The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Monday, January 31, 2005

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"In a Statue of the Mew"

The appendage of these facets in the crucifixion;
Petitions on a wet, black boulevard.

By Ezra Poundfalde

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"As I waved good-bye, one of Mrs Eliot's stories came to mind. I saw Tom Eliot himself watching us from the chair he'd set up next to the red pillar post box at the top of the street. He had waited patiently for hours to retrieve a letter he'd changed his mind about. How, I wondered suddenly, would the man whose first criterion for a literary executor had been that no biography would ever be published, feel about the typescript of his and his first wife's letters going off to press?" Not very good about it, apparently. Valerie Eliot has apparently decided not to ever publish any more of T.S. Eliot's letters. What are we missing? Stuff like this, from one of the very few people to have seen them:
They catalogue the breakdown of Eliot's first marriage, the bewilderment and despair of two people who seemed unable to avoid destroying each other. We had not only Eliot's letters, but dozens of letters written by Vivien Haigh-Wood Eliot, Eliot's first wife - the hysterical Viv of Michael Hastings's play Tom and Viv. A second volume of letters would do much to reveal what really went on between them, and would, I feel sure, create sympathy for Eliot.
I think WH Auden said, in his introduction to Shakespeare's Sonnets, that to read someone's letters when they're out of the room is an unacceptable invasion of privacy (obviously ... and then he adds that) It doesn't make a difference if they're out of the room because they've been dead for centuries. Auden (if he said it) and Valerie Eliot are right to insist that it's an invasion of T.S. Eliot's privacy to publish these letters. But the privacy of the dead counts for nothing. They benefit nothing from it.

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Tom Wolfe really has to stop using the word bango! to liven up his sentences.

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"In Garrick's play, The Clandestine Marriage, Lord Ogle is expected to admire an 'octagon summer house mounted on a pole; Serpentine walks so tightly compacted one can hardly see beyond one's nose and garden compartments so small that they might have been in pots'. It reminds me of last summer's dinners in bankerland Fulham, but the date was 1766. " -- The relationship between gardening and writing actually doesn't seem, on the basis of the Robin Lane Fox's article, to be that closer than between writing and anything else, just that most English writers, like most of the English, dream of their gardens as much as they garden.

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Reading about the massive chasm between TV news reports is so immense that it seems pointless to bother complaining about bias anymore. It's not that there's no such thing as the truth. Nor is it that there's no way of reporting the basic truths. It's just that no one wants to report the basic truths anymore. We're all on such a higher level. We don't want TV to tell us how many people voted in Iraq, we can get that from Google. We just want to know if that number makes it a disaster/triumph for our enemies/friends. Why bother complaining about bias, when bias is actually what you want, except to note that the Guardian parenthetically says of Fox "which critics have accused of being slavish to the Bush administration" but does not say what critics say of Al Jazeera, or that there are any critics of it.

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Kate Moss and Pete Doherty - What a pair. The possibilities are already ended.

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Nelson Mandela still working his magic: A labor politician comes out as being HIV positive, a secret he'd kept from his parents, after Mandela's plea at his son's funeral: "Let us give publicity to HIV/Aids and not hide it, because [that is] the only way to make it appear like a normal illness." Why is there no dark side to Nelson Mandela? It's nice that there's an unmixedly inspiring politician. But it's also horrible. I am so used to feeling superior to (hypocritical, self-serving, affair-having, ambition driven, and son on) politicians that someone who is an actual LEADER shocks me, horrifies me. Where does he get off being so much better than me, and doing so much more good than me? He makes all my drunken bar debates about the uselessnes of politics look absurd. Damn him.

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Violence struck the Iraqi polling booths on Sunday. Well, obviously ... but in the U.K.? "The fighting broke out after a group of around 200 demonstrators began protesting against the election. They clashed with voters" and the car of the chairman of Oldham Athletic football club. Anti-iraq election protestors v. Oldham football club! Which side are you on? This war and occupation, and 9/11, radically re-drew the dividing line between the West's political sides. The left is not really the opposite of the right, and the right is not really the opposite of the left anymore. Something else is determining the break in the argument. I don't think it's clear what it is, yet.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

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Disturbing discovery made at a party last night... people born in 1983 and after don't really care about Star Wars that much. The new ones are O.K. The old ones are O.K. The kid I was talking to was much happier talking about the Green Mile than he was about the death star. To him teaching 15 robots to play the Star Wars theme is not only pointless, but is not redeemed by the kitsch reference to popular culture. It's not popular, as far as he's concerned.

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"The passage of time resonates in many novels; it often enhances a reader's emotional attachment to the characters. Movies, for the most part, struggle with the passage of time, which can have the negative effect of distancing an audience from the characters." -- John Irving:

Thursday, January 27, 2005

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With the euro weak, it's time for wealthy Europeans to buy their cultural wealth back.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

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I'll say this for Texas, GV Desani lived there for a long time. Even if it was in Austin, and not true Bush country, that has to count for something.

