Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Pot Of Gold At The End Of The Tunnel Of Mixed Metaphors

I always found Thanksgiving a slightly odd holiday; an awkward trial run for Christmas and a transparent excuse for taking a five-day weekend. On the other hand, viewed as such, it's at least unpretentious and makes perfect sense in the modern world. This is something that cannot be said for, say, Guy Fawkes' Night. Guy Fawkes' Night struck me as the most natural thing in the world until I actually tried to explain it to quizzical Americans: "Well, yes, now that you mention it, I suppose we are burning the guy in effigy, but it's not done, uh, maliciously." (I still maintain, however, that having the nation's premier fireworks-related holiday in November makes much more sense than having it in July.)

One thing that must be said for Thanksgiving, though: I don't think I ever had a conversation with an American - Americans I knew well, Americans I knew in passing, Americans I happened to be passing on the street - in the two weeks leading up to it without being invited to eat with their family. The culture-wide determination that transient grad students not miss out on the victuals was really rather touching.

And rather than actually being thankful for anything, I always cop out and start compulsively emailing people this at around this time. Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

From The Trenches Of Fashion, November 2005

Bruises are not in this season. Facial hair remains inadvisable. Lapel adornments are also a no-no. But most of all, avoid yellow.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hipsters & Grandmothers Weekend Social

I'm a fan of Pitchfork. There aren't enough media outlets willing to write suitably biting reviews of things. (Not that that's all Pitchfork does, but they are at least willing to put the boot in occasionally.) I've virtually given up on most music journalism because of the dearth of outraged partisans who hate ninety-five percent of new releases. If you're reviewing an album, and you think it's mediocre, be as harsh as possible. It's more entertaining to read, and to properly say why you hate something you have to describe it well enough that the review will at least be informative - as opposed to the anodyne crap they print in the likes of Rolling Stone - even to someone who really likes the thing you're reviewing.

Case in point: this rather well-done review of Lambchop's Nixon, a record which is one of my favorite things ever. I completely disagree with the conclusion - basically "This band blows because my grandmother prefers to listen to the Pixies" - and poor mumbling old Kurt Wagner takes some shots for his interesting deployment of falsetto, but I enjoyed the review very much. I would have liked it better if it hadn't been so respectful.

One comment, though:
But while it's hard to imagine hating Lambchop, it's also hard to believe they could be anyone's favorite band.
I'm up on the seventh floor with the windows open, Victoria Park spread out below me and the city beyond it, "Up With People" playing as loud as possible, Wagner is mumbling something about "a welfare state of the soul", and to that assertion I say: Nonsense.

Week Of Banal Realizations

...the least meaningless of them being: if you don't go to tae kwon do training for a few months - perhaps on account of moving to a new country, or something - and then you suddenly start again, every single tendon in your body is going to let you know about it. Particularly, TKD emphasizing as it does the kicking of things, the ones in your legs. I'm currently walking like a man with a dark secret in a Western. Small children gaze up in awe and incomprehension as I hobble around the neighborhood. Local merchants give me discounts and ask me for my folksy wisdom on various matters, but all the folksy wisdom I can generally muster is "It hurts! It hurts!" so in due course they raise the prices again.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Like The Rules For The New York School

Apologies for absence; I've been belly up to the bar of the Nag's Head, in St. John's Road, trawling the collected Kenneth Koch.

Community outreach is not being neglected. While perched in a corner, trying to keep a straight face and drink my bodyweight in awful domestic lager, an attractive young barmaid came over and expressed curiosity as to what I was reading. I said something mealy-mouthed about poetry. An hour or so later she reapproached and asked to see it. Against my better judgment I showed her some of the juicier passages from The Art of Love, which I'm (as of today) convinced is one of the best love poems ever written. It's an extremely long litany of boisterous advice from the distressingly goat-like Koch, with lots of surreal interludes about hippos fucking and attempts to make the reader buy other products of his from The optimistically named Shop of Love. It starts out innocently enough, with
To win the love of women one should first discover
What sort of thing is likely to move them, what feelings
They are most delighted with their lives to have; then
One should find these things and cause these feelings...
which is unobjectionable - in fact, admirably pragmatic - and inspires the casual service-industry employee to read further. Unfortunately, most of the ensuing advice consists of progressively bizarre BDSM metaphors; the barmaid happened upon
To make your girl into an airplane, ask her to lie down on a large piece of canvas
Which you have stretched out and nailed to a thin sheet of aluminum, or, if you are economizing, of balsa wood [it continues in this vein for quite a while]
...Carry her to the airport, or to any convenient field,
And put her on the ground. Ask her to "take off!" If she does, you have lost a good mistress...
but really, there are many parts that probably would have gotten me 86'd outright. As it was, she just giggled nervously post-perusal and had a co-worker cover my part of the bar for the remainder of the evening. Another job well done, poetry!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Mission Creep Sets In

