Frank Moraes

Author's details

Name: Frank Moraes
Date registered: 17 Aug 2014

Biography

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

Latest posts

  1. Odd Words: Cavitation — 27 Jul 2017
  2. Odd Words: Cataphract — 26 Jul 2017
  3. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales — 26 Jul 2017
  4. Odd Words: Catafalque — 25 Jul 2017
  5. Odd Words: Cartomancy — 24 Jul 2017

Most commented posts

  1. Why Do We Take Sam Harris Seriously? — 84 comments
  2. The Good and Bad of Translating Shakespeare — 81 comments
  3. Erik Loomis Is Wrong About Sanders and Politics — 68 comments
  4. No, Democrats Are Not the Party of the Rich — 61 comments
  5. Anniversary Post: Harpers Ferry Raid — 58 comments

Author's posts listings

Jul 27

Odd Words: Cavitation

CavitationAs the summer grinds on, we do page 44 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! Today, we are highlighting the word “cavitation.” I actually know this word, given that it is used in every submarine movie produced over the last couple of decades. But I figured that I was allowed given that I didn’t actually know what the process was.

Similar Words

This page featured two sets of words that were very similar. The first set was comprised of “caudal” and “caudle.” They are “relating to, or situated at or near the tail” and “a warm drink for invalids made from wine, brandy, etc, mixed with bread, gruel, eggs, sugar, and spices.” It’s interesting that “caudle” sounds a lot like what we used to ingest to deal with hangovers in grad school.

The second set are anagrams: “cavate” and “caveat.” They mean “hollowed out so as to form a cave” and “a legal notice to a court to suspend proceedings temporarily.” I know the word “caveat,” of course. It’s one of my favorites, in fact. But I wasn’t aware of this definition for it. Of course, words like “cavate” make me think that The New York Times was just making up words to cover for errors they had previously published.

Latin Dogs

It isn’t hard to figure out what “cave canem” means: “beware of the dog.” But I wonder how useful this is. I can’t imagine anyone putting it on a sign. What for? To warn very educated trespassers? But more than that, under what circumstances would this phrase come up? I can’t image it other than some case like this one where we are talking about it as a curious construction. “Can you believe what they put in this dictionary…?”

Other Words

This page featured something quite unusual: a phrase that I didn’t know before or after I read about it in the dictionary: “cavore lievo.” If anyone can help me, I’d appreciate it. According to the dictionary, it is “a kind of sculpture in relief in which the highest points are beneath the level of the original surface.” I understand all the words, but I can’t form a visual representation of it.

Typography is always interesting to me. And today we got “cedilla”: “a mark placed under a letter, usually indicating a sibilant pronunciation.” Some sources say it is limited to the letter “c.” I don’t know, but that was the letter that flashed in my mind after reading the definition. For example, there is “façade.”

I know the words “celibacy” and “celibate,” of course. But according to the dictionary, these words do not have to do with refraining from sex but rather marriage. For example, of “celibacy,” it notes “the state of being unmarried, especially as the result of a religious vow.” That might come as some relief to certain Catholic priests.

Cavitation

The first time I recall hearing the word “cavitation” was in the movie The Hunt for Red October. I’ve heard it often since then. But other than “something that caused turbulence in the water” I didn’t know what it meant.

Cav·i·ta·tion  noun  \kav-itā’-shən\

1. the formation of partial vacuums in a flowing liquid in areas of very low pressure.

Date: Late 19th century.

Origin: English — cavity + ation.

Example: A common culprit in damaged water pipes and ship propellers, cavitation is the formation and collapse of gaseous bubbles that form in fluids.Team Develops New Math Equation to Predict Cavitation

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Jul 26

Odd Words: Cataphract

CataphractWelcome to page 43 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! This was a pretty typical page with a good mix of known and unknown words. I went with “cataphract.”

