The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Thursday, April 27, 2006

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The fact that a few weeks ago Pierre Assouline was laughing about Britain's Minister of Culture, Media, and Sport, surely gives me permisison to laugh at a country whose theater awards include the category "best state-funded play."

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"Writers who have laboured under totalitarianism, whether for or against, whether publicly or in secret, are always contaminated by it." eg. Ismail Kadare.

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Harold Pinter has a mutual friend of Peter Handke's: Slobodan Milosevic. Peter Handke, for those of you who don't know him, is a special kind of Franco-German intellectual or politician who is doing everything all the time. You might know him as the writer of "Wings of Desire". If it is 3 months since you last heard of a new Handke play, book, diary, screenplay, or TV program, doctors recommend that you call an ambulance, then check his pulse. At Slobo's funeral, Handke declared himself "happy to be close to Milosevic, who defended his people," and was seen by Le Nouvel Observateur brandishing the Serbian flag, rushing to the hearse, and placing a red rose on it. The indispensable Sign and Sight summarizes nicely Handke's view of Slobo.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

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I share Peter Stothard's shock that a Guillotin should be called a Gibbet and is not a product of the French revolution as the British Middle Ages. So much for what I held to be one of the great, simple symbols of how the Enlightenment could rationalize barbabarism as well as attack it.

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A fascinating anecdote about Harold MacMillan: "[Oswald] Mosley won a seat in parliament at the age of 22, as a Conservative-supporting Coalition-Unionist, and then crossed the floor to join the Labour Party. He soon became disenchanted and formed the New Party, which evolved in 1932 into The BUF. Harold Macmillan considered following him, but his antennae twitched in time. He did offer his friend some advice though. He told him he was doomed when he tried to get his fascists to wear black shirts. 'You must be mad,' he said, 'whenever the British feel strongly about anything, they wear grey flannel trousers and tweed jackets.'"

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Pinsky on how to insult in verse. Despite his obvious talents, everything he writes makes me hate him more. Poems are the fiber and protein of our literary diet and he is our humorless nutritionist. All poems are recommended by him for daily consumption. The occasional weak rhyme or jarring metaphor does not mean a poem is bad, just that it is less-good.

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Good to know that both parties in America immigration debate, when speaking Spanish, abhor the other side's rampant anti-immigration laws: "Republican ads in Spanish have alleged that Democrats "voted to treat millions of hardworking immigrants as felons", while Democratic ads said that the Republicans want to "criminalize ... churches just for giving communion" to illegal aliens."

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This article deserved all the praise it got on the official North Korea fan website.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

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Bob Dylan's radio show. How did I miss this?

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I hope The Moko doesn't think that mentioning me in her blog is going to make me link to her.

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They call him "A purveyor of "dim erotica". A dabbler in "badly conceived soft porn". A painter who "just colours in." Jack Vettriano calls them "nobby academics" and "terribly snobbish."

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I want to feel riyal love: “At the entrance to the mall, the girls followed a group of boys, who stood hesitant before the security guards. The defeated boys dispersed, except one, who walked towards Michelle. It seemed to him that she and Lamees were brave girls looking for adventure. He asked if he could go in with them as a member of the family in exchange for 1,000 riyals. Michelle was shocked by his defiance but quickly agreed.” Single life in
Saudia Arabia is seriously complicated.

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It is worth remembering what we mean when we talk about unemployment but we should remember how easy it is to squabble over its definition and how hard it is to fix. Let's grudgingly agree on the first part, for the sake of constructive argument about the second.

If we don't, we end up with bad-faith dismissal of inconvenient facts posing as intellectual sophistication (a strain of the dreaded Kerrian nuance). Witness this paragraph from William Pfaff's survey of France:
[T]he rate of French youth unemployment is not what it usually is made out to be, since free baccalaureate- and university-level education keeps young people off the job market much longer than in most countries. As a result, as London's Financial Times reported in its March 25–26 issue, the official figures are misleading. The newspaper calculates that 7.8 percent of French people under twenty-five are actually out of work, as compared with 7.4 percent in Britain and 6.5 percent in Germany. Accurate comparison with the United States is almost impossible because US unemployment figures do not include the imprisoned and those not actively seeking work.
Two things:

1. Secondary education is not necessarily the opposite of unemployment nor is secondary education always useful (sa Pfaff points out later in his article, there can be such a thing as a harmful surplus of degrees). If you factor out all the people on two-year sick leave for stress you get Sweden's incredibly and surprisingly low unemployment rate. Factor them and their ilk in, and the rate increases. But let's not squabble too much about this. Let's just say that Sweden's unemployment rate is lower than France's.

2. Accurate comparison with the United States is actually possible because US unemployment figures do not include the imprisoned and those not actively seeking work and neither do unemployment figures in the U.K.

