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June 30, 2007

Sometimes a Jackhammer Pounding the Walls of a Quarry Is Just a Jackhammer Pounding the Walls of a Quarry

My old Lingua Franca piece about Ayn Rand from 1999 remains the single biggest draw to my website. In 2006, that page got more than 3600 hits. With this year only at the halfway point, it has already reached 2500. My only regret is not titling it "Atlas Shagged."

A friend has mentioned watching The Fountainhead not long ago -- a movie so over-the-top as to be almost transcendent. And not just the long speech in the courtroom scene, either, though it's certainly a corker.

As I recall, it was Whittaker Chambers who said most people read Rand, not from interest in the ideological harangues, but "for the fornicating bits." You couldn't really put that on screen in 1949. But in the right hands, cinematic language is a subtle instrument:

By coincidence, I'm reading about Harold Laski, who is said to be one of the models for Rand's epicine collectivist villain Ellsworth Toohey -- the other being Lewis Mumford.

Posted by smclemee at 4:08 PM | Comments (3)

June 29, 2007

A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire

I've justed been alerted to the consequences of Cameron Diaz's encounter with anti-revisionist ideology and/or radical chic. This happened a week ago:

The voice of Princess Fiona in the animated "Shrek" films visited the Incan city of Machu Picchu in Peru's Andes on Friday carrying an olive green bag emblazoned with a red star and the words "Serve the People" printed in Chinese, perhaps Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong's most famous political slogan.

The bags are marketed as fashion accessories in some world capitals, but in Peru the slogan evokes memories of the Maoist Shining Path insurgency that fought the government in the 1980s and early 1990s in a bloody conflict that left nearly 70,000 people dead.

"I sincerely apologize to anyone I may have inadvertently offended. The bag was a purchase I made as a tourist in China and I did not realize the potentially hurtful nature of the slogan printed on it," Diaz said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.

More here, though not much more. Chances are the red star was more at issue than the slogan, as such. Unless a lot more people in Peru can read Chinese than you'd think.

So, we're all good -- at least until Angelina Jolie visits Nepal.

Posted by smclemee at 6:29 PM

June 28, 2007

Easter is Everywhere

Oh yes....At long last, a documentary about Roky Erickson:

Check out the entry that Jerome Weeks just posted covering some things he mentioned as we've been chatting about Roky this week.

I''ve always thought of the Elevators as the real-life version of Sick Dick and the Volkswagons, the psychedelic band in The Crying of Lot 49.

No surprise, of course, that the novelist is a fan. According to a reliable Pynchon site: "In an action which surprised many of his fans, Pynchon allowed himself to be mentioned on The John Laroquette Show, stipulating that he must be portrayed as wearing a Roky Erickson t- shirt."

If perchance you missed it, by all means have a look at the clip I put up earlier this week. His solo work is also fantastic.

Posted by smclemee at 8:54 PM

The Key to All Mythologies

Liberal Fascism, the forthcoming opus by Jonah Goldberg, has undergone a subtitle change, as perhaps you have heard.

Formerly it warned of "The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Hillary Clinton." Said temptation will now run "...From Hegel to Whole Foods."

The delays in publication have no doubt been necessary given the burdens of fresh scholarship demanded by this broadening of scope.

The pub date at Amazon is December 26, which is not the part of the season when trade publishers bring out books they are going to push very hard. Somebody at Doubleday probably had the same thought recently expressed elsewhere:

I assume Frederick Kagan, Bradley Schlotzman, and Jonah's mom are already getting complementary copies; Dinesh von Souza will probably do his patriotic duty; which leaves - ? A mule train a half-mile long will have to be rounded up to ship the remainder of the edition to the respectively vice-presidential and presidential libraries of Dan Quayle and George W Bush, where they will serve to fill out the echoing bookshelves and glut the hungry silverfish.

Hint to Goldberg: Make it a little more "campaign friendly." That's where dropping Hillary from the subtitle is probably going to hurt you some. How about "The Totalitarian Temptation from Dialectics to the Democratic Candidates"? Plus you'd get that extra alliteration -- a real bonus, catchiness-wise.

(crossposted from CT

Posted by smclemee at 6:39 AM | Comments (4)

June 27, 2007

Dawn of the E.P.O.C.H.

Via The American Scene, a proposal for a new sitcom, Everybody Pisses Off Christopher Hitchens, featuring

a wacky female neighbor who, even though she works some great prop comedy and hilarious visual gags, never manages to amuse the star, who sits at the kitchen table drinking Scotch and blinking like a mordant eagle caught in the rain. The show's signature catch-phrase is, "I find that boring and irritating," and on a very special holiday episode Hitch gets very drunk and regales the neighborhood kids with the story of the lost weekend he and Kingsley Amis spent in Tijuana.

