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Art and argument. Popping fresh.
(May 2001 archive)
        Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--
Success in circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise

(--Emily Dickinson)

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"Plot is a literary convention. Story is a force of nature."
(--Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

"Just because you're on their side doesn't mean they're on your side."
(--Teresa Nielsen Hayden)

"Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die."
(--Anne Lamott)

"You will never love art well, until you love what she mirrors better."
(--John Ruskin)

"They lied to you. The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. The Devil is grim because he knows where he is going, and, in moving, he always returns whence he came."
(--Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose)

"Details are all that matters; God dwells there, and you never get to see Him if you don't struggle to get them right."
(--Stephen Jay Gould)

"For every complex question, there's a simple answer. And it's wrong."
(--H. L. Mencken)

"History is the trade secret of science fiction."
(--Ken MacLeod)

Thursday, May 31, 2001
10:39 PM: Reuters reports: two plus two still four.
8:17 AM: Confronted with bankruptcy and wildly increasing electricity costs for its California customers, Pacific Gas and Electric is manfully facing up to its real crisis -- petitioning the federal bankruptcy court to allow it to give $17.5 million in bonuses to its top management team, the very people who navigated it to its current position. "The Management Retention Program...provides for payments ranging from 25% to 100% of annual base salary as of the Petition Date (the 'Retention Payments') to certain officers and other members of its leadership team if they stay with PG&E over the next several years and continue to contribute to PG&E's successful operation." Slate comments on what it calls an important contribution to the burgeoning field of Chutzpah Studies.
Wednesday, May 30, 2001
5:26 PM: Regarding Gordon Brown (British "New Labour" politician who provoked astonishment in this weblog by needing to be, figuratively speaking, whapped upside the head in order to get him to call on female journalists during press briefings), Alison Scott writes: "I saw a fabulous piece of film about this, where Gordon Brown was asked why, even after all the rows about ignoring women journalists, he only put one woman on the platform for events and generally didn't let her speak. He pointed out that he had two women there that day, and invited the journalists to ask a question of one of them. So a question was put, explicitly, to Estelle Morris. Before she'd said a word, Brown jumped in to answer the question. Collapse of stout party."
4:57 PM: "Microsoft Tech Support vs. the Psychic Friends Network": A systematic comparison. [link]
4:50 PM: "Like the old English 'privateer' pirates of the Caribbean five hundred years ago, sailing under no national flag -- robbing and plundering Latin America's riches for the English Crown, Washington now employs hundreds of contract employees through U.S. corporations to carry out its policies in Colombia and other countries. In the old days, the British maintained that because the pirate ships did not fly the English flag, the Crown was not responsible for their actions. While the new privateers are underwritten through U.S. taxes, they are technically 'contract employees.' Like the sixteenth century pirates, if they get caught in an embarrassing crime, or are killed, the U.S. government can deny responsibility for their actions. What's more only a select few in Congress know of their activities and their operations are not subject to public scrutiny, despite the fact that they are on the government payroll." Good CorpWatch piece on the outsourcing of the nastier parts of the War on Some Drugs.
4:42 PM: Two interesting features about Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America, Barbara Ehrenreich's recently-published narrative of deliberately living on low-wage pink-collar jobs over a period of some months: one a review in the Voice, and one a very interesting dialogue with James Fallows on the Atlantic's web site. I haven't read the book yet, but these pieces make me want to. I'm most struck by Ehrenreich's eye for the constant petty indignities of work amidst the "invisible class" -- endlessly dealing with work situations where the rules specify when you're allowed to go to the bathroom. (And I'm sorry to hear that New York's Carnegie Deli is one such workplace; I certainly won't eat there again.)
4:32 PM: Australia's Wollemi Pine, around for 120 million years, exhibits a complete lack of genetic diversity between individuals. Which, as you know, Bob, is Really Weird. [link]
4:08 PM: From the Onion: "Wal-Mart Opens Store in Winesburg, Ohio." "'We chose Winesburg due to its convenient location, relative lack of competing retail superstores, and the darkly powerful inner lives of its residents,' said Thomas Coughlin, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Division, which oversees more than 2,500 locations nationwide."
4:04 PM: America's Great Plains are emptying out. "An area equal to the size of the original Louisiana Purchase, nearly 900,000 square miles, now has so few people that it meets the 19th-century Census Bureau definition of frontier, with six people or fewer per square mile." The bison are coming back, too.
3:57 PM: The Village Voice's Richard Goldstein on why we should support Utah polygamist Tom Green's right to plurally marry -- and why it's appalling that he was, in fact, convicted of "bigamy." "The most disturbing thing about Utah's bigamy statute is that it applies to people who aren't actually wed. If a married man merely cohabits with several women, he's a bigamist in the eyes of the state. This concept could be applied to all sorts of common-law menages. If saying you are married makes it so, could gays who have commitment ceremonies be charged with a crime? Convicting Green -- and driving his coreligionists underground just in time for the 2002 Olympics -- might deflect attention from a whole range of sexual dissidents. But it's hard to take solace in the suffering of a sacrificial ram." (Goldstein also points out that the late-nineteenth-century moral panic about Mormon polygamy was part of the same process in which "homosexuality" was invented as an identity. In fact, that period was the wellspring of a whole range of notions and nostrums about human gender and sexual identity from which we're just now coming to our senses.)
3:23 PM: In further evidence of the push to privatize and monetize us into a civilization of haves and have-nots, many publishers are using the advent of digital content as an excuse to make life impossible for public libraries. From an eye-opening piece by Seth Shulman in Technology Review: "Publishers, in an increasingly bald, frontal assault on the library's mission, have something very different in mind: a pay-per-use model for information content that will largely shut libraries out."