A Very Special Sex Slave

The page started with a few words in the neighborhood of “catalyst.” They are words most people know — even if they’ve never taken chemistry. But right after them I got a surprising introduction to the word “catamite.”

It is “a boy kept for taking part in homosexual activities.” It’s quite an old word — dating back to the 16th century, when (as I understand it), finding boys attractive was something that heterosexual men did without social criticism. The word traces back to the ancient Greek word for the hero Ganymede.

The word reminds me of Spartacus. There is a scene where Crassus (Laurence Olivier) tells Antoninus (Tony Curtis) about liking oysters and snails — a very thin reference to his bisexuality and intent to bed the young man. This causes Antoninus to run away and join Spartacus.

Medical Words

Not surprisingly, there were a number of medical words. They must be arcane because they mostly don’t appear in regular dictionaries. For example, there is “catamnesis” — “the medical history of a sick person.” Then there was “cataphoresis” — “the action of passing medicinal substances through living tissue in the direction of a positive electric current; electrophoresis.” And so on. Not very inspiring stuff.

Theater

There were two unusual words that relate to theater. The first, I knew: “catastrophe.” Obviously, it has another definition. But in terms of theater, it is “the decisive point in a play, especially a tragedy.” This word I knew, but only because I had researched it in light of Samuel Beckett’s play Catastrophe. It’s 5 minutes of torture — but probably a good encapsulation of the lives most people live.

The other word is “catastasis.” It is “that part of a play immediately preceding the climax.” This is a very useful word. I often find myself talking about that part of play or movie. It is generally when things look like they might work out in a tragedy, or where they look hopeless in a comedy.

Cataphract

Everything in today’s post came from the first column of page 43. That includes today’s word: “cataphract,” which I’ll admit is not all that interesting.

Cat·a·phract  noun  \kat’-əfrakt\

1. an armed warship of ancient Greece

2. a Roman soldier in mail.

Date: Late 17th century.

Origin: from Latin, from Greek kataphraktos, which means “clothed in full armor.”

Example: In brief, from the Battle of Adrianople (378), the supremacy of the Roman infantry legion was superseded by the charge of the heavy armored horseman — the cataphract, a development of, primarily, Iranians that spread to dominate Europe and western Asia for over a thousand years, fundamentally reshaping economies, politics, and social organization. –Harry Eagar, Winning Edge

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Jul 26

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesThis weekend, I decided to take my father out to the movies. It is part of my effort to have some kind of life outside of work (an issue I’ve struggled with throughout my life). And at the cheap theater they were showing Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. I mistook it, however — thinking they were just showing an old film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. I was pleased to find that I was wrong. This pleasure did not last long.

Dead Men Tell No Tales is certainly the worst of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. But before you listen to me, you should consider that I believe On Stranger Tides was the strongest of the films. The reason for this is simply that the Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) character is the heart and soul of the franchise. On Stranger Tides is the only film that is focused on him. What’s more, the film is wonderfully absent Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). Dead Men Tell No Tales is not.

A Romance We Didn’t Want

As much as I didn’t care for the Turner-Swann romance, it was fine compared to a romance involving their son. Here we have Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) meeting his love interest Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario). Henry has no real personality to speak of, whereas Carina is a stock character: the science woman. But given that they are in the Pirates of the Caribbean universe where ghosts (and anything else the screenwriters find helpful) are very real, Carina’s commitment to Galileo Galilei and the scientific method are of little use and, ultimately, interest.

This romance is the heart of the film. So we are back to The Curse of the Black Pearl, but without characters that are even vaguely as interesting. What’s more, Carina turns out to be Barbossa’s daughter, turning a wonderfully complex and unpredictable character into a fawning “good father” who sacrifices his life to save her.

Fake Barbossa

Is it just me, or does Barbossa seem utterly fake when he smiles? Geoffrey Rush is a great actor, but all his skills don’t seem to be able to overcome such an uncharacteristic change in the character. It was hard to watch. This reached a peak with his sacrifice. I suppose since Barbossa had already gotten a good death in the first film, this second one didn’t need to be good. But it was cringe-inducing — probably the hardest scene to watch in the whole series.