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It's Burns day today.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

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Kenneth Tynan's work for The New Yorker was his best work. It's great that the New Yorker has put his Johnny Carson profile up. Tynan's profile of Mel Brooks asks why a comedian wants to be funny, and as a result is one of the darkest profiles I've ever read that's based on jokes. When William Shawn phoned Tynan to say that he loved the piece Tynan was reduced to puzzled and wordless awe of such an achievement in his diary.

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The cartoon tributes to Johnny Carson are as unimaginative as the ones for Bob Hope, indeed the only good cartoon is the one that points out the predictibility of these tributes.

A syllogism: Celebrities dying: cartoonists:: snow days: six year olds.

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Christ dies in Mordor in St. Paul's cathedral.

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Here's the opening to a story that I wrote in a dream last night, before my cellphone's alarm woke me:
My mother saw out of the kitchen window the Ocke and Keyes van arrive and opened it to hear what the man stepping out of it was saying.

"Mrs. M! I'm here for the inspection of the alarm system. All routine. I'm Mr. Ocke. I brought along some others to help. All routine, as I say."

Some men appeared around the van's corner. They looked like rugby players. They clustered behind Mr. Ocke randomly and didn't seem to know where to look. Their hands were big and hairy.

"Mr. Keyes would normally do it of course," said Mr. Ocke. "I'm more the back-office type in the firm. The name of the company was his idea, in fact. The pun, I'm not sure it works myself. He should have gone into business with John Locke. Ha ha. So if you'll just let us in."

My mother, quite rightly I felt, wasn't going to do that. She muttered something that I can't remember now, but it was reassuring. I was afraid of the men and I was relieved to see that my fear was shared by an adult. She went to the back door, held the handle, wedged her foot into the bottom crack and leant hard against the door's opaque glass. I wondered how easy it would be to smash the glab and drag her through and whether there'd be pieces left in the frame which would plough through her back.

Outside, one of the men's cell phones rang.

Monday, January 24, 2005

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Knives v. Axes! It's the beginning of 2001, exactly, except without the black monolith, nor any actually peaceful apes and in Essex instead of Africa. What is the same is that one set of early humans became our progenitors by kicking ass!

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Meanwhile, it's entirely fitting that Safire should let slip in one of his valedictory The New York Times > columns a comment that leaps high over the bar he's already set for revelations of intesnse self-admiration: "Kurds say 'the Kurds have no friends,' but their legendary chieftain, Mustafa al-Barzani, was my friend."

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Finally, William Safire writes a decent, useful column. No.s 1, 5, and 11 are excellent. No. 3 and 5 are useless.

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This is the best dek to an article I have ever read: "The universe is out of control, in a runaway acceleration. Eventually all intelligent life will face the final doom—the big freeze. An advanced civilisation must embark on the ultimate journey: fleeing to a parallel universe." I am suddenly thinking of starting a magazine whose every article would have this at the top. No matter what the content of the article would be, the reader would have to read it, after all what else are you going to do when the universe is out of control?

P.S. Stop the Universe! I want to get off!

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Bertelsmann/Doubleday's violation of bin Laden's copyright in publishing an Al Qaeda reader strikes me as at least the first 6 hours of a '24' series:

12-2.00 Tony Almeida tries to prevent the copyright infringement

2-3.00 Bauer explains that it's all a ruse to get bin Laden and Tony has to let it go to court

3-4.00 In court Kim Bauer dresses up as a lawyer and represents bin Laden. Just as the judge finds for Osama, Jack Bauer snaps into action and ties to arrest bin Laden. Thanks to a CTU mole, bin Laden escapes.

4-5.00 Someone from division then tries to track bin Laden by following Doubleday's royalties as they flow to Al-Qaeda.

I'm not sure how the next 18 hours ago, but that's because I am not paid to know.

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A strange definition of liberal from Robert Kaplan: "As the Abu Ghraib scandal reveals, some guards and interrogators can be sadistic ghouls; but many other interrogators could qualify as the most liberal people in the armed services since, for one thing, they have spent years studying the language and the history of their captives. As one Special Forces officer told me in Afghanistan, ''In order to defeat the enemy you first have to love him, and his culture.''

Sunday, January 23, 2005

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A general unified theory of everything that sucks about foreign policy alternatives in 2005: "Either Iraqis turn out in large numbers to take control of their own future and write their own constitution - and I think they will - or the fascist insurgents there prevent them from doing so, in which case the Bush team will have to move to Plan B. What's sad is that right when we have reached crunch time in Iraq, the West is totally divided. All that the Europeans care about is being able to say to George Bush, 'We told you so.' What happens the morning after 'We told you so' ? Well, the Europeans don't have a Plan B either."

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Bush and Dostoevsky: the connection.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

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The ending that VH1's band bios rarely they have and then the lead singer became a commercial air line pilot.

