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March 31, 2005

Long Walk


Today's walk was more than two times longer than yesterday's, and sheer length was my only reward. The weather wasn't nearly so nice, for one thing. For another, I had hardly set out than my ankles began to swell. This is a hypertension issue, sometimes, and it is always worrisome. It is also uncomfortable. If I had been going anywhere but to a doctor's office, I'd have turned around and crawled into bed. When I reached the Hospital for Special Surgery, where Dr Steven Magid, the rheumatologist, has his office (it's the horizontally-striped smallish building in the center of the snapshot), my blood pressure was quite high, and I was in a state that didn't improve when I was asked if I wanted to go to the emergency room. You may be wondering what's wrong with me, and I only wish I knew. My blood pressure presently dropped to an okay level, but my ankles remained swollen until I'd been home for a while and taken a blue pill. I walked home, too. Let's say that I clocked just under two and a half miles. Can't hurt. Right?

The photograph does nothing to convey the pleasures of walking between the FDR Drive and the East River, and that's as it should be, because I was too frazzled to enjoy them. I noticed that the current was flowing in my direction, and that was about it. Traffic was heavy but moving. As an ambulance threaded its way through the traffic, I wondered what emergency had taken place at its destination.


Dr Magid was encouraging. On the spot, he rang up two of the other doctors who minister to various aspects of my illness and its side-effects. (It helps that I've memorized almost all their numbers.) Medication was changed. I left in much better spirits, but that's only to say that I wasn't worrying about presently collapsing after an aneurism or a stroke. Not so worried. And I was looking forward to dinner with Ms NOLA, who was kindly to keep me company at dinner - Kathleen is in Florida. I stopped at Agata & Valentina on the way home to pick up one or two things, and then, not having eaten since breakfast (it was now nearly five), I thought of a quick bite at the coffee shop catercornered from the store. I crossed First Avenue and decided to take a picture of St Monica's, a church that I stared at for however long it was that I stayed with Kathleen in the summer of 1979, when she had a sublet in an apartment opposite the church, and I was on my way up to a summer of clerking for my uncle in New Hampshire. Later I would learn that a priest from the parish had baptized my sister way back in 1949. That's another story, and perhaps not mine to tell, but I think of Carol every time I pass the church. I have never been inside it.

Dinner was a chicken dish from the new issue of Saveur. The chicken is baked in a hot oven and then bathed in a Swiss cheese sauce. It would have been great if the chicken hadn't been underdone. Very stupidly, I neglected to test the meat; it has been so long since I turned out an underdone chicken that I simply couldn't be bothered. I had a number of issues with the recipe, but the culprit was the pizza stone that I keep meaning to remove from the oven; it greatly prolongs the preheating period, and I haven't replaced the last broken oven thermometer. Forty minutes at 450º would have done the job. When I get this dish down, I'll upload my version. Happily, the breasts were edible, delicious even.

Ms NOLA told me that I'm an unusual man in that I really like women. This was very depressing. Is it really unusual? I know that a lot of men have no use for women beyond the carnal commodities, and I long ago realized that these men have more in common with some gay men than they do with me. We talked about men being "threatened" by women. This is a concept that I understand less and less. I think it's psychobabble. I think that these "threatened" men simply want to have their desires gratified without comment or qualification. They imagine that that would be normal. Mind you, I can't take any credit for really liking smart women, because I simply really do. (I threw in the qualification that modesty prevented Ms NOLA from mentioning; I am indeed very uncomfortable around the intellectually challenged, which means I'm no better than someone who's only happy around beautiful people.) If I've done anything, it's having avoided the socializing claptrap that can interfere with this pleasure.

I was supposed to call Kathleen at 6:30, to wake her from a nap that she needed to take and propel her to an important conference event. But I forgot. Never mind the explanations and the excuses. As we were sitting down at eight, Ms NOLA asked if Kathleen had called me, and I cried out in dismay. I went into the blue room and called the number that she'd given me, and left an apologetic message. Over an hour later, the phone rang with Kathleen's special ring, and I hastened to my judgment. It seemed early for Kathleen to have returned from her event, but I was really shocked when she said that she'd just gotten up. "But I called you at eight!" I decided to test the number right away, and, indeed, the number that appeared on her bedside phone couldn't be reached by me. I had to dig up the link that she'd sent me to her hotel's Web site. Kathleen wondered what movie she ought to watch, and Ms NOLA and I both jumped at The Incredibles, which I have not seen but which Ms NOLA adored. I look forward to hearing how Kathleen liked it, although I won't be surprised if she'll have fallen asleep in the middle of it. My poor dear is working off a very serious sleep deficit.

But don't worry about me. If I could walk to the HSS and back, I can't be that sick. Can I?

Update: Kathleen called at just about the time when The Incredibles would have ended, but she hadn't watched it; she'd fallen asleep again and just awakened. So we will probably see it for the first time together.

I neglected to mention my admiration for Ms NOLA upon her account of why she took a course in "Modernism" at Bryn Mawr in her senior year: she was determined to get the most out of James Joyce's Ulysses by reading it in the context of a college course. Intelligent or what?

March 30, 2005

Yes, but can we set it to "Dragostea Din Tei"?

"Gluehands of the world, I salute you," hails Jason Kottke, revealing a secret childhood vice (Elmer's Glue is expensive!) All right, I'm dramatizing. But does Mr Kottke understand that full-time blogging is a career that rules out funseeking? Of course, if he and his friend were spreading Elmer's all over their palms and then peeling it off while taking pictures, and - eew, are you eating that? - just to have something to post, well, then it's okay. As a micropatron, I'm keeping tabs!



This afternoon, I went for a walk. I can't remember the last time I did that - just went out for a walk, with no particular destination in mind. My only idea was to walk a mile. Of course, I would take pictures, and because I've taken so many pictures in Carl Schurz Park, I thought I'd head west instead. It wasn't until I reached Madison Avenue that my plan developed. I would walk up Fifth Avenue, on the Park side (with its nearly uninterrupted sidewalk), up to 96th Street, where Kathleen grew up, and then I would head back.

It was a nice enough day. Far from glorious; the sun seemed somewhat overcast and pale, and the temperature was too high for a wool jacket but to low to go without. (I need a new windbreaker.) But if Fifth Avenue was quiet (except for buses full of tourists), the rest of my walk was fairly well populated. Yorkville High Street - the stretch of 86th between First and Lexington Avenues - was jammed.

I took a lot of pictures, and, miraculously, all but two of them were clear; I need a camera that's operated by voice, not push. But I'm only going to show two this afternoon, both souvenirs of Kathleen's Carnegie Hill childhood (only, of course, the realtors hadn't dreamed up "Carnegie Hill" in those days). The photo above shows two Fifth Avenue mansions. The one to the right was built by Andrew Carnegie, and currently houses the Cooper-Hewitt branch of the Smithsonian Institution, a museum of design. The cream-colored pile to the left was built by Otto Kahn, a prominent financier, and it currently houses the Convent of the Sacred Heart, one of several in the Metropolitan Area and accordingly known as "91st Street." Oh, the tales of mischief that Kathleen harvested from her years there. Always in trouble! Squirting the late Ms Onassis with water pistols, for example. (Caroline was a few years behind Kathleen.) It was an accident, honest! Other misdeeds were not so accidental, and if you have not heard Kathleen tell of the ingenious method that she devised for mopping the convent's corridors (a punishment), you have missed a very good laugh. Couventiennes will want to know that Kathleen's little Advent lamb was always très, très loin from the Baby Jesus. Finally, the Mesdames had a brainwave: they rigged an election so that Kathleen became Student Body President. This maneuver shamed her into the good behavior for which she has since become celebrated on three continents and Puerto Rico.


Then we have 17 East 96th Street. I'll bet that this picture will surprise Kathleen when she sees it, because I don't think she knows about the new building at the corner of Madison Avenue. The corner site was occupied by a one-storey Rexall Drug Store for decades. I can't look at the sidewalk without recalling Kathleen's complaints, still quite lively, about an obnoxious poodle-type dog whom the Moriartys babysat for a week. The little beast's name was truly over the top: "Dragée."

Good Sense athwart the Aisles

The climate of political comment has become so rank, so hormonally malodorous lately that I hesitate to applaud the Times for publishing a remarkable pair of Op-Ed pieces today. One is by former Republican Senator John C. Danforth, and the other is by former Democratic Senator Bill Bradley. Each piece advises the author's own party, not the opposition. That's a relief right there. And I could not more enthusiastically endorse what each statesman has to say.

Mr Danforth is unhappy with the conjunction of the Republican Party with conservative Christianity, and he explains quickly and lucidly why the mixing of politics with religion is inadvisable:

When government becomes the means of carrying out a religious program, it raises obvious questions under the First Amendment. But even in the absence of constitutional issues, a political party should resist identification with a religious movement. While religions are free to advocate for their own sectarian causes, the work of government and those who engage in it is to hold together as one people a very diverse country. At its best, religion can be a uniting influence, but in practice, nothing is more divisive. For politicians to advance the cause of one religious group is often to oppose the cause of another.

Mr Bradley believes, as I have done for most of George W Bush's presidency, that the Democratic Party has got to take a good look at the massive but disciplined rganizational effort that made the Republican Party the political powerhouse that it is today, and he astutely traces his party's haphazard fortunes to the charisma of John F Kennedy. But no party can run on charisma alone, as the sequel to Bill Clinton's administrations shows.

If Democrats are serious about preparing for the next election or the next election after that, some influential Democrats will have to resist entrusting their dreams to individual candidates and instead make a commitment to build a stable pyramid from the base up. It will take at least a decade's commitment, and it won't come cheap. But there really is no other choice.

Actually, I believe that progressive Democrats who happen also to be influential ought to form a new party, and call it either "Liberal" or "Progressive." Political advisers would be sure to laugh this idea down, but then few of them would have predicted the phoenix that rose from the ashes of Barry Goldwater's campaign.

March 29, 2005


As the previous entry indicates, not much is going on at this end. I've been vacationing at the spa in our bedroom. Ordinarily, I can't wait to get out of bed, but for two days now I've had a very hard time not staying in. Don't think I'm staring at the ceiling though. I've been reading. Reading and reading and reading. I intend to do the rest of today's reading sitting up, but I think I'll actually plan next Monday's Day of Rest. I caught up on a lot of stuff yesterday, and I listened to Volume Two of Jean-Yves Thibaudet's recording of Debussy's piano music, which combines very well-known things such as the Children's Corner and the Suite Bergamasque with the highly abstract Études, not to mention the jolly "Danse (Tarantelle styrienne)." And I started reading Ceux qui prennent la large, the translation of Patricia Highsmith's Those Who Walk Away, which I've not read in the original, and, as I thought, Highsmith's kinkiness is more graceful in French. Today, I read David Owen, in The New Yorker, on the city's golf courses, of which there are many.

Something about a recent public outcry (from which I have decided to remove the feeding tube by leaving it nameless) has so heavily clouded my outlook that I can't summon my usual enthusiasm for social observation. It is not the particulars of the case itself, but the eagerness with which it was embraced, first and gratuitously by the right, then, necessarily but still too gleefully, by the left. The insistent focus on what is happening right now this very minute gives me the phobic feeling of being trapped face-up beneath a bed. A good deal of the richness of life - my life, anyway - comes from a sense of the past and an idea of the future. And a reasonably calm environment.

The question on my mind is whether Web logs can be interesting without being exciting or immodest. This is a question about readers, really. It's a question about citizens. Has the body politic developed an addiction to extremes? That's what Paul Krugman writes about in today's column. The right may be the source of much contemporary intemperance, but I can't help seeing it as a response to the anarchic left of my youth. 

March 28, 2005

A la mode

Wintour.JPG roitfeld.bmp annapiaggi.bmp

How long does it take to watch Lawrence of Arabia? Over a week, if we're any indication. We could have bought the DVD for what we're going to pay in rentals. If you keep falling asleep right after the exciting moments, or have martini-induced blackouts during which you proclaim, seconds before the screenplay does, the evils of the Sykes-Picot treaty, announce that "Mr Sykes" was actually a baronet, "Sir Mark," and then forget absolutely everything that you've just said, well, it makes for a long week. And if you're ironing napkins during the second viewing necessitated by all the foregoing, you will definitely feel that the movie is too long. Scheherazade had nothing on Kathleen, though. When I asked her if my problem with the movie owed more to "its being boring" or to "my knowing too much about the real history of these events," guess which one she picked! I could be the lead in a basement air guitar band and Kathleen would be rooting for me.

But maybe not. My serious question this evening is why there hasn't been more deconstructive journalism (i.e., dish) about the three ladies who head the most important Vogue franchises. Anna Wintour, Carine Roitfeld, and Anna Piaggi, all edictrices of local Vogues. As faithful readers of this site know, we go for the funny hats, and Ms Piaggi wins hands down. To answer the serious question, it is in nobody's interest to investigate the lives of powerful fashion editors. I just asked the question as an excuse to line up the pictures.

March 27, 2005


Notwithstanding ankles that looked as though lemons had been sewed under the skin, I had one of the loveliest Easters I've ever known. I hope that your long-weekend finale was sweet, too - if not quite "shiveringly delicious,"   as Nicole Kidman's character puts it in Fliriting (which I saw for the first time tonight, thanks to Ms NOLA). Can anybody tell me why Ms Kidman made this move as a supporting actress two years after she'd starred as the only woman in a cast of three (Sam Neill, Billy Zane), for the scariest movie ever made, Dead Calm?

Even though nobody is interested anymore (I hope), here is my take on the Terri Schiavo case: Skee-ah-voe. The Italian for slave, not that that means anything, since her name was Schindler, which means, I suppose, roofer in German, since a Schindel is a shingle. Whatever else the case amounted to, it put an absolute end to my patience with the mispronunciation of Italian names. Italian-Americans: have you no pride? If you've gotten used to the Americanized version of your name, then be effing American and change the spelling! ("Chimento" for Cimento. I hate this when I see it on the moving vans, but at least I know that "Chimento" non si dice in italiano.) Baritone Thomas Meglioranza's post on how he has decided to say his own name all'italiana decided me: this is a major issue!  Cimento, by the way, means struggle.

And while we're at it, the leader of all the Russias is Vlah-DEE-mir Poo-TEEN. If Putin means something in Russian, I don't know what it is, but I do know that the American newscaster's habit of rhyming it with "shootin'" is meant to be disrespectful, like a junior-high boys' joke. Meant.

March 26, 2005

Domesticon Redux


Is everyone having a quiet holiday weekend? Here in New York, we are wondering if spring missed its train, and, if so, whether we ought to wait at the station or go home until it's time to bring out the madras.

There was a simple reason for my not posting yesterday ("TTT" was written the night before, and postdated), but because it was a health reason, and because my fears proved to be exaggerated, I'll keep it to myself. But I couldn't really write about anything - except of course what was on my mind, and that wouldn't have been "writing about" anything, but just miserable babbling.

Today, je suis devenu un peu plus philosophe. (As M Portes says, "Il faut l'être." Can the pun with lettres be entirely coincidental?) I have spent most of the day either doing the usual Saturday housekeeping or working on our little dinner for tomorrow afternoon. The dessert will be a tarted-up version of the Famous Wafer chocolate icebox cake, which simply adds instant Medaglia d'oro to the whipped cream and a pile of toasted hazelnuts as garnish. I'll let you know.

But in order to have something to do when I sat down (right), I brushed off every page in Portico's Audience branch, fixing the little linky problems and backing each page with a very bleached snapshot from my archives. Can anybody identify the subject?

March 25, 2005


And guess who else has a blog? You won't, so I'll tell you. Todd in Brussels. That would be the son of prizewinning Zoe, rédacteur of My Boyfriend is a Twat. In case you don't follow Zoe, she is of English ancestry (and therefore Anglophone), and she lives in Greater Brussels with her boyfriend and her three children by a previous marriage, teenaged twin daughters and a younger son. Todd is - what? - eleven. He is also Belgian, which means that he must learn his country's other language, Nederlands. That makes three tongues for Todd, Guess what? You won't, so I'll tell you. He doesn't like the mevrouw (madam) who teaches "nerlandais" [sic]. His site lacks permalinks at the moment, so I'll quote:

mevrouw est la pire prof du monde sa on peut le dire toujours avec ses chouchous(ce n'est pas moi ne vous inquieters pas)et elle parle toujours d'elle comme une petite fille parfaite , ses phrases commence tout le temps par ''dans mon temps moi je...'' quel imbecile celle la.

et ceux qu'elle n'aime pas (moi et d'autres)elle trouvent des surnom,sylvaine c'etais sylvaine la vilaine et moi c'etais t.t.t.(Todd tais-toi).

