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November 30, 2007

For Hardcore Book Nerds Only

I've got perhaps a dozen print-on-demand books in my library. Three of them are volumes that only ever appeared as p.o.d. titles, the rest being reprints of old books that might otherwise not be available. (Unless the audience for theological responses to Ernst Haeckel's version of evolutionary theory were to heat up considerably.)

All of them came my way over the past three years. And while they represent a tiny fraction of my acquisitions over that period, it's a percentage bound to grow over time, since this approach to "warehousing" and distribution makes a lot of sense with certain kinds of books. As artifacts, most of them seem more or less indisinguishable from other paperbacks. We'll see how they hold up over the next decade, but for now they seem fine.

So it's interesting to see what print-on-demand technology actually looks like in action. Well, perhaps "interesting" is overstating things. This video is for-the-trade advertisement rather than something meant for the general public. But here goes:

Posted by smclemee at 11:22 AM | Comments (3)

November 29, 2007

The Menace of Urban Youth

I can't argue with most of the selections in "The Nine Most Badass Bible Verses" -- except for thinking that at least one violent episode might have been cut in favor of something from the Song of Solomon booty call.

Plus it's a problem that the list implies a ranking, because no way Elisha and the bears (2 Kings 2:23-24) should come in at a mere number 8:

23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.


And what do we learn from this? Valuable lessons for today:

Christians are constantly asking for prayer in schools to help get today's kids in line, but we beg to differ. We need bears in schools. If every teacher had the power to summon a pair of child-maiming grizzly avengers, you can bet that schoolchildren nowadays would be the most well-behaved, polite children, ever. It's a simple choice: listen to the biology lesson, or get first-hand knowledge of the digestive system of Ursus horribilis.

It should be pointed out that even after his death, Elisha continued to kick ass. II Kings 13:20-21 tells us that when a dead body was thrown into his tomb and touched Elisha's bones, it sprang back to life. It's unknown whether Elisha had this power in life, as well as death, but we like to think he did and that he had the habit of killing his victims with bears, resurrecting them, and then promptly re-summoning the bears to kill them, again. He'd just repeat the whole thing over and over until he got bored.

via Ralph Luker

(crossposted from CT)

Posted by smclemee at 6:43 AM

November 28, 2007

The Last Curse in Pandora's Box

I had hoped that Romenesko -- the clearing house for news about what is happening in American journalism -- might link to my column from last week about how the Austin-American Statesman was going against the current by having regular coverage of books from university presses. I know that at least a couple of people submitted it as a tip.

But Romenesko almost always ignores anything having to do with cultural journalism. Steve Wasserman's recent piece in CJR was completely right. You should never underestimate the anti-intellectualism fostered by newsroom culture.

Thanks to Galley Cat and Conversational Reading for the links, however.

Letting the literary blogosphere know about this development is fine, but to have any chance of persuading people at other papers to emulate the Statesman's example, it really needed to be linked at Romenesko.

I keep thinking I've given up all hope on this score, only to find that there is still a little bit of it left that must be purged from my system.

Posted by smclemee at 11:10 AM | Comments (2)

Reading Lists

The National Book Critics Circle queried its members this month about what titles from this year they would recommend, then had a poll to narrow down the list. My enthusiasm for Julian Bourg's From Revolution to Ethics: May 1968 and Contemporary French Thought (McGill-Queens University Press) was bound to be a minority judgment in the best of cases. Anyway, I've been sent a copy of the final list (in descending order of votes per category) and will set it so that this item posts automatically after the embargo lifts.


1) Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead)
2) Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
3) Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman's Union (HarperCollins)
4) Philip Roth, Exit Ghost (Houghton Mifflin)
5) Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses (Graywolf)


1) Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I'm Dying (Knopf)
2) Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (St. Martin's)
3) Noami Klein, The Shock Doctrine (Metropolitan)
4) David Michaelis, Schulz and the Peanuts (HarperCollins)
5) Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes (Doubleday)


1) Robert Hass, Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005*
2) Zbigniew Herbert, Collected Poems: 1956-1998 (Ecco)*
3) Robert Pinsky, Gulf Music (Farrar Straus & Giroux)*
4) Rae Armantrout, Next Life (Wesleyan)
5) Mary Jo Bang, Elegy (Graywolf)

*there was a three-way tie for first in poetry.

