The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Friday, November 28, 2003

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You'll alwas remember where you were when you heard about:
Diabetic to Tackle Antarctica's Mount Vinson, Then Kilimanjaro, Everest (washingtonpost.com)

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Lost IN THEIR OWN ASSES, Part I
Post-modernism has always been very weak at political analysis. It has always been political. It has always had an affiliation with the left and it has always thought of itself as a liberation movement. I think I like Kathy Acker. But her sudden detour in this interview from high-church theorising to low-church mentioning of something in the real world, shows just how pathetic post-modernism is at discussing anything other than Inventing or Subsuming or Redeconstructing.
The second part of the book concerns what society would look like if it weren't defined by oedipal considerations and the taboos were no longer taboo. I went through every taboo, or tried to, to see what society would be like without these taboos. Unfortunately, the CIA intervenes; I couldn't get there. I wanted to get there but I couldn't. The last section, 'Pirate Night,' is about wanting to get to a society that is taboo, but realizing that it's impossible. The CIA is symbolic.
EGF: The CIA is symbolic of what?
KA: That you can't isolate yourself from the world.
At least Marxist literary critics had the ability to discuss the CIA, or use it in the novel, beyond it being a proof of that a reality exists. The CIA is many things. But not that.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

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Oh SHIT WATCH IT NOW
Fighting against Vietnam, fighting against desegregation and the impeachment of Nixon kept the American left's moral account in the black for 30 years. Nixon being so evil, for a long time, has been a way for the left to tell themselves "and we are so good," especially the generation which got radical at university in the late 60s but then had nothing to fight (Vietnam war over; race relations losing the clear bright lines of Selma for the muddy complexity of busing in Boston) except Nixon. So when the WaPo writes a long piece along these lines, it's a rallying cry to every college professor aged 45 to dust off whatever they used in the early 70s and fight the good fight once again. Including, and quoting, David Greenberg!
"The president tells aides he wants to 'go over the heads of the reporters' in order to 'circumvent' a 'hostile press.' He later describes his effort to 'tell my story directly to the people rather than funnel it to them through a press account.' The year: 1969. The president: Richard M. Nixon.

Monday, November 24, 2003

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The NEWS THAT STAYS NEWS -- TABLOID STYLE
Ron Rosenbaum makes, yet again, a stong case for tabloid news and how good sensationalist stories capture crucial parts of existence which respectable broadsheets don't even think of as worth the hunt. He even writes tabloid headlines for great literature to make his point:

Double Teenage Suicide in Tomb

Adulterous Wife Jumps in Front of Train When Love Triangle Is Exposed (Although this should more correctly be MILITARY GOVERNMENT LOVE TRIANGLE SUICIDE SHOCKER)

Mystery Tycoon Dead in Swimming Pool

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Whatever HAPPENED TO MICKEY ROURKE?
What was it like to be him?
"You know how I parallel it?' Rourke stands up and rubs his hands together. 'I was on the field, lining up to play, I picked out all my own players. And when the whistle blew...' Holding an imaginary ball, he looks around him, confused. 'Everyone had on the wrong outfits and ran in the wrong direction. Now if they give me the ball, I line up with the right players. The last team, forget about it. Halloween III. Elvis on acid. You should have come to my big fucking mansion with the gang that couldn't shoot straight. Neighbours moving out each side and at the back.' He's beaming now, at the memory of his reckless years. 'I had six motorcycles. Joey's [his brother] got at least six and he had two flags flying over the guest quarters - the Confederate flag and the Jolly Roger. We just didn't belong. Richard Harris used to have that house before me and he said: 'Mickey, they're going to kill you, these guys.' I'd say, 'Hey, what does Richard know?' But he knew. He knew.' "

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'I was a first-time director; it was a feature film; it was an independent production with a smallish budget; a period drama, which is known to be difficult; and I'd based it on the most complex book of the twentieth century. If you line them all up, then I can see why nobody wanted to help me.'
The Observer does a feature on Bloom, the movie of 'Ulysses.'