Jack Sparrow

The plot that directly involves Jack Sparrow is only marginally better. He seems to be in the film only to push the plot forward. This is especially true when he trades his compass for a drink. Given how important the compass is throughout the other films, this strikes me as outrageous, even for Jack. But apparently the writers couldn’t come up with any other way to get the primary villain involved in the action.

The villain is Captain Salazar, who gets surprisingly little to do throughout the film. When he does become a major element of the film, it is in the form of Henry Turner (a waste of actor Javier Bardem). And then, he acts like a typical stupid film bad guy. Once the curse is lifted and he gets his life back, he doesn’t try to save himself. Instead, he continues with his vendetta against Sparrow. And this leads to exactly what we expect.

More and Worse Ahead

At the end of the credits of each Pirates of the Caribbean film, there is a short scene — a postscript. In general, it is meaningless. For example, in the first film, the monkey goes back to the chest and takes a coin out of it — becoming undead again. Yet the monkey showed up normally in this film without having ever returned the coin (at least according to the films).

But in Dead Men Tell No Tales, the post-credit scene seems to point toward a sixth film in the series. In it, Davy Jones is about to attack Will and Elizabeth as they sleep. But then Will wakes up, showing that it was all a dream, except that there are barnacles on the floor. Not exactly inspiring material for another go at this.

The whole franchise has really overstayed its welcome. Almost everything we saw in this latest offering had been in previous films. The thought of Will and Elizabeth on the run against Davy Jones sounds quite a lot like At World’s End. But I guess as long as these things continue to make money, Disney will continue to grind them out.

Afterword: Post-Credits Scenes

Overall, I like post-credits scenes. They are a nice kind of Easter egg for the film geeks around. But I think that Dead Men Tell No Tales broke a convention in its post-credits scene. Since there were no credits at the beginning of the film, the opening credits were put right after the end of the film. After they were done, the normal end credits scrolled up the screen.

A convention has been developed over the years that if you do such a thing, any post-credits scene will go after the first credits and before the scrolled credits. Dead Men Tell No Tales did not do this. As a result, everyone but my father and me exited the theater after the first set of credits. Badly played on the filmmakers’ part.

None of this would be a problem if it weren’t from the ridiculous 5 or more minutes of credits we are now forced to sit through. Although film is a collaborative art form, I don’t think this use of credits helps to make this clear. Instead, it tends to relegate someone who does make an artistic contribution to the final product (eg, an assistant editor) to the same position as one who doesn’t (eg, a caterer).

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Jul 25

Odd Words: Catafalque

CatafalqueAnd so we stumble into page 42 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! There has not yet been a page that contained so few words that I knew.

The Words I Knew

Rather than go over the words I didn’t know, it is much easier to do the words I did. Really, there were only a couple that I knew. Have I gotten more ignorant since earlier when I started this series?

The first word on the page that I knew — Word 16! — was “castigate.” I’m really fond of that word. It reminds me of just how magical language is. I have no clear memory of ever hearing or reading the word, yet there it is in my brain. I assume that it is thanks to my mother, who had a very good vocabulary. It’s amazing to think about. I’m so lucky to have had that experience. Most people are not. I really think these kind of random influences on your life have a profound effect on who you are.

I also knew “casus belli,” which I think I would have worked out even if I didn’t already know it. Now that one I didn’t get from my mother. In fact, I have a vague memory of coming upon the word in books and working out its meaning.

I also knew “cataclysm” and “catalepsy.” But that was it. Given that I’m not feeling great about myself, this page was not really good for my mental health.

Cheese!

I really wanted to use either of the words “caseate” or “casefy.” They are words describing the process of being turned into a cheese-like substance. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good quotes for it. I was looking forward to integrating a Wallace and Gromit video.

