Thursday September 30, 2004
As debate night approaches, this e-mail from Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi about the situation in Iraq is mandatory reading. Among its revelations: Things are so bad in Iraq that, if elections were held tomorrow, Saddam would probably win, provided anyone had the guts to show up at the polls. “Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans?” one Iraqi tells her. “For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?”
Glad I’m not the only one wondering why I’m reading this in a personal e-mail circulating on the web, rather than in, say, the Wall Street Journal. Daniel gets it right:
Fahissi, through obviously careful observation, has determined what the truth is and feels free to tell her friends in a way that she can’t tell her readers, because her editors will call it opinion. In print, she’d have to have an equal number of official lies and evasions to balance out what she’s actually learned.
Remember that tonight as the official lies and evasions get underway.
Tuesday September 28, 2004
When I first saw this item about the “interrobang,” I expected to read about some new, barely legal intelligence-gathering technique from Abu Ghraib. It turns out, however, that the interrobang — which looks like this “‽” — is just a punctuation mark that didn’t quite catch on. To wit:
In 1962, the interrobang (‽) was introduced by the New York publishing establishment as “a twentieth century punctuation mark.” The interrobang combined the functions of a question mark and an exclamation point. It received some attention at first, but never caught on, although for a brief period during the 1960s it was added to some typewriter keyboards.
If you would like to help bring the interrobang back, and I know you do, this code will do it:
<span style="font-family: Lucida Sans Unicode;">‽</span>
Reviving a dead punctuation mark. Doesn’t that sound like fun‽‽‽
Friday September 24, 2004
As a sort of follow-up to last month’s item about two Australian filmmakers who made Heidegger’s reading of Holderlin into a movie, we note that British director Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People) is planning to make Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy into a movie.
(via Maud Newton.)
BuyCostumes.com has put together a chart correlating the sale of caricature masks with the results of the last six presidential elections. Since 1980, the candidate whose mask has sold the best has won the election, which is kind of counter-intuitive, since one might think that whoever’s mask is selling faster is being ridiculed the most. But apparently there are people — a lot of people — who view political masks, not as mockery, but as homage. As of today, Bush masks are outselling Kerry masks 56% to 44%.
Thursday September 23, 2004
My hometown of Cincinnati (I grew up in the Kentucky suburbs of the Queen City, lest anyone doubt the Bluegrass bona fides discussed in yesterday’s post) is challenging Memphis (where I spent all of my 20s) as the city that invented rock and roll. Organizers of Cincy’s MidPoint Music Festival recently ran an ad in The Memphis Flyer, where I used to work, arguing that
Sure, rock ‘n’ roll was born in Memphis when Elvis Presley recorded “That’s All Right Mama” for Sam Phillips in 1954. But it was conceived in Cincinnati in 1947, when Wynonie Harris cut the hit “Good Rockin’ Tonight” at King Records.
The ad shows images of a “Do Not Disturb” sign and a maternity ward to illustrate the difference between conception and birth and asks, “Where would you rather spend your weekend?” Ooh, tough question. I guess it depends on whether you’re in the mood for a Klan rally or an obscenity trial.
Wednesday September 22, 2004
Apparently Philip Roth batters my home state of Kentucky in his new exercise in alternative history, The Plot Against America. As part of a forced relocation of America’s Jewish population, according to a plot summary from the Lexington Herald-Leader,
Roth’s family friend Seldon is sent with his mother to live in Danville, which apparently is near-barbarous. Danville children call the friendless Seldon “Saltine,” and he is forced to teach a none-too-bright neighbor child to play chess to have any companionship. His mother is burned to death in her car during an outbreak of anti-Jewish violence in Louisville. The Roths are forced on a desperate road trip to rescue Seldon from the Kentuckians.
I actually spent a month in Danville in 1986 as part of a forced relocation of literate high school kids called the Governor’s Scholar Program. Centre College is there, because Danville is supposedly the exact center of the state — although how you calculate the center of a state shaped like Kentucky I do not know. My roommate was Jewish. He was probably the first Jewish person I’d met in 16 years, but — hey — what do you want? It’s Kentucky.
Tuesday September 21, 2004
I wasn’t sure Moorishgirl’s recent find — an ‘80’s how-to book titled Plan and Make Your Own Fences & Gates, Walkways, Walls, & Drives by E. Annie Proulx — was legit until I found this bio of Proulx. The author spent the years before Heart Songs appeared in 1988 writing this and other manuals, including The Fine Art of Salad Gardening and The Complete Dairy Foods Cookbook.
Monday September 20, 2004
The Common Review offers up a pitiless screed on the fashions of the fat and tenured. A taste:
Look at us. Glance around a room at a professional meeting: we look like refugees. And not refugees from an interesting culture. Refugees from Scarsdale in 1983 or from Boise in 1994. Many academics, who possess the bewildering self-satisfaction of the entirely self-absorbed, will not accept the idea that garments they purchased new in 1994 are now not only unfashionable but unsavory. In part, our collective reluctance to update our wardrobe proceeds from faulty thinking. Whether applied to clothing or to original research and writing, the academic often thinks, “Hey, if it was good enough to get me tenure, there is no reason to mess with the ideal. I found what fits me. Don’t bother me about revising my signature style.” This leads to distinguished colleagues looking so remorselessly unattractive as to make one long for the days when scholars wore robes.