Friday, November 21, 2003

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A man CALLED HERO BRAHMS

Should be an astronaut
and have a lazer belt
given to him by Ted Photon
long before Ted died surrounded by
Lipanned Space Insects in the Sea of Tranquility
and their claws and teeth.
A man called Hero Brahms
Should treasure times with men like Ted.

Should finish the Mount Pleasant Spiders
With a touchdown at the final minute
And later after beers ask Mary-Sue
To marry him somewhere in the dark
Where the street lights in the distance look like organized stars,
The stars like disorganized street lights.
A man called Hero Brahms
Should always be afraid to cry.

Should not have worked for nine years
on the executive board of an industrial
engineering company based in Germany
nor have spent the 1960s in pursuit
of a Dipl.-Kfm in businnes in Muenster in Munich
nor have a Harvard MBS in senior management
nor have worked for Hoesch, nor Treuhandanslalt
as vice president.
A man called Hero Brahms
Should give wedgies to a man like Hero Brahms.

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Today's HARD-TO-FATHOM CARTOON
Special paranoia edition

Hard-to-fathom, but not for some paranoid idiots.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

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"Dear BOB, We missed you at Davos. Best wishes to your family."
Conrad Black's letters to newspapers wonderfully show the stages of his 5-year plan for Press Barronhood. Five years ago he signed his letters simply, as a Canadian celbrity as
Conrad Black, Toronto
then as a London celebrity
Conrad Black, London
then as a Canadian owner of papers
Conrad Black, chairman and CEO, Hollinger Inc, Toronto, Canada
then back to a Londoner, whose whereabouts are authenticated by a postal code and at the same time made more mysterious
Conrad Black, London E14
later he feels comfortable saying that E14 is where the headquarters of his English publishing operation
Conrad Black, Chairman, Telegraph Group Ltd, Canary Wharf, London E14
and finally, no address, name, or job title needed. He'd moved house. He was
Lord Black of Crossharbour, London W8
and then he fell.

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More ON 2001
MacLamity usually never sees clever references. But I can't help noticing that if you're good friends with the King Henry IX in Martin Amis's "Yellow Dog" then you'd call him Hal IX, and that if you then multiplied him by 1000 he would equal HAL-9000. (Some reviews, just FYI: Slate and LRB and search the archives for MacLamity's link to Tibor Ficher's original rant against the novel.)

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My SONORCLEANTRON
Instead of a song, I've had the phrase "Zero gravity toilet" stuck in my head, ever since I watched 2001 on TV a few days ago. Some plucky fan has wrecked his or her eye sight transcribing the plaque's instructions from the movie. My favorite piece of advice:
You may leave the lavatory if the green exit light is on over the door. If the red light is illuminated, one of the lavatory facilities is not properly secured. Press the "Stewardess" call button on the right of the door. She will secure all facilities from her controll panel outside. When gren exit light goes on you may open the door and leave. Please close the door behind you.

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Black DAY
When were press barons meant to be honest? All the shady dealing at Hollinger only makes me like Conrad Black more. Rupert Murdoch isn't a real press baron. A press baron doesn't buy a sports team because it would be good for synergy and then go to annual meetings to discuss share prices. A real press baron gets his company to fork out $8 million for FDR's memos, so that it's easier for the press baron to write his biography of FDR. Along with The Guardian and the Evening Standard, Black's Daily Telegraph is one of the best written papers in the U.K. It doesn't assume its readers are idiots, which is the assumption that Murdoch forced The Times to make. The Spectator, meanwhile, is the only indication that the Conservative Party has a pulse. The WaPo columnist is snooty about Conrad Black's Evelyn Waugh-ish, utterly whorish, dash for the Lordship. The WaPo columnist would do well to note, however, that it's exactly Black's thirst for status and approval from the right people that kept the Telegraph and the Spectator from becoming Murdoch-like vacuities.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

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Hamlet AND THE ATTRACTIONS
There are several reasons why Hamlet, even in the hideous garbled versions current on the stage, should be attractive both to the caviar eater and the groundling: (1) everybody likes to see a ghost on the stage; (2) kings and queens are also attractive; (3) the number and variety of lethal arrangements are unsurpassed and thus most pleasing--(a) murder by mistake, (b) poison (in dumb show), (c) suicide, (d) bathing and tree climbing casualty, (e) duel, (f) again poison--and other attractions backstage.
-- Vladimir Nabokov to Edmund Wilson

