between them, so there's some semblance of peace.

But it only takes one little spark to cause a conflagration: one of the Irish guys cops a feel from the girlfriend of one of the Italian guys. And she does not take it well. A beatdown occurs. But then the girl switches her allegiance to the Irish guy. And… well, before you know it, the body count is on the rise, betrayals, cowardice, revenge, and … all associated stuff you've seen in movies and read in other books. (There's also a lot of soap-opera stuff with family.) Danny starts to take charge as his peers are either killed or wuss out.

I started reading Don Winslow because of the quirky little mystery-thrillers he wrote back in the 1990s. This one is pretty generic, although it moves along, maintained my interest in what was going to happen next. Although, to be honest, I didn't care much about what would happen next. None of the characters are very sympathetic or likeable. (Well, one exception: a baby shows up at some point.)

Where do we stand? Where do we sit? Where do we come? Where do we go?

Pun Salad is a sucker for expert linguistic analysis from John McWhorter. Recently he looked at the election-relevant topic: What Donald Trump Talks About When He Talks About ‘Donald Trump’.

The first debate of the 2024 presidential campaign, scheduled to take place next week, offers voters a chance to scrutinize the candidates’ political views and personal demeanor. For linguists, however, it also offers a rare side-by-side comparison of the way the candidates speak. You don’t have to follow politics to know that Joe Biden and Donald Trump have extraordinarily different verbal styles. Of the two, Biden’s is the less interesting, linguistically speaking, because it’s the more conventional. Trump’s, on the other hand — no matter what you think of his ideas — is fascinating. It’s sui generis.

Still, it’s possible to draw connections between Trump’s verbal mannerisms and other speech patterns in the world at large. The one that’s been on my mind this week is his habit of referring to himself by name, such as, “You wouldn’t even be hearing about the word ‘immigration’ if it wasn’t for Donald Trump.” In reference to making Barack Obama present his birth certificate: “Trump was able to get them to give something.” Also, “Nobody respects women more than Donald Trump” and “Eighteen angry Democrats that hate President Trump, they hate him with a passion.”

This may seem to suggest, variously, a Tarzanian linguistic tendency, a desire to market himself as a brand or just a plain old inflated ego. But the truth is more interesting because there is more to first-person pronouns — i.e., the “I” and “me” that we normally use instead of our own names — than simply ways of referring to the self. And there are many reasons that a person might seek to avoid these words, even in informal speech. There’s even a name for that tendency: illeism.

Fascinating! About the closest Joe comes to this is when he claims to…


"My word as a Biden" is a pretty reliable signal for any adjacent words being howling falsehoods.

Our headline du Jour inspired by this Monty Python bit:

Which brings us to our weekly look at the odds:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 53.6% -0.8%
Joe Biden 37.6% +2.1%
Michelle Obama 3.1% -0.1%
Gavin Newsom 2.5% -0.2%
Other 3.2% +1.2%

Well, darn. Kamala has left the building. (Her current probability: 1.8%.) And President Dotard has made up some significant ground on Bone Spurs.

It will be interesting to look at the odds next Sunday, after people digest the debate. Big shift, or more of the same? No predictions here.

Also of note:

  • The lonely lives of fact-checkers. CNN claims that Trump rewrites Wisconsin history in rally filled with false claims. Specifically:

    Former President Donald Trump made more than two dozen false claims at his Tuesday campaign rally in Racine, Wisconsin, including two significant attempts to rewrite Wisconsin history.

    The first was a slightly vaguer than usual version of his familiar lie that he won Wisconsin in the 2020 presidential election. He lost the state by 20,682 votes.

    The second was a version of a false claim Trump delivered in 2020 and again in 2022: his assertion that he had saved the Wisconsin city of Kenosha from destruction in 2020 when Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, refused to take action to deal with the civil unrest that followed the police shooting of a Black man.

    “By the way, you know, Kenosha: I saved Kenosha, do you know that? When I was president. Right? Right? I saved it,” Trump said Tuesday. “Kenosha was — Kenosha was about ready to go down the tubes and the governor wouldn’t move, he just wouldn’t move, and I moved. You know, I’m not supposed to; it’s supposed to be the governor, is supposed to do it, the mayor and the governor.”

    Facts First: Trump’s claims that Evers “wouldn’t move” and that Trump was the person who “saved Kenosha” are false, as numerous fact-checkers pointed out when he made similar claims in 2020. Evers, not Trump, deployed the Wisconsin National Guard during the rioting in Kenosha — and Evers first deployed the Guard the day before Trump publicly demanded that Evers do so. In other words, Trump insisted that Evers do something that he was already doing.

    Now I don't trust CNN very much, but this seems pretty solid evidence that Trump is either delusional or a baldfaced liar. (Or both, of course.)

    To be (sorta) fair to Trump, CNN labels some of his claims "false", when they are actually arguable.

  • If Biden is Custer, what does that make Trump? Steve Huntley wonders: Is the Debate To Be Biden’s Last Stand? But he also wonders, why debate so early, over four months before the election?

    Influential Democrats might see it as the last chance to save the party in November.

    These movers and shakers might figure that if Biden has a crippling debate performance of disconnected ramblings, meaningless utterances, angry outbursts and undeniable mental decline, there’s still time to persuade him to drop out and for the national convention in late July to produce a replacement.

    Just over a week ago prominent Democrat strategist James Carville, who knows a thing or two about how to succeed in politics, said he wished that Biden had already dropped out.

    After another recent disastrous poll, analyst Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight declared, “Dropping out would be a big risk. But there’s some threshold below which continuing to run is a bigger risk. Are we there yet? I don’t know. But it’s more than fair to ask.”

    Suppose the debate turns into a humiliating embarrassment for Biden. Democrats might find themselves at Silver’s “there.”

    I'm not a Democrat, but I was "there" long ago.

  • Is Michelle Obama phony? Well, Google coughed up this blast from the past: First Lady Michelle Obama: Wears False Eyelashes in London.

    Can the First Lady do anything without the world commenting? We don’t think so. On President Obama’s first official trip to the U.K., writers are claiming First Lady Michelle Obama stepped up not only her fashion game, but enhanced her natural beauty with false eyelashes, according to a Times London reporter. To achieve a natural eye finish when wearing faux flashes, never forget to add liner.

    Boy, that paragraph has a "written by AI" feel, doesn't it? In any case, neither of our front-runners have been accused of wearing fake eyelashes.

    As far as I know.

Last Modified 2024-07-05 6:08 AM EDT