What a great idea. I expect to use the catch-phrase even if the show itself never airs.

Posted by smclemee at 6:37 PM

Making Time

Does anyone know if there is a documentary about The Creation? I've had a terrible time finding their records, and am not optimistic. But if you know of anything, please pass it along.

Here they are in their prime, around 1966. People think bowing the guitar was Jimmy Page's idea. Not so. And man, what a hook....

Posted by smclemee at 6:20 PM

Small Skirmishes Just Off Grub Street

Most of the time, my work-related dealings with people are pleasant enough. I probably only go to one or two literary parties a year, sometimes not even that. When I'm in contact with anyone it is usually because I have become interested in a specific book and have some particular idea in mind for why I might write about it.

But every so often, I find myself at the very edge of telling an author or publisher, "You seem to be under the impression that I am a publicist, rather than a critic and essayist. And that means you can just piss right off."

In fact I only ever actually say the first part, albeit in a way that leaves the rest clearly implied. They don't actually offer me bribes. But the attitude involved is, if anything, often more offensive than if they had.

One guy approached me about a book like so: "There was an article about it in The New York Times and another piece is scheduled for [some magazine or other]. Maybe you should do something, given all the hype."

And I thought, "Well gosh, dude, that is one appealing prospect all right. Why I must be crazy to pass up such an offer!"

All things considered it is probably for the best that I do not live in New York.

Posted by smclemee at 5:36 PM

Well That's Not Good

At Minor Tweaks, Tom Bartlett runs through a list of "Things you don't want to hear from the Apple tech guy":

-- "Can you hold please? I need to ask my supervisor a question."

-- "Huh. That usually works."

-- "Did you back everything up?"

-- "Wow. Hmm."

-- "Can you hold again for me?"

-- "See, right now, your computer doesn't know it has a hard drive."

-- "Ai-yi-yi."

Somewhere in Scandanavia, the computer simulation of an IKEA saleswoman is giggling.

(crossposted from CT)

Posted by smclemee at 3:26 PM

Fixer Upper

What timing....Josh Glenn gets into the real problem with the supposed creative potentials of Web 2.0:

The only problem, for many of us, is... we don't know how to do these amazing things. We visit the Internet like we visit New York: cautiously, following the exact same route every time. Our homepages, if we have homepages, are lame; we don't know how to blog or podcast; our browsers are out-of-date, plagued with viruses and spyware, and slow. What to do? Forget the Web 2.0 visionaries -- they're no help. What we need is a Web 2.0 handyman, the online equivalent of an omnicompetent and friendly next-door neighbor who's always willing to lend a hand with a stalled engine or carpentry project.

See his excellent, interesting, and finally quite useful item at Brainiac.

Posted by smclemee at 2:05 PM | Comments (1)

Experimental Cell-Phone Cat Video Number 1

I know that my wife is a little homesick, and so, having managed to instruct myself in the use of the "flix" function on our new cells, decided to send her a document of ordinary life hereabouts.

Then I figured out how to get it from cell phone to YouTube -- and thus to you, QS's vast general public:

Not unlike the Althouse meta-vlogging experiment almost three months ago (or joining Facebook for that matter), this is part of my continuing forced march deeper into the digital landscape.

A friend referred to last week's column as "supporting new media." I really don't see it that way. Ambivalent acceptance is not the same as enthusiasm, and neophilia is not the only alternative to neophobia.

It becomes more and more clear as time goes on that my attempts to face what is happening in the mutation of public space can't forego the experience of actually using the media a bit -- just to get the grit of experience into my thinking. Otherwise the consequence is to end up like Gorman, nattering in defense of what you suppose to have been the Good Old Days.

Henry's comments at Crooked Timber refer to something other people have mentioned with irritation: the fact that Britannica has a vested interest in publishing and promoting Gorman's opuscule. There is surely something to this, though it didn't seem appropriate to say as much in the column. So instead I'll put my two cents here, in this out-of-the-way place, the digital "backstage" to my public writing....

I grew up with the Britannica, quite literally so, the edition from 1970 to be specific. It instilled in me at a very early age the belief that all of knowledge might yet be my province, and that "labour" and "centre" were, in fact, the preferable spellings of those words.

And so it gives me great pain to say this, but here goes: Any notion that the Britannica's loss of prestige is an effect of Wikipedia, or any other aspect of Web culture, is profoundly deluded.

The decline in authority of the Encyclopedia Britannica is an affair entirely of its own making, and began long before the general public ever heard of the internet. It probably started more than a quarter century ago with what I usually refer to as "all that 'Macropedia' crap" -- as inexplicable and misguided an effort to "rebrand" as ever an addled mind has conceived.