As Zoe herself says, Todd's French isn't the best, but you get the picture. It has ever been thus between the little students and the big teachers. But it has never been thus with the little students and the little blogs.

Mevrouw, I hope, is too busy studying the proposed European Constitution to check up on her tween press agents, but, hey, has anybody else heard of eleven year-old bloggers? I have mused more than once that my life would have been different if there had been blogs when I was young - but not that young. That young, and I'd have been put away for real, and not just threatened with being put away. You will note that Todd has left no doubt whatsoever about which Belgian Todd is the author of this teacher evaluation. Are there any American parents out there who feel an immediate discomfort with the possibility that their little darlings might, like Todd, be calling their teacher "the worst in the world"? "Imbecile"? (Admittedly, it just means "stupid," but still.) We're probably not talking libel here, but - well, maybe European teachers have more sense of humor than American teachers. They could hardly have less. 

Ms NOLA has a Web log

Well, Ms NOLA has a blog. She's sharing it with the friend who actually did the setting up. It's all I can do to keep from posting a gorgeous picture of the lovely young lady, looking her best at a recent wedding, but discretion stays my hand. (I will be happy to send her the file, in case she'd like to use it as her profile photo.) And to think she was here only a couple of hours ago, stopping by on her not the way home, to pick up some of the odds and ends that I am perpetually casting off. In the event, my supply of the desired odds and ends was short, and I'm afraid my conversation wasn't very bright, but I was much cheered to hear about Crazy Eights, and no sooner had I washed the dishes than there was a ding in my mailbox. I made my first martini of the evening (it's nearly eleven) and sat down at the piano. (Metamorphosism readers: piano~computer :: truss~cello. Très musical.)

If I didn't have this Web log, and all of the chores that surround it, to occupy my intelligence, I'd plunge flaming into the East River. Having begun this project during an Era of Good Feelings, meaning health, I am loath to break the spell with reports of my eruptive maladies, but they do weigh upon me, particularly because it is never clear whether they are serious or just irritating. I am certainly very tired of playing Stump the Doctor, not a game often played by patients at New York Hospital.

Édouard at Sale Bête has been the source of innumerable links over the years - well, it feels like years - but Joe.My.God is in a different class. Why Joe Jervis isn't being paid but plenty for his work (and with a little practice, he could do rueful autobiographical stand-up with the best of them) is beyond me. He is an immensely talented storyteller. But he's also a clear thinker. The following excerpt from a recent post has me thinking hard.

I've often considered the point of enabling comments at all. I never know if it's just a shamelessly transparent vehicle for continuous validation, an effective means of judging what works and what doesn't, or a simple way to engender a sense of community among my readers. Probably a little of all three, of course. But still I wonder if it's no small coincidence that some of the writers I admire most do not allow comments.

I happen to believe that comments are the heart of any blog. We've done the book thing. Which was always sort of an Ozymandias thing, don't you think? The difference between writer and reader was comparably adamantine but brittle. I know of only one blog that would fit the last sentence of Mr Jervis's observation, and that's, of course kottke.org, and even then the prohibition is intermittent. And understandable; if I've fought the impulse to ask Jason Kottke for help on a dozen perplexities, I'll bet there are dozens who have lost the battle. As I say, though, I'm thinking hard.

The sabbatical so far has yielded somewhat subpar results. I have not begun the very serious work on my blog roster that really must be done right away. (Memo to Movable Type: develop a plugin that treats blog rosters as image files, so that the roster can be changed without opening the Template of Horror.) I did upgrade the Audience branch of Portico, although, as always, my capacities evolved as I went along, and much remains to be re-done about menus and target frames. I am looking for a graphic to use as the branch's background; like the Pennell etching that haunts Portico's index page, it must be hanging on some wall or other here. Perhaps I might explain why the Pennell is so blurred - an effect that I don't think I should ever have managed to coax from PhotoShop. The etching is in a frame, and the depth of the frame spaced the graphic at a distance from the scanner plate. Serendipity for Dummies.

March 24, 2005

Civics 101


Although I wouldn't want to touch the point of contention among pro- and allegedly anti-Israel factions at Columbia with yard-long tongs, I'm glad that university president Lee Bollinger has spoken up.

"We should not elevate our autonomy as individual faculty members above every other value," the president, Lee C. Bollinger, said in a speech to the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.

What this means, I hope, is that the freedom that professors have to explore the consequences of all conceivable ideas does not entail a license to vent personal hostility while on the job. This would include publication of the kind of intemperate remarks that have landed Ward Churchill on the hot seat. University professors ought to spend more time guiding society and less time antagonizing it.

At the same time, the American public's refusal to take an interest in the Middle East means that the debate is confined to campuses and special interests. I don't mean that we ought to have opinions about every global problem. That would be nice, but perhaps overexcited. A region to which we have committed considerable amounts of money and military force, however, would seem to merit broad public attention.

March 23, 2005

English As She Is Spoke

Once upon a time, the Times would have discreetly cleaned up the following quote.

The only role for the court is once the state legislature establishes what the rules are, the court can decide if the rules have been properly applied.

That's Bob Levy of the Cato Institute. Time was, of course, when Mr Levy would not have opened his mouth except to say something far more difficult to misquote. If you have ever been deposed, or read an accurate transcription of your remarks, you will almost certainly have had the awful feeling that you're a bigger dunce than you think you are. That's the price of the mushrooming informality that has transformed public life, draining it of seriousness and gravitas. Most of us no longer even try to speak as we would write. While observing a few rules - getting our personal pronouns right, and making sure that verbs more or less agree with their subjects - we give little attention to extended sentence structure. We signal our meaning with body language as we go along, with pauses or changes in tone. That's what punctuation is for, and punctuating spoken words is something of an art. Now, the "correct" version of Mr Cohen's sentence - at least as I'd fix it - would be, "The only role for the court is to decide whether legislative rules have been properly applied." But this entirely suppresses the lanky quality of Mr Cohen's utterance, and perhaps an important glimpse into his personality and mode of thought. To capture the syntactic complexity of what he said, this might be better: "The only role for the court, once the state legislature has established what the rules are, is to decide if the rules have been properly applied." That's easy enough to read, but we no longer expect listeners to follow us through independent clauses; hence the superfluous second "the court," and the ungrammatical "can." But by simply inserting a colon after "is," Mr Cohen's sentence can have its cake and eat it, too. Voilà: what looked like an observation becomes a declaration.

Mr Cohen's remarks appear at the end of an article by Adam Nagourney about dissension within the Republican party regarding the Schiavo intervention. As I've said more than once, Terri Schiavo's occupation of center stage has broken me down. There are hundreds, if not thousands of people who right this minute are in the same state that she's in, and the only reason for singling her out and focusing on her life or death is grandstanding on the right. Grandstanding is objectionable at any time, but against the backdrop of looming crises in currency and oil it is positively Neronic. As I write, the case is on its headed for a full-court decision by the Eleventh Circuit - which it may not get. What a mercy it would be if Ms Schiavo would quietly expire in the meantime. When I think of the electrons that have been spilt in this affair, I'm sickened.

The Schiavo case does, however, reinforce my conviction that the Democratic Party should expire, too. It has shown itself to be clueless throughout the proceedings, exhibiting no leadership that might direct attention elsewhere. I don't think that the powerlessness of the Democratic congressional contingent is a matter of mere numbers. It is a lack of focus. The Democrats appear to have no concrete plan for accomplishing anything; it's as if they're weirdly ashamed of politics. Whenever I propose to M le Neveu that the Democrats fold their tents and steal away, he asks me what I'd replace it with, and I've never had an answer beyond a call for new blood. Today, though, I had an idea. The seed for it was planted yesterday, when I scanned an article by Nir Rosen in the new Harper's, about the elections in Iraq - ordinarily a subject that I refuse to think about (on grounds of extreme prematurity). Mr Rosen writes,

Election specialists generally agree that national elections in post-conflict countries should be held as late as possible; instead, local elections should occur first because they restore the conditions necessary for a fair and safe federal vote.

Gee, why didn't I think of that? What we need in our still-conflicted country is a party that works vigorously at the local level for local office by trying to advance a liberal agenda up close. The local party ought to be activist, invoking federal authority as rarely as possible. The Democratic Party has never operated in this way. It has always been a top-down, boss-driven institution, with voters taking their cue from party hacks and union leaders rather than making up their own minds. The Democratic Party, in short, has never been a liberal party.

Some sabbatical this is. I did have my best French lesson ever, though, yesterday; I think that I'm more than halfway to where I want to be. And I'm having a ball with Fleshmarket Close. When will Siobhan Clarke marry John Rebus? When he asks?

March 22, 2005

Pfizer Joke

Something funny in the mail. (Thanks, Arlene)

Pfizer Corp. is making an announcement today that Viagra will soon be available in liquid form and will be marketed by Pepsi Cola as a power beverage suitable for use as a mixer. Pepsi's proposed ad campaign claims it will now be possible for a man to literally pour himself a stiff one.

Obviously we can no longer call this a soft drink. This additive gives new meaning to the names of cocktails, highballs and just a good old fashioned stiff drink. Pepsi will market the new concoction by the name of Mount & Do.

The long term implications of drugs and medical procedures must be fully considered: Over the past few years, more money has been spent on breast implants and Viagra than was spent on Alzheimer's research. It is believed that by the year 2030, there will be a large number of people wandering around with huge breasts and erections who can't remember what to do with them.

America the Beautiful.


The Terri Schiavo case may wreck - may already have wrecked - my little sabbatical, announced yesterday. On the front page of this morning's Times, there's a story about how conservative groups nursed the case for two years, sustaining it through a series of judicial "reversals" and eventually bringing it to the US Capitol for what I pray will turn out to have been an unconstitutional extravaganza. Thank you, reporters David D Kirkpatrick and Sheryl Gay Stolberg - but where were you? Where were we all, really.

Instead of complaining about the extremely faulty logic of Michael Schiavo's opponents, instead of formulating elegant rebuttals and researching the hypocrisy of the right, liberals ought to be asking themselves, where were we? The Schiavo case has been in the news ever since Jeb Bush got on board in 2003. That didn't alarm me, because the story appeared to be local. This was willful thinking. Nothing that the President's brother gets excited about is local. But I hadn't really begun the reeducation program that George Bush's victory last fall has forced me into, had I.

My blood pressure's rising, I'm reaching for the potato chips - signs of stress that Peter C Whybrow attributes to American mania. Was I right to resist blogging for two years? According to Dr Whybrow, the Internet is a drug that has dangerously disturbed our human equilibrium, our ability to balance desire and curiosity against love and thoughtfulness. This equilibrium, calibrated over millennia of evolution, can't adapt quickly enough to the radically altered environment in which we find ourselves. The instant gratification provided by Amazon and Visa has confounded our sense of limits. Dr Whybrow believes that Americans have recently passed through the grandiose - I can do anything - phase of mania and are now teetering on the brink of inevitable, depressive collapse. Even though I tell myself that I am not preoccupied by status and possessions, the drives that fuel Dr Whybrow's hypothesis, I believe that I have been touched by this malady, less so perhaps than others but what, in the end, is the difference? Sick is sick.

American Mania: When More Is Not Enough seems at first glance to be a disappointment. The fundamentals are stated on nearly every page, for one thing; for another, television is mentioned exactly once, according to the index. These details suggest to me that while Dr Whybrow is on to a big idea, he has not really worked it out. There is something manic about the book itself, beginning with the tabloid-style dust jacket. Just the same, I'm going to spend some time with it. (I apologize for the bogus language, but I can't commit to reading the book all the way through.) As faithful readers know, I've been working on my own pet theory about why half of the country thinks the way it does, but while I still think that I'm on to something, too, I think that American Mania does a good job of explaining why the whole of the country behaves the way it does. If you have ever lived in the company of mania (and I have), then the stubborn refusal to listen to reason that seems to have infected nearly everybody will strike a dreadfully familiar note.

But, hey, maybe a little mania's good for you! Even though it occasioned a very amusing drawing from Michael Witte, Benedict Carey's "Hypomanic? Absolutely. But Oh So Productive" is a disgrace. The best thing to be said about it is that it belongs in the newpaper's Sunday Styles section, and not in the Science Times, lackluster as that section is. (Come to think of it, a weekly science section looks like evidence of manic grandiosity. Is there that much real science news for a daily paper with a general readership to print?) The article comes under the rubric of "It's okay to be bad" journalism that Hugh Hefner and Helen Gurley Brown pioneered. Dr Whybrow's cautionary opinion isn't cited until the end, when the party's over.

The Times did get at least one thing right: it pasted a biggish photograph of Bobby Short on the cover, devoted the top of the first page of the Arts section to an appreciation of his career, and printed a reasonably long obituary as well. Mr Short died yesterday at New York Hospital (as I persist in calling it) of leukemia, aged 80. Kathleen, a fan ever since she first heard him, in her teens, said she wasn't surprised, because he had worked all his life and probably oughtn't to have retired, but perhaps she had it wrong way round: who knew about his leukemia? The last time we saw Bobby Short at the Carlyle was two years ago, when he surprised us with the band that lined up, a little foolishly, along the banquettes along the wall behind his piano, but for the most part the shows were pretty much alike, which was just what everybody wanted (think of Bayreuth). I can remember taking in the show from at least five different tables; on three occasions, we had dinner first, a truly gala experience. Bobby Short transcended "café society" to become part of the definition of this city, and his passing diminishes the place.

March 21, 2005


This was to have been written yesterday, an announcement that I'm going to post very little on the Daily Blague this week. I want to spend some time bringing order to Portico, which is rather like a house with additions dating from different centuries - a charming effect in buildings, but not a good look for a Web site. I want to step back, too, from the traffic that I play in every day, because I have some ideas about its flow and its blockages that need to ripen. I have been blogging now in one for or another since June, and the need to take stock is overwhelming. Don't be afraid that I'm pulling out; anything but. I will keep you up to date on progress at Portico. The hiatus may take two weeks.

As I'll be posting a temperature chart every day, though, I might as well add right now that I'm feeling very low. Every now and then the bits and bolts of wrongheaded nonsense and bad luck that we manage to duck through while getting our work done coalesce in a malignant cloud that fouls the atmosphere. Mine is made up of minor but irritating medical complications, harmonised to a bourdon of mortality's intimations; a clutch of personal matters that from time to time manage to drown out cheerfulness with whining; and the fear and loathing that wingnuttery and dereliction in Washington have inspired. Ordinarily, I resist, but today, I'm giving in. And doing something that I've not done enough of lately: reading. Wouldn't it be nice to finish with Richard Wolin's astute and timely (alas) study of the misreadings and distortions of Nietzsche that have fueled reaction against the Enlightenment, The Seduction of Unreason? (I am finding the chapter on Maurice Blanchot a little long and vindictive.) And to put a dent into Ian Rankin's latest, Fleshmarket Close? I could have done worse than to begin the day with Anthony Hecht's A Love for Four Voices.

From the cool shadows of this rock,

These crowding blues and heliotropes,

As from some attic of my youth

I gaze out at the distances

That contrast renders almost white,

Like frocks of garden-party girls

I once knew or desired to know,

Speckled and flecked by shadow leaves

Like missing jigsaw puzzle parts.

And whether the girls were known or not,

Whether those yearnings were stillborn

Or were met with kindness, now they lie

Like quilts of sunlight spread to dry,

Scattered and thin and dimly gold

And permanently out of reach -

Small flags of failure, or, at best,

Triumphs will all their glory lost.

The Guarneri Quartet's performance on Saturday night was excellent; this time, the Mozart was completely on pitch, the intervening Dohnanyi golden and glowing, and the Dvorak exuberant. The pianist joining three members of the Quartet, for Dvorak's Piano Quartet, Op. 87, Anton Kuerti, was a marvel of precision nuance.

