June 2008 Archives

My friend Josh Glenn has stepped down from doing Brainiac, the blog for the Ideas section of The Boston Globe, and is being replaced by Chris Shea, who used to write the column Critical Faculties for Ideas. We first met long before that,  when we were both writing for Lingua Franca. Small world.

The other day I asked Chris what he had in mind for the blog. He writes back as follows.

I'm hoping to build on Josh's work, attempting to stay on top of the  kinds of trends he was great at spotting--in design, technology, advertising, and cultural theory, just to name a few areas of his expertise--while also incorporating more of the stuff I used to write 
about as a columnist for Ideas section: items on new work in psychology, sociology, law, history, and so on. It will continue to be a hybrid of a browsing blog, pointing to some of the best of what's out there in print and on the Web, and an original-content site.

And as under Josh, it will be a Web-print hybrid, with some items appearing--with some friendly editing along the way, and with an emphasis on good illustration and design--in the Sunday Globe.

His tenure begins this week. No, "tenure" is not the right word here, but it's the only one coming to mind at the moment.
June 29, 2008 9:36 PM | | Comments (1)
Off to Montreal to listen to discussion of the crisis in academic publishing. (Not for the first time, and doubtless not for the last.)

No comments will be approved/posted until I get back.
June 26, 2008 9:41 AM | | Comments (0)
Robert Shiller's book The Subprime Solution will be published by Princeton University Press in September -- and available a little bit earlier than that in Kindle-friendly format, as my colleague Scott Jaschik reports in today's issue of Inside Higher Ed.

This doesn't come as a huge surprise, insofar as Princeton was among the first academic presses (that I know of anyway) routinely making sample chapters of its books available online.

Plenty more university-press content due for the Kindle in the pipeline, according to SJ:

By the beginning of the fall, Princeton plans to have several hundred books available for sale through Kindle. Yale University Press and Oxford University Press already have a similar presence there. The University of California Press recently had about 40 of its volumes placed on Kindle and is ramping up....

The university presses participating in Kindle were reluctant to describe the specific financial arrangements they have with Amazon (which also declined to discuss them), but said that they were revenue-sharing deals, and that preparing the books for release on Kindle was not particularly burdensome or expensive.

While it's too early to see if Kindle results in a significant sales boost, several press officials pointed to promising signs. Stephen Cebik, Internet accounts manager for the Yale press, said he has started to receive e-mail messages from Kindle fans who find a Yale book not available in that format who want to buy it that way. Erich van Rijn of the University of California Press said that one of its volumes was sold more than a dozen times in a month on Kindle.

This makes me think there is an argument for getting a Kindle. I make my living writing about books from university presses, after all, so it would be convenient to be able to carry them around in digital format.

And then I remember how much one costs. I make my living writing about books from university presses, after all, so buying one is just not in the cards now. (Organic burritos in bulk from Costco, yes. New digital gizmos, no.)

Give it a couple of years and the Kindle will cost fifty bucks. It can wait.
June 24, 2008 5:45 PM | | Comments (3)

The bluegrass cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" by the Gourds is now, what, about ten years old?

Every so often it gets stuck in my head for days on end. This is one of those times.

Whoever made this video thinks the song was recorded by Phish. Go figure.

UPDATE: According to an interview with the Gourds' frontman, the song ended up circulating on Napster before it was released on CD, and whoever put it up originally identified the band as Phish.

He also says, "The most surprising thing to me is when we play a wedding and the bride requests it. It is easily one of the most misogynistic songs of the last 10 years. But even my mother loves it."

Well, I don't love it -- precisely for that reason. But from the very first hearing, it's worked for me as something other than a funny cover version. There is enough nihilism in the old ballads (and in the real lives of some country performers, like Spade Cooley) to make "gangsta bluegrass" seem like more than a joke.

June 24, 2008 2:46 PM | | Comments (0)
My tribute to the criticism of Jon Swift -- whose reviews always open with the line "I haven't actually read this book, but..." -- ran at the NBCC blog on Friday. A commentator there asks if Swift's discussion of one of Tom Friedman's books might be ironical. How I wish I had thought to consider that question before posting!

In the meantime, the item was picked up by the New Yorker literary blog* and also inspired Jerome Weeks to a Tom Swifty, which I haven't seen anybody do in ages.

Jerome also considers the possibility that Jon Swift may be the author of an online discussion of The Politically Incorrect Guides, a series of paperbacks for people who find the (Blank) For Dummies books too taxing:

The P.I.G. series began with the publication of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, by Thomas E. Woods Jr. Woods's original thesis was that "History has been hijacked by second-rate community college assistant professors who often write alternate history to promote a personal ideological agenda." His ideas have since withstood criticism and are now accepted by the majority of historians in his immediate family.

Is it possible that Jon Swift wrote this? It is possible.


* A combination of words that would not have gone together well circa two years ago.
June 24, 2008 11:24 AM | | Comments (0)

Via Chet Scoville:

Occupying the odd position of simultaneous membership in both "mainstream media" and "the blogosphere," I find this annoying on at least a couple of levels.

Digby: "I knew the 60s revolution was over when right wing politicians started growing their sideburns. I had a similar epiphany about blogging watching that commercial."

June 22, 2008 9:04 AM | | Comments (2)
You learn something new every day:

When I was young, I wanted to grow up to be like Scott McLemee; unfortunately I didn't know of Scott McLemee, or else I would have understood that he lives in a state of grace.
I have no idea what this means. Chances are, benightedness is an aspect of my bliss.

Another way of putting this is that in many important matters I am always the last to know.


June 21, 2008 8:14 PM | | Comments (1)
A French schoolteacher has cracked Samuel "Morse" Beckett's secret message wide open. According to an article from Die Welt quoted at Sign and Sight:

Godot, whom Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for, is a Resistance smuggler, who is supposed to smuggle them out of occupied France into the Italian zone. The two of them are Jews on the run who come from Paris' 11 arrondissement. They are probably waiting to be rescued in the spring of 1943 on the dry, limestone heights of the Southern Alps, somewhere like the Plateau de Valensole. All of this is clearly indicated in the play - at least in the original French text.
This goes on the same list as the theory that he Crying of Lot 49 is actually all about the JFK assassination. I'd rather not review the evidence, thanks.

By the way, I've always assumed that S&S's name was a riff on Heidegger, and that at some point I would get the joke. It has been quite a while now.
June 20, 2008 1:27 PM | | Comments (17)

We are a mixed marriage -- she, a geek, while I am (merely) a nerd. Only by chance did I learn, very late in the game, about Rickrolling, which Rita explained to me a few days ago, insofar as it can be explained.

tradition.JPG

In the case of "I am aware of all internet traditions," I was, for once, many degrees closer to the epicenter -- encountering it near the original site, and within the first couple of hours of its launch and viral proliferation.

Of course this means no substantial change in my geek status (or rather lack thereof) but it's been fascinating to watch. The claim to know "all internet traditions" rebounds upon its author so fast, and on such a large scale, that within a day it becomes itself an "internet tradition" -- one deserving its own wing in the museum of digital trash culture.

Which it now officially has. Have a look here.

UPDATE: Now there is an "I am aware of all internet traditions" Cafe Press store.

Well of course there is.

June 19, 2008 9:17 PM | | Comments (1)
Ever since the death of Tim Russert last week, things have been in a state of High Solemn Reverence here inside the Beltway. ("How the hell did I end up here?" the blogger pauses to ask himself. And not for the first time, even today.)

Jon Swift chronicles for posterity the mood in our nation's capitol:

Universally acknowledged by Washington's elite to be one of the most important people who ever lived on Earth, if not the most important person, Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert was given a state funeral yesterday that rivaled the send-offs for such beloved and powerful men as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The impact of Russert's death on humanity is only just beginning to be felt, but one of its most immediate and profound effects may be on the U.S. election.

Russert's friends and colleagues were understandably shocked by Russert's premature passing. If an overweight workaholic with diabetes and a history of coronary artery disease can suddenly die without warning, is any one of us safe? Many of the pundits and politicians who spoke at Russert's funeral and during the hours and hours and hours of cable news coverage must have been wondering, for the first time in their lives, Am I, too, mortal? Tom Brokaw has never looked so human.

Russert brought something to television journalism that had never been tried before. Instead of asking questions off the top of his head, he had his staff do research on his interviewees and actually used some of that research in his interviews. Many politicians had never been confronted with their own words before and his unique interview style caught many of them off guard, but it also gave them a chance to look good by showing that they could withstand tough questioning by giving vague, noncommittal answers. Unfortunately, Russert's shoes will be very hard to fill because while many television journalists do have staffs that have access to LEXIS/NEXIS, few of them know what follow-up questions to ask after an interviewee gives his boilerplate answer and will simply go on to another topic. Russert's ability to ask the same question over and over again using different words is one that has sadly died with him. He will be missed.

There's more.
June 19, 2008 12:27 PM | | Comments (2)
Ari Kelman at The Edge of the American West:

On this day in 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain, beginning this nation's least interesting military conflict. And that's all I have to say about that.

No offense to any War of 1812 vets out there -- especially you, Senator McCain.....
June 19, 2008 6:01 AM | | Comments (2)

June 18, 2008 7:34 PM | | Comments (1)

Somewhere along the way, I lost the will to self-promote. It has been a long time since I bothered sending my work around to bloggers -- or even notifying friends, most of the time. It seems like years since I've foisted anything on an editor. For that matter, I have grown quite careless about posting links to my stuff here, of all places, where the guilt factor and potential for embarrassement is presumably just about nil.

Perhaps there is some profound reason for this? Then again, it could just be abject laziness. (Never attribute deep inner meaning to anything that can be adequately explained by entropy.)

image001.gif

But the folks at IHE have created a set of ads for my column, including this one. I like what the graphic designer has done, so must stare down the Oblomovism long enough to post it here.....

IA recently marked its 200th installment. (Thanks to Emily for noticing.)

June 17, 2008 1:14 PM | | Comments (4)
Is it possible for M. Night Shyamalan to come up with a movie idea so bad that no studio will make it?