See also my reviews, in Newsday, of the books by Michaelis and Weiner.

Posted by smclemee at 12:01 AM | Comments (3)

November 27, 2007

You Have to Wonder If They Are Related

So I'm going through Bloglines when I see:

World Philosophy Day has come and gone. Perhaps you noticed; more likely you didn't. The festivities, sponsored by Unesco, commenced on November 15 and included symposia on "Philosophy and Its Future," the essayist Frantz Fanon, and "The Philosophical Foundations of Peace and Human Rights."

What an amazing coincidence! There was also a psychiatrist and Third World revolutionary theorist named Franz Fanon. Some of what he published could be called essays, I guess. But nobody familiar with that Fanon would identify him primarily as an essayist -- any more than they would refer to "the well-known biker, Che Guevara."

Anyway, I am definitely going to keep an eye out for work by this other guy named Franz Fanon. First I've heard of him.

Posted by smclemee at 1:32 PM

November 26, 2007

Dude, All You Had to Do Was Ask

There's an item at Romenesko about William Langewiesche, whose book The Atomic Bazaar impressed me quite a bit. It seems he moved to Washington to work at The Atlantic Monthly last year and has this to say:

I don't like Washington. And I'm very skeptical of Washington's view of the world. I think Washington is a very sick city. And it has become an imperial city that is hemmed in by its power. And carries with it an arrogance, a blindness about its own limitations in the world in which we live.

Well you don't say. Imagine how I feel after nineteen years of it. Of all the places in the world to have landed, it's hard to think of a good one for why a writer of my ilk would end up here. (Apart from the Library of Congress, of course.)

It always seemed like I was trying to find my way to Greenwich Village circa 1948. Instead, I now pass the American Enterprise Institute each morning and think how strangely things have turned out. You can't really get there from here.

Posted by smclemee at 3:53 PM | Comments (1)

By All Means Avail Yourselves of Other Fine Amenities in This Neighborhood

It seems more than five hundred visitors have show up here so far today, and it's still pretty early in the day. At first my guess was that it had something to do with my piece in the New York Times Book Review yesterday but actually it turns out most people are looking at the item about the World's Worst Book Title instead. This sort of thing helps keep me modest.

Anyway, I hope at least some visitors will check out the discussion of reading habits (their early formation and long-term importance) taking place at a nearby blog.

I find myself agreeing with Jerome in general but in my own case in particular. I didn't have anybody my own age to talk to about what I was reading until going to the Telluride Association Summer Program at Cornell University as a junior in high school. (Also a memorable experience for the not entirely coincidental fact that I met my first girlfriend there.) Instead, I ended up writing in notebooks about what I was reading.

Some decades later, I make a living writing about books and am married to a librarian. Such would probably count as destiny at work.....

Posted by smclemee at 1:03 PM

November 25, 2007

Gray Dawn

At a certain point while working on my review of Black Mass, the little light bulb went off over my head and I thought: "The best way of characterizing John Gray's outlook would be to say that it's like Isaiah Berlin in a really bad mood."

Quite right -- and yet not something I had room to unpack, since the word count assigned for the piece was strict. The final version comes to exactly one page of the New York Times Book Review, and is accompanied by a rather striking little piece of artwork:


I might have to write about Gray again. His understanding of Marx and Marxism is feeble indeed, which is probably a function of knowing it at second or third hand, via Sir Isaiah.

There are some real howlers in the book, such as when Gray quotes Lenin saying, "The combination of the Russian revolutionary sweep with American efficiency is the essence of Leninism." Nobody with any real background in the history would fall for the idea of Lenin talking about "Leninism." That alone is a dead giveaway that the quotation is inaccurate.

But it's really just the tip of the iceberg. Treating Marx as a figure of the Counter-Enlightenment and opposed to individualism and trade? Having him be deeply influenced by the Saint-Simonians? Sheesh. Credible to the credulous but not to anybody who knows the texts.

Again, something I had to bracket, for reasons of space -- and in any case a matter deserving of its own essay. I got a lot out of Gray's book Enlightenment's Wake and have quite a bit to say about Straw Dogs that would require a real detour to get into.