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My obsession with Sarko meant I hadn't noticed the rise of Ségolène Royal on France's left. She seems to have all the depressing qualities of the New Politician: "Although criticised by Socialist rivals as bland and lacking in concrete ideas, Mme Royal is now in a strong and possibly unassailable position to become the first woman to represent a large party in a French presidential election. Her fluent performances on television - and the fact that she is a woman - have allowed her to represent change but not brutal change."

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Compare and contrast the undocumented immigrants of America with the documented Poles in London: they fill long-empty Catholic churches, save obsessively, work out clever ways to avoid debts, wait for the situation in Poland to improve, don't talk to the locals, put pressure on the London property market.

Monday, April 24, 2006

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Yoko Ono's spokeswoman says "A pay-per-view seance was never [John Lennon's] style," but won't say what WAS his style of haunting. Inquiring minds want to know.

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The Daily Telegraph tries to keep its cool while considering whether a dwarf has been correctly cast in Endgame.

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An amazing timeline of future inventions, starting with the Knowledge Engine in Gullivers Travels amd ending with the Time Broker.

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John Osborne seems to have treated his daughter as badly as most male writers seem to treat their daughters. What distinguishes his vile treatment of her is the extreme Britishness of form:
After [John Osborne] cast Nolan out, they never met or spoke again: in effect, they disowned each other. But when she was 23 and working in London, they literally bumped into each other in the street. By then, she was married and working at a publishing house opposite the Garrick club. It was quite late, the end of the working day, and pouring with rain.
She told me, 'I ran out the door putting up my umbrella, and I knocked into this man and said, 'Oh excuse me.' He didn't move, and I looked up and it was him. Then he looked at me and he just walked off in a different direction.' She was certain he recognised her? 'I'm sure he knew it was me.'
She related the story without emotion. Did it upset her at the time, perhaps? 'No, it didn't upset me. I just thought, how bloody obstinate. Why didn't he just move out of the way?'"
The British express their anger most easily by focusing it on manners. Note how she apologized with an "Oh excuse me" while blaming him for the collision. Also, note how Osborne's strongest act of renunciation was to remove her from his entry in Who's Who.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

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Herbert L. Matthews should replace Walter Duranty as The New York Times reporter that conservatives cite first when asked to support their theory that The NY Times is the source for all evil and wouldn't say No if babies were served to it for dinner. Duranty's big mistake was to give famine and slaughter a positive review, which is essentially a (massive) failure of taste. Matthews apparently played in the league above Duranty's, the one occupied by U.S. cultural attaches in Latin American embassies who don't read books or remove their sunglasses:


Matthews's first big story for The Times was the 1935 Italian invasion of Abyssinia, where he openly sympathized with Mussolini's Fascists. In Spain the next year, he switched sides and drew close to the Loyalist cause.
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After The Times and other newspapers reported that the young Cuban rebel leader Fidel Castro was dead, Matthews — always a resourceful, enterprising correspondent — decided to go see for himself. Posing as tourists, he and his wife made their way through the dictator Fulgencio Batista's military lines before Matthews alone completed the difficult journey into the Sierra Maestra on foot.

The front-page scoop that followed and two additional articles predicted "a new deal for Cuba" if Castro's insurgency won and reported that the romantic revolutionary was no Communist; in fact, the local Communists opposed him.


The NY Times reprints the article, which is delicious. It is as well-written and vacuous as the cover-stories of Vanity Fair:


Havana does not and cannot know that thousands of men and women are heart and soul with Fidel Castro and the new deal for which they think he stands. It does not know that hundreds of highly respected citizens are helping Senor Castro, that bombs and sabotage are constant, that a fierce Government counterterrism has aroused the populace even more against President Batista.
[...]
Fidal Castro and his 26th of July movement are the flaming opposition to the regime.


The one part of the article that hasn't been ridiculed by subsequent events is the paragraph beginning "Castro is a great talker..."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

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I friend once told me how he was talking to a Rwandan girl who very nicely and amusingly kept on saying she didn't see what the fuss about the Balkans was. Like Immaculée Ilibagiza the story of her childhood made Croatia as it was then seem like Croatia as it is now.

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Is embalming really a "centuries old" element of the wake? My impression was that the timeline goes: 1000 BC Egyptians do it, 1000-1850 No one does it, 1850-2006 Mostly Americans do it.

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The best threats come from Russia these days. There's a country that understands that, when you can deliver on a threat, you merely need to hint at it for people to soil themselves.

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Ireland sometimes like its trying too hard to make up for the its censorship of its best writers, or else disguising the fact that so many of them lived in self-imposed exile.

