The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Thursday, June 30, 2005


This episode of In Our Time was very hard to leave.


L. Ron Hubbard v. H.G. Wells v. Freud v. Tom Cruise. This is the best article the Voice has done on how an actor's passions can subtly link his or her movies together since Mel Gibson's Jesus Christ Pose, also by Jessica Winter.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Paris v. London: who wins?

Monday, June 27, 2005


When cute Anime goes bad: "I started to project 15 years ahead and see Elena and Marie in their twenties, hanging around Shibuya (a youth fashion conclave in central Tokyo) in school uniforms, with Hello, Kitty pendants dangling from their mobile phones, sending out cute vibes to get the attention of creepy guys. I didn't exactly wake up in the middle of the night screaming, but at one point I did feel an urgency to get the girls out of Japan as soon as possible."


Good Lord! The Observer points out how "embarrassing" it is that Angela Merkel, who lived in East Germany, had ties to communism! I wonder if they feel the same way about Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


Maybe, the first 60 minutes of "The Girl in the Cafe" compensates, but the 30 minutes of the movie that I saw were so lazy, so dull, so ponderous, so obvious that, while the horror of its self satisfcation can't be compared responsibly to the horror of extreme poverty, I WISH IT COULD BE. Richard Curtis that a film maker who wants to be serious about poverty has to first be responsible about film making. Maria noticed that everyone in the movie acted as if they were acting. The temptation to fancy up lines as flat as "While people live on a dollar a day, that cow could fly around the world first class" must have proved irresistible. The actors looted whatever store-houses of character ticks and weird sentence rhythms they had been able to accumulate over their careers to humanise the dialogue, which wasn't actually dialogue. It was a list, with two parts: (admittedly vivid) statistics and slogans. The actors took turns reading from this list, and acted as if they were having a conversation. The slogans had a teeth-grinding contempt for the intellect. "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing," says the well-intentioned, but smug negotiator for Britain. "My father, who may not have been as well educated as you are, said that too much of it is dangerous too. Stops you from seeing the heart of the matter," replies the saintly girl.

You could make this film yourself, if you put on Love Actually, turned the sound off, and then programmed your computer to randomly select at 3-minute intervals from the weather report, Bob Geldof speeches, NPR, and a World Bank report.

This formal invention might have seemed avant-garde, were it not for sudden flashes of competence that reminded the viewer of what it's like when people making films actually care about what they're doing. Peter Cipaldi's outburst of fury and anger at Bill Nighy for bringing the embarassing girl in was appropriately frightening. Bill Nighy watching the Scottish girl undress through the blurry filter of a boutique hotel partition blended the girl's corporeal sexiness and her dream-like untouchability for the 60-year-old bureacrat.

But, as far as Richard Curtis's script, and David Yates's direction is concerned, making a competent movie was not the point of making the movie! They made this movie to save the poor. As a result, the movie's quality suffers. The audience suffers. And the poor go on suffering. The idea that you help the uneducated swine into learning about poverty by telling them that what they're watching is a romantic comedy shows a contempt for the audience that no work of art could ever recover from.

"Life is Beautiful" is no longer the worst movie ever about a horror. Apart from Roberto Benigni, none of us should be happy about this.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


holy shit

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


"The Smiths" musical: I repeat, there is a The Smiths musical.


It's hard to tell here who's being irritatingly French and who's being irritatingly American.


Another way Islam and the West are opposed. Some of our best male writers - George Eliot, Isak Dinesen - are women. Some of their best female writers --
Yasmina Khadra, Rahila Khan -- are men. (Could Belle du Jour be the exception, or the bridge that binds? And where does this leave Nedjma?)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Does it make a difference if T.S. Eliot wrote the thematically related fragments of "The Waste Land" as fragments or as part of a pre-planned whole? Apparently, scholars had always assumed the latter, while FBI technology proves the latter. Is Eliot any help? I realize, to my horror, that one of my favorite lines of the Waste Land -- "These fragments I have shored against my ruins" -- is of less help than I thought it would be in answering this question.