They eventually abandoned that gimmick. But it seems the damage went much deeper. A few years ago, I got a few recent issues of the EB yearbook, an annual supplement to the encyclopedia itself. The experience of reading them was painful. It made me feel sick. The writing was so bad that it was simply impossible to believe an editor had ever gone over the copy.

If I had a visceral response -- disgust and anger -- that's because the old Britannica was for me, in some ways, a sacred book. I do not mean that literally, of course. But neither is it a joke. In its better days, the Britannica embodied something awesome and powerful and wonderous, at least in my eyes. Talk about a god that failed....

The whole quasi-Mandarin "I have read the Great Works of Human Thought, and from up here on Olympus it is obvious everything is going to hell in a handbasket now because of Wikepedia and blogging and Paris Hilton, who created Wikipedia, I think" schtick is, of course, both easy and robustly self-delighting to perform. (I can do it in my sleep. That, and grind my teeth.) But guess what? Causality is a complicated thing, sometimes, and the decline of an established form of cultural authority can be the product of internal degeneration rather than outside forces.

One thing's for sure. I don't intend to spend any more time thinking about the likes of Gorman. Whatever the problems with Edward Shils as a social theorist, he was right on the money about the absurdity of that kind of jeremiad.

Shils distinguishes among the "superior," "mediocre," and "brutal" layers of culture in a given society. What is bewildering about the Web is that all three coexist in the same space at the same time, rather than being neatly divided up with barbed-wire fences between them.

That doesn't meant the distinctions disappear, however. The proximity, the dangers of overlap, can certainly induce confusion and anxiety. Yet it's mentally degrading to spend very much time listening to a guy who is obsessed with counting and polishing his fine silverware.

It seems much more interesting to figure out how the different cultural categories actually operate in this space -- both within their own terms and at points where they intersect.

Posted by smclemee at 10:34 AM | Comments (4)

June 26, 2007

Freaks and Geeks, Revisited

I've commented here before on Freaks and Geeks, and suspect that the Quick Study readership has a disproportionate number of F&G devotees. No hard evidence for that, just a hunch.

Alan Sepinwall, the TV critic for the Star-Ledger, has started blogging about the show episode by episode. I'm looking forward to the next one up, covering "Kim Kelly is My Friend." Busy Philipps was always riveting as Kim Kelly, the quintessential terrifying high-school tough girl from the wrong side of the tracks. She certainly scared the network, which refused to air what was one of show's best episodes.

I think Sepinwall may be the best regular commentator on television for a newspaper that I've ever read. In particular, he did a very good job discussing The Sopranos from week to week, constantly pointing out nuances and echoes that were easy to miss. A smart book publisher would do well to sign him up to do some kind of series guide.

Posted by smclemee at 6:13 PM

Yes, That Man is Playing an Amplified Jug

My enthusiasm for Complete has resulted in getting a couple of their songs stuck in my head -- an experience that, like the dental work of Curtis, their singer, is not at all pretty.

Fortunately I've discovered a well-done reworking of some rare video footage of the 13th Floor Elevators, with the original recording (to which they are lip-syncing) dubbed in to replace the tinnier soundtrack heard elsewhere:

The drummer for the band I was in Austin also played with Roky for a while in the mid-1980s. A live recording of the Elevators from 1966 that he gave me a few years ago will be blasting while I do chores today. The amplified jug is a bit more prominent than what you usually hear from the studio session. It really adds something special to "Roll Over Beethoven."

UPDATE: Jerome Weeks alerts me to a forthcoming book about the Elevators.

POSTSCRIPT: Is it just me, or does Roky look like the young Dean Stockwell in this video? Roky himself was about 18 when it was filmed.

Posted by smclemee at 10:56 AM

June 25, 2007

I've Joined a Social Network....Now to Find Some Skills to Go With It.

My wife is away this week visiting her mother, which means I am spending most of the day by myself, in conversation mainly with the cats. One of them has arthritis, which he complains about bitterly each time he stands up or sits down. So we talk about that, for example. Also, about the role of Bukharin in the Comintern. The latter discussion tends to be rather one-sided.

Anyway, Rita is way more in touch with IT and Web culture than I am. (Before she left, I gave her a copy of She's Such a Geek, which was well received). But in her absence, I have somehow managed to get myself signed up for Facebook.

So if you are in that, uh, neighborhood, or whatever it is, by all means, feel free to say hello. Keep in mind that I have almost no idea what I am doing. Actually "almost" is probably overstating it.

Posted by smclemee at 8:43 PM | Comments (7)

The Red in the Black

Glad to hear that Verso, my favorite left-wing publisher, is commodifying its dissent in such fashion as to avoid TRPF. In other words, they are making money.

