The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Thursday, February 26, 2004


Remember when artists were either hedgehogs or foxes, except for Tolstoy who was a Fox who tried to write a Hedgehog's novel? Actually, all artists are either seekers or finders.


The other Harold Bloom sex scandal.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004


A calmer argument for Lucia Joyce's comparative sanity than the one you apparently get in Carol Loeb Schloss's To Dance In The Wake (whose title screams for attention like a neglected child)


No book in the 18th century sold more copies than Foxe's Book of Martyrs. And you can see why. Just scanning it you catch the persecution mania that led to the belief in the Popish Plot and which must have a founding role in American political belief that persecution (by bias in the media, by vested washington interests etc.) is how you know you're right. Reading the first chapter, I was struck by how the deaths were as bizarre, gruesome and shocking as the BBC's tables of deaths in the Halloween movies (passim.) So, without further ado, Foxe's I: Night of the Nero.

I can't figure out what's causing this big gap: but scroll down for the table, with, apparently, further ado

Who How Where Reason For Death?
Steven Stoned to death Outside the city The faithful manner in which he preached the Gospel to the betrayers and murderers of Christ
James the Great Beheaded Philippi Herod Agrippa , with a view to ingratiate himself with them, raised a sharp persecution against the Christians,
James's Accuser Also beheaded Philippp Repents and decides he'd like to die along with James the Great
Philip Scourged, thrown into prison, and afterwards crucified Heliopilis None given
Matthew Being slain with a halberd Nabadah None given
James the Less beat and stoned by the Jews; and finally had his brains dashed out with a fuller's club. Unknown Jewish propensity to beat and stone is implied
Matthias Stoned and beheaded Jerusalem See above for possible answer
Andrew Taken and crucified on a cross, the two ends of which were fixed transversely in the ground Edessa Those whacky Edessans
Mark Dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria, at the great solemnity of Serapis their idol, ending his life under their merciless hands. Alexandria Serapis must have had some grudge
Peter Crucified, his head being down and his feet upward Rome Nero hated him, Jesus told him that he (Jesus) was going to be crucified again, Peter didn't consider himself worthy of being killed in precisely the same way as Christ (See Andrew).
Paul Neck to the sword Rome Great travail and unspeakable labors in promoting the Gospel of Christ
Jude Crucifixion Edessa Went to Edessa after the Edessans made it clear that they're just plain whacky when it comes to crucifixion
Thomas/Didymus Thrust through with a spear Parthia and India Exciting the rage of pagan priests.
Luke Hanged on an olive tree Greece Exciting the rage of idolatrous priests
Simon Crucified Britain Uknown. Britain trying to close crucifixion gap with Edessans?
John Cast into a cauldron of oil Rome Actually he survived by a miracle, so it's sort of outrageous that he's included here.
Barnabus Death Unkown Unknown


Unreality TV
I'm in two minds about this article about type casting in reality TV. It makes the obvious, but only obivious now that it's made, point that reality TV trades in Types as much as fiction - the hometown virgin girl, the unknowing Archie Bunker, and, the bone of contention in this article, the Uppity Sassy Negress. The writer is fair and so I'll cite her being fair there are many examples of non-uppity black women in reality TV: "Keshia Knight Pulliam and Ananda Lewis on "Celebrity Mole Yucatan," the sweet-natured NFL wives of a few seasons back on "The Amazing Race" and the female half of the lovey-dovey African American couple on "Fear Factor."" And yet who can avoid noticing how NBC is picking out race as the defining characteristic of a well-educated but bitchy woman "She has a PhD ut she has her real education from the streets. . . . She's fierce! She's feisty!" And Alicia from Survivor sadly makes her sad collusion in making this happen explicit: "There's a talent to the Finger. You can't do it without the head and you can't do it without the Finger. It has to be both. You've got to be really angry. You know what I mean? You have to be in the moment. So you have to be a little ghetto; you have to have a little rhythm and you have to be mad."

Monday, February 23, 2004


The Associated Press reassures everyone that while those Catholic priests are bad those Prots could be just as bad if they tried. I was particularly intrigued by the statistics cited from Reformation, which keeps a running score of Protestant clergy sex scandals by denomination.
Evangalical or fundamentalist 251
Baptist 147
Episcopal and Anglican 140
Methodist 46
Presbyterian 19
Others 197
Four percent of catholic priests working since 1950 have been accused of sexual abuse, according to CNN.


