Archive for September, 2006

the day the mountain fell on wallace

September 25, 2006

I really hate to do this – hate, that is, to add anything to the e-cacophony on fox’s “interview” with clinton – but this is both so predictable, and yet so difficult to credit, that it’s here in case you missed it. (of course if you care, you likely didn’t miss it.) this is the fox reporter, Chris Wallace, describing the fear and terror he felt confronted by what fox is now calling a “crazed” clinton:

Former President Clinton is a very big man. As he leaned forward–wagging his finger in my face–and then poking the notes I was holding–I felt as if a mountain was coming down in front of me.

click here for: i_felt_as_if_a_mountain_was_coming_down_in_front_of_me

i’m still trying to decide whether this is a joke, but this question seems increasingly irrelevant, archaic even. Wallace’s comments, his aggrieved, wounded tone – he’s shocked, shocked, to imagine anyone could presume him guilty of partisanship – are the very model of disingenuousness. But, as a descriptor, “disingenuousness” may also have increasingly little purchase when it comes to US political discourse. The “disposition to secure advantage by means not morally defensible; insincerity, unfairness” (to cite the OED definition) ceases to be remark-worthy when it becomes structural to, if not constitutive of, the words being spoken.

meanwhile, here’s the clip fox is running to promo the day the mountain fell on wallace. looks pretty fair and b’d to this guy. then again, Clinton didn’t make it difficult for fox to portray him as hectoring and bug-eyed:


still the shape of jazz to come

September 22, 2006

With the Mets having secured the NL East pennant – and with a subway series in the offing where the plucky Mets sweep the hegemonic Yankees in four raucous games – I may have temporarily acquired a new go-to page in the paper. It seems a little too dark altogether to just plunge right into one’s morning update on the learned debate as to precisely which species of enforced organ failure constitutes torture, so for now I’m starting with the Arts section, a decision which this morning yielded considerable dividends. Ornette Coleman:


We listened to “Cheryl,” a Parker quintet track from 1947. “I was drawn to the way Charlie Parker phrased his ideas,” he said. “It sounded more like he was composing, and I really loved that. Then, when I found out that the minor seventh and the major seventh was the structure of bebop music — well, it’s a sequence. It’s the art of sequences. I kind of felt, like, I got to get out of this.”

He talks a lot about sequences. (John Coltrane, he said, was a good saxophone player who was lost to them.) With regard to his Parker worship, he kept the phrasing but got rid of the sequences. “I first tried to ban all chords,” he said, “and just make music an idea, instead of a set pattern to know where you are.”

Times article

oh, just a farrago of benign news items…

September 21, 2006

…all read in the Times on the subway home and, cumulatively, telling you far more about the world than you ever wanted to 21train6001.jpgknow even if you already knew it. Consider each a sort of putrid world in a grain of unhappy sand. Where to begin…

1. The Bush administration is stalling an investigation of a brazen act of state-sponsored terrorism – a pair of assassinations; one of those killed was an American – committed on US soil. This sounds decidedly odd – didn’t I hear something about a war on terror? – until one twigs to which state sponsored the terrorism: Augusto Pinochet‘s Chile:

grain of sand the first

2. The US Justice Department is forced to contradict comments from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Yesterday, Gonzales denied responsibility for the deportation of Maher Arar to Syria and said he was “not aware that [Arar] was tortured.” The Times reports the comments “caused puzzlement” as the US decision to deport the Canadian citizen is a matter of public record, and the results of a public inquiry just released in Canada confirmed Arar had been repeatedly tortured during his more than year long imprisonment. (Not incidentally, the inquiry also found no evidence linking Arar to “terrorism” despite the Mounties’ best efforts to find something, anything, to justify the faulty, unverifed “intelligence” they passed on to the Americans which likely led to Arar’s deportation in the first place.)

grain of sand the second

3. Four US government auditors launch a lawsuit against their own bosses claiming they’ve been prevented from going after tens of millions of dollars oil and gas companies have been fraudulently holding back from the government:

grain of sand the third

4. The UN says far more people have died violent deaths in Baghdad (5,106) in the last two months than was previously thought. Meanwhile, US officials claim even the earlier number revised by the UN is inflated. The UN report also describes evidence of torture on many of the bodies:

grain of sand the fourth

5. Documents reveal Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed combined have attended more than 100 meetings at the Bush White House:

grain of sand the fifth

6. And Hugo Chavez waves a copy of Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance before the UN General Assembly. There’s even a photo:

grain of sand the sixth

In fact to segue to some less dispiriting grains,

An Australian court rules the entire city of Perth belongs to Aborigines.