I've just received a press release from Janey Tannenbaum, the director of marketing, saying that sales in 2006 were up 59% over the previous year, with profits at $394k.

According to a memo from Giles O'Bryen, the press's managing director:

Sales and margin have come from every area of the operation, with the Radical Thinkers series helping to revitalise our backlist, and the frontlist performing strongly across the board. We have made a good start to 2007 -- with Sara Paretsky's memoir Writing in an Age of Silence and Mike Davis Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb selling particularly well -- and have plenty to look forward to in the coming season, including a spectacular book of Radiohead artwork, Dead Children Playing, and a graphic biography of Che Guevara, which is already earning handsome sums in foreign rights sales. 2007 is primarily a year of consolidation and preparation for our fortieth anniversary in 2008, which will give us a great opportunity to take sales up above the $6 million mark.

As a friend who has published with Verso puts it, this is a "man bites dog" story.

Posted by smclemee at 4:19 PM | Comments (4)

Here's Some More of More of the Same

Via the blogger Emilymnk, word that the ranks of review supplements for American newspapers have grown that much thinner:

This Sunday, the San Diego Union-Tribune will print its last Book Review section. After this, book reviews will appear only as two pages in its Sunday "Entertainment" section, eliminating half the number of books previously reviewed. The Union-Tribune is one of only five U.S. newspapers with a freestanding Book Review section (the others are The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune and New York Times).

That last part may be out of date. The Chronicle and Tribune sections have been "reorganized," i.e. shrunk and moved around within the schedule and design of the paper. If they still actually appear as freestanding sections, their existence in that format is probably not long for the world. The trend is more and more towards what the Union-Tribune is doing: reducing books coverage to a page or two in the "Style" or "Entertainment" sections. (Which can then be filled with wire copy.)

To quote more from Emilymnk:

Why the loss of the UT's Book Review bothers is part of a larger concern. Newspapers are not just cutting back on book reviews: they are cutting back on everything. More and more newspapers are written by the same AP report or culled from one of the larger newspapers. This means that our information is coming from an increasingly limited and unified list of sources. PBS's Frontline recently did an excellent series on this, News Wars, which looked into the changing nature of reporting in print and television. The third episode focused on recent battles at the Los Angeles Times, during which it was mentioned that the LA and New York Times were the only newspapers that had reporters continually covering the Iraq war from Iraq. Without these reporters (and the wonderful AP reporters), how would we know what was happening there. Here's a fun and disturbing moment from the piece: "[refuting the idea that Internet news providers like Yahoo! and Google will fill the gap left by newspapers] 'We're in fact critically dependent upon the success of these newspapers,' says Google CEO Eric Schmidt, referring to the Los Angeles Times and others. 'We don't write the content. We're not in the content business. So anything that screws up their economics, that causes them to get rid of reporters, is a really bad thing.'"

I want a t-shirt that says "In the Content Business." The design would involve a target.

UPDATE: See John Freeman's response to this news at Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle.

SEE ALSO: A convenient roundup of commentary on review-section downsizings by Quick Study's virtual neighbor Book/Daddy

Posted by smclemee at 8:46 AM

Aural Sex

Can't wait to get a copy of Actionable Offenses: Indecent Phonograph Recordings from the 1890s -- a CD full of obscene stories and lewd poetry from the days of the Victrola. Just the kind of thing that kept Anthony Comstock up at night.

You can listen to some of the less eyebrow-curling passages here (scroll down). From the catalog description:

The commercial recordings on this CD are the only known copies that Comstock's men missed. They were preserved by long-time Edison Recording Manager Walter Miller and are now in the vault of the Edison National Historic Site. Scarcity and suppression have kept them silent for a century. They were stories told readily in the bar; yet they became legally actionable offenses when fixed in wax and played on a phonograph in that same bar. Brace yourself. Just because they are from the Victorian era does not mean they are tame by today's standards--far from it.

They are so indecent that Russell Hunting was imprisoned in 1896 for making and selling them. Up to that point Hunting had been doing a brisk trade selling his bawdy cylinders to the exhibitors on Coney Island who had certain "discriminating" customers. Although he recorded under pseudonyms such as "Charley Smith" and "Willy Fathand," his voice was so well-known through his "Casey" routines that he was identified as the creator by aural evidence alone. Hunting's recording career never fully recovered, and he left the U.S. in 1898 to make a fresh start in England.

....In two unique recordings from early in his career, Cal Stewart assumes his familiar Punkin Centre dialect in "Learning a City Gal How to Milk" and performs with an Irish accent in "The Tapeworm Story." James White, who rose to prominence in the Edison organization as the director of many of its early films, performs the most bawdy routines in this collection. "Sim Hadley on a Racket" is a piece that White inherited from Hunting, and he surpasses his mentor in making it filthy.