Welcome to Beckett Country: "It is right and meet that Dublin should so honour one of its greatest sons. However, it is also difficult to reconcile the jolly commercialism of a festival with the rarefied existentialism of Beckett's work; to match the hurried superficiality of tourism with his distillation and intensity. And our interest in his biography ('He had many lovers?' asked a journalist on the coach) sits ill with his intense privacy: when awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, he didn't even go to the ceremony."

Paris's special breakfast seems a celebration closer to the spirit of what it celebrates.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

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David Rockefeller turns on the snot and discusses how Bush is just not like the Republican Old Guard: "[He] was raised in Texas, didn't travel to Europe, and unlike his father, didn't know the pleasure of discussing things with people across the world before becoming president."

Why should Bush have done so? David "Never met a dictator he didn't like" Rockefeller explains the reasoning behind all those friendly encounters with Castro, Boumediène, Pinochet, Botha, and Saddam Hussein: "I've always thought it useful to meet people who have different thoughts from you. It's the best way to bring about change in the world." See how he changed Myanmar, for example.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

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Spark has gone out, would be the tasteless headline that springs to mind. Just as "Outrageous Fortuyn" did before it brought the Managing Editor to my desk to tell me that a newspapaper doesn't generally crack jokes about political assassinations. Prick that I am I desperately argued that it was a heartbreaking allusion, not a joke.

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I hadn't known that John Heartfield changed his name from Helmut Herzfeld to protest against German nationalism. His collages had the sad originality that launches a thousand years of cliche.

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Rowan Williams might occasionally embarrass himself (two words: honarary Druid) but his Easter sermon shows how much better it is to respond to skepticism with confidence and force, rather than the half-threatening, totally self-pitying tone adopted by Opus Dei:

We are instantly fascinated by the suggestion of conspiracies and cover-ups; this has become so much the stuff of our imagination these days that it is only natural, it seems, to expect it when we turn to ancient texts, especially biblical texts. We treat them as if they were unconvincing press releases from some official source, whose intention is to conceal the real story; and that real story waits for the intrepid investigator to uncover it and share it with the waiting world. Anything that looks like the official version is automatically suspect.

Someone is trying to stop you finding out what really happened, because what really happened could upset or challenge the power of officialdom.
It all makes a good and characteristically "modern" story -- about resisting authority, bringing secrets to light, exposing corruption and deception; it evokes Watergate and All the President's Men. As someone remarked after a television programme about the Da Vinci Code, it's almost that we'd prefer to believe something like this instead of the prosaic reality. We have become so suspicious of the power of words and the way that power is exercised to defend those who fear to be criticised. The first assumption we make is that wepre faced with spin of some kind, with an agenda being forced on us -- like a magician forcing a card on the audience. So that the modern response to the proclamation, 'Christ is risen!' is likely to be, 'Ah, but you would say that, wouldn't you? Now, what's the real agenda?'

We don’t trust power; and because the Church has historically been part of one or another sort of establishment and has often stood very close to political power, perhaps we can hardly expect to be exempt from this general suspicion. But what it doesn’t help us with is understanding what the New Testament writers are actually saying and why. We have, every Easter, to strip away the accumulated lumber of two thousand years of rather uneven Christian witness and try to let the event be present in its first, disturbing, immediacy.

For the Church does not exist just to transmit a message across the centuries through a duly constituted hierarchy that arbitrarily lays down what people must believe; it exists so that people in this and every century may encounter Jesus of Nazareth as a living contemporary. This sacrament of Holy Communion that we gather to perform here is not the memorial of a dead leader, conducted by one of his duly authorised successors who controls access to his legacy; it is an event where we are invited to meet the living Jesus as surely as did his disciples on the first Easter Day.

And the Bible is not the authorised code of a society managed by priests and preachers for their private purposes, but the set of human words through which the call of God is still uniquely immediate to human beings today, human words with divine energy behind them. Easter should be the moment to recover each year that sense of being contemporary with God’s action in Jesus. Everything the church does – celebrating Holy Communion, reading the Bible, ordaining priests or archbishops – is meant to be in the service of this contemporary encounter. It all ought to be transparent to Jesus, not holding back or veiling his presence.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

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Bush's old back yard.

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Bush's old back yard.

Monday, April 10, 2006

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Ben Yagoda to New York Times: hire me instead of her.

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This is indeed a significant differentiator between the U.K. and U.S., when it comes to politics and journalism: "[A]rguments that, in Britain, would be put forward in an ill-researched article of no more than 2,000 words turn, across the Atlantic, into carefully footnoted tomes."