Elias Canetti was apparently revolted by Iris Murdoch, her writing, her philosophy, her Miss Marple-like habit of writing novels that apparently comprehended the world, but were based entirely on the happenings of a small town (Oxford). What strikes me about Canetti, is what he finds so strange about sex with Murdoch:
Then the strangest thing happened as soon as we had kissed. The settee on which I always slept was near. Iris undressed herself swiftly, one might say, as fast as lightning, without my laying a finger upon her, she wore things that had absolutely nothing to do with love, woollen, ugly, but they were piled so swiftly into a heap on the floor, she had already laid herself under the blanket on a settee. There was no time to look at her things or at her. She lay unmoved and unchanged, I hardly noticed that I was inside her, I did not feel that she noticed anything
Isn't Murdoch here enjoying have a sex as an independent individual? Canetti seems horrified that she didn't act out some seduction ritual on him: that she without embarrassment made it clear that she just wanted to have sex and that it was up to him to be aroused. I don't know what it was like to have sex with Cannetti, but I'm guessing that his clothes were ugly and woolen, that he didn't fold or drape his trousers langorously over things, that he didn't slowly and tantalisingly strip for his lovers.

Friday, February 20, 2004


Old Crow whiskey advertisement featuring Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling from the obsessive (check out Twain on Jane.)


With time, the things you know and are glad you got out of college change. The things you learned disappear slowly. The memories have more to do with nostalgia for youth than with dialectic, C++, or footnotes. For me, Stanford library's videotape of four Richard Nixon speeches has become one of the happiest memories. It was worth at least 25% of one year's tuition. My astonishment never faded over the three times I watched it while at college. Do yourself a favor and at least read the text of Nixon's Checkers Speech. The text can't give you his awkward style. While basically using a monotone, he emphasises things in his speech with a little downward shudder, as if he had jumped off a chair and just landed. Know that when he says, "My wife's sitting over here," that the camera pans to the right to reveal Patricia sitting in a chair. He walks over and talks about her without looking at her as if he was a Natural History Museum tour guide discoursing on a diorama of stuffed cavemen.

Truth is rarely stranger than fiction. What suprises is how often the truth uses novelistic devices. Peter Carey didn't make up that voice in "The True History of the Kelly Gang." But, as with the Checkers speech, the Ned Kelly letter Peter Carey would be considered a genius if he had invented Ned Kelly and that voice to express him. As it is, Ned Kelly existed and expressed himself before any novelist could take credit for what would have been modernist innovations. Kelly's prose's unforced errors, forced errors and deliberate successes, are as precise and revealing and beautiful as the best of a best novelist:
She was a chestnut mare white face docked tail very remarkable branded (M) as plain as the hands on a town clock.

I kept throwing him in the dust until I got him across the street the very spot where Mrs 0'Briens Hotel stands now the cellar was just dug then there was some brush fencing where the post and rail was taking down and on this I threw big cowardly Hall on his belly I straddled him and rooted both spurs onto his thighs he roared like a big calf attacked by dogs and shifted several yards of the fence I got his hands at the back of his neck and trid to make him let the revolver go but he stuck to it like grim death to a dead volunteer he called for assistance to a man named Cohen and Barnett, Lewis, Thompson, Jewitt two blacksmiths who was looking on [...]

the bullet passed through the right side of his chest & he could not live or I would have let him go had they been my own brother I could not help shooting there or else let them shoot me which they would have done had their bullets been directed as they intended them.
It's like Hemingway meets Joyce meets not made up at all.

Thursday, February 19, 2004


Join The Shadow Club!

If you are interested in observing the law, and doing all you can to make others observe it, then it is your duty
to join The Shadow Club.
It costs you nothing to join; it costs you nothing to remain a member.
You can be one of the tens of thousands all over the world who are in this tremendous movement for justice.
Sign and mail this pledge and you will become a member:

"I promise to bend all my efforts to give my moral, and when called upon, actual support to uphold law and
order and down crooks."

Name ............................................................

Street and No.................................................

City and State ................................................

From an excellent site on dime novel heroes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004


My boss cries all the time in public, and other revelations in a New Yorker article finally on the web.