Elsewhere, the publishers of scientific journals turn the screws ever more tightly, charging libraries astronomical prices for the peer-reviewed journals that scientists need in order to do science. Spokesthings for journal publisher Reed Elsivier haw-haw that "Everybody would like to have everything available, all the time, and preferably for free," which nicely distracts from the actual costs in question: from 1991 to 2000, a subscription to Brain Research went from roughly $5,000 to roughly $14,000 per year. No, those numbers are not typos -- and best yet, the authors of the papers published in these journals aren't paid. The high costs are supposedly mandated by the expense of the peer-review process -- and yet Reed Elsevier is apparently sufficiently awash in cash that it can bid on entire other publishing companies. As with so many other aspects of modern life, it's hard to avoid thinking that this is nothing more complicated than an attempt to gouge public institutions -- in this case, libraries and universities -- while hoping that nobody will notice until it's too late.

Saturday, May 26, 2001
1:10 AM: Cover story in, amazingly, frumpy old US News, heralding a sea change in car-culture in America. Traffic congestion, it would appear, is making us sick and wasting our lives, and building more roads just makes it worse. Solutions? Mass transit. Public policy that isn't completely focussed on cars. Making new developments less car-dependent. All together now: no duh. Haven't we been saying all this until blood burst out of our foreheads? Well, yes, but in reality, when deeply normative US News sidles up alongside and starts singing the same hymn, that's a signal that maybe we're finally, finally getting somewhere.
12:39 AM: Remarkably concise summary by Jonathan Chait, in The New Republic, of the fundamental techniques of modern right-wing verbal abuse. Chait is addressing a National Review editorial blasting a piece he wrote in the New Republic, and the details of the give-and-take are all a little bit intricate, but he does an excellent job of summing it up in a few paragraphs. This is a sample, but do read the whole thing.
What makes the editorial so remarkable is that there is not a single paragraph, not a sentence, not a word addressing the substance of our arguments...The editorial reveals a mindset that has taken hold among conservatives in recent years. As the Democratic Party has moved to the center and captured the popular position on most issues, Republicans have been able to win mainly by personalizing politics. (Clinton, of course, made this very easy.) Conservatives like to think of lying as a reflection of personal character that, almost by definition, has no bearing on public policy. Thus, misstating the cost of your mother-in-law's dog's medicine is evidence of pathological mendacity, but lying about who gets your tax cut is of no consequence at all.
Friday, May 25, 2001
1:40 PM: I meant to link this earlier, but it's still worth a look, because great invective is timeless. Roger Ebert's considered take on Freddy Got Fingered: "This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."
1:27 PM: A three-judge panel of the US Circuit Court of Appeals has lifted the injunction against The Wind Done Gone, a parody of Gone with the Wind, following less than an hour of arguments from publisher Houghton Mifflin. The judges called the injunction an "extraordinary and drastic remedy'' that "amounts to an unlawful prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment.'' Since letting the injunction stand would have cast the status of all kinds of legitimate critique and parody into doubt, this is very good news.
1:11 PM: Slate offers a Senate Switch FAQ that includes things I certainly didn't know about the mechanics of party in the US Congress. For instance, I wouldn't have guessed that control of the Senate has never before passed from one party to another in the middle of a congressional session.
9:50 AM: More British politics. John Townend is a Tory MP who is not running for re-election. Nonetheless, there's an election on, and for a time he was embarrassing the national Conservative party (above and beyond the natural level of crushing embarrassment that must descend daily upon every Tory when they wake up and remember "I am a member of the Conservative Party") by firing off a series of remarks about race and ethnicity which were, shall we say, not in the official party playbook.