It depends on what "shored against" means. I had imagined the floating debris of modern life swirling around the ruins of Eliot's consciousness, which, like the Tower of Refuge, was a collection of decaying masonry on a rock in a rough sea. Through the poem, Eliot had gathered the debris to shore, rescuing them, making sense of them, supporting Rainey's discovery that Eliot just wrote over two years some mad fragments and then tried to make sense of them as a whole. In the last nine-line outburst of quotes from everywhere, it's the only line of Eliot's, the only thing he's saying.

The hypertext version of The Waste Land that Google prefers points to a now-defunct essay on Marshall McLuhan and T.S. Eliot seems to support my gut instinct with the following passage:
Eliot, Pound, Yeats, Joyce, and Percy Wyndham Lewis were Marshall McLuhan's beacons in the dark confusion of the modern technological explosion. Focusing on their aesthetics provides clues to interpret the miasma of modern experience. The guiding principle behind the use of these clues is enunciated in Marshall's favorite story by Poe, "The Maelstrom". A victim caught in a whirlpool notices that certain hollow objects are ejected by the vortex. He grabs on to one such object and is saved ("McLuhan: What If He Was Right?"). These objects are the fragments of cultural vitality that manifest themselves at random, like the fragments of "The Waste Land." They are part of a process of transformation which takes the cliche, the empty and used up garbage of communication, and renders it an elemental constituent of cou- sciousuess.
And yet, does "shore against" actually mean anything like grabbing at things as they fly by in a maelstrom?

The OED has "to shore up" as "to prop up, support with a prop" as when a boat's being worked on on land. But shore up isn't the same as shore against, surely. It also has "to lean" (intransitively and obsoletely, eg. "That side of the Country vpward, that lieth shoaring vnto the top." from 1610). But that "against" argues against that interpretation. To make matters worse, I can't find any reference to the phrasal verb "shored against" in the OED or Webster's.

The best option from the OED I can find is that "shored" is a "ppl a." Eliot hasn't shored these fragments. He has fragments that are shored against him, as in they're propped up against him. The two and only sixteenth-century citations the OED has for this are pleasingly Eliot-esque:
1563 Mirr. Mag., Dk. Somerset xv, Shored houses can not long continue.
a1600 Battle of Flodden 510 Saint Andrew with his shored cross.
Of course, anality like this doesn't work very well with a poet who had an uncanny knack of writing what could be easily understood, but barely defined.

My favorite example of this knack are the lines from East Coker:
In a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold.
No problem there, is there? Except that no one knows what a grimpen is. The OED can only find this
Life has become like that great Grimpen Mire, with little green patches everywhere into which one may sink and with no guide to point the track.
And that's from The hound of the Baskervilles.

Another example is how "I should have been a pair of ragged claws/Scuttling across the floor of silent seas" divides its readers of it into those who are convinced that it's lobster claws scuttling, and those who are convinced that it's crab claws scuttling:Louis Menand "definitely lobster;" Marjorie Perloff: "lobsters don't scuttle across the floors of silent seas do they? I'm very bad on crustaceans;" Nicholas Jenkins: "I'd call that a red herring." In fact let's quote Jenkins in full, as a final concluding argument against panicking over the meaning of "against":
It's always good to see poetry inspiring passion, even if the passion here seems as much for the academic equivalent of arm wrestling or distance spitting as literary hermeneutics. In other circumstances, I feel sure that these two wonderful and athletic readers would clasp hands and agree that poetic language doesn't really operate at this literalistic level and that the fascination of these lines by Eliot has to do with the linguistic energies contained in words like 'ragged' and 'scuttling,' with the question of why 'across' here is infinitely richer than 'on' or 'over' would have been, with the relation of 'claws' to Prufrock's evident sexual obsession with fingers, sleeves, and arms and to Eliot's own lifelong obsession with drowning and the unknowable nature of the undersea world. In some ways, it's extremely important for the reader to be capable, in Keats's phrase, of 'being in uncertainties...without reaching after fact,' of not getting distracted, of not bothering with what mysterious submarine creature it is exactly or even to think that one can, or ought, to say, Is it a crab? Or a lobster? I'd call that a red herring


(Does Roger Kimball think that Jean-Claude Juncker is a Brussels bureaucrat? It infer so from this. O dear. It's good to see Kimball, whose poise and elegant quotations are infuriating, get so infuriated so as to fall on his face.)