A list of those attractions backstage, from memory:
-- Hamlet fighting pirates.
-- Fortinbras fighting everyone in general.
-- Hamlet tricking Rosencrantz and Guilenstern.
-- Those two getting executed.
-- Hamlet frightening Ophelia.
-- Ophelia's suicide. This inspired Rimbaud to stuff his poem about this with incredible imagery, even though he could never shave een the scene that Shakespeare wrote.
-- Hamlet wooing with Ophelia.
-- Old Hamlet's murder.

I'll add more as i think of them.


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Small DETAIL
The NY review of books uses a caricature of BHL and not of Danny Pearl for its detailed review of Pearl's murder. Of course, they might review another book by BHL and need his caricature a second time. That's not the case with Pearl.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

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Today's HARD-TO-FATHOM CARTOON
From a whole series of water cartoons

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*Word GOLF: MASTER'S EDITION
The TLS illustrates Grimm's (yes, that Grimm) theory of how languages become other languages with a list of words which share the same root. Some of these astounded me. As an extra service, MacLamity's dug up what the shared roots are. Putting an asterisk in front of the word was Grimm's way of indicating that the word has disappeared from the world, and inferred through theory. (As the TLS elegantly puts it "Philologists lived increasingly in what has been called "asterisk-reality," the nineteenth century equivalent of cyberspace. It was nothing them to populate *-reality with words and concepts like *alps, *dvairgs or *wlkwos, "elf," dwarf," or "werewolf."")
Knowledge and Ignorance. (Actually, the OED doesn't list a common root. Hmph. Falling at the first hurdle, here. The TLS had better not embarrass ne further)
Fracture and break. (fracture comes from fractum, the participle of the Latin frango, which, like break, comes from the Aryan *bhreg)
Fiction and dough (from fingere in Latin, which gets cross-referenced in the OED's dough etymology to *dhigh- which means to form of clay)

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

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Stagirite PLC ((DESK: Ticker is U:STAG))
Jonathan Barnes (Julian's brother. He wears eighteenth-century clothes.) gets sublimely pissy in this review which makes much of the differences between chinese and greek thought. It's like watching a vicar at a tea party telling himself that this is not the place for a fight. You know Barnes is getting angry when he says that logos means "reason," not "word," which was news to me, but is no doubt common knowledge among advanced classicists but kept from the general populace and held in reserve in order to smack the populace down on occasions like this. You know Barnes is about to explode before he the third paragraph of this quote. Luckily, he calms down. He decides that it'll do to kill the bastards with sarcasm.
But it is quite another thing to assert that, in an examination of the sources of Greek endeavour, 'the recurrent motif... is rivalry between those competing for intellectual prestige'; that 'the Greek schools were there not just, and not even primarily, to hand over a body of teaching, let alone a canon of learned texts, but to attract pupils and to win arguments with their rivals'; that 'the debate was a competition for prestige and, for teachers and doctors alike, sometimes also to secure a livelihood'.
And it is yet curiouser to suggest that the very substance of philosophical theses was fixed by such competition, that 'the introduction of the concept of nature was not just the outcome of cool intellectual analysis, for those who invoked it did so in a bid to defeat their rivals'; or that 'this urge to defeat all rivals largely stimulated the development of these concepts in the first place'; or that 'Hellenic thinkers fundamentally redefined rare words or coined new ones to take the initiative away from their opponents'. Such claims are confidently hammered out: no evidence is produced in favour of them.
Aristotle had been having a bad week of it. His syllogisms weren't selling and there were some whippersnappers from Megara who were trying to corner the market in sophisms. "By Zeus, he mused, I must get the initiative back, I must fight and win another battle for prestige, and then the pupils will flock back and the fees pour in again." (In the fluster of the moment he had forgotten that he taught gratis.) "But how am I to do it? Of course, I'll redefine a rare word or coin a new one - that always does the trick." And after a cold bath and a moment's reflection, he fastened on the word "proof" and redefined it: "A proof, I say, is a cognitive syllogism" (Posterior Analytics 71b18). Shares in Stagirite plc rose sharply.
(Reader: couldn't you at least pretend that you came across this on your own, and not via Arts & Letters Daily. Maclamity: No, reader, that would be a disservice to you, whom i value above all things.)