Well, I guess there’s nothing stopping me. I could go with the Cheese! video. But this one is nicer:

Casualism

Surprisingly, I didn’t know the word “casualism.” I’m usually fairly up on philosophy. But this isn’t a very big one. It is “a philosophical doctrine holding that all events occur by chance.” According to Wikipedia, it was first developed by Epicurus. And it seems it is more a cosmological theory. The idea is that the universe exists by chance and not by the planning of a god or similar.

I was thinking that this belief could be applied more generally to life. What I have noticed in the world is that we are incapable of figuring out the cause of things. That’s not to say that there isn’t a cause, just that we are far too parochial to see the big picture.

Or maybe it is fundamental. My mind naturally rebels against casualism. I naturally believe there must be ways of perceiving and thinking that allow one to make sense of the universe. But maybe that’s not true. Maybe Aristotle was as wrong about logic in Organon as he was chemistry.

Catafalque

This takes us to our word of the day, which isn’t that great (except that it has to do with death): catafalque.

Cat·a·falque  noun  \kat’-əfalk\

1. a raised platform on which the coffin of a dead person is laid.

Date: Mid 17th century.

Origin: from French, from Italian catafalco.

Example: His casket rested Friday on the same wooden catafalque used for the body of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. –Ruane et al, Scalia Lies in Repose on Lincoln’s Catafalque as Public Bids Farewell

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Jul 24

Odd Words: Cartomancy

CartomancyWelcome to page 41 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition! This was a difficult page, but I found a great one in the last word of the page: cartomancy.

The Grecian Blues

A good quarter of the page was taken up with cardio– words: words that were based on kardioeidēs, the Greek word for “heart.” There was only one variation that I wasn’t well familiar with: “cardiomegaly.” It is the “pathological enlargement of the heart.”

An enlarged heart has always had a special creepiness factor for me. I don’t know quite why it is. Maybe it is just because the rib cage makes it seem like the heart is trapped. Thus, an enlarged heart might burst, like a pimple. Anyway, I never knew the word for this.

Fleshed Out Latin

The page also contained a number of words that were based on carnaticum, the Latin word for “flesh.” But, being the poor sinner that I am, I knew most of them. The list included some pretty common words: carnage, carnal.

But it also included some words I didn’t know. Some of it was pretty specialized like “carnification.” It means “the conversion into flesh of other tissue.” But there was also “carneous,” which is “resembling or having the color of flesh.” There was another (non-flesh) color word in the mix: “carmine.” It is “a rich crimson color.” It’s not surprising that I didn’t know these words, given that I’m very male in that way — having never had much of a color vocabulary.

Other Words

Outside the heart and flesh words, this page was pretty random. And I’m not even sure I didn’t know them. In particular, there was “carcanet”: “an ornamental jeweled circlet or neckband.” Similarly, “cardamom”: “the aromatic seed of various Asian plants used as a spice or condiment and in medicine.” I can almost convince myself that I actually did know these words.

The Future of Cartomancy

None of that was too interesting. Today’s word was much more interesting: cartomancy.

Car·to·man·cy  noun  \kar’-təmansē\

1. fortune-telling or divination by the use of playing cards.

Date: Late 19th century.

Origin: from French, cartomancie — where carte means “card.”

Example: To me, these fields of cartomancy and astrology are not definable as science but as pseudo-sciences. –Antares Stanislas, Practical Cartomancy for All

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Jul 23

Odd Words: Capa

Capa

We have reached page 40 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. It was odd. There were a lot of words that I didn’t know, but none were all that compelling. I settled on the first word of the page: capa.

Turtles!

You may recall a few days ago, we had two odd words that related to different edible parts of the turtle. Well, today we got another turtle word: “carapace.” It is “the tough upper part of a turtle’s shell.