Monday, June 20, 2005


Now that the French have successfully managed to make it seem like it's Blair who's destroyed Europe (rather than voters in France). It's fairly interesting to read the thread on Anglophilia at Passouline's blog.
Most remarkable comment in England's favor: I'd pay dearly to have been raised by a Scottish nurse in a Gloucestershire manor.

Least Descartian objection to England: These Mini-Brittons, the only ones who were engulfed by their colonies, and who'd want Europe to succumb treacherously as they did. Filthy English...

Joyous use of Franglais: "Peace and love. Signé: One cheveu in the soap;"


The latest article to make James Atlas look like an idiot. I hope none of my editing suggestions ever get released to the public. See also, his article about how he got fired from The New Yorker at the age of 50. See also, his biography of Saul Bellow. Also, some general mockery of his penchant for bow ties that was already in every article about him. For a sense of how far he has fallen, here he is, somewhere near his peak, posing as a literary fat cat.


Do the best writers tend be left wing? If so, how did Kingsley Amis and Saul Bellow manage?

Friday, June 10, 2005


Along with Heidegger's Nazism, Sartre and de Beauvoir's disastrous relationship, is one of the easiest facts that a non-philiosopher can use on their philosophy. But was it that much of a disaster? The archetypal image of it for me, given to me in 2000, was of de Beauvoir asking whatever teenage girl Sartre had bedded the night before whaty her home number was and calling up the parents and smoothing things over with them to avoid a fuss. I always imagineit as "The bad news is your 17-year-old daughter just got taken advantage of by an ugly 60-year-old man. The good news is: he's Jean Paul Sartre. How do I know? I'm his wife!"


Quote of the Day: "'You are a general and you have a single soldier in your army. You must give him instructions and he must carry them out. It may annoy him but he has no choice.' "Karl Lagerfeld on dieting:


If you've been out of college for a while, it's worth adjusting your GPA for grade inflation. In today's grades, I got straight As! However, in the 1960s, I was stumbling down there in the pits of stupidity with Kerry and Bush.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


It would take the mind of a David Sanchez to solve the Mystery of the Moscow Mummies.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


One of the latest things that irritates me about Bush is his increasing use of a gathering of slow flies from the air gesture for emphasis.


My vote for the winner of this year's Samuel Johnson Prize. I haven't read any of the other books. But 'Like a Fiery Elephant' is seriously good. Its subject and techniques are obscure. But it's also a fantastic read. Normally, writers suffer in their biographies because the most interesting thing they did -- ie. write -- is hard to convey in writing. So, you get lots of anecdotes about what idiots they were when they weren't writing. 'Like a Fiery Elephant,' on the other hand, dedicates a short chapter to this problem, and is as good as any solution, and to the charts on schoolbook graph paper that B.S. Johnson made, showing how many words he'd written each day.


A very good shot at explaining not only why political plays are generally bad plays, but also who some political plays aren't bad at all. "The biggest problem with such political artists as Tony Kushner, Sam Shepard, and Tim Robbins is not that they are leftists, but that they coast on their leftism. Their plays are as self-satisfied as they are simpleminded--and self-satisfaction is the death of serious art and creativity more generally."


This is an astonishingly fair minded comparison of the NHS and U.S. medical system. Astonishing, because the writer's a Fox News employee, which would normally mean he's pre-disposed to portraying the NHS as some kind of country sized concentration camp. Instead, he works hard to weigh the pros and the cons of each, and pretty much gives up.