The scary thing is that, as a football fan, I don't even find this policy suggestion terribly unreasonable. After all, the facility is there, right? Got to use it for something. Think of it as a variant on the "broken windows" theory - if someone is prepared to subvert or preempt the broadcast of SEC games in the month of November, their Hatred of Freedom likely runs deep and will presumably manifest itself in even more disturbing ways if they are not dealt with in time. Off to Gitmo!

Geneva Convention Not Applied To Pets

Thus Hutton:
Our allies consider it good sport to shoot the poor beasts [that is, dogs in barrels]. That's so easy it's like shooting dogs in a barrel, they say. Which just shows the total hypocrisy of the Bush regime: they lecture the rest of us on human rights, then roar with sadistic laughter as they shoot dogs in barrels.
And Bush:
In June, the House of Representatives voted for a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration. I urge the United States Senate to pass this important amendment...
Dodging the issues once again, Mr. President.

This is bad news for the recently blogging Atkinson dogs. Unlike fish, though, they at least have a sporting chance of tipping the barrel over.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Flying Spaghetti Monster Cometh

Oh, Kansas. What is to be done? The expression "vote with your feet", in this context, would usually mean to move away from that school district. Here, though, I think people should find the relevant members of the school board and kick them.

Not sure how I feel about the lawsuit Althouse alludes to, though. It's not necessary (or, for that matter, sufficient) to oppose ID on the grounds that it's religious or inspired by religion; all one needs is the fact that it's really, really stupid. Suppose we take the theory at its word - then what? Well, we're done. Any remaining mysteries of science can just be chalked up to the inscrutable whim of the Designer, and we can all go and play quoits. Either that, or the job of the biologist would become that of trying to divine the Designer's intentions, which would be hilarious. Many great works of science have been inspired by devout religious faith; unfortunately, so have many attempts to explain winter as the Sun God being displeased with us. This falls into the latter category.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Paragraph-Length Double Standard Exhibited

ESPN's intermittently non-sucking Page 2 feature hires Chuck Klosterman, whose previous sportswriting experience seems to consist of being interviewed by Bill Simmons. Is this a good thing? Yes, this is a very good thing. Here's why:
That's pretty much what I imagine it would be like if the Fametracker people did a sports column. And it has paragraphs, actual paragraphs which are longer than two sentences! (Which is more than can be said for most of what I write, but it's, uh, an inherently more staccato idiom.)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Nothing Explodes For The Time Being

Thoughts upon hearing about today's wave of arrests: Did they just roust a bunch of people at random? Shortly followed by: Wow, I'm glad nothing in the city exploded. Followed by: well, even if they did arrest a bunch of random people, at least no tourists were inexplicably shot on trains.

One other feature of the story linked above, that I actually find reassuring, is all the references to courts hearing things, and documentary evidence being presented, and whatnot - over two hundred hours of phone transcripts, etc. This is not something that one tends to hear in US reports on similar cases. Don't get me wrong: I'm on balance inclined to believe that (for instance) Jose Padilla probably was on the verge of doing something awful in Chicago, but it would be nice if the system could still have a couple of, you know, checks and balances written into it, just on the off-chance that if someone were to be arrested erroneously - not that that would ever happen! - there might be a chance of it being noticed.

Diplomatic Incident Narrowly Averted

Thanks to those who have expressed interest in my new crime-fighting persona. It has been surprisingly successful; yesterday I thwarted six muggings and ate several donuts.