That’s fine; I can definitely see a need for such a word. But it makes me wonder if the editors of the dictionary didn’t have a special fondness for turtles.

Technical Words

The reason it was hard to find a good word was that this page was filled with technical words — those associated with some kind of specialized endeavor. That’s even true of the chosen word today, “capa.” And it is true of “carapace” too.

Statistics

One such word, which I assume comes to us from statistics, is “capitation.” It is “a method of assessment or enumeration on the basis of individuals.” It’s kind of odd that the word was a mystery to me, because I’m pretty up on statistics. What’s more “per capita” is something that pretty much everyone knows. But whereas “per capita” is a word for outsiders looking in, “capitation” is a word for those who practice the art.

Sailing

One area that is always good for arcane words is sailing. And today, we had “caravel,” which is “a small, two or three-masted vessel, used by the Spanish and Portuguese during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Interestingly, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, he brought two caravels with him: the Niña and the Pinta. The Santa Maria was a carrack, a larger boat — which the big man himself used.

Chemistry

Another word of this type is “capilarity,” which is “the action by which the surface of a liquid in contact with a solid is raised or lowered, depending on surface tension and the forces of cohesion and adhesion.” Unfortunately, I knew that word. Normally, I wouldn’t. But the work I did for my MS degree was all about permafrost. (It was titled something like “Trace Gas Emissions From Permafrost in the Warmer World,” which was actually kind of a hot topic for a while — and one I still see people writing about.)

The way that water resides in soil is fascinating. Soil is filled with capillaries, where the water resides (assuming it is wet). The capilarity causes a lot of interesting effects in permafrost. It isn’t as simple as heating a bowl of water; you have to take a lot of things into account. I miss working on that kind of stuff!

Do Not Chase the Capa

Although today’s word is technical, I think it is interesting: capa.

Ca·pa  noun  \kā’-pə\

1. the red cloak carried by a bullfighter.

Date: Late 18th century.

Origin: from Latin (via Spanish), cappa.

Example: The capeador calmly trots his horse up to the bull, and, when within a few feet, jeeringly waves his capa before its very nose. –Otis Mygatt, The Real Bull-Fight — An Englishman’s View of Bull-Fighting

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Jul 22

Odd Words: Canopic Jar

Canopic JarToday, we tackle page 39 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. Unlike yesterday, there were few unknown words on this page. Thus I ended up picking something that isn’t even a word: Canopic Jar.

The Bells!

Page 39 contains two “bell” words, and I can’t say whether I knew them or not. There is “campanulate,” which means “shaped like a bell.” And there is “campanology,” which I think you can figure out. These are words I’ve come across before, but it is hard to say whether I would have known them in the middle of an SAT exam.

There were some other music-related words, although ones I knew well. They were all based on the Latin word canticum, which is their word for a song (more or less). So we get words like “canticle” (hymn or chant), “cantilena” (simple melody), and “cantillate” (intone or chant).

That took up a good 20 percent of the page. It’s good to know that a little Latin will still go a long way in English. After yesterday, I was concerned.

Other Words

There were, of course, other words that I didn’t know. I was particularly struck by “campestral,” which means “pertaining to the countryside.” It sounds so familiar, like it is a word I use every day. But it isn’t. It isn’t even in the online Oxford Dictionary. I don’t know if others have the same feeling about it.

There are a couple of words that relate to the eye. There is “campimeter,” which is “an apparatus for testing the field of vision of the human eye.” Much more interesting is “canthus,” meaning “either of the angles formed by the junction of the upper and lower eyelids.” I always find it interesting when there are words for things I’ve never really thought of as existing. At the same time, I can well imagine that “canthus” is a very useful word in anatomy.

One word I knew, of course, was “cannabis.” But it’s worth highlighting because I get flack from people for using it rather than “marijuana” or “weed” or whatever. The reason I do that is because I want to be precise and objective. In particular, “marijuana” was a word coined to associate cannabis use with Mexicans. I don’t want to be party to such racist distortions.