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William Saleten rightly points out that, far cooler than the images of Saturn's moon, is the mental image of this robot standing on a hill so far away calmly taking pictures of an orange planet. For some reason, it calls up to mind, the robot standing silhouetted in the fires of the Black Hole, with a man's eyes shifting around inside (I haven't seen the movie since i was 6, and, until I do, despair of understanding the significance of the image).

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Most incisive comment on 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' ever: "An intolerable bitch called *****, some relation of the minister, says "it is true of life in Belgium". A bit hard on "Eire soul of Nationa" ? ? ? ? but interesting as praise of the book." -- Ezra Pound in a letter to James Joyce, June 1917

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

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American intelligence:
Agencies tasked with defending America from terrorism were among the top employers of workers with phony diplomas identified by the GAO. The Department of Defense employs 257 of them. Transportation has 17. Justice has 13; Homeland Security, 12; Treasury, eight.

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For me, nothing shows how the EU's statist solutions lack imagination better than the desire to ban Swastikas. The U.K., who managed to block such a ban two years ago, has, thanks to Prince Harry, lost most of the capital necessary to block it. But it's crucial that it go into place. The crudeness of the ban is entirely appropriate as a response to the crude and enormous problem of Germany in 1946, when Nazis made Swastikas and Swastikas made Nazis. Banning them was a symbolic attack on a symbol that had power. But, fifty years on, it results in pathetic bureacratic maneuvers -- like the impounding of Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America" at the Frankfurt Book Fair -- against a problem which is best dealt with by freedom of debate and intellectual engagement.

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The Perfect Lie is a pretty funny story by DBC Pierre.

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Sunday, January 16, 2005

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MacLamity has to get over his obsession with growing old. One year ago, having read this review he'd be bitterly brooded over the novel-writing success of people he half-knew in college. Instead, all he can wonder is how it is that someone who once looked 21 can 6 years later look 29. What has happened?

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For some reason, there may not be a photo above these words. If not, click on the emptiness to see it.

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Geoffrey Híll, who rívals John Ashbery ín hís obscuríty and for my affectíon, has a posítíon on the euro:
And where Hill assaults modernity and its technological vocabulary he can lose that perfect control which marks his use of older and more obscure words: "World-webbed collusions, clouded diplomacies, | are lightning when they strike and strike us down" is a bit of mildly paranoid techno-speak which doesn't really come off. These moments are often marked by exaggerated uses of Hill's idiosyncratic punctuation. He likes to mark accents in his verse in order to register a surprising position of stress within a line, and often these marked stresses seem anxious, as though Hill just can't trust his readers to follow his sense without them. When he writes "Things won't change though there ís the Euro", the "is" really doesn't need to have an ictus marked over it for the sarcasm to be self-evident. Every so often, as Hill himself says, he can make "the lines of age too evident".
But these moments are infrequent in a collection which is full of passages that are sure products of a master, not just good, but great, who is creating in his late years a music of twilight. There are lines that float ("slow airs fluted on the inlaid grass"), and others that convey a beauty which is glimpsed out of the corner of the eye ("There goes a fox | like a swift perfect image of itself"). Scenes from Comus offers, in Hill's own phrase, "a grand and crabby music".
What ís an íctus? That depends on what your defínítíon of ís is.

Monday, January 10, 2005

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No doubt, September 11 unhinged Christopher Hitchens. Politics aside, it's obvious that he no longer likes cracking jokes as much as he used to and his literary criticism isn't as confident or interesting as it used to be. (in his Proust review, why do I feel like Hitchens is just re-working Lydia Davis's introduction to her translation? "[Swann] demands to be told, of her possible lesbian encounters, "Il y a combien de temps?" Perhaps to an extent giving away his own proclivities, Scott Moncrieff made this into 'How many times?' instead of 'How long ago?' Even my French would be equal to that, as it would have been on the occasions when Scott Moncrieff, astonishingly, gave actuel as "actual." If only the present and the actual were indeed the same. But what's the occasional faux ami between real friends?") However, he's still up to it. This reply to the earnest interviewer from FrontPage magazine who always addresses the interviewee as Mr. ___ in the first question cheered me up immensely
FP: Words of wisdom Mr. Hitchens, thank you. [You see what I mean about this guy being earnest...]
You include in your essay collection what I thought was one of your best masterpieces: ‘Unfahrenheit 9/11: The Lies of Michael Moore.’ In it you note that to describe his film ‘as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability.’ To be sure, as you demonstrate, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a work of shameless lies and deceit. I think it serves as a perfect reflection of the psyche of the contemporary Left. Hating Bush and America has become an obsessive priority and everything else – including truth – has become expendable.
Tell us a few of your thoughts on Moore and his film and in what ways you think both reflect the psychology of the contemporary Left (if you think they do).
Hitchens: I have to say that I love it when you say "one of my best masterpieces".