O.K. so maybe lad culture really does hurt women: "A staggering 63% of girls [in the U.K.] would rather be glamour models than nurses, doctors or teachers, according to the survey by mobile entertainment providers The findings have been blamed on the 'endless media coverage' of women who become famous more for their physical attributes than talent or achievements. Jordan and Titmuss were seen as role models by more 15 to 19-year-old girls than Harry Potter author JK Rowling and Germaine Greer.... Of the nearly 1,000 girls surveyed, 63% found being a glamour model most appealing. A quarter thought being a lap dancer would be a good profession but just 3% picked the teaching profession.


Nicholas Blincoe gives a good account of the risk you take explaining the English to the French:
"[A]t a festival in Brittany last week, I claimed that all Englishmen secretly think England is hell. My reasons were slight enough: I had seen a trailer for the new League of Gentlemen film and had been listening to a song by the Fall called Lucifer Over Lancashire. But, once I made the claim, I had to back it up. I went on to argue that the English national poem is Paradise Lost and our national song is Jerusalem.
The idea of a Satanic England was taken up with surprising enthusiasm by the French audience, who seemed to think it explained a lot. Well, at least it may discourage them from visiting."

Sunday, June 05, 2005


This is fairly uncanny.


Assessment of Howard Dean's first 100 days as head of the DNC. It's a disasteer, but for admirable reasons. He doesn't like rich people enough to flatter their money out of them:
"McAuliffe was like a vacuum cleaner," says Rutgers University political scientist Ross K. Baker. "Dean is kind of a dustpan."
It's a sad state of affairs when McAuliffe stands for what is good in politics.

Thursday, June 02, 2005


Terry Eagleton's remarks about how dull and unpalatable Utopias are were expressed most nastily and precisely by Mark Twain
For there is nothing about man that is not strange to an immortal. He looks at nothing as we ["WE" BECAUSE SATAN IS SPEAKING] look at it, his sense of proportion is quite different from ours, and his sense of values is so widely divergent from ours, that with all our large intellectual powers it is not likely that even the most gifted among us would ever be quite able to understand it.

For instance, take this sample: he has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights, the one ecstasy that stands first and foremost in the heart of every individual of his race -- and of ours -- sexual intercourse!

It is as if a lost and perishing person in a roasting desert should be told by a rescuer he might choose and have all longed-for things but one, and he should elect to leave out water!

His heaven is like himself: strange, interesting, astonishing, grotesque. I give you my word, it has not a single feature in it that he actually values. It consists -- utterly and entirely -- of diversions which he cares next to nothing about, here in the earth, yet is quite sure he will like them in heaven. Isn't it curious? Isn't it interesting? You must not think I am exaggerating, for it is not so. I will give you details.

Most men do not sing, most men cannot sing, most men will not stay when others are singing if it be continued more than two hours. Note that.

Only about two men in a hundred can play upon a musical instrument, and not four in a hundred have any wish to learn how. Set that down.

Many men pray, not many of them like to do it. A few pray long, the others make a short cut.

More men go to church than want to.

To forty-nine men in fifty the Sabbath Day is a dreary, dreary bore.

Of all the men in a church on a Sunday, two-thirds are tired when the service is half over, and the rest before it is finished.

The gladdest moment for all of them is when the preacher uplifts his hands for the benediction. You can hear the soft rustle of relief that sweeps the house, and you recognize that it is eloquent with gratitude.

All nations look down upon all other nations.

All nations dislike all other nations.

All white nations despise all colored nations, of whatever hue, and oppress them when they can.

White men will not associate with "niggers," nor marry them.

They will not allow them in their schools and churches.

All the world hates the Jew, and will not endure him except when he is rich.

I ask you to note all those particulars.

Further. All sane people detest noise.

All people, sane or insane, like to have variety in their life. Monotony quickly wearies them.

Every man, according to the mental equipment that has fallen to his share, exercises his intellect constantly, ceaselessly, and this exercise makes up a vast and valued and essential part of his life. The lowest intellect, like the highest, possesses a skill of some kind and takes a keen pleasure in testing it, proving it, perfecting it. The urchin who is his comrade's superior in games is as diligent and as enthusiastic in his practice as are the sculptor, the painter, the pianist, the mathematician and the rest. Not one of them could be happy if his talent were put under an interdict.