It seems we can’t go a whole page without some kind of military word. Today it was “cannonade”: “continuous, heavy artillery fire.” That one makes sense, though. The “cannon” construct has always struck me as artificial.

You’ll End up in a Canopic Jar

Enough of that! Today we have: Canopic jar.

Can·no·pic jar  noun  \kanō’-pik\

1. a vase used by the ancient Egyptians to hold the entrails of a deceased person.

Date: Late 19th century.

Origin: from the Latin name of Canopus, a town in ancient Egypt.

Example: Initially discovered in the Valley of the Queens, all that remains of the mummy is a well-preserved head, a few pieces of bandage, and the Canopic jars that contain his organs. –Josh Davis, Face And Brain Of 3,800-Year-Old Egyptian Mummy Recreated, IFL Science!

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Jul 22

The Out-of-Towners: Review and Analysis

The Out-of-TownersLast night, I watched Neil Simon’s 1970 hit The Out-of-Towners, starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis. I had only the vaguest memory of seeing it when I was 6 years old. Strangely, I have a fairly clear memory of finding it very funny at that time. So it seemed like a good choice.

The Out-of-Towners Summary

The film is funny. It tells the story of George Kellerman and his wife Gwen. They are going to New York, where George is going to be interviewed for his dream job, which will move them from their quiet lives in Ohio with two young children to an exciting life in the big city. But things go wrong almost from the start.

Their flight is forced to land in Boston. Then, with some effort, they manage to get a train into New York. But once there, they can’t get a taxi, because there is a strike going on. So they walk to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where they find that their room has been given away. And so on. Somehow, George manages to make it to his interview and lands the job. But he decides not to take it; both he and Gwen have decided that they are happy with their lives in Ohio.

Writing and Rendering

I’ve never been a big Neil Simon fan. That’s not to say that I disliked his work. As I said, I liked this film when I was a kid. And I loved the film Murder by Death when I was younger. Today, I enjoy its companion film The Cheap Detective. But overall, Simon is just a dialog writer. And he’s pretty stylized. I really have to be in the mood.

Sexism

A bigger issue is that most of his stuff is dated. And The Out-of-Towners certainly suffers from this. It’s kind of hard to imagine that people like this really existed. The sexism of George is really amazing. On the plane, both at the beginning and end of the film, we find Gwen pleading to be allowed a cup of coffee.

But on a deeper level, Gwen is a very strong character. How it is she puts up with George’s behavior is anyone’s guess — especially at the end of the film. But both of the characters are pretty typical of the insular world of Neil Simon.

Class

Throughout The Out-of-Towners, George collects a list of everyone who he believes has harmed him. He is going to launch a major lawsuit if he manages to survive the night. But the truth is that almost everyone in the film is actually nice to the couple. For example, the guy managing lost luggage does everything he can, but their luggage is in Ohio. There’s nothing more he can do than he already has.

This is a recurring theme throughout the film. And the truth is that the film would only be about a half hour long if George weren’t so difficult. They could have just stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria lobby until 7:00 am, when it would have had a room for the couple (and the luggage would have been delivered at 8:00 am). But George insists upon acting like a child.

There is a nice moment in the film when George arrives at his interview on time and the person he’s meeting with says he’s amazed — that with the strike and the weather, he didn’t figure George would have been there. So all of George’s anxiety and histrionics was for nothing.

Acting

The performances by Lemmon and Dennis are outstanding. And it really made me wonder about the script for this. Obviously, by 1970, Neil Simon was a star. Otherwise, I doubt the script would have been shot. I can only imagine that the dialog lays there on the page. There is very little that is really funny all by itself, but the stars and the impressive supporting cast make it shine.

Directing

The Out-of-Towners was directed by Arthur Hiller, who just so happened to direct probably my favorite comedy ever, The In-Laws. He shot this film in a cinéma vérité style. This adds enormously the feeling of anxiety in the film, and ultimately to its comedic impact.