Samuel Barber, in a recent debate about Samuel Huntington, makes that classic U.S.-left gaffe of attacking American cultural imperialism, while being classically Yankily lazy about not bothering to check on what that imperialism consists of:
When it came to the recent "wardrobe malfunction" witnessed by some 1 billion Super Bowl viewers worldwide, Barber was downright apocalyptic. Americans "appear as an aggressive monoculture in whose names Western ideas are advanced," he thundered in his opening remarks. Instead of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, he complained, we export the extravagant vulgarity of the Super Bowl halftime show. Rather than focusing on the problems of Islam, we should "look into ourselves."
Let's have a look at least at the sales rankings:
Emily Dickinson complete poems: 27,539
Emily Dickinson Selected Poems: 24,644
Leaves of Grass: 21,006
Song of Myself: 36,985

And here are the bestselling items that come up after a search for American Football:
Joe Montana's Art and Magic of Quarter backing: 76,714
Play Football the NFL Way: 27,826

So it looks like Barber shouldn't worry. His cultural imperialism is progressing just as it should.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004


From the
Telegraph: "[Michael] Gambon, bear-like paws waving, ...mimes an encounter with Beckett. 'It was at the National Theatre in the early Sixties. We were doing a double bill with his play called Play, which is three people in jam jars, and we used to see Beckett around when we were rehearsing. I remember walking up the stairs behind him once with a couple of other actors and in front of him was Billie Whitelaw, and she had a very tight skirt on. And he turned round to us and went' - Gambon rears up to carve a suggestive curve in the air and wink broadly - 'So he was certainly human!'"


That's where I left my Krugerands and T-bills. Not under the sofa after all.


All the killings in the Halloween movies, compressed into handy tables by the BBC:

So it all begins with Judith. Ah, Judith....

No.WhoWhereHowReason For Death?
1.Judith MyersMyers' HouseStabbedMichael's relation. Had sex.
2.Garage ManBy garage.Off screenUnexplained
3.AnnieLindsey's HouseStabbedSheriff's Daughter
4.BobLindsey's HouseStabbedHad sex.
5.LyndaLindsey's HouseStrangled by phoneHad sex.'d think avoiding sex would be the key here... o no no no... see Haloween II

NoWhoHowWhereReason For Death?
1.EllenStabbedHer houseCalled Police to investigate.
2.Billy TramerRun overIn roadDrunk, wearing Michael Myers mask
3.Mr GarrettHammeredHospitalSecurity Guard
4.BuddStrangledHospitalAlmost had sex.
5.KarenDrowned in boiling waterHospitalAlmost had sex.
6.Dr MixterStabbed by syringeOff screenDrunk
7.JillStabbed by syringeHospitalMedical Professional
8.Mrs AlvesBled dryHospitalMedical Professional
9.JanetStabbedHospitalMedical Professional
10.JimmyCollapsedOutside HospitalMedical Professional
11.MarshallStabbedHospitalPolice being a medical professional really a reason to die?...

1.Harry GrimbridgeStrangledHospital
3.Marge GuttmanMiss-fireHotel
4.Buddy Junior KupferTransformedFactory
5.Betty KupferKilledFactory
6.Buddy KupferSnakedFactory
7.Post Mortem lassDrilledLab
8.EllieReplacedNot shown
10.Potential MillionsTransformedAmerica

...Snaked? As in "I was snaked," or, "I snake you"? Sounds pretty bad... replaced is a horrible way to die...
1-4Ambulance menStabbedAmbulanceMedical professionals
5.MechanicStabbed & hungGarageUnexplained
6.Waitress(off screen)GarageUnexplained
7.BuckyElectrocutedPower StationKnocks off all the power
8+.PoliceOff screenPolice stationPolice
14.Ted HollisterShot by DrunksParkAccidental
15.Deputy LoganBody brokenMeeker's housePolice
16.Kelly MeekerGun shoved inMeeker HouseSheriff's daughter, had sex
17.BradyHead snappedMeeker HouseHad sex
18-20.DrunksKilledOn TruckDrunk
21.Earl (drunk)KilledOn TruckDrunk

...having sex, it's the oldest way to be killed by Michael Myers ... gun shoved in ...

1.Hermit who rescued MichaelStrangledHis houseRescued Michael
2.Rachel LloydStabbedHer houseRelative
4.'Spitz' PeteStabbed with forkBarnHad sex
5.SammyHead chopped offBarnHad sex
6.CopStabbedOff screenPolice
7.CopStabbedOff screenPolice
9.EddyOff screenOver radioPolice
10.CharlieHungMyers HousePolice
11 & 12CopsOff-screenPolice stationPolice

...OK, let's chill. OK, let's not chill....

