Saturday, February 26, 2005

"Sod Off, Swampy"

This marvellous story brings back so many misty water-coloured memories of Merrie England that I barely know where to begin.

I can't decide between
I’ve never seen anyone less amenable to listening to our point of view.
Protesters conceded that mounting the operation after lunch may not have been the best plan.
as my favorite line. Perhaps
Then when we were on the floor they tried to push huge filing cabinets on top of us to crush us.
is also in the running.

Yes, yes, violence is reprehensible. On the other hand, so is the self-absorption of people who think they can march into other people's workplaces "blowing whistles and sounding foghorns" and generally acting the twat, expecting to be met with hushed reverence. If you behave like this to bellicose, unpleasant people who have had a few beers, it's called "starting a fight".

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I Smell Bacon

But why stop there, he said, in the tried and true voice of a newspaper columnist determined to beat the premise to death by drawing it out to ridiculous extremes?
James Lileks is concerned about the University of Minnesota's attempts to create an army of mutant pig-men. And Bill Simmons recounts his attempts to beat Shaquille O'Neal in a game of P-I-G (like H-O-R-S-E, only shorter).

Edge: Lileks. Why? Because of the phrase "flatulence-propelled winged jet dog" which, having taken up residence in the old frontal lobe, shows no sign of going away anytime soon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Hes Doen It Agian!

Why, when I should really be doing more constructive things, do I waste so much time reading blogs? There's an excellent reason. Suppose I were to comport myself as a member of the academy should, producing research and smoking my pipe throughout the working day, and turning my attention to internet frippery in the evening? Well, then I wouldn't have seen this until it was already dark outside - it gets dark at around three PM here - and I would have been scared to leave the building lest the fifty-foot clown get me.

Even as it stands, I have turned on all the lights and am trembling slightly.

A Hemingway Fan To The Bitter End

During a quiet grumbling session at an off-campus bar last night, a companion happened to casually mention Hunter Thompson's recent merger with the infinite. He seemed nonplussed by my emotional reaction and violent Wild-Turkey-summoning gestures.

In the final analysis, it was well over twenty years since HST produced anything worth reading, so it's not that I feel we're being deprived of future output. But the stuff he produced in about ten years of relatively focussed work stands up to this day: beautiful, controlled books that were concerned with something more than how awesome a person Hunter Thompson was and how many famous friends he had. Maybe more important than that, though, it was constantly reassuring to know he was out there takin' her easy for all us sinners. Still, in a life that had become little more than a sustained affectation, why is it that the saddest note seems to be the continued description of the old bastard's house as a "fortified compound" in the statement released by his son? He was pushing seventy, for Christ's sake. You can't be that guy forever.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

A Confession

I am the "jerkburger" who called into friend Vague's work and asked "Can you tell me how much my next deposit is going to be for?"

It was a serious, and (I think) an excellent question, hardly meriting the transfer of the call to Miss Cleo's Psychic Hotline. It's just that the deposits, they been a long time comin' of late. Checking account coming disconcertingly to resemble the grain barn in midwinter. Figured some of these financial-type people could run one of their fancy simulations, tell me when I could expect a re-cal-i-bration in the whole fiscal picture round here. Ayup.

Challenges For The Anhedonic Reader

Today is a good day to hunker down in the basement with a quart of coffee and the last two books in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle.

Now, a very important part of being a braying, pompous ass - especially on or near a college campus - is the ostentatious practice of reading lots of books that are not very much fun, or "fun", to read. Ever mindful of my duty, I put in five or six hours a day brandishing sundry Oulipo-or-even-worse tomes at passers-by. I stroke my chin and hold forth on Walter Abish's almost entirely ludicrous Alphabetical Africa. I duck a barrage of rotten fruit and maintain that the second half of Gravity's Rainbow makes sense. I sneer at Tim Cavanaugh's eloquent dismissal of Finnegan's Wake, and I do so because he's admitting that he's not hardcore enough.

So Stephenson is a refreshing change of pace, as his recent output is almost perfectly keyed to my brain's pleasure centers. This monstrous historical-fiction trilogy has everything I could possibly want: swashbuckling, courtly intrigue, a little light mathematical content, about five thousand characters with fucking silly names, and a nicely self-deprecating tone that keeps you from feeling like you're reading Tom Clancy. It's wonderful, and (sarcasm aside) it's Serious Literature to boot, I'm convinced - or would be, were it not for the enormous grin plastered across my face while I'm reading it. I feel like I'm twelve years old devouring sword-and-sorcery paperbacks again.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Beware The Machetes De Fuego

One reason among many reasons to read Achewood, if you don't already, is creator Chris Onstad's unorthodox practice of maintaining a blog for each of his principal characters. In particular, I often turn to his cat Ray for inspiration and spiritual maintenance. Things have gotten pretty bad when you find yourself trying to model your life after that of a cartoon cat, it's true, but that's just the world we're living in.

Ray is a simple soul, almost fanatically devoted to the finer things: golf, liquor, and organizing impossibly complicated themed parties. It's unfair to pick on the infrequent occasions when things don't go according to plan, but a good place to start is with his
"Machete Madness" soiree, which ends up like
this. His remorse is both heartfelt and ennobling to witness:
In retrospect, I should not have had a party with the theme of tequila and machetes. Looking back, I know that now.
It fair brings a tear to the eye, so it does.