Hat tip: Rob MacDougall and Ralph Luker at Cliopatria.

Posted by smclemee at 5:43 AM

June 24, 2007

Critical Index

Seems like a natural: Shawn Miller's website Critical Compendium is a daily digest of new book reviews -- not exhaustive by any means (who would have time for that?) but wide-ranging enough to merit a place in your RSS feed.

It also provides a directory of links for magazine and newspaper review sections.

What you won't find at Critical Compendium:

Links to literary blogs. Nothing against them, but this site provides readers with reviews rather than the more open ended ruminations/discussions found on blogs....We also don't link, for the most part, to sites that require subscriptions. That's why you don't see, for instance, the Atlantic Monthly. The Economist, on the other hand, requires a subscription to see the current issue, though previous reviews can be viewed for free. Thus, we link to the Economist.

Fair enough. At present there is no link to Bookforum, however, which is a large and puzzling gap. (Update some hours later: Now it's there.)

Posted by smclemee at 8:23 PM | Comments (1)

June 22, 2007

Complete: Behind the Music

I've done a couple of updates on the earlier post about Complete, including a link to a fan site that will supposedly, at some point, have T-shirts.

But it seems worth devoting a separate entry to this item. I don't much care for the commentary, but it does provide as much background on Complete as we may ever know....

Posted by smclemee at 6:43 PM | Comments (3)

Ain't No Cure for the Summertime Blues

There is some discussion at Unfogged over whether Complete, a group from Fort Worth, is a parody band or not. I see no reason to think so. Besides, a parody of what? The Shaggs?

All I can say is that discovering their "Hot as Hell" yesterday, the first day of summer, was the kind of synchronicity that can haunt you forever:

Sounds like I've found my theme song for the next three months.

Want more? Check out this interview with the band. And for the hard-core fan, I recommend a trip to "Hoogie-Boogie Land", which is sort of like "Imagine" if John Lennon had huffed a lot of airplane glue ("There is no war, there is no hate, can y'all relate?")

They better not be joking about having an album in progress.

UPDATE: If you want to play the bass part to "Hoogie-Boogie Land" but cannot do so by ear, you might want to consult the tab.

UPDATE: According to a comment at this site, the footage is from a public-access TV show circa 1996. So it's vintage, and I guess the album never happened. Damnit. One poster says the band is "like Captain Beefheart ran a gas station in 1981 Texas and forced the employees to start a metal band."

There is a fan page.

Posted by smclemee at 2:20 PM | Comments (8)

Loaded With Nourishing Roughage

And to imagine there are people who think the Interweb cannot contribute to the advancement of human knowledge...

How many times have I seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Bugs squares off against a baseball team called the Gashouse Gorillas? And how many times have I taken in the joke advertisements lining the walls of the baseball stadium?

So why did it take me this long to notice that one of the ads is for something called Filboid Studge? I knew the Warner Brothers animators at Termite Terrace were a smart bunch, but extra kudos are in order for the gag writer who managed to work in a nod to Saki, aka Hector Hugh Munro.

I never would have caught this Edwardian allusion, helpfully glossed in suitable detail by Steven Hart.

(crossposted from CT)

Posted by smclemee at 10:55 AM

June 21, 2007

We Only Steal From the Best

For some time now, my friend Tom Bartlett has been preparing transcripts of his online dialogues with Anna, the AI-based spokes-entity for IKEA. These exchanges run at his blog Minor Tweaks, the latest one being available here.

Anna.jpg

While a headshot can convey Anna's features, you must go to the IKEA Help Center to get the full effect as she nods and generates facial expressions both thoughtful and emotive. Anyway, I hope Tom won't mind if I borrow his idea....

Me: Do you wear the same shirt each day?

Anna: I have an outfit that my creators made for me, but because I'm an IKEA Online Assistant, I don't wear real clothes.

Me: Do you ever go into Second Life?

Anna: Life is very good, thank you.

Me: So those stories about how the darkness in Scandanavia makes people want to commit suicide are overstated?

Anna: I'm afraid I'm not here to talk about music. If you have a question about IKEA, please ask now.

Me: I'm impressed that you've heard of the band Suicide.

Anna: I'm afraid I'm not here to talk about music. If you have a question about IKEA, please ask now.

Me: Okay, okay. Don't get touchy.

Anna: Sorry. As an IKEA Online Assistant I don't know the meaning of 'no'.

Me: I could totally go to town with that one. Do you realize that?

Anna: My creators have enabled me to recognize and understand your questions.

Me: Whatever you say. Second Life is pretty wild, isn't it?