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MacLamity IN HIS HEAD SCOOPS UMBERTO ECO
MacLamity could have told you everything Umberto Eco got paid to tell you on Sunday. While watching The Three Amigos in Spanish with English subtitles, MacLamity heard Martin Short's challenge to Chevy Chase and Steve Martin as "Hombre o Raton?" MacLamity's girlfriend confirmed that MacLamity heard right and MacLamity duly added this to his collection of metaphors which are almost the same in every language but not quite, a collection that started when MacLamity read Lichtenberg's note in The Waste Books that in England needles hear but in Germany they see. So the collection has two items biw. More importantly, MacLamity scooped Eco by a day! Without shaving, dressing, or even leaving bed! Mind you, if you want to know about the trouble making Italian out of Act 3 Scene VII of Hamlet , page 8 of Camus's La Peste and Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, it's best to stick with Umberto Umberto.

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Great WAYS TO ASSESS LITERATURE, PART I
In a great series, The Washington Post lets its book reviewer argue the case for forgotten authors whom he passionately believes should be remembered. So far they all wrote in the twentieth century, which makes MacLamity suspect that really Jonathan Yardley's arguing for the books he loved between the ages of 15 and 25, which are the books i think we love the best. Anway, without knowing anything about John D. MacDonald, I say, don't bother reading him. The man wore a captain's sailing hat. Avoid all authors who wear hats like that. That include's late-Hemingway's sailor hat, which he wore on days when his combover, and his talent, failed him. That includes Tom Clancy's irritating aircraft carrier hat, which he wears to look like the kind of man whom the U.S. allows to fire rockets at its enemies and not like the kind of man who failed to get into the military on account of being a weakling nerdlinger.

Friday, November 07, 2003

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These DARK NIGHTS ARE KILLING ME
I'd forgotten in the U.S. how crazy late and crazy early Northern European nights can come. It's 5 as i right this. The city drained out last weekend for All Soul's Day. I woke up on that Saturday hungover and, with a balanced breakfast in mind, went to buy some aspirin and eggs. All the shops were closed. Belgians take days off even on days that are already days off. Armistice Day's coming on Tuesday and the city's clearing out once again in anticipation of the long weekend. The two-lane expressway which I see from my office is packed.The cars have turned on their headlights but the streetlights haven't lit. The gloom in Belgium is overwhelming. It's a month before Christmas, which will bring fairy lights and communal ice rinks. Because it's not raining tonight, the sky is unusually severe in its darkness. Normally the rain clouds weakly reflect the light pollution of Brussels and the thin rain blurs everything. The only clear thing is the rainwater collecting on the road. I try to be philosophical about things like this, but to be philosophical about this long, early, near-permanent twilight you have to be Schopenhauer. The Winter twilight of Belgium's soul is long and dark. Summer seems a ridiculous and impossible dream. My iPod is the only antidote. Stare at the gloom with Tricky in your ears and the gloom stops being Your Problem, and becomes the Beginning of a Seriously Atmospheric Movie. I imagine the opening credits appearing and disappearing from my plain of vision as i walk home each night and wonder which of the people I'm walking up to will be the hero, villain or first victim.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

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Something I'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO DO
When I was an undergrad, reassessing vandalism was just the sort of project for a plucky junior who wanted to make a splash. One such junior explained to me that vandalism of art destroyed the division between its viewer and its creator, artifically constructed by capitalism. O, and THAT IS THE REAL REASON we're upset about it. Aaron Barschak is one of the least funny men in England. But he gets in the papers and onto TV by forcing himself into places where journalists and spectators are focused on something else eg. comedians with talent (he rushed on stage at a Python theater benefit) eg. royals (he gatecrashed William's party). But i do like him in this case for taking postmodernists at their word. The art critics get excited about that drawing faces on Goya's prints RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT ART. So, that's ok then. Barshaak RAISES YET MORE QUESTIONS by defacing the defacements and gets sent to court by postmodernists who can tolerate any violation of a norm, except whatever norm it is that allows them to make a lot of money. (P.S. Richard Posner always defends plagiarism with a trendy argument of utility. He reaps the badmiration that bored magazine editors always give a counterintuitive theory. Should I not also reap the benefit and put my name on the top of one of his Atlantic Monthly articles and selling it?)