March 19, 2005

Arts & Losers

Sondra Radvanovsky moved me to tears at the end of today's Met broadcast of Don Carlo. I'm half sorry that I didn't hear her Elisabetta in the house, but only half, because only one other singer would have been better than bearable, Ferruccio Furlanetto, the Filippo. I have learned something new about opera; my new understanding springs from the recognition that, as long as Ms Radvanovsky's mouth is open and producing sound, I am a happy man. (I even like her speaking voice.) Little imperfections here and there - all is forgiven in advance. I have never felt this way about a singer before. I've always held singers up to a preconceived idea of how they ought to sound, and so every one of them has necessarily disappointed me, at least occasionally (although a tiny few, such as Cheryl Studer in her prime, have had a breathtaking way of nailing my ideal again and again). But with Ms Radvanovsky, I am listening to Sondra Radvanovsky oblivious of ideals. I'm not going to try to persuade you that she is the best singer ever. That, as anybody familiar with opera fans should know, would be purposeless and possibly counterproductive. I'm just saying that at long last I get it.

Yesterday, I watched The Saddest Music in the World. This is not a film that I am quite ready for. Half Eraserhead, half I really have no idea what, this Canadian oddity, directed by Guy Madden,with a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro,  does have one unforgettable image, and that's of the Baroness's transparent, beer-filled legs. By all means, watch it just to see them, but don't expect me to explain them... Last night, we watched The Asphalt Jungle for the first time. This 1950 classic directed by John Huston is the mother of all heist flicks, and I've got to see it again soon. I've got to see it again soon in any case, because Kathleen fell asleep toward the end and wants to know how it comes out.

Off to Grace Rainey Rogers for the second of our two evenings there with the Guarneri Quartet. Mozart, Dohnanyi, and Dvorak. 

March 18, 2005

Broadway Bound, at MTC's Biltmore Theatre

When the Manhattan Theatre Club gets things right, memorable theatre is the inevitable result. But because I didn't care for The Loman Family Picnic, Donald Margulies's 1989 play, my expectations for Broadway Boy, which augured to mine the same territory, were not high. The identity crises of Brooklyn Jews who have grown up to be successful aliens to home base have if anything been overexposed on Broadway in the past ten or fifteen years. (Why, wasn't there a touch of this in Sight Unseen, the Craig Lucas play that MTC revived last season?) But Mr Margulies has reinvented the genre. His hero, Eric Weiss, isn't having the identity crisis. Everybody else is. The switch makes for a very funny play. Along the way, we watch a horror show, as the full horror of America's reading habits are only slightly exaggerated. To this base, add perfect casting and perfect everything else, and you've got a hit. Ralph Funicello's set, centered on the façade of a city walkup that was almost always in the background, was fluid and minimal but always convincing; I always felt that the spaces were real (as I never quite did while watching Democracy earlier this year, right across the street). Chris Parry's score contributed to a melancholy that you didn't really notice until it was replaced with a Hollywood glare in the penultimate scene. Jess Goldstein's modest, self-effacing costumes were spot on. Michael Roth's music established a somewhat sombre background that was the perfect foil to the play's humor. I kept wondering if the play would follow Doubt to Broadway, but, with a production directed by Daniel Sullivan at MTC's Biltmore Theatre, Broadway Boy is already on Broadway.

Continue reading about Brooklyn Boy at Portico.

Loose Links (Friday)

¶ The greatest American diplomat of the Twentieth Century (or perhaps since Benjamin Franklin), George F. Kennan died last night in Princeton, aged 101. Kennan devised a strategy of "containment" for dealing with Soviet Communism, but his recommendations were often misunderstood or twisted to suit the goals of powerful leaders. I thought that I had mentioned his 1993 book, Around the Cragged Hill, at some point on Portico, but it seems that I haven't. An unblinking elitist, Kennan writes of "persons of high distinction" with an assurance that will strike many of today's cynics as hopelessly quaint.

¶ At Open Democracy, Robin Wilson reports, not too optimistically, one hopes, that the McCartney sisters, bereft of their IRA-slain brother Robert, have launched a campaign to expose the IRA and Sinn Féin as Leninist, anti-democratic organizations that will not do the Catholic cause any good. The White House has taken note; Gerry Adams was frozen out of the traditional St Patrick's Day gathering there.

¶ If, like me, you wonder what baseball players testifying before Congress about steroid use are doing on the front page of the Times, or anywhere outside the Sports section, you'll probably agree with Blondesense.

March 17, 2005

Impromptu on the Half Shell

Out of the house two days running - that's unusual. Today, it was a visit to the dermatologist. The good doctor confesses that he is somewhat stumped by my rather painful démangeaisons, and defers the question of what to do next to the rheumatologist. Whom I called from the street when I left the dermatologist, on the off-chance that he could squeeze me in. All of my doctors, you see, have their offices between 67th and 72nd Streets. Walking from Park to the river would have been a hike, but had the chance not been completely off, I'd have made it happily. As it is, I'm reduced to washing my own shirts and shorts, to be certain that I'm not weirdly allergic to some additive at the laundry across the street. I don't mind the washing, but what about the ironing? Good thing they're all flannel... Having put off lunch until now, I was starving. Neil's Diner, at Lex and 70th, was packed with students; in fact, I don't know how I've gotten this far without mentioning clots and crowds of St Patricians all over the Upper East Side. What a lot of uniform I saw! I heard a bunch of tweens ask a kilted guy if his sporran or whatever it's called was made of hair, and when he said "horses hair," we were in Eww! City... Why being very hungry but frustrated at the first try should inspire me to walk all the way back to 86th is hard to say, but it's typical. Nor did I proceed directly. I stopped at Eli's, for Bachman's pretzels and Lurpak butter, and at the Video Room, just to see what was new, or, better, in the "Staff Picks" section. Then I called Wu Liang Ye and ordered pork lo mein.

Yesterday, it was the theatre. We had tickets to Brooklyn Boy, the MTC production at the Biltmore. If I'd suspected that Brooklyn Boy would be the play that it is, I'd have moved the tickets so that Kathleen could see it; it's an extraordinary play, not least in covering very familiar territory with a completely fresh eye. Or ear. (That's because it's also a play about reading in modern American life.) Ms Nola was happy to take Kathleen's place, and we agreed to make an afternoon of it. But our late lunch had us starting out too late for serious museuming. I didn't know where to go, and, frankly, I was so itchy that I didn't really want to go anywhere. Allez, courage! We got onto the 6 train, blithely unaware of the troubles that afflicted the line all day, and at 59th Street we changed to the R train. We got off at Carnegie Hall; I wanted to go to Patelson's House of Music, because I've really got to get Eulenberg miniature scores of the Brahms Piano Quartets. Those weren't in stock, but I bought a Dover miniature of the Requiem, and Eulenbergs of the Horn Trio and the Schicksalslied, two favorites. Then we walked to MoMA, where we had just enough time to see the mostly trivial junk in the exhibition space, the Thomas Demand show, and Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, which resonated all the deeper after last week's trip to the Arbus show... When the museum proper closed, we looked at books, and bought nothing. Then we wandered up Fifth Avenue to Tiffany. Ms Nola has set aside some revenues for the much-needed boost of a deluxe purchase, and at the risk of appearing to be her sugar daddy I looked at some silver jewelry. Prices were noted, and then we went to Coach, across both of the streets that constitute Tiffany's intersection. Coach had just the right bag, but it cost twice the budgeted amount, and Ms Nola is too cool-headed even to consider such a temptation... A few doors down 57th Street, we came to Rizzoli, and I remembered that the bookstore carries unusual CDs. I hadn't been in a record store (that's what I still call them) in eons, and it had been years since I'd last seen a collection as spruce as Rizzoli's. I bought four things for me and one for Ms Nola - the truly essential recording of the Ella-Louis collaboration... Pooped at this point, we headed for the Biltmore, where I figured that we could sit in the lounge until curtain time. Which is what we did.... After the play, we took the R train from Times Square back up to Carnegie Hall, for dinner at the Brooklyn Diner. I took a taxi home, and had the sense to go to bed before passing out at the keyboard.

Weapon of the Masses

Yesterday afternoon, I was on the Lexington Avenue No. 6 train during it’s brief hour of proper functioning. I thought that it was strangely crowded, but I forgot about it as soon as I boarded the R at 59th Street. It wasn't until this morning that I found out how lucky I'd been. On the front page of the Times this morning, I read that power failures and signal breakdowns halted the East Side trains for most of yesterday’s work day. I almost threw up from sheer bitterness, but I wasn't surprised. I have decided that the following fragment from Overheard in New York captures the guiding ethos of today’s business and political leaders:

Man in fur: You know, we should get rid of the subways.

Woman in fur: Why? People ride them to get to work.

Man in fur: Exactly. The subway is the weapon of the masses.

--82nd St. and 3rd Ave.

And it isn’t just “the masses” to whom the leadership is indifferent. It’s everyone, other insiders included. The control of this country has been taken over by manic sharks who don’t give a damn about the dollar’s fall or the price of oil. They’re gleefully engaged in a destructive game of musical chairs, each convinced that he or she (but mostly he) has a good shot at the final survivorship - and, hey, when you're the one who can't find a chair, you've at least racked up a fortune mismanaging things. What kind of world the survivor will have to make do with doesn’t enter into the calculation, however, because, like sharks, these people can’t see further than the struggle for survival. They have forgotten, in their collective mania, that nobody survives indefinitely even in the best of all possible worlds, much less the one that’s taking shape on their watch. Frenzied dementia on high, narcotism (by television) below.

My head feels like a Flemish village in World War I: barraged by futility.

March 16, 2005

Loose Links (Wednesday)

¶ Reading Zoe in Brussels this morning, I learned that the site had won a Bloggie. I had decided not to vote this year, because I'm still a little new at this, and I haven't had time to read all the contestants, or even the ones that I would understand. But I ran through the awards, and pretty soon as I was staring at Michael Chu's site, Cooking for Engineers. Mr Chu has designed an incredibly interesting graphic for recipes, and he writes knowledgeably about equipment. I wonder what my culinary life would have been like if there had been blogs. Congratulations to Mr Chu!

¶ Thomas Meglioranza is the baritone who sang the part of Jesus so beautifully at the New York Collegium's presentation of Bach's St Matthew Passion a week ago last Friday. He came across my entry about the performance, thanked me, and left a calling card. That happened yesterday. I visited his personal site, Tomness (he's got a professional one, too), and read the entire Web log, which he started last summer. He writes brilliantly about the singing life, or at least about those aspects of the singing life than anybody who loves music will find interesting, such as: how do you carry yourself at a performance of Messiah where, as a baritone, you go for an hour, plus intermission, without singing. At one point (at Marlboro), he gets to hear what Mitsuko Uchida thinks of his approach to Schubert's Winterreise.

I also continued my work on Winterreise, which culminated in a dining hall performance of the first 12 songs. The day before our performance, Mitsuko Uchida came to listen. I had sung these songs, and lots of other Schubert, for several people at Marlboro, including Ken Noda, Ernst Haefliger, Irena Spiegelmann (the German diction coach at the Met), and had been getting some extremely positive feedback. It was therefore both...

You'll have to click here to read more. 

Puchberg Prize

Well, it was probably inevitable. Dennis Brain's recording of Mozart's Horn Concerti was one of the first LPs that I owned; it was one of the four "free" discs that I got by subscribing to the Angel Record Club. (At least two of the others also featured Herbert von Karajan). By the time I'd played the Mozart into the ground, I'd "grown up," and learned to look down my nose a little at this music. Besides, the recording was monaural. Reasoning that was persuasive to a seventeen year-old took a long time to lose its grip. The other day, I ordered the recording from MHS, somewhat incredulous at EMI's having let this cornerstone recording go. (Perhaps they haven't; perhaps MHS simply picks up the marketing and distribution without buying any rights. It would be nice to know more.)

Listening to the horn concerti this morning, I dusted off some vintage mental lumber. I promise to check it out later, and don't you believe a word of the rest of this paragraph until I do. But here's what I recall: the concerti were written for Michael Puchberg, a wealthy fellow-Mason who played the instrument as an amateur. I forget how he made his money, but Mozart wrote not only the concerti for Puchberg but a lot of letters to him, begging for cash, and we know that Puchberg came through because Mozart wrote to say thanks, too - although the thank-you notes often asked for more. On top of that, the manuscript scores of the concerti are littered with insulting challenges to the soloist that are not fit for republication in this family blog. At least not until later when I've looked them up.

These Puchberg letters have contributed to the very incorrect idea that Mozart had money troubles because nobody appreciated his genius. It seems rather that Mozart was a manic-depressive who lived far beyond his means. At one point, he rented an apartment in the center of Vienna that had its own ballroom. (Mozart loved parties.) He dressed like a Kurfürst and a weakness for gems. His popularity, it is true, ebbed after the premiere of Don Giovanni in 1787, but that had almost as much to do with an expensive war against Turkey as anything else. If anything Mozart was too appreciated, in that he was seen as complicated and demanding. He asked too much of everybody.

That's why I think there ought to be a Puchberg Prize. Decency requires this award to be posthumous, but then that's when the winners will need it most. After all, who would remember Michael Puchberg if he hadn't lent money to Mozart? 

March 15, 2005


As a rule, I hate long blockquotes, but Terry Eagleton's almost insanely dystopian assessment of Enlightenment civilization does not appear on Harper's Web site; nor can it be cut.

Contrast this, then, with the second form of society, in which men and women are solitary creatures locked fearfully within their own private spheres. All they can know with any certainty is their own immediate experience, and even that is alarmingly unreliable. They cannot know enough of other people even to be sure that they exist, or that they have minds like their own. Communication is sickeningly precarious, and friendship, community, and solidarity are less genuine bonds than an interlocking of private interests. In fact, it is self-interest that drives this social order, in which others are seen either as potential predators or as pale replicas of oneself.

Reason still plays a major role in this culture, but only in a withered, anemic sense of the term. It no longer provides a foundation to social life. Instead, having scornfully dismissed metaphysical first principles, this society is left hanging in a void. It is a cacaphony of colliding values, and reason cannot adjudicate between them. Reason is just a set of mechanical procedures for calculating which means will most effectively secure your self-interested ends. Those ends are not in themselves rational: like the instinct for self-preservation, they are set by appetites that are built into our nature and, as such, are beyond all criticism. Reason becomes a blunt instrument for promoting one's own gratification, rather as science and technology are ways of mastering and dominating Nature (which includes other people and other cultures) so as to press it into the service of one's desires. Torn loose from feeling, custom, and the senses, reason runs riot; in fact, it ends up replicating the despotism of earlier regimes with a tyranny all its own, from which no particle of human life is permitted to escape.

Nature is no longer valuable or meaningful in itself; it is just an inert lump of matter to be cuffed into whatever shape takes our fancy. A bleak utility now reigns sovereign in social life, expelling all of those dimensions of existence - art, feeling, humor, imagination, sensuous fulfillment, doing things just for the hell of it - which have a value but no price. A wedge is driven between humanity and Nature, as subjects are ripped from objects, bodies from souls, and values from facts. God is killed off in all but name, and human beings are hoisted into His place at the apex of creation. But exactly because they have the absolute freedom to do what they like, whatever they actually do seems futile and arbitrary.

In previous paragraphs, Mr Eagleton offered a standard rosy account of the Enlightenment's benefits; here he flips the coin and shows us a much less pleasant world. Outside of Mr Eagleton's imagination as he wrote this, however - and the theatre of alienation that seemed so daring when Mr Eagleton was a youth - does it exist? I don't think so. As a summary of the Enlightenment's consequences, it is not only unimaginative but anti-imaginative. Lazily post-Marxian, it targets not the Enlightenment itself but the Enlightenment's patrons and principal beneficiaries, the bourgeoisie. Mr Eagleton presents The Ice Storm as a universal template.

(The three paragraphs come from a review, appearing in the March 2005 issue of Harper's of two recent books on the Enlightenment, one by Louis Dupré and the other by Francis Wheen. Neither these books nor anything else in the review concern us now, but such is the background.)

Even on your worst day, have you been genuinely beset by doubt that other people really exist? Assuming that you don't believe in God, whatever that word means to you, do you feel that you have been asked to take his place? Do you feel that your day is spent navigating a cacaphony of colliding values? Seriously? I understand that we can all step back, squint, and persuade ourselves that things are not going very well for humanity. But people whose immediate lives are infected by such perceptions are likely to be very seriously depressed, incapable, perhaps, of getting out of bed except for strict necessities.

