The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

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If Zinovy Zinik appearing in the TLS where Hugo Williams used to, and a typically dry and enchanting Hugo Williams column appearing in The Independent, means that Hugo Williams has moved, then that's an enormous treat for the Internet. Hugo Williams has led a fairly eventful life, but not enough that his mining of it for his constantly interesting columns isn't impressive and jealous making.

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Will people know that Clipse are talking about drugs when they read these lyrics in 2098:


All the snow on the timepiece confusing them
All the snow on the concrete Peruvian
I flew 'em in, it ruined men, I'm through with them

Or will they just think its sheer modernist abstraction?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

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The new Newspeak is Unpseak: "Whereas Newspeak sought to erase words from common usage, Unspeak works in more subtle ways. What's effectively happening here, at its worst extreme, is that language is being dehumanised to keep any notions of personal responsibility to a minimum."

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The sensitive souls of the strident, radical professor: "You do, of course, have to wonder about professional intellectuals who get so wobbly under cross-examination. Harvard professors appear to be accustomed to a level of deference that few of us on the other side of those Ivy walls could ever expect. Clearly this had much to do with the fabled Cornel West affair, when the president grievously offended this overhyped superstar by tendering what Summers apparently regarded as delicate hints on matters such as grade inflation and the production of serious academic work. Summers was right, as he generally was. But he never intended to insult West. In fact, he had no idea that he had insulted West. Summers himself wouldn't have been offended, and it never crossed his mind that Cornel West might be made of different material than Larry Summers, or that West might need to hear some malarkey along the lines of, 'I love your work so much that I don't want to accept anything less than the best.' Larry Summers didn't do malarkey; he did 'the merits.' The professors under his charge, alas, were not made of such stern stuff as he, and it ought not have been beyond Summers' ken to figure this out."

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

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I thought there could be no talk show host better than Charlie Rose until I saw Jesus Quintero on Spanish TV. He does all the things Charlie Rose does:
Makes a virtue out of not having a question ready by turning his panicked pause into a meditative pause, out of which comes an utterly pointless, grammarless question.

Eg. Does fame change a writer?

His one frill is that there are no frills. One interviewer. One interviewee. Pure conversation.

Laughs desperately at what the guest says when he's worried that there's not enough camraderie between them.

But he also does things Charlie Rose hasn't even thought to do:
Has music playing over the interview. Imagine Charlie Rose interviewing Seamus Heaney to the tune of Ride of the Valkyries.

Has non-celebrity guests. So he gets to ask The Last Hippy in Ibiza, "What do you think when you see Zapatero's smile." The hippy: "Zapatero? Hum .... er...." Quintero: "He's the president." The hippy: "I don't like politicians."

Gives long abstract meditations on the universe in between guests, delivered in extreme close up. A typical opening would be "Contra... la guerra: ... Paz... "
He's pure genius. If he spoke English, Charlie Rose's salary would be reduced to whatever the passersby on Fifth Avenue felt kind enough to drop in his McDonalds cup.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

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Not all the conventional points held sacred by Europeans when it comes to the United States are nasty. One of the nicest, is the idea that in the states it doesn't matter that Bill Gates dropped out of college whereas in Europe it matters an absurd amount. Willhelm von Gates could only ever hope to be a middle-manager at Siemens, and a middling one at that. Given that, why does Radioshack's CEO have to resign for lying about the two degrees he doesn't have? If you start your career at a McDonalds at 16 and work your way up to Radioshack CEO then you deserve one of those degrees for life experience that I get offered by email every day. Let the guy pad his resume, especially when he's padding it with degrees in theology. I think the shock here was the extent to debase a sacred American document. David Edmondson's success made a mockery of the American middle class's eternal and brutal struggle for places in college. He should move to Hollywood next, where such fabulism is seen as the kind of pep that you need to do get ahead.

Monday, February 20, 2006

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Ted Hughes took a gruff, no-nonsense, essentially English approach to the equally English imaginary landscape of nonsensical things "from poltergeists to pixies, from witchcraft to ouija boards, from astrology to apparitions, from dousing to divination and so on." That will be one of his many legacies.

With the exception of William Blake, England's radicals and romantics generally left it to the nation's conservatives to believe in things paranormal. Of the many justifications that the early, radical Samuel Taylor Coleridge gave himself in his notebooks for hating Samuel Johnson, Johnson's belief in ghosts was the easiest. His deep suspicion of the supernatural was part of his deep love of nature. (Luckily for Coleridge, the science of the time was kooky enough to provide explanations as interesting and easy to grasp as fairies).

