The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

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There's always an extra layer of exclusion if you keep on digging. My favorite example came from a Stanford professor who said to his wife, "Christ, notice anything about these top 20 CEOs in America?" His wife said, "Yeah, I know. It's appalling. They're all men." "I hadn't noticed that," he said. "I meant to say, they were all white." Similarly here, Francois Mouly is the only comics artist mentioned who's not an American, BUT as the article points out, she's Art Spiegelman's wife and slept her way to her mention. It's rather astonishing for an article on excluded female comics artists to exclude Marjane Satrapi, who surely counts for something.

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Uncle Sam wants you to write for the army and for the Baghdad press!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

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There are so many ways in which Mitterand is the last of the great French presidents. And this is just one of them: "[He] believed he would get his 'revenge' by building a tunnel under the Channel which would forever destroy Britain's island status."

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No one has yet written a sort of Platonic ideal I have for an essay, namely a copy of one of those lazily trendy articles that says "Hey, let's deconstruct plagiarism for the moment. Maybe it's not so bad" that seems to appear every year in either The New Yorker, or Harper's, or The Atlantic and then selling it to Harper's, the Atlantic, or The New Yorker. But Stephen Moss comes close with his cento on plagiarism. Plagiarism isn't always wrong or a pity. I'd much rather Saul Bellow tell the tale that opens Humboldt's Gift -- of a writer desperately trying to get money owed on a poker game to a gangster, who eventually humiliates him -- than the poor journalist it acutally happened to, who'd been dining out on the story for years, and who was appalled when Bellow had neutralized what would have been the best part of his memoirs. In this case, the genius made something out of the tale that the mediocrity couldn't, and a lot of recent charges of plagiarism stem from the mediocrities' resentment of that fact. Dan Brown did not steal his millions from these people nor, for that matter, did Umberto Eco, nor Dan Brown from him:


[Umberto Eco's] second novel, Foucault's Pendulum, took eight years to write. It was about three editors at a Milan publishing house trying to link every conspiracy theory in history, including that now famous one about the medieval Knights Templar and the secret of the Holy Grail.

'I know, I know,' he says with a laugh. 'My book included the plot for The Da Vinci Code. But I was not being a prophet. It was old occult material. It was already all there. I treated it in a more sceptical way than Dan Brown did. He had the excellent idea of treating it as if it were true. Millions of people believed him. They took it seriously, but it was all a hoax.'

Another way to look at this form of benificent plagiarism is that if the plagiarism hadn't taken place, we wouldn't be reading the stolen material. I'd rather read Lytton Strachey's cameo of Florence Nightingale than Edward Wood's biography, which, as a TLS article showed last year, Strachey not only praised in the text, but whose opening Strachey used as his opening. Most people do prefer to read the Lytton Strachey version. Edward Wood's biography has essentially been lost, but Strachey salvaged for us the best parts of it. Stephen Moss's cento on plagiarism is not plagiarism for the reason that centos take work and create something new.

If it expands literature, if it builds on it, as Nabokov apparently did with a thoroughly half-assed witchy short story called Lolita, then it's fruits are clearly fruitful. The fruits also show us when plagiarism is bad: when it allows a famous writer to coast; when it steals honor from people who deserve more of it; when it diminishes the cultural stock (as when Jayson Blair stole quotes from other newspapers) through dilution; when it results in someone getting richer at another person's expense. We tend to remember the examples of brilliant transmogrifications of lifted material when we defend plagiarism and forget the scuzzy lowlife lifting and theft in the journalistic and obscure academic worlds which represent the most cases of plagiarism and which also cause the most harm.

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David Irving is a constant reminder that The Spooky isn't a kitsch aesthetic of the 1950s, but something horrible that exists. Christopher Hitchens has this appalling memory of him:
[I]t transpired that, while in the elevator, Irving had looked with approval at my fair-haired, blue-eyed daughter, then 5 years old, and declaimed the following doggerel about his own little girl, Jessica, who was the same age: I am a Baby Aryan/Not Jewish or Sectarian;/I have no plans to marry an/ Ape or Rastafarian.