And a charming story about subway sounds and a cell phone call from Neil Young. It’s all very reminiscent of the Wim Wender’s movie Lisbon Story, a tale about a movie soundman who arrives in Lisbon to discover a movie with no sound, and no filmmaker, and a beautiful woman with a haunting voice sharing his mansion. Highly recommended, but in the interim read about the subway sounds and the singular pleasures of exploring a city with large headphones and a powerful microphone.


The Pope and ancient prejudices

September 20, 2006

An excellent, thoughtful piece in The Guardian from Karen Armstrong, noted historian of religions, that helps put the Pope’s recent remarks on Islam in perspective. In the process, she makes their import even more alarming. It’s worth remembering that Benedict’s “faux pas” wasn’t off-the-cuff – as Bush’s may well have been in his infamous “Crusade” comment – but considered and deliberate. Armstrong helps us to understand the ignoble genealogy of that deliberation, and along the way provides some very useful history lessons:

Until the middle of the eighth century, Jews and Christians in the Muslim empire were actively discouraged from conversion to Islam, as, according to Qur’anic teaching, they had received authentic revelations of their own. The extremism and intolerance that have surfaced in the Muslim world in our own day are a response to intractable political problems – oil, Palestine, the occupation of Muslim lands, the prevelance of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, and the west’s perceived “double standards” – and not to an ingrained religious imperative.

Karen Armstrong on Islamophobia and the West

(thanks mom)

Remnick on Clinton (Bill just wants to be loved)

September 19, 2006

Even by New Yorker standards I think the article might qualify as elephantine. Perhaps this is simply one of the advantages of penning a profile for the magazine you edit, or perhaps the length is meant to underline the cultural significance, the historical moment of it all: David Remnick, leading member of the liberal bien pensant media-intellectual set, expatiating on Bill Clinton, bill-clinton.jpgpresent-day icon and former President (Sept. 18 edition; and now available on-line). Then again, we might just as easily say expiating. For, of course, Clinton is more than simply one more ex-President. The failure of his presidency – an especially bitter one when one considers what it helped pave the way for – is also the failure of the American liberals who put their hopes in Clinton (many of whom subscribe to the New Yorker).

This is perhaps one means to account for the unexpected tone of Remnick’s piece. Certainly there are some more than obligatory nods to Clinton’s post-presidential philanthropy and its not altogether self-serving motivations, but on the whole the portrayal of Clinton is uncharitable to the point of being mean-spirited, even vindictive. The use of italics, for example, is always discretionary when recounting speech and Remnick never seems to pass over an opportunity to make Clinton sound gushing and worthy of mockery. “Oh Hillary just loves giraffes” is a typical Clinton comment mediated by Remnick. There is also no shortage of snide authorial asides and non sequitur conversational snippets from Clinton that, again, appear designed to make him out as something of a buffoon. In general, the impression one has of Clinton after reading the article is of the kind of person you’d hate to be stuck sitting beside on a plane (as Remnick often was; although these planes were owned by hedge-fund managers), a logorrheic blowhard whose knowledge is as broad as it is shallow.

But I’m not questioning the veracity of Remnick’s account. It may all be true – and likely is; I don’t, for example, need much convincing that Bill has a boundless appetite for the adulation of others. Indeed, we should perhaps be grateful for Remnick’s honesty. (Here’s a recent intelligent portrait of Remnick in The Guardian.) It’s just the snideness of his treatment that leads me to venture there’s more at work in this piece than simply a journalistic desire for verisimilitude. Something about it smacks of a long-awaited score-settling. Not that Bill didn’t have it coming.

“stay tuned!” or confirmation of the end of gravitas (Weltschmerz)

September 15, 2006

katie couric, like, so totally celebrates the end of her first week anchoring the manifestly unmoored cbs evening “news”:

“We’re trying to make the news more accessible, more compelling, more interesting, and we’re trying to give people a little hope, optimism and even a chuckle when we can.”