Music

The score for the film, by Quincy Jones, is unusual. Its only real flaw is in being too good — too interesting. It is rare that the music in a film becomes so compelling that it takes me out of the film. But that happened once here. Just the same, Jones’ use of extreme dissonance also adds to the whole feeling of dread in The Out-of-Towners, which is so import to it.

Summary

Overall, The Out-of-Towners is one of the best things that Neil Simon ever wrote. I may be under-appreciating what he created on the page. Regardless, Arther Hiller and the rest of the gang that worked on it clearly understood what he was going for. At the time of its release, it stood as an excellent example of cutting edge comedy. Today, the edge is worn. But it still works remarkably well.

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Jul 21

Yes, Trump Will Cause a Constitutional Crisis

Greg Sargent - Yes, Trump Will Cause a Constitutional CrisisThe Post and The New York Times are both reporting on what appears to be a serious escalation in the Trump team’s intentions to constrain the investigation of special counsel Robert S Mueller III, and The Post is also reporting that President Trump has privately been exploring the possibility of granting pardons to his family members, and perhaps even himself.

Which means the possibility that we are sliding toward a constitutional crisis needs to be take seriously. Now what?

In an interview with me this morning, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon — a hard-charging Democrat on the Intelligence Committee — sounded the alarm in a big way, suggesting it’s time for Democrats to begin serious outreach to Republicans in Congress about sending a united message to Trump: any effort to remove Mueller is unacceptable and will be met with a forceful response.

“What’s important, now, today, is finding a path to send the strongest possible message that firing Mueller without cause would be seen as an attack on democratic values and the rule of law and that there will be negative consequences,” Wyden told me.

[…]

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that it’s unlikely that Republicans will act to send a forceful message to Trump that such a course of action is off limits. Yesterday, CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that he had talked to a number of GOP senators who are very critical of Trump’s comments to The Times, in which he suggested that he would not have selected Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia probe. But most of them would voice their concerns only under cover of anonymity.

Still, Wyden insists it is imperative that Democrats try to get Republicans to speak up. We must “send the strongest possible message to the president now, today, that there will be consequences,” Wyden says.

–Greg Sargent
Are We Heading Toward a Constitutional Crisis?

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Jul 21

Odd Words: Calumet

CalumetToday we are at page 38 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. Interestingly, I knew a surprisingly few of these words — and some are quite useful! But I’ve chosen to use a specialty word, mostly because I could find quotes and images for it: calumet.

Whole Lot of Ignorance

I knew so few of the words on this page, that it’s hard to know how to make any kind of coherent narrative out of them. There aren’t many shared roots in the words. But I guess I’ll make due.

I’m always interested to see the arcane words of specialists. On this page, we had “caltrop.” It is a word of warfare. The military is always good for odd words. “Caltrop” is “a small spiked iron device used to obstruct the passage of cavalry.” They look kind of like the tokens you pick up in the game Jacks. I feel somehow that these things don’t deserve their own word.

Similarly, “camouflet” is “a bomb, mine, etc, exploded underground, which makes a cavity but does not break the surface.” Now that is a very specialized word! But I can well see that in mining it is one that would be of use. But it still makes me think of Shaw’s idea that every profession was a conspiracy against the laity.

Moving on to religion, we have “callotte.” It is the word for the skull caps worn by Roman Catholic clerics. In this case, of course, the word is hard to justify. It’s not like there would be any confusion if we referred to a cleric’s callotte as a “skull cap,” right?

Other Words

I probably should have chosen “cambion.” It is “the offspring of an incubus and a succubus.” But if you are like me, you don’t believe in demons. So we have two words for mythical creates — and then a third for their spawn. Of course, we need to remember that people have taken these demons to be very real in the past.