For his own sake, though, I hope Gray never writes about Marx again -- or at least not until he's read some better cribs than he's been relying on. George Lichtheim or Leszek Kolakowski would probably have samed him some embarrassment.

(crossposted from Cliopatria)

Posted by smclemee at 11:38 AM | Comments (7)

November 24, 2007

The Standards of Polymathy Have Hit an All-Time Low

It seems like the set-up to a really mean joke:

"Michael Medved is an intellectual entrepreneur, a political and cultural polymath with great insights, judgment and wit. We are delighted to have this new relationship with him," said Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman.

But no. It is true.

I don't expect to be able to keep food down for the next couple of days.

(via Pandagon)

Posted by smclemee at 8:39 PM | Comments (1)

At Least Until Publication of "Beavis and Mimesis," My Memoir of the 1990s

It can't have been easy to pick finalists for the Atlanta Journal- Constitution's contest for World's Worst Book Title -- not with candidates such as Letting It Go: A History of American Incontinence and Everything You'll Need to Remember About Alzheimer's.

I'm not sure how the contest was run, or if it was fair. A lot of times with these things it's all about who you know.

Still, the results are in, and AJC has announced that the winner is Cooking with Pooh. This title is for real. But I'm sure readers can come up with worse titles than that, just as real.

(hat tip: Michael Merschel)

(crossposted from CT)

Posted by smclemee at 11:51 AM | Comments (2)

November 22, 2007

Turn Them Speakers Up Full Blast

It's not on any album by the Drive By Truckers, but when they do it live you can tell that Warren Zevon's "Play It All Night Long" is, deep down inside, a DBT song. The version they did in Atlanta on New Year's Eve 2003 is not quite as good as the one they performed the night before in Birmingham, Alabama (which I have on a bootleg). Still, it's great to find it available on video:

Something for which I do give thanks -- the band that helped me start to face, for the first time really, "the duality of the southern thing."

The next album, Brighter Than Creation's Dark, is out in January. Read Patterson Hood's account of its making here. His song-by-song discussion of it is here.

Posted by smclemee at 6:03 PM | Comments (1)

Thanksgiving is Always Already Ruined

It turns out that poststructuralist thinkers have repeatedly warned us that this holiday is in a state of emergency.

Who knew?

Posted by smclemee at 2:07 PM

Cheap Beer and Warm Hats

So much of the truth of history is denied to us by those in power.

source: Dwight Garner

great minds think alike

Posted by smclemee at 9:03 AM

November 21, 2007

It is Time to Open a New Front in the War on Christmas


Thank you for asking, Dolly. Yes, it is. Also, you will go straight to hell (and with no delay) if you sing them anywhere near me after Thanksgiving. Consider this a friendly warning.

If one of the chains of coffee shops in the United States would announce that it was a Christmas-music-free zone, the benefits for business would be noticed immediately. I know I would go live there for a while.

(thanks to the Comics Curmudgeon)

Posted by smclemee at 1:31 PM | Comments (3)

Sometimes Publicity Involves Making Stuff Up

GalleyCat has excerpts from a piece of hype by a literary agent making the rounds that includes the following bit:

"In 1962, John Barth pronounced the death of the novel. In 1967, Tom Wolfe proclaimed the death of journalism. In the past two years, critic Slavoj Zizek and author James Frey have shaken the status of the memoir. So [redacted] transcends, offering a marriage of form and content that alone is able to tell an American True Story."

So...is this mostly bullshit, or total bullshit? I have not read everything that Zizek has published -- that would Adam Kotsko you're thinking of, there -- but do sort of manage of stay on top of things, and recall nothing like a memoir by him, let alone one that's "shaken the status" of the genre.

Gayatri Spivak is writing her memoirs, however, according to an interview she gave not long ago. Somebody tell the booker for Oprah. I would watch that. Zizek on Oprah would be even better.

UPDATE: Ron Hogan notes in a followup at GalleyCat that the date for the Barth essay is off by five years. As for Tom Wolfe proclaiming the "death of journalism" in 1967, it seems that our author's muddled agent/poseur has someone combined a dim recollection of his role in the New Journalism during the 1960s and '70s with his gripes from the '80s and '90s about the lack of social texture in the contemporary novel.