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What happens next, or else wisdom.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

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How extreme could Gladwell's hair be, I wondered, when I read this part of his promotion for 'Blink:'
Believe it or not, it's because I decided, a few years ago, to grow my hair long. If you look at the author photo on my last book, "The Tipping Point," you'll see that it used to be cut very short and conservatively. But, on a whim, I let it grow wild, as it had been when I was teenager. Immediately, in very small but significant ways, my life changed. I started getting speeding tickets all the time--and I had never gotten any before. I started getting pulled out of airport security lines for special attention. And one day, while walking along 14th Street in downtown Manhattan, a police van pulled up on the sidewalk, and three officers jumped out. They were looking, it turned out, for a rapist, and the rapist, they said, looked a lot like me. They pulled out the sketch and the description. I looked at it, and pointed out to them as nicely as I could that in fact the rapist looked nothing at all like me. He was much taller, and much heavier, and about fifteen years younger (and, I added, in a largely futile attempt at humor, not nearly as good-looking.) All we had in common was a large head of curly hair. After twenty minutes or so, the officers finally agreed with me, and let me go. On a scale of things, I realize this was a trivial misunderstanding. African-Americans in the United State suffer indignities far worse than this all the time. But what struck me was how even more subtle and absurd the stereotyping was in my case: this wasn't about something really obvious like skin color, or age, or height, or weight. It was just about hair.
Given how short his hair was, I figured that it couldn't be that long. I was thrilled to discover that

Gladwell's has biggest and best mop-head in literature since Georges Perec. Maya Angelou's 60s 'fro was of a similar size, but looks neatly conservative in comparison to Gladwell's hairdo. In profile, thanks to that receding hairline, he now looks eerily like the kid from 'Boondocks'.

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Leigh Hunt was the point where all things to do with Romanticism -- old Wordsworth, young Keats, liberty, and poetry -- coincided. I'd only known him as the recipient of Keats's funniest letters as well as his and Shelley's publisher. But also, he wrote poems like this one, which people would (idiotically) be embarrassed to write these days:
The Fish, The Man, and the Spirit

To a fish
You strange, astonished-looking, angle-faced,
Dreary-mouthed, gaping wretches of the sea,
Gulping sea-water everlastingly,
Cold-blooded, though with red your blood be graced,
And mute, though dwellers: in the roaring waste;
And you, all shapes besides, that fishy be,
Some round some flat, some long, all devilrey,
Legless, unloving, infamously chaste:
O scaly, slippery, wet, swift, taring whights,
What is't ye do? What life lead? eh, dull gogles?
How do you vary your vile days and nights?
How pass your Sundays? Are ye still but joggles
In ceaseless wash? Still nought but gapes, and bites,
And drinks, and stares, diversified with boggles?

A fish answers
Amazing monster! that, for aught I know,
With the first sight of thee didst make our race
For ever stare! O flat and shocking face
Grimly divided from the breast below!
Thou that on dry land horribly dost go
With a split body and most ridiculous pace,
Prong after prong, disgracer of all grace,
Long-useless-finned, hairy, upright, unwet, slow!
O breather of unbreathable, sword-sharp air,
How canst exist? How bear thyself, thou dry
And dreary sloth? What particle canst share
Of the only blessed life, the watery?
I sometimes see of ye an actual pair
Go by! linked fin by fin! most odiously.

The spirit
Indulge thy smiling scorm, if smiling still,
O man! and loathe, but with a sort of love;
For difference must its use by difference prove,
And, in sweet clang, the spheres with music fill.
One of the spirits am I, that at his will
Live in whate'er has life - fish, eagle, dove -
No hate, no pride, beneath nought, nor above,
A visitor of the rounds of God's sweet skill.
Man's life is warm, glad, sad, 'twixt loves and graves,
Boundless in hope, honoured with pangs austere,
Heaven-grazing; and his angel-wings he craves :
The fish is swift, small-needing, vague yet clear,
A cold, sweet, silver life, wrapped in round waves,
Quickened with touches of transporting fear.
Such astonishing lines and phrases! Who has the cojones to use -oggles in a tripartate rhyme these days? I imagine Bob Dylan coud. I'm not sure that he would. Check out these verblessly evocative phrases again:
A cold, sweet, silver life, wrapped in round waves

Are ye still but joggles/In ceaseless wash?

disgracer of all grace

Legless, unloving, infamously chaste
Here's a poem that dares to be bad, but isn't. "In sweet clang" sounds like Vogon poetry, but in this poem, is part of the flow of bizarrely rhyming and bubbling adjectives and nouns, which, to me, echos the words and voices that you can swear you just heard in the ripples of streams and oceans waves, but which disappear when you stop to listen for them. It reminds me of Joyce walking over to the Seine and contentedly affirming that his just-completed chapter of Finnegans Wake did, as intended, sound like water.

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As with any anti-war art, testimony to Guernica's abiding power is always also testimony to its abiding impotence. ("I mean, that bellowing figure on the left, it's clearly Lisa Simpson in a tantrum.")