1.NurseStabbedBasementHelped Jamie escape.
2.Truck manNeck brokenOutsideCult member
3.Jamie LloydStabbed/shreddedBarnRelative
4.Debra StrodeAxedMyers houseRelative by marriage
5.John StrodeStabbed/electrocuted/explodedMyers HouseRelative by marriage
6.Barry SimsStabbedRadio carDJ
7.Tim StrodeThroat cutMyers HouseHad sex
8.BethStabbed in backMyers houseHad sex
9.Cult womanKilledBasementUsing Michael
10-15.Doctors & NursesKilledBasementUsing Michael
16.Dr Loomis(off screen)SmithsgroveMichael's Nemesis

... I mean, OK, now we're up to fucking H20, 20 years of this shit is celebrated with:...

1.JimmyIce skate in faceoff screen
3.Nurse Marion ChambersKilledLoomis House
4.CharlieGarotted off screenHilcrest School
5.SarahStabbedHilcrest School
6.Will BenonStabbedHilcrest School

...clearly the man's getting old... but not old enough for a little Impaled on gate...

01.ParamedicDecapitated by Laurie StrodeOutsideShe thought he was Michael.
1.Security GuardDecapitated off-screenInstituteSecurity Guard
2.Security Guard WillyThroat slashedInstituteSecurity Guard
3.Laurie StrodeStabbed & fell offInstitute roofMichael's sister
4.CharlieStabbed with cameraMyers' HouseIn the Myers' house
5.BillStabbed in headMyers' houseIn the Myers' house
6.DonnaImpaled on gateSewer beneath Myers' houseHad sex.
7.JenDecapitatedMyers houseTook drugs.
8.JimHead crushedMyers' houseHad sex.
9.RudyStabbedMyers' kitchenTook drugs.
10.NoraOff screenMyers' garageIn Myers' house

...and that's it, right? He's dead. There's no possible way he could survived thAAAAAAAAA

Monday, February 16, 2004


Or is it just an Associated Press chronology of John Daly's golfing career? Hard to say. My favorite moment:
July 23, 2003 -- Daly's wife gives birth to his first son.
July 28, 2003 -- Daly's wife and her parents are indicted on federal drug and gambling charges.


I've had an eye out for anything Carrie Fisher says after a remark she made to Esquire: "Bitterness is the poison you take, in the hope that the other person dies." This has been one of the few pieces of wisdom that has changed my life. I might be an asshole, imaginatively find excuses for my compulsive lateness rather than just arrive on time, say remarkably hurtful things which I know I should not say just as I decide to say them, but, thanks to Carrie Fisher, I have bitterness figured out. It's not a problem any more. So, any nuggets from this interview with the Guardian? Some... sort of...
Debbie Reynolds doesn't date any more. "My mother says 'the store is closed' and I say to her, I just wanna know, what was for sale?"

"Two of the saddest words in the English language are, 'What party?' And LA is the 'What party?' capital of the world. Everyone is sucking up. My mother's career was over at 40 but she was still trying to be everyone's buddy, always smiling for the cameras."

Eddie Fisher, Carrie's father, left her mother, Debbie Fisher, for Elizabeth Taylor:. "I was at a party once and someone came up and said, 'Elizabeth is very hurt that you haven't come and said hello to her.' I mean, CHRIST, only in Hollywood. She steals my father and I have to make the first move? So I went up and she said to me -" Taylor: I heard your book is really good. Fisher: Well, it's about alcoholism and you were in Betty Ford, weren't you, and so was my father. Taylor: How is your father? Fisher: I wouldn't know, I didn't really see him growing up. Taylor: Maybe you didn't miss that much.

She has had manic depression: "The old terms sounded like things that could just kinda happen to you in a bar. He's 'melancholic'. You know? But these new ones they come up with - dysphoria, bipolar, manic depression - I mean, who'd want to be any of those?"
There's also a sad story about Debbie Reynolds forcing her way into grandparents day at her grand daughter's school, and embarrassing her 11-year-old granddaughter, not through alcohically strutting around or being a prima donna, but by being uncool. How the stars fall, even when they don't fall in the usual, spectacular sense.

Friday, February 13, 2004



Can someone tell me what the twist was at the end of Swimming Pool? Obviously it was meant to be earth-shattering. For me, it was more like someone was saying "But what if the earth was shattered maybe it has?" I have half an idea as to what was going on, but feel incredibly stupid for not fully grasping the ending in the way that was easy with Sixth Sense or Usual Suspects. Help.

Thursday, February 12, 2004


Two perfect models I came across today:

I. Writing to writers:
Cardinal Newman complaining about a magazine article, and, in the process of avowing how little he wants to pick a fight, wins the fight before it's even begun, and by the end of the fight has produced one of the nineteenth century's great English works:
The Oratory, Dec. 30, 1863.
I do not write to you with any controversial purpose, which would be preposterous; but I address you simply because of your special interest in a Magazine which bears your name.