Unfortunately, then this happened. Needless to say, down at the station the kimono didn't help matters much.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Gambits Of Men Named Ray

I think it was Raymond Chandler who once described the art of plotting as "when you run out of ideas, have a man come through the door with a gun." It works, too.

Actually, come to think, was it Chandler? It might have been Raymond Carver. If so, that would indicate that Carver never once ran out of ideas, which is impressive. Let us now salute Raymond Carver.

Whichever it was, though, all these years later Onstad may have come up with a variant that applies to an even greater number of situations: when in doubt have Raymond Smuckles do this.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility And A Kimono

I've never been very convinced that an overabundance of choice is one of the bad features of decadent Western consumerism. I recall the heart-rending and possibly apocryphal tale of some professor or other, transfixed in the breakfast cereal aisle of a supermarket, utterly unable to meaningfully distinguish between the brands. In the distance, the problem is only exacerbated by the presence of five million other products, most in a number of subtly diffent forms, and some in economy sizes. (Can't be bothered to find link to someone seriously advancing argument. Too sleepy.)

The main reason this has always sounded unconvincing to me is that the professor in the story isn't doing anything to shape his own existence: all he can do is complain about the immodest variety of processed cheese slices, rather than taking affirmative steps to masochistically limit the choices available to him. Only permit yourself to eat muesli! Become a lipogrammatical consumer! Pretend you're only allowed to shop in the frozen-food aisle! Nobody's stopping you!

Or so I would have said. Lately, though, I too am becoming alarmed. You see, the fruits of my slack-jawed wandering, when carried upstairs and laid out in the cold light of the kitchen, are beginning to make less sense than I would like. Today I made it home with a dozen cinnamon donuts, a bread knife, and a kimono. I'm worried that the invisible hand of the market is trying to nudge me towards becoming a really bad superhero.

"Like A Good Lap Dance, It's Unavailable In Seattle"

The stats gurus at Football Outsiders, drunk on the success of their various metrics, have moved on to the intangibles. Gambling will never be the same again.

For some reason, NFL coverage is rarely funny. This in contrast to the NBA, which occasionally seems to be an enormous joke that the players are all in on. (Fifteen million dollars for Brian Scalabrine, "Tremendous Upside Potential", the ontological fact of Ron Artest, etc, etc.) For a sport that is inherently ridiculous in many ways, this is a shame.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Gaddis: Fly

In real life, I will occasionally blather about William Gaddis. I shouldn't, because I've never finished either of his most significant novels. Five years ago I made it halfway through The Recognitions before being distracted, leaving it for a couple of weeks, losing the thread completely, and deciding that plowing onwards for the sake of being able to say I'd finished it would be cheating. JR likewise, only two years ago and not so far. One of these decades, Bill.

But The Recognitions is special, and I've recently come back to it, determined to lash myself to the mast beforehand. Fortunately, there are reader's guides and volumes of annotations to do the lashing with. But why bother? I opened the book up thinking there was a reasonable chance I was being masochistic in that status-conscious and Serious-Novel way that Tom Wolfe is always complaining about. A couple of pages in, I remembered why:
There was the cell where Fr. Eulalio, a thriving lunatic of eighty-six who was castigating himself for unchristian pride at having all the vowels in his name, and greatly revered for his continuous weeping, went blind in ecstacy of such howling proportions that his canonization was assured. He was surnamed Epiclantos, "weeping so much," and the quicklime he had been rubbing into his eyes was put back into the garden where it belonged.
That's a throwaway aside (I assume) and it gives me chills. There are enough sentence-pairs that do to actually make it seem potentially worthwhile to look up the obscure references - and God knows there are a lot - in the hope that there will be something fantastic and witty encoded underneath all the classical allusions. This is something I could never bring myself to do with Ulysses - which just seems to demand it a little too much - and I'm not convinced it's actually a good way of enjoying a book, as opposed to dissecting it. But The Recognitions is special. Although, for all I know, the ending fucking sucks.

Pervert's Capacity For Happiness Further Begrudged

This is very, very cool.

(Via Radley Balko.)

UPDATE: I'm not trying to insinuate that Radley Balko is a pervert. It's... never mind.