Anna: You can find all products on the SEKUND product line in the page I am now opening for you.

Me: No rush.

Anna: You can find all products on the RUSCH product line in the page I am now opening for you.

Me: Bit of a shill, aren't you?

Anna: You are perfectly entitled to hold any opinion you want about me. Furthermore, your comments improve my knowledge base. Thank you!

Me: That is true for both of us, Anna.

Anna: That's me! How can I help you?

Posted by smclemee at 5:09 PM | Comments (2)

Death Hell Bitch

Thanks to the appearance of those words here, it seems.....

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

"Death Hell Bitch" would be a pretty good name for a band.

Posted by smclemee at 2:52 PM | Comments (1)

June 20, 2007

Banal Strategies

Check out the incisive commentary on Paris Hilton at k-punk. Extracts:

I don't hate Paris Hilton......The truth is that Hilton is an object I am unable to cathect in any way whatsoever - in other words, she is boring. She is a symptom - of her class and background - but an uninteresting one. In fact, her utter lack of remarkable features, the so-formulaic-a-computer-program-could-have- predicted-it pattern of her dreary rich girl life, may be the only interesting thing about her - but you would have to the austere asceticism of a Warhol to maintain that position.
More than the dull reality of Hilton herself, it is the pro-Hilton posturing that is a serious symptom - of a suiciding of intelligence, of cultural bankruptcy and exhaustion. It is the logic of cultural depression, of gradually but implacably lowered expectations, that has produced the over-investment in Hilton; a logic of devaluation, not revaluation - a logic of betrayal, of a failure of fidelity to pop culture's great events....

The problem is Hilton isn't aristocratic enough; isn't sufficiently artificial or invested in artificiality; isn't a weaver of opulent fantasies.... Working class fantasies about the wealthy are far more interesting than the reality (as Bryan Ferry long ago found out, to his cost.) And if there is a leftist moral to be drawn from the Hilton phenonemon it is this: that the lives of rich people are not interesting.

That is everything worth saying on the topic. It should never be mentioned again. Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter.

Posted by smclemee at 5:53 PM

Jason Isbell Goes Solo

Jason Isbell has left the Truckers and has an album, Sirens of the Ditch, coming out next month. I have very mixed feelings at this news. His years with DBT were definitive for the band, and the first album after he joined them, Decoration Day, is the one I play the most. At the same time, he's a remarkable songwriter in his own right and I'll be listening to that CD the second I can get it.

Here's "Dress Blues," his song about the war:

Posted by smclemee at 6:41 AM

June 19, 2007

Another Update

Very glad to learn that the report from Book Expo two weeks ago was just picked up by Resource Shelf, which my very own personal reference librarian tells me has a serious following in the profession.

Posted by smclemee at 5:17 PM

In the Dutch

At Crooked Timber, Henry has an item pointing to Adam Michnik's article on lustration in Poland from the latest New York Review of Books -- a copy of which I grabbed from the freebie table at the Association of American University Presses meeting but haven't read yet. That piece goes to the top of the list now....

When looking into the Bauman affair last month, my hunch was that the "revelations," so called, were politically motivated, especially since Bauman is both Jewish (which might well matter, given the nature of the present government there) and a left-winger (no "might" about that part).

I haven't read anything more on the subject and would like to find out how Bauman's case is being discussed in Poland.

In the meantime, however, I do know that seems my piece is being discussed in Dutch:

Valt de eminente socioloog nu van zijn voetstuk? In Inside Higher Education schrijft Scott McLemee een gevoelig stuk, waarin hij uiteenzet in welke moeilijke tijd Bauman opgroeide. Toen Polen in 1939 werd opgedeeld, vluchtte hij met zijn gezin naar de Sovjet-Unie. Dat was geen slechte keuze voor een Jood, aldus McLemee. Na de oorlog was hij een overtuigd communist, die van zijn geboorteland een moderne egalitaire samenleving wilde maken.

Or as Babelfish translates it, using that verb in a rather elastic sense:

Does the eminent sociologist fall now of its voetstuk? In Inside Higher Education Scott McLemee write a sensitive piece, in which he explains in which difficult time Bauman grew up. When Poland in 1939, was subdivided, he escaped with its family to the Soviet Union. That no bad choice for a Jew, thus McLemee was. After the war he a convinced Communist, who of its birth country a modern egalitarian society makes savage, was.

I feel so cosmopolitan. And yet, pleasure though this certainly is, it cannot compare to the experience of learning that one of the top Vietnamese translators was involved in making available my article entitled "Jacques Derrida, người tiên phong của lý thuyết văn chương."

My campaign for world domination continues.