That highly respected name you have associated with a Magazine, of which the January number has been sent to me by this morning's post, with a pencil mark calling my attention to page 217.

There, apropos of Queen Elizabeth, I read as follows:—
"Truth, for its own sake, had never been a virtue with the Roman clergy. Father Newman informs us that it need not, and on the whole ought not to be; that cunning is the weapon which Heaven has given to the saints wherewith to withstand the brute male force of the wicked world which marries and is given in marriage. Whether his notion be doctrinally correct or not, it is at least historically so."

There is no reference at the foot of the page to any words of mine, much less any quotation from my writings, in justification of this statement.

I should not dream of expostulating with the writer of such a passage, nor with the editor who could insert it without appending evidence in proof of its allegations. Nor do I want any reparation from either of them. I neither complain of them for their act, nor should I thank them if they reversed it. Nor do I even write to you with any desire of troubling you to send me an answer. I do but wish to draw the attention of yourselves, as gentlemen, to a grave and gratuitous slander, with which I feel confident you will be sorry to find associated a name so eminent as yours.
I am, Gentlemen,
Your obedient Servant,
(Signed) JOHN H. NEWMAN.
II. Writers Responding to Complaints From Readers
Here's how The Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg has a technique for responding to flame emails (from The Guardian).
Dear Reader:

I received your email message. Sadly, I no longer permit myself the pleasure of personally responding to snide remarks from dissatisfied individuals, as doing so inevitably leads to time-wasting arguments and annoying exchanges of insults. Since such encounters often end with the reader complaining to my boss, it seems that this is what rude writers really want to do all along - to provoke me so they can satisfy some inner schoolyard desire to squeal. You may do so now by emailing the editor in chief, Michael Cooke, at, though I should point out that his is a form letter, so his reaction probably won't have the sense of fresh outrage you desire.

Otherwise, I would like to point out that the piece of writing that upset you is a column of opinion, that the opinion being expressed is mine alone, and the fact that you disagree with or were insulted by my opinion really is not important, at least not to me ...

If you have cancelled your subscription, I am sorry, though I am also confident, as you wade through the arid world of the competition and the barren void of television, that you will eventually soften and start reading the Sun-Times again, and would remind you that you can always skip my column; that's why it always has my name and picture on the top.

If there were a shred of politeness or sense in your email you would not be receiving this letter, but as you are, I would urge you to re-examine your life, and suggest that you reach out to all the people you have no doubt hurt with your brusque and offensive manner and beg their forgiveness. I will myself set a good example by forgiving you now. It can be a terrible world, and I'm sure you have reasons for being the way you are.

Best regards, Neil Steinberg
Note in both cases how much more devastating politeness is than anger would be.


Reuters reports on the latest spat over Ulysses, handily using a 100-year anniversary peg for a story that could have be written in 1932, 1954, or 1967. Only the names change in this debate.

The 100-year complaints:
-It's stupid, nothing happens.
-It's stupid, the only reason it survives is because 500 people in academia are essentially paid to read it and find another spurious excuse why they should continue to read it.
-It's stupid, noone actually reads it or likes it.
-It's stupid, it's unreadable.

The 100-year defense:
- That's the point, nothing happens.
- That's the point, noone actually reads it or likes it.
- What was the second one again? What's your point?
- That's the point, it's unreadable.



Simpsons MOVIE
It's hard to think of ways that a Simpsons movie could be better than a 30-minute episode and easy to think of ways it would be worse. As Clive James points out in his review of The Sopranos: the big screen has to cut corners to fit its characters into a 180-minute (max.) plot. The little screen can dwell on those corners for as many as 13 seasons.


What it's like to be fired by Donald Trump when there are no cameras nearby.


Andrew Sullivan and James Taranto have rightly gone apeshit over this idiotic reposte from a Duke faculty member who was asked why his faculty had no conservatives:
We try to hire the best, smartest people available. If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire.

Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too.
Note how stupid you are if you are not in academia. Here's the John Stuart Mill quote, according to the Internet:
I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.
John Stuart Mill's wisecrack distinction is important. There are intelligent conservatives. The question isn't why is it difficult for Duke to find and hire them, if smartness is all Duke cares about? The question is why is it so difficult for them?