The question "mostly bullshit or total bullshit?" now seems to be answered.

Posted by smclemee at 7:00 AM | Comments (4)

November 20, 2007

La Mal Babe Sans Merci

Over at Brainiac, Josh Glenn discusses the theme of "the intellectual, slightly mysterious rock-and-roll woman," as a recent book calls it, running throughout songs from the Boston scene over the years. All those smart but fragile girls that Jonathan Richman sang about with the Modern Lovers, for example.

Josh suggests that there is a strain of hipster misogyny in this: the revenge of the sophomore spurned, no doubt. And he reads Mission of Burma's "Academy Fight Song"

as a response to that kind of thing -- its lyrics "written from the point of view of a cool, educated young woman who was sick and tired of the obsessive attention paid to her by a would-be boyfriend...."

This seems plausible. But it would not be the first song from the Boston scene to approach this archetype (or whatever it is) from the inside. I'm thinking here, of course, of "Ballad of the Hip Death Goddess" by Ultimate Spinach.

Seldom has a group been called "undeservedly forgotten" by more people who, deep down, aren't really sure that much of an injustice has been done. (I'm glad that you can still find a best-of album on CD, but probably don't listen to it more than once every couple of years.)

The band was a leading force in the psychedelic (and for the most part synthetic) "Boston sound" of forty years ago. The Spinach seems to have been a large group, consisting of unusually pretentious hippies with access to a lot of studio time.

Not that there is anything wrong with that; sometimes it can be extremely enjoyable, even. But when a band has a song called "Suite: Genesis of Beauty (In Four Parts)" -- with lyrics like "The tears have flown like velvet thunder" and a protracted organ solo -- it is making certain challenges to a listener that not all of us are going to ready to face. I'm usually more in the mood for the Standells.

"The Ballad of the Hip Death Goddess" opens with a very solemn guy describing her from what I hope is a safe distance:

See the glazed eyes
Touch the dead skin
Feel the cold lips
And know the warmth
Of the Hip Death Goddess.

Then a female singer with a rather lovely high voice starts channeling the H.D.G. herself. She invites you to come into her arms. There, she can "keep you safe from all harms." But don't believe her for a second, because she did not get that name by accident:

Kiss my lips for they are very nice
Kiss my lips and you will turn to ice.

She has a few other lines, with you ending up dead figuring into most of them. She has cold eyes that will free you from lies, and so forth. Then she disappears for a while, and you get lots of guitar and theremin noodling over a sometimes rhythmically challenged bassline. I am not sure, but this may represent purgatory.

The effect is "like a deadpan parody of psychedelic malarkey taken to a logical extreme," as one blogger puts it. (You can hear an excerpt of the song at the bottom of that page.)

In pushing things to that extreme, perhaps the Spinach actually did criticize the Fatal Woman archetype by making the whole thing seem very, very silly. All things considered, though, I'd rather hear "Academy Fight Song," most of the time.

(crossposted from CT)

Posted by smclemee at 3:10 PM | Comments (2)

Harlan Ellison -- Live Like Him!

The ambivalence I feel in posting this here, of all places, should not be underestimated. But then I already have that running argument with the disgruntled miniature Samuel Johnson sitting on my shoulder and calling me a blockhead.

thanks to Steven Hart

Posted by smclemee at 12:12 PM | Comments (3)

Eat Flaming Death, Fascist Media Pigs!

I am not sure that my wife actually reads this blog* (my opinions and obsessions being made available to her, after all, and in some detail at other venues). And I know that she doubts my need for another t shirt. That is not a point I can dispute in good conscience.

Still, in the event of her being totally unable to think of anything else at Christmas, let me mention this item.


I could wear it with pride in the morning, when walking past the ABC studio in our neighborhood.

* UPDATE: "I do read your blog, thank you very much! And, no you aren't getting that shirt." Matters are thus clarified.

Posted by smclemee at 9:38 AM | Comments (1)

November 19, 2007

The Academic Presses

Roger Gathman's new column about academic books for the Austin-American Statesman -- the first one ran over the weekend weekend -- is a remarkable thing to behold. Smart, sharp, compact, and handling serious titles rather than the cookbooks and guides to state flowers that university presses now tend to publish a lot.