Behind almost every sentence, moreover, lies the implication that things used to be better once upon a time, even if they seemed worse. This was until very recently the Roman Catholic Church's view of the Enlightenment, and its thinking still informs many conservative minds: better to do nothing than to suppress a tradition for the sake of helping someone out. But I seem to recall that the wedge between humanity and nature makes a very early appearance in Genesis, and from the dawn of Western thought the concept of the human soul has been exploited to set mankind apart from the rest of creation. The beef seems to be that, with his "Godlike" technological powers, modern man would do better to honor the traditional cosmology, according to which we are all condemned to live in the sublunary zone of corruption.

I don't suggest that everybody's life is peachy keen. No indeed. But Mr Eagleton is wrong to propose his dark summary as a vision of the Enlightenment at its ideal best. The Enlightenment program is an outline for helping humanity make a better world for itself. It is not a full-fledged plan, and certainly not a timetable. We have learned to be rather more patient than the men of two centuries ago - than even the men of 1900. We have learned that an equation of power with justification is a route to extinction in an radioactive miasma. We have learned that the men of the Enlightenment were a tad optimistic about the force of reason within the human mind, but their overestimation does not diminish the importance of trying to be reasonable about things and to seek compromise wherever we can find it. We have learned that reason does indeed have its bad side, rationalism, and we are learning to check the kind of pipe dreams that rendered LeCorbusier's architectural fantasies into slummy housing projects or Henry Ford's River Rouge plant into Auschwitz. And some of us have learned that talk like Mr Eagleton's has frightened many people into giving up on learning. We are still learning.

We are worth the effort, and, what's more, that instinct is built into our nature. So are all our weaknesses, but so also is the desire, always there but unbound by the Enlightenment's insistence upon equality, to make something of ourselves. 

In one Swell Foop

For the first time, I've just read through someone's entire blog, from inception to now (in reverse, of course). I'll tell you more about it in tomorrow's Loose Links. That the blog's entries center on music and cooking must have had something to do with the charm. (And no politics, which certainly makes for a change.) But truly good writing is the secret. I'd commented on four or five posts - I only discovered the blog this afternoon -  when I began to feel that I'd better stop, lest my interest seem creepy. Then I wrote the author an interminable email. (Well, he'd written to me first.) That sent, I ought to have gone on to something else, but all I wanted to do was go back and read some more of the new blog.

By the time I'd read the first post, I had built up a little list of the many things that the author does not discuss, and that's an odd sensation, given the inevitable illusion, after reading an entire blog, of knowing someone well. If it weren't for this illusion, we'd never read fiction. And, as with a piece of fiction, I wonder why the author excluded this and that. But I'm not in the habit of interrogating novelists about such things; the same goes here. And yet I can't help feeling that one half, at least, of a friendship has been laid down. It's a good thing that my natural exuberance has been tempered by age and experience.

You'll have to wait tomorrow for the link, and a clearer statement of what the new-to-me blog is like. This entry is about me, and something I want to keep to myself for a little bit.

Loose Links (Tuesday)

¶ Princeton has put up a video interview with Harry Frankfurt, author of On Bullshit, and you can watch it in snippets or all at once. Most interestingly, perhaps, Prof Frankfurt does not have a clear idea of what should be done about it: it's possible that torosplat serves a purpose. I quite agree that it shouldn't be punished, but as to do what-to-do? Recognize it. (Thanks to Majikthise.) The professor also points out that, given the widespread expectations that the citizens of a democracy will have an opinion about everything, reliance upon the subject of his study is inevitable.

¶ Shelley Powers at Burningbird has a field day with gender differences regarding hyperlinks. All I can say is "Phew!"

Mags shook her head. “No, this attitude isn’t universal among men. There are many guys who see a link as nothing more than a way of inviting a conversation or passing along useful information. They link without regard to the consequences, and the most they hope for is that it might spark an interesting discussion.”

She stopped wiping the counter and leaned closer to me, lowering her voice. “The power-link guys have a word for men who link just to link,” she whispered. “They call them linkless.”

At that point, a couple of people entered the bar and Mags hurried off to do her job, leaving me to think on our extraordinary conversation. The more I thought on Mags words, though, the more I could see the truth in them. Much that has confused me about this environment is explained if one considers for a moment that some men think of links as some form of virtual penis.

The (imaginary) conversation with Lawrence Summers is sweet fun.

¶ Today's Nobel Prize for Hasslehandling goes to Andrew Kirk, bless him.

"I've come to realize that I'm almost addicted to the sick little pleasure I get from lashing out at these things," said Mr. Kirk, 24, a freelance writer from Brooklyn who collects and returns magazine inserts.

What a great idea! Instead of cursing those annoying little reply cards that tumble out of magazines and require endless bending-over, start combing your periodicals for them as they come in. When you've got a stack, just drop it in the mailbox. Don't bother filling out the cards; the recipient will have to pay for blank cards as well as for written ones. Send a message! Congratulations to Times reporter Ian Urbina for uncovering such healthy passive aggression.

¶ And I thought I'd seen everything. This aerial shot of the city really took my breath away. Hats off to Jesse Chan-Norris!


There's something awful, I've decided, in the mechanics of Movable Type's habit of underlining each date in the current calendar on which a blogger has added a new post. I don't know quite what Ben and Mena Trott were thinking; the only time I've ever found this feature useful was when Édouard revived Sale Bête. Otherwise, underlined calendar dates look like an achievement test. Did you miss one? Whatever its use to a visitor, this feature reminds me rather more graphically than I'd like of the cruel passage of time. I can remember - it was only days ago - when March was a largely un-underlined month. Now we're more than halfway through. April will be marvelous, but our arrival there will mean that the days I'm living through now are over.


The other day, I quipped that the format in which David Foster Wallace's "Host," appears in the current Atlantic might upstage its contents. I hope that that doesn't turn out to be the case. Mr Wallace, always a fan of footnotes, and even, I seem to recall, of footnotes to footnotes, has taken the aside to a new plateau of articulation. The footnotes to "Host" are signaled by lightly colored boxes that frame words in the text. These correspond to larger - well, generally larger boxes of the same color in the sidebar. This is not just a gimmick; it gives to each of Mr Wallaces notes a slightly different voice, and as most of his footnotes introduce some ironic qualification of the story, the different colors suggest, what is the case, that the note of irony shifts from note to note, ranging from faux disbelief to outright disagreement; one note consists of nothing more than "?!". Because the notes slow down the story, it might be said that the reader will have evolved a more deliberative response to "Host"; certainly the varying sizes and colors suggest a complexity of vision that would be quite beyond the power of monotonal footnotes situated in their customary place.

But "Host" is not just a delivery system for gimmicky layout.

In the best tradition of magazine journalism, it takes an interesting exponent of a way of life, in this case talk radio, as a synecdoche for something serious in our way of doing things. John Ziegler was a thirty-seven year-old radio veteran last year when Mr Wallace sat in on a few of the shows that Mr Ziegler broadcasts from KFT, an AM station situated near Koreatown in Los Angeles. (If I could deploy sidebar-studding footnotes, I would interject in a more interesting way that the reader of "Host" will soon begin to wonder why reportage that Mr Wallace did last spring and early summer is only now appearing in print. As it is, parenthesis will have to do.) The climax of the story, upon which the article promptly closes, occurs on the tenth anniversary of the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman; to say that O J Simpson is John Ziegler's bête noire is to sound uncomfortable echoes of the talk-show host's checkered career, so perhaps it would be better to say that the former athlete is an obsession of Mr Ziegler's. As a sportscaster in North Carolina nine years ago, the then twenty-something Mr Ziegler rather foolishly convinces himself that he can get away with "an incredibly tame joke" - Mr Ziegler's words - about Mr Simpson's lack of innocence, and when is fired for this lapse of judgment, he decides that he has been a martyr to Political Correctness. A few years later, in Nashville, he screws up bigger-time by using the 'N' word, in a friendly sort of way you understand, to describe Tiger Woods. As recently as three years ago, Mr Ziegler lost a post in Louisville for dissing the physical attributes of a current colleague/former lover. Mr Ziegler is still young enough to offend Jewish sensibilities and, by doing so, collect all three of the conservative stigmata.

When Mr Wallace's subject was fired in Louisville, his employer was Clear Channel Communications. When he showed up for work at his next (and current) gig in Los Angeles, his employer was - Clear Channel Communications. Clear Channel owns over a thousand radio stations in the United States, and it can afford to be breezy about giving a talented talker work in a newer, bigger market after it has seen fit to take it away in a smaller, lesser place. David Foster Wallace rightly recognizes the promotion here. What you do with a gifted employee who, for the right reasons, has become an embarrassment in the highly local field of radio, is: move him. Memo to John Ziegler: don't follow in the footsteps of KFT predecessor Laura Schlesinger and go national; once you've botched national, you'll have nowhere else to go. "Host" is tangentially informative about the Darth Vader-ish concentration of media outlet ownership in the past ten years; Mr Wallace refers to it intelligently, but it is not his topic. It is my topic, though; I would prohibit any person, natural or otherwise (corporate) from owning more than one radio or television frequency. (I would allow owners to pool expensive back-office operations, which are mostly automated anyway.) The closest that "Host" gets to a critique of modern media ownership is in a discussion of the dismantling of the old "Fairness Doctrine," pursuant to which broadcasters were obliged to give "equal time" to "both sides" of a public argument. It was one of the most flawed New Deal propositions, and it proved to be unworkable, but it wouldn't have been necessary in an environment of solitary broadcasters. Liberals worry about the unholy influence that monolithic corporations can bring to bear on what gets published and what gets broadcast, and their anxiety is not mistaken - except insofar as it overlooks something worse: the freedom that media behemoths bestow upon their outposts to do anything that will make a lot of money. Censorship isn't the problem! Au contraire!

What sort of man is John Ziegler? If "Host" never quite discloses the man, that may be because the man is utterly resistant to exposure. The article shows us a type of guy whom we all know to be fiercely protective, if not positively stupid, about his "inner man." Mr Ziegler attributes his unmarried state to a peripatetic career, the moves of which are, in his mind, somebody else's fault. Religious background is never spelled out, but I sense that "the host" is a Catholic kind of guy. He is certainly a patriarchal male. His boss, as it happens, is a woman, and during their weekly critiques - during which she makes her points with a "no moving parts" blandness that certainly underscores Mr Ziegler's mistrust of Program Directors - Mr Ziegler resorts to an utterly pathetic world-weariness that anyone would recognize as the challenged male's first line of defense. Or perhaps he's yawning because he really is tired. You decide.

The interesting thing about John Ziegler is that he clearly regards himself as a normal American guy. And why not? That the host of a talk show to which angry white men direct their anger, an anger motivated by profound social shifts that severely discount their formerly brontosaurean standing, should regard himself as a normal guy is perhaps the most eloquent comment that can be made about this country right now. Talk radio is the medium par excellence for venting the cyclonic discontent of remaindered men. Men, that is, who used to get by on simply being men. A similar rage infected the old European aristocracies as their privileges were everywhere stripped away, and they're still fighting it, so God only knows how long the Willy Lomans are going to fuss. Attempts to create a talk-show galaxy on the left are bound to fail, I think; or else they'll mutate into something really unlike the Rushes and the Dr Lauras. That's because, while people on the left are plenty angry, they're not angry about the same things that make talk-show participants on the right feel that they're being crucified. They can address the political developments that make them mad. The agony on the right has nothing to do with politics per se. It has everything to do with sexuality, with the erosion of a consensus that had lasted for millennia.

Talk shows are angry for many reasons. As Mr Wallace points out, negative emotions are much easier to rouse than positive ones, because we share our fears but not our joys, particularly in secular, individualistic societies. (To a true, old-fashioned Whiggish liberal like me, you can't say anything better about a civilization than that no two of its eccentric citizens share quite the same idea of happiness.) Our fears represent the common hardships that we all have behind us; our joys partake of extremely diverse hopes and futures. Besides, who would bother to call in to a radio show to vent happiness? You have to get through the screener, first of all, and, depending on the pitch of your contribution, you may be kept on hold for an hour or more before your phone becomes a feed, and even then there are no guarantees that your call will be used. That you will be used. Happy people have other things to do, and in any case happiness is its own reward. Serious dissatisfaction requires sharing - at a minimum. If this weren't as true as the color of the sky, there wouldn't be any bars.

As constant readers know, I used to be in radio myself. It was classical radio, and there were certainly no talk shows on KLEF. But our facilities were so underdeveloped that, after office hours, announcers on duty were expected to answer all incoming phone calls. These came almost exclusively from cranky listeners: if I say that happy people don't call up radio stations, I know whereof I speak. As part of the broadcasting community in the city that zoomed from seventh to fourth place in size (interest is another matter altogether), I can say with confidence that nobody at any radio station wanted to get listeners worked up. In a Houston where shootouts at four-way stops were not unheard of, the risks of spontaneous male violence were fully appreciated. They still are, but now they're being made to pay. 

And even though the kind of radio that I did was utterly different from Mr Ziegler's, it was still radio, and I'm happy to attest that David Foster Wallace has got his radio right. There are undoubtedly slips and mistaken inferences. But until someone points one out, I'm going to assume that there are no important lapses. "Host" is a great piece of reporting, beautifully written and brilliantly laid out. Mr Wallace's next innovation ought to be the replication in print not of the Internet but of talk radio.

I've been so sure of what I took from "Host" that I haven't felt the need of offering proof-quotations, but I never meant to deprive you of the pleasures of Mr Wallace's text. Ordinarily, I would go back and force an insertion somewhere - and then work like hell to make it look seamless. But in the course of considering that option, I came across a tangent in the article that happens to have stuck in my mind: I want to hear Phil Hendrie!

In some cases, though, the personas are more contrived and extreme. In the slot preceding Mr. Z.'s on KLI, for instance, is the Phil Hendrie Show, which is actually a cruel and complicated kind of meta-talk radio. What happens every night on this program is that Phil Hendrie brings on some wildly offensive guest - a man who's leaving his wife because she's had a mastectomy, a Little League coach who advocates corporal punishment of players, a retired colonel who claims that females' only proper place in the military is as domestics and concubines for the officers [zut! zut! zut!] - and first-time or casual listeners will call in and argue with the guests and (not surprisingly) get very angry and upset. Except the whole thing's a put-on. The guests are fake, their different voices done by Hendrie [sidebar: "(who really is a gifted mimic)"] with the aid of mike processing and a first-rate board op. and the show's real entertainment is the callers, who don't know it's all a gag - Hendrie's real audience, which is in on the joke, enjoys hearing these callers get more and more outraged and sputtery as the "guests" yank their chain. It's all a bit like the old Candid Camera show if the joke perpetrated over and over on that show were convincing somebody that a loved one had just died. So obviously Hendrie - whose show now draws an estimate one million listeners a week - lies on the outer frontier of radio persona.

Well, hey, folks, nobody gets hurt. Not in America. Not yet. 

March 14, 2005

Loose Links (Monday)

¶ Have you met the best of the right-wing pundits, R. Robot? Mr/s Robot is a "rhetoric simulator" that has been fed Newt Gingrich's style manual for praising coreligionists while demonizing liberals. The perfect send-up of insulting conservative twaddle, it demonstrates the level of critical thinking that you will find at such sites as Powerline. In other words, Mr/s Robot doesn't think very clearly but s/he's burning with passion for sure.

¶ At kootke.org this morning, I discovered a site, Long Tail, that is hosted by the editor of Wired, Chris Anderson. The title refers to the extended, flattening end of the Pareto Curve, which shows, among other things, that in any scale-free network (eg the Web) there will be only a handful of very busy nodes (eg Web sites) and a galaxy of quiet ones (eg the Web log that you are currently visiting). I believe that Mr Anderson is on to something that I've been expecting, in my intuitive, uninstructed way since I started playing with my new Peanut in 1985. The spread of computational power is slowly undermining mass marketing, which attends to the eighty percent of stuff that nearly everybody wants or needs while ignoring the fragmented remainder. This remainder constitutes the long tail, and the Web has made it possible (for the first time in history) for the twenty percent of stuff that almost everybody does not want or need to find the handful of people who do. The everyday word for this is "niche marketing," but the term is fundamentally stupid, relying as it does on an architectural term that suggests nothing about networks. Naturally, this reshaping of markets starts at the top, among relatively affluent and educated computer users. But it will spread throughout civilization wherever electricity is available.