Tuesday, February 10, 2004


Whenever I read a poem about Snow, I think of an essay Charles Bernstein asked why so many New Yorker poems mentioned snow. The other is an off-hand comment by MArjorie Perloff in an essay on John Cage:
It may seem easy to talk into a tape recorder and then transcribe one’s words, avoiding all margins and leaving blank spaces between word groups. Yet we don’t in fact do it. For what is really ‘easy,’ in the context of the present, is to write little epiphany poems in free verse, detailing a meaningful experience. I am walking, let us say, in the snow, and I notice strange footprints: I am reminded of the day when…
There is some kind of template for mediocre poetry somewhere and it must contain the word snow in it somewhere. Indeed check out the drivel you get, just by typing into google the term "poem snow:"
Snow is the horse
that would never dream of running away,
that plods on, pulling the empty sleigh
In fact the only decent snow poem I can think of Wallace Stevens's 'Snowman.' The substance has an apparently enormous capacity to inspire shit.


One way a business journalist can avoid writing about tedious business people and the making of acetyl, is to write about artists and great historical figures and ask: what do they teach us about managing? The problems of running a toilet paper factory in Sweden are not really the same as those of running England in the 16th century, but it's nice for managers to think so, even if it's demeaning for Elizabeth I (or Shackleton, or some baseball manager, or whomever). The most obvious thing would be to study successful business managers. The problem is that they're so damn boring (see Swedish toilet paper manufacterer, passim) even when they're millionaires. I'm sad to see Twyla Tharp do this to herself without any help from a business journalist. What are the management lessons a choreographer can teach us? Identify talent, make them stretch, seek the spectacular and be a parent. So, should I combine the logistics division with the tech support division, or what?


Whose BIBLE?
When it comes to something as important as Jesus, the Son of Man, Newsweek will not tolerate the heresy of Christians.

Unlike Newsweek, the Bible is "the product of human authors who were writing in particular times and places." There's worse: "the Bible did not descend from heaven fully formed and edged in gilt." Imagine how appalled I was by that. Get me something formed at the news stand bound in staples. Because I need TRUTH! Not truth like the visions of Mary of Agreda and Anne Catherine Emmerich had of the crucifixion. They were, "creatures of their time, offering mystical testimony." And not truth like you find in the Gospels "Consider the source of the dialogue," Newsweek pleads, "a partisan Gospel writer!" (A partisan Gospel writer? What next? Downhill skiers?) The Gospels are "polemics, written by followers of a certain sect who disdained other factions."

"To take the film's account of the Passion literally will give most audiences a misleading picture." One senses a panic in this tone, a defensiveness. Newsweek has made a Christmas and Easter tradition of coralling all Biblical scholars and Middle-Eastern archeologists and pumping them for quotes about any evidence at all about Jesus, Abraham, the Mages, or Mary. They do front-cover stories on the Devil as if he was Leo DiCaprio. When Mel Gibson uses Hollywood special effects, instead of expert testimony, to reconstruct a Biblical scene, it's time to take him out. When Newsweek talks about "the best historical reconstruction of what really happened" it is talking about itself (Newseek orthodoxy: "Jesus had a fairly large or at least vocal following at a time of anxiety in the capital, and the Jewish authorities wanted to get rid of him before overexcited pilgrims rallied around him, drawing down Pilate's wrath.").

Monday, February 09, 2004




Why Salim Bhoukari wanted to blow up the Strasbourg Christmas market.


In Memoriam Norman Thelwell edition:


D.J. Enright wrote a very funny essay which listed the reasons English people don't like Goethe, and, more generally, German literature. Number 1 on his list, with an apology for being so thorough as to be obvious: the English don't like literature much anyway. Enright made the English prejudice against German writers look so ridiculous that I felt guilty -- until I realized that the prejudice he described wasn't mine. The English, he complained, know that German literature to be obvious in its symbolism, preachy, metaphysical -- and don't need to read any German literature to prove this, after all, they don't read German literature because of this.

I, on the other hand, fear Germans. It's just that. The language frightens me. Their combination of mirthlessness and desperate hilarity (Have you ever seen a German really laugh? It looks like a lunatic bursting out of a straight jacket.) frightens me. I don't understand them. I know I should. Every German I meet, I like. At some point I'm going to have to admit that the German writers I like (Lichtenberg, Karl Kraus, Brecht, Friedrich Durrenmatt (although he's Swiss -- and by the way, where is that man's Nobel?)) represent a rule of German literature, rather than its exceptions.

So, I thought, 'This won't do. Let's see what Goethe is up to. Let's get really German literature about this.' Well... I suggest a good reason for not liking Goethe, if you're English: this translation of Faust. I'm still reading the dedication with my mouth wide open:

Ye wavering forms draw near again as ever
When ye long since moved past my clouded eyes.
To hold you fast, shall I this time endeavour?
Still does my heart that strange illusion prize?
Ye crowd on me! 'Tis well! Your might assever
While ye from mist and murk around me rise.
As in my youth my heart again is bounding,
Thrilled by the magic breath your train surrounding.