At his blog, Gathman writes:

So tell your Ma, tell your Pa, and tell the person you know who works for a university press or who wants to publish some academic book. I think this column might be a first for a regular newspaper. And if it goes well, I'll become the godfather of the academic publishing world. Those on my right hand I will elevate to their thrones in heaven, those on my left hand I will damn eternally. Or something like that.

Well, for what it's worth, my experience is that you are lucky if they even remember your name. [ Long rant redacted ]

Be that as it may, this will be a column worth watching.

Posted by smclemee at 6:22 PM | Comments (1)

Live and Learn

It turns out that if you blog about porn aesthetics, the result is a lot more traffic than when you blog about American Maoism.

It could be that I have misjudged both this medium and the nature of my potential public. Anyway, I am definitely going to keep that in mind from now on.

By the way, for anyone interested in the recent discussion around Infinite Thought's posts regarding cinema, an earlier item here about the early days of blue phonography might also be worth checking out.

UPDATE: Jeff Popovich of Blackdogred writes to say: "Last week I posted a couple of poems by Frederick Seidel that contained the words 'japanese schoolgirls,' and KABOOM! went the hits."

Posted by smclemee at 10:04 AM | Comments (1)

November 18, 2007

Après les derniers intellectuels

"After the Last Intellectuals," my essay from the fall issue of Bookforum, marked the twentieth anniversary of Russell Jacoby's polemic. It also provided a chance for me to write a memoir, of sorts -- albeit one in which the word "I" never appears.

The version available at the magazine's website left out all the section breaks, so I have now posted it at my own site with the sections marked and numbered, per the manuscript.


It has also just appeared in the second issue of La Revue internationale des livres et des idées.

I pinch myself. Yes, this is really happening.

Posted by smclemee at 1:57 PM

November 17, 2007

"Shaving Biscuits"?

Having discovered Steven Marcus's The Other Victorians at an impressionable age, I'm easily persuaded of the possible value of historicizing pornography. So a point made at Infinite Thought seems interesting:

Contemporary pornography has more categories than there are dirty thoughts in the world, and yet it fails in one crucial respect - it can no longer surprise. You can be into women who look like cats who specialise in shaving biscuits whilst bouncing up and down on trampolines, and there'd probably be a website that could cater to your needs, but once you've seen a couple of cat-women shaving biscuits whilst bouncing on trampolines surely you've seen them all. The excessive taxonomical drive of contemporary pornography is merely one element of its quest to bore us all to death and remind us that everything is merely a form of work, including, or even most especially, pleasure.

Well, yes and no. The capitalist superego was at work in Victorian porn, too. At the height of pleasure, a character would announce, "I spend!"

By all means go check out the IT entry, which includes a photo of two naked Edwardian babes cavorting with an enormous snail.

I am not making that up. Nor, indeed, could I.

Posted by smclemee at 6:45 PM | Comments (22)

I Mean Really....

...is there any need for leftists to use such vicious sarcasm as this?

Critics of the United States and its role in the world prefer to argue their point of view by focusing on specific instances of American bullying or brutality, recounting their favorite horror stories from Indonesia or Nicaragua, Vietnam or Chile, the Philippines or Iraq - or any of two dozen other places around the globe where American intervention or involvement imperfectly exemplified the nation's self-professed high ideals.

Oh no, wait. That's conservative film critic Michael Medved, wearing a thoughtful expression.

And do you know why some of us tell those stories, Michael? Because we really like them. They are our favorites.

Posted by smclemee at 5:10 PM

November 16, 2007

Not Many Bar Mitzvah Party Gigs, However

It struck me, while watching this, that The Perfected Jews would be a pretty good band name:

Courtesy of Perverse Egalitarianism

Posted by smclemee at 1:57 PM

November 15, 2007

One Day Tom Brokaw Will Seem Like Walter Lippmann and Then I'll Really Have Something to Complain About

In the late 1990s, Doug McLennan created Arts Journal, a comprehensive aggregator of cultural journalism; for the past couple of years has been in charge of whatever is going on with the National Arts Journalism Program, which gave out fellowships at Columbia University for a while. (Until, one day, it didn't. I'm not really sure what happened there.) He's had a blog at AJ, Diacritical, that has been pretty episodic, goings weeks and longer without new activity. Totally understandable, of course; the man has enough else to do.