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"People do not give it credence that a 14-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just 14 years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band." With openings like that it's no wonder why Donna Tartt is joining Ron Rosenbaum in the Charles Portis (Has Struggled Unfairly With Un)Appreciation society. I'd have linked to Rosenabaum's best article on Portis, but apparently the New York Observer expects me to pay for their articles, as if I'm going to value or set any store by anything I pay for.

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Vatican City of sin.

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Talking of the Future: Margaret Atwood takes her science fiction seriously enough to sign her books by Teleporting her autograph to book signings. She's in LA. Her signature's in Croydon. The future is here.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

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Obviously if God decides to wipe out one of the more insane shariah-loving, terror-fundraising parts of Indonesia, that must mean God doesn't approve of fundamentalists. O no no no no no no no. It's a "warning to the faithful that they must more strictly observe their religion" and "God is angry with Aceh people, because most of them do not do what is written in the Koran and the Hadith."

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Can we possibly living in 2005 when there are no flying cars or Moon Base Alphas? When the most advanced robot we have is embarrassingly pathetic when you consider that the robot should be indistinguishable from Daryl Hannah right now? And yet, there are many ways in which we're living in the future. Watch Vanity Fair go insane with anticipation in 1976 over a now-antiquated version of the machine I'm typing on, in what feels like a non-future way, right now.
BUBBLING UNDER: YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS TO WATCH. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, Apple Computer Company. Their chicken-in-every-pot belief in the 'personal computer,' a high-tech gizmo for use in the home rather than the lab, may sound like something straight out of Arthur C. Clarke, but these two young Californians aren't to be dismissed—especially the excitable Jobs. 'I mean, look at this thing, it's insanely great!' he says, running his fingers over the keyboard of what he and Wozniak call the Apple I. The more taciturn Wozniak, his beard flecked with Frito crumbles, beavers away on their latest creation, the Apple II, which, he promises, will have color graphics and the ability to store data on tape cassettes. With a planned $1,300 retail price, the Apple II isn't likely to catch on like the CB radio, but, buttressed by Jobs's chutzpah alone, Apple just might make a name for itself down the line.

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A criticism of a celebration of a celebration of Fascist aerial bombing. As with Leni Riefenstahl, the Italian Futurists come close to making fascism aesthetically sound, in contrast to Ezra Pound, whose work fails the more fascist it is. Will and should fascist art ever be permitted redeeming qualities? It's not as if Napoleon was nice. But, 200 years on, we admire his outrageous propaganda without giving any thought to the system, and implicit suffering, that it praised.

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The best reason to watch The Godfather Part II I've ever heard.

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So it's that simple after all :
So what is the secret to happiness? The first step, says Veenhoven, is to live in the right place. Step forward Denmark, Switzerland and Malta, currently the happiest countries in the world, with scores of eight out of 10. Iceland and Ireland would also be very good choices, coming in at joint second with 7.8. You may also want to consider upping sticks to Ghana, a surprise entry at number three with 7.7. Canada, Guatemala, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden are having a gay old time at joint fourth with 7.6. Finland and Mexico follow gleefully at joint fifth, with 7.5.
'Happy countries are, typically, rich countries,' explains Veenhoven. 'They are, typically, countries with a lot of freedom, often well-governed and democratic, and they tend to be tolerant. Switzerland, for example, is one of the most democratic countries in the world, with a referendum system that varies from canton to canton.'
How does he explain the presence of Ghana, Guatemala and Mexico in the top five, none of which is exactly known for its perfect democracy or high GDP? 'Maybe the data for Ghana is somewhat inflated because sampling is not perfect there. But Latin American countries tend to be happier than you would expect them to be. We don't know why that is.'
(From The Independent)

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There's a certain kind of secret that doesn't seem worth knowing the moment you know it. I'm genuinely surprised to learn that Sontag had a long-standing relationship with Annie Leibovitz. But now that I have, it seems like everyone knows it, and by everyone, I just don't mean all the people who read Andrew Sullivan's blog [[formerly "bog"]]. I mean everyone.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