Dangerously Unattended

There is a Post-It on the computer screen reminding me, in M le Neveu's hand, that "klondikes (are) low". Is this found poetry or what? Could we not go completely hermeneutic about glossing the message? (Sorry; I'm reading about Gadamer.) The parenthesis itself seems wishfully significant. If only I had the nerve to ask Zoe how Quarsan, assuming that he had a taste for Klondikes, would phrase such a note... Kathleen flew out to Palm Desert yesterday for the big IM thingie - that doesn't stand for "instant messaging," by the way - and she's staying at Rancho Rocko, where if she could spare the time from spa treatments she might try out the new Bing Crosby's Restaurant & Piano Lounge. (I am now, officially, a dead man.) PPOQ is in London, for the umpteenth wedding of his old friend, Lady McIlhenny. This leaves me dangerously unattended. Who knows what I'd get up to if it were a pleasant spring day and I wouldn't look odd in shorts on the streets of Yorkville?... I don't know what it is, but there's a certain song that I can't get out of my head, and it's not "Since U Been Gone"... Here I'd thought that Martha Wainwright was the current Mrs Loudon III! And where did I get that impression? From Private Astronomy, Geoff Muldaur's homage to Bix Beiderbecke. The photographs in the booklet do not suggest that Ms Wainwright is under thirty and her brother's little sister. As for papa, his voice is so much simpler than his son's. and I think he's a true tenor. He sings a cheeky Al Dubin number, "Bless You! Sister," with Martha and two Muldaur girls doing magnificent close harmony. When I got the CD two years ago I could not stop listening to this song. But even though I don't know what it is, "Bless You! Sister" is not the current earworm.

March 13, 2005

Sunday Links


"The Drugs I Need" is the latest from Consumers Union, which has launched a campaign to require drug companies to release all of their research about the pills that they peddle. And you thought that Consumers Union was the center of the Humorless Galaxy! Pay attention to the disclaimer announcement at the end: "If you experience psychotic episodes, you're crazy." And I wondered how JibJab was going to make a living! Speaking of JibJab, my "Second Term" poster just came back from the framer. I'm going to hang it in my bathroom.

¶ Ms Nola writes, "when are you going to write about rufus and kelly?" Kelly is of course Kelly Clarkson, the American Idol winner, who has a song that's all over the Web. That is, people are talking about it everywhere. After a while, I wanted to hear it. I asked Ms Nola if she knew a handy way of downloading it, but I still feel a certain resistance to downloading from iTunes; there's something about the whole Napster/iPod universe seems off to me. Faute de mieux, Ms Nola offered to run across the street to Circuit City to buy the album. Now that I've heard the song, I feel the same way that Jason Kottke did at first. I think that I may leave it there. ""Since U Been Gone" reminds me powerfully of the much better Cars song, "Since You're Gone," and not just because of the title; it also reminds me of the creepy music playing in the background when the creepy serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs tries out his latest couture. Two days later, I can't remember a thing about the song other than what I've just written.

As for Rufus Wainwright, I'm still adjusting. To show you how clueless I am, I had to wait for Ms Nola to point out that the second disc in Want Two is a DVD of Mr Wainwright in concert at the Fillmore, not a CD. It will be some time before I can discuss my overwhelmation by the concert's opening number, "Absence," the fourth (usually) of Berlioz's Nuits d'été. Until countertenor David Daniels's recent recording, the song was almost always sung by a woman, and even Mr Daniels sings it in the contralto range. Rufus Wainwright, whom I'm inclined to regard as a baritone with high notes, belts it out as if it were one of his own songs. There is not a trace of "classical music" or "crossover" in sight. The song was evidently written for him. So, as I say, I'm still adjusting, waiting to get beyond the "prodigious talent!" phase of my critical response. Here's an interview with Tim Adams from The Observer.

La Coquette is on a roll. Not only is she getting good seats on Parisian runways, but she's contributing to Parisist, the unfortunately-named latest colt in the Gothamist stable. (I wrote to her to complain; it ought to be called Panamiste - "Paname" is the almost exact counterpart of "Gotham," and "Parisist" sounds like a disease.) As my own contribution to the fashion blitz, I propose Style.com's portfolio of Anna Piaggi snaps. I can't remember when Ms Piaggi, editor of Vogue Italiana, first leaped off the pages of the Times and lodged herself permanently in my brain, but for my money this jolie laide is the most fashionable person on the planet. Stop that giggling!

March 12, 2005

Weekend Links

As Kathleen is spending the day with her partners in "retreat," there was no time for a big breakfast, so I slept in. It was gloriously cozy, and I ought to have stayed in bed. Because when I got up and read the Times, my spirits hit an iceberg. Ordinarily I'm dismayed by the current regime, but distanced enough to hope that my countrymen will know whom to thank when it comes time to swallow their medicine, but occasionally I wonder if any conceivable medicine will cure what seems to me to be an approaching catastrophe (cherchez les dollars?), and then I get really upset. On top of that, it's very boring to sound like Chicken Little. Is the answer to avoid the Times?

¶ The deaths of Atlanta judge Rowland Barnes and several others is not a story about gun control, although I have heard of judges who have ordered their deputies to refrain from bearing firearms in court, precisely to avoid what happened on Friday. It is a story about human depravity, and as such not, perhaps, to be commented on very extensively, much as one might mourn a good jurist. But if race turns out not to have anything to do with this story - in the form of inferior everything for most blacks - I'll be surprised.

¶ Not wishing to sound like Chicken Little, I'll say nothing about this latest in a series of alarming editorials that, in my view, understate the problem. Oops, I almost goofed there.

¶ A story from Thursday's Times has been bothering me, and the falling-dollar editorial underscored it, for the biggest irony going these days is that America is responding to an era of untrammeled globalization with official isolationism. Adam Liptak reported that the United States has withdrawn from the protocol that would permit the International Court of Justice at The Hague to hear the claims of fifty-one Mexican nationals who claim that they were tried in American courts without the right to consult a Mexican consul. The Bush Administration has ordered local prosecutors to review and reconsider these claims in light of international law; the point of our withdrawal from the protocol is that we're going to do the policing and not let a foreign tribunal interfere. It has been pointed out that only thirty percent of signatories to the consular convention subscribe to the protocol, and that the United States is now with the majority. So much for our fine, shining example to the world.

¶ Peter C Whybrow has diagnosed the American public as emerging from a manic streak. As anybody ought to know, manic binges are usually followed not by periods of healthy good sense but by deep depressions, and it is really to stave off the inevitable that bipolar people push their mania further and further into unsustainability. There is also a nasty note to manic exuberance that, once you have heard it, makes it very easy to distinguish enthusiasm from something darker. And I realize that I have been hearing that nasty note for years now. Not from anyone to whom I’m close, but in interviews with ordinary people and with the tempo of the popular culture itself. There is also a mania in blogging, as I’ve discovered. Dr Whybrow claims that Americans are beset by a mania for the acquisition of goods and status that are supposed to take the place of personal relationships, so insofar as I’m really trying to connect with other people on my four sites, I don’t think that my efforts are a substitute for something else. But I’d be lying if I denied that I want to be more widely read and recognized than I am, and the suddenness of my ambition has almost unbalanced me.

Writing about American Mania in today's Times, Irene Lacher notes that the book has been criticized for failing to offer "solutions." Dr Whybrow quite rightly respond that the "solution" is for everyone do to what he or she can do to check the mania. Since this mania is caused not by malfunctioning neurotransmitters but by a toxic popular culture, one good idea might be to - yep - turn off the TV.

Here's what I did for therapy (scroll down a bit).

March 11, 2005

More Stuff

In a weird coincidence, as I am writing about an entry at BookLust entitled "Doppelganger!!!", a song of (almost) the same name is coming out of the speakers. The other day, I found CD, still in shrinkwrap, of Schubert's Schwanengesang, sung by Thomas Quasthoff. To my discredit, I hadn't yet heard this celebrated baritone's voice, and I couldn't think how the CD had gone straight to its place in the library without having been played. The performance is beautiful, and somehow more satisfying than the only other recording of this sort-of song cycle that I've got, by Brigitte Fassbaender, at least in the darker songs. Ms Fassbaender's is my favorite Winterreise, though. What's this? Another unopened Schwanengesang? A monaural recording by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. I suspect a late-night Amazon binge accounts for these trifles... Big booboo or not? Did anybody else wonder about the HP double-page ad in the Times today? "IT PRINTS. IT COPIES. IT'S ACTUAL SIZE." Now, for this to be correct, the third "it" has to refer not to the printer that prints and copies but to the photograph of said printer. Or, equally subliterate, there's an elided, understood "shown" before "actual size." But one's initial response - that the apostrophe mark indicates nothing more than the most common grammatical error in the English language - is hard to ignore. Three possible readings, all of them dubious. Oh, there's a fourth, and it's truly absurd: "[the printer] is actual size." What an analphabetic mess... Rent at the storage unit is going up again; we've got to pare down our holdings and take a smaller space. There's almost nothing in the huge room that we're renting that we really need, or it would be here at the apartment. Lugging the junk home is tedious, and it costs major moolah to discard items at the facility. I never play the LPs that I've got here, even. And one thing you can't conveniently have in Manhattan is a tag sale... In a move toward better living, I crawled into bed before Kathleen got home, instead of continuing to write with decreasing coherence. It was very late. When I woke up this morning without remembering her coming home, I was spooked, but I'd simply nodded off while she was on her way, and "you were so deeply asleep that I didn't want to wake you up." Proud of me, she was, I think, a little.

Loose Links (Friday)

¶ Getting to yesterday's Times a day late, I discover two new blogs in the Arts section. Two celebrity blogs. These aren't hoaxes, like Bill Clinton's Diary or the fake Nick Nolte site that was pulled down by the actor's attorneys shortly after it was reported by kottke.org. And not only are these blogs what they say they are, but they accept comments, too.

formerlyROSIE is Rosie O'Donnell's Web log. It is written in free verse. It is also quirkily candid.

then p town
6 months after tv
saw a painting at a tiny gallery
that moved me
i never bought a piece of art b4
the guy in the place said it was 6000 dollars
and even though i am rich
it seemed insane

The last two lines won me over. But reading a few entries at one go wasn't a good idea, because of the distorting sheen of celebritude. Ms O'Donnell is a very well-known woman, and she can have few truly spontaneous encounters; they're spontaneous for her, perhaps, but her interlocutors, as Henry James would have put it, are all at least slightly dazzled.

Even though I can't remember seeing Ms O'Donnell in anything but Another Stakeout (1993), her personal and professional lives were much in the news. Until today, however, I had never heard of Wil Wheaton, whose blog, WIL WHEATON dot NET, has apparently been going on for years, although I can't find the archives and have to take John Schwartz's word for it. Mr Wheaton is an actor, formerly a former child actor who spent his teens on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Guess who never saw that. Mr Wheaton appears to be a genial man with an interesting path, and he is perhaps as well-known now as a blogger as he is as an actor.

¶ Patricia Storms discovers that hers is not the only BookLust in town. It is my understanding that, while what you write has copyright protection, the label that you slap on it when you're done does not. And a good thing, too, or there could only be one of The Four Seasons. The only way to lock up a title is to register it as a trademark, a process that, unlike automatic copyright, is anything but convenient. I recently saved myself some trouble in this department with a spot of prudent Googling.

March 10, 2005

Makes My Day

The Culinarion branch of Portico generates an interesting kind of mail. Every six months or so, I get an email from someone far away, sometimes very far away, thanking me for a recipe. Today, it was a gentleman from the Dominican Republic. Responding to my page on cooking rice, he writes,


My congratulations for your instructions.  That is the way all recipes and procedures should be given.  I assume you are a "practical-perfectionist".  I enjoy cooking.  Rice is our main food, we eat rice everyday.  Thanks again.

Letters like this never fail to make my day. But I have to weigh the suggestion that I take up recipe-writing full time against Walrus Pete's cheeky advice at Miss Gostrey's Guide. I had posted a long entry encouraging people to comment. (You can always say "thanks" and leave it at that.) Mr WP was on it in an instant. I can't say I didn't ask for it....

Loose Links (Thursday)

Two links today. No fair opening the second before the first. 

¶ Having said everything that there is to say about links and permalinks, I have addressed the topics of Web log comments and HTML tags for commenters at Miss Gostrey's Guide. You may read the latter entry if you think it might prove useful, but you really must read the former. So off you go, right this minute. If you want to mix it up, post your thank-yous to me on kottke.org or Towleroad. Be transgressive if you must! But comment!

¶ Today's second link is great fun, and once again I have Patricia Storms to thank for it. Drawn is a linkblog to interesting graphic sites, and, frankly, I could hardly get past the second entry's link to "Nosepilot." This is a must-see, but I will let Drawn take you there. 

March 09, 2005

Love Film in the Afternoon

Watching movies in the afternoon is a guilty pleasure - more "guilty" than "pleasure," I'm afraid. Rightly so! If we came to prefer watching movies to writing - well, we chew on the consequences of that one the way I used to chew on Nicorette gum. But I suspect that I'm not really tempted to spend afternoons in front of the tube. It was with a sense of completely Victorian obligation that I sat down after lunch today and slid the tapes into the VCR. They're both due back at the Video Room tomorrow, and tomorrow I've got to see Dr Kline about these little rashes that I, for one, have decided are indirect consequences of Remicade, so watching movies is out of the question, and - are we in TMI land yet? - I prefer to arrange things such that I never see an altogether new movie in the evening, because that would require me to forsake the Martini pitcher.

Both videos were French, but one was silent. The "talkie" was Subway, Luc Besson's 1985 Métro caper, starring Christophe Lambert, Michel Galabru (M Charrier in the Cage aux folles series), and Isabelle Adjani. Ms Adjani gets top billing, of course, and she is, as always, unearthly-beautiful. One would indeed like to see photographs of her German mother and her Turkish-Algerian father; at least one of them must have been a knockout. But Ms Adjani is really a member of the supporting cast, which also includes the younger Jean Reno. Maddeningly, the tape was dubbed, so in fact none of the billed stars were really there - although I suppose it's just possible that M Lambert dubbed his part. In order to get an undubbed version, you have to buy a neutered DVD player somewhere and order the disc itself from France. Well, maybe someday. It's sad to think that it was the prospect of success in the American market that induced the dubbing. I can't think that the film really succeeded over here; it is utterly French - which means that it will strike an uninitiated American viewer as goofy when it ought to be scary.

The other video was The Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Th. Dreyer's incredibly powerful 1928 adaptation of the records of Joan's trial. I don't care for silent movies at all - no matter how beautifully they're shot (and Joan is BEAUTIFULLY shot), they're missing that which makes me quite sure that I'd rather be blind than deaf. Happily, there was a sound track - unofficial, of course, but one can easily turn the sound off - consisting of Richard Einhorn's cantata, inspired by the re-release of the film in 1985, Voices of Light, a truly fantastic piece of modern music. Voices marks the first totally successful meeting of "classical" and "soundtrack." It can be listened to without watching the movie; I only wish the same could be said of the various suites that have been patched together from Bernard Herrmann's scores for Vertigo and North By Northwest. I knew that Voices had been written with Joan in mind, but I didn't know that Gaumont had put it on the tape; I'd thought that I would watch the movie as a silent, and then try to coordinate the tape with the CD. Happily, I didn't have to. But I recommend the following approach to the wary: rent the tape and play it first for the soundtrack only. Then watch the silent movie without any sound. Then combine the two. I should have followed this advice myself, but, as I say, I really can't stand silent movies.

And what else did I do today?

Loose Links (Wednesday)

¶ In case you were thinking that recent bleating about democracy's progress in the Middle East was bankable, réveillez-vous. Lebanon, like Iraq, is a confection, a state carved out its neighbor, Syria, after World War I. It is famous for its cedars and for its civil wars.

¶ In case you're blasé about international affairs (news you can't "use"), cheer yourself up with the true-life story behind Million Dollar Baby.

"That guy in the movie played by Clint Eastwood took the easy way out by killing her rather than having to deal with what her life would have been like,"

says the original boxer's sister.


