The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Sunday, July 31, 2005

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One of the problems with Ogden's Basic English, as recounted in William Empson's biography: "He was keen to use Basic English, Ogden’s creation, mentioning an ingenious student who translated the words ‘out of sight, out of mind’ as ‘invisible, insane’."

Thursday, July 28, 2005

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In the sad descent of my music tastes into ruinous sentimentality, I find myself charmed and oddly strongly moved by the lyrics to this song (and here they are in babelfish'd English). They induce in me a strong nostalgia for Vincent Delerm's past. "Our love stories are all the same, as if we we have been doing synchronised swimming in adjacent swimming pools."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

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So who's Tom Cruise, and who's Matt Lauer in the battle between the Dalai Llama and neuroscientists who sound like they could do with some Buddhist calming techniques.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

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The sheer sadness of the Arabic worlds politics is overwhelming. Bloggers organize a protest against terrorism in Cairo. Only 10 people show. And the police break it up, even though they know it's apparently pointless.

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QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "'No novelists any good except me. Sovietski--yah! Nastikoff--bah! I spit me of zem all. No novelists anywhere any good except me. P. G. Wodehouse and Tolstoi not bad. Not good, but not bad. No novelists any good except me.'" -- Vladimir Brusiloff.

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Here's a fairly interesting attempt to find sources for British pride. I wonder how many of the assertions are true in the sense of being a useful source of pride, and also in the sense of being true (for instance, "Big Brother" is of Dutch origin, not British). By useful, I wonder if British scientific achievements are that sustainable as a source of pride. (It's notable to me, that Tim Berners-Lee, the last famous British scientist, chooses not to practice science in Britain.) Colonies would work better as a source of pride if they were still colonies, although the point is very good that no other country has managed to produce as many stable democracies through imperialism (even if that credit is weighed by the debit of Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and so on), not even the U.S.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

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I've been reading The Sot-Weed Factor for the past month, and every hundred pages find something that makes me laugh out loud and recount it later to someone who couldn't be interested less. For instance: one pirate threatening to kill another pirate if he doesn't let him buy him a drink (hysterical! I swear), John Smith escaping execution by wowing Indians, not with beads, but with pornographic playing cards (much funnier than it sounds, I promise), a captain of a barge desperately trying to signal to Indians that he means to come ashore in peace while his dyssentry-ridden crew can't stop themselves shitting over the side of the boat, signalling to the Indians that they don't care how many arrows the Indians fire, they fart in the Indian's faces (I was laughing over this in a tram FULL OF BELGIANS), and a scene in a notebook store, first recounted to me by Ron Rosenbaum.

This book is so funny, and so well written, that it seems to me an outrage that Barth got (and went for) a reputation as literary avant-gardist. He's fine as a novelist. The book as as traditional as "Tom Jones," which is to say, it's as radical as "Tom Jones." It's also as funny. The Sot-Weed Factor is copiously generous to the reader and far more entertaining than anything by John Gardner (And why mention John Gardner (whom I had to read in Journalism School, and was one of those authors who attacked Avant-Garde Unworkable Theories of the Novel Current in Universities with Even More Irritating Unworkable Theories of the Novel Current in Grumpy Idiots Like BR Myers)? Because:). It turns out Gardner set himself up as the anti-Barth during a debate with him in the 70s, at the point when no one really knew what was exciting in American literature any more. What seemed New in the 60s now seemed old. In fact New-ness itself seemed old fashioned. But, obviously, so was oldness. This account of the debate captures that atmosphere of discontent well:
Both men suffered the fate of standard-bearers. Barth spent decades afterward trying to explain that in his essay on "exhaustion," he wasn't saying that literature was "used up." Gardner, meanwhile, in a way that probably only Ian MacKaye would understand, was hounded by the would-be acolytes who had seized on him as the William Bennett of literature.
P.S. You can read the original The Sot-Weed Factor by the actual Ebeneezer Cook, here. And here's the moment in London and Maryland's history which the novel plunges its way through.

Monday, July 18, 2005

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SLEAZE-a-rama!: Polanski submits a video deposition in a libel suit against vanity Fair for saying he hit on a Swedish bombshell in a restaurant just after Sharon Tate was massacred. So you have serial murder, libel, and barely cold adultery. And then, it's a video deposition, because Polanski has an international arrest warrant against fim for pederasty! I say again, can it get any sleazier?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

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The latest Bret Easton Ellis. (My favorite part: "Relapse (2000, sequel to Rehab)")

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

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A new Kipling is discovered.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

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Amazingly, Putin isn't responsible for the latest trouble in Russia's blogosphere. Instead someone at San Francisco's LiveJournal offices shut down a blog that posted a Soviet-era poster altered to read "Daddy, Kill a German." When people protested, THEY were shut down. What are the chances that this is all down to some Summer intern with a chip on the shoulder and an itch in the finger?