But it looks like he's resuming it, starting with some considerations on how badly the notion of the newspaper as part of "mass culture" serves us, especially now:

Newspapers have not traditionally been mass market. In fact they were the classic niche subsidy model. The genius of newspapers was that they aggregated lots of mini-content - comics, bridge columns, stock tables, crossword puzzles, the arts, business, sports - and built enough of a combined audience to subsidize the content that otherwise would not have paid for itself.....

Yet somewhere along the way, this idea of niche aggregation slipped away from the local paper and was replaced by the sense that every story ought to be comprehensible by every reader. The problem: in a culture that increasingly offers more and more choice and allows people to get more precisely what they want, when they want, and how they want it, a generalized product that doesn't specifically satisfy anyone finds its audience erode away. The more general, the more broad, the more "mass culture" a newspaper tries to become, the faster its readers look elsewhere.

This point seems perfectly obvious -- until you stop to ask why, if it's so obvious, the point is so obviously being missed.

Instead, the anxious effort to "draw younger eyes" tends to follow only too well-established patterns, which McLennan sums up as "Britney Spears on the cover, pandering to pop culture trends, sensationalist news stories that offer more heat than light." All of which can be handled better (if "better" is the word for it) by other media.

He indicates that the next item at the blog will discuss just how big the audience for celebrity effluvia really is. It's certainly not the kind of thing that builds up a steady following, a public. I take it that his intention is to try to argue against the dumbing-down trend on more or less rational grounds.

The effort is admirable, but probably mistaken -- premised on much too generous a sense of how decisions are made. It's not that the people in charge are adapting themselves to a "media surround" that is otherwise foreign to them. On the contrary. They are in it, and of it, more and more all the time. Print journalism is not the "first draft of history" but now, rather, the first draft of CNN. And everybody seems pretty much okay with that.

Long ago, the badness of the writing in Time magazine was so distinctive that people referred to "Timestyle." (Dwight Macdonald did a parody of it, and ended up being hired by Henry Luce. Tough luck, that.) But it was something that evolved in a closed-off cultural institution answerable only to its own rules -- a publication that revelled in its power to define what counted as news. It was crappy, yes, but it was an inner-directed crappiness.

Today the crappiness of Time is other-directed. A good example, from the current issue, is the "interview" based on questions sent in by readers. Its subject is Tom Brokaw, who is famous for ... uh, reading stuff on NBC Nightly News? A celebrity, anyway. Someone well known for being well known.

Such crud is the product of a sensibility for which TV itself is the cultural dominant. The day when Walter Lippmann could call newspapers the equivalent of a book -- among the most important books published in a democracy, he said, because it was the only one most citizens read, let alone read daily -- is probably over, because his point wouldn't be understood by the people who edit and publish them.

(crossposted from CT )

Posted by smclemee at 8:09 PM | Comments (3)

Touch and Go

My sense is that the title of Studs Terkel's new book counts as fair advertising, because Touch and Go really does sum up his approach to memoir. He passes over things quickly, then moves right along.

As Chris Hayes writes at The Barnes and Noble Review, you get the pleasure of his company, but the result, as autobiography goes, is "alternately frustrating and fascinating."

I agree entirely, and made some effort to sound out what is lacking from the book in this essay.

Posted by smclemee at 12:03 PM

Where Brooklyn At? Part Two

Yeah, I know...When it comes to black culture, whites will take "everything but the burden." No new thing, that. But almost twenty years after The Cactus Album, I still like 3rd Bass:

After tracking down Cactus again (one of those casualties of format change over the years) I was reminded how dense and well-woven the musical tracks had been, That had at least as much to do with its appeal, at the time, as the novelty of two Caucasian guys from Brooklyn having some flow. What it seemed to resemble was Terminator X's style with Public Enemy -- albeit with a base of older kinds of musical samples, and minus the quality of apocalyptic foreboding.

Within a few years, things would get much less interesting, and whenever I heard new hiphop on the radio it seemed to be either (1) vapid pop or (2) anemic tracks, without an ounce of creativity in the mixes, over which was the mumbling of stupid people threatening each other.