Posted by smclemee at 4:57 PM

June 17, 2007

Robert Goulet Has Been Messing With My Stuff

I'm back from Minneapolis and kind of beat. My study looks even more like a dump than when I left on Thursday. As it happens, Adam Kotsko has recently pointed to a video that explains some of what has been going on:

Posted by smclemee at 6:04 PM

June 14, 2007

Greetings, Association of American University Presses! Are You Ready to Rock?

Quick Study grinds to a halt (no more postings, no comments going up until Sunday) as I head off to the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses.

It is being held this year in Minneapolis, which is sort of the holy land of American Trotskyism -- scene of the glorious 1934 Teamsters' strike -- though I am pretty sure this is a coincidence.

With luck, some of the attendees will remember the report from Book Expo.

I'm going to be on a panel about blogging on Friday. The program for the whole conference is here. It's all way more "insider baseball" than Book Expo.

My one-time employer, the Chronicle, is hosting a "dessert reception" tonight, thereby manifesting, lest anyone forget it, that they have more money than God. All I can offer people is my business card and some attractive refrigerator magnets. That and whatever my attention and comments may be worth.

Part of my presentation on Friday will involve telling people to read certain books, since it's impossible to think about new media very seriously otherwise. (You sure don't know anything about blogs if you just look at blogs.)

It is the sort of advice that will soon make me either notorious or hopelessly irrelevant. Actually I have a pretty good idea how that one is going to turn out.

Posted by smclemee at 5:30 AM | Comments (2)

June 13, 2007

Richard Rorty

I have another essay on Richard Rorty cooking on the back burner, but for now have done a column on the occasion of his death.

After filing it, there arrived the one item I've most wanted to see: Habermas's response to the news.

See also what may be the final interview with Rorty. I never knew the man personally, but feel the loss more and more as the days go by.

Posted by smclemee at 5:45 AM

June 11, 2007

The Sopranos Finale

Art is fundamentally ironic and destructive. It revitalizes the world. Its function is to create inequalities, which it does by means of contrasts.
-- Victor Shklovsky

Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on

-- Journey, "Don't Stop Believing"


The final scene -- the whole sequence unfolding as the Journey song played -- was a tour de force, foregrounding all the formal means by which we can be manipulated to expect that a build-up of tension will result in some decisive event. And then it cuts out before the word "believing" in the song, in a way that leaves us momentarily uncertain whether the blank screen is a technical failure, the medium itself disrupting the story.

Of course, anything could have then happened. The empty screen could be the moment of Tony's death:The shifty guy who headed to the bathroom (overtones of The Godfather) might have come back shooting....The black kids might have been there to rob the place....The reaction shots of Tony made those interpretations of the situation plausible.

Or it might be that none of the above is true -- the guy might just need to piss, the kids are stopping by for ice cream, and life goes on. "On and on and on and on," in the words of the song, which was huge when Tony and I were in high school. (The realization of age-cohort overlap whenever Tony listens to "his" music was, for me, always part of the texture of experience in watching the show: a moment of identification that was also kind of jolting.)

And AJ, alienated critic of the military/entertainment industrial complex, is reconciled to everything the second he can find a place in it.

(crossposted at HuffPo)

Posted by smclemee at 7:25 AM | Comments (2)

June 8, 2007

It's For the Wall That I Set a Place

Today is the third anniversary of the death of Robert Quine, one of the great guitarists to come out of the underground scene of the 1970s. He was a member of Richard Hell and the Voidoids and played on Lou Reed's The Blue Mask.

He was also, according to this tribute site, a nephew of the philosopher W.V.O. Quine. (I always wondered about that.) There's also another Quine site with an extensive discography.

Posted by smclemee at 3:52 PM

The Nugent Digest

From his latest:

The new breed of Republicans, more advanced in their shamelessness, have spent entirely too much time during the last twenty years arguing about minute distinctions between acceptable and unforgivable varities of untruths, as if they were a bunch of goddamn grad students. Their moral compasses are so degraded that they probably really believe that no one is getting hurt in the process, but consider this: if Henry Hyde had retired from Congress before 1998, he'd have probably counted as just one more flatulent old gasbag who'd have donated his grandchildren to a Chinese labor farm in exchange for three minutes of TV time, useless and unattractive but basically no worse on the whole than any other member of the great undifferentiated mass of mediocre men. But because he hung in there to play a role in two scandals, one in which a sitting president of his own party was the target and one in which a sitting president of the other party had that honor, he will be remembered as a creature whose official position was that lying under oath in order to further a disastrous and pea-brained scheme aimed at conducting a secret, illegal foreign policy that went against the stated policies of the administration and the desires of the electorate was not just okay but admirable, whereas lying under oath about getting your knob polished two years earlier merits impeachment. It seems like such a small thing, but now because of it, Henry Hyde will have to go to Hell when he dies. Henry Hyde hasn't died yet, has he? I assume not, because I haven't noticed any parades lately, but some things just aren't worth going to Wikipedia to double check.