Matthew Parris is a political commentator and parliamentary sketchwriter (American journalism has no real equivalent to that last), very conservative and very witty, who offers in the Spectator not just a brief for the idea that Townend has a right to his stupid opinions, but also some extremely sensible advice for political leaders of all stripes confronted by dissension and foolishness in their own ranks:

If you are a racist, do not write to me saying "Good on you for supporting dear, brave John Townend." He isnít dear, he isnít brave and he isnít right.

But he has a right to be wrong, and to stay in the Conservative party. That in his heart William Hague would not disagree with that statement makes the Conservative leaderís floundering around in flight from a few bad headlines these last ten days all the more dismal. It isnít "decisive" to spray out ultimatums in a crisis: it is the mark of someone anxious to appear so. What would have been truly decisive would have been for Mr Hague to say that Townend was talking complete tosh and that if those were his opinions he was welcome to them. Full stop--no further comment. Had he done so, the storm which would then have raged would by now be over. [...]

Were I a party leader, I should require from candidates a promise, if elected, to co-operate in the partyís vital parliamentary business; and, at elections, in efforts to exhort voters to vote for my party. Beyond that, let them express what stupid opinions they like.

Had Hague said as much last week, John Townend would this week be a good deal less famous, and his party in a good deal less disarray, than is now the case.

9:38 AM: What do all those lights on your modem mean?
9:27 AM: One of those reminders that, even to those of us Americans who follow British politics and culture with great interest, it's still a very strange place with the capacity to casually shock. This Guardian story reports on how it took the sustained cooperation of every journalist present, male and female alike, to get Chancellor Gordon Brown to finally...wait for it...call on female journalists during his daily half-hour press briefing.
Adam Boulton of Sky News said: "There was an agreement among journalists that only women would put up their hands to ask the first three questions." ITN's Jo Andrews was the first woman deemed worthy enough to joust with the chancellor - although Mr Brown couldn't immediately cope with the notion of an all-woman press conference and chose Nick Clarke of the Radio 4's World at One for the opening question of the press conference. But he was left with little choice as the female journalists began to dominate the events.

"Thank you for allowing us to participate in ladies' day," quipped Fi Glover of Radio 5 Live when the chancellor chose her from more than 100 journalists.

8:22 AM: Overwhelmed by overuse, drought, and weeds, the Rio Grande no longer reaches the Gulf of Mexico.
Thursday, May 24, 2001
6:58 PM: It's a good day to pick on Republican leaders. Here's House Assistant Majority Whip and dementia sufferer Bob Barr reportedly shouting obscenities and racial epithets at airport parking attendants. But, you know, race is a touchy issue with poor old Bob.
Wednesday, May 23, 2001
5:33 PM: Surprisingly even-handed piece about Tolkien's current critical reputation in, of all places, The American Prospect. Having been an employee of Harold Bloom's criticism-anthology factory I'm amused to see quite so much made of the fact that Bloom has "edited" two books of Tolkien criticism; in fact I wonder whether Bloom ever read the books' contents. But I'm happy to see a little play given to the notion (evidently advanced by Tom Shippey in a new book) that The Lord of the Rings is, in some useful senses, a work of twentieth-century high modernism. We had a panel about this very notion at Boskone last year, and Michael Swanwick clearly thought I was out of my mind, but I persist in thinking that any definition of "modernist" that includes Pound's Cantos has also got to include The Lord of the Rings. I mean, what's the spec for a certified High Modernist, if not a politically-conservative, backward-yearning genius who responds to the traumas and evils of the first half of the twentieth century by raiding great swatches of history and myth for the ingredients with which to then compose an immense, complex, and deeply self-referential work of art which millions of people all over the world will find aggravating and impenetrable, but which will command the devotion of a ferocious cult? I rest my case.
1:07 PM: "Enslave your girls and women, harbor anti-U.S. terrorists, destroy every vestige of civilization in your homeland, and the Bush administration will embrace you. All that matters is that you line up as an ally in the drug war, the only international cause that this nation still takes seriously." That's Robert Scheer in the Los Angeles Times, on the Bush administration's $43 million gift to the most unhinged government on Earth. Yes, it's technically being distributed through UN humanitarian organizations, and Afghanistan being the civil and orderly place it is, well-known for its respect for the separation of powers between duly constituted governments and NGOs, we're sure that none of that money will wind up in the hands of the the gangs of armed religious fanatics who run the country. After all, the State Department looked at them very sternly and instructed them not to.
Tuesday, May 22, 2001
5:57 PM: Columnist Jon Carroll reads his mail: "R. Rossney, of the Rockies Rossneys, reports receipt of a glossy advertising brochure for Denver-area homeowners. One article, about a particular brand of futuristic deck, began: 'The phrase, "the more things change the more we remain the same," doesn't hold quite as true today as it might have in the past.' In other words, the...well, now, what would those other words be? Your assignment: extract meaning."
5:04 PM: From Teresa: Knit a jumper. Save a penguin. (Don't neglect to scroll down for photographic evidence.)
9:38 AM: It's hard to believe that George W. Bush could say anything that could lower my opinion of him. But our President-select has actually managed it. Speaking at Notre Dame on May 20 on behalf of his Administration's proposals to outsource more social-services work to "faith-based" organizations, GWB dared to quote the great Catholic socialist and pacifist Dorothy Day. Or, rather, misquote, as this Salon article demonstrates. Day wouldn't let her Catholic Worker organization accept any kind of government support; the whole point was and is to give your possessions away and serve the poor, period the end. One can only imagine the ferocious Day's attitude to Bush's (actually, Marvin Olasky's) "charitable choice" proposals, proposals that amount to a naked attempt to smuggle state religion in through the back door. (As the ACLU noted, the Bush/Olasky proposals "would co-opt the religious mission of houses of worship and transform them into arms of the government. Although the Act purportedly gives religious organizations continued control over their religious message, shifting dynamics between religious institutions and the government will eventually filter into the substance of their services, as both public oversight and funding increase. For, as one seasoned nonprofit service provider observed, 'Most everyone is fighting for every penny they can get to run whatever program they have....[I]f you can't do it the way you want, then you'll take your program and you'll fit it into what the government will give you money for.'")