Now then, you have the facts. You know what the human race enjoys and what it doesn't enjoy. It has invented a heaven out of its own head, all by itself: guess what it is like! In fifteen hundred eternities you couldn't do it. The ablest mind known to you or me in fifty million aeons couldn't do it. Very well, I will tell you about it.

1. First of all, I recall to your attention the extraordinary fact with which I began. To wit, that the human being, like the immortals, naturally places sexual intercourse far and away above all other joys -- yet he has left it out of his heaven! The very thought of it excites him; opportunity sets him wild; in this state he will risk life, reputation, everything -- even his queer heaven itself -- to make good that opportunity and ride it to the overwhelming climax. From youth to middle age all men and all women prize copulation above all other pleasures combined, yet it is actually as I have said: it is not in their heaven; prayer takes its place.

They prize it thus highly; yet, like all their so-called "boons," it is a poor thing. At its very best and longest the act is brief beyond imagination -- the imagination of an immortal, I mean. In the matter of repetition the man is limited -- oh, quite beyond immortal conception. We who continue the act and its supremest ecstasies unbroken and without withdrawal for centuries, will never be able to understand or adequately pity the awful poverty of these people in that rich gift which, possessed as we possess it, makes all other possessions trivial and not worth the trouble of invoicing.

2. In man's heaven everybody sings! The man who did not sing on earth sings there; the man who could not sing on earth is able to do it there. The universal singing is not casual, not occasional, not relieved by intervals of quiet; it goes on, all day long, and every day, during a stretch of twelve hours. And everybody stays; whereas in the earth the place would be empty in two hours. The singing is of hymns alone. Nay, it is of one hymn alone. The words are always the same, in number they are only about a dozen, there is no rhyme, there is no poetry: "Hosannah, hosannah, hosannah, Lord God of Sabaoth, 'rah! 'rah! 'rah! siss! -- boom! ... a-a-ah!"

3. Meantime, every person is playing on a harp -- those millions and millions! -- whereas not more than twenty in the thousand of them could play an instrument in the earth, or ever wanted to.

Consider the deafening hurricane of sound -- millions and millions of voices screaming at once and millions and millions of harps gritting their teeth at the same time! I ask you: is it hideous, is it odious, is it horrible?

Consider further: it is a praise service; a service of compliment, of flattery, of adulation! Do you ask who it is that is willing to endure this strange compliment, this insane compliment; and who not only endures it, but likes it, enjoys it, requires if, commands it? Hold your breath!

It is God! This race's god, I mean. He sits on his throne, attended by his four and twenty elders and some other dignitaries pertaining to his court, and looks out over his miles and miles of tempestuous worshipers, and smiles, and purrs, and nods his satisfaction northward, eastward, southward; as quaint and nave a spectacle as has yet been imagined in this universe, I take it.

It is easy to see that the inventor of the heavens did not originate the idea, but copied it from the show-ceremonies of some sorry little sovereign State up in the back settlements of the Orient somewhere.

All sane white people hate noise; yet they have tranquilly accepted this kind of heaven -- without thinking, without reflection, without examination -- and they actually want to go to it! Profoundly devout old gray-headed men put in a large part of their time dreaming of the happy day when they will lay down the cares of this life and enter into the joys of that place. Yet you can see how unreal it is to them, and how little it takes a grip upon them as being fact, for they make no practical preparation for the great change: you never see one of them with a harp, you never hear one of them sing.

As you have seen, that singular show is a service of praise: praise by hymn, praise by prostration. It takes the place of "church." Now then, in the earth these people cannot stand much church -- an hour and a quarter is the limit, and they draw the line at once a week. That is to say, Sunday. One day in seven; and even then they do not look forward to it with longing. And so -- consider what their heaven provides for them: "church" that lasts forever, and a Sabbath that has no end! They quickly weary of this brief hebdomadal Sabbath here, yet they long for that eternal one; they dream of it, they talk about it, they think they think they are going to enjoy it -- with all their simple hearts they think they think they are going to be happy in it!