(via Arts & Letters Daily.)
Artist Frank Jump has put together an impressive gallery of fading ads from around New York and the U.S.
Friday September 17, 2004
I’ve always admired Virginia for having the most aggressive state motto — “Death to Tyrants” — but now, thanks to Francis, I have learned that Maryland has the bloodiest state song. A sample, which clearly states Maryland’s historical position on “crucifixion of the soul”:
Thou wilt not yield the vandal toll,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Thou wilt not crook to his control,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Better the fire upon thee roll,
Better the blade, the shot, the bowl,
Than crucifixion of the soul,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Wednesday September 15, 2004
I was struck by this observation from a recent book review in the New Statesman:
We inherit the idea of the intellectual from the 18th-century Enlightenment, which valued truth, universality and objectivity — all highly suspect notions in a postmodern age. As Furedi points out, these ideas used to be savaged by the political right, as they undercut appeals to prejudice, hierarchy and custom. Nowadays, in a choice historical irony, they are under assault from the cultural left.
More important than the context here is the fact that this neatly summarizes the accepted storyline about relativism, yet highlights how wrong that storyline is when it comes to the strategies being used by the political right today. The so-called culture wars — as they are usually understood — are a battle between liberal perspectivalism and conservative absolutism, and this might be true in academia, but in the culture at large, who has benefited more from the steady demolition of the popular belief in objective truth? Well, let’s see, it’s probably the party that has managed to turn the absence of WMD and a complete lack of evidence linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida or 9/11 into matters of opinion.
Ever since Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves a decade ago, the right has hammered away at the public’s belief in objective truth by embracing a thorough-going relativism that would make even Foucault blush. With the myth of the liberal media — and there might be a liberal media somewhere, but it’s not in the papers put out by Gannett and Knight-Ridder and Scripps-Howard that most Americans read — the right has trained the public to always consider the source when it comes to views that oppose it. Think the war is going badly? So says the New York Times. Think Bush has the worst record on job creation since Herbert Hoover? Ah, the lefties at the Washington Post are just out to get him.
The result, judging from opinion polls at least, is that the right has become practically bullet-proof, as a majority of Americans discard undisputed facts as if they were the idiosyncratic customs of some mysterious jungle tribe. And, as many have already pointed out, the media has largely acquiesced to this perspectival interpretation of reality by dutifully collecting dissenting opinions, even when they are in conflict with demonstrable facts. There can be no doubt that if the upcoming election were decided, not by television pageants and ad hominem attacks, but by a bare presention of the administration’s record, it wouldn’t even be close. Fact: Iraq did not have WMD. Fact: Iraq had no connection to al-Qaida or 9/11.
Yet the right continues to speak of the threat posed by Iraq, the Republican Party parades 9/11 as if Iraq had something to do with it, and Dick Cheney cryptically accepts the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion that there was no “collaborative relationship” between Iraq and al-Qaida yet objects to “media reports suggesting that al-Qaida and Iraq had no ties whatsoever” — as if the facts in evidence were merely interpretations of facts. Well, hello, Richard Rorty.
But this is nothing new. As the quote above suggests, it is really quite old. For just as the values of truth and objectivity “used to be savaged by the political right, as they undercut appeals to prejudice, hierarchy and custom,” so are they being savaged today.
Tuesday September 14, 2004
In Daniel’s very funny new piece for The New Yorker, the press secretary for the Embassy of Kazakhstan responds to the way his country is portrayed by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen on HBO’s Da Ali G Show. It turns out that in the real Kazakhstan, “women are not kept in cages. The national sport is not shooting a dog and then having a party” and “you cannot earn a living being a Gypsy catcher.” But then, well, there is this one sport that involves a dead goat.
The Morning News offers some scripts for movie trailers about ordinary life. I predict most of these will be optioned by the end of the day. A sample:
When everything you believe in.
Is fading away.
When everyone you know.
It’s probably time.
To find your coat.
And leave the party.
Monday September 13, 2004
Francis has compiled an interesting list of Boy Scout merit badges that have been introduced since 1980, plus a few classics and some that are no longer offered — like “Cement Work” and “Stalking.” I’m glad to see that cinematography has been added to the list. Being prepared is well and good, but of what possible use to society can a young man be if he does not aspire to be famous?
Friday September 10, 2004
The author of I Found Some of Your Life claims to have found a memory card containing pictures from a year-in-the-life of a Nashvillean college dude named “Jordan” — judging from the name that appears on a birthday cake in one of the snapshots. The anonymous blogger is posting a picture a day, narrating the events of the purloined life as he goes.