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Aaaaarrrrgggh

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If there's one thing I love about the British press it's the only place where you can find the completely unfair, and utterly entertaining personal attack. Lot's of websites attacked Sontag after her death. The New Criterion's blog, for example, managed to unspool ten paragraphs of elegant intelligent snobbery as easily as if they were tugging them from a roll of toilet paper:
There can be no doubt that Susan Sontag, the doyenne of (to use Tom Wolfe's apposite coinage) radical chic, commanded rare celebrity throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Accordingly, her influence in those decades and beyond was great. The question is, was it a beneficent or a baneful influence? Sontag has been celebrated as a towering intellectual. In fact, though, what she offered were not so much arguments or insights as the simulacra of arguments and the mood or emotion of insights. [...]
Not that Sontag's efforts were unanimously praised. The critic John Simon, to take just one example, wondered in a sharp letter to Partisan Review whether Sontag's "Notes on `Camp'" was itself "only a piece of `camp.'" No, the important things were the attentiveness, speed, and intensity of the response. Pro or con, Sontag's essays galvanized debate: indeed, they contributed mightily to changing the very climate of intellectual debate. Her demand, at the end of "Against Interpretation," that "in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art"; her praise of camp, the "whole point" of which "is to dethrone the serious"; her encomium to the "new sensibility" of the Sixties, whose acolytes, she observed, "have broken, whether they know it or not, with the Matthew Arnold notion of culture, finding it historically and humanly obsolescent": in these and other such pronouncements Sontag offered not arguments but a mood, a tone, an atmosphere.
Never mind that a lot of it was literally nonsense: it was nevertheless irresistible nonsense. It somehow didn't matter, for example, that the whole notion of "an erotics of art" was ridiculous. Everyone likes sex, and talking about "erotics" seems so much sexier than talking about "sex"; and of course everyone likes art: How was it that no one had thought of putting them together in this clever way before? Who would bother with something so boring as mere "interpretation"--which, Sontag had suggested, was these days "reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling," "the revenge of the intellect upon art"--when we could have (or pretend to have) an erotics instead? [...]
One of Sontag's great gifts has been her ability to enlist her politics in the service of her aestheticism. For her, it is the work of a moment to move from admiring pornography--or at least "the pornographic imagination"--to castigating American capitalism. Accordingly, toward the end of her essay she speaks of
the traumatic failure of capitalist society to provide authentic outlets for the perennial human flair for high-temperature visionary obsession, to satisfy the appetite for exalted self-transcending modes of concentration and seriousness. The need of human beings to transcend "the person" is no less profound than the need to be a person, an individual.

"The Pornographic Imagination," like most of Sontag's essays, is full of powerful phrases, seductive insights, and extraordinary balderdash. Sontag dilates on pornography's "peculiar access to some truth." What she doesn't say is that The Story of O (for example) presents not an instance of mystical fulfillment but a graphic depiction of human degradation. Only someone who had allowed "form" to triumph over "content" could have ignored this.
When I first read this, i thought it was a fantastic hatchet job. But, really, this prose is nothing like a hatchet. It's a gamma knife job, cold and precise. Hachets, on the other hand, require maximum effective if they're used. Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. Hatchets are almost lowest form of weapon. Watch this British hack in action:
Beware the epigramista. Beneath the veneer of apparent profundity of the epigram's internal contradiction, there is usually a deep well of meaninglessness, from which other intellectuals can extract similarly worthless academic baubles. The foremost proponent of the apparently profound but actually worthless epigram was Oscar Wilde – as in "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."
Haw haw haw. Dashed good, that, what? Only it isn't. It's flummery coated with a cheap and not very clever glitter. And such epigrams were what Sontag specialised in. Interpretation, she said, was "the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world".
[...]would that someone had treated Sontag in life as Dr Johnson had disposed of Bishop Berkeley's contention that objects only exist because we see them: kicking a stone till he bounced off it, he snarled, "I refute it thus."
I ran into her once, and my abject failure to give her the Johnson refutation haunts me still. Indeed, it might well be my greatest single delinquency, in a far from blameless life. It was in Sarajevo, during the siege in 1993, and she had arrived to stage a Bosnian version of Waiting for Godot. [...]
By my personal reckoning, the performance lasted as long as the siege itself. It was mesmerisingly precious and hideously self-indulgent. [...]
Meanwhile she ostentatiously disdained us hacks even as she sedulously courted us. It was a grotesque performance. My real mistake was not radioing her co-ordinates to the Serb artillery, reporting that they marked the location of Bosnian heavy armour. My own life would have been a cheap price to pay.[...]
But wretched, credulous, self-hating American academia wanted to fawn on an intellectual whom popular culture could celebrate, and it chose Sontag and her vapid aphorisms. "The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own;" or: "What pornography is really about, ultimately, isn't sex but death;" or: "Sanity is a cosy lie;" or: "Good health is the passing delusion of the doomed."
Well, actually, the last one is mine.[...]
Yet Susan Sontag, the ridiculous heroine of US campus culture, couldn't even count to three: "The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony."
What's it to be, Susie babe? Jewish seriousness? Homosexual aestheticism? Or homosexual irony? But hey, what about Jewish irony? Or Jewish aestheticism? Or homosexual seriousness?[...] I am left with the melancholy reflection, that yes, once I had my chance – and I bloody well blew it.
Stuff like this is simultaneously untoppable and unbottomable.

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The new conventional wisdom about Russia is not just that things are getting worse it's that things can go all the way to the bottom. The only debate seems to be, is it currently like Weimar Germany or Brezhnev-era Russia?