Around the same time, something called "alternative" seemed to be emerging as a niche unto itself. I hated that, too, and just ended up ignoring music almost entirely for the next ten years or so. Lately it seems like I'm making up for lost time, but largely by way of recovering whatever seemed vital when my attention shifted elsewhere.

Posted by smclemee at 11:07 AM | Comments (1)

November 10, 2007


The conservative newspaper Human Events has published a list of the "Top 10 Most Outrageous Liberal Media Quotes From the Last 20 Years." We'll try to overlook the fact that "quotes" is a verb, and that the right word here would be "quotations." A common mistake that peeves some people....But let me not get sidetracked on that one. Again.

Rick Perlstein points this item out because our mutual friend John Leonard made the cut, Not only that, but he's at the top spot, for this, from the CBS show Sunday Morning in 1993::

In the plague years of the 1980s -- that low decade of denial, indifference, hostility, opportunism and idiocy -- government fiddled and medicine diddled, and the media were silent or hysterical. A gerontocratic Ronald Reagan took this [AIDS] plague less seriously than Gerald Ford had taken swine flu. After all, he didn't need the ghettos and he didn't want the gays.

Touchy, aren't we, Human Events? I've always figured that title was ironic, by the way. A newspaper that celebrates Latin American military guys with nicknames like "Blowtorch" seems more partial to the inhuman.

Anyway, way to go, John! I hope the memoir is going well. This could be part of it.

Posted by smclemee at 7:37 AM | Comments (2)

November 8, 2007

Where Brooklyn At?

I post this video in recognition of D'Ho's new alliance.....

... and pity the fool who tries to extract much meaning from it.

Sometimes bad taste is sublime.

Posted by smclemee at 7:20 PM | Comments (4)

November 7, 2007

When Ephemera Meets Euphemism

The other day litblog powerhouse Mark Sarvas included a link at The Elegant Variation that ran with the slug: "Mailer's latest reviewed by the distinguished Scott McLemee in Newsday."

Wow! Is it because of all the gray hair in my beard now? I bet that's it. Rita has been using that word whenever I've complained about the gray hair in my beard. I just figured she was being nice about it. This rules.

Anyway, I've just posted that review at my archival website, along with some other recent things from Newsday that are listed on the main page.

Posted by smclemee at 7:12 PM

Gone Again

The new issue of the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies is an anthology of various things that appeared following JB's death in the spring, including my piece. The editors have added some interesting footnotes.

See also an earlier essay. I'll probably come back to Baudrillard at some point before long.

Posted by smclemee at 6:48 PM

True Confessions

"The nice thing about writing a column is that when a midlife crisis begins, you get to bring along guests." So I have just confessed. In this case, it's a matter of discussing the experience of a sort of momentary blackout regarding a book I'd reviewed. Here is a particular bit that generalizes from N=1:

People who consume two or three books a month...might be less susceptible to moments of total overload than those who read two or three a week. Some situations require learning to handle texts like a meat packer carving up pigs on an assembly line. Certain skills are involved, and they are good skills to have. You can learn to wield the blade with some precision without losing a finger. But efficiency counts, because there's always another pig coming at you.

That's for sure. And big pigs, too, usually, flying at a mile a minute.

Posted by smclemee at 12:05 PM

Where Have You Gone, Bob Avakian? The Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You

It seems that the Revolutionary Communist Party has a large notice running in the latest New York Review of Books. I have not actually seen that issue yet, but over the weekend, a friend wrote to protest:

Simply staggered that you have not signed onto the full page ad in the NYRB (Engage!) demanding that the voice of Bob Avakian be projected and protected. You, who have done so much to keep Avakian before the masses. You, who have chosen *not* to join voices including Mumia Abu Jamal, Rickie Lee Jones, Aladdin, Ward Churchill, Chuck D, Cornel West, and Michael Eric Dyson.

Don't you know that Martin Niemoller said that "first they came for the communists?"

Okay, my mistake. It is also true that I have neglected to blog about the doings of Chairman Bob for months now. In part, though, that has been because the Chairman went AWOL for quite a spell there. No new articles or interviews with him appeared in the party press, and after a while it became reasonable to wonder what was up. Something cardiac, perhaps? Involving rich pastries?