¶ Why is this guy shouting? He wants tort reform! Doesn't everyone? Consult the ad, paid for by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, to see how your state ranks for "lawsuit abuse." Why, what d'you know: Delaware tops the list. Delaware, home state of most American corporations, notoriously friendly to executives and boards, notoriously hostile to shareholders and stakeholders. Unquestionably the best. Interesting name for a lobbying group, "Chamber Institute," but perhaps not ideal: chamber groups don't have percussion. Oh, I get it: "as in Chamber of Commerce." Wonder why they didn't use that. Enough with the sarcasm. This ad is offensive.

Diane Arbus at the Met

Ms Nola persuaded me to accompany her, yesterday afternoon, to the "Diane Arbus Revelations" show at the Met. We were already in the building; I'd been tempted by the title, which I'd sort of misread, of the Fra Carnevale show: "From Filippo Lippi to Piero della Francesca: Fra Carnevale and the Making of a Renaissance Master." Fillipo Lippi? Piero della Francesca? Wow! I stopped reading there. Fra Carnevale isn't bad, , or even mediocre, but he is not those other two. We got on an elevator and wandered through the old masters, where, happily, my favorite painting the museum, Georges de la Tour's "The Fortune Teller" ("La Sorcière") is once again on view - it must have been loaned to another museum for a show. We saw the newly acquired (for $45 million) Duccio. I was ready to brave the snow and head down to the Frick Collection when Ms Nola reminded me of the Arbus.


Diane Arbus was the first art photographer that I ever heard of. At a certain point in the early Seventies, her pictures were everywhere. There were three or four almost unavoidable ones: "A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, NY (1970)," "A family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester, NY. (1968)," "They have never met before. (1970)," and, most indelibly, "Identical Twins, Roselle NJ" (1967). (For the first three pictures, click here; for the twins, here.) Arbus was associated with the freakish and the unattractive; it was not difficult in those days to regard her work as critical of the United States. I never found the pictures appealing, and I didn't buy the catalogue because I knew that I would never open it. But I'm very glad that I saw the show, and I recommend it to everyone.

I hadn't seen every image before, but I'd seen most of them, or thought that I had. The work seemed to fall into two groups, the "Untitled" series from Arbus's last year (she committed suicide in the summer of 1971) and everything else. The "Untitled" series consists of photographs of masked and costumed individuals, most of them elderly. There is the strong feeling of Halloween at an institution, and many of images are simply Saul Steinberg's grotesques rendered in photography. And yet these pictures are very unlike Steinberg's in one important respect: the photographer seems to have said goodbye to the fundamentals of human society. The "Untitled" pictures are, literally, dreadful.

I came away doubting that Arbus meant her work to be taken as critical of American society. (Except, perhaps, for the picture of those Westchester sunbathers, which fairly screams "Behold the emptiness and banality of the American suburbs!) If she meant to criticize anything, it must have been the milieu in which she started out, as a fashion photographer. Fashion generally and fashion photography in particular depend entirely upon desire; even the repellent is presented as irresistible. Fashion ignores the boring, the ugly, the misshapen, the luckless; it resolutely turns it back on the charmlessly unfortunate. "Charmlessly unfortunate" handily describes most of Arbus's subjects, even the few who, like Mrs Charlton Henry of Chestnut Hill, are not leading uncomfortable lives. Arbus insists that we recognize that these people exist: that nature is horribly inequitable, and that even the fat and the wrinkled know hope and love. Her pictures are not the trumpeted insults for which Richard Avedon became perversely famous, but they are hardly flattering, none less so than the shots of transvestites (daring subjects in those days - many of the pictures would have been upstaged by their titles). But it is this very quality that brings the implicit possibility of love to the fore. These people may look monstrous and deluded, but their emotions are the familiar ones.

And everything but the faces is familiar, too. We have all taken dozens of snapshots just like them, neither candid nor posed. Arbus took her pictures on location: in Central Park, in the street, in the hotel rooms and dressing rooms of entertainers. It is unlikely that she took many photographs of any one arrangement, or urged a subject to "put your hand there, like that." The power of Diane Arbus's photography comes from its unaffected disdain for artifice. Arbus is less the technically accomplished photographer than the visionary who exploits her medium to tell us something important about the world. The final "Untitled" series suggests that this something became impossible to live with. But even more awful than her death is the fashionable appropriation of her work.

From the museum, we walked back to the apartment for a pot of tea. Stimulated by what we'd seen, I talked the entire way, deciding, somewhere near Scientology's town house and PS 6, to share my theory of respectability with Ms Nola, and I was well into this as we crossed Park Avenue. At the median island, Ms Nola elbowed me and apologized: "That was Woody Allen!" I, of course, had been staring at the pavement - I recommend ankylosing spondylitis to all peripatetic philosophers - but I did turn, to see the retreating figure of a small man. I don't doubt that Ms Nola was right. Later, I couldn't help thinking what a Woody-Allen picture we had made: in the Manhattan snowfall, an older man pontificates while a pretty younger woman listens. Within the time it would take for a Polaroid to deepen into print, I felt like a complete cliché, the oddness of my life, such as it is, translated into a movie that Woody Allen made twenty years ago.

March 08, 2005

Loose Links (Tuesday)

¶ The Giuliana Sgrena incident, in which the abducted-and-released Italian journalist was wounded, and her companion killed, when her car, en route to the Baghdad airport, approached a checkpoint at a speed that soldiers judged dangerous to themselves, has sent a tremor through my delicately-balanced equanimity. [Rant deleted.] The Times has a prudent editorial that focuses on the laxness in current rules of engagement to which so many innocent deaths have been attributed. Whether the incident vindicates Eason Jordan, the CNN executive whose remarks on the subject of soldiers "targeting" journalists - during an off-the-record session at Davos of which, yes, there is no official record, so that Mr Jordan cannot counter the blogger whose posting stirred up a fracas on the right - led to his ouster, it is difficult to say. Or, rather, it's easy to say, very easy, and bloggers on both sides of the aisle are saying one thing or the other. The fact that Ms Sgrena is a reporter for Il Manifesto, a newspaper of Communist orientation, certainly clouds the issue, although of course it shouldn't. Like the Times editors, I don't hold the soldiers reponsible; they're working under impossible conditions. I blame the Pooh-Bahs in Washington who created those conditions, whether actively or by reckless disregard.

¶ I can't ordinarily bring myself to visit Powerline, the Radiculan Web log that pounds its chest like King Kong when it isn't eating liberals for breakfast, but I had to make an exception today, after I heard about a "victory party" in Minneapolis that several of the Powerline collaborators will address. What are they celebrating? Having brought Dan Rather down. Here are the details, for any of you living in the environs of the Twin Cities. (How long will it take for some kind soul to clue Hindrocket in on certain implications of his nom de plume?)

¶ The current issue of The Atlantic arrived yesterday, and I haven't had time to read the cover story by David Foster Wallace on "Talk Radio," but I've glanced at it, and how the story has been printed may well upstage anything that Mr Wallace has to say. Subscribers can download a PDF file that reproduces the story's look in print, but the snippet of the story that's available to everyone short-circuits the magazine's cleverness by utilizing real hyperlinks instead of the printed simulations, which are really nothing more than colorfully reformatted footnotes. Mr Wallace has always been fond of footnotes! See if:book for interesting comment.

March 07, 2005

Caucasian Sketches

Rest assured: I did not want to read Chechnya Diary: A War Correspondent's Story of Surviving the War in Chechnya (Thomas Dunne/St Martin's Press, 2003). The book languished in various to-read piles for quite a long time. This was embarrassing, because the author, Thomas Goltz, and I have a mutual friend, Judy Muncy, and Judy would ask me from time to time if I'd gotten round to Tom's new book. (Judy is more than just somebody Tom Goltz knows; she's credited as a reader and critic of the draft manuscripts.) My dereliction was also perverse, because, again at Judy's suggestion, I had read Mr Goltz's first book, Azerbaijan Diary: A Rogue Reporter's Adventures in an Oil-Rich, War-Torn, Post-Soviet Republic (M E Sharpe, 1998) and really, really liked it. The thing was, I didn't know anything about Azerbaijan except that it was indeed oil-rich and that there was a little quarrel going on with Armenia about an enclave called Nagorny Karabakh. All right, so I knew something, perhaps even the foundations of Mr Goltz's story. But I really didn't know anything about Azerbaijan as an ordinary place where people live. Like anybody who reads the papers, I know a lot about Chechnya as a place where ordinary life is impossible. "Chechnya" has become a byword for "great big fat insoluble problem in the back of beyond." The very name of the country is depressing.

After all, what can you learn about such a place that will still be true in five years? In the ten since Mr Goltz witnessed the Massacre of Samashki, a virtually independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria rose and then collapsed, the nature of the conflict with Russia went through a complete transformation - perhaps "metastasization" would be a better word. What began as a nationalist/separatist struggle fought on the ruins of the Soviet Empire has become an Islamist/terrorist action in which the needs and desires of ordinary Chechens are not consulted. But Mr Goltz has not written a history of warfare in the Caucasus: although I learned everything in the foregoing sentences from Chechnya Diary, it appears in the background of a harrowing personal account of which the author, not Chechnya, is the protagonist. That's what makes Chechnya Diary a great read. The great big fat insoluble problem in the back of beyond is the setting, not the story. And Mr Goltz has a shrewd idea of how much outdoor plumbing, fried garlic greens and urban devastation you can take. It's there, but it's not overdone.

Ordinarily, I don't retail stories and plots. It's not that I worry about spoiling the fun for readers; it's just that I have always hated book reports. But nothing I can say about this book will intrigue you unless I give you some idea of what happens in Chechnya Diary, because it's not what you think. At first, perhaps it is: Mr Goltz, on the strength of a tenuous and ultimately regrettable contract, smuggles himself into Chechnya in order to film a short documentary showing the "Chechen spirit." It's understood that this assignment will require some "bang-bang" - visuals of firings, shellings, and, if possible, killings. How to do this without exciting the attention of Russian or Chechen commanders presents predictable problems, and Mr Goltz is less than thrilled when his accidental minder shuttles him off to Samashki, a small town where nothing is going on. That changes when the Russians start bombing the area, and a local commander, Hussein, decides to blow up the railway tracks. Mr Goltz misses this but films the explosion of a Russian truck. Arrangements are made to spirit him out of Samashki so that he can get his documentary on the air, but the blockade and the shelling make this impossible. It is thanks to a seemingly improbable surprise that Mr Goltz leaves Samashki at all, and there, you would think, the story would end. But you're only halfway through.

Mr Goltz goes to Moscow, quarrels with the outfit that sent him on the assignment, and generally tears his hair out. He is rescued by a colleague, Lawrence Sheets, who has been covering the devastation of Grozny, the Chechen capital. Mr Sheets is in a position to hire Mr Goltz as a camera man and stage a return to the Causcasus, to cover whatever's going on there. They duly fly back to neighboring Ingushetia and drive miserable roads, trying to get through checkpoints. But Samashki has been sealed off again. After several days of impasse, Mr Sheets' employer, Reuters, pulls the plug on the expedition, but Mr Goltz cajoles "Uncle Larry" into letting him have one last try, and this time the approach to Samashki is unimpeded. The Russians have finished with, and finished off, the town of Samashki. Mr Goltz finds bodies everywhere. There are survivors, too, but their stories only add to the horror. We will learn later that a Russian officer who had seen Apocalypse Now had the bright idea of "setting" the massacre to the  music of a Shostakovich symphony. The streets are full of used the discarded syringes from which soldiers injected themselves with uppers. The Massacre at Samashki appears quite literally to have been an orgy of  violence, an arcade game made real.

With his now even-better footage, Mr Goltz cobbles together a report that wins him a nomination for the Rory Peck Award, a prize for high-risk camera work named for a cameraman who was killed by a sniper while covering Boris Yeltsin's 1993 coup. Mr Goltz doesn't win the prize, but the producers like his work so much that they commission a follow-up: Mr Goltz is to return to Samashki to hook up with Hussein. And this is where the story really heats up. I will say no more than this: Hussein has been forced to leave Samashki by disgruntled townspeople. An ugly rumor has calcified, and big part of it goes like this: the foreign cameraman whom Hussein took round with him on his missions, and who knew the details of the town's defenses - Mr Goltz, that is - was a Russian spy. Proof? The Massacre occurred mere days after Mr Goltz's departure.

Now we understand why Chechnya Diary begins with an epigram that states the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: the observer affects the observed. To be sure, Mr Goltz is no mere observer. He has often crossed a line drawn in thick ink by the journalistic profession. He has, I believe, been criticized by "mainstream" journalists for taking sides and supporting soldiers with, if nothing else, his enthusiasm. He doesn't shoot guns, but his shooting cameras are hardly more neutral than rifles. Mr Goltz is not built for neutrality. A fluent speaker of Turkish, he seems ordained to take sides against the Russians no matter what the conflict. (In Azerbaijan Diary, this partisanship presents the two sets of bad guys - the Armenians and the anti-democratic supporters of Haydar Aliyev, the Soviet pasha in Azerbaijan - as vileness-prone Russian proxies. But partisanship does not corrode Mr Goltz's objectivity; he is as ready as anyone to expose a rat fink on his own side.

At the end of Chechnya Diary, Mr Goltz threatens to hang up his spurs. His last attempt to enter Chechnya (illegally, of course) finds him in the mountains of Georgia, taking a cold look at his latest bright idea: to celebrate his forty-fifth birthday in Samashki, and then to cover the new war, in which Russia faced not nationalist-separatists but Wahhabi Islamists for whom Chechnya was the new Afghanistan. Obstacles at the border, however, seem insurmountable.

Was I planning to just sort of hang around as a war voyeur?

Well, maybe. I could still try and sneak by the Georgian guards and make it across the river, and take the "toboggan ride" down the Argun, and maybe make it to Grozny that night; the alternaive would be to stay in Shatoi or Itumkale, likely under interdictory attack, and then push on to Samashki the next day.

But I did none of those things and was in none of those places. I was back in Tbilisi in a restaurant, getting drunk with old and new friends, feeling rotten and cowardly.

I rationalized that the time had come for other madmen (and women, too), to make their mark in the exciting world of war reporting. Maybe I was now older and war-weary - and maybe wiser. But the argument felt hollow. Maybe I was just afraid.

The candor about fear is both admirable and touching, but it elides a question that Mr Goltz never poses explicitly: considering the unavoidable dangers and huge risks of injury or death, what makes a man go halfway round the world to see other people's wars at first hand? And what sort of man engages in war as a noncombatant? I don't mean to psychologize Mr Goltz's motivation, much less to hormonalize it: you won't get any piffle out of me about machismo or performance anxiety or any of the other endocrinologies. Chechnya Diary implicitly suggests several aspects of an ultimate answer. One is that Mr Goltz likes to play - serious games. He savors the special quality of excitement that occurs in the least likely of places, the wilderness. He likes to thumb his nose at bullies and, with luck, to see that they're bruised, if not necessarily by his hand. He cultivates his collection of can-you-top-this tales. But he is also sane enough to wonder, when the chaos of war erupts and the shrapnel starts flying, to wonder how he could be so effing crazy as to put himself on the spot. This makes him a companionable human being; without it, he would be a gratuitous barnstormer. And a terrible bore.

And let's not forget the educational aspect of these books. Whether Mr Goltz ought to teach history to tender minds is arguable, but he manages to inject a lot of cold information into his lively text, and even if you forget the details you will hold on to the important parts of the story of Chechnya's struggles. He makes "Chechnya" too rich and interesting, too populated by memorable characters, to dismiss as an insoluble problem. It's for this reason that I wish that both of his books had more in the way of apparatus: maps, timelines, perhaps even indexes of major players. There is a map of the town of Samashki in Chechnya Diary, but it's not nearly as useful as a map of the Grozny region would have been, or even a map of Chechnya itself. Such maps are not easy to come by: in my expensive-if-not-exorbitant Macmillan World Atlas, I could obliterate most of Chechnya with my thumbprint. I fault Mr Goltz's editors for this: he has written a fine text, and they have not produced  book the book that it deserves. Although the events related in Chechnya Diary are contingent, and many of them will require reinterpretation in light of further history, Mr Goltz's story itself is timeless.