Ye bring with you glad days and happy faces.
Ah, many dear, dear shades arise with you;
Like some old tale that Time but half erases,
First Love draws near to me and Friendship too.
The pain returns, the sad lament retraces
Life's labyrinthine, erring course anew
And names the good souls who, by Fortune cheated
Of lovely hours, forth from my world have fleeted.

They do not hear the melodies I'm singing,
The souls to whom my earliest lays I sang;
Dispersed that throng who once to me were clinging,
The echo's died away that one time rang.
Now midst an unknown crowd my grief is ringing,
Their very praise but gives my heart a pang,
While those who once my song enjoyed and flattered,
If still they live, roam through the wide world scattered.

And I am seized with long-unwonted yearning
Toward yonder realm of spirits grave and still.
My plaintive song's uncertain tones are turning
To harps aeolian murmuring at will.
Awe binds me fast; tear upon tear falls burning,
My stern heart feels a gentle, tender thrill;
What I possess, as if far off I'm seeing,
And what has vanished, now comes into being.
I feel drunk when I read this. It makes me dizzy. I grasp for something solid and find that all I've grasped is a bamboozling rhyme. My favorite line is "Thrilled by the magic breath your train surrounding" because it is honest about meaning nothing. All the other lines promise a meaning and leave you with a headache.

This is obviously not German literature's fault and I could get a better translation just by paying money for it. But, I'm so impressed by the horrors wrought by this translation that I don't want to believe that it's a mistake. When looking at this, I'm reminded of those lines from Goethe: "Ye crowd on me! 'Tis well! Your might assever while ye from mist and murk around me rise...Awe binds me fast; tear upon tear falls burning."


Granta asks U.S. writers to discuss foreigners. Eric Schlosser notices this much about foreign countries: the U.S. likes to
occupy them. J. Robert Lennon struggles comically for a decent metaphor for the world. He settles for "The world is a planet." Paul Theroux recounts the time where he fell into a prison in Zambia, where the walls and bars were made of convention, manners, confusion and alcohol. He gets stuck paying for the drinks of a man and his sister, having sex with the sister, and slowly learning over 3 days that they won't let him leave: "Apart from my initial sexual desire, my curiosity, my recklessness, there was no common ground, other than mutual exploitation... It had shocked me and made me feel American." Murad Kalam is told in Cairo: "Do not confuse the happiness of Egyptians with what they want." A.M. Homes remembers being a child on the White House lawn and thinking, "Georges Pompidou sounded like a good person to be friends with, someone who would be friends with the other George—Curious George, someone who would have interesting people, like Babar, over for dinner."

Paul Fussel can't get into the spirit of it all. "The world is a lot more varied, irrational, and inexplicable then those easy phrases ['the rest of the world] imply." Yes, Paul. Thanks for that. But, please, one more time, what about the rest of the world?

Friday, February 06, 2004


Hell YES
Slate did a quick summary on the recent visions of heaven, and how embarrassing they are. So I read the extracts to a
Travel Guide to Heaven which has to be one of the most embarrassing things I've ever read. If this is heaven, heaven is in poor taste. (Note to author: Next time you write about heaven, don't take a picture of yourself next to your private jet.) If you love calendars which have babies dressed as flowers for every month: you will love paradise.


Beatle JUICE
The WaPo recounts how The Beatles changed America with three short songs on the Ed Sullivan show. An epoch had started. The Eisenhower era had ended. And then...
a guy in a tux named Fred Kaps performed a card trick.
A young Davy Jones -- later the lead singer of the Monkees, a TV imitation of the Beatles -- sang the role of the Artful Dodger with the cast of Oliver.

A comedian did impressions of Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster and Alec Guinness: 'I'd like to thank all the liquor dealers all over the world for helping me get as high as I am today,' Gorshin mumbled, doing a pretty good Dean Martin.

Terry McDermott, a speed skater and barber, who had just won the only U.S. gold medal at the Winter Olympics, took a bow.

Tessie O'Shea sang a medley of show tunes that included "I Got Rhythm," and plucked a banjo for her signature song, "Two Ton Tessie (From Tennessee)."