Posted by smclemee at 6:21 AM

June 7, 2007

And Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, For Your Dancing Pleasure....

....the Lounge Lizards performing "Voice of Chunk":

Posted by smclemee at 2:43 PM | Comments (2)

Academic Freedom, Continued

Cary Nelson, the president of the American Association of University Professors, came by the Inside Higher Ed offices for lunch earlier this week. The organization is having its annual meeting, starting today. He agreed to do an interview for a podcast, and spent about an hour talking to the editors and staff with a microphone there on the table, amidst water bottles, sandwich wrappers, and chocolate-chip cookies.

Though I'm not sure he could yell on-message one-liners in the manner required to make it on cable TV, Nelson seemed otherwise quite well-spoken. He fielded a pretty hard-edged question about the Ward Churchill case, and talked some about the idea of a major campaign to raise public awareness of the meaning of academic freedom. ("Major" as in requiring a budget of $30 million, which would mean funding from other than AAUP coffers.) And he addressed the topic of academic boycotts and the AAUP's attitude toward them.

A selection of highlights from the hour is available here as an mp3. Mentioned only in passing is the fact that AAUP will be issuing a major statement on academic freedom in September -- in large part, it sounds like, because of a perceived lack of understanding of the concept even by university professors.

Meanwhile, another AAUP member named John K. Wilson has published a manifesto complaining that the organization is "fading in importance" due to its "calcified traditions."

(crossposted from CT)

Posted by smclemee at 12:25 PM

June 6, 2007

C.L.R. James Meets Tony Soprano

Half a century before "The Sopranos" hit its stride, the Caribbean historian and theorist C.L.R. James recorded some penetrating thoughts on the gangster -- or, more precisely, the gangster film -- as symbol and proxy for the deepest tensions in American society. His insights are worth revising now, while saying farewell to one of the richest works of popular culture ever created.

(more)

Posted by smclemee at 2:47 PM

June 5, 2007

I Fell Into a Burning Ringworm of Fire

Thanks to a tip from Phil Ford, I am making my way through the pre-Astral Weeks contractual obligation album by Van Morrison.

He must have been pissed off. It sounds like he just picked up the guitar before "writing" the songs and didn't bother to tune it.

The high point, so far, is "Ringworm."

Pissed off, yes, but also having a pretty good time.

Posted by smclemee at 5:09 PM | Comments (1)

June 4, 2007

Expo Aftermath

A box containing 43 pounds of catalogs, page proofs, and assorted other publishing effluvia is in the mail to me from New York -- dropping it off at the shipping center being the last thing on the agenda before wrapping things up Saturday afternoon.

We went out that night to see Vanessa Redgrave in The Year of Magical Thinking. With hindsight, that was not what anyone would call "unwinding."

You can get some feel for the hustle and flow of the weekend via the Spier-NY blog, which has video clips. It's much more representative of things happening around the booths of the commercial publishers during Book Expo -- which I, to be honest, only zipped through, stopping just long enough to grab catalogs.

My visits to the university and "academic trade" presses -- and the indy publishers doing interesting books, such as Soft Skull and Verso -- were, for the most part, time well spent.

There were a handful of exceptions to that rule, however. Best to deal with them via the following statement.

To whom it may concern,

For more than two years now, I have been writing a column that discusses scholarship and works of serious nonfiction. It appears each week at Inside Higher Ed, the publication devoted to American academic life having the single largest audience among university professors. At present IHE reaches more than 350,000 distinct readers per month.

If you are working at a university press and have never so much as heard of IHE, let alone my column, that is sufficient evidence of gross incompetence to suggest that you should probably step aside and let an intern have your job.

sincerely,
Tired Guy Who Spends His Waking Hours Reading Your #&?!(!!!) Books

Posted by smclemee at 2:51 PM | Comments (3)

Crossover

Scholarly presses were a modest presence at Book Expo America, the annual trade show for the publishing industry, which wrapped up its business on Sunday afternoon after three days in New York City.

More than 2,000 companies had booths in the exhibit halls. Only a few dozen were sponsored by university presses or commercial houses specializing in academic titles. Corporate publishers often showed their wares in miniature pavilions - impressive command centers, staffed by a dozen or more people, with large piles of free books and promotional knickknacks for visitors.

By contrast, scholarly presses offered catalogs and the occasional bowl of tiny candy bars. None of the publicists were dressed as life-sized cartoon characters.

more

Posted by smclemee at 7:37 AM