Loose Links (Monday)

¶ Where is Joseph Mitchell, now that we need to to know more about Jerry the Light Man, one of New York's "Eccentric? Moi?" characters? Gothamist does a yeoman job, but to think what Mitchell would have made of this is to shed a tear over the ephemerality of mortal fun.

Roboto Supremo. In the old days, Susan Sontag told us, disaster films massaged our dread of nuclear holocaust. Now, it seems, they can just as well be put to work to ventilate the Fear of Commitment. Vincent Varnado shows how a great script can save so-so visuals.

¶ But you don't like science fiction. You like reality! You want to see the new show about Breeding Republicans: Hannidate.

Radical Wishful Thinking

We've been hearing from soldiers and their families that that our forces in Iraq don't have the armor that they need. Last December, Secretary Rumsfeld blithely dismissed - well, blithely for him - these complaints as so much wrongheaded sense of entitlement. You fight the war with the army you've got, he quipped, in words to that effect. But "the army you've got" is not a fact of nature. On the contrary. It is the result of decisions large and small, some of them quite mistaken.

The war in Iraq was hardly a month old in April 2003 when an Army general in charge of equipping soldiers with protective gear threw the brakes on buying bulletproof vests.

The general, Richard A. Cody, who led a Pentagon group called the Army Strategic Planning Board, had been told by supply chiefs that the combat troops already had all the armor they needed, according to Army officials and records from the board's meetings. Some 50,000 other American soldiers, who were not on the front lines of battle, could do without.

That's from Michael Moss's front-page story in today's Times, "Many Missteps Tied to Delay in Armor for Troops in Iraq." Wishful thinking in Washington projected a traditional war of front lines and battles, and this, indeed, was what the march to Baghdad mostly was. But having reached the capital - "Mission Accomplished" - the military faced an altogether different enemy, an enemy that it has been all but powerless to check. The only thing that surprises me is that the replacement of Saddam Hussein's army by terrorist insurgents surprised the Pentagon. In any case, fighting insurgents means, first and foremost, throwing "battles" and "front lines" out the window: every soldier in a terror-inflected war is serving on the front, and the battle is non-stop. But "the army you've got" was now in the hands of comfortable uniformed executives far from the blood and dust.

But an examination of the issues involving the protective shielding and other critical equipment shows how a supply problem seen as an emergency on the ground in Iraq was treated as a routine procurement matter back in Washington.

The Secretary of Defense is mentioned only twice in Mr Moss's story, first in connection with his atrocious response to soldiers in December, the second in a reference to the resignation of Thomas E White, the Secretary of the Army who resigned, according to Mr Moss, "after a falling out with Mr Rumsfeld" in April, 2003. Funny, I thought that Mr White's Enron background had something to do with that resignation, but no matter, no matter. Mr Rumsfeld was on my mind in every paragraph of the story; I was stuck, as it were, on the "supply chiefs" who had told General Cody that soldiers who weren't in the "front lines of battle" could "do without." Could these be officers who survived the Army purge that Seymour M Hersh exposed two years ago, in an article that I hope The New Yorker will maintain on-line until our Iraqi misadventure is over, "Offense and Defense"?

Gradually, Rumsfeld succeeded in replacing those officers in senior Joint Staff positions who challenged his view. “All the Joint Staff people now are handpicked, and churn out products to make the Secretary of Defense happy,” the planner said. “They don’t make military judgments—they just respond to his snowflakes.”

As always with the mess in Iraq, we come back to the TPFDL - the "time-phased, forces-deployment list," and Mr Rumsfeld's contempt for this painstaking distillation of military experience. Sticking to the "tip-fiddle" would certainly not have saved every soldier's life. But General Cody might have been able to rely on more trustworthy supply chiefs.

Memo to Robert H Scales: Prepare to be branded for aiding and abetting the enemy!

"This is a new age in war with an enemy that adapts faster than we do," said Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales Jr., retired, a former head of the Army War College. "Al Qaeda doesn't have to go to the Board of Accountability in order to develop a new roadside bomb or triggering device."

Why do I bother to write this out? Because one can't do enough to demonstrate that the Administration's radical wishful thinking is the real menace facing our troops in Iraq.

March 06, 2005

Just So You Know


Hmmm - looks good. But what if I told you...

What if I told you that, when I was getting the eggs out of the refrigerator, I dropped one. It didn't hit the floor right away, but bounced off a shelf. I almost thought that it might not break. But of course it broke. Some readers may not know what fun it is to clean an egg off the floor, but, having some experience in this department of haute cuisine, I fetched a small bowl and a spatula along with the Windex and the paper towels, and as I shoveled the egg into the bowl, I noticed not only that were most of the contents still inside the shell but that the yolk was intact. By the time I was standing I'd made up mind to toss the egg not into the garbage but into the mixing bowl for scrambling.

I'll let you know if any unfortunate developments ensue.


"You can't take a picture of me having breakfast in bed!" Kathleen cried. So I'm obliged to tell you that this is the other woman to whom I serve breakfast in bed every weekend.

Don't laugh. There are men in this city, detectives say, who have two families, one on each side of the Park. Not just one, but maybe as many as eight or nine. These two-timers, however, are undoubtedly being served breakfast in bed.

Yes, Kate, I knew you'd recognize the ring. 


Until Friday, I had not heard Bach's St Matthew Passion in a church. Nor had I heard it performed as written. The composer's 1736 revision, the standard in modern performances, calls for two "cori," meaning not choirs but corps: two distinct groups of musicians. The reason for this division may have been the composer's discovery that, for the performance of large-scaled passions, he could supplement the virtuoso ensemble that performed with him each week in one of the Leipzig churches with a capable but less expert group. This would give the better players a few breaks during a long work, and it would also make possible the call-and-response effect, antiphony, that makes for massiveness and drama.

Because I love great big choruses, I'm not best pleased by the current, allegedly authentic, performance practice of allotting each choral voice to just one singer, but if this was indeed a constraint that Bach had to work with, then the double-chorus construction makes a lot of sense. Because today's choral societies are not about to cede works like the St Matthew Passion to purists, standard performances will continue to ignore Bach's divisions. On almost any recording, you'll find that one chorus does the job (with perhaps a boy choir pitching in the soprano chorale in the two instances where that is called for), four soloists to sing the arias, a tenor to sing the part of the Evangelist, and a baritone to sing the part of Jesus. And one orchestra. As long as you've got a regular chorus, and don't need the second quartet of voices for weight, there's no reason to engage four second-string soloists.

Continue reading about the New York Collegium at Portico.

March 05, 2005



At least once a week, I root through the Internet looking for access to modest items that I would buy if they were available. Usually, it's just the DVD version of an old movie (Palm Beach Story has come out at last; more about that later), but once in a while it's a forgotten treat, or at least one that I've given up looking for in conventional venues. Such as Hu-Kwa Tea. Just as Twinings produces the only real Earl Grey tea, so Hu-Kwa is where you'll find the best Lapsang Souchong. A smoked oolong tea from Taiwan, Hu-Kwa is not a hit with Kathleen, who complains that it reeks of creosote and who just provided me with the following testimonial:

Sometimes it makes me ill when I smell it. It's true!

So we don't enjoy this delicate tea ("Delicate? What are they, nuts?") when the whole family is at home. I was introduced to Hu-Kwa by aunts of my mother's. They were half-aunts, really, and not much older than my parents, and they made a fuss of me from the day of my arrival. (Shortly after my sister's arrival - she was nine months old at the time, with plenty of personality - Helen and Bea took me off to a cottage that they'd rented in Brewster. "Your nose was a little out of joint," Bea told me a few years ago.) When I was old enough, they took me to shows and concerts; I'm quite sure that I entered Carnegie Hall for the first time on their dime. Among my first independent outings in the city were visits to their flat in the great Deco building on the corner of Second Avenue and Twenty-Second Street, and it was on one of these visits that they offered me a cup of Hu-Kwa. I took to it right away, and that's why there's nothing Proustian about the tea's ability to summon two lovely ladies: no intervening oblivion. In any case, I Googled Hu Kwa yesterday, and voilà: the Mark T Wendell Company, a tea firm in Boston, is still retailing the stuff ("since 1904").

March 04, 2005

Subcontinental (Loose Links, Friday)


Every once in a while, you have to dream up a Google search and see where it takes you. There's nothing, for the moment, that you need to find out; or perhaps you might say that you need to find something that you didn't know about. My cerebral randomizer came up with "Indian blogs."

¶ I started with Bombay blogs, which didn't yield much of anything, at least not on the first screen. Through a link at the bottom, though, I came across this interesting, literate posting about 'Peters' - Indians who are a bit more anglicized than the people they hang out with. It's apparently Madras slang. (There is also a very pungent remark toward the end of the post about being reminded of The Pianist.) The blogs on the HT Sulekha site seem to lack some basic navigational tools, and comments are posted like entries, in descending order. Only members can comment.

Dehli turned out to be a more profitable destination. (Perhaps I ought to have Googled Mumbai.) In no time at all, I was reading the reflections of a young accountant keeping a journal of her reactions to men and to movies, in a style somewhat more carefully literate than is common in such productions here, but studded throughout - duh - with Hindi. That's what I take it to be, anyway. The result is spicy - as to style, not content. Life, as it goes... has a modest but intriguing blog roster, too, and soon I came across Confusing Musings, where the references, not the grammar, reminded me even more forcefully that these blogs are written in a second language.

¶ I don't really know where Simla took me geographically, but it did introduce a serious current-affairs site, Vichaar.org. As this excerpt shows, critical thinking works just as well in India as it does here.

A lot of discussions and debates can occur about whether the tsunami toll in India could have been minimized - but there is one fact that is staring the government in its face - two hours elapsed between the Indonesian quake and the tsunamis that hit southern India, when no action was taken by the Indian Government.

What if it were a nuclear strike ? If the Indian government cannot adequately detect major geological events and safeguard our population with a two hour warning window, what chance do we have of preventing unnecessary casualties if the window is even lesser?

¶ And presently I was back home. Varnam, a site about Indian history, is run by an insourced software engineer currently living in California. That's where I got the link to the photograph of Alampur Temple, above.

Complaining, explaining

The other day, I spent most of the afternoon writing an analysis of Book Second, Chapter 1 of The Ambassadors, the first of Henry James's trio of late, great novels. I wanted to show that the conversation that takes up most of the chapter is a paraphrase of the serpent-in-the-garden story with which the Bible really begins (it is at any rate the first instance of conflict or difficulty), but, true to my author's spirit, I neglected to mention this; I had made the point in an earlier post and apparently didn't think that it needed repeating. As I worked, a vague incredulity perfumed the room: why on earth was I spending so much time on one chapter of a novel? Other demands scratched at my conscience, but I steadfastly put them aside, sure that what I was doing - writing an explication de texte - was what I ought, supremely, to be doing. Even if it was also great fun.

How warped! And how eye-opening, later, so feel from inside what must have been James's disappointment at the muted reception of his work, which most readers then, like most readers now, found rather hard to read. (They at least had, those contemporary readers, the advantage of readily understanding James's tony slang.) The novels that we call "difficult" are usually hard to follow because they don't observe the rules of causality, or because they're written largely in metaphor; in short, because the author writes from a secret cave to which you will have to find your way if you want to understand what he's writing about. But the difficulty of Henry James's late fiction is altogether different: the narrative is straightforward, even banal, but there is in an intense resistance to the idea of calling a spade a spade. A spade might be called almost anything else. This indirection is not gratuitous; the whole point of it is to make the reader sit up and pay attention.

In my commentary, I remarked that there is probably no passage in all of The Ambassadors in which the author clearly and distinctly tells the reader just what it is that Lambert Strether is supposed to accomplish in Paris. The information is dribbled out in fragments and implications. Anybody who has got through the novel can tell you what Strether's mission is, but any reader who has got through the novel has worked hard, for a reader. The veteran reader - the reader who is coming back for a second look - will have an easier time of it. I have read the novel three times (I think), and I'm finding it almost as plain as day. I still stumble; there are sentences that I have to reread, and perhaps even parse. But the vista is astonishing - when it isn't terrifying. I still don't know how to summarize it without crushing the excitement out of it. You have to be there.

And yet why, in an age of notoriously easy entertainments, should you bother? The question is entirely rhetorical; I don't believe that anyone ever really asks it of oneself. Either it never comes up, because the answer is obvious and inescapable, or it is lodged argumentatively, as an excuse or explanation for not bothering. You bother because the effort and the experience alike are good for you, in that they make you more alert and alive, but you bother also because there is no question of "bother" when so much pleasure is involved. It is an acquired pleasure, certainly, but it is nonetheless real for that.

A remark of Susan Sontag's has been haunting me. It appeared after her death, in one of the many published memories of her vitality. These all had the effect of making Sontag more approachable and less hieratic, but none was more "mortal" than the one that's been on my mind. She was telling someone she knew about how filled with ambition she was when she came to New York as a young woman. She was going to read all the books - the books she hadn't already read - and understand all the arguments and make her mark in the bazaar of ideas. Well, she made it. But she never got over her surprise that the number of people fired by the same ambition was small.

This site is dedicated to everyone for whom the prospect of being the smartest person in the room is a glimpse of living hell.

March 03, 2005

Guarneri at the Met I

Perhaps Arnold Steinhardt doesn't like Mozart. The thought crossed my mind as the Guarneri Quartet, of which Mr Steinhardt is the first violinist, made its way through Mozart's Quartet in A, K. 464. The top note was never exactly flat, but it usually sounded tired, as though the air had been let out. Of all the quartets that I know, the Guarneri sounds most like the old Budapest Quartet, which resorted to a similar style when it meant to be sweet. But this sagging tonality tightened up during the Mendelssohn that followed, and not in evidence when, after the interval, the Guarneri was joined by violist Steven Tenenbom for a performance of Dvorak's American Quintet.

The thought crossed my mind because I have not forgotten, and will never forget, a perfectly maddening performance of Mozart's Divertimento in E-Flat, K. 563, at Caramoor one summer afternoon years ago. Yes, the trio that I've written about at some length. It was a painful hour. I concluded that it must have been an "off" day for Mr Steinhardt, but there it was again on Saturday at Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, a manner of playing all the high notes as if they were suffering from anemia. Nor did Mr Steinhardt appear to want to keep up with his colleagues' tempo. He never lagged, of course, but a certain resistance could be sensed. Second violinist John Dalley, violist Michael Tree, and cellist Peter Wiley, in contrast, seemed to like what they were playing. Mr Wiley was brilliant in the demanding Andante, a theme-and-variations that ends with a lesson in species counterpoint that puts the cellist to work.

If I set these annoying factors aside, something that became increasingly easy to do as Mr Steinhardt played with increasing enthusiasm, I could hear the firm and supple suggestion of a group of old Viennese gents playing at the rear of some-out-of-the-way coffee house - playing as if for themselves. Mozart's Vienna, in short. The minuet was particularly captivating. Charmed by the performance into not judging it, I found myself wondering how anybody could mistake this music for Haydn's. There is a musical handwriting, unique to each composer that, the more beautiful it is, the more difficult it is to copy, and in the great composers' music it is plain in every bar. Learning to hear this handwriting as it were means learning not to hear the composer's period, and that's very hard, at least for those of us who don't learn about music by performing it. Period style is simply the collection of tics and riffs that composers have in common with their contemporaries; to continue the handwriting metaphor, the current vogue in letter shapes and punctuation. Period style is easy for beginning listeners to grasp, and soon the composers can be sorted in something like this fashion:









The beginning listener will soon be able to distinguish these groups, but distinguishing the composers within them will remain difficult precisely because of the emphasis placed upon common elements. It's only when you stop listening for these that the handwriting becomes apparent. Consider Mozart and Haydn. Notwithstanding their warm mutual regard, two more unlike composers never existed. Mozart was prodigiously gifted with melody, and never had to develop Haydn's skill at (or interest in) exploring the possibilities of a tune. Mozart was much more interested in spinning plates: balancing a little motif like this against another like that. Just hum the opening bars of the Jupiter Symphony and you'll see what I mean. Balance and contrast are everything in Mozart, and it's the juggling that can lead the inattentive ear to judge that there are "too many notes," as Kaiser Josef is said to have complained (of Figaro). Haydn couldn't be more straightforward, more singleminded, and many of his finest works are entirely built on scraps of tune that Mozart would have used once and tossed.