Saturday September 04, 2004
While I’ve got my mind on my old Kentucky home, I’ll mention that Rabbit Hash, Ky. — a quirky river town that went professional with its quirkiness a few years ago — is trying to elect a new mayor. The town-cum-tourist-trap has been without a head of state since the previous mayor — Goofy, a dog — died. So far, the race is between a mini-donkey and a pot-bellied pig. “Each vote costs $1. You can vote as many times as you’d like between Saturday and Nov. 2. Bribing is legal and there will be plenty of beer around the polls.” As one Rabbit Hashian tells the Cincinnati Enquirer, “It’s a true mercenary election.”
Back in June I mentioned that when I was home in Kentucky, a freak storm blew down the giant pine tree in front of my parents’ house. This may not have seemed very important to you at the time, but in Erlanger, Ky., it was something of an event. My Dad even made the Kentucky Post this week as he was making preparations to plant a new tree. View a large version of the item.
Dan Rollman’s handwritten t-shirts have been worn by the likes of Beck, The White Stripes and Beyonce. So why do they just look like crappy Photoshop jobs? See for yourself.
(via Creativity’s PrintCritic E-mail, i.e. The Day Job.)
As summer draws to a close — a summer in which I spent several weekends on the beach in Ventor, New Jersey, right next to Atlantic City — I was interested to find this account of why it ever occured to us hang out at the beach in the first place.
The idea that going to the beach was good for you was a creation of 18th-century Britain. Entrepreneurs keen to promote an alternative to the spa hit upon the idea that immersing people in cold salty water might be healthy. One of the first recorded bathing expeditions took to the North sea at Scarborough in 1627. A century later, a string of seaside alternatives to the spas at Bath and Buxton were well established. Before that, beaches had been regarded as hostile places, at best a working space for people who made their living from the sea: fishermen, smugglers, wreckers. Swimming for pleasure, and sunbathing, were unheard of.
(via Arts & Letters Daily.)
Friday September 03, 2004
Ah, the RNC is over. No more political blogging for me for awhile, as I get back to my avid interest in micro-controversies and minute historical details. But if you forget and want to remind yourself how decisive W. is — which, judging from last night’s speech, is the only thing he’s got going for him — download this Quicktime from a recent episode of The Daily Show.
Thursday September 02, 2004
In separate post-game interviews, RNC keynote speaker Zell Miller reveals that he has no idea what he’s talking about. Turns out that Bush, too, has referred to American forces in Iraq as “occupiers,” that Dick Cheney opposed some of the weapons systems Miller criticized Kerry for opposing, and that Kerry has approved 16 of 19 defense budgets in his 20 years in the Senate.
This morning, I snapped this picture of an incredibly life-like Dick Cheney mask in the window of the New Balance store at 3rd Ave and 50th Street. (Or is it that Cheney is simply latex-like?) As Cheney made perfectly clear last night, he — unlike Kerry — never ever waffles. Nope, Dick is much more of a stick to your story in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary kind of guy.
After hearing about it for 36 hours, I finally looked up the transcript of Tuesday night’s speech by the coeval gigglebots that are the Bush twins. Yep, it’s pretty silly.
BARBARA: When your dad’s a Republican and you go to Yale, you learn to stand up for yourself.
I knew I wasn’t quite ready to be president, but number two sounded pretty good.
Who is this man they call Dick Cheney?
We’re all asking ourselves the same thing, Barbie. I trust that a drag rendition of this interchange is well under way. Don’t let me down, New York.
Harvard graduate student Richard J. Bell has been conducting extensive research into the suicide patterns of early Americans, including the formation of preventative organizations like the Humane Society of Philadelphia:
Usually centered around local physicians, these societies attempted to curb the seemingly ever-increasing number of deaths in the nation’s rivers, lakes, and harbors by the strategic placement of medical equipment and instructions on bridges and ferries where drownings often occurred: “Do Not Despair,” one prominently placed riverside sign told those who lingered in its vicinity. Armed with lifeboats and with new ideas about suspended animation and resuscitation, members of these humane societies established what might be properly understood as the first American suicide prevention centers.
(via Arts & Letters Daily.)
Wednesday September 01, 2004
WordCount.org is a beautifully designed online project that ranks the 86,800 most frequently used English words and weights them visually by how often they are used — from “the” all the way to “conquistador”.
In true Borgesian fashion, some have been panning WordCount’s linguistic stream for shreds of meaning. For example, words 992-995 form the phrase “america ensure oil opportunity,” while 30523-30525 warn of “despotism clinching internet.”
UPDATE: Perhaps this thing isn’t such a good oracle. I’ve just noticed that words 2629-2631 are “bush admit specifically.” (If you take in three more words, the phrase becomes “bush admit specifically agents smell denied.” A reference to WMD? To faulty intelligence?) Since Bush cannot even “say specifically” or “think specifically,” such an admission is unlikely to be forthcoming — unless of course a grand jury is eventually convened. But no matter. As Cheney told some Republicans from Ohio today, “When [Bush] has to make a decision, he doesn’t waffle, he doesn’t agonize over it.” Ah, the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind.