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March 16, 2008

What He Said

"... he, who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing, but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove."

-- Samuel Johnson, The Rambler (1750)



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

March 15, 2008

The End

The final episode of The Wire (which I haven't seen yet) is called "-30-." Christopher Gabel at Grid Effect writes:

That title is just a morass of punctuation. It's how I imagine Clark Kent wrote all his columns for the paper he worked at. Not merely written prose, but prose so complex that only people who could fly are able to decrypt it.

Well, no. It's not "just a morass of punctuation." Back in the old days, a reporter would type "-30-" after the last paragraph of an article to indicate that it had reached its close -- that there was no more copy forthcoming. It used to be the case, too, that the farewell piece by a columnist would be called a "-30-" column. Very appropriate as a title, in this case.

This is all ancient history now, and I stopped using it with manuscripts a while back when it became clear that scarcely anyone had any idea why the "-30-" was there.

By contrast, TK fills a lasting need and will live forever.

UPDATE: My friend Emily goes meta-TK. Her additions to the Wikipedia entry make perfect sense, and the appoints apply just as much or more to newspaperdom or online writing.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: That would be Martin Schneider, rather, not Emily. Sorry about that.

Posted by smclemee at 10:11 PM | Comments (5)

Almost Almost Famous

As noted by Ralph Luker at Cliopatria, I have a piece in The New York Times Book Review. After a dozen times or so, you get to be blasé about this. And so blasé about it I shall be -- although appearing in the Times wins valuable points with my mother-in-law, always a good thing.

But this time they have added a short profile of the reviewer, including a drawing. It is based on a photo. Still, I don't think the glasses and beard are quite that big in real life.

The piece is gratifying mainly because it mentions Phyllis and Julius Jacobson. Every so often some event or book will make me miss them so much it hurts, since we'll never get to hash it out. (Julie died five years ago; Phyllis had a very bad stroke in 2000 and now lives in a nursing home in Brooklyn; the last time we went to see her, there was a brief period of recognition but she faded fast.) A really fine short biographical account of Julius was written by Barry Finger for the socialist journal New Politics, which P&J founded.

As I told the Times in part of the interview they didn't use: the rumor that anti-totalitarian leftists like P&J all ended up as neoconservatives is one of the great slanders of contemporary American politics.

Posted by smclemee at 8:57 AM | Comments (5)

March 14, 2008

Because It's Friday Afternoon

...seems like a good time for the MC5:

The announcement at the end sure comes out of left field.

Posted by smclemee at 4:41 PM | Comments (1)

March 12, 2008

The Conservative Crack-Up

Tim Hall explains it all:

I have my own theories about why the Republican party is experiencing a kind of colony collapse disorder these days. Part of it is simple Hate Fatigue-too many goddamn demagogues spouting too much ignorance and hatred on talk radio and cable news, manipulating people so much that when times get tough and serious thought and debate are needed a lot of people get disgusted and/or confused and walk away. Another part is the authoritarian bubble-just like in real estate or tech stocks, politics has its own speculators and profiteers who automatically rush to whichever side is in power and don the garments, spout the arguments, and try to position themselves for a piece of the pie-which is, more often than not, merely symbolic. When the bubble bursts they just move on and find a new power source to suck off of. That's why roughly 15% of all sitting Republicans are either retiring early or not seeking reelection (at least, among those who have not already been indicted). It's not about politics; it's about perceptions of power, who wields it, who is gaining and who is losing it. When you take those speculators out of politics you're going to lose a lot of people. And if the Democrats keep gaining in power, a lot of those same people are going to be switching sides, and will ultimately destabilize and screw up the left as well. Hopefully that won't happen for a couple of decades, at least, but it WILL happen.

The problem with this model, as I see it, is that it leaves out of the picture the existence of a very efficient system for making people stupid and keeping them that way.

And this apparatus seems to be able to pay for itself while creating lots of raw material for the politics of fear and resentment.

In which case, we're talking perpetual motion machine, here, rather than market bubble. It might slow down every so often, but I bet it'll get fixed. (Not that I don't hope Hall is completely right, and that I am off base.)

Posted by smclemee at 11:08 AM | Comments (5)

March 11, 2008

The Simile Stumbled Over the Cliche Like a Drunken G.I. Trying to Make Curfew After Waking to Find the Laces of His Shoes Are Tied to Each Other

No date given on this clip from a BBC documentary about the architect Philip Johnson. But Susan Sontag looks here like she did in photos from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s at latest. Her voice-over is pretty funny, and I'd like to think that is deliberate.

Posted by smclemee at 12:15 PM | Comments (1)

March 10, 2008

My Posse Got Velocity

Over the weekend, The Guardian presented a list of "The world's 50 most powerful blogs" -- one of which, coming in at number 33, does sound rather familiar:

With a title pulled from Immanuel Kant's famous statement that 'out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made', it's an amalgam of academic and political writing that has muscled its way into the epicentre of intelligent discussion since its conception in 2003. Formed as an internet supergroup, pulling several popular intellectual blogs together, Crooked Timber now has 16 members - largely academics - across the US, Europe, Australia and Asia. The site has built itself a reputation as something of an intellectual powerhouse; a sort of global philosophical thinktank conducted via blog.

We must try to remember to use our powers only for good. I do take some pride in being among the non-academics in the crew.

Posted by smclemee at 8:50 PM | Comments (2)


My understanding is that George Romero will be doing another Living Dead film, in which case I would like to suggest that he consider casting Slavon Zizek as a cannibalistic zombie.


Meanwhile, on a seemingly unrelated note, Adam Kotsko proves something: It is not difficult to meet Zizek. What is difficult is not meeting him.

But maybe not so unrelated, after all? An inescapable cannibalistic zombie would be particularly terrifying.

Posted by smclemee at 12:12 PM | Comments (1)

March 6, 2008


Today was the beginning of two days of National Book Critics Circle meetings in New York -- with a solid morning and early afternoon of activity among the membership, followed by the secret Conclave of Twenty-Four to vote for the winners of the book awards, and culminating in announcement of the results at the public ceremony, which Lizzie Skurnick live-blogged.

Here are the results:

Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing: Sam Anderson

Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award: Emilie Buchwald, founder of Milkweed Editions

Criticism: Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Poetry: Mary Jo Bang, Elegy (Graywolf Press)

Biography: Tim Jeal, Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer (Yale University Press)

Nonfiction: Harriet Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present (Doubleday)

Autobiography: Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I'm Dying (Knopf)

Fiction: Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books)

Tomorrow, I'll officially become a member of the Board of Directors and be taught the secret handshake and whatnot. Among other things, that means signing up for at least a couple of committees that will decide the finalists in various categories for next year's awards.

We also have to elect a new president, since John Freeman's term has reached its end and he won't even be on the board. This is not just a reshuffling of personnel, but a changing of the guard. The membership grew by almost half over the past year -- largely, if not entirely as a result of Freeman's efforts to make NBCC a more active and visible organization. He is going to be the very definition of a tough act to follow, but we'll just have to do the best we can.

UPDATE: My friend Laurie Muchnick writes up the evening over at Bloomberg.

Posted by smclemee at 8:52 PM | Comments (2)

March 3, 2008

The CD Meme

Josh Glenn of the Boston Globe's blog Brainiac has outlined a way to create your very own indie-rock CD cover via random generation. It works all too well.


Having no Photoshop skills at all, I am disqualified from participating. But this is a meme and it is hereby propagated. See also the followup.

Posted by smclemee at 12:19 PM

A Glimpse of Hell

Last week's column about bookshelves generated quite a lot of comment, far and wide. But I'm particularly glad that Ralph Luker has used it as a chance to point out a page offering "30 of the Most Creative Bookshelves Designs" (sic).

The point of the column, to repeat, was that bookshelves are, in my experience anyway, strictly for storage and retrieval. If they do perform this function well (and the ones we built in a few years back have done so) then that is as much as they can do.

The "beautiful" designs offered by the good people at Freshome have thus given me a concrete sense of what it would be like to be punished for eternity.

Posted by smclemee at 9:48 AM | Comments (2)