Friday, February 18, 2005

What Science Hath Lately Wrought

If you're down on your luck, are sleeping under the bridge, and have disbursed all but a few of your worldly possessions to creditors or fellow vagrants, you'll congratulate yourself on the foresight you displayed in hanging on to that Brita water filter. Just ask the intrepid scienticians at Oh My God It Burns industries. Newspapers for pants or (worse) no newspapers for pants, you can still be drinking finer martinis than James Bond hisself.

(To be noted is the lovely dropping-off of ambition between paragraphs one and three:
In the alchemical tradition, creation of the Philosopher’s stone is the ultimate end to man’s needs. The stone has the power to cure disease, prolong life, and possesses the added benefit of being able to transmute metals, as in lead into gold.
Our theory is that a simple brita water filter can be used to make bad vodka, into good.
The Enlightenment lives on.)

Boring, Humorless, Unattractive Men Staring At Vaginas For Hours On End

Hello clouds, hello sky, hello Reason magazine and this entirely welcome piece slapping the wrists of whining campus conservatives. I'm always relieved to see people roll their eyes at the kerfuffle surround Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues while acknowledging that the play itself is woeful.
The play is performed on hundreds of campuses around Valentine's Day ever year, and [American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff] Sommers is annually appalled, most deeply by what she calls "a four-letter-word that begins in c, ends in t, and is not coat."
Cart, then? This pernicious anti-cart bias is a facet of the American Enterprise Institute that I was not aware of. Actually, though, I must admit I thought the Sommers address being referred to was pretty good. It's hard to go wrong when you're making sport of the Monologues, it really is. Especially if you can draw parallels with Andrew Dice Clay, as Sommers does somewhere in there.
Now, world literature abounds with exquisite passages describing female sexual rapture -- from the verses of the dazzling Sixth century poetess Sappho, to Molly’s Soliloquy in the final passages of James Joyce’s Ulysses.  In my humble opinion, “My vagina is a shell, a tulip, and a destiny” does not qualify as one of them.
In other news, it's not yet eleven o'clock and I've already reduced one student to tears. This is all going splendidly.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Le Mot Juste, In This Case

I am unlikely to ever be on the business end of a book review in the New York Times. But suppose I was, and the reviewer said nasty hurtful things about me and my life's work. Suppose their chosen reviewer felt that my style was leaden, my thesis indefensible, and that I generally - to use a foreshadowing Queenanism - ate it raw. Perhaps this reviewer would even call me a jackass. It's the New York Times, after all; they brook no tomfoolery. I can only hope that I would do the decent thing - ceremonially burn a copy of the newspaper and go about my day, perhaps with my jaw slightly clenched. I hope that this is what I would do. I hope I wouldn't write an anguished response with the headline "I Am Not A Jackass", like this guy did.
He referred to me as a ''jackass.'' A jackass. In The New York Times Book Review. I flipped around to the other reviews. Did they call Philip Roth a doofus? Did they call Gish Jen a nitwit? No, just me. A jackass.
That's right. I'm glad to see the message is getting across.

I'm a huge fan of Joe Queenan, whose original review should be accessible here even after the target's contemplation of his own navel is banished to the premium archive. It's gold from the first sentence. Read it if you don't believe me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Ways To Get Your Car Keyed

In the great state of Maryland, you apparently aren't allowed to have your license plate read DOWNLOW. This seems unnecessary, although it's scary to note that someone in Virigina requested the vanity plate ZYKLON B. Just because they found Martin Bormann's skull doesn't mean he's dead, and all that.

However, nothing compares to this one.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Occasion Almost Passes Unremarked

A nicely wry Valentine's Day moment from AE Housman:
Oh, when I was in love with you
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave.

And now the fancy passes by
And nothing will remain,
And miles around they'll say that I
Am quite myself again.
As someone or other said in Tom Stoppard's awe-inspiring The Invention of Love, I never heard of such a one for telling you you're better off dead.

Semantics Is Easier Than Politics

Hmm. This fellow is waxing incontinent about the perceived "neo-conservative" threat to the Supreme Court. He may be right that there's a threat of some kind, but his use of language makes me doubt it very much.

Here's my idea, which leads me to dismiss what's-his-name in the London Review of Books as a scaremonger. The word "neoconservative" has become such a popular term of opprobrium on the left (particularly in the UK) because it kerns similarly to "neo-Nazi", the only other political movement to bear the prefix. (In the common lexicon, anyhow. Get out of here, ye neo-Keynesians.) To an audience that winces at the term "conservative" to begin with, tacking on the "neo" is like introducing the progressively souped-up breeds of vampire in the Blade sequels.

I'm not sure how much I trust Irving Kristol to give me the straight dope, but here's his take. "Neoconservative" means something specific in the context of foreign policy, something wishy-washy in the context of domestic policy, and nothing whatsoever in the context of judicial nominees. What does calling Clarence Thomas a "neo-con" mean? Something bad, that's for sure, but I'm sure Thomas will take it over some of the other things he's been called.

What News From Bosoton?

If, like me, you feel that Riddley Walker would have been embiggened by the contributions of a greater number of flesh-eating feral clowns, then you will almost certainly enjoy this. If you do not enjoy it, then you are a difficult person to please.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Private Eye Gets Sued More Than I Do

Well, that was bracing: the first of what I'm sure will be many week-long absences.

Unfortunately, I have pledged to make this blog as anonymous, and also tedious, as possible. Any of the events of the past week that I actually want to post things about would do grievous damage to one or both of these goals. So I'll content myself with an inspirational letter concerning libel.

You know things have gotten pretty bad when you're looking to Richard Ingrams for inspirationalisms.

For catharsis, though, there is the new blog Emerald Bile. In their central contention - that people who post on blogs are for the most part cunts - they're basically spot on.