Irving's repentance goes no way near redeeming him. For a start, he wouldn't have done it had he not been in jail. Secondly, an apology that draws its strength from snobbery, rather than humility, is always suspect. When Ezra Pound said to Allen Ginsberg, "But the worst mistake I made was that stupid suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism," the force of his contempt was aimed at the suburbs, rather than himself. Simlarly, Irving will admit to they're being a Holocaust, but not to his own stupidity for saying the opposite:
"'This might be a big case, but it's not very difficult,' his lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, told the Guardian yesterday. 'There are the transcripts of his speeches, there is a newspaper interview that he gave [in 1989]. It's pretty black and white.
'But Irving told me that he has changed his views after researching in the Russian archives in the 1990s. He said, 'I've repented. I've no intention of repeating these views. That would be historically stupid and I'm not a stupid man.' He said, 'I fully accept this, it's a fact. The discussion on Auschwitz, the gas chambers and the Holocaust is finished ... it's useless to dispute it'.'"

Sane people don't need Russian archives in the 1990s to convince us of the obvious and tragic.

Monday, November 28, 2005

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The erasure of the cigarette from the author's photo of 'Goodnight Moon' leaves him with a nonsensical and inarticulate body language. Instead of holding a cigarette, he is smiling at something off-frame but neverthless cautiously protecting his nipple from it.

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"To believe everything is little different from believing nothing." And yet:
As many as 14 of the world’s leading microbiologists and germ warfare experts have died since 2002, many in violent circumstances. Ian Langford (bludgeoned), Robert Schwartz (hacked), Set Van Nguyen (suffocated), Don C. Wiley (drowned), Vladimir Korshunov (bludgeoned, points docked for repetition); two plane crashes accounted for ten Israeli scientists in one year. The book’s verdict:

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Two ways of looking at Osama:

Even (no, especially) Bin Laden's bitterest enemies take his dicta in dead earnest. The introduction cites an assortment of experts who compliment the godfather of al-Qa'ida on the quality of his Arabic prose, the brilliance of his tactics, and so (creepily) on. Michael Scheuer, the CIA agent once charged with hunting him down, sets the tone by gushing about this "great man": "pious, charismatic, gentle, generous, talented... ". A certain kind of Western scholar - and soldier, indeed - has always had a thing for the exotic brigand who can dress up a taste for slaughter in grand phrases and arcane allusions. When Osama compares Cheney and Powell to Hulagu the Tartar (sacked Baghdad, 1258), you can imagine the heirs to T E Lawrence swooning.

For the rest of us, what comes across is as complete a self-portrait of the psychopathic narcissist as we will ever encounter. Bin Laden's vaunted skills in polemic against the "Jews and Crusaders" reach no further than playground tit-for-tat. You killed "us" (although "us" never included pampered Saudi rich boys) so the same to you with knobs on. And brass knobs on. That's about it. As for theology, "Every Muslim, from the moment they realise the distinction in their hearts, hates Americans, hates Jews, and hates Christians. This is a part of our belief and our religion." Al-Qa'ida, remember, began industrial-scale butchery by murdering 200 black Africans (Muslims among them) in Kenya and Tanzania.

Friday, November 25, 2005

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This is perhaps the most sensible reaction to the news that Dmitri Nabokov might burn the unfinished manuscript of his father's last novel:
If people really want to commit suicide, they commit suicide. If they don't really want to commit suicide, they announce their intentions to friends, with the unconscious hope that they'll be stopped. I think the same goes for book burning. If Franz Kafka really wanted his books burned, he wouldn't have asked Max Brod to do it. If Vladimir Nabokov
really wanted to torch "Lolita," he surely could have found a way to do so without alerting Vera -- somehow, he never did. If he really wanted to do the same with "The Original of Laura," why in the world pass off the horrendous task to his heirs? Why not just do it himself and be done with it? It's the simplest thing in the world to destroy paper; asking someone else to do it for you indicates that maybe it shouldn't be done to begin with. I certainly don't see, outside of filial obligation, what the value is in doing it now.