Nobody sounds like Mendelssohn, either. I didn't know the Quartet in E-Flat, Op. 12, but the performance changed that, and now I want to get to know the work better. My feeling about Mendelssohn is that he was the greatest prodigy ever to write music; Mozart certainly wrote nothing on the order of the Octet or the "Midsummer Night's Dream" Overture when he was in his teens. Maturity, unfortunately, inclined Mendelssohn toward ponderousness. He never entirely lost his light touch, but his attempts at the somber and weighty are not successful. The Quartet, Op. 12, which despite its opus number was written after the Octet, catches Mendelssohn right as the bloom has begun to fade. It is beautifully fleet. But the spark is ebbing.

Dvorak's American Quintet, like his American Quartet, is a souvenir of the composers 1893 sojourn in Iowa, and, once again, the Guarneri Quartet played it as if they were channeling down-home musicians, only this time in a barn, not a café. Or perhaps under a bank of willows: what composer seems more at home in the breezy, sunny outdoors than Dvorak? If the performance of the opening Allegro non tanto had been any more exuberant, the hundred-odd listeners seated on the stage would have been in danger. There was something almost comical about sitting as we all did, politely, motionlessly listening to black-suited gentlemen earnestly playing what the Allegro vivo essentially is: a square dance; the gentle trio is really nothing but a breather, a moment of stillness that does not even last as long as the trio itself. Only with the Larghetto did the music really slow down. Although this music slips back and forth between major and minor, its wistfulness is open and rural, something that a gathering of farmers - American or Czech - could grasp at once. It made an interesting parallel to the Mozart, in that both "slow" movements are sets of variations on themes, and while the Dvorak is not noticeably less expert than the Mozart, it will send any mind into daydreams variously pleasant or moving. The Mozart will sound no more than agreeably pleasant to a listener less interested in music than in music's powers. The concluding Allegro giusto returns us to the dance, but to a dance in which the gentry might join.

The musicians were wildly applauded when the final echoes of the Quintet died out. There were baseball-field whistles as well as shouts of "bravo!". I'm hearing the whistling, which would have been unthinkable when I was a boy, more and more, and I take it as a good sign. Writing about it, I realize that I never felt that I was at a "chamber music concert" in the old austere-serious-cerebral mold, full of people radiating a personal superiority to the vulgarities of tone poems. The crowd last Saturday night would have been more inclined to ask, "What orchestra?"

Loose Links (Thursday)

¶ From our Department of Yikes & Dismay comes a report by Majikthise cataloguing the extravagant lies about the Terri Schiavone case that are flourishing on right-wing blogs. This is a must-read exposé of pernicious nonsense, all of it prompted by vindictive in-laws. I hope that Lindsay Beyerstein follows up on the attacks that will no doubt be mounted against her investigation.

¶ As I become more convinced every day that faith and religion are two different things, and that the doctrines of liberal tolerance that are built into all Western democracies protect one (faith) and not the other, I find myself growing impatient with youngsters whom I suspect of exploiting religious practices to mix it up at school. That puts me especially out of sympathy with young women who insist on wearing veils and gowns that their religions, they claim, require. Does this make me a bigot? Yes, certainly, under certain kinds of scrutiny. I was in any case, somewhat discouraged by a story in today's Times about a judgment of the British Court of Appeal in favor of eccentricity. Let's hope that the local authorities consider a suitable compromise, requiring the student to wear a uniform modified to accommodate her modesty. Religion has no place in public life, and that includes public schools.

¶ Don't get your hopes up, but the political climate in Sugar Land, Texas, may be shifting.

¶ Pop Quiz

1. What colo(u)r(s) do you hate?

2. What is the longest time that it ever took you to figure out that you were dating the wrong person?

3. What was the name of your favorite pet? Did you choose it? Would you have changed it?

4. What person from the past (ie dead) would you like to bring back for a day, so that you could amaze your visitor with the latest material advances? Or would you rather deplore the latest material "advances"? (NB: Please answer this question only. Do not answer questions that you wished that I had asked. I will ask them in future Pop Quizzes, don't worry.

My answers:

1. Turquoise. I have hated turquoise for so long that I've started to like it, in a self-mutilating sort of way.

2. Nine months. At the time, I was ashamed to break off the romance. Now I'm ashamed that it took me so long.

3. Star. She was a fine-coated black lab with a white "star" on her forehead. I thought the name was dopey, but I was too young to have any suggestions. It was my own name that I wanted to change. Well, how would you like to be called Bahb?

4. Mozart. (Come on, you knew that!) I would play a lot of CDs and savor his withering criticism. Then I'd get him to play a little something. The CDs would probably be the only thing about modern life that Mozart wouldn't go for. He'd be thrilled by the TGV, I'm sure. So would I be, if only we had one here in this most advanced nation in the world.

Compare and Contrast

Which version of "Dragostea Din Tei" (the "Numa Numa" song) should I buy? And I will I listen to it lots? A couple of weeks ago, I was telling Ms Nola that I'm completely out of touch with today's pop music, and she offered to burn a CD of current favorites for me. Which she did, and I fell like a ton of bricks for the Rufus Wainwright at the end. That would be the first two songs from Want One. Mr Wainwright certainly has an interesting voice, with more bottom than you'd think, and although his manner is somewhat affectless, it's clear that he's working his tail off.... I got to the appalling part of Chechnya Diary yesterday, about the massacre at Samashki, a drug-fueled rampage only a few short steps away (for the immature and terrified Russian soldiers who perpetrated it) from one of your more violent arcade games. In an instant, the book ceased to be about Thomas Goltz, who up to this point had been the most interesting figure in the story; suddenly I saw why he goes to these places. Personalizing faraway ghastliness that, for once, doesn't involve any finger-pointing at the United States, Mr Goltz forces me to look at the worst face of mankind, the gleeful killer on a spree. How can grown-up, responsible men who are safely installed in government offices unleash this horror, which lurks somewhere within each of us?.... I watched The Big Clock at dinner (Kathleen worked really late again) and naturally fell into the compare-and-contrast thing with No Way Out. Conclusion: the more recent picture would be the hands-down winner if it were not for the magisterial nastiness of Charles Laughton, who plays a sort of highly refined even-more-evil twin of Orson Welles's Hank Quinlan in Touch of Evil. The close-up of Laughton's nostrils quivering just before he loses his self-control gives real meaning to "in your face." Laughton's wife, Elsa Lanchester, is the movie's other saving presence, as a seemingly scatterbrained artist who roots for the right guy. The right guy is played by Ray Milland, and this is not one of his best pictures. The pace is too fast for him; since it has no time for his complexity, he's left sounding stagey. And for a setting, I'll take Washington and the Pentagon over a Hollywood cartoon version of Henry Luce's empire any day. And how can you prefer the movie that doesn't have Gene Hackman in it? So: no hands-down winner. You've got to watch 'em both.

March 02, 2005

Late Afternoon Self-Promotion (Go Coquette!, though)

¶ Phew! Or rather, as my friend June Siegel says, "Writing begets writing." Item: I've just written two comments on Book Second, Chapter 1 that, together, rival the original in length. (How I flatter myself - it only took a little over two hours, and I do exaggerate, although it may not seem so to casual visitors; the link will take you to the first of all four comments, posted by JKM.) And that's only one of the day's productions. I also kicked off my third (and final) blog, which is designed for newcomers to the Blogosphere, such as, for example, my uncle, who asked me what the difference between a  blog and a Web site was. I've written about this before, but now there's an actual site to which such queries can be referred. I hope to move beyond fundamental soon, to address the issue of why you ought to comment more often! I had the greatest name for the site: BaedekerBlog: The Blogosphere on No Sweat a Day. But what d'you know, the venerable publisher of travel guides is still a thriving concern. At least I checked, but I really should have checked before configuring the site; I very nearly rendered this site inaccessible. In any case, send your analphabète friends and relations to Miss Gostrey's Guide: to Web Logs and Such.

La Coquette is having a high old time reporting on the fashion shows in Paris; she's vastly more entertaining than anything you'll see in the press.

¶ All haters and despisers of puns must rush to Zoe in Brussels for a thorough drubbing.

New Housing (Loose Links)


¶ Among the many things that the prof and I talked about during yesterday's lesson was the folly of housing poor people in high-rise apartments. Apartment towers require a degree of social responsibility that many poor people quite understandably lack. Common areas must be treated with respect, with elevators and corridors in particular kept in working order. The indistinct sense of property that a person without property is likely to have means that many residents are going to treat whole buildings as their own, or at least no more not their own than the flats that have been allocated to them. Bad architecture ends up reinforcing the very characteristics that conservatives deplore - but then conservatives believe that bad architecture doesn't hurt people, only people hurt people. Anyway, I thought I'd do a little Googling about the alternatives. Not that anybody's building towers any more. The first thing that I came across responded perfectly to my query. Here's the excerpt from the University of Chicago Press's catalogue:

Architecture for the Poor describes Hassan Fathy's plan for building the village of New Gourna, near Luxor, Egypt, without the use of more modern and expensive materials such as steel and concrete. Using mud bricks, the native technique that Fathy learned in Nubia, and such traditional Egyptian architectural designs as enclosed courtyards and vaulted roofing, Fathy worked with the villagers to tailor his designs to their needs. He taught them how to work with the bricks, supervised the erection of the buildings, and encouraged the revival of such ancient crafts as claustra (lattice designs in the mudwork) to adorn the buildings.

Here are some housing projects proposed for the mentally ill in the Seattle area.


That's much nicer. In Scotland, architect John Gilbert has developed sustainable housing for "deprived areas": it will be interesting to see if this turns out to be overambitious. Finally, be sure to look at these photographs of the Charlotte Street area in the Bronx. The earliest homes were simply suburban; the newer projects are more appropriate to urban density.

What can you do? This is what I asked Barbara Ehrenreich after she spoke about the problem in 2003, and her answer was to make a contribution (at a minimum) to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. So I did, and you can, too.

¶ For another kind of misery-at-a-distance, have a chuckle at Strindberg and Helium. M le Neveu could have done the voice work; his imitation of utter despondency is just as funny. There's nothing quite like faux wallowing for silliness. (Thanks to Majikthise.)

Elevator Issues

It was only for two hours, the French lesson. My prof was in awful pain. He's going in for another knee-replacement operation on Monday. In the year that I have known him, the first replacement has become visibly less satisfactory from week to week, and our initial plans to spend some lessons out and about were scotched after an early visit to the Metropolitan Museum. Perhaps because he has been limping, his lower back is inflamed, making things even worse. Apprehension about the surgery completes the cocktail. He has been consulting with doctors for months; one doctor, amazingly, refused to narrow down the prognosis from three alternatives that covered the field (surgery will make you better/won't change anything/will make everything worse). The therapy afterward is hardly a picnic, either....

When the lesson was over, I went downstairs with the prof; I would say goodbye to him at his floor, and then proceed to the first floor to get the mail. Before we got very far, however, the elevator stopped and a woman boarded with one of the building's newish brass luggage carts that. These baroque jobs are much more handsome than the scruffy ones that we used to have, but they take up much more room. In theory, they're not to be taken onto the passenger elevators, but the service elevator is often tied up with garbage runs and other maintenance tasks, and, as the woman would later say, she had been waiting for it for fifteen minutes. There was some hesitation about the woman's getting on, because I had to get out of her way, and I wasn't sure that I ought to - without really thinking, I could foresee problems for the prof. So could he, I'm sure. But gallantry trumped wisdom. Once the woman rolled the cart in, the prof was pinned in a corner. It was explained that the prof would have to get off before the first floor. The woman blithely replied that he could hop onto the cart and off the other side. She seemed to think that this was a perfectly acceptable remark to make to a sixty year-old gentleman, and I bristled at her casual outlook. I bristled so much that I spoke up, rashly. "I'm sorry," I said, "but the gentleman has a bad knee." Well, I'd picked the wrong person to share this information with, because the woman promptly announced herself to be a massage therapist who sees plenty of bad knees, and what's your trouble? The prof had to explain the situation further, lest the woman think that he was not taking care of himself. The elevator stopped again, and some more people got on. The prof said that he would go down to the first floor and then come back up. (Bear in mind that he was not enjoying standing up.) I felt awful when the elevator stopped at his floor, and not only did the prof not get off - the entire cab would have had to exit first - but somebody actually squeezed on, and with a little dog, too. I should have made a fuss, but I knew that the prof wouldn't have liked that; I'd already caused enough trouble. Besides, I might not have been heard, for the therapist had taken on the prof as a patient, at least insofar as she allowed herself to give him advice in a regular speaking voice, not in the discreet whisper that would have made her officiousness tolerable. It was all quite miserably impertinent, and I regretted my role in making it possible. Physical therapists are necessarily helpful people, but the woman in the elevator had lost sight of the line between the helpful and the intrusive. In a city where there are eight million such anecdotes a day, staying clear of that line is one of the first rules of public conduct....

("You see, hon? Here's a guy in New York itself who says it's important to be rude and unfriendly there.")

March 01, 2005

Loose Links (Tuesday)

¶ Sometimes the Times shows the most amazing signs of life. Life, that is, after or apart from Bill Keller. As in this account of the late (or not so late) blizzard by Alan Feuer

According to Steve Fybish, an amateur weather historian with a habit of calling reporters on deadline with interesting weather facts, this winter is the first since the late 19th century that has produced three snowstorms of five inches or more within a nine-day period.

From Feb. 20 to 21, he said, five inches of snow fell; from Feb. 24 to 25, six inches fell. Mr. Fybish said he was hoping that at least five inches would fall this time.

"To get three in this period is, I think, unprecedented," he said. "That's kind of fun."

We are hanging up on you now, Mr Fybish, but please don't take it personally, because we're on deadline.

La petite anglaise reports on an underwear campaign in Paris. It's very sexy stuff for very sexy guys, and you can follow the link to the designer's site from Lpa. I've had enough underwear-in-public, on both sexes, thank you very much, and I would like it to stop now. I would like to choose the moments for relishing images of desire, or for satisfying my curiosity about current trends in underwear advertising, myself. At my pleasure and convenience, nobody else's. The Hom campaign that Lpa talks about is garishly para-pornographic: the highly sculpted, ultra buff men look much naughtier in their skin-tight, peek-a-boo shorts than they would "in the nude," and that is the point of the photographs. Well and good. The point of pasting the photographs onto public billboards is something quite different. It's to shout that some people are so gorgeous that the line between public and private melts in the glare of their fabulousness. And that's what has gotten tedious. No mortal is that fabulous.


¶ More merchandise from CaféPress:

I've been thinking a lot about the Gannon Affair since yesterday, when I agreed with Bob Somerby that the mainstream media coverage has not been derelict. Does this mean that I don't think the story is significant? No. Aside from its hoot value, of which any reader of these pages will have seen me to be an eager appreciator, it adds another brick to the wall of Bush Administration incompetence. But there are so many other bricks! And what's really derelict about mainstream media is the habit of respectfully deferring to the Administration's radical restructuring of everything that it doesn't simply wreck.

Snow Day, cont'd

Dinner over, dishes washed, at 9:45! How very nice. And then: reading on the sofa. Kathleen was drafting, and we stayed up later than I wanted to - I wanted to crawl in with Inspector Morse on the SDP2700. But I read Tom Goltz on Chechnya instead.... The problem with Chechens and Kurds, and even the Irish, when you think about it - my list is the opposite of exhaustive - is that their tribal outlook, their identification with clans, and their readiness to engage in small-scale violence - drain their resistance to nationalist oppressors (Russians, Turks, Iraqis, Brits) of lasting strength, and at the same time make it easy for the encroachers to disparage them as "primitive." It may be, however, that the grant of a monopoly on violence to some distant government doesn't suit the inhabitants of rugged, rebarbative terrains. Maybe they would not be "better off" if they adopted the manners of the urban West. It's interesting to note, too, the modern nation states' obsession with frontiers.... The map of Western Turkey that I ordered from Amazon arrived yesterday. When opened, it measures about three feet by four. How grand it would be to have an atlas of that size!....  There isn't a lot of snow on the rooftops and railings this morning, but it looks very cold and compact. If Kathleen is going to take that conference call in twenty minutes, perhaps she'd better have her breakfast first.... C'est mardi: jour de leçon. Hélas! Je n'ai rien à discuter. Et pour trois heures...