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A member of "the last Dickensian generation" explains what Dickens meant to her in her childhood and what Dickens means to her now. It's amazing to me to think that Dickens once delighted children. The arrival of a Dickens book on our desks in High School English class was like an invitation from the Spanish Inquisition to put your tongue in a vice next Tuesday. A friend once got me into his room in desperation asking him for help in figuring out what a passage from 'Oliver Twist' meant. He was meant to paraphrase three pages from the book. We couldn't understand the passage. It was impossible. It was like babelfish had translated the novel from a French original.

I imagine that kids of the future will feel the same way as Tolkein, whose twisted vocabulary and grammar might seem as unnessecary to a teenager as Dickens's did to us.

BTW, here's the passage. It is hard to understand whtat I didn't understand:
At length, one morning, Oliver obtained the permission he had so eagerly sought. There had been no handkerchiefs to work upon, for two or three days, and the dinners had been rather meagre. Perhaps these were reasons for the old gentleman's giving his assent; but, whether they were or no, he told Oliver he might go, and placed him under the joint guardianship of Charley Bates, and his friend the Dodger.

The three boys sallied out; the Dodger with his coat-sleeves tucked up, and his hat cocked, as usual; Master Bates sauntering along with his hands in his pockets; and Oliver between them, wondering where they were going, and what branch of manufacture he would be instructed in, first.

The pace at which they went, was such a very lazy, ill-looking saunter, that Oliver soon began to think his companions were going to deceive the old gentleman, by not going to work at all. The Dodger had a vicious propensity, too, of pulling the caps from the heads of small boys and tossing them down areas; while Charley Bates exhibited some very loose notions concerning the rights of property, by pilfering divers apples and onions from the stalls at the kennel sides, and thrusting them into pockets which were so surprisingly capacious, that they seemed to undermine his whole suit of clothes in every direction. These things looked so bad, that Oliver was on the point of declaring his intention of seeking his way back, in the best way he could; when his thoughts were suddenly directed into another channel, by a very mysterious change of behaviour on the part of the Dodger.

They were just emerging from a narrow court not far from the open square in Clerkenwell, which is yet called, by some strange perversion of terms, "The Green:" when the Dodger made a sudden stop; and, laying his finger on his lip, drew his companions back again, with the greatest caution and circumspection.

"What's the matter?" demanded Oliver.

"Hush!" replied the Dodger. "Do you see that old cove at the book-stall?"

"The old gentleman over the way?" said Oliver. "Yes, I see him."
"He'll do," said the Dodger.

"A prime plant," observed Master Charley Bates.

Oliver looked from one to the other, with the greatest surprise; but he was not permitted to make any inquiries; for the two boys walked stealthily across the road, and slunk close behind the old gentleman towards whom his attention had been directed. Oliver walked a few paces after them; and, not knowing whether to advance or retire, stood looking on in silent amazement.

The old gentleman was a very respectable-looking personage, with a powdered head and gold spectacles. He was dressed in a bottle-green coat with a black velvet collar; wore white trousers; and carried a smart bamboo cane under his arm. He had taken up a book from the stall, and there he stood, reading away, as hard as if he were in his elbow-chair, in his own study. It is very possible that he fancied himself there, indeed; for it was plain, from is abstraction, that he saw not the book-stall, nor the street, nor the boys, nor, in short, anything but the book itself: which he was reading straight through: turning over the leaf when he got to the bottom of a page, beginning at the top line of the next one, and going regularly on, with the greatest interest and eagerness.

What was Oliver's horror and alarm as he stood a few paces off, looking on with his eyelids as wide open as they would possibly go, to see the Dodger plunge his hand into the old gentleman's pocket, and draw from thence a handkerchief! To see him hand the same to Charley Bates; and finally to behold them, both, running away round the corner at full speed.

In an instant the whole mystery of the handkerchiefs, and the watches, and the jewels, and the Jew, rushed upon the boy's mind. He stood, for a moment, with the blood so tingling through all his veins from terror, that he felt as if he were in a burning fire; then, confused and frightened, he took to his heels; and, not knowing what he did, made off as fast as he could lay his feet to the ground.

This was all done in a minute's space. In the very instant when Oliver began to run, the old gentleman, putting his hand to his pocket, and missing his handkerchief, turned sharp round. Seeing the boy scudding away at such a rapid pace, he very naturally concluded him to be the depredator; and, shouting "Stop thief!" with all his might, made off after him, book in hand.

But the old gentleman was not the only person who raised the hue-and-cry. The Dodger and Master Bates, unwilling to attract public attention by running down the open street, had merely retired into the very first doorway round the corner. They no sooner heard the cry, and saw Oliver running, than, guessing exactly how the matter stood, they issued forth with great promptitude; and, shouting "Stop thief!" too, joined in the pursuit like good citizens.

Although Oliver had been brought up by philosophers, he was not theoretically acquainted with the beautiful axiom that self-preservation is the first law of nature. If he had been, perhaps he would have been prepared for this. Not being prepared, however, it alarmed him the more; so away he went like the wind, with the old gentleman and the two boys roaring and shouting behind him.