(Olasky, you may recall, is the fellow who, during the 2000 campaign, remarked that three Jewish journalists who supported John McCain had "holes in their souls" and "no understanding of God's grace." More of this thoughtful fellow's ideas about religion and society may be found in his book Compassionate Conservatism, which features an introduction by George W. Bush.)

Dorothy Day took completely literally the Christian injunction to serve the needy. She went to jail countless times, tirelessly campaigning against militarism, against nuclear weapons, against the death penalty, and for the rights of working people. Her radical personalism forbade Catholic Worker chapters to incorporate or even to accept private donations. A religious arch-conservative, she took her religion to mean that it was her job to personally feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. George W. Bush, the very picture of everything Day opposed with her entire body and soul, asserted on Sunday that "any effective war on poverty must deploy what Dorothy Day called 'the weapons of spirit.'" Leaving aside the fact that Dorothy Day never actually used that phrase, this transparently scripted grab at a little Catholic-voter support is proof that, if there is a God, it is a forgiving God; any other would have darkened the sky and turned our President into a pillar of salt on the spot.

Monday, May 21, 2001
7:16 AM: "'Chapters offloaded its financial problems onto the publishers....There is so much blood everywhere, this industry looks like an abattoir,' said Allan MacDougall, president of Vancouver's Raincoast Books, distributor of the popular Harry Potter series. [...] The story of how Chapters left the publishing industry so vulnerable is a tale of ambition and mismanagement that at times seemed stranger than fiction."` Very interesting Globe and Mail story about how Canada's single bookstore megachain nearly brought down Canadian book publishing.
1:07 AM: You may think you have already seen the Revelation of St. John the Divine as enacted by Pokemon characters. You have not. What was once merely a catalog of characters is now a full-fledged Flash animation that must be seen to be, as it were, believed.
Sunday, May 20, 2001
8:06 PM: New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd advances further on her startling march toward actual radical moral outrage:
We'll bake the earth. We'll brown & serve it, sautť it, simmer it, sear it, fondue it, George-Foreman-grill it. (We invented the Foreman grill.) We might one day bring the earth to a boil and pull it like taffy. (We invented taffy.)[...]

We will modify food in any way we want and send it to any country we see fit at prices that we and we alone determine in the cargo ships we choose at the time we set. Our international banking arm--the World Bank and the I.M.F.--will support whatever dictatorships suit us best. [...]

We are America.

This is the same New York Times columnist whose lightfingered stylings during last year's election could have convinced you that the whole affair was just a big fight over style? Proverbially, a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, and a liberal is a conservative who's been arrested. Perhaps an outraged satirist is a professional cynic who's discovered that something actually mattered after all.
5:40 PM: This weblog had a previous, very short-lived incarnation, which may be viewed here.
9:29 AM: Admirable fulmination from the intermittently brilliant Christopher Hitchens: "One day, I am going to drop everything and think exclusively about America and its celebrated 'loss of innocence'. I have read that the country lost said innocence in the Civil War, in the Spanish-American War, in the First World War, during Prohibition, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at the McCarthy hearings, in Dallas, in Vietnam, over Watergate and in the discovery (celluloided by Robert Redford in Quiz Show) that the TV contests in the Eisenhower era were fixed. This list is not exhaustive. Innocence, we were recently and quakingly informed, was lost again at the bombing of Oklahoma City. Clearly, a virginity so casually relinquished is fairly easily regained--only to be (damn!) mislaid once more."
All contents copyright 2001 by Patrick Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.