Dmitri has since denied that he'll burn the manuscript. Either way, Dmitri is becoming a bit oo much like Stephen Joyce in his old age. As death approaches he's becoming less a guardian of the flame and more a miserly hoarder of the family silver.

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Dmitri Nabokov writes as suavely as you'd expect the son of Vladmir to write. But he looks like a possessed maniac.

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When Barbies liberate: "It was in Israel in 1989, shortly after the Goraliks had emigrated from the Soviet Union, and 14-year-old Linor was buying a present for a little girl. 'First I saw a Barbie in a green dress, then I saw that there was a Barbie for every taste,' Goralik recalled. 'I remember thinking that these people were geniuses.' "

Thursday, November 24, 2005

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In China we can say whatever we want, actually.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

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"[A]a novel where all the questions remain unanswered at the end can, more rarely, have a resoundingly firm cadence, just like Green's Loving. What has become rarer is a coincidence of the two. Novelists have become increasingly unlikely to bring a story to a final close with a final-sounding cadence. You wouldn't find many thrillers, even, these days, ending as Casino Royale does - 'Yes, dammit, I said 'was'. The bitch is dead.' " Philip Hensher goes beyond what Frank Kermode called the sense of an ending.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

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November 11 is the slayer of veterans. They live for remembrance day, and then expire. Just as the 50th anniversary of independence slew Madison and Jefferson.

Monday, November 21, 2005

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You just can't win! I thought Mickey Kaus was being too clever, or too angry, or too ironic, when he said that this article on Howard Kurtz was too evenhanded. He actually was being evenhanded:

"Whether you agree with Judy Miller or not," [Kurtz] said in an assertion many of her detractors would dispute, "she did a courageous thing by going to jail for three months for a principle that she believed in."

Judith Miller's detractors question whether you agree with her or not? What's the third option?

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Someone should tell Bono that celebrities never say that they'll be remembered for what they're memorable for, rather than for their charity work.

Monday, November 14, 2005

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Variations on a lost frog flyer: if i looking for frog/him name is hopkin green frog/i lost my frog/29-3228/Love, Terry/P.S. I'll find my frog/Who took my frog/Who found my frog/2012 15th Ave. S

It's up there with:

MISSING DOG HEAD/You finding Ling-Ling's head?/Someone come into yard, kill dog,/cut off head of dog./Ling-Ling very good dog/Very much want head return/REWARD.

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I only link to this outrageous Internet piracy so that you can share the outrage at the horrible possibility of downloading the entire text and violating the tender copyright of 'Pale Fire,' and every other Nabokov work, as a Word document.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

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As a contrast to the work of Gideon Taylor, I offer: "I am caged in this corner, full of melancholy and sorrow... My wings are closed and I cannot fly... I am an Afghan woman and must wail." A contrast because: the author actually is an Afghan woman, the author was killed for writing the verse in Herat. A good thing: Women can publish their work in Afghanistan. A bad thing: They are killed for it. Such is the way the world goes. I wonder if the women in Herat are developing a time when the fact that they wrote in secret, the same way that some Soviet dissidents express nostalgia for the time when they worked shitty day jobs, but had glamorous second lives as literary Scarlet Pimpernels.

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It'll be a long time before the world is ready for a school poetry anthology which contains a poem written by a 14-year-old boy, which contains such gems as:

Jews are here, Jews are there, Jews are almost everywhere, filling up the darkest places, evil looks upon their faces.
Make them take many paces for being one of the worst races, on their way to a gas chamber, where they will sleep in their manger.