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Something is rotten in the state of Belgium.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

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Jackie BROWN
It always surprises me that Jackie Brown is Tarantino's best movie. I thought it was OK the first time I saw it, which I thought at the time meant that it was probably actually bad since I was giving Tarantino credit for things that shouldn't count, like casting and clever narration. I've just seen it three times in the past three months, the third time two nights ago, and the movie astonishes me. I don't know what slice of the world Tarantino captured, but he captured it the way Joyce wanted to capture all of Dublin with Ulysses, you could recreate it entirely, just from watching the movie. When was the last time you saw a movie which had insight into:

1. Sexual attraction and longing between people aged from 45 to 55.
2. Driving around a mall parking lot.
3. What we use sick days for.
4. Walking across a street to get to a friend's car and not quite believing his or her instructions about which key to use.
5. Talking on the phone at work to a friend all the time, because selling clothes in a mall is so boring, and yet still doing the job well.
6. Reasons to have hair transplants.
7. The music you listen to in cars and why.
8. The choice you have to make between similar fast food restaurants in shopping mall food courts.
9. Places to flick cigarette ash.
10. White bosses and black employees: is there any honest way to get over what this reminds us of?
11. Quitting smoking.
12. How two people, if there really into each other, can ask each other out without even asking each other out. It's so easy for them to want to be together that every tiny excuse makes its worthwhile.
13. How buying new clothes and getting a new look is thrilling and very embarrassing and the thrill in and of itself is very embarrassing.

What's remarkable is that Tarantino doesn't make a big deal of his interest in these things. There are independent art films which will have a title like "How buying new clothes and getting a new look is thrilling and very embarrassing and the thrill in and of itself is very embarrassing" which will say less on the topic than Tarantino does with a 4 second piece of dialogue. If you watch Jackie Brown enough the plot vanishes and what remains are these millions of tiny character observations. They're as brief as haikus. For example (each number links the topic to the theme):

2. Jackie spending 20 seconds trying to find a parking space before she can even begin to get nervous about the money drop.
3. Jackie calls in sick after she makes bail. Calling in too many sick days and so losing her job then becomes a big plot motor for her to get Ordell and the cops to agree to allow her to get the money from Cabo.
4. There's a tracking shot of DeNiro doing this, for no plot or character development reason whatsoever.
5. The girl behind the counter is doing this at the start of the money drop scene. As you see Jackie rushing off from the money drop you can see the assistant's back on the phone.
6. Max gives a very good one, which shows how down-to-earth he is. At the same time the camera notices the bald patch growing on the back of his head without making a big deal of it.
10.
ORDELL (CONT'D) (returning to the photo) Who's that big Mandingo nigga
you gotcha arm around?
Max looks at him a moment and says;
MAX That's Winston. He works here.
ORDELL He's a big one. You two tight?
MAX Yeah.
ORDELL It was our idea to take the picture, wasn't it?
11. JAckie and Max talking about putting on what after you quit.

Like the Warhol movie of the Empire State Building, it looks like both real life and like a movie. Unlike the Warhol movie, you can watch it for 100 minutes and not have your bored tongue fall out of your mouth and die.

Tarantino gets a bum rap for being obsessed with pop culture. In Jackie Brown he showed that what he's interested in are the tiny habits we have. He notices them more than any gritty realist. The harder he looks at them the more he sees. One part of his genius is to make us notice it too in less than 5 seconds.

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Today's HARD-TO-FATHOM KID'S PICTURE

Bonus explainer: This was drawn by a pupil at an Iraqi primary school. It took me a while to figure out that this was Saddam Hussein's statue toppling. So that's a soldier to the left, wearing, for some reason, a red hat. I think the people on the left are excited. What holds my attention is the background -- those brown and black stakes. Buildings? Electrical pylons? As always, a child's skewed sense of perspective makes the picture delightfully escher-like: where do those stairs (or where does that pedestal) begin?