It turns out that he was busy writing a new book, Away With All Gods! which, to judge from an advance extract, will be like Christopher Hitchens drained of wit and strong preservatives.

But what is up with that full-page ad? One speculation I've heard -- this seems just too preposterous, but who knows -- is that Avakian might be getting ready to run for president. (Should this idea start zipping around the wonkosphere, remember, all the baseless speculation was launched here, at Crooked Timber.)

Obviously nothing of the sort was possible when he was abroad, allegedly in Paris, back in the day of the slogan "Revolution in the 1980s -- Go For It!" It seems that he came back to the US circa 2001. A few years ago, I spent several months trying to arrange an interview with him, which involved numerous meetings to plan meetings with people who would meet with Avakian to determine if such a meeting could take place, possibly. I was completely prepared to have a burlap sack put over my head and be driven around in the back of a van for eighteen hours. This never came to pass.

In any case, the more strident rhetoric of yesteryear has been replaced with a sort of reinvention of the Popular Front, with the RCP reaching out to the broad masses of various classes through groups like The World Can't Wait. This development has not failed to draw censure -- with the recent Workers Vanguard headline, for example warning that "RCP Maoists 'Serve the People'...Up to the Democrats." The polemical knives are out:

RCP spokesperson Sunsara Taylor recently wrote a breathless "Reporters Notebook from Coachella," gushing that the reunited lineup of Rage Against the Machine at the festival "will certainly play in favor of humanity" (Revolution, 27 May). And if music isn't your thing, then you can always get excited about secondary colors. Thus the WCW's initiative, "Declare It Now," hopes "a groundswell of orange can turn into a groundswell of hope and danger--a groundswell that rises up from below and has the potential of sweeping Bush from office before his term is up" (www.declareitnow.com). Given that they've claimed black and neon green in the past, it seems the only color the RCP doesn't want to be associated with is red.

Oh, snap! That's the Spartacist League we all know and love. They've spent an awful lot of energy over the past couple of years trying to talk their way around the fact that their maximum leader (a figure of sub-Bob-ian charisma named James Robertson) once referred to the Kurds as "the Turds." It's good to see them back on their feet again.

And anyway, the Sparts do have a point. The RCP analysis and slogans over the past few years have implicitly acknowledged that if you want to oppose the "Christian Fascists" on any but a rhetorical plane, you have to work with people around the Democratic Party and otherwise put some pressure on it. Sooner or later, this means playing the electoral game somehow.

So the iron laws of history make the next step seem clear: Run, Bob, run!

(crossposted from CT)

Posted by smclemee at 11:01 AM | Comments (3)

November 5, 2007

How My Day Begins

Posted by smclemee at 4:59 PM

November 2, 2007

Rock On

It looks like Quick Study is rapidly turning into a blog devoted to news about about what friends are doing. All of which turns out to be much more interesting than anything the proprietor would have to report.

Unless, of course, you want to read about me reading about Regis Debray. Trust me, it's better this way.

Publisher's Lunch announces that Peter Terzian, who used to be deputy editor in the books section at Newsday is...well, editing a book:

Peter Terzian, ed.'s JUST FOR THE RECORD: WRITERS ON THE ALBUMS THAT CHANGED THEIR LIVES, featuring such writers as Pankaj Mishra, Geoff Dyer, Daniel Handler, Ben Kunkel, Colm Toibin, and Stacey D'Erasmo, to Rakesh Satyal at Harper Perennial, in a pre-empt, by Anna Stein at the Irene Skolnick Agency [NA].

Way to go! I have no idea what "in a pre-empt" would mean in this context, but it's probably a good thing.

Posted by smclemee at 5:11 PM

November 1, 2007

A Surprise, Yet Not Surprising, If I Can Make That Distinction

My friend Chris Hayes -- who moved from Chicago to DC not long ago, whereupon he was promptly called to the studios at CSPAN to talk about his great story on the myth of the NAFTA superhighway -- has just taken over as head of the Nation's Washington bureau.

Congratulations to the magazine are in order. By making continuing advances of this sort, it is certain to have a brilliant future.

Quick Study:
Official Blog of the Chicago-DC Corridor (new slogan)

Posted by smclemee at 3:14 PM | Comments (1)