Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Bookplanet: writers CAN get rich

Not many do, but a few really coin it. For example: The latest annual sales figures from Nielsen BookScan reveal why so many authors are taking up writing for children. The top five authors in England, according to the amount of money their work made in 2004, were Jacqueline Wilson (£8,347,573), J.K. Rowling (£5,392,239), Julia Donaldson, creator of The Gruffalo - (£4,797,459), Lemony Snicket (£4,633,296) and Philip Pullman (£3,964,892). The year's best-selling hardback book for children was The Beano Annual, which sold 260,211 copies, whereas the paperback of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix sold 329,826 copies. Meanwhile, on a much greater scale, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has just been reprinted for the 82nd time in America. There are now 29 million copies of the thriller in print in 44 languages around the world. Then there are a further million copies of the Special Illustrated Edition and 500,000 copies of the audio version. Sony Pictures have paid $6 million for the film rights and cast Tom Hanks in the leading role. Four years ago Mr Brown's agents couldn't even give the film rights away. Such impressive sales figures nevertheless pale into insignificance when compared with those of Dr D.G. Hessayon's The House Plant Expert. This bible of the indoor gardener has sold nearly 48 million copies worldwide since it was first published in 1960. A sequel, rather unimaginatively titled, The House Plant Expert: Book Two, will be published by Transworld next month. It contains details of more than 200 new plants, whose names - zelkova, vriesia and tweedia, among them - should broaden the book's readership to take in Scrabble players as well as dibble users.

Eddie Jordan is my new hero

A federal jury ruled on Wednesday that New Orleans's first black district attorney discriminated against 43 whites when he fired them all at once upon taking office in 2003 and replaced them with blacks. The fired employees were awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay and damages. The jury of eight whites and two blacks returned the unanimous verdict in the third day of deliberations in the racial discrimination case against the district attorney, Eddie Jordan. Eight days after taking office, Mr. Jordan fired 53 of 77 white nonlawyers in his office - investigators, clerks, child-support enforcement workers and the like - and replaced them with blacks. Months later, most of the whites sued him, and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission later made a preliminary finding that Mr. Jordan had been racially biased. Mr. Jordan has acknowledged that he wanted to make the office more reflective of the city's racial makeup, but he denied that he had fired whites just because of their race. In fact, he said, he had not known the race of the people fired. Judge Stanwood Duval of Federal District Court instructed the jurors to find Mr. Jordan liable if they concluded that the firings had been racially motivated. The law bars the mass firing of a specific group, even if the intent is to create diversity. Mr. Jordan said he would appeal. I suggest every black guy who gets the power, follow the Eddie Jordan example. We could redress racial imbalance within a generation with the Eddie Jordan brand of affirmative action.

Dispute rages over Terri Schiavo's corpse

Family members are locked in a burgeoning battle over the corpse of Terri Schiavo. Congress is working on a bill that should take up their time for the rest of their term. One faction wants Terri's corpse buried; another insists she must be cremated; yet a third wants it embalmed and displayed at the Smithsonian; and a fourth faction insists that, whatever happens to her corpse, her feeding tube must remain attached to it.

Bookplanet: McEwan talks to NY Times

'"Saturday" is Mr. McEwan's most autobiographical novel. Its protagonist is a successful and contented neurosurgeon named Henry Perowne, who resembles his creator in every respect save two--three if you count the medical degree, though Mr. McEwan said that he spent so much time researching operations that eventually, while in his scrubs, he was able to pass himself off as a brain surgeon to unsuspecting medical students. Henry Perowne also drives a far nicer car than Mr. McEwan's 12-year-old Saab, and he is tone deaf to literature. But he lives in Mr. McEwan's home, a Georgian townhouse in Fitzrovia, and he has two children and a beautiful wife who is a prominent newspaperwoman. He shares Mr. McEwan's taste in wine, his hobbies of cooking and playing squash. And his mother, suffering from dementia, is closely modeled on Mr. McEwan's own mother, though he has changed her from a former markswoman (she was an army wife) to a swimmer. "I had this idea of seeing how one could write a novel without having to invent everything," he said, explaining, "I suppose it had something to do with 9/11, but I wanted a sort of documentary quality. I wanted a feeling of what it was like in the early years of the 21st century." He added, "I wanted to get the right level of bafflement." Henry Perowne wonders, as the author does, whether years from now the war in Iraq will all seem a minor moment or whether we are at the beginning of some great historical change. "You can think yourself into a crisis in the middle of the night," Mr. McEwan said.' More here. I read Atonement, because everyone was banging on about how great it was, and it wasn't all that great. No Great Gatsby for sure. It made me not-read the other one people were banging on about at the time, The Corrections. I read two pages of that, and stopped. Self-consciously literary writing basically pisses me off.

Dispute brews over Pope's feeding tube

The Pope has not made a living will, and his Cardinals are too daunted by his august presence and current condition to ask him to draw up one, reports our secret source in the Vatican. The Pope has difficulty speaking, and has not been able to bless his flock by word, only by the small, timid gesture of raising his right hand. Two factions in the Vatican are gathering forces: those faithful who want to pull his feeding tube once he cannot minister to his millions-strong flock, and those who want his feeding tube to stay in, even if he slips into a persistent vegetable state. Currently the second faction is the strongest, owing to the Catholic belief that suicide is a sin, and therefore pulling the Pontiff’s feeding tube can be likened to assisted suicide. At present the feeding tube goes into the Pontiff’s nose. “As long as he can bless us by raising his hand, we will keep his feeding tube in,” vows the right-to-life faction. “We will only pull the tube from his nose if he wants to sneeze." The right-to-die faction disagrees. “We cannot have a persistent vegetable as a Pope,” they vow. “If the Pope cannot lift his hand to bless us, what use will he be as a Pope? St. Peter never imagined a persistent vegetable as a Pope, otherwise he might have named a turnip as his successor, although a potato is pretty persistent, and can grow ears. If the Pope is unable to lift his hand, it will be necessary to remove the feeding tube and allow holy organ failure to occur.” There are rumors sweeping Rome that an American entrepreneur who has asked to remain nameless at this time, has offered to buy the Pope if he becomes a persistent vegetable, for exhibitions in the U.S. "I pledge to keep the Pope going as a persistent vegetable for as long as the faithful will pay to see him," said the entrepreneur. More details soon as the squabble in the Vatican intensifies.

Sin City's got white, yellow, and yes, red blood

At last, an actually real comic book movie. With comic book gore and blood in three colors. I won't take my girlfriend, who quite properly and nobly despises violence, but hey, I'm a boy, I love splatter and limbs ripped asunder. 'For Bob Weinstein, meanwhile, the gore in every scene is secondary to the romantic underpinnings of the three plots. "If all there was was the violence of the comic book, nobody would be making this movie including me," he said. "What transcends it is these are three lugs who happen to be in love with these women in very different ways--the knights in dirty armor. Bruce Willis is the protector, Clive Owen is fighting for the honor of the women of the streets and Mickey Rourke was framed. It's about the lengths they will go for redemption and revenge. That's the core of it, and that's what Robert and Frