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February 28, 2005

Snow Day


O, the reams. The reams and reams and reams. If it would only snow, I could go out and play, and not sit around reading through piles of periodicals. Here's the Wilson Quarterly - the Autumn issue! Christopher Hitchens, who vies only with fellow-Brit Andrew Sullivan as the Mr MixItUp, scolds us (he is always scolding) for disapproving of political divisiveness and wishing that campaigns would make nice. He's right to do so, but it would have been better if he had followed through and identified the longing for political politeness as a precursor of fascism.... Terry Eagleton, in Harper's - the current issue this time - takes a long look at the Enlightenment and assesses its ambivalences. Current History? Why do I take Current History? Because of a very good article years ago about the Kurds. This issue is devoted to Latin America. Pass. When it becomes common knowledge that Latin American societies (north of Argentina and Chile, anyway) are as structurally racist as the Old South ever was, then I'll pay attention.... Tell me, have you seen Unconditional Love? PPOQ says that it's as bad as Plan 9. Surely he exaggerates? But does Julie Andrews really sing from a cockpit to calm passengers on a choppy flight?... RSS Feeds. How much longer can I put off learning about RSS Feeds? Answer: indefinitely. The queston is, how much longer can I go on worrying that I ought to know? Not much.... Gee, it's snowing. Effing blizzard.

And I'm signed up with NewsGator, with their Outlook Edition and everything. And I only asked one dumb question during the whole procedure! Nothing like asking a dumb question to quicken the little grey cells.

Remark of the day (last Friday, actually): a rather young Frenchman renouncing love (en anglais): "I have stoped this stupid game; it’s too much expansive." (From La Coquette, of course)

Loose Links (Monday)

¶ Let's have more thinking and less shouting. Writing in today's Times, Adam Cohen cautions bloggers against demanding the head of Lawrence Summers, Harvard's recklessly maladroit president. Yes, we can call him names, but we should resist the temptation to storm the university gates in a torch-bearing mob. Two can play at that game, and when they do, life gets ugly. I'm thinking of the rivalry between the Greens and the Blues in old Constantinople that, in 532, boiled over in the murderous Nika riots. (Gibbon's account is, predictably, dramatic in a long-winded way; scroll here to Chapter XL if you've not got the classic handy.) The collapse of our body politic into mortally aggrieved factions is only encouraged by shrill imperatives.

¶ Bob Somerby is right, too, to protest that the mainstream media have not been derelict in ignoring the Jeff Gannon story. It is extremely trivial. There is, perhaps, reason to inquire into the admittance of an edgy, ex-military hustler into the White House briefing room, but to call this a security risk is nonsense. As the Daily Howler says, Mr Guckert was not the only lightweight in the room. Bloggers who expect this affair to dent the Bush Administration are hyperventilating. This is not to suggest that we give all concerned a pass. But the matter is not really news, and there are no grounds for demanding action. Really. Aside, that is, from the action of talking calmly and deliberatively about the culture that has enabled such monstrosity. And, by the way, such a fascination with the trivial.

¶ A good place to begin would be with a viewing of Mr & Mrs Bridge. (Shamless, I know.)

February 27, 2005

Petit poulet

Kathleen's at Mass, and I've just slid into the oven a nice little chicken stuffed, not in the chest cavity but between the skin and the breast, with persillade. My version of persillade involves taking two or three surplus cooked breakfast sausages, a handful of parsley leaves, and a couple of cloves of garlic, and whirring them into a grainy blend. Kathleen and I don't eat the breast meat, so it doesn't matter if the persillade turns out to be too loud. We eat the dark meat, and throw the white into salads... Megwoo at IHeartBacon noted the other day that the current issue of Saveur has a big spread on bacon, and indeed it does. But I would never follow the prescribed recipe for fried bacon - which is, after all, the way most people cook it. Over medium heat for five to fifteen minutes? No way. I melt bacon, over very low heat for as long as two hours. I use an AllClad nonstick griddle. The bacon, so very evenly cooked, turns almost the color of mahogany. I slip the bacon into a warm oven while I make pancakes or French toast. (French toast is a great way of using up homemade bread before its lack of preservatives starts to show.). Weekends only, you understand... But enough about food. I discovered a fantastic piece of music yesterday, one that I didn't even know existed, Jacques Ibert's Ouverture de Fête (1940). I know nothing about Ibert (1890-1962) beyond Escales, a Ravelian trilogy of tone poems on Mediterranean themes that was much recorded in the old days. This overture could not be more unlike. In a blind hearing, I'd take it to be the work of an English composer sensitive to Austrian influences, particularly the Austrian influence of the wretchedly undervalued Franz Schmidt (who did make the mistake of writing a hymn to the Anschluss - but to make up for, he died the following year). The performance took place in Paris in 1974, under the baton of Jean Martinon, who must have scoured the town for bold and brassy trumpeters. In a magnificent passage that (trust me) suggests Bruckner tweaked by Gershwin, the brass choir lets go with a disciplined abandon the likes of which I've never heard, either in concert or on disc. Sorry to rattle on so about obscure music, but - let me put it another way: Ibert's Ouverture de Fête will bring Jean-Paul Rappeneau's Bon Voyage immediately to mind. And wait till you hear who commissioned it!.... We were to have had the roast chicken, by the way, last night, but I'd forgotten about tickets for a program of Mozart, Mendelssohn and Dvorak by the Guarneri Quartet at Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. Quite the sellout: there were about a hundred listeners on the stage itself. More about that anon.

February 26, 2005

"Oh, Shut Up!"

Reports filtering back from a pre-reunion lunch of law school classmates in Chicago have reminded me what a cut-up I used to be. (Used to be?) Sitting in the back of the lecture rooms, I doodled endlessly and improvised limericks, which for a unique moment in my life poured forth. (Even if I'd saved them, you'd have had to be there, as they were all woven of references to nicknames and fresh anecdotes.) But one of my unscholarly activities enlisted the students sitting nearby as an audience. There happened to be a somewhat strange man who sat toward the front of the hall and who specialized in asking, with comic regularity, penetrating questions concerning topics that had been thoroughly disposed of in the preceding class. Professors politely let him ramble; in the back, we were losing it. One day, I drew a picture on the inside cardboard backing of my legal pad. I would refine it on further legal pads throughout the year. It looked like this:


Although there was only one head, and, beneath it, the legend read "Oh, shut up!" That was in 1977. You can imagine my astonishment when I came across this 1984 Ken Brown postcard.

What if I call it Numa Numa?

DGregoryEM copy.JPG

What I'm reading now: Thomas Goltz's Chechnya Diary and Ian Rankin's Fleshmarket Close. Mr Goltz and I have a mutual friend, and she tells me that there's a Georgia Diary in the works. Azerbaijan Diary was the literary equivalent of our trip to Istanbul: it opened up an overlooked world and demanded that attention be paid. I don't expect the Chechnya book to be quite so sanguine, however. I wonder: will Mr Goltz take on the Kurds? All of these peoples seem have always been prone to tribal violence, but contact with nation-states has transformed their skirmishes into genocide... In between these books and whatever I was reading before, I swallowed Danny Gregory's Everyday Matters: a New York Diary (Princeton Architectural Press, 2003). There are lots of interesting things to say about this album of annotated drawings, but what struck me was the blog-like quality of Mr Gregory's self-disclosure. Everyday Matters is riddled with bullet-hole sized glimpses into Mr Gregory's personal history, but no comprehensive picture is coaxed from the details. This open-endedness is remarkably life-like - although if one were having a cup of coffee with Mr Gregory it would not be overstepping to ask for a capsule summary of his parents' relationship(s), or for the precise number of full and partial siblings. It's not that these are important details; they're not. But they're the details that I'm curious to know. Other people might be just as tantalized by the author's sparing way with his successful career in advertising. Danny Gregory is not the actual subject of his "diary"; living is. And we're all doing that.... I had the wacky idea yesterday of inventing a talking bird whose witty remarks would spice up these entries - and don't be surprised if I do. It seemed so compelling and irresistible that, despite intense j'en doute expressions from Kathleen, I found myself thinking about it the moment I woke up this morning. The problem is, I'm not a sitcom writer; I don't have that kind of cleverness. I'd goof it up and get arrested probably, like the lady two floors down who was seized by ASPCA officials at her Columbia University office because she'd taken measures to repel pigeons from her windowsill, and thereby offended the neighbors who were feeding them from their balcony. (This was years ago; she's gone, but they're still there, and you don't want to think what the color of their balcony railing is.) But what if I called it Numa Numa the Wonder Bird? Would that draw visitors? How desperate.... "Never complain, never explain," counsels Danny Gregory on his blog. What kind of birds talk, anyway? I could set it up like this: an important client of Kathleen's would give her the bird for some compelling reason and she would have to take care of it. Already we have crossed a line into the wildly improbable. Ours is a no pets! household.... If I've made you laugh with this nonsense, cut it out, because I was almost as humiliated as Gary Brolsma to learn about the Numa Numa Dance video - today. It's been a center of attention since late last year; how can I not have heard of it? Not that I particularly want to see some poor shlub do what an old friend of ours calls "SID" - seated interpretive dancing. But I'm crazy about the name. How much would Danny Gregory charge to make a watercolor of my fantasy fowl?

PS: I think the video is kind of sweet. I can picture M le Neveu letting go in a similar fashion, although not in front of a camera.

PS: I neglected to thank Patricia Storms at Booklust for finding and recommending Danny Gregory's work. Apologies to the creator of The Tart!

February 25, 2005

An Apparently Widely Unread Book

How things change. In 1989, when David Fromkin published A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (Henry Holt), I couldn't have been less interested. I dimly recall the title, but I never handled the book or heard of anybody reading it. So I'd probably have gone on obliviously if it hadn't been for Amazon's practice of bundling related books. You don't save anything by buying these bundles (Amazon's prices are already fairly discounted), but you do make discoveries. As it happened, I recently wanted to buy a friend a paperback copy of Margaret Macmillan's Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, and there it was, Mr Fromkin's book, as a suggested companion purchase, and I couldn't have been more interested. I bought the bundle at once.

It won't do any good, but I'll declare at the outset that this book is required reading for all Americans. That's the bullying sort of remark that I try never to make, but my sense of avertable tragedy has overwhelmed my manners. It is impossible to read End All Peace without being conscious, on almost every page, of the folly of the American misadventure in Iraq; it is also impossible not to hope that, if more people knew that the modern Middle East was fashioned in another, kindred folly of good intentions and fond conceit, then the misadventure might more quickly be brought to a close. Finally, there is the Cassandra touch, of having learned from a book that it might have been read before it was too late.

A Peace to End All Peace appeared, as I say, in 1989, before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Lebanon and Afghanistan were at war, but the first attack on the World Trade Center lay in the future, and the impending dissolution of the Soviet Empire had everybody's attention. Fatefully, the Cold War, which in retrospect provided the gravity that kept global stability in place, was about to come to an end, with sorrowful consequences for many people - Bosnians, certainly - and a a reassessment of alliances all round. Yet much that has happened since 1989 could have been foretold by the assiduous reader of this book.

I have only one complaint to make, and that is about the subtitle, which ought to have read, The British Undoing of the Ottoman Empire.  Mr Fromkin writes in his introduction,

As you will see when you read the book, Middle Eastern personalities, circumstances and political cultures do not figure a great deal in the narrative that follows, except when I suggest the outlines and dimensions of what European politicians were ignoring when they made their decisions.

It would have more accurate to substitute "British" for European here. End All Peace is overwhelming concerned with British politicians, civil servants, military officers, and journalists. From it one might construct the beginnings of a catalogue raisonnée of that key diplomatic documents, from treaties to diary entries, that between 1914 and 1922 shaped a Middle Eastern order out of the dust of the Ottoman Empire, and most of these were British. The narrative is propelled by an inner tension that Mr Fromkin says he only discovered in the course of writing it. First, there was the story that he always meant to tell. This story centered on Sir Mark Sykes, a wealthy baronet and amateur diplomat who championed the arrangement that was eventually put into place in 1922, four years after Sykes's death of influenza. By itself, this story would be a straightforward account of the thinking behind the line-drawing and power-sharing that disposed of the non-Turkish regions of the Ottoman Empire. The second story was implicit, and I daresay had to be teased out by Mr Fromkin. The second story was about growing British resistance to the first story. Mr Fromkin's conclusion appears near the end, and the italics are his.

It was no wonder, then, that in the years to come British officials were to govern the Middle East with no great sense of direction or conviction. It was a consequence of a peculiarity of the settlement of 1922: having destroyed the old order in the region, and having deployed troops, armored cars, and military aircraft everywhere from Egypt to Iraq, British policy-makers imposed a settlement upon the Middle East in 1922 in which, for the most part, they themselves no longer believed.

We tend to think of World War I as a morass of trenches and corpse-ridden no-man's-land. It was certainly that, but on the other side of Europe there was another war, in which the Entente powers fought the Ottoman Empire, which had sided with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Where the Western Front was a stalemate, however, the Middle Eastern front was a veritable pinball game of hits and misses, contingencies that could easily have worked out otherwise. To begin with, the Turks courted an English alliance in 1911 but was rebuffed. Thereafter, it sought a German alliance, but again without success - until the very eve of war, 2 August 1914. Two days later, Britain seized the two dreadnoughts that had been built for and paid for by Turkey; presently, two German warships that had skirted British naval incompetence in the Mediterranean would be "refitted" as Turkish ships, "purchased" to take the place of the dreadnoughts. No one was clearly informed of anyone's acts or motivations, and misinterpretation abounded on all sides. It is only by snaking through the feints and bluffs, however, that one gets from the outbreak of war to the creation of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan, and Iraq - all fashioned from the Ottoman Empire, and fashioned according to commitments made during the war for reasons that had in many cases vanished by the war's end. To give but one example, part of the motivation behind the Balfour Declaration - the statement of British sympathy with the "idea" of a Jewish homeland - was a hope that Russian Jews would be galvanized into continuing the war, although by November 1917, when Balfour addressed his celebrated letter to Lord Rothschild, it was already too late for that. Almost without exception, British military men stationed in the Middle East, moreover, were both sympathetic to Arabs (whom they did not, however, believe capable of self-government) and hostile to Zionists. Nor did the document have the support of all of Britain's leading Jews. The British were prepared to muddle through somehow, but their every gesture seems to have made peace in the Middle East an ever more distant prospect.

It would be hard to say that Mr Fromkin is sympathetic to the British statesmen and officers who, while usually meaning well, suffered terribly blinkered vision. The only clear-sighted man in the bunch was Churchill, but his impatient swagger simply fueled passive aggression all round, with the result that it was Churchill who was blamed for the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, even though it never would have occurred if his directives had been executed by the Navy. Indeed, Churchill was the only Englishman with any real fighting courage. Even Kitchener, the hero of Khartoum and head of the war effort, was a worrier who could not directly relate to the Cabinet, but could only communicate through underlings. The most serious British blunder, repeated again and again, was the assumption that Arabs would rather be ruled by fair and honest Britain than by corrupt and inert Turks. Nor did the British recognize, in Mustafa Kemal, a Westernizer who would transform Turkey itself. Indeed, that oversight may be forgiven; Kemal, better know now as Atatürk, was the only one of the charismatic nationalists to emerge from World War I who would leave his people better off than he found them. It is lucky that Kemal took Churchill's bluff seriously in 1922, and backed down from the imminence of a new war, over the occupation of Istanbul. But the crisis brought Lloyd George's coalition to an end, and, unlike Churchill, Lloyd George would never taste power again.

The parade of arrogant cluelessness on parade in this book is enormously distressing, because even though the War was over long ago, its legacy persists.

Some of [today's] disputes, like those elsewhere in the world, are about rulers or frontiers, but what is typical of the Middle East is that more fundamental claims are also advanced, drawing into question not merely the dimensions anbd the boundaries, but the right to exist, of countries that immediately or eventually emerged from the British and French decisions of the early 1920s: Iraq, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. So at this point in the twentieth century, the Middle East is the region of the world in which wars of national survival are still being fought with some frequency.

If nothing else, Mr Fromkin's book will help readers make sense of Arab "insurgency," and perhaps even explain the urgency of removing our troops from a menace that their presence in the Middle East will only intensify. But how foolish I feel, exhorting visitors to pick up a book that's more than fifteen years old.

Loose Links (Friday)

¶ Must we allow religious hate speech for the greater good of "free speech"? At Open Democracy, Shakira Hussein, a self-declared mongrel, rebuts her literary hero, Salman Rushdie, on this tricky question - which she, however, contrives to present with stunning clarity. She writes about Australian legislation that has been tested in court, and that in my view falls safely under the proscription of false alarms. One might even argue that shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre is not speech in the first place. But be sure to read Ms Hussein, even if you can't get to her until the weekend.

¶ "Jeff Gannon has a blog." Okay, there's his picture, and there's his name - or rather it's not his name - and there are some entries. But I will not go further than the assertion that there exists a Web log that purports to be authored by James Guckert's alter ego. Since Mr Whoever has been "advised" not to discuss his other professional activities, the site is anything but interesting; it seems to be a matter of links to articles that support - well, no, they don't support Our Hero so much as demonize his "liberal attackers."

¶ Visit The Apostropher for an elegant deconstruction of Wingnut jungle drumbeats.

¶ Now the truth can be told: Art Linkletter bored Richard Nixon stiff.

Big Books at Bedtime

Last night, Kathleen came home early and tucked herself into bed at eight o'clock, lunchtime practically. She had planned another very late night, but gas pains had made her afternoon hell, and she was worried about flu. And she was certainly tired enough to go to sleep as soon as she had eaten something. Not hungry yet myself, I made her an omelette with some Grafton cheddar and urged her to drink a glass of cabernet. Then we had one of our big-book talks. Big-book talks involve lugging the Columbia Encyclopedia into another room - it is never in the right room - and getting down at least one version of the Bible, plus a lot of peering at small print in the lamplight. First, having alighted on the topic of monotheism, we had to look up Ikhnaton (not "Akhnaton," thanks very much - what does Ms Nola's Egyptologist brother have to say about that? not that she'll read this, because she's off on a wedding weekend - not her own, I hasten to note). Ikhnaton was a sun-worshiper who got so wrapped up in religion that his empire crumbled away; he was also Nefretete's husband. I rambled on a bit about Moses and Monotheism, but we did not actually consult that singular essay by Sigmund Freud (two Moseses?). It occurred to me that Tutankhamen, Ikhnaton's successor, might have been murdered at the tender age of seventeen so that the priests could stage a tradition-reviving funeral. In any case, there was nothing in the Encyclopedia to suggest cross-fertilization between an Egyptian king and the sons of Abraham. We moved on to the Gospel story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38). Surely the most remarkable thing about the mission of Jesus as he actually conducted it (not quite the same thing as how it got written up) is his feminism, or at any rate his habit of not treating women as second-class persons. Kathleen and I love to parse the Gospels because, having been brought up as Catholics, we're quite ignorant of Scripture relative to our Protestant countrymen. I've even fallen into the cynical habit of trying to size up exactly why the Church sorted out this or that particular snippet for spoon-feeding to the faithful - who of course were forbidden to read the Bible on their own - and in this light I perceived that the Mary/Martha story supports the notion of idle monastics. But then we got out Luke, and read it, and what stuck out was Mary's being allowed to sit at Jesus's feet - in the position of an acolyte - and to listen with the men. It's stories like this one, I'm sure, that set the West on its unique trajectory toward equality of the sexes - not that we've arrived, but still.

Presently Kathleen was drifting off. The wine and my voice had done their work. I always feel foolish saying that, if she's at all sleepy, I can put Kathleen to sleep with a few sentences, but Kathleen claims that it's one of the things she loves about me - a "wonderful radio voice." Well, I know professionally that I don't have a wonderful radio voice; I used to work with Mark Fowler, after all, and I know the real thing. But I can't convince Kathleen. Not infrequently, I'll be on the phone with her in the late afternoon and I'll notice that she's beginning to sound like a zombie: time to say goodbye, or I'll be saying goodnight.

February 24, 2005

Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! (Loose Links)

¶ What do you know: hardly have the electrons dried on my carbonara piece than Jason Kottke posts a link to Bacontarian, a collaborative Web log devoted to smoked pork. It's a brand-new site, and who knows where it will go, but follow it I must. And the links! Here's one that I won't even identify - be careful if you're at work, Oh, what the hell. I told them my zip code to see what would happen, and I got the following message:

Your zip code 10028 is covered by our New York office.

Due to overwhelming demand, there are currently no BaconWhores appointments available in the next two weeks. Check back soon for updated availability!

Right. Somebody sure had nothing to do one weekend. Soon I was at IHeartBacon, a serious cooking site from Seattle, which took me to Rate the Bacon, which is simply odd. Don't forget the Bacon of the Month Club! I'm afraid that I'm not ready for its level of commitment. When I order bacon my mail, I go to Nueske's. Nueske's bacon is smoked in applewood, and it is quite unlike anything that you'll find at the supermarket. But it is also unlike those nitrate-free bacons, which always taste like smoked salmon. I love smoked salmon, but not when I'm in the mood for bacon.

¶ Sometimes I wonder if I invented the peanut butter and bacon sandwich. Nobody ever seems to have heard of it, and, what's more, people tend to gag when I mention it. But if there were ever two foods more made for each other, that was in another world. This is a very high sodium treat, though, so I've been avoiding it. My mother made them for us when I was little - I think. Maybe my father liked them. I really don't remember. But they're delicious, and I don't really have to tell you that they're made of two slices of white toast, three slices of crisp bacon, and a spread of peanut butter. Note: take small bites and prepare to chew. Recommended for insomniacs. By the way, there are some kinky varieties out there. Mozzarella? Celery?

¶ Why "Canadian bacon"? Canadian bacon is smoked loin, not belly. That's why it's so lean, and impossible to fry without a little butter. There is no lard to render. But of course it's just right for Eggs Benedict, where true bacon would be much too salty and ham - well, hammy.

Dietz & Watson explains the world of cured meats and sausage, or at least that part of the world in which it traffics. 

Still Sneezing, But Cutting Up Old Sheets (Thanks, Amy)

Talk about a piece writing itself! Kathleen was working very late, which is different from just plain late in that she gets a bite to eat at the office and we don't have dinner together and it's usually tomorrow by the time she gets home. Because she thinks she doesn't care for spaghetti alla carbonara, it's one of those dishes that I make for myself. And because I'm making it for myself, under no pressure whatever, I not only consider improvements but remember the ones I've made. Maybe Kathleen would like it now; in any case, I've resolved to serve it as a primo piatto sometime soon. Anyway, I was watching Sneakers, the cool hacker film - has anyone noticed that James Horner, a self-poacher only slightly less voracious than George Frideric Handel, anticipated his celebrated score for A Beautiful Mind by about ten years? - and making the carbonara, and then I was eating the carbonara, and the movie ended, and I felt so good that I just had to write about the carbonara. Hours later... The results of my physical exam were explained to me yesterday, and, contrary to recent anxieties, I am not about to expire. My "good" cholesterol is twenty-nine points higher than normal, which is very good, because you subtract that figure from the bad cholesterol number, and without all that good cholesterol I'd be in big trouble - although I can hear you saying that no cholesterol would probably be best. I restrained myself from sharing with my internist the theory that martinis dissolve cholesterol. They certainly dissolve something.... I did not finish A Peace to End All Peace yesterday, hard as I tried. But I did change the light bulbs in one of the hallway ceiling fixtures. And then I decided that the shopping bag of very old candy, which was in a tote bag with the light bulbs, should really be tossed, and I was about to toss it when I thought that perhaps I'd better have a closer look at what was in it, and while it was indeed mostly candy in there, and old cigars (don't ask), there was also the remote control for a defunct VCR/DVD combo. I definitely think that I should hold onto the remote until I can throw away the player as well. Don't laugh. The porters in this building are brilliant scavengers.... Who writes the weather blurbs for the Times? (If they're online, I'm too lazy to look.) You know, the little announcements in the upper right-hand corner of the front page. Our favorite is "ample sun." Today's: "Today, snow arrives by afternoon." Where? At Penn Station or Grand Central?

Spaghetti alla carbonara

This recipe began in the pages of Giuliano Hazan's The Classic Pasta Cookbook (Dorling Kindersley, 1993), one of those super DK cookbooks with oodles of helpful photographs. (You can still get it from Amazon's Marketplace.) Spaghetti alla carbonara is one of the Classic Sauces, which puts it in a special chapter where every ingredient is pictured in an arc around a bowl containing the finished product. (Other classics are Pasta puttanesca, Pasta primavera, Fettuccine all'Alfredo, and, most important, a recipe for the Bolognese sauce known as ragù.) You don't really have to know how to read to use this cookbook.

That cookbook. This is my cookbook. I strongly advise you to read what follows all the way through before even thinking of making the dish. It's not that carbonara is in any way difficult. It's simply that I want you to savor my prose in tranquility.

Continue reading about the Spaghetti alla carbonara at Portico.

February 23, 2005

Real News

Sure, the Gannon/Guckert story is amusing in itself. In its sick little way. But beneath this tale of the hustler-fluffer (that was Gannon's role at the White House, wasn't it?) there is a very serious story, and it has nothing to do with national security. Well, not directly. The New Yorker kicked off this week's Talk section with a pithy summary of the affair and the opinion that it be dubbed "Nothinggate," because, with both houses of Congress controlled by legislators still loyal to the White House, official hearings are unlikely, and we may never learn just how Mr Guckert got those credentials. Meanwhile, however, the more serious story concerns the reluctance of the mainstream media to cover the cascade of embarrassing revelations about Mr Guckert's various Web sites. We all know that the Rove White House has perfected the art of cowing the contemporary press corp, but how in tarnation did the press corps ever become so cowable?

When I say that the answer is "corporations," I want to be perfectly clear that the businesses that publish and broadcast our news have always been organized as corporations. But their corporate structure was a little more than an accounting technicality. Nobody thought of "newspapers" as "corporations," not even when the newspapers in question were published by W R Hearst. The Hearst and Pulitzer organizations were instruments - I would almost say "weapons" - that their creators wielded with idiosyncratic freedom.

Modern corporations are not run offensively. Marketing campaigns are aggressive, it is true, but they are too calculated to be called offensive. There is a heedlessness of the consequences about genuine offensiveness that corporations, purged as they are of individual authorities, can't even simulate. Old-time newspapers were bold, particularly when they'd been warned off a story. We used to have a robust press. What happened?

Too much attention to the bottom line, perhaps. Too much marketing. To much thinking about things other than the news. We all know about the declining readership problem that plagues every newspaper in the country (with the exception of the Grey Lady). The question is: how to deal with it? The explosion of the Blogosphere suggests that the problem is inaccurately described. Perhaps the Cold War made the great newspapers sleepy; perhaps newspapers became too dependent on scandals to hold onto tough-minded readers. Somewhere along the way, too many of these readers began to ask themselves why they ought to read about matters over which they had no control? This was a question that robust journalism forestalled with an almost Biblical display of authority. And nobody appears to be asking it in the Blogosphere. Have there ever been so many daily consumers of "printed" news as there are now? Newspapers have been slow to adopt new technologies, and they've done almost nothing in the way of adapting new technologies to the delivery of their product.

Product? Did I say "product?" There you have the corporate creep in all its banality. Can you imagine an old-time newsman talking about product or (my favorite) content? These terms betray the all-purpose thinking of corporate generalists: it doesn't matter what you fill the pages with so long as readers buy the product. And that proposition leads quickly to another: don't put anything on the page that readers won't like!

To these anxieties about sales, Karl Rove has brilliantly added concern about supplies - access to the White House. Journalists who displease the White House are routinely frozen out; the President himself, when a candidate in 2000 (I think it was), insulted Times reporter Adam Clymer in public. The old-time newsmen would have fought back like tigers, but Mr Rove knows that old-time newsmen aren't running the show anymore. Indeed, they've passed largely out of existence. Today's reporters are almost as image-conscious as broadcast personalities, and have lost the taste for haphazard lifestyles kept their predecessors stoic. But whether or not newsmen have changed, control of media enterprises has changed, and the new masters are as defensive about the markets, their products, and their customers as any auto-maker.

How newsmen came to be replaced by bean counters is a matter that our country's "B" schools will have to answer for. For the time being, you have a choice: you can get your news from "professional" sources that only once in a great while hire a Jayson Blair, or you can plunge into the Rialto of commentary that's no more than one link away from this page - in which case you will have to use your own head. Presently, I hope, there's a new Horace Greeley clicking away at his or her keyboard. Eventually, this writer's voice will generate its own authority, and beg politely but firmly to tell us things that we may not like to hear.

Loose Links (Wednesday)

¶ The big news is that Jason Kottke has quit his day job to run kottke.org full time; to support himself, he is soliciting ‘micropatronage.’ Mr Kottke, a physics major from Coe ('95), has been publishing online for ten years, and for seven at his current site. (Ten years ago, I wasn’t even doing much email; it wouldn’t be until the summer of ’96 that I'd join a listserv and began spending a portion of each day on line.) I don’t know where full-time blogging will take him, but I became a supporter immediately – see the little button at the lower left. To give you an idea of how clever Mr Kottke is, let me tell you that his roster of micropatrons is randomly regenerated each time the page is reloaded, so that where you appear on the list means nothing; you can't boast to your friends that you were among the first ten contributors and expect the list to back you up.

I dream of supporting my sites with contributions - "patronage" and "subscriptions" are closer to what I'm looking for than "donations" - far smaller than the ones that Mr Kottke is soliciting (he suggests $30, or $2.50 per month; I make one-time donations to sites that I like at least once a month, $10 usually, and I have never received a dime from anybody), but for that to work I’ll have to have lots more readers. While I’m gathering them, it’s oddly comforting to know that it has taken ten years for kottke.org to attract its huge following, especially given that most of its readership was pre-sold (prepared, that is, to look to new technology for information about new technology). I’m at the other end of the spectrum; very few of the readers I'm writing for even think of finding satisfaction on the Web. I have to hope that that will change, and in fact I have to believe that I will be instrumental in bringing the change about. So the big news about Jason Kottke is also big news, if only in my apartment, about me.

¶ The good news is that Édouard has revived Sale Bête. He wasn't gone for very long - not quite two weeks - but his absence left a real hole. He was coy about retiring, and equally coy about returning; he launched his re-entry in parenthesis, even:

(Désolé, c’est plus fort que moi. En plus, j’suis en vacances pour quelques jours — donc, j’ai du temps à perdre.)

But his readers posted enough comments, first of sorrow and desolation, then of delight and gratitude, to make his importance crystal clear. I remember that someone asked, in a comment on De Bric et de Blog, if Édouard could really be permitted just to "dump us." I'm sure that Édouard never thought that he was courting celebrity resentment.

¶ An example of something that should be done more often: Jesurgislac, a writer who posts frequent comments on Obsidian Wings, did what ObWi member Sebastian Holsclaw's asked her to do. Jesurgislac had contributed several comments to a very long thread about whether Eason Jordan's remarks about GIs targeting journalists had any factual support. Mr Holsclaw asked her to organize them into a coherent post on her own site, and this she has done. There are jewels in many comment threads, and they should be sifted when the dust settles. Next time, Jesurgislac, don't wait to be asked.

Sneezy - but who isn't?

Ordinarily, I make use of cotton handkerchiefs that I wash and press myself, but I've had to resort to giant boxes of Kleenex these past few days. Mercifully, my nasal passages are clear at night, and my sleep is undisturbed, but the hacking and sneezing are well underway by the time I'm pouring the last cups of boiling water into the Chemex. The only nuisance about tissues is the need to carry around a wastebasket... Because I had canceled last week's French lesson on account of my cold, I was disinclined to do so again, even though the waterworks were running even more amok. They say that nothing improves one's French accent like a cold, but accent isn't really my problem; it's the one thing that I really got out of those private lessons when I was twelve. ("La rose est une fleur," repeated ad infinitum.) My problem, increasingly it seems, is a dimness about gender. You can slur "le" and "la," of course, but the agreement of adjectives will be there to betray you. I have added one little brick to my grasp of French: photographie means "photograph" as well as "photography," and photographe means "photographer." Got it? Why does Turkish seem simpler?... One of the bloggers on my roster is unhappy about her husband's terrible working hours, and since he has what appears to be a dead-end job, there's the question what to do about a change. Remembering an observation made by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, I reflected that the Blogosphere ought to become the greatest job bazaar ever, because you are far more likely to get a job through someone you know slightly than through a good friend. I suppose that's what craigslist is for, but the chain of linked Web logs introduces a very useful personal note. Of course, everybody would have to have a blog, but that already seems inevitable. Even Édouard - but I anticipate.

February 22, 2005

Loose Links (Tuesday)

¶ What did the Roman Forum look like in its heyday? Have a look at Robert Garbisch's model.

¶ Oh, that wide and wonderful Web! Just be sure that I got the quote from The Philadelphia Story right (without watching the movie again; see preceding post), I Googled it and stumbled on a great collection of quotes from the movies, on Filmsite.

Chas and Cam face White House ban? Can this be serious? That one should even have to ask...


The other day, I wrote about improving my manners when advancing the liberal agenda. To a great extent, this would be the same thing as bothering to advance the liberal agenda. It certainly wouldn't involve making significant alterations to the liberal agenda for the sake of appealing to illiberal people.

The first lesson in manners is to understand where other people are coming from. That's what distinguishes true politeness from an act. Sometimes, however, one simply doesn't understand where other people are coming from, and in such cases one can only fall back on understanding one's own very imperfect understanding in a way that's not condescending, that doesn't announce the opinion that some people come from places that aren't worth knowing about. (As in: "South Bend! It sounds like dancing.")

So what I'm trying to understand right now - what I've been trying to understand since whenever it was that I grasped that the Kerry campaign was not going to be an easy winner - is the appeal of George W Bush and the appeal of his Administration's policies. These are two very different things. The man inspires the respect of voters who don't understand his policies, while his policies command the loyalty of voters who, privately, can't stand the man. His very unfitness for office gives him an advantage over other contenders, because it widens his constituency to include a mass of resentful conspiracy theorists who are prone to blame others for everything that's wrong in their lives.

Wait a minute. What happened to manners?

I have nothing to say to people who genuinely admire President Bush as man. I don't address myself to them. It's for the voters who like what his Administration is doing -  or, to put it better, who dislike what his Administration isn't doing - that I frame what I have to say about the body politic on this site. And this is where I have to leave off, because I'm on the steepest part of the learning curve.

February 21, 2005

Presidents' Day


Omigod, literally. A really quite perfect souvenir of Presidents' Day 2005. (Look carefully at the First Person of the Trinity.) The Gannon/Guckert story has gone baroque. (Thanks, Andy.)

Update: Or is this story going for broke? The Poor Man's latest contribution, a sort of infomercial for the Jeff Gannon New Beginnings Career School, is terrifically funny. Majikthise muses that l'affaire Gannon may have pushed the now late Hunter S. Thompson over the edge.

That's Better


Incredible as it still seems to me, I got dressed right after breakfast and walked over to Central Park. This ought to be a perfectly ordinary sort of outing, and perhaps it will become one. I made my way purposefully to the edge of the Great Lawn to take the snap above, for until then I wasn't quite sure that the snow made much of a difference. Well, such snow as remained. The roads and paths were all dark and slushy, and there were plenty of people, too, although nothing like last weekend's crowd. The thick cloud cover worked to the color's advantage: this time, I could see some merit in the claim that it is "saffron." Where the panels were thickly planted, they seemed to draw a glow from one another; we probably carry a deeply-wired neural association that causes orange to signal sources of light. In any case, the gates seen across the white expanse of the Great Lawn looked much better.

The panels had held up to a week of the great New York outdoors very well. Nevertheless, it's good that they'll be gone shortly. It's hard to say hello and goodbye at the same time - doubtless the reason why we always promise to reconnect with strangers met by chance on journeys. Last week, everyone was saying "hello" to The Gates. Today, I said "goodbye." I almost missed them.


February 20, 2005


The day began early, but there were dishes to wash up from last night's dinner for five persons in four courses. (Plat principal: two Porterhouse steaks, to celebrate M le Neveu's recent attainments - he has been asked to deliver papers at several prestigious venues. He and the other gentleman at the table savored the bones.) Kathleen had to go in to the office - she lost much of last week to a time-consuming attack of bureaucratic pettifogging. I meant to spend the afternoon reading, but I had an inexplicable panic attack that made it impossible to concentrate on the Treaty of Sèvres. Eventually, I found a Xanax to calm me down, but by then I was watching French movies, Touchez-pas au grisbi and L'auberge espagnole. These pictures have nothing in common, but they've been sitting in my 'get to' pile for too long, because it's been hard to find time for sitting deliberately in front of the screen and reading subtitles. The title of Jacques Becker's 1954 film translates as "Hands off the loot," and the loot in question is two hundred pounds of gold bars, stolen in an unsolved crime by two polished thieves, Max and Riton. Jean Gabin plays Max, an imperturbable man who is determined to retire. That has become a familiar posture in a lot of recent American movies, but this story does not embroil Max in one last heist. Rather, he's got to protect the loot, now that a drug lord knows that he stole it. (Riton, played by René Dary, blabbed about it to impress his faithless girlfriend, Josy, played in turn by the young and slightly unrecognizable Jeanne Moreau. The excitement stems from the steady focus on Max's point of view. We don't see much of the drug lord, and have to piece together his plans right along with Max, as he anticipates every move while trying to keep the hapless Riton out of danger. There is a big scene of fascinating violence near the end, but, aside from an interlude in pajamas, Jean Gabin proceeds through Grisbi in a succession of bespoke suits and opulent neckties, with never a hair out of place. L'auberge espagnole (2002) is a charmer by Cédric Klapisch that does not feature Audrey Tautou, as the DVD box would lead an unsuspecting viewer to believe. The star of Amélie is a cast member, certainly, but she represents the life that Xavier (Romain Duris) leaves behind when he goes to spend a year in Barcelona studying Spanish and economics - and sharing an apartment with six other Europeans, all of them, like him, participants in Erasmus, the intra-EU exchange-student program. (The movie might have been named after the great writer, of whom the narrator never seems to have heard.) The movie depends on the moody authenticity of its young cast (on M Duris in particular), and on the fresh and intriguing use of split screens.... When Kathleen comes home, I'm thinking of making patty melts, which I've just figured out how to do, and then we're going to crawl in with Inspector Morse on the SDP 2700.  

February 19, 2005

Not Saffron!

¶ The Times is buzzing this morning with Gatesiana. Rick Moranis has a dream that takes him back to a childhood cooled by apricot-colored linens flapping in the breeze, while Dan Barry, crying "Christo Shmisto," points out in his "About New York" column that The Gates are "Home Depot, Nedick's, traffic-cone orange ... the color of Cheetos." NOT SAFFRON. Cut the torosplat! In the Metro Section's Arts subdivision, Sarah Boxer covers - or does she? - The Crackers, an alternative Central Park installation that you can visit here. (And don't leave before visiting the museum store at CaféPress.) All of this according to Kathleen; I haven't even seen the paper yet. So if I missed something, it's her fault.

Book Therapy

Have you joined The Readers' Subscription? It's a book club, and, because the reply cards go to Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, I assume that it's part of the BOMC empire. It seems odd now, but I "belonged" to the Book of the Month Club for a while, long ago. I'm still a "member" of the Quality Paperback Book Club; it's useful every now and then - though not nearly so often as I thought it was twenty years ago - to have the softbound edition of some big, noisy book that's physically closer to the clothbound original than paperbacks usually are. Both BOMC and QPB(C) are broadband outfits, aimed at the consumers of regular books. (By "regular" I mean to exclude the works of Tim la Haye and Jerry Jenkins.) The Readers' Subscription, in contrast, targets a more earnest group. There are no beach books, few self-helps and how-tos, and hardly any recent fiction. Instead, there is philosophy galore. This may sound sarcastic, and I suppose that, despite my protestations, I mean it to be, but The Readers' Subscription is aimed at people who believe in serious books that will explain the meaning of life, or at least the difficulty of finding the meaning of life. I hereby confess that I used to believe in them. The faithful evidently constitute a large enough market to attract Camp Hill's interest.

Note that this is not a club but a "subscription" - I hope that whoever dreamed that one up has gone on to a richly rewarded career in marketing. Its monthly offerings are published in a booklet called The Griffin. The cover of the Spring 2005 edition advertises a book about Spinoza. Actually, it is two books, yours for just under sixty dollars. Are we sufficiently serious? The cover art features the philosopher's name in a spindly, autographic script, superimposed on the image of a worn old book with a highly embossed cover that, if it's at all real, probably contains pretty poems, not philosophy. The background is an arrangement of tantalizingly illegible columns of type - I daren't even speak of "words." I don't know how it is that the spirit of Mary McCarthy descended upon me this morning, but I can't even look at this month's Griffin without seeing that is is literate pornography. Like real pornography, it distills pleasure from complication. You have not read a word, much less a word of Spinoza, but holding The Griffin in your hand, poised to open it, you feel good about your brain. If only you had the time....!

I'm not laughing. I'm writing this as a kind of therapy, because the Spring 2005 Griffin is chock-a-block with temptation. The Spinoza offering, a two-volume set by Israeli writer Yirmiyahu Yovel, claims that Spinoza is the true father of the Enlightenment, an argument that I seem to recall as the subject of a recent book by Jonathan Israel, Radical Enlightenment. Mr Yovel's books, however, appear to be appealingly slim. (Memo to self: Expatiate on the paradox of slim books.) Then there is another pair of books, consisting of Ali and Nino, the famous Azerbaijani novel, and a biography of its author, whose name at birth was not Kurban Said but Lev Nussimbaum, "a Jew who transformed himself into a Muslim prince and became a bestselling author in Nazi Germany." The author's adventurous and improbable career has been the appeal of Ali and Nino since its appearance in English a decade or so ago - whether or not the novel is actually worth reading. Now that I'm fiddling with Turkish, this package has taken on a real glow, but the piles of books in the blue room remind me of what is all too likely to happen. On page 7, there are three tempters, one about Mary Lamb, the co-author of Tales from Shakespear who - I certainly didn't know this - stabbed her mother to death; another that retails a "sensational" Victorian case of murder; and Opera: The Art of Dying. "Might opera," The Griffin editors inquire, "teach us how to die? This provocative work brings together scientific and humanistic perspectives on the lessons of living and dying that opera imparts." Very tempting! What could be grander than learning how to spice up a fatal mugging with "Niun mi tema"? Turning the page, I am confronted by none other than William Gaddis, the famously difficult writer that Jonathan Franzen, intentionally or not, convinced me that I don't have to read. But these are such attractive Penguins. Turn! Oh, no! Another famously difficult novelist (isn't he?), Halldór Laxness! How much longer will I be able to keep the polymathic reputation that no one who hasn't read at least one of this author's Icelandic sagas deserves? Panting with inadequacy, I glance at the final pages of the booklet without taking anything in. I'm bushed!

Thank you; I feel much better now. And I've sent this month's mailing from The Reader's Subscription down the chute, remembering with guilty pleasure that I've ordered the "new" Ian Rankin from Amazuke.

February 18, 2005

Polish Joke


To see why Spandex cycling shorts should always be black, keep reading.


What, how you say, were they thinking?

Loose Links (Friday)

¶ Is Fafblog (no relation to the "Aloha" postcard) the sharpest and funniest critic going? The site is almost always funny, but it not infrequently satirizes its target so perfectly that there's no air left for laughter. This one, on treason, is exalted:

Treason isn't just providin aid an comfort to the enemy. It's providin not-aid an discomfort to America. Treason is hurting America's feelings.

That cornball hillbilly accent, by the way, is just about impossible to imitate. Its pervasiveness makes the few "lapses" into quite correct English funny in themselves. Note that, although Fafblog dabbles in surrealism, it does not exaggerate.


¶ Don't miss the "Worst Wedding " thread at Obsidian Wings. You may have to decide which story to tell! I told the shortest.

¶ Chad Everett's plugin, MT-Moderate, seems to be working nicely. It holds up posts to older comments for moderation, or approval. That makes spam much easier to get rid of, and visitors never see it - not that they would anyway. But I have to tweak the settings for "older," if I can, because over on Good For You, where we're reading The Ambassadors, posts go up the moment anyone comments on the previous chapter, which means that readers are still commenting a week later.

Swallowing Medicine

Thinking further along the lines of yesterday's post, "Conventions of Disrespect" (see below), I thought that I'd say a few things about the regrettable side-effects of our bottom-up, decentralized school governance system, which gives local civilians with (very possibly) no academic or intellectual qualifications a leading role in determining how and what kids are taught. For many reasons, decentralization has never struck me as a good idea. Never mind what the reasons are; it's enough to confess that I'm an arrogant liberal. That's to say that I prefer the European model, which concentrates power in the hands of the manifestly, demonstrably intelligent, and which coordinates curricula throughout the land. Keeping experts at bay has been so deeply built into the American way of doing things that it would take a crisis of religious hysteria to put this country on the European course.

My arrogance betrayed itself in my Google search. "Lowest common denominator," "school district," "textbook" - I was fishing for a particular kind of page, one that would argue my already-held ideas and, with luck, join an authoritative chorus of support. What I got was rather different. I stumbled on a few well-written sites that I want to spend a little more time on before summarizing them here. Had I found what I was looking for, what you're reading now would have written itself. Instead, I'm groping. (Does it show?) I've been tossed back on one of two lessons that I've learned during these years of conservative hegemony: liberals are eating the bitter fruit of decades of swaggering presumption. (The other lesson concerns "moral values" and resistance to the shift away from what I call the Augustinian Settlement - you'll find that among the Categories, below right.) The sooner we learn why we've been served this bitter fruit, the sooner we'll begin to move on.

The casual reader, eyeing the phrase "arrogant liberal," might make the snap judgment that this is a conservative blog, and there would be some truth to that, although not the kind of truth that's popular in Washington these days. In fact, though, I do identify myself as an arrogant liberal for the simple reason that I've never been allowed to forget that I am one. For most of my life, I've stirred up a running low boil of resentment. I'm big, I'm smart, and, at least when I'm holding forth, I'm not the best listener. I can control a conversation the way a good cowboy herds cattle, and it shows. And I certainly like to hold forth. I have learned that I can whip up a load of resentment in no time. It's the sort of resentment to which a younger me used to respond with scorn, dismissing it as a failing that only proved the resenter's unworthiness. Middle age has made me rather more reflective.

Now I see that it's the sort of resentment that put George W Bush in the White House.

After World War II, liberals became passionate about civil rights. From a standpoint of pure self-interest, they learned from the McCarthy travesty that bright, inquiring minds could be marginalized in the same way that Afro-Americans were. But completing the work begun in 1861 and so malignantly forestalled was obviously a fight for the good. As blacks were enfranchised, the public began to pay a new attention to the circumstances of black society in America, and a very liberal connection between education and prosperity led to a vast increase in the funding of social and educational programs that, inevitably, sported plenty of instances of waste and folly. (Liberals believe that improved school systems will produce an improved society. Conservatives see the importance of education, too, but they believe that a bright person will make the most of whatever educational opportunities are available. That is conservative arrogance.) But liberals were so convinced that what they were doing was right, so very - although they would have choked on the term - self-righteous and optimistic about social engineering that they deflected criticism. Only nasty old bigots ("John Birchers") could be opposed to the liberal project.

So you can see who taught whom this bad habit, so loudly decried by today's liberals, of refusing to hear what you don't want to hear.

That the liberal project did have right on its side remains, for me, a core belief. But I have been taught this bitter lesson: for the project to advance, I and every other liberal will have to work on my conversational manners.

February 17, 2005

Kitchen Day

An afternoon in the kitchen: baking white bread, cooking tomato soup (I'll save the processing for tomorrow), bleaching the counter, emptying and filling and emptying and filling the dishwasher, watching the end of Howard's End and the beginning of Five Corners (maybe I'll see the whole thing by the time dinner is done - if we ever have dinner, considering Kathleen's day)... Listening to the CD that Ms NOLA made for me - an effort to keep me up to date pop musicwise. Was that Fountains of Wayne in there? Although I'm playing the disc on the computer, the interface is silent as to "artists" and "titles," so I don't know what I'm listening to, but most of the songs have fairly handy hooks, like "Judy's Dream of Horses." The sound is very good.... The Toshiba SDP 2700 arrived this afternoon, so now we can watch movies in bed. The top volume is pretty low, so headsets may be a must; at the same time, we will be watching at bedtime. I used to think that portable DVD players were the height of wastefulness, since any laptop does the job, and with a bigger picture. But when you're putting something at the foot of the bed - maybe not even that far away - laptops are way too big. If I could see our regular TV from the bed, the portable wouldn't be necessary, but I can't, and I've been falling asleep in my armchair too often; this afternoon, I passed out five or six times over The Peace to End All Peace, an outstanding but very detailed book.... Tomorrow is the last day of the building's latest maintenance program for the elevators, and all three cabs ought to be in service.... Oh, and one kitchen activity that didn't take place in the kitchen was the reformatting of the Culinarion branch of Portico. The whole damned thing.

Loose Links (Thursday)

La Petite Anglaise has discovered the reason why it is so hard for Anglophones to learn the genders of French words (or, by extension, Italian words, Spanish words, and so on). Her little girl is learning two languages simultaneously, and PA grasped that, to the child, the French for "mouth" is labouche.

¶ In case you're toying with the idea of reading the Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, perhaps you'd better know something about the author, Thomas E. Woods, first. Max Boot, of the Weekly Standard, checked out Mr Woods on the Internet, and discovered, among other things, that he is

a founding member of the League of the South. According to its website, the League "advocates the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic." As an interim step before this glorious goal is achieved, the League urges its members to "fly Confederate flags at your residence or business every day" and to "become as self-sufficient as possible"--"if possible, raise chickens and keep a cow to provide eggs and dairy products for your family and friends." The League also counsels "white Southerners" that they should not "give control over their civilization and its institutions to another race, whether it be native blacks or Hispanic immigrants."

That the Politically Incorrect Guide has appeared on the New York Times's best-seller list is more upsetting than anything in the Gannon/Guckert bag of tricks.

¶ Better get two: A French site reports on a new development: customizable keyboards. You program the keys according to your needs. Now, this would make typing my Turkish vocabulary lists a lot easier! But just imagine the catastrophe of becoming dependent on your very own idiosyncratic keyboard, which in the wonderful future you would carry around in your backpack so as to be able to work on any machine, and then dropping it onto the subway tracks.

¶ Memo to Rob Press:


No half measures. Next time you're in Incan-God mode, wear the robes, too. Is that a big soda in your hand, or a beaker of blood from ritual slaughter? Finding someone who knows how to keep fingers away from the lens would be good, too. In any case, welcome home

Conventions of Disrespect

Over the weekend, I took a look at Daily Howler, the often intemperate scourge of journalism. One thing that drives the author, Bob Somerby, bonkers is the self-censorship that has induced mainstream journalists to take the Bush Administration at its own word. Last Friday, Mr Somerby scolded E J Dionne, of the Washington Post, for making the following remark: 

More than any of his predecessors, President Bush understands the conventions of journalism and the traditions of political debate. These require that respectful attention be paid to whatever claims the president makes. Journalists who have the temerity to question whether the claims ring true (or whether the numbers add up) can count on being pummeled as liberal ideologues, even when they are only seeking the facts.

The last part of this passage certainly appears to state the truth. It's as simple as the chanting at a football game. The Administration's My Way/Highway philosophy is rigorously enforced. Criticize any of the President's men, and you will promptly and unthinkingly be plastered with "liberal bias" labels, or some other equally unlovely marker accusing the bearer of self-interest. Once applied, these labels are impossible to remove quickly, and the awkward business of peeling them off makes dignified rebuttal impossible. This has made reporters cautious and, yes, a mite obsequious. Or, in Mr Somerby's view, cowardly.

Sorry—there simply is no “convention of journalism” which requires respectful treatment of bald-faced misstatements. As civics textbooks tell your eighth-graders, traditions of journalism require skeptical, aggressive “attention” to such misstatements by presidents.

Mr Somerby is probably correct, from a journalism-school point of view, to deny the existence of Mr Dionne's "conventions." But I can't see that scolding journalists is going to get anyone anywhere. What if we rewrite Mr Dionne's observations thus:

More than any of his predecessors, President Bush understands the a sizable bloc of American voters is tired of the conventions of journalism and the traditions of political debate.

Everything that Mr Bush does in public is meant to be seen by his supporters. This is so obvious that we forget earlier times in which statesmen did not calibrate every gesture to the fine-grained prejudices of their constituents, who could be presumed to be paying less than constant attention. Cable TV and the Blogosphere have eliminated such unguarded moments. The President, accordingly, does not answer questions from the Press. He retrofits questions into launch pads for the statements that he knows his supporters want to hear. The conventions of journalism are utterly irrelevant to these people - where they are not actually objectionable. These people have had it with political debate, which they understand to be loaded with terms of art that don't quite mean what the man in the street thinks they mean. These people are sick and tired of seeing their leaders harassed by eggheady East Coasters. They demand that he be shown the "respectful attention" to which their support entitles him.

The President's success does not stem from the success of his policies. What success? It does not stem from widespread support for his Administration's often radical ideas about changing government in particular and the United States in general. It has nothing to do with actions, but is a response to George W Bush's image. I used to wonder why the Republican Party chose this man as its candidate for the highest job in the land, but now I see the genius of Karl Rove's Machiavellian shrewdness. In Mr Bush, the Republicans presented a man who would strongly appeal to a hitherto overlooked bloc of voters while so infuriating the liberal enemy that it would be reduced to spluttering squawks of outrage.

(For a concise description of the hitherto overlooked bloc of voters, see the exchange of letters among Andrew Hacker, Paul Cohen, and Mark Danner at the back of the current issue of the New York Review [Vol 52, No. 4 - not online as of this writing].)

February 16, 2005

From Sutton to St Mark's

Wet again, but only when I was outside. I am still wondering what the Latin woman on the First Avenue bus was upset about, but I agreed when the driver told her that she was being "hysterical" - like Photoshop when it's been too long since the last reboot, she was not responding. Which is not by any means to say that she was silent... I had a fine lunch of steak and kidney pie at the new apartment of good friend who told me that she'd been told, in the elevator, by the woman upstairs (or maybe it was downstairs), that Noel Coward had my friend's apartment for years as his New York pied-à-terre. My friend isn't taking the story too seriously. But I do know someone who lives in the apartment of a great Broadway belter (possibly the best); she insisted that he take it over when she moved on. This celebrated performer did nothing to stifle the widespread assumption that she was Jewish; indeed, she may have played it to her advantage. Whether the Episcopalian would have gotten away with this if she hadn't hailed from Queens is a good question.... Now it's getting cold again, and I'm off to the East Village, where, over dinner, Megan is going to return some of my books. It seems that, like me, she has been spring cleaning in advance. So that's where the leatherette Collins edition of Emma, part of a set, has been these last fifteen years... Does FreshDirect have any empty delivery time slots tomorrow? Yes they do - I'd better place an order.

Loose Links (Wednesday)

Don't mind me if I take the day off. Lunch in Turtle Bay and dinner in St Mark's Place will leave me little time for reading and writing. But you'll find plenty to read on Her Majesty's official site, which has been going for some time and which always strikes me as hitting exactly the right note for the presentation of heredity monarchy online. If you haven't got any time for introductions, you can go straight to Ich Dien (not its real name) for snaps of Charles and Camilla. For a very, very irreverent take on the consequences of normalizing the world's most famous protracted love affair, see Scaryduck. Finally, read about a home-grown aristocrat, Lord Dumpling, at Towleroad.

The After-Effects

In Monday's Times, there was an Op-Ed piece by Judith Warner that I would have linked to, but I'd already posted the day's Loose Links and couldn't be bothered. This morning, though, I found that it had provoked The Biscuit Report to do something that it normally doesn't: talk about Baby Biscuit. I hope to come back to this matter after lunch, but I'll post now in hope of comments.

Ms Warner writes about a tendency among parents (one she does nothing to document) to put their children where their spouses ought to be in their love-lives.

If you flip through the magazines aimed at moms this month, you'd be hard pressed to find much talk of romance, unless you count all the articles on modern marriage's lack of romance, which are legion: Working Mother pleads, "Make Time for Your Valentine." Good Housekeeping insists, "Men can be romantic." Child magazine offers tips on "Staying Lovers While Raising Kids." And Parents, acknowledging that marriage with children often feels "about as romantic as changing a dirty diaper," offers advice for getting "back in the groove," like establishing "no-sex nights." (Absence makes the heart grow fonder?)

In many marriages, erotic love has been supplanted by what The New Yorker once called "the eros of parenthood." Up to 20 percent of couples now report having sex no more than 10 times a year, qualifying them for what the experts call "sexless marriages." Many mothers freely admit to preferring their children's touch to their husband's, without regret or shame.

Where did our love go? Look no further than the adorable little girl on the cover of this month's Parents, clutching a huge, red-sequined heart in her chubby little hands. According to a recent report by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, children are a "growing impediment" to a happy marriage.

What this tells me is that there are a lot of parents who haven't grown up themselves, and that, basically is the point that Amy makes at TBR when she writes about "attachment parenting":

The Wikipedia entry on attachment parenting is a bit of a caricature of it -- describing a parenting style in its maximal forms and with all the other cultural choices that are more-or-less associated with it. I would lean more toward the minimal description: raising your children secure in the knowledge that too much love won't hurt them. Lots of parents who "do attachment parenting" are anxious, rigid, and obsessive about the rules they follow, about what they must do for their kids, about, generally, doing everything right. So, for that matter, are lots of other parents. There are all kinds of 'systems' out there, and they do make parents crazy. Lots of families involved in "attachment parenting" end up with a rigid division of labor in which the mother is basically completely responsible for the kids and must be incredibly available to them, and the father is busy at work all the time. So, too, do lots of families who don't "attachment parent". Parental anxiety and preoccupation with their kids is real, and no doubt it does put a real strain on some marriages, but my own observations (anecdotal of course, but I didn't see any hard citations in Ms. Warner's essay, either) lead me to believe that parents become preoccupied with their kids because their marriages aren't so great to begin with, not vice-versa. If a husband works 80-hour weeks and the wife is busy with kiddie activities all the time, or if both work all the time and spend their little spare time in a "quality" way with the kids, then yeah, I'll bet the marriage is going to suffer. And it'll suffer whether the toddlers are still nursing and sleeping in the parents' bed.

It has always seemed to me that many children are conceived faute de mieux. What do we do now, honey? How do we sustain this relationship beyond what's looking more and more like its natural expiration date? Divorce is no longer frowned upon, but I suspect that it remains wrenching and humiliating for most people. I am not saying that many babies are born in order to save marriages; that would be wildly overdramatic. But I sense that many couples turn to parenthood as a way of turning away from the deep friendship that distinguishes marriage from a legitimized love affair. This kind of friendship is never as easy as it looks, and it requires change on both sides, as the spouses literally grow closer together. The time to begin working on this friendship is the moment when it begins to require it; that is, at the very moment when one begins to wonder if one has chosen the right mate. It is an awkward, even sickening moment, and children simplify everything. Instead of growing together, spouses become "mommy" and "daddy." Mind you, I am speaking only of couples that drift into parenthood or yield to family pressure. There are lots of loving couples who know exactly what they're doing when they decide to have children, and who know themselves well enough to live up to their commitments. But I don't think that such people constitute a majority of parents. The self-consciousness of the magazine articles that Ms Warner cites alone suggest that they're not. 

What happens next, faute d'amitié, is the withering of the attachment between husband and wife, and the intensification of parental feelings that Amy mentions.

Here, it seems to me, the fundamental question is one of narcissism - of whether the child is seen as an extension of the parent or as an autonomous person. As someone for whom neither childhood nor parenting was ever straightforward, I've concluded that children never match their parents' love, and that they don't understand this until they have children of their own. It is the role of a parent to help a highly dependent baby become a highly independent adult, and the leading edge of independence sets the child apart from its parents. I have always been surprised by the weedlike persistence of my unwillingness to recognize my daughter's independence. Oh, she might do whatever she likes - so long as she remains, in ways that I like, a reflection of me. I've had to learn to be proud of her. Disconnecting the longing to see her grow in my direction from my behavior has proved to be difficult and painful.

Everything was so much simpler when paternal authority went unquestioned, and when marriage marked a woman's move from one kind of servitude to another. Yes, sir, it sure was simpler.

The heading refers to a great limerick by Felicia Lamport Kaplan. Anybody ever hear of her?

February 15, 2005


The weather is as gorgeous today as it was awful yesterday, but I'm being hounded by a cold, and anyway after lunch I thought I'd give something a try. The front page of Portico badly needed a rethink, and I had an idea. What say you?. I know that I've got to tone down the background image, and perhaps some kind soul will tell me how to wash it out, as I'm not finding anything in the unyielding Photoshop LE manual. (Brightness/Contrast is not the answer.) The original of the image hangs on our walls: it's a print by the great American printmaker, Joseph Pennell. The architecture, however, is part of Cumberland Terrace, at the edge of Regent's Park in London. Well, that's what somebody told me; I'll have to look into the receipts. (Ha. Ha ha.) The image is out of focus because it's in a frame, which kept it at some distance from the flatbed... If I were in the other room, I'd be listening to Schubert. The other day, a boxed set of late Schubert chamber music - the last four Quartets and the Quintet - arrived from MHS, which has repackaged the DG issue of performances by the Emerson String Quartet. Are they ever great! Years ago, my colleague at KLEF in Houston, Ira J. Black, used wax ecstatic about the Quintet; he claimed that it contained music to match every human feeling. I thought that that was overstatement at the time, but I agree now that the music has a surpassing comprehension.... JR has posted a picture on L'homme qui marche that's so beautiful that I want to steal it. I meant to save it for tomorrow's Loose Links, but I need a lift right now - and why don't you ask me why. (I won't answer, but the question would be nice.... Convalescence is a favorite word of mind: as one is no longer sick, one can enjoy being pampered, even if only by oneself.

Loose Links (Tuesday)

¶ A link from kottke.org took me to Improv Everywhere, a site that documents the antics of a troupe of folks who are too young to remember the halcyon days of Allen Funt. Jason Kottke was intrigued by a stunt performed last month, when a clutch of improvisors took off their pants in the subway and worked on their deadpan, but what got me howling with laughter was Celebrity Trash. (Come on, riding crowded subway cars in parkas and boxers? Ew.) The bit about Sarah Jessica Parker's doorknob shows how personally expensive some kinds of celebrity can be - but the doorknob was cheap.

¶ The Poor Man is on a roll: two hilarious posts in a row, one on the "miracle" of Jeff Gannon/Jim Guckert, the other on pundits in crossfire. Perhaps you have seen Mr Guckert's pornographic autoportraits, perhaps not. (Here's a link to Americablog's home page, but not to the exposé, which you can find there if you look). If you have, then perhaps you've also been reminded of Christine Lavin's song about how everybody was once somebody's little baby. Without feeling sorry for Mr Guckert, I felt very sad on his account yesterday. The evidence suggests that he is not really bright enough to have seen this tornado coming. (By the way, I'm hoping that someone will eventually explain the Valerie Plame connection. Everybody refers to it, but I guess I missed class the day it was revealed.

¶ The other day, something a bit out of the ordinary happened. I received a courriel from Alessandro Barbero, the author of Charlemagne: Father of a Continent (2000; California, 2004). He had come across my page fortuitously, and it was very nice of him to let me know that he'd seen it. He proposed a clarification, to which I agreed in my reply. With the Professor's permission, I've appended the exchange to the bottom of my page. The book's title is the link.

Great Ribs from the Oven

This is a recipe-in-progress, but it's reliable as it is. You won't wish you hadn't followed it. As is so often the case, the recipe that inspired it was a limited blueprint, prescribing ingredients and oven timing but omitting several practical issues. Let's face it: if you're barbecuing ribs by the pool, you can make a big mess. If you're roasting ribs in the oven, and then dining on them in an ordinary New York apartment, you can't.

The recipe will yield enough ribs to feed five or six people. Consider filling finger bowls with slices of lemon and water.

Mark Bittman's recipe for making barbecued ribs in the oven, which comes from How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food (Macmillan, 1998) - is a new edition in the works? - doesn't tell you everything you need to know. The marinade is great, but the execution is limited to a specification of oven temperatures and times, plus a directive to apply the marinade during the last half hour or so. What, you say? Brush on a marinade while the ribs are in the oven? Well, Mr Bittman doesn't talk about marinade. He talks about something to brush onto the ribs during the final hour of cooking. I call it a marinade because I let the ribs soak in it for a few days before dinner. From the start, I knew that the execution part needed work.

If you can, you'll order two racks of St Louis-style spareribs. I don't know what makes the St Louis style great, and, frankly, I didn't find this explanation all that helpful. But St Louis-style ribs are much cheaper than the baby back ribs that places like Tony Roma's serve. The racks may come folded, letter-style; if they do, unfold them.

Now make the marinade, which is always simpler than I remember. You'll need a jar of marmalade and a few condiments: Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, mustard, and vinegar. Combine a tablespoon of each of the condiments with the jar of marmalade in a small food processor and blend. Pour the marinade atop the ribs in their stout bag. Seal the bag with a twist-tie, and then massage the bag so that the ribs are completely filmed in the marmalade. Store in the refrigerator overnight.

Four or five hours before you plan to sit down to dinner, preheat the oven to 300º. Place each rack of ribs in a roasting pan, and, when the oven is hot, roast the ribs for about two hours. At the end of that period, turn the heat up to 500º for ten to fifteen minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and let the ribs cool. They will be almost, but not quite, done. One of the racks may have browned a bit more than the other; if so, remove the browned ribs and let the other rack cook for a little longer.

As soon as you can handle the racks, take a kitchen scissors and cut through the meat between the bones, tossing each rib into a large baking dish. (You may find it handier to slice the ribs with a knife, but I don't.) By cutting the ribs into individual pieces, you not only make them much easier to handle at the table but you also expose more meat to the oven's searing temperature, which makes for greater flavor. (You also render just a bit more of the fat, which is a good thing, too.)

When it's time for dinner, put the baking dish into the hot oven (500º) for ten minutes, or until the ribs are done the way you like them.

Keep your eye on the ribs and take note of what timing works best for your oven. One of the 'secrets' of this recipe is that, by calling for cooking in advance, it allows you to focus your attention on the searing process, where minutes make a big difference.

Serve with sweet potatoes in one form or another - fries are always great, if not exactly virtuous - and a tangy salad made with sprouts.

February 14, 2005

À seul

A dark, rainy day, wet and cold - but not too cold. Having forgotten that one of our elevators will be out of service all week for a scheduled maintenance overhaul, I was running late enough to need to take a taxi to the doctor's office. I hailed one at the bus stop, and as we were pulling away, the driver pointed to his rear-view mirror and said something to the effect of the bus's having just arrived, and did I want to get out and take it. That was nice, as well as honest, but I'd just wedged myself in the back seat and wasn't going to budge until 72nd Street.... This evening, I intend to start replying to Christmas cards, most of which haven't been opened. Better late than never, right? I will write a message on each card in my palsied hand, and then tuck in a printed message that I hope will explain why we didn't do Christmas this year. (We did Istanbul instead, as it turned out.) I don't think that I'll play Christmas carols as I write... We had St Louis-style ribs for dinner on Saturday, and I think I've got the recipe down. The marinade comes from Mark Bittman, but I've had to improvise the execution. I've put a note on my to-do list; let's hope I get to it before I forget what I did... Bob Somerby's Daily Howler piece on E. J. Dionne last Friday stayed with me all weekend. It led me to hypothesize that the MSM are polite to the president because that's what so many Americans insist that they be so. Look at what happened to Eason Jordan! To make any headway through the swamp of DubyAdmin torosplat, journalists will ave to battle half of America first. It's true that we on the left need thicker skins.... We'd had a tentative date to have dinner with Megan at Jules, in St Mark's Place, tonight, and I was very surprised when, calling for reservations yesterday, I was told that there were a few available tables either at six or at ten thirty. Well, I said to myself as I hung up without having booked anything, I do seem to recall that Jules got a favorable write-up recently. But Megan set me right; we'll get together on Wednesday. Happy Valentines' Day!

Loose Links (Monday)

¶ Can it be true? Even Teflon doesn't last forever?

¶ Thanks, Patricia (at Booklust) for the link to Gizoogle, a gangsta parody of Google that translates the returned snippets of text and throws in a few gratuitous expletives. Results for "Mozart" are quite amusing. Check it out fast, because Google can't be best pleased.

¶ Have a look at the the official Christo site for The Gates. According to this, the installation's color is an interesting burnt orange. Sadly, the reality is not. Reading ecstatic critical responses to this project (Michael Kimmelman: "pure joy.") is rapidly draining my patience with populism. See below.

¶ Fascist alert: the House allows Homeland Security to ignore the law on its own initiative. Sorry, folks, but this is how it starts. The emergency here isn't terrorism, but our response to it. In a similar vein, check out a "Men's Night Out" in Kentucky (I believe), where religion and recruiting made one Republican squirm. My guess is that this sort of thing has been going on for ages, and we're only finding out about it now because of digital cameras. (The page is a bit noisy, but at least click through the pictures. Thanks, Biscuit.)

¶ Let's face it: I disapprove of public piety.

Turkish Delight


Yesterday afternoon, I finished Snow, Orhan Pamuk's new novel. I had read most of it, thrilled, in Istanbul in January, but I stopped a few chapters from the end so that I could finish the book at home, and not in a hotel room two days before getting on a memory-killing jet. (Although I'm not quite as afraid of flying as I was, my dislike of chop remains strong enough to slice through all the recent cerebral connections.) Snow is the only novel written in the past umpteen decades that really compares with the big deals of Dostoevsky and Conrad. I hope that I am not making Mr Pamuk appear to be an old-fashioned writer, but, as it happens, his country is wrestling at the moment with same identity issues that tormented the Russian novelist into coming down for tradition against the West, and that spawned enough self-devouring opportunists to populate the Polish novelist's masterpieces. Really, I can think of no novelists writing in English (other than Conrad) with such a ready grasp of the tragic intersections of love, power, and ego. Faulkner comes to mind, but I wouldn't put him in with this crowd. I don't intend to address the virtues of Snow just yet, but it seemed wise to say a word or two to justify the natterings that follow.

As I expected, the ending was more of a coda than a climax; the book had already ended. But working through the last couple of chapters brought the whole book back, fresh. I say "working" not because Snow is a difficult read but because I had to hand the Turkish edition that I'd bought at Robinson Crusoe, one of the bookstores in Beyoğlu that sells books in English (I bought two Turkish histories there). As you know, I learned a little Turkish in January, and I plan to learn a little more; I have acquired a Langenscheidt dictionary that takes me beyond Teach Yourself Turkish (one of the best in the TY series - and, believe me, I've got quite a collection.) I don't want to say that Turkish is simple, for no language is simple; but there is a consistency to Turkish that's awfully inviting: once you know a rule, you never have to worry about exceptions, because there aren't any. Even though I can't read Turkish to save my life, I could figure out right away that the ad, printed on the last pages in the back of Kar (Snow in Turkish), for Benim Adım Kırmızı (note all those dotless 'i's), referred to My Name Is Red, the novel that made Mr Pamuk's reputation here. The literal translation would be My my name red - the 'm' at the end of Adim makes the word mean 'my name,' while benim - note that final 'm' again- means 'of me.' As in so many languages, there is no copulative, no free-standing word meaning 'is.' The last word, kırmızı, means: guess what.

So I've got enough Turkish under my belt to be a nuisance.

I don't know about you, but when I'm looking at a text in a language that I don't know, I go for the proper nouns first. I was quick to learn serhat (frontier) and şehir (city), because the name of the Border City Gazette appears with no little frequency, and the Turkish for 'gazette' is about the same as the English. I was curious to know the original name of the important character who is known by his nom de guerre, Blue - a radical Islamist with deep blue eyes. I didn't have the dictionary then, so I couldn't check it out, but when I looked up 'blue' in the dictionary this afternoon, and found mavi, I knew that that wasn't what the author had called his character. Sure enough, in the original novel, Blue is called 'Lacivert.' (Remember, 'c' is pronounced like the 'j' in 'John.') What does the dictionary give for lacivert? An answer that makes it clear that Mr Pamuk (Orhan Bey) was not thinking of English when he wrote Snow. Lacivert is the Turkish for 'ultramarine.' A beautiful word in English, and a beautiful color in any language. But Mr Pamuk must have agreed with his translator, Maureen Freely, that calling a radical Islamist Romeo by the name 'Ultramarine' would not have worked. The only people called 'Ultramarine' are wearing, well, a lot more makeup than radical Islamists ever would. Too bad, really. Lacivert is certainly more something than Blue.

But why was a novel set in Kars, a provincial town very close to the Armenian border, called Kar?

I haven't checked the elevation, but Kars is well above sea level, and because the city has changed hands a number of times in the past century-plus, there are grandiose architectural proclamations in the various occupants' vernaculars, most notably the (abandoned) mansions built by Armenian merchants. There is also a lot of snow in winter, and that is what the title refers to: Kar means, simply, 'snow.' But get this: the hero of Kar, who travels to Kars, likes to call himself 'Ka,' after his initials. (Well, so do I!) But doesn't the regression (Kars: Kar: Ka) point inexorably to  K, without a doubt the most pungent literary letter in the Twentieth Century's alphabet?

In other words, we haven't even started the book and the puzzles are whirling. Given the novel's pedal point of paranoia, one's own puzzles about the book as a reader are as compelling as the characters' life-threatening riddles.

It was an advertisement, casually glanced, on Istiklal Caddasi that reminded me to look up the name of the novel's principal love interest, the beautiful İpek. (Like İstanbul, the name begins with a dotted capital. İ and I are different, if related, letters in the Turkish alphabet.) What was a woman's name doing in an ad? Yesterday, I found out. İpek means 'velvet.' And the name of İpek's sister, Kadife, means 'silk.' Are these common girls' names in Turkish? (Orlando, help me out.) The name of another young woman, Teslime, comes from the word for 'surrender,' teslim. Teslime is one of a group of local girls, much talked about at the beginning of the novel, who have taken their lifes in resistance to secular pressures opposed to the wearing of head scarves.

Right there, you can feel the squeeze of Snow. Islamists claim the democratic right to enforce religious scruples in the teeth of the militant secularism that, until recently, suppressed Turkish intolerance. Attentive Americans will have become familiar with the French struggle over head-scarves, but the problem in Turkey is logarithmically more dangerous, and one cannot read Snow without considering the consequences of a European decision to exclude Turkey from the EU. (I will get to these weighty matters in another post.)

So I have a bone to pick with the book's editor at Knopf. It's all very well and gallant to retain the Turkish spellings of proper names - at least of those proper names that haven't been translated into English (another ticklish turf). Having done so, however, I believe that the English-speaking reader has a right to pronouncers, the guides that tell you now to turn a series of letters into correct speech. The differences between the Turkish and English alphabets, as regards pronunciation, are tiny and easily explained. There is no excuse for Knopf's having presumed that American readers will know from other sources how to pronounce the names of characters whom they come to care for. There's an idealistic young man whom I think all readers will admire enormously, and it would be helpful to know that his name, Necip, is pronounced 'nedjip.'

And what d'you know. necip means 'noble.' Why is the beautifully named Lacivert transformed into a banal 'Blue,' while the lovely Velvet and Silk remain hidden behind their Turkish names? Why aren't the meanings of Necip and Fazıl explained to the reader? Did Knopf think we'd all toss the book if the slightest effort to learn a little about Turkish were thrown in the reader's face? Snow is too big a novel for such parochial decisions.

February 13, 2005

The Gates


I was thinking of waiting until the middle of the week, when most people would have something else they had to do, to see/walk through the latest Christo installation. My response to Christo has always been sniffy, and I bristle whenever I hear the things that he and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, design referred to as "public art." I think of them "stationary circus" - and I am no fan of circuses.

Nevertheless, in my new role as fabu globetrotting photoblogger, I could hardly decline Kathleen's invitation to walk down 86th Street to have a look, especially with the prospect of lunch at Burger Heaven on the way. We saw the first patch of orange from Park Avenue, and were soon ambling along with the amiable throng. It will be interesting to estimate the number of digital images snapped by visitors to The Gates; I'd put it somewhere in the millions on the evidence of our own experience this afternoon. We should have taken more ourselves, but the memory card on the new Canon was full, never having been cleared and never having been replaced by something larger, and that left us with my Fuji and, too often, my shaking hands. It would be wrong to say that the park was crowded, in the way that subway stations can be crowded, but it's been a long time since I saw anything like so many people there, and of course this was the first time that everyone was there for the same reason.

So it really doesn't matter what I think about the The Gates. My principal complaint is that the color of both the pleated panels and the supporting frames is an out-of-the-box industrial orange. It is a traffic-warning, crime scene sort of color. Second, the pleats have already lost their hold (I don't know, actually, how to speak of no-longer pleating pleats), so that even though the panels are still clean, they already remind me of a car wash. The consequence of these drawbacks is a feeling of considerable clutter. It would certainly have been better to line fewer paths with the gates. My peripheral vision kept telling me that I was walking alongside a construction site - which seemed plausible enough when the Metropolitan Museum was in the background. It was not charming. The more I think about it, the more unfortunate the color feels. It was luminous in panels that were directly exposed to the sun, but that would have been true of any light color.

As we walked along the edge of the Great Lawn, fenced off for the winter, I couldn't help noticing how neat it looked, its grass all filled in and neatly cropped. Even the bare trees seemed pruned. As I think back to that, the gates themselves take on the air of a party tent on the morning after. When Kathleen saw a child holding a small square of orange nylon, and then somebody else with another, we moaned at the evident vandalism, but it turned out that we were walking near a volunteer who was handing out samples.

I'm delighted that the project was executed, and I hope that other schemes for brightening up the year's shabby quarter will be given the green light. But let's not call it "public art." Art is not so ephemeral. The performance of artworks is passing, to be sure, but they're expressions of something lasting that can be performed again and again. The Gates are all performance and no substance. When they're dismantled, there will only be our memories - and those millions of digital images.

February 12, 2005

Who Shot Who


Vertigo was a fairly recent picture (although doubtless already inaccessible to all save the members of film societies with budgets and  projectors) when I bought these postcards in 1962. I wish that I had one that showed the Brocklebank Apartments, which stood just next door to our hotel, the Fairmont. (It still does.)


One can almost see Madeleine Elster and Scottie Ferguson buying flowers and stealing into the Mission Dolores. Or would that be Judy Barton and Scottie Ferguson?


It was common knowledge that the threat of earthquakes precluded the erection of tall buildings.



I'm crazy about this view. Take Mother Nature, add houses in a wild variety of period styles (that Tudor!) and a world-famous prison, and top the whole thing off with a cable car. Funiculi! The Cliff House does not appear in Vertigo, but there's something about this shot - it's full of Hitchcockian menace, don't you think? - makes me wonder why.


February 11, 2005

À seul

If Simone Signoret was ever more beautiful than she is in Casque d'Or (1952), then there's yet another movie that I've got to see. Criterion has just released this charmingly simple doomed love story, with Serge Reggiani and Claude Dauphin, directed by Jacques Becker. It would be a Renoir come to life (and I mean the painter, not the filmmaker) if it were in color... Have you ever had to switch terminals at Heathrow? Your answer, I predict, will be either "Why?" or "What a silly question." You wait in interminable queues to get on a bus, and then you are carted through something like the final set of Full Metal Jacket before they blew it up. A wasteland of bins and rusty doors. More corners than a maze. The ride goes on for weeks: are we in Swindon yet? But a glance at GetMapping's aerial atlas of London suggests that the two principal terminals (1/2 and 3) are no more distant than the length of five or six planes. I guess you have to take the long way round... The Neat Receipts thingy doesn't work quite as smoothly as I'd hoped it would, but it's an obvious must-have for business travelers.... Reading The Peace to End All Peace, David Fromkin's 1989 study of the Allies' disastrous muddling in Middle Eastern affairs during and after World War I, when experts who hadn't a clue what they were doing imposed a lot of bogus boundaries on regions of the Ottoman Empire. Very upsetting reading, but essential, especially coupled with Margaret Macmillan's Paris 1919. That's how I stumbled on the Fromkin, by the way; I needed a paperback copy of the Macmillan, and there was Fromkin bundled right alongside it.

Loose Links (Friday)

¶ What's wrong with television? Let's hear what other people have to say. Googling the phrase "what's wrong with television" brought up a few interesting links; here are four from the first ten. In History Today (but in an issue from 2002), Tom Stearn analyses what's wrong with history programs. He seems to think that producers could do better, but his arguments suggest otherwise.

¶ In an interview with his publisher, Jeffrey Sheuer, author of The Sound Bite Society, gives his answer to the question:

One really has to ask, "What's wrong with television and politics, or television and society," because they are totally intertwined. I'm not ferociously anti-television, but I do think it is generally bad for children and their viewing should be limited and closely monitored. But my specific prescriptions are more political. They include reversing Buckley Vs Valeo, the terrible Supreme Court decision in 1976 that equated campaign spending with freedom of speech; revoking the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which purported to be about increasing competition, but which in fact only accelerated the concentration of media ownership and further dampened competition; and an excellent idea of Lawrence Grossman and others, to replace public television as we know it with an information "freeway" on the superhighway. The bottom line is this: television is overwhelmingly commercialized, which limits its value and makes it a dangerous tool of political inequality instead of an arena of democratic conversation.

I couldn't agree more about overturning Buckley v. Valeo; it's the Dred Scott decision of our times.

¶ On a site called Deep DT's Pages, the question is the title. DT reasons that television needs to be more exciting than ordinary life, or people wouldn't watch it. "This need to be larger, more exciting than life and to constantly maintain peoples attention from minute to minute leads to the television that we know and hate - the fake, false nonsense that poisons our minds."

¶ On a page belonging to Superman.ws, "Smallville" cast member John Schneider seems to want to go back to "Father Knows Best."

Schneider observed that on television, parents are not given the respect they're due.  Instead they're usually depicted as "the dumb people in the house."  "If it weren't for the innate intelligence of their teenage son or daughter they would never be able to make it through the day."  It's this lack of respect for authority, and for the institution of parenthood, that Schneider thinks is most damaging.  "Far beyond the language or even visual content, this is really what's wrong with television."

That line of criticism is as old as television. Almost all of these positions would favor some kind of censorship (or self-censorship) if only "censorship" weren't a per se bad thing. This implies a belief in the possibility of good television that I don't share. Television can be entertaining, certainly, and it can certainly help pass the time. But it is inherently flawed, because we are not wired to cope with it, as I shall argue in a little while. (See the Against Television archives.

Jonathan Biss with Orpheus

The only point on which I agree with Times critic Allan Kozinn about the other night's Orpheus concert at Carnegie Hall is that the program was unusual. You know me about programs - read any of my MET Orchestra pieces. I didn't expect to like what Orpheus was serving, a sequence of World Premiere, Mendelssohn Piano Concerto, New York Premiere, Mendelssohn Symphony. But the evening was quite satisfying, and if anything the new works gave an edge to the Mendelssohn that might have been lacking in more conventional surroundings. Mr Kozinn didn't much care for the World Premiere and the Symphony, and he thought that the programming was just odd. I found it interesting, and it took me one step closer to shedding my dread of dissonant, irregular music. It still has its longueurs for me, but Orpheus never fails to shimmer whatever it plays with beauty.

Continue reading about Orpheus Orchestra at Portico.

Have you got the time?

Please take a moment to tell me at what time of day you usually visit the Daily Blague. Morning? Evening? Every ten minutes? (yah: croissants? martinis? sedatives?) In the interest of anonymity - I don't want to know who doesn't "usually visit" - post a comment stating the time and the local time zone, and then, as a sort of backup, put the name of the place where you live where your own name ought to go. And please pardon this attempt to Make Marketing Fun. It isn't. If I had the tools I'd like, I wouldn't to ask you - I'd know. Aren't you glad I don't?

February 10, 2005

Loose Links (Thursday)

¶ There's a must-read story in the curent New Yorker that is, happily, online. Nicholas Lemann talks to Bill Keller (of the Times) and other MSM heavyweights about bias attacks from left and right ("Fear and Favor"). There was one little bit that hit me with the force of revelation; let me see if I can communicate it. Ann Marie Lipinski, the Chicago Tribunes editor-in-chief, plays a piece of voice-mail from a reader who complains about a human-interest story. The story is about the plight of a woman who can't get health insurance because she suffers from depression. The reader complains, in effect, that the very printing of such stories suggests that health care is a right in the United States, and that this country is as "socialist" as Sweden. The story, I repeat, was not overtly political, but, to the reader, everything is political. Ms Lipinski is bemused:

“I get surprised,” Lipinski said. “Even something like this is seen through a political lens, rather than as, Here’s somebody with a different experience from me.”

Reading that, I saw at once that Ms Lipinski is indeed guilty of unconscious liberal bias. If she were truly objective, she would have omitted the "rather than as" part of her statement, and replaced it with a colon. Ms Lipinski finds it interesting to read stories about "somebody with a different experience from me." The complaining reader does not even want to know that such people exist.

¶ What Jason Kottke has to put up with! Last year, he was threatened with a lawsuit by the "Jeopardy" people. Now his reputation is being picked over at Wikipedia, where contributors are voting whether or not to continue the online encyclopedia's entry for him. As he ruefully remarks on Kottke.org, he'd just as soon they dropped him. I don't begin to understand the "environment," technical and otherwise, in which the vote is taking place (if it is "taking place"), but then I can't figure out how to install a plugin to moderate old-comment spam.

¶ Boo! nothing about the crash and burn, yesterday, of Jeff Gannon/Jim Guckert, in today's Times. Grey Lady's disdain for the blogo thingy?

¶ Finally! A description of what it is that gaffers and best boys do that you will never forget. Cinematographer-hopeful Ski Jagninski explains it all at Gothamist. (I can see why we don't hear much from Best Girls.)

What are the stupidest questions people come up and ask you while you're working?
Bar none: "Are you working on a film?" Gee, what gave it away, the big film lights in the middle of the street? My favorite query was from the homeless guy who wanted a job but was to lazy to walk 150 yards down the street to talk to the person who could actually give him one.

Excuse me, is this a line?

Braying Americans


It happened in Delft, at a pancake house on the Markt. The place had been quiet, although not by any means empty, when we arrived, but now, as we waited for our orders, we were forced to take note of a noisy table by the window. Speaking so that everyone in the restaurant could hear their every word, the group of five Americans brayed on and on about what apparently interested them the most (collectively, at least): waiting for the tour bus; the lines at travelers' check counters; the time when somebody got lost. It was all much too banal to remember in detail, but what we did perceive quite clearly was that these people had nothing to say that was specific to Delft, the Netherlands, or even Europe. They were not rooting around for something to talk about, either, and settling on the tedious side of travel faute de mieux. No, they spoke with great enthusiasm. If they were too nice to interrupt, they were eager to keep the conversation going. This was apparently what they had come to Europe to see: the inside of a bus, the inside of American Express agencies, and one another. They didn't even talk about the plate-sized, crepe-like pancakes that are a staple of Nederlander popular fare. Their failure of imagination was staggering.

In other words, Kathleen and I are dyed-in-the-wool East Coast elitists who look down on rubes from the heartland when they carry on like the folks at the noisy table in Delft. Yes we are and yes we do. We believe in self-possessed good manners; we find swaggering and oblivious disregard almost unpardonably rude. We think that the expense of travel has to be justified by an attentiveness to the differentness of a strange place. As, for example, to the way we live here in Manhattan: Kathleen is driven particularly bonkers by exurbians who confuse New York's sidewalks with their backyard fences. Our sidewalks are busy thoroughfares. See? 

I single out Americans abroad precisely because that's what I am when I'm on a trip: an American abroad. Other nationalities are not without fault, but their faults are easy to overlook because they have nothing to do with me. Embarrassing Americans, betraying with every gesture the wish that they had never left home, do. Embarrassing Americans abroad are proof more glaring than any obtainable at home that many of our countrymen lurch from day to day - from bus to bank - without respect, self- or any other kind. And to think that Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are telling such people that they're the real Americans!

February 09, 2005

Concupiscentia carnis

It would be only natural to assume that Augustine, inventor of the still current conception of original sin, thought that sexual activity was evil, but he did not. The problem for Augustine wasn't in the sex, or even in the pleasure of sex. It was in the desire for sex. Desire troubled him. Sexual desire was simply the strongest and the most difficult to control.

Augustine began his spiritual life as a Manichaean. The followers of Mani (a title of respect, it seems) held that spirit was good and that matter was evil; the creation of the world was the act of a demiurge, or bad guy. After his protracted journey to Christianity, Augustine wrote authoritatively against Manichaeism, but it was probable that there was no point in his life at which Augustine could be said to believe in the fundamental goodness of creation.  The furthest that he could go was to allow the blessing of divine grace upon creation. If Eve hadn't handed Adam the apple, Augustine would have done so, just to get the inevitable fall over and done with. Augustine didn't need Scripture to tell him that man was fallen. This was self-evident to him.

In the Confessions, Augustine neatly describes evil as a falling away from God [III. vii (12)]. This explains his famous and permissive-sounding maxim, "Love God and do as you like." It is not permissive. Loving God is not like loving your spouse. It is not a matter of beneficent thoughts. It is nothing less than arranging your conduct - your thoughts, words and deeds - in concord with God. Complete concord is unattainable by fallen man (this would be you), and a good life is spent in ceaselessly struggling to approximate perfection ever more closely.

For Augustine, this means turning away from "the flesh," a term introduced by Paul. Peter Brown, in The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (Columbia, 1988) - the wellspring of my thoughts on this subject and the inspiration of the concept of "The Augustinian Settlement" - analyses the incompatibility of "the flesh" with "loving God":

The uncontrollable elements in sexual desire revealed the working in the human person of a concupiscentia carnis, of a permanent flaw in the soul that tilted it irrecovably toward the flesh. Unlike the hasty Jerome, and even unlike Ambrose, Augustine was exceptionally careful to point out, in frequent, patient expositions of the Letters of Paul, that the flesh was not simply the body: it was all that led the self to prefer its own will to that of God.

The problem, therefore, isn't sex. It's the "uncontrollable elements in sexual desire." Of course, the unlikelihood of sexual activity unheralded by sexual desire pretty much rules out sexual activity, at least from the scope of loving God. The only thing that saves sex is the desire to implement God's command to Adam and Eve: "Be fruitful and multiply." Sex was all right for Adam and Eve - or it would have been if they had not sinned, and so created a split between will and sexual desire:

As soon as they had made their own wills independent of the will of God, parts of Adam and Eve became resistant to their own conscious will. Their bodies were touched with a disturbing new sense of the alien, in the form of sexual sensations that escaped their control. The body could no longer be embraced entirely by the will.

Note that the love of God is much more than doing whatever it is that you think God wants you to do. It means turning away from your own human, fallen nature - "the flesh." It means willing to love God and resisting all distracting desires. Note, too, that by positing the gap between will and desire as a flaw, Augustine reintroduced, on orthodox terms, the Manichaean distinction between good and evil, spirit and matter.

There can be no denying the acuteness of Augustine's insight into the painful ambiguities of sexuality. Whether everyone is as troubled by them - by the feelings themselves or by the fact that they exist - as Augustine was is open to question. But Augustine's views suited the ecclesiastical elite, particularly as Augustine ranged himself against the Pelagian heresy, about which we need not concern ourselves here, except to say that Pelagians took a very different view - one that it would certainly be a mistake to call "permissive" - of sexuality.

The question for modern Christians is the extent of their subscription to these very specific Augustinian notions. The question is not "Is sexuality good/bad?" In light of Augustine's conceptions of God and evil, that question is hopelessly trivial. The governing question is this: in what does the love of God consist? To put it better, perhaps: how consistent with my belief in Christ is Augustine's definition of loving God?

Loose Links (Wednesday)


¶ Shucks! Everybody wants to see the "Jeff Gannon" beefcake shot. You had to be there. Guess the World O'Crap report will have to do.

¶ In case you missed Max's comment to yesterday's Loose Links, here's something that will cut you down to size (just what you wanted, right?): The 34 Languages of McDonald's. As Max pointed out, there are several languages that use the Cyrillic alphabet. And there are also a few alphabets that perhaps you've never encountered. Not that there's any need to learn about any of these languages, because hasn't it been determined that we are never going to war with any of the people who speak them? Or did I make that up.

¶ Not Jib Jab, not quite as good as Jib Jab, and definitely missing Adrienne Spiridellis, the attached prospectus might nonetheless amuse you.

¶ And here's a link that I've been hoarding; Ms Nola found it. And speaking of Ms Nola, who has won the right to our advice by suggesting that this Web log has a geriatric readership, what counsel would you offer to a brilliant Bryn Mawr grad who deserves a job interview that doesn't end with her being told a) that she's overqualified or b) "we'll get back to you." (But not tired enough to give up.) Better yet, can we send you a resume? Ya de l'espoir, non?

A la leçon

My French lesson yesterday was better than most, even though I had a hard time thinking of anything to talk about. Until, that is, I remembered our lunch at the Grande Cascade a year ago last November, when we went to Paris for Thanksgiving. Perhaps because we had made the reservation through the concierge at the Park Hyatt, where we were staying (on points), we got what seemed liked the best table in the room, right at the prow of the gentle bow window overlooking the Bois de Boulogne. The three closest tables were as interesting to us as we must have been to them. At the one behind Kathleen's back, an engagingly insolent rich thirtysomething spent a lot of time not looking at his mistress. Oh, it was obvious that he wouldn't have been allowed to marry her; she was very beautiful, but not beautiful à la française. He was wearing an impeccable three-piece suit but no cravate - insolence itself. Dressed, in contrast, as if by Edith Head, there sat at the table that would have been alongside us, if tables at the Grande Cascade were anything like that close together, "our little bishop," as we have referred to him ever since. Yes! A  genuine évêque, complete with scarlet cummerbund and doting parents. We thought that he was rather young to be a bishop, but, hey, how old was Richelieu? It is not easy to summon a taxi to the nether reaches of the Bois late on a Sunday afternoon, and the bishop, who was compact and tidy but quite, how you say, imbu de soi (full of himself), threw such a discreet little fit when the meal was over that the restaurant arranged for him to be transported by one of the busboys, in the busboy's very small hatchback. An episcopal carriage it was not! (The parents sat in the back, of course.) We got the bishop's taxi, when it arrived ten minutes later - and, oh, the traffic. Remind me to walk next time!

At the third interesting table sat a couple of a certain age - an age more certain, shall I say, than ours. I did not see them, because they were behind me, but Kathleen provided me with regular weather reports. What began as thinly-veiled hostility, with the wife doing her best to glare at us without seeming to pay us the slightest attention, gradually cleared into almost sunny, friendly approbation. "Ils devraient eu peur," I said to M Portes at my lesson, "que nous fussions des américains bruyants."

And that got me onto the subject of "braying Americans." More about them anon.

You heard it here Call me petit poulet

Has FreshDirect gone belly up? Not according to Google. But I was unable to update my order prior to midnight, for the first time in over two years, and the contact telephone number was "no longer in service." Stay tuned. A while ago, and I'd have been hugely disconcerted by this disconnect. Now, voilà: I'm saying You heard it here.

Let's hope it's all just nonsense, misunderstanding, and glitch; FreshDirect is great. But then again, wouldn't a huge New York food scandal... well, what, exactly? Mobilize Forest Hills? Not this one.

The cutoff time, it appears, has been moved. Orders can't be changed after eleven on the night before an order's scheduled delivery. I was told that this was announced on the Web site, and I'm sure that it was, but I think that it ought to have been the subject of a "friendly reminder," such as the one that I get every Wednesday, asking me "to place your next FreshDirect order." (Not that I would have read it.) I found out by calling the 866 number again. This morning, it worked. The woman who took my call said that she couldn't think why I'd gotten an out-of-service telephone-company message, but she promised to bring it up with her boss.

Thin edge of the wedge! Now it's eleven o'clock. How much further will they shave it back? I must confess to the habit, developed over two years of patronage, of placing an order just to reserve the delivery slot, and only filling in the things that I really need on the eve.

February 08, 2005

Loose Links (Tuesday)

¶ Whatever you do, don't click this link at the office without turning the audio way down. As Michael Manske at The Glory of Carniola writes, the clip is hypnotic. Amusing? How about endless, literally. This video accompaniment, made by Joel Veitch at rathergood.com, to a techno number by the Slovenian group Laibach, is set to loop, so don't wait for "Tanz mit Laibach" to come to an end.

¶ Also via the Music category at TGoC: David Byrne goes to the Metropolitan Opera, and writes about his impressions of Debussy's Pélléas et Mélisande in the sort-of blog that he runs. There are no comments, and no permalinks, so you'll have to scroll down to the entry for 30 January. It's worth it: an intensely musical man confronts intensely different music.

¶ As an aid to my slightly faulty balance (mostly the consequence of an inability to look round when I walk), I carry a very nice ebony walking stick, picked up over a year ago at a snazzy shop on the Boulevard St Germain in Paris. I am always slightly amazed that I'm allowed to carry this thing onto an airliner; I could easily put someone in the hospital with it. But wait - perhaps there's a technique to master!

¶ Pop Quiz

a) When did you stop imagining a difference between yourself and "the grownups"?

b) What is your favorite city, and, if you don't already live there, what do you like about where you are?

c) Would you be happier if your way of life did not require a car, or do you like to drive - and perhaps even enjoy the time alone?

d) What famous living person would you like to have a conversation with, and, assuming that whoever it was shared your interests, what would you want to talk about? This is a very imaginary question, in that most real conversations arte riddled with small talk and hesitation; they also wander in unpredictable ways. So don't try to answer realistically.

¶¶ My answers:

a) Between the ages of thirty-five and forty.

b) Amsterdam. I always say that I'd give anything to live in Paris, but that's an old habit; Amsterdam is much more congenial. And Paris is not far away. What I like about Manhattan is the palpability of great privacy even on the densely-peopled streets. I certainly wish that the city were better-looking. (i.e., Parisian)

c) Because I live in Manhattan, I'm the rare American whose way of life does not require a car, and I count myself very lucky. I have plenty of time alone as it is, too. The only thing that I miss about long drives is NPR. Listening to NPR at home means never getting anything done; in a car, it was the perfect accompaniment to the task at hand.

d) Sigourney Weaver, about the dreams that her father, Pat Weaver, had for television in its early days, and about how he bore the steady preclusion of those dreams over the decades of his long life. You could say that I want to talk to the (apparently) articulate daughter of a famous person, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to the fear of spontaneously combusting in that glamorous aura. (Even without makeup and lighting, even on a bad hair day, there remain those eyes, that voice.)


What an awful surprise, yesterday, to read that Édouard is stopping Sale Bête. His parting was magnificent: a review of what he has done, why he did it, and then, au revoir. He never even said that he was stopping! Sale Bête - there's a link on the sidebar that may still be working - has been part of my life for over six months, or in other words my entire blogging life; very few days have gone by without my visits. And I shall think about Édouard for the rest of my life, I expect, because I could never quite figure him out. Let me be clear: to "figure someone out" is not the same as "to understand someone." It is probably the opposite. I have "figured out" Andy Towle, at Towleroad, and that's probably because Andy has developed a finely-wrought public persona just for the Web. I don't know Andy any better than I know Vladimir Putin. But I've got him placed. We fancy that we have figured people out long before we know anything like enough to make such a claim. But Édouard eluded such presumption, and that alone makes him fascinating.

His site was remarkable, surely. An American of non-Francophone parentage, Édouard wrote what always struck my half-tutored eyes as impeccable French. If he made mistakes, they were very raffinés; I recall reading a correction by Pierre Carion, an expat living in San Diego, that for the life of me I couldn't grasp. (I'm sure that I could provide the same service in English.) The point was that Édouard worked very hard at great risk. If he confessed in early days to confirming every sentence with dictionaries and phrasebooks, I missed it. Sale Bête was fluent to me, and I learned a great deal of bon français from it.

I learned a lot of other things, too, but not much about Édouard himself. The details that I was able to piece together portrayed a gay man of early middle age who lived on 11th Street in the West Village (not bad) and who, with his copain, shared a house in Stonington, Connecticut. Édouard himself, of course, never revealed the location of the house, but he ran a picture of a town square that looked familiar to me. We have a very close friend up there, and, upon inquiry, my supposition was thunderingly confirmed. Stonington, in case you've never thought to wonder, is the actual home of "Mystic Pizza." It is also home to many very tony people. Édouard seemed to revel in not being one of them.

I never believed that he wasn't, largely because Édouard's country entries (as distinct from those about Manhattan) were strewn with contrary implications. And there you have it: Édouard will always fascinate me because he remained anonymous, unlocatable. I can understand why a gay man would wish to be discreet, but Édouard never said a thing that might come back to bite him. He worked at an art gallery in Chelsea, and he spent the occasional hour with his lover in gay bars. The two of them appear to have lived like regular guys, with all the friction (implied with a spicy if taciturn intensity) that two men can expect to generate when they live together. There was talk of dirty clothes heaped on the floor. I have to say, Édouard - I will be permitted a moment of direct address, I hope - that I thought that you were making the bit about the dirty clothes up.

But I'm probably wrong; the man behind "Édouard" (not, obviously his real name, which I was afraid to discover to be "Ed") is a mystery. That will be the disappointment that I carry away from Sale Bête, along with more copious satisfaction. The mystery of "Édouard" distracted, in the end - oh, hell, long before the end - from the things that the site's author had to say. I kept asking questions that a fair disclosure of authorship would have settled. Is he thirtyish? Fortyish? Where'd he go to school? What's his family background? All the ordinary questions that everybody everywhere asks. Maybe Édouard stopped blogging because he was beginning to think about coming out. Not as a gay man, but as an anonymous blogger, no longer anonymous.

I thought that this post was going to be a critique of anonymous blogging. Not so, I guess; that will have to wait. May it be my own tribute to Sale Bête. I'm dismayed that I forgot until now to mention Betty, the chienne who has consented to live with Édouard and le copain. The lapse is a grave sign of my Edwardian unworthiness.

February 07, 2005

Loose Links (Monday)

¶ Ellen and Jim Moody have (launched) a Web log - too. I all but got down on my knees late last year and begged Ellen to write a blog, but enough time has passed since her clearly-reasoned rejection of the idea to prevent me from taking any credit. I am sure that it was Jim, from whom it's nice to hear, who convinced her. I don't know what the new blog will do to listserv volume, but Ellen is or has been the doyenne (willingly or otherwise) of several reading lists. Now you can visit Ellen without riffling through your inbox. Bravo!

¶ Jason Kottke posted a link to the intriguing story of Esref Armagan, a Turkish man who paints realistic pictures even though he has apparently been completely blind since infancy. How can this be?

¶ Along the thread of my earlier posting on free speech, I must say that while I think that Princeton's Harry Frankfurt is on to something, I'd have come up with a better name for both the course and its subject matter.

¶ Adieu, Édouard. Mille remerciements de votre carnet génial et réconfortant. Sale Bête vient de cesser.

Professional Speech

Two things have conspired to focus my attention on academic freedom of speech. First, being called "a radical and a fool" at the dinner table because I disparaged the tenure system, and, second, reading Amy's clever take on Lawrence Summers's latest impersonation of a loose cannon.

On the one hand, there is the First Amendment. On the other hand, there is professional responsibility.

Is teaching a profession? I think that it is - and a vocation, too; I hate the idea of teachers who don't like what they're doing. (That's the root of the only good argument for teachers' shockingly poor compensation.) Professions necessarily have standards: practices that distinguish practitioners from laymen. The most important standard of any profession is the level of demonstrable expertise that must be attained before credentials are conferred. Next in importance is the code of conduct that members of a profession must observe. Serious violations of the code of conduct are grounds for expulsion no less forceful than carelessness or incompetence.

There may be aspects of the code of conduct that infringe upon a professional's freedom of speech. Doctors, lawyers, and clergymen are required to refrain from mentioning many things, particularly the names of people in their care. No one regards such restrictions as a derogation of the First Amendment.

I don't know anything about what they teach at teacher's college, but I'm sure that the first duty of a teacher is to teach. To teach, specifically, a particular subject matter - to impart a body of information. Learning to criticize information, and the way in which is gathered, is an essential part of any education, but one that ought to follow the acquisition of knowledge. I'm well aware that "knowledge" and "criticism" are not free-standingly distinct; to teach something is to assert that it is worth knowing, and to omit something from the curriculum is equally meaningful. But too much emphasis has been place on inquiry. Inquiry is important, but it is not everything. A completely open mind is a completely empty one.

I also believe that teaching is not a dramatic art. That's to say that teachers ought not to be playing for their students' attention and approbation. The focus in any classroom must be the material to be learned, not the behavior of the teacher. Classes ought to be compelling because they're demanding, not because they're interesting. It's for this reason that I would forbid teachers to make inflammatory remarks. By "inflammatory remark" I mean any comment that recklessly excites the passions of ignorant people.

Teaching Darwinism may excite the passions of ignorant people, but where it is done in a classroom in normal conversational language it cannot be called reckless. Publishing an essay in which financial professionals trading bonds and typing contracts are compared to the man who organized the logistics of death camps is reckless. I defy anyone to sustain the claim that Ward Churchill's by now infamous book is not deliberately inflammatory. I don't contest Mr Churchill's right to publish whatever he likes. But I don't believe that a man of such intemperate views has any business teaching.

At Common Dreams News Center, Anthony Lappé writes, "Ruffling feathers is what good professors do." Ruffling feathers is what good professors do occasionally, when a bit of ruffling is the only way to improve their students' habits of mind. Gratuitous ruffling is self-important and, where it is published, inflammatory.

There are those who will argue that, rather than censor public speech, we must enlarge the understanding of the public. Something like this was clearly in the minds of the authors of the First Amendment; informed, intelligent people will give rubbish the treatment it deserves. But while I agree that we must do whatever we can to enlarge the general public's understanding of affiars, we must also acknowledge that it is sore need of enlargement. Reckless speech has had a way, recently, of inducing genocide, as witnessed in Bosnia and Rwanda. You can't get much more reckless than by provoking or ignoring the passions of ignorant people. Freedom of speech is not unqualified: crying "Fire" in a crowded theatre will get you arrested.

Henry James at Good For You

Before the week is out, I hope, we'll have started reading The Ambassadors at the Daily Blague's sister site, Good For You. If you're not sure about the author in question, this reading is probably not for you. Henry James's trio of three late novels are famously difficult to read, not because of big words or deep thoughts but because of very long sentences with lots of clauses; to say that they "bristle with discriminations" is, if I don't mind saying so myself, a fine example of Jamesian understatement. (The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl are not James's last novels, as is usually asserted; everyone overlooks (perhaps rightly) his novelization of The Outcry, yet another one of his doomed plays, this one forestalled by the closing of the theatres in 1911 in respect of the death of Edward VII.) The secret to reading late James is to remember that it was dictated, not written. Read it aloud for a while, and the rhythms will make it quite intelligible.

Tackling three difficult novels is an odd way of trying out a new kind of book club, and I will probably regret it if I live.

February 06, 2005

And I've never looked at another fortune since.


It was about twenty years ago (time those flies), at Szechuan Village (First Avenue and 89th), that I opened a fortune cookie, unfurled the slip of paper, and read, You are keen on sports.

One might ask what Brendan Tapley's essay, "The Patriots Made a Man of Me, in a Manner of Speaking," is doing in the "Modern Love" slot of the Times's "Sunday Styles" section.

Mr Tapley's experience of love is only tangentially addressed, saluted from afar rather than explored. Mr Tapley is a gay man who tumbled into a physical relationship with a woman who remains his closest friend - and that's that for details. Mr Tapley's subject is the improvement that a few seasons of following the NFL wrought upon his interactions with straight men. Before taking up football - avowedly because he thought that Tom Brady was cute (as indeed he is, according to a story on the newspaper's front page) - Mr Tapley had a lot of trouble making small talk with regular guys, whose language he could only approximate in what he cleverly calls "Manglish." He found acceptance only after he mastered the details of professional football.

Fast forward to the beginning of my third N.F.L. season, this one. I was over at Lynn's sister's house, where I still hung out now and then. Her brother-in-law and I were scraping paint outside - shirtless, I'll have you know. We were wearing lead-filtering biohazard masks, and listening to heavy metal. But although I'd made strides in my acquisition of malespeak, he and I weren't talking. I was enduring yet again that awkward man-with-man silence I so longed to break out of, when suddenly, from behind his mask, came a question. And not just any question. A football question: "You think the Patriots are ever going to solve their running game?"

You can feel Mr Tapley's heart race at the prospect of a conversation. The talk is not limited to football, either, for the real pearl at the core of this essay is that it was only after he got good at talking about sports that an ordinary bloke would talk to him about anything besides football. Mr Tapley and his best friend's brother-in-law proceed to talk about Mr Tapley's novel and about the brother-in-law's longing for children. It is not the subject-matter that counts, though; it's the bonding.

This essay hit a nerve. When I was a kid, with absolutely no interest in sports, it was hard to talk to anybody, because I was tall and it was assumed that I must play a lot of basketball. My last serious attempt to play ball (in every sense of that phrase) occurred in fifth grade. By eighth grade, I was an embryo of the man I've grown up to be: passionate about music, history, and local anthropology. I preferred reading about people (real or imagined) and wondering how they ticked to bonding with them. I don't care much for bonding; I'd rather have an argument. The other night at dinner, the man across the table responded to a disparaging remark about the tenure system by glaring at me stonily and saying, "You are a radical and a fool." It was very exciting! And although Kathleen was worrying about my blood pressure, I took immense pleasure in the arguing. That's all it was: arguing. Aside from the vehemence of ever less patient discussion, there wasn't a trace of hostility. I was called a fool so often in childhood that I know when to take it seriously.

Bonding appears to be a non-verbal thing, a wash of mutual affection untainted by eros, which is why Mr Tapley's insistence upon pointing out the "shirtlessness" of his happy afternoon made me a little bit queasy; had he pointed it out at the time, I'm sure that the brother-in-law would have pulled on a T. But Mr Tapley knew better than that. I wouldn't be any good at bonding precisely because I'd want to talk about it.

Sunday Special

Here are a few Ken Brown drawings that illuminate, but without explanation, the dustball corner of the male psyche.


In this 1984 postcard, our hero sprawls with his back to the great view. He has evidently been done in by too much serious reading about Wayne Newton, Velcro, and lentils. The headline to the right reads: "Scientists say Prez has mind of mollusk."


Cabin fever? Or failure of the imagination?


Slackers will always be with us.


An unPatriotic image for today.

February 05, 2005

Tune in Tomorrow: Expanded Super Bowl Coverage!

Tune in tomorrow for fantastic coverage of the Super Bowl on the DB! As expanded as you want it to be! Simply drop in to comment on the miserable time you're having, wherever you are, being forced to watch the game with friends and relatives! You may even complain about the game itself! I don't care what you say, really, as long as you drop in and vent. Why, you may even report that you're having a great time(!) watching the Patriots and the guys from Philadelphia, whatever their name is, if that's where they're from.

The only thing I know about football is fifty yards, and, oh, the players are much bigger than I am - which, at my size, you notice. Did I mention that I have two degrees from the University of Notre Dame, and that I still think that football is unwatchably witless?

Weekend Special


We continue our improvident March through Capital with a visit (more of a poaching, really) with the late, great Ken Brown. Not that Mr Brown is, er, late. He's just no longer so active in the world-historical field of fun postcards. That I know of.


Not my favorite, but an important image that never fails to produce knitted brows and a meaningful hmmm.


Here's one of the winning captions. Doesn't matter what Bernice or Bob actually looks like.


Something for your dashboard. (Sell your car while you can.)

February 04, 2005

Loose Links (Friday)

¶ Several hours were spent yesterday afternoon on an excursion through the Web logs of Edinburgh and Leith, or at least through the ones that Naked Blog lists on its Blogroster. I found one of these quite congenial. Richard Bloomfield is trying to decide what to give up for Lent. His friends have advised taking something up, i.e., walking to work (Richard has already gotten rid of his car - good show!). My expert on this subject (Kathleen) objects: walking to work is good for you, and not in any real way a sacrifice. And certainly no substitute for giving something up. Chocolate, perhaps? I also enjoyed glancing through The Leither, a collaborative blog. Although I've never been to Edinburgh, I madly want to go, and I was heartened to hear Kathleen say that there's an Intercontinental (the George) where we could stay on points. I like it that Edinburgh has remained clear and distinct enough to have a separate port city (Leith) at its feet.

¶ Who knew that Warren Buffett subscribes to John Rawls's theory of justice? This wasn't among the points made by Walter Kirn in his mordant Atlantic piece a few months ago.

¶ As the Times editorial puts it, the confirmation of Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General is "depressing." I really don't know how this man has survived scrutiny. At least the MSM are seem to be going after Jeff Gannon, the nitwit blogger who's got White House press credentials. (thanks to Fafblog). Edward, at Obsidian Wings, isn't altogether happy that Donald Rumsfeld might be arrested for war crimes, should he set foot in Germany, but I suspect that there's a lot more where that lawsuit comes from, and I'm at all not unhappy about it. American patriotism has been put under severe pressure by the Crawford Gang, and we're in sore need of a good lawman.  

Too Literary?

Are you reading this at work? Don't worry, I won't tell. But I suspect that you are. I've nothing in the way of firm evidence, mind you. But the impression gets stronger every day. The only people who don't do their Web log reading and writing at work appear to be people who don't have any work to go to.

Is Dilbert the Holy Ghost of the Blogosphere? You know, the wise one.

[We interrupt: Is Anglophone anti-intellectualism - as pervasive in the UK as it is in the United States - the cause or the effect of such linguistic tics as the one that morphed Sanctus Spiritus into Holy Ghost? "Spirit," in the other  European languages, connotes wit, intelligence, and wisdom as well as a certain insubstantiality; "Ghost" is just a dumb spook. It couldn't be further from the Greek original: Hagia Sophia, "Holy Wisdom." Did you find this interruption pedantic and annoying or curious and provocative?]

Is the Blogosphere bustling because employees seek distraction? Am I contributing to a decrease of productivity?

Not bloody likely. I have begun to wonder if my writing isn't a little too literary to be savored in the workplace. No, that's not true. I haven't begun to wonder. I've begun to take my wondering seriously. I leave it to you to guess why; I would never mention anything so vulgar as ... hits.

When I launched Portico in 2000 (not that I ever said "launched" at the time), I pictured its readers as people who had just finished the Sunday Times (perhaps on Saturday) and who were absentmindedly following up a reference to something interesting on the Web. That's how I would read this site, if I weren't writing it. But in this as in most ways I am an oddball. The last thing that people who read (and write) Web logs at work want to do on the weekend is more of same.

So I'm thinking of modeling my prose on sports writing - a genre not without its highly literate admirers. (Will the recent chorus of praise for A J Liebling induce me to read about boxing? I haven't even opened David Remnick's anthology.) Since I don't, to put it mildly, actually follow sports, I may have to plagiarize.

If I won't tell on you, don't you tell on me. 

February 03, 2005

Örümcek kadın

Being a language junkie, I'm not surprised that Turkish fascinates me. The only question is how much attention I can divert from my very serious effort to speak fluent French - an effort that has probably been undertaken too late in life. Nobody is ever going to expect me to speak Turkish, however, so every little pearl that I produce will be congratulated, at least once - to which I shall reply, teşekkür ederim: thank you.

Turcophones who happen upon this site will doubtless be disturbed by this post's heading: it means "spider lady." And that's significantly different, isn't it, from "Spider Woman of Wall Street." Read the article, from the Turkish newspaper Referans. It took forever for Kathleen to send me the PDF file, and another forever for me to do something with it. The original photograph wasn't quite so ghastly.

Thanks, by the way, to Ekrem Nurhan, who saw the "Infusion" picture of my hand and worried (before reading) that I was seriously ill. I was pretty seriously ill, before these infusions came into my life!

Loose Links (Thursday)

¶ The other day, my friend George asked me about the "paragraph marks" with which I bracket these loose links, and I explained to him that they are called "pilcrows." He thanked me for the information and returned the favor by informing me that the technical term for the "pound sign" (#) is "octothorp." Well, I had to look that one up, because the Latin "octo" and the English "thorp" - an archaic term meaning "hamlet" - looked like a fishy combination. Indeed, the word doesn't appear in my fat Random House Unabridged, and that's where research would have stopped in pre-Internet times. It turns out that George is quite right; the octothorp was invented by cartographers who used it to signify the eight fields surrounding a village. But you already knew this: Google returns over eight thousand links to sites on which the word appears.

¶ The happiest day of my adolescence was my first day at Blair Academy, in the fall of 1963. My parents had decided that we would all be happier if I was out of the house, and a precipitate rush to get me into a good school preoccupied the previous spring. I was certainly happier. My mother and I had tumbled into a not-so-cold war in which all it took was a look. She might have been afraid that I would murder her in her sleep. Boarding school certainly eased the valves on that pressure cooker!

So I read, this morning, with complete incredulity about parents who follow their children to boarding school, literally, buying homes near campus and crossing the country if necessary. There is something definitely ghoulish about the parents written up by Ralph Gardner Jr in today's Times ("Newly Desirable: Dormfront Property"). Separation from the parental bosom is surely the point of boarding school; it may be tough for some kids for a week or too, but it is amazingly effective preparation for college and real life. What is adolescence, anyway, if not the time for staking out your differences from your parents, gracelessly, exaggeratedly, even hurtfully? How lucky you would be to do the staking out where they can't see you! How vain these house-hopping parents must be, to believe that their children will expire without their proximity.

And what, may I ask, is the point of paying boarding-school tuition if you're turning the attic into a rec room?

The couple are remodeling the modest 1,850-square foot two-family house they purchased by replacing the upstairs kitchen with a master bathroom and turning the attic, with its cathedral ceiling, into a "hangout" room for Alex and his friends.

Beg your pardon, but aren't "Alex and his friends" supposed to be away at school? Let go, folks.

¶ Also in the Times, "Sir Paul's Playbook," Tom Carvell's very funny satire of modern manners in broadcasting. Although the Beatles's songs are expletive-free, they conjure troubling scenarios that might keep them off today's airwaves. After all, if we can't let our kids go to boarding school by themselves, then we sure can't allow market forces to determine playlists!


Last night, writing a comment to an earlier post, "Infusion," I hit upon a way to trim what would have been a wordy dependent clause: "... shortly after our first friendly loss to AIDS... " It was perhaps more poetic than intelligible, and I might just as easily have said "In 1985." But the purpose of the comment was to point to the fact that it's the "D" - for "deficiency" - that's the fatal ingredient in the acronym, not the "A" or the "I." I suffer from a complex of auto-immune diseases that trouble me because my immune system is overactive, not compromised. It's rather like James Dobson, going after SpongeBob SquarePants for lack of anything better to do.

I don't think that I would have used "friendly loss" in a post. It seemed permissible in a comment - a blog owner's comments, by their very nature, are informal precisely because they are not posts - but now I wonder. The tension in the phrase lies, of course, in the utter impossibility of there being anything friendly about someone's dying of AIDS, friend or not; therefore, the word "friendly" must mean something else, such as, in this case, "of a friend." But we're not living in the sixteenth century anymore; vocabulary is not so fluid, and my usage, as I knew it would be, is jarring.

That's my trouble. I like to jar. I pick my jarring moments with care, not because I want to stay out of trouble (ha!) but because I don't want there to be anything gratuitous about my transgressions. As I was writing, last night, I had a clear idea of the pinprick of offense that "friendly loss" was going to cause, and it was the very idea that this offense would register that spurred me on. I knew that a friend of mine would take issue with my language, and my response to the complaint in my inbox this morning echoed my sentiments last night: Bring it on!

Why this belligerence? Well, you should have seen the comment as initially previewed. Although I hadn't intended it to be provoking, I could see that it would have caused not pinpricks but gaping wounds. The rewrite was annoyingly tedious. When "friendly loss" was the only arguable bit left, I pretended that I could get away with aping Shakespeare and murmured "f*ck 'em." POST!

Sorry, chéri. Life is too short for Non-Speakers.

February 02, 2005



Elizabeth, one of the super nurses at the Infusion Unit of the Hospital for Special Surgery, was kind enough to take this photograph for me. Believe me, the IV is not painful in the least. The Remicade solution, which is made to order when I arrive, is fed through a sort of pump into the vein; if tilting the hand causes a delivery slowdown, a rather pesky alarm goes off. Whether or not this happens seems to be a matter of luck, of just how squarely the needle fits (so to speak) into the tiny vein. No alarms went off today, not for me, but a lady in the next chair had occasion to roll her eyes several times after inadvertently setting off the racket. I've spent enough time in the Infusion Unit to know that an alarm-triggering IV is not anybody's fault.

What's painful - well, it's not painful, exactly, but it is a big drag - is the blood-pressure cuff. Two hours in its embrace, and my arm begins to feel sore. The monitor is automatic, and takes my blood pressure every half hour. This is not pleasant, because my blood pressure has been running high, ever since I stopped taking a hypertension medicine last week because it was implicated in the ghastly rash that exploded while I was in Istanbul. Toprol was the the third medication to cause some sort of allergic reaction in six months. Tomorrow, I will ask my internist to let me try a fourth. Meanwhile, I am beginning to take seriously the idea of lowering my blood-pressure naturally. Because the only foods that interest me are salty and greasy, or alcoholic, I will probably not live long enough to bring the problem under control - naturally. But I'm trying. My teatime snack this evening - remember, we don't eat until ten or eleven at night - was Alpine Lace Swiss cheese and Melba toast. A far cry from yesterday's Triscuits with bleu d'Auvergne. I hope.

Looking at my calendar, I see that not once in the past five months have three weeks gone by without at least one doctor's visit. I've gotten so tired of going to doctors (though the doctors themselves are all wonderful) that I've put off my physical exam. No longer; I'll schedule it tomorrow. If &c.

For those who just tuned in, bimonthly Remicade infusions have proven an effective deterrent of my two immune diseases, inflammatory bowel and ankylosing spondylitis. If Remicade had been around twenty years ago, I'd probably be able to nod my head, but now there's no way to turn bone back into disk.

Loose Links (Wednesday)

¶ The Dining In/Out section of today's Times features an amusing article by Julia Moskin about tell-all waiters who vent their outrage on the Web (I especially liked the photo of the cleaver-wielding chef, which reminded me of a favorite Monty Python routine). The article turns out to be better than any of the sites, because waitpersons, Thespian aspirations notwithstanding, do not seem to spend a lot of time polishing their writing. If restaurants were as poisonous as the atmosphere at these sites, even the laziest of us would cook for himself. Nevertheless, there is fun to be had here and there. At The Stained Apron, a bartender laces a lousy customer's frozen cocktail with - well, read it yourself. At Ontherail, the "five second rule" is invoked in a piece that reminds me (not that I needed it) why I would never want to work in a restaurant kitchen. And for contrasting but not contradictory assessments of restaurateur Steve Hanson, whose B. R. Guest outfit runs several popular Manhattan restaurants, compare The Wine Enthusiast and Shameless Restaurants. Bitterwaitress took forever to load, but I had no trouble checking out the goods at Cafépress.

¶ La Coquette reports on an afternoon spent resale shopping in the Seizième with a visiting fashion editor from Chicago. It is difficult not to hear Kate Hudson's voice reading the piece - probably because La Coquette herself writes, of the prospect of living in Paris, "I imagined how my life was going to be SO Kate Hudson in Le Divorce!" Then I got to thinking. Kate Hudson might make a great audiotape of La Coquette, but the actor is already a little to old to be playing twenty-four year-olds. And I reflected on the moment in life, which can happen anytime between the ages of fifteen and thirty, when one's feelings about being too young to be impersonated by a famous actor shift from impatience to relief.

Two Weed Pit


Years ago - and I do mean years - Kathleen and I would watch Law and Order reruns at eleven and then lazily remain in front of the tube for an installment of Biography, a show that was usually just interesting enough to make us postpone going to bed, a tedious procedure that involved turning off lights, locking the door, and clearing away our Along Came Polly collection of throw pillows. So I understood what Ms Nola was talking about last night when, having obtained permission to watch The Gilmore Girls, she was challenged at ten past nine for watching the next WB show, One Tree Hill. Now, trust me when I say that Ms Nola has sound professional reasons for watching what she concedes is a terrible soap opera (it is, she claims, the highest-rated TV show for teens). But her first justification reminded me of all the Biographys that I'd watched. "After my friend H- and I have consumed a bottle of wine during Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill is irresistible." We were waiting for Kathleen to come home for dinner, so I sat down and watched. Lord, what an awful show. Of course it's awful! It's written for teens.

Everybody in One Tree Hill has slept with everybody else, except for Lucas (Chad Michael Murray), a soulful young man with a heart condition. Without exception, the young women look like pole dancers dressed for church. The dialogue is predictable and trite, and the story lurches from one wrenching but fundamentally vapid disclosure to another like an Arthur Miller drama on speed. I was quickly convinced that Keith (Craig Sheffer) was only pretending to be  concerned about Lucas's heart condition, for if Lucas dies, the pot of money that he will necessarily fail to inherit will go to his stepfather. I'm making this up. Actually, what this show needs is the What's Up, Tiger Lily? treatment: dubbed sarcasm. Lucas, whose lack of a love interest is obviously plotted to trick viewers into believing that he really belongs to them, could keep all his lines, because nobody's listening anyway: Chad Michael Murray is the Fred Astair of furrowed brows.

"Just wait till Kathleen comes home and sees this show," I warned the kiddies. And it was fun, now that I was back in the kitchen finishing the macaroni and cheese, to hear Kathleen's cries of disbelief.

Does this mean that I can't say "I never watch television anymore?" Of course not. My interest, like Ms Nola's, is really professional. As the lady put it herself, "We're watching this so that RJ can write about it in his blog."

Lost & Found


If anybody out there knows a sixtyish Greek woman née Katerina Koini, tell her to give me a shout. Kathy (as we called her) was a vibrant exchange student at Bronxville High when I was in tenth grade, and I'm still profiting from the things she taught me, such as, for example, Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. I remember a letter in which she told me that Europe was "dead." How wonderfully wrong she was! (I was "Bob" in a former life. Don't even think about it.)

If you hang out in Laguna Beach, perhaps you've met my prep school friend, Michael O'Connell. If so, stick him with a hatpin and tell him to send me another postcard, only this time not one of the White House.

As for Jean, I know where she is, but I don't get many postcards anymore. Boo!

February 01, 2005

Loose Links (Tuesday)

Today's links come via Francophone sites.

¶ From Édouard at Sale Bête, I learned of an interesting new site, East Village Blog, that, like Sale Bête, is authored by an American - in this case, Doug H. of Bandarlog. Doug appears to be a good reporter who's very tired of what appears to him to be a liberal sclerosis at both the New York Times and Le Monde, where he worked for a spell. It is breathtaking to me to read such fluent writing in a foreign language; I can hardly post a comment without recourse to the dico.

¶ Édouard also had a link to a disturbing short film put out by the ACLU. Its simulation of a dystopian future in which it's impossible to order a pizza without paying surcharges because you're overweight has been rendered with a light but deadly touch. How will we maintain our privacy alongside the Internet? Anonymity is certainly not the answer. Nor is legislation likely to help out anytime soon, as Tom Zeller's story in today's Times shows. I suspect that privacy will continue to be what it has always been, a commodity that is paid for, but with this difference: direct payment.

¶ Finally, something funny that appeared over the weekend at De Bric et de Blog: Trying to plug in an appliance, Veuve Tarquine had a bit of excitement that sparked a very creative bit of blogging.

¶ Housekeeping Note: You may have noticed that to continue reading some of the longer posts on the Daily Blague, you must follow a link to Portico, my Web site. As the number of links to Portico increases, so does the extent of the reformatting. This morning, I've cut most of the post about Sunday's MET Orchestra concert (below) and pasted it where it will more or less permanently remain at Portico. In the process, I noted that, owing to recent CSS changes, my long page on Mozart's K. 563 had been rendered unreadable (white text on a white background), I decided to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

MET Miscellany

It's time to say something about the last of this season's MET Orchestra concerts at Carnegie Hall, and if you'll just think for a minute and give it a bit of the old college try (history of that phrase, anyone?), you'll spare me the effort and write it yourself. Am I going to say that the performances were great? Of course. Am I going to say that the program was a mess? You bet.

I'm beginning to think that there is a hole in, or near the middle of, James Levine's musicality. Perhaps it's a kind of undiscriminating gourmandise: too much is never enough. It doesn't matter what goodies are spread upon the table, as long as they're all, individually, delicious. My own taste in music is less focused, I suppose; I don't drop into the center of each thing that I hear with an empty mind, oblivious of what I've already heard (or even of what I expect to hear later). Concert performances are paramount - nothing can redeem poor or indifferent execution - but concert programs are tantamount: they're as important. A well put-together program enhances the sheen of each of its part. Perhaps I'm afflicted with gesamtkonzertohren: I hear the entire concert with one pair of ears (pardon my pseudo-Wagnerism).

Continue reading about the MET Orchestra at Portico.