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Today's HARD-TO-FATHOM CARTOON

Hmm. So this kind of censorship has got something to do with noses and scissors. I've got that much.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

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This Year's NUMBER ONE WIRE HEADLINE

Government says Scrushy Must Forfeit Homes, Yacht, Aircraft, Jewelry and Lamborghini

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Young AND PHOTOGENIC
Reading 'Homage to Catalonia' is the quickest way to see how ideology splits and splits at its extremes, like in a fractal. Communists become menshevicks and bolshevicks. Bolshevicks split into Stalinists and Troskyites. The characters in 'Homage to Catalonia' spend days splitting hairs to see who is a crypto-proto-fascist and who is a proto-anti-Stalinist. In France, there are two Trotskyite parties, which have split from the socialists, allied, but kept themselves separate. Really, I'm only linking to this story because one of its sentences starts like this: "Fronted by a young, photogenic and increasingly popular postman..."

Monday, November 03, 2003

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... NOT JUST FUHRER OF A 1,000 YEAR EMPIRE
"'The colour scheme throughout this bright, airy chalet is light jade green. The F├╝hrer is his own decorator, designer and furnisher, as well as architect... [Hitler] has a passion about cut flowers in his home.' And he is seldom alone in his mountain hideaway, as he 'delights in the society of brilliant foreigners, especially painters, musicians and singers. As host, he is a droll raconteur... ' "
-- keen political insight from House and Garden which a lot of people felt a blogger should never have shared. The article itself.

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Thoughtlessness OF A CLOWN

Stages of a cliche:
1. Smokey Robinson writes "Tears of a Clown" on the basis that such things on such a vessel of hapiness was the saddest thing he could imagine. A cliche is born.

2. The Simpsons includes a painting of a crying clown in a diptych of bad amateur art. (The other painting is a unicorn turning away from a waste of Industrial Factories to the canvas's viewer with a thought bubble reading "Why?") MacLamity, who sees this aged 14, feels ridiculous since only 4 months before he'd done a pencil sketch of a crying clown, considering at the time this vision to be impossibly deep, filled with pathos, and mature.

3. In a Far Side cartoon captioned "Clown therapy" a clown sitting in a circle of seated clowns is saying "Wait wait wait, so am I the only one who's happy on the inside as well?" The cliche has reached intensive care and its children are wondering what's in its will.

4. MacLamity finally destroys this cliche: the tears aren't on the the clown's face. Find them always and in abundance instead, streaming down the faces of the relatives, agents, families, and children of the clown. The comedians MacLamity most admires don't deserve any label which has greater insight than "assholes." They were, yes, fucked up. And they deserve MacLamity's gratitude, and his undying admiration, for making him laugh so hard. But comedians like Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock or Peter Cook (or even Woody Allen) show terrifying cruelty. My father went to boarding school with one Evelyn Waugh's sons. The son would do anything no to go home on the weekends. "We couldn't understand someone who could write such funny novels, could be such an unfunny man," my father gave as his conclusion. Britt Eckland won't talk about her marriage to Peter Sellers because it talking about it hurts her too much. Imagine how bad living in the marriage must have been.

This provoked by this account of Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers ruining people. In this account, the talents of Sellers and Milligan are being hurt as well as people. But really it's only slightly sadder when the jokes get thrown in the grinder along with the bodies. The scene of Sellers and Milligan refusing to touch a cigarette packet because they're president and vice-president of the anti-smoking league is hysterical (let's even say novelistic) but neither of them deserve credit for becoming such monstrous and selfish idiots that they're comical.

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Let's TAKE THINGS SERIOUSLY SHALL WE?
The constitution of the Philip Roth Society sure makes being a philip roth fan sound like hard work. Section 4 is spooky "Section 4. A member who has not paid dues for two years shall be classified as not in good standing; this being the case, all privileges and benefits will be terminated" and Article VI section 2 doesn't seem exactly keen on democracy "Section 2. Voting by proxy shall be allowed. Such votes can be brought to any of the officers of the Society."