The argument for this sort of thing normally that the poet is adopting a persona and undermining the character through satire and irony? The argument is stale. But at least it's an easier thesis to prove than, "saying racist things doesn't make you racist":

If this poem had caused an outrage, I am sure many of the other parents or schools would have complained. The poet writes about Jews: Jews being gassed, Jews being sprayed, Jews being fried, but does that make him a racist?

The answer to that question, in 100% of the cases I can think of, is Yes.

P.S. Interestingly the author is Gideon Taylor.

P.P.S. (Actually, this is old news)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

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The Gannibal of classical music is having some of his music played at last:

The conductor Frans Brüggen asks the question that will be on anyone's mind: "Is the fencing master from the Caribbean of lasting interest, or are we merely staring at the backdrop to Mozart's greatness?" (He leaves the question open.)
When a composer has led such an incredibly colourful life, and risen against improbable odds, it's tempting to read extra significance into the music. One commentator speaks of an unusual "Creole melancholy" in the slow movement of the symphony.
The "Creole" bit is pure invention; if you didn't know the identity of the composer, you might just as easily call it "Slavic" melancholy. But there's no doubt it has a sharp and intriguing flavour, and isn't at all like Mozart.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

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The WSJ's online offerings are free for a week, making this tiny masterpiece available to the world.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

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At a Halloween party, I was talking to a Liberian woman dressed as a witch who said that the only thing europe should do about Africa's problems was to stop giving aid to the countries, which just go to the idiots who run the governments and "let us kill each other." Easy enough! Charles Taylor's successful election slogan was "You killed my ma, you killed my pa, I vote for you" and her argument was that wherever that slogan wins elections isn't ready for elections but is ready for more killing. "I'll go back to Liberia in 10 years either way," she said. "Even if Taylor's still there?" I asked. She made clear how bad things could get if she stayed in Belgium, how bad they were already getting: "My little children are speaking Flemish."

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When will American obituaries stop being so much more boring than English ones.

Monday, November 07, 2005

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The secret behind Jazz in Paris's future success.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

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If you have problems understanding how china works, this should clear everything up: "He said the gradual demise of China's wolf heritage helps explain how the country was surpassed by the West. 'As long as most people are lambs, the dragon has no problem,' he said in what seemed like a thinly veiled comment about China's politics. 'But the more wolves there are, the more interesting things become.'"

Hmm. The part about the wolves is definitely true.

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If you have problems understanding how china works, this should clear everything up: "He said the gradual demise of China's wolf heritage helps explain how the country was surpassed by the West. 'As long as most people are lambs, the dragon has no problem,' he said in what seemed like a thinly veiled comment about China's politics. 'But the more wolves there are, the more interesting things become.'"

Hmm. The part about the wolves is definitely true.

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I could have spotted that this picture wasn't a Rembrandt self portrait.

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As the man in the Madrid museum puts it: "If this is a fake, then the forger is a genius." Forgeries like William "Bill" Foster's aquamalines made from bath frocets can achieve beauty without authenticity, and that is why they disturb: a Picasso can be created without a Picasso. Their creators also seem never to take any satisfaction in the aesthetic value of their work, either. They take the same pride that Orson Welles does at the end of "F for Fake," of elaborately conning the audience, the idiots. Witness Bill Fosters's motivation:

The story of how Foster allegedly tricked the art world has emerged since the father of six died from cancer. Friends, who do not wish to be named, say they are telling his story because he had always intended to cause embarrassment by publicising his forgeries.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

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It's good to know that there were limits to Anthony Burgess's linguistic powers: "So fluent in [Malay] that he leaves the examiner of his degree-level certificate trailing in his wake, he sets down to translate The Wasteland into Malay. Sadly the project founders on linguistic incompatibility; 'April is the cruellest month' means nothing in the tropics, where all months are the same, while the word 'Spring' fails to show in the dictionaries. " And that's still true, even if those limits came from language itself.