Monday, July 11, 2005

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I'm always struggling to read bits of The Anatomy of Melancholy. It has some of the craziest dazzling prose ever written, but it keeps on cancelling itself out through it's wild shifts.** Not so this chapter from Jeremy Bentham, which, like TAOM, sets out to list every pleasure and pain known to man, but in a short space. I always imagine pedants going up to Bentham and saying, "You know something pleasant that you forgot to mention is..." And him politely saying, "Yes. Of course. I'll add that to the next addition. Thank you for pointing that out."

**So when you read a quote from the Anatomy of Melancholy, you think "That has to be the best book ever." But you locate the passage quoted and find it dissolving into the 1,000 pages surrounding it. See for example Anthony Powell's quotation*** from it in the "Dance to the Music of Time"
I hear new news every day, and those ordinary rumours of war, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, comets, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions, of towns taken, cities besieged in France, Germany, Turkey, Persia, Poland, &c., daily musters and preparations, and such like, which these tempestuous times afford, battles fought, so many men slain, monomachies, shipwrecks, piracies and sea-fights; peace, leagues, stratagems, and fresh alarms. A vast confusion of vows, wishes, actions, edicts, petitions, lawsuits, pleas, laws, proclamations, complaints, grievances are daily brought to our ears. New books every day, pamphlets, corantoes, stories, whole catalogues of volumes of all sorts, new paradoxes, opinions, schisms, heresies, controversies in philosophy, religion, &c. Now come tidings of weddings, maskings, mummeries, entertainments, jubilees, embassies, tilts and tournaments, trophies, triumphs, revels, sports, plays: then again, as in a new shifted scene, treasons, cheating tricks, robberies, enormous villainies in all kinds, funerals, burials, deaths of princes, new discoveries, expeditions, now comical, then tragical matters. Today we hear of new lords and officers created, tomorrow of some great men deposed, and then again of fresh honours conferred; one is let loose, another imprisoned; one purchaseth, another breaketh: he thrives, his neighbour turns bankrupt; now plenty, then again dearth and famine; one runs, another rides, wrangles, laughs, weeps, &c. This I daily hear, and such like, both private and public news, amidst the gallantry and misery of the world; jollity, pride, perplexities and cares, simplicity and villainy; subtlety, knavery, candour and integrity, mutually mixed and offering themselves; I rub on _privus privatus_; as I have still lived, so I now continue, _statu quo prius_, left to a solitary life, and mine own domestic discontents: saving that sometimes, _ne quid mentiar_, as Diogenes went into the city, and Democritus to the haven to see fashions, I did for my recreation now and then walk abroad, look into the world, and could not choose but make some little observation, _non tam sagax observator ac simplex recitator_, not as they did, to scoff or laugh at all, but with a mixed passion.

***Stretching to the very limit the lost convention of quoting other works in novels. What's beyond the limit? The last chapter of this.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

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Is Ian McEwan ignoring Breughel's contribution to 'Musee des Beaux Arts unfairly?

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A real sport: "Some regulations were introduced about five years ago to cut down on fights. Now bashing an opponent in the face or hacking his horse's legs are illegal, said the touch judge, Yaqub Masroof. 'But only if it is intentional.'
The best players have a strong horse, a wrench-like wrist and a backside of rubber. Still, injuries are common. " -- Guardian

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How to make your psycho-analysis pay: go to Sigmund Freud for a talking cure, wait 94 years, then sell your bill for 1,000s more than what it's asking you for.

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Really hard to come up with a worst time to have your "powerhouse of a " book about suicide bombers in London published.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

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Windows is shutting down, and grammar are/On their last leg.

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Do Jihadists ever note the difference in tone between their boilerplate preamble involving a compassionate merciful peaceful God when they claim credit for their attacks and the bouncing delight in violence, merciliessness, and the misery of others that constitutes the rest of the statement?

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How many countries, after their capital has been bombed, goes ahead with the international cricket match as planned? (Or is counties, rather than countries, the object of the more intelligent question?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

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Doctors of dictators seem to wrtite the most interesting memoirs. A review of this one by Mao's doctor compared it to Tacitus. Saddam's doctor's the latest example. (Stalin is the exception, managing to kill most of his doctor's a few months before he died.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

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Businesses in Iran react to the election: "'I have stopped shaving, taking showers, and wearing ties,' jokes one depressed executive, referring to the scruffy neo-revolutionary style. "

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I can't figure out where the epigraph to Le Rouge et Le Noir comes from in Hobbes work or even what it means:
Put thousands together
Less bad,
But the cage less gay.
HOBBES
Little help?

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A French syllogism: "The climate across the Channel -- it's been scientifically proven -- is conducive to melancholy. Melancholy gives rise to the most beautiful poems. English poetry is among the most beautiful there is." (If only the French were as nice about English melancholic cooking as they are about its poetry.)

Sunday, July 03, 2005

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Is it bad public relations or a bad client, that leads a PR flak to say of his former client: "It is not just that the Commission fails to explain what the EU is for . . . Its modus operandi displays an outrageous lack of common sense . . . It became intolerable to work within what had come to seem like a bureaucratic nightmare that makes Whitehall look a model of simple efficiency.” -- FT.com