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Let's just abolish the media and be done with it. It's the only thing we can agree on, that it has a distorting power ray destroys all minds it encounters. Don't attack your opposition, attack your opposition in the form of attacking the media. (via Kaus)

One small point about (6): ESTABA MI PAIS TAMBIEN! Let's form a pact. Once we've won, Mexican "immigrants" get Texas and California back and English "immigrants" get New England back. My people didn't agree to give it up. You just took it. That is so unfair. No more ignorant "immigration" officials at JFK telling ME that I'm an IMMIGRANT in what was ORIGINALLY my country.

One small point about my small point: The Dutch. ESTABA SU PAIS ANTES QUE ESTABA MIYO! Well, hm, that is a tricky one.

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Let's just abolish the media and be done with it. It's the only thing we can agree on, that it has a distorting power ray destroys all minds it encounters. Don't attack your opposition, attack your opposition in the form of attacking the media. (via Kaus)

One small point about (6): ESTABA MI PAIS TAMBIEN! Let's form a pact. Once we've won, Mexican "immigrants" get Texas and California back and English "immigrants" get New England back. My people didn't agree to give it up. You just took it. That is so unfair. No more ignorant "immigration" officials at JFK telling ME that I'm an IMMIGRANT in what was ORIGINALLY my country.

One small point about my small point: The Dutch. ESTABA SU PAIS ANTES QUE ESTABA MIYO! Well, hm, that is a tricky one.

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Wanted: a study or Malcol Gladwell-esque survey that shows what the exact costs of government corruption are, including bribes, as well as effective strategies for reducing it. I am getting tired of every opposition candidate in every third-world country running against corruption. If they dislike it so much, why do they never get rid of it when they gain power?

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Fall of the House of Bleak.

Friday, April 07, 2006

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Judges feel the pressure to be literary when ruling on literature. Peter Smith has resisted that urge, and delivers a nice precis of his opinion of the Da Vinci Code:
As is usual with books that attract a lot of publicity they have attracted the wrath of the literary experts of the world. Fortunately it is not part of my judgment to assess the literary worth of the books or even the truth behind them. I simply observe that the Observer for example in the style for which it and its sister publication the Grauniad is justly complimented in Private Eye provides both sides of the argument. “[I pity] what led him to having to listen to such a load of tosh” (Nick Cohen 12 March 2006). Contrast Viv Groskop “pen a best seller and wait for the sneers” (19th March 2006 The Observer). I suppose in the world of publication 40 million buyers cannot be wrong.


I also liked, "I am aware (this may be an understatement) that the case has wide interest. It is very important that people do not take parts of the judgment out of context."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

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The male gender gets told off by the Guardian for not being able to name books that "get them through life."


Many men we approached really did not seem to associate reading fiction with life choices.

"Perhaps it's the gender of the interviewer," suggested Stephen Beresford, one of a number of informants from the world of theatre. "Perhaps certain men have a problem opening up to a female interviewer. I don't really see why, but maybe it's a macho thing."

Even before he read the article MacLamity was struggling to come up with what his answer would be when he saw the story's sub-hed. What kind of monster doesn't read books or the purposes of personal salvation?

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The trick to happiness is to be happy with unhappines.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

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Old age brings the most unlikely of faces together.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

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Scotland's greatest living writer is writing a blog.

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Is there a correlation between the impact of a book and the lack of readers it attracts? The truth behind that age-old sneer about the supposedly top novels going unread is that because a book is so important there is no need to read it. What communist needs to read the communist manifesto? Doing so will only confuse the issue. And really, no free marketeer should have to read the "Wealth of Nations" until they reach the circle of hell devoted them. That does seem to be the message of Melvyn Bragg's list of 12 British books that changed the world:


Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton (1687)
Married Love by Marie Stopes (1918)
Magna Carta by Members of the English Ruling Classes (1215)
The Rule Book of Association Football by a Group of Former English Public School Men (1863)
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)
On the Abolition of the Slave Trade by William Wilberforce in Parliament, immediately printed in several versions (1789)
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
Experimental Researches in Electricity by Michael Faraday (3 volumes, 1839, 1844, 1855)
Patent Specification for Arkwright's Spinning Machine by Richard Arkwright (1769)
The King James Bible by William Tyndale and 54 Scholars Appointed by the King (1611)
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776)
The First Folio by William Shakespeare (1623)


Who needs to read Arkwright's patent to feel its impact on industry, or read Principia to learn calculus?

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If Berlusconi goes we'll be losing moments like this: "When the journalist, Bruno Vespa, tried to silence the prime minister, he pointed at Mr Prodi and barked: 'Act like a moderator, Vespa! Moderate him! Moderate him!' " Please, Italy, vote this man out. But do so with sadness.

Monday, April 03, 2006

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I like the idea that Sir John Falstaff didn't die, that he outlived Prince Hal, who spurned him, and that he was finally caught under a ludicrously transparent pseudonym running away from yet another battle.