Quel mandate! Sure hope they can live up to it! To quote again from the formidable Ms. C’s blog: “As the late Karen Carpenter sang, ‘Close to you’, I mean, ‘We’ve only just begun.’ Wow, how hip am I?”

sigh. so, our super awesome (imported directly from German) WordOfTheDay? (and come on i just know you saw it coming and no it’s not “snide”): Weltschmerz, which the generally non-ebullient OED defines as: A weary or pessimistic feeling about life; an apathetic or vaguely yearning attitude. indeed. kudos, katie.

katie’s breathless first week

(thanks milloy)

BibliOdyssey (congeries)

September 14, 2006

fantastic scans from old books and a congeries* of what is referred to as “visual materia obscura“.

quite a stunning site.

(via the indomitable storyglot.

similarly quarried (our verb of the day), I’ve since taken note, by the irrepressible lifeinapanel.

great minds.)

*from the OED: congeries, A collection of things merely massed or heaped together; a mass, heap.


“you and I are on the other side of almost everything” (pellucid)

September 13, 2006

a thought that perhaps speaks to the essence of romance. isn’t that what the feeling is with another person, that conviction of making another world, un monde à part, not just separate from “almost everything” but in some sense actually against it? and isn’t that in part what becomes so addictive about being with the other person? here i’m paraphrasing the backcover blurb of a little novel by kundera called l’identité (written originally in french but readily disponible in english). much of it is a meditation on the nature of couples, of what we seek in joining them and what is thereby gained and, perhaps, lost. I read it a couple of months ago – the prose is typically spare and limpid – and find my thoughts often returning to it. kundera is lucid, life rendered pellucid* (to deploy our WordOfTheDay).

dears.jpg I was put in mind of kundera by that thought, “you and I are on the other side of almost everything”, which is actually a song lyric I heard performed last night by the dears (though it could be “on the outside of almost everything”. I’m awaiting clarification, but “truth is subjectivity” to invoke the lonely daneofmanynames so I’ll go with my ears.) hadn’t seen them in a while nor indeed any live music in a proper concert setting for some time. a really wonderful show – sound, lights, ride cymbal, hearts-on-sleeves, the whole thing – for which I wanted to thank them. it’s always good to be reminded what humans can do when they get together.

(a sidebar thought on kundera: for anyone with some intermediate manoeuvres looking to work on their french reading chops, kundera novels are a great place to start; plus he now writes in french and personally revised the french translations of his earlier novels. he’s almost minimalist in his prose; short, polished sentences. you’ll have to start by looking up a bunch of words but then find they keep recurring. also the chapters are short and the pages go by quickly. important to have that feeling of accomplishment. l’insoutenable légèreté de l’être. you have to admit it does sound even better in french.)

*from the OED: pellucid, 1. Transmitting or allowing the passage of light; translucent, transparent.

(entry composed and posted with breakfast # 2 en plein air in bryant park in the midst of the preening madness of fashion week. I think I was offered about 6 copies of the times style magazine as I tried to navigate the well-calved crowds. inside the park, by the carrousel, the bust of goethe looks on impassively. I’m tempted to write stoically. the sorrows of aged johann.)

beards, armpits, eyebrows

September 12, 2006


Highly recommended New Yorker article. I’d create a category for it called “the social-anthropology of everyday life” but then that seems a tad long-winded.


‘On January 30, 1937, a letter to the New Statesman and Nation announced that Darwin, Marx, and Freud had a successor—or, more accurately, successors. “Mass-Observation develops out of anthropology, psychology, and the sciences which study man,” the letter read, “but it plans to work with a mass of observers.” The movement already had fifty volunteers, and it aspired to have five thousand, ready to study such aspects of contemporary life as:

Behaviour of people at war memorials.
Shouts and gestures of motorists.
The aspidistra cult.
Anthropology of football pools.
Bathroom behaviour.
Beards, armpits, eyebrows.
Distribution, diffusion and significance of the dirty joke.
Funerals and undertakers.
Female taboos about eating.
The private lives of midwives.

New Yorker article

Link to the author of the article’s blog with more information and links on Mass-Observation (and further down a great slideshow of Walker Evans’ photos) and a nod to the humble toilings of your very own didactique. First we take Manhattan…


sontag on sontag

September 11, 2006


31 December, On Keeping a Journal. Superficial to understand the journal as just a receptacle for one’s private, secret thoughts — like a confidante who is deaf, dumb and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.

The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.

NYT magazine