Not quite as paradoxical as the old conundrum that runs, "Can God microwave a burrito so hot that He Himself cannot eat it?"

Still, it makes you wonder.
June 17, 2008 11:53 AM | | Comments (0)
All-points bulletin:

"McLemee...is described as 5 feet 6 inches tall, 220 pounds with tattoos on the neck and above both eyes."

Clearly those of us who leave the state of Texas come to no good end.
June 17, 2008 6:05 AM | | Comments (5)

A lecture by David Simon on the worldview of The Wire:

Via Unemployed Negativity

June 16, 2008 6:37 PM | | Comments (5)

Following up a stray reference in a recent post here about Bo Diddley,* Oliver from Cult Punk points me to a recent article in the Times about the most recent book on No Wave.

The fact that there are other recent books on the subject is pretty amazing.** I was very heavily into No circa 1982, when my nerves were young and impressionable -- and have with some effort over the years managed to collect a decent collection of pertinent CDs which I can only play when Rita is not around. Because, seriously, this is not something most people can endure. After five minutes of Glenn Branca, the cats start hopping around in strange ways.

But sometimes you just crave Arto Lindsay use his untuned 12 string as a percussion instrument, or I do anyway, as in this scene*** of DNA performing circa 1980:

* Speaking of which, see my friend Alex's obituary from the Socialist Worker website.

** See also, from six years ago, Bernard Gendron's Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde. This was one of the books I covered in a piece for the Chronicle, during a previous lifetime.

*** Yes, that is Jean-Michel Basquiat in the opening shot and spraypainting graffiti at various points throughout.

June 15, 2008 6:06 PM | | Comments (8)
The Quarterly Conversation, the online critical journal edited by Scott Esposito, has just published its twelfth issue. If I have the math right (and assuming it's not like some literary publications which are less periodicals than "sporadicals") that means TQC has been around for three years. A long time, as these things go. And if it were a print publication, I would definitely buy it at the newsstand. The table of contents lists essay and reviews on Jorge Luis Borges, Roberto BolaƱo, Nicholson Baker, Simone de Beauvoir, and Kurt Vonnegut, as well as several authors whose names I don't recognize yet probably should.
June 11, 2008 2:57 PM | | Comments (0)
June 10, 2008 2:28 PM | | Comments (0)
It seems as if Jerome Weeks and I have been having an informal competition this spring to see which of us can neglect his blog more.

He gained a strong lead last month by getting sick (as mentioned in his post "There Will Be Phlegm") -- making it impossible for me ever to catch up, in spite of my prolonged silent meditation here at the hermitage.
June 5, 2008 10:23 AM | | Comments (1)

Chris Lehmann sends me this video, which is going to be in some pretty heavy rotation around here for a while yet....

Is it just me, or does this sound almost No Wave at a couple of points?

June 3, 2008 4:37 PM | | Comments (5)

"Guitarist Bo Diddley Dead at 79"

Journalist: If you had to point to your major source of inspiration, who would it be?

Joe Strummer: Bo Diddley.

Journalist: Anybody else?

Joe Strummer: Bo Diddley.


Hoping for thoughtful commentary from the Dial M crew

June 2, 2008 4:03 PM | | Comments (2)
Just when it seemed like the news cycle over the next few months would be unbearable, I learn from Henry that Fafblog is back:

So now everybody's all "oh, Hillary Clinton can't win the nomination" and "oh, Hillary Clinton can't be president" and "oh, Hillary Clinton, haven't they sedated her yet." Well that's just talking crazy talk! There's tons a stuff that can happen between now and the convention to make Hillary Clinton the nominee, so you just cheer up, Hillary Clinton people! Here's just a few of the many electoral scenarios that could make Hillary Clinton the next president of the United States.

  • Barack Obama is suddenly eaten by giant pill bugs.
  • On the way to the convention Barack Obama is confronted by gangs of outraged delegates from Florida and Michigan, who feed him to their giant pill bugs.
  • Hillary Clinton wins Puerto Rico, just as expected. In a surprise twist however Puerto Rico turns out to be ten thousand times the size of Puerto Rico.
  • An obscure quirk of DNC bylaws forces the nomination to be settled by spelling bee. Hillary Clinton gets the word "cat," while Barack Obama is eaten by giant pill bugs....

  • Here's the whole playbook. And don't overlook the recent, exclusive interview with HRC.

    Evidently Fafblog started up again a couple of months ago, after a hiatus of about two years, but this is the first I've heard of it.

    A recent post there sums up the more thoughtful discussions within parts of the liberal wonkosphere: "When you blow stuff up and kill people it's important that you blow stuff up and kill people in a way that maintains international respect and legitimacy for future blow-stuff-uppery and people-killing."
    June 2, 2008 11:58 AM | | Comments (0)

    Blogging has been a pretty low priority over the past few months. To an unusual degree, so has writing itself.

    Quick Study, while reflecting personal interests, has never really been a personal blog, like some. It feels odd and out-of-place to write in an introspective voice here. But doing so may be necessary in order to reconnect with the process of writing as such; so here goes.

    June 1, 2008 3:40 PM |

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