"Stop thief! Stop thief!" There is a magic in the sound. The tradesman leaves his counter, and the carman his waggon; the butcher throws down his tray; the baker his basket; the milkman his pail; the errand-boy his parcels; the schoolboy his marbles; the paviour his pickaxe; the child his battledore. Away they run, pell-mell, helter-skelter, slap-dash: tearing, yelling, screaming, knocking down the passengers as they turn the corners, rousing up the dogs, and astonishing the fowls: and streets, squares, and courts, re-echo with the sound.

"Stop thief! Stop thief!" The cry is taken up by a hundred voices, and the crowd accumulate at every turning. Away they fly, splashing through the mud, and rattling along the pavements: up go the windows, out run the people,

"Stop thief! Stop thief!" There is a passion for hunting something deeply implanted in the human breast. One wretched breathless child, panting with exhaustion; terror in his looks; agony in his eyes; large drops of perspiration streaming down his face; strains every nerve to make head upon his pursuers; and as they follow on his track, and gain upon him every instant, they hail his decreasing strength with still louder shouts, and whoop and scream with joy. "Stop thief!" Ay, stop him for God's sake, were it only in mercy!

Stopped at last! A clever blow. He is down upon the pavement; and the crowd eagerly gather round him: each new comer, jostling and struggling with the others to catch a glimpse. "Stand aside!" "Give him a little air!" "Nonsense! he don't deserve it!" "Where's the gentleman?" "Here he is, coming down the street." "Make room there for the gentleman!" "Is this the boy, sir!" "Yes."

Oliver lay, covered with mud and dust, and bleeding from the mouth, looking wildly round upon the heap of faces that surrounded him, when the old gentleman was officiously dragged and pushed into the circle by the foremost of the pursuers.

"Yes," said the gentleman, "I am afraid it is the boy."

"Afraid!" murmured the crowd. "That's a good un!"

"Poor fellow!" said the gentleman, "he has hurt himself."

"I did that, sir," said a great lubberly fellow, stepping forward; "and preciously I cut my knuckle agin' his mouth. I stopped him, sir."

The fellow touched his hat with a grin, expecting something for his pains; but, the old gentleman, eyeing him with an expression of dislike, looked anxiously round, as if he contemplated running away himself: which it is very possible

he might have attempted to do, and thus have afforded another chase, had not a police officer (who is generally the last person to arrive in such cases) at that moment made his way through the crowd, and seized Oliver by the collar.

"Come, get up," said the man, roughly.

"It wasn't me indeed, sir. Indeed, indeed, it was two other boys," said Oliver, clasping his hands passionately, and looking round. "They are here somewhere."

"Oh no, they ain't," said the officer. He meant this to be ironical, but it was true besides; for the Dodger and Charley Bates had filed off down the first convenient court they came to. "Come, get up!"

"Don't hurt him," said the old gentleman, compassionately.

"Oh no, I won't hurt him," replied the officer, tearing his jacket half off his back, in proof thereof. "Come, I know you; it won't do. Will you stand upon your legs, you young devil?"

Oliver, who could hardly stand, made a shift to raise himself on his feet, and was at once lugged along the streets by the jacket-collar, at a rapid pace. The gentleman walked on with them by the officer's side; and as many of the crowd as could achieve the feat, got a little a-head, and stared back at Oliver from time to time. The boys shouted in triumph; and on they went.

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My TRIP TO BARCELONA WASN'T WASTED Two good new album titles: "It's always night time on the moon" and another one I can't remember... but one is remembered. And a good name for the next Pope: Pope Flirty Pinkpants XII: to make a change from Pius. Am I the only person who finds things like this funny? Sometimes, no!

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Andrew Sullivan thanks BlogAds for making it possible to praise someone for "blogging like a professional" and make sense. And yet, BlogAds seems, as far as I can tell, to have left him. I noted the ads thinning a few weeks after the election. Now it's getting embarrassing. Like when the bad reviews arrive at a play's First Night Party. The only ad on AndrewSullivan right now features a buff 40-year-old wearing pectoral muscles and trousers, with a testerone-charged pattern of male baldness, a goatie and his hands on his hips. This is an ad for a course in weight lifting. It teaches you how to avoid dangers when lifting weights. The ad later switches over to show the 40 year old stretching out his back by assuming the pose that early-teenage boys assume when they're cracking their friends up by pretending to be having orgasmic sex. Meanwhile, the ads for senate campaigns, feminist causes, political T-shirts, and so on, flow down the sides of Wonkette, Josh Marshall and Insta Pundit as abundantly as the waters of the mighty Mississip' run through the south. When did Andrew Sullivan get dumped by everyone, except for the BlogAd equivalent of an infomercial for College Girls Go Wild? Would it be better if he just dumped the weight lifting ad and had some dignity? I could run it for him.