Ted Hughes used sprung rhythm to express the rural conservative mystical experience of nature with an unembarrassing, down to earth language that could not embarrass anyone. At the same time as he did this, the British left was developing various roots to tap the rural imagination, through environmentalism, through the Lord of the Rings, and through the association of the ruling class with invaders (be they anti-Saxon Normans or anti-Druid Romans. He was the last of the great conservative English rural mystics, and cleared the way for the left-wing ones.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

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French cooks can't help but write terrifying cooking tips. Whisking egg whites is simple: just have a copper bowl that you only use for beating egg whites AND NOTHING ELSE, WITH NO CORNERS. Also "Under no circumstances should you stop once you have begun to whisk." (Emphasis mine)

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Those dream dinner parties, when they actually happen, always seem to end like this: "Despite the Schiffs' best efforts, however, this encounter of greats was an anti-climax. Proust managed to offend Stravinsky. Joyce fell asleep and snored volubly. When Joyce and Proust finally spoke to each other, their exchange consisted of such profundities as: 'Do you like truffles?' (Proust) and 'Yes I do' (Joyce). Others claimed that Proust informed Joyce that he had never read his works, and Joyce informed Proust that he had never read his. "

Monday, February 06, 2006

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The absurd nothingness of the Danish caricatures versus the actual violence it has provoked reminds me more and more of the pig fat in the cartridges in India in 1857: another whispered and rumored nothing that turned frustrations into violence.

Cf. Titus Oates's sworn testimony

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Ibn Warraq asks "On the world stage, should we really apologize for Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe?" His implied answer is "No, we shouldn't, because they kick ass." But I orignally thought he was referring to things like this. If it's bad to have the prophet with a bomb in his head, how bad is it to have him being chomped by Satan, with a gash running from his mouth to his cornhole, yet still finding the energy to say how much he regretted founding his schismatic religion? Should we throw Dante to the fire? While Goethe's "Faust" doesn't present too many problems. The other writer of "Faust" IS censored (although, not for Faust). So we do, at least, have to apologize for Marlowe:
TAMBURLAINE. Well said! let there be a fire presently.
[They light a fire.]
In vain, I see, men worship Mahomet:
My sword hath sent millions of Turks to hell,
Slew all his priests, his kinsmen, and his friends,
And yet I live untouch'd by Mahomet.
There is a God, full of revenging wrath,
From whom the thunder and the lightning breaks,
Whose scourge I am, and him will I obey.
So, Casane; fling them in the fire.--
[They burn the books. (ie. "the Turkich Alcoran" aka the Koran).]
Now, Mahomet, if thou have any power,
Come down thyself and work a miracle:
Thou art not worthy to be worshipped
That suffer'st flames of fire to burn the writ
Wherein the sum of thy religion rests:
Why send'st thou not a furious whirlwind down,
To blow thy Alcoran up to thy throne,
Where men report thou sitt'st<284> by God himself?
Or vengeance on the head<285> of Tamburlaine
That shakes his sword against thy majesty,
And spurns the abstracts of thy foolish laws?--
Well, soldiers, Mahomet remains in hell;
He cannot hear the voice of Tamburlaine:
Seek out another godhead to adore;
The God that sits in heaven, if any god,
For he is God alone, and none but he.

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If you want a metaphor for continental Europe's difficulties with keeping their businesses from being bought out, then how about Dominique de Villepin worrying that in the tennis match of the takeover battle, one side has a much a better racket. I was under the impression that saying your opponent has an unfair advantage thanks to his or her racket was what sore losers with no sense of their own problems playing the game did.

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Why does French politics have such a hold on me? Perhaps because because the deeply elitist political culture creates a claustrophobia of personality, like in a soap opera. Every movement by one of the political actors has a massive impact on the others. I hear Israeli politics and Dutch business is like that as well, thanks to Israel's tiny population and the Netherlands's talent for making world-size companies with a Cameroon-sized population. By contrast, the recent leadership battles (Tory and the ongoing Lib Dems) for the British parties are like the three drawn-out installments of Henry VI as opposed to the Sarkozy vs. Villepin battle's resemblance to The Lion in Winter.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

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You can see the caricatures of Muhammed, that a Danish paper originally ran, and which have made Denmark the cool thing to detest throughout the middle east, ensuring that a the Danish co-operative that mnakes Lurpak butter is losing $1.5 million a day (while, ironically, the godless brewer Carlsberg gets off scot free) here. Are the caricatures offensive? They are quite offensive. However, is is not that the way Mohammed is depicted that has offended the boycotters across the middle east. It is that someone has depicted him at all. It does not matter that those people are not themselves Islamic or that the offense occurred in a far dark corner of Europe.