It is because they do not think at all; they only think they think. Whereas they can't think; not two human beings in ten thousand have anything to think with. And as to imagination -- oh, well, look at their heaven! They accept it, they approve it, they admire it. That gives you their intellectual measure.

4. The inventor of their heaven empties into it all the nations of the earth, in one common jumble. All are on an equality absolute, no one of them ranking another; they have to be "brothers"; they have to mix together, pray together, harp together, Hosannah together -- whites, niggers, Jews, everybody -- there's no distinction. Here in the earth all nations hate each other, and every one of them hates the Jew. Yet every pious person adores that heaven and wants to get into it. He really does. And when he is in a holy rapture he thinks he thinks that if he were only there he would take all the populace to his heart, and hug, and hug, and hug!

He is a marvel -- man is! I would I knew who invented him.

5. Every man in the earth possesses some share of intellect, large or small; and be it large or be it small he takes pride in it. Also his heart swells at mention of the names of the majestic intellectual chiefs of his race, and he loves the tale of their splendid achievements. For he is of their blood, and in honoring themselves they have honored him. Lo, what the mind of man can do! he cries, and calls the roll of the illustrious of all ages; and points to the imperishable literatures they have given to the world, and the mechanical wonders they have invented, and the glories wherewith they have clothed science and the arts; and to them he uncovers as to kings, and gives to them the profoundest homage, and the sincerest, his exultant heart can furnish -- thus exalting intellect above all things else in the world, and enthroning it there under the arching skies in a supremacy unapproachable. And then he contrived a heaven that hasn't a rag of intellectuality in it anywhere!

Is it odd, is it curious, is it puzzling? It is exactly as I have said, incredible as it may sound. This sincere adorer of intellect and prodigal rewarder of its mighty services here in the earth has invented a religion and a heaven which pay no compliments to intellect, offer it no distinctions, fling it no largess: in fact, never even mention it.

By this time you will have noticed that the human being's heaven has been thought out and constructed upon an absolute definite plan; and that this plan is, that it shall contain, in labored detail, each and every imaginable thing that is repulsive to a man, and not a single thing he likes!

Very well, the further we proceed the more will this curious fact be apparent.

Make a note of it: in man's heaven there are no exercises for the intellect, nothing for it to live upon. It would rot there in a year -- rot and stink. Rot and stink -- and at that stage become holy. A blessed thing: for only the holy can stand the joys of that bedlam.


What's the digital time?


I asked a Belgian the other day if there were any Flemish writers worth anything. Here's the one Flemish book he felt was world class.


Contemporary Art Cliche Sighting No. 1: Making symmetrical images out of your face and hands!

Gilbert and George do it. A guy in Belgium did it in the 90s, as shown in a video piece in this exhibit with his hands and a piece of tin foil, which he manipulated to fashion ever-shifting Roschasch-like silver blots. Which another guy in this book also does, but with clay. I wish I could give you their names, but I'm at work, see.


After The Toys of Peace comes the tug of peace.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Slate has always had an over-fondness for using "Those" in its headlines, which it uses to draw the reader into a circle of knowingness where we already kow about "Those New Senate Rules" or "That New Album Everyone's Talking About." MacLamity's own weaknesses for news-you-can-use headlines is for the word YOU, and to issue orders ("Go Where the Action Is," that kind of thing). With You've Got One of Those Four-Hour Erections ... - Now what? Slate truly sets the mark to a new high.


From Son to Ey. Johnny Rogan's book on how Morrissey and Marr worked and didn't work together is one of the few rock books that's as interesting as rock music, and is as interested in people as much as rock music (I've actually read very few books on music. Lester Bangs's reviews are the best. Greil Marcus is sometimes good. And Simon Price's Everything really is all that.) If only I cared about Van Morrison, I'd buy Rogan's latest now.