More "Honeyed Words Of Deceitful Capitalism"

A historic anniversary approaches and is remarked by the Australian Communist Party, which must be a very interesting organization.
When imperialism enlisted fascism as the means of destroying this new [Soviet] society, the people rallied to the defence of Soviet Russia. The Russian people made colossal sacrifices to win a titanic struggle against Nazi Germany. In the process, they saved the rest of the world as well and proved the superiority of the socialist system, for a capitalist Russia could never have done it.
Actually, this is an interesting point. Twenty-three million Russians are reckoned killed in WW2, and the soldiers of the Red Army were deployed with, if anything, even less regard for their survival than their Western counterparts in the good old Somme days of "climb out of trench, run towards machine-gun emplacement waving stick". It's possible that a non-totalitarian Russia wouldn't have been able to bear the godawful number of casualties sustained while beating back the Nazis; it's also possible that a system with more invested in the survival of the people (as opposed to the People) wouldn't have sustained said godawful number of casualties. Either way: I'm not sure that the superiority of the system is demonstrated very well by its withstanding a godawful number of casualties.

(The author firmly believes that it's never a bad time to boost your Google ranking for the phrase "godawful number of casualties".)

Last Post On The Topic

The history at the end of the last post includes, under authors' names, links to their Suck output. It's all good stuff, but I have to recommend Chris Bray's work in particular. This, to pick at random, is excellent, as well as absolutely anything on the list with a military-sounding title. He is also the man who forever ruined J.D. Salinger for me, something for which I suppose I am grateful.

Post-Suck, he would occasionally surface in other outlets, mostly in order to rip Victor Davis Hanson a new orifice. As far as I can figure, he's currently in UCLA's History graduate program, blogging here with some compadres, and was recently (gulp) called back up. There's going to be - there may already be - a glut of soldier's memoirs on the market in the years to come, but someone should offer Bray a large sum of money for one regardless.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Great Sucking Sound

When I read this sort of thing, I think fondly of Suck, where it would have been a full-blown essay.

I read Suck obsessively for its last couple of years, and was genuinely pissed when it went under; how could this enterprise, which had generated precisely zero revenue - although I may have clicked on an ad once - from a reasonably faithful reader like me, not be stacking up the cash? After a while, though, as weblogs began metastatizing across the land, the Reason web presence began to exhibit many Suck-like features. (Italics important in that clause.) The magazine's editor (the linked-above Gillespie) and online editor (Tim Cavanaugh) are both prominent Suck alums, and the blog title Hit & Run was also the name of Suck's Thursday column of quick snarks. The name sets the tone: the majority of Hit & Run contributors who are non-Suck-affiliated still, on this form, would have fit right in. It's cohesive enough to conjure up an entirely unlikely image of them all sitting around some updated Algonquin table, complaining about smoking bans. And that (to finally get to the point) is what set me to Googling up this quote, which is something I'd often thought but never adequately expressed: of the most important things you can do is create this illusion of an ‘in crowd’ that you’re not in on. And it really does work, right? The ideal for a magazine would be like Mad’s usual gang of idiots, where you have this sense that there’s this really wacky crew all getting together to come up with these really great ideas. You really want to be part of that, you feel like you’re on the outside looking in on that.
Quote is Cavanaugh, the idea he ascribes to Heather Havrilesky, taken from this excellent history of Suck. (Even as an obsessive Suck fan, I will concede that it may be a tad on the long side.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Late Twentieth Century Joined

Oh, sweet nectar of life. My ADSL modem has finally arrived, having apparently been shipped from China the long way round. It even works. The combination of the balcony, the ADSL modem, and the makeshift bar I have constructed alongside it is a thing of beauty. Now, watch my spelling go to shit and wait for me to accidentally drop my laptop onto the street down below and be sued by a jogger.

This paradigm shift also means that, while I would ordinarily be paying far too much attention to all this Supreme Court business - because watching people who are not lawyers argue about judicial nominations is, for some reason, a compulsive behaviour for me - I have to consider my priorities anew, and dust off some of those hard-won time-management skills. From now on it's all pornography, all the time.

(Well, with maybe a five-minute stop at the Blogometer to see if the world has ended, and another five minutes cursing and wishing I'd thought of "Alito's Way" first. Then, pornography.)