Paul Dooley inhaled just once on the cigarette with the Micronite filter-- another puff would have led to a coughing fit -- and then staring at it lovingly.
And then The Beatles did their second act. "Lennon rolled down the window and introduced us to the other guys," Brill recalls. "He said, 'What are you doing here?' We said, 'Escaping from you!' "

Thursday, February 05, 2004


The New York Times unwhimsically attempts a whimsical look at the latest additions to the U.S. National Film Registry, although its point is sound: the confusion over what movies are historically or aesthetically important. We all feel it. The list of 25 is fairly depressing if you think you have knowledge of films. What the NY Times misses about these additions are that, as far as i know, noone cares about, noone watches, them. But they all sound fantastic.

I've only seen two:
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Young Frankenstein

I've heard of, or know enough about to pretend I've seen:
Atlantic City
Young Mr. Lincoln
White Heat
The Son of the Sheik

And the rest of the list is fascinating. Fuck the NY Times. These selections are delightful:
Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman (1974) ("the life of extraordinary musician-conductor Antonia Brica and her struggles to become a symphony director despite her gender.")
The Chechahcos (1924) (includes "life-and-death struggles on the glaciers")
Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894-5) ("a very early attempt by W.K.L. Dickson of the Thomas Edison Company to combine film image and sound"and a good name for an Indie band.)
Film Portrait (1970)
Fox Movietone News: Jenkins Orphanage Band (1928)
Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
The Hunters [Kalahari Desert tribe anthropological film] (1957)
Matrimony's Speed Limit (1913)
Medium Cool (1969)
National Velvet (1944)
Naughty Marietta (1935) ("based on the operetta of the same name"!)
Nostalgia (1971)
One Froggy Evening (1956) ("a cartoon on every short list of the greatest animation, this classic Chuck Jones creation features crooning frog Michigan J. Frog, who drives his owner insane by singing only in private, but never in public.")
Princess Nicotine; or The Smoke Fairy (1909) ("a dazzling special effects landmark from 1909, where fairies bedevil one man's attempt to light his pipe for a relaxing smoke.")
Show People (1928)
Tarzan and His Mate (1934) ("a rather steamy pre-Production Code Tarzan film (generally considered the finest in the series) with Tarzan and Jane battling poachers and living a rather carefree, swinging life in the jungle.")
Tin Toy (1988) (Actually this is the small, five-minute clip Pixar eventually put in front of Toy Story. I can't believe it was made as long ago as 1988.)
The Wedding March (1928)

Wednesday, February 04, 2004


"I read reviews of a recent movie in which the complaint in most of the media seemed to be that the film makers had dumbed down a witty and intelligent comic. Now, this has happened scores of times over the years, and it is not unique. What was unique is that people had noticed - that the journalists writing the reviews knew. That's the kind of future I wanted, when I started out." -- Neil Gaiman on the State of the Comic:


MacLamity's astonished, epic, poetic account of his journey through the National Gallery's stereotype-busting photos of T.S. Eliot

Photo 1: Tommy Stearns

By gum, I'm feeling jolly jolly having written all them poems
Never mind the smell - that's me - can't write poems
Without good clean muck getting on yer, can yer? Poems
Are smashing aren't they? Sunday: back from church, pubs closed, poems
Are what I like. And football. And a nice sit down, with me poems
Some tea and the top button of me trousers open, poems
About Mr. Appolinax, the Jew, football and that kind of stuff. Great stuff, poems

Photo 2: This Is My Relative From Virgina

He can't be hearing you right. Did
You say the public has a right to know
Just now? O it has a right all right: The right
To get what's coming to it. You go and take

Those ideals to the county over, son
They're more respective there of that style
of yours: those glasses and that earnest forehead.
He's not going to rise in anger, like he should

Given what you said about the taxes
for the court house, where they gone, and
some brown baby somewhere out of town who
won't know his daddy ever. Understand that

Noone knows who his Daddy is, son, least of all
Here. He'll smile because that's manners
For you and he'll smile until you figure out
Just who you said those things to and

That you deserve what's coming.

(Also then
He'll take his hands from off his vest lapels
And with them grip a soundless thankyou.)

Photo 3: This Is Me With My Wife Val

Valerie still remains still
in my arms
very like porcelain I feel rested
i fear flesh
nothing else.

Photo 4: This is Me at Work

My Faber colleagues are a boring bunch
I find it helps to have some wine at lunch.

Photo 5: This Is Not Me, But Who Then Is It?

If we knew pain well enough to give it a name
We'd call it my eyes which burn like red coals,

My face, which was T.S. Eliot's but which now
I possess completely, like you, whom I can

Command with the evil power of my evil brain.
Repeat after me: Kill Jodie Foster, Kill Jodie Foster.