In fact, if you listen to Pat Robertson, you will hear a lot of explicit references to demons. This is also true for most of the people on my mother’s side of the family. Just imagine if they ever got to create a society without restriction. It would be a return to the Inquisition. We really haven’t progressed very much.

“Camelopard” is another word for a giraffe. It is a combination of “camel” and “leopard.” This is because it is shaped like a camel and spotted like a leopard. This is one of the silliest words I’ve ever seen.

I’ll end this section with a useful word, which I’m surprised I didn’t know, “calumniate.” It is “to malign; accuse falsely; spread malicious reports about.” I can’t image that I haven’t run into this word dozens of times. Yet I can’t remember it!

Put That in Your Calumet!

But today, our word is: calumet.

Cal·u·met  noun  \kal’-yəmet\

1. an ornamented ceremonial pipe used by North American Indians.

Date: Late 17th century.

Origin: from Latin (via French), calamellus, which means “little reed.”

Example: Incorrectly known as “smoking the peace pipe,” the use of the calumet formed an important part of the ceremonies surrounding many forms of negotiations.Family Life in Native America by James M Volo and Dorothy Denneen Volo

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Jul 20

Odd Words: Callet

CalletI’m trying to get Frankly Curious moving again. To help in that, I thought I would get back to my reading through The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. When I last wrote about it, I did the word “caducity.” That brings us to page 37 and the word “callet.”

Is It Hot in Here?!

Roughly half of page 37 is dedicated to “cal—” words: those that come from the Latin calor, which means “heat.” It’s where we get words like “calorie.” But the dictionary doesn’t waste any space on words found on cereal boxes. One word I don’t recall seeing before is “calefacient.” It means: “a medicinal substance producing a feeling of warmth.” On the other side of the page was “calorimeter.” I think you already know what that word means.

When looking at these words in this context, it’s easy to see them in an SAT sort of way. If you were forced to, you could grab hold of “cal—” and figure it was something having to do with heat. And in context, it is always going to be clear. “The doctor used a calorimeter to measure my temperature after they gave me a calefacient.” Kind of boring, really.

Other Words

There were some other interesting words, both known and unknown. One known, but interesting, word, was “caldera.” You can’t have studied much earth science at all and have missed it. It is “a large crater formed by the collapse of the center of the cone of a volcano.”

Two words were completely new to me. And they related to turtles! The first is “calipash,” which is “an edible greenish-colored gelatinous substance lying beneath the upper shell of a turtle.” The second is “calipee,” which is “an edible, yellowish colored gelatinous substance attached to the lower shell of a turtle. Geez, biologists and cooks!

Another interesting word is “callipygian.” It means: “having well-formed buttocks.” Greek-based words tend to upset my sense of what is right in language. This one comes from the Greek word kallipūgos, which is a word that describes a famous statue of Venus, the goddess of love and all that. It is combined with pūgē, which means “buttocks.” So “Venus-like buttocks.” I won’t forget that one!

Onto Callet!

But okay, onto our word for today: callet:

Cal·let  noun  \kal’-it; kā’-lit\ (British dialect)

1. a prostitute.

2. a shrwish, sharp-tongued woman.

Date: Late Middle English (early 17th century).

Origin: I don’t know. It is a regional word, however. It’s hard to keep track of them.

Example: I don’t really have one. The word is obscure. And it is also a common name. And it is more popular in French than in English. But how about something like, “That callet will never be tamed.” That has a good Shakespearean feel to it.

There is something offensive about the word: that it more or less equates a sharp-tongued woman with a prostitute. But what do you expect from such an old word?

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Jul 14

Shakespeare on Desire — Or “Fancy”

Shakespeare on Desire -- Or FancyTell me where is fancy bred.
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourish’ed?

It is engendered in the eyes,
With gazing fed, and fancy dies
In the cradle where it lies.

Let us all ring fancy’s knell
I’ll begin it.
Ding, dong, bell…

—William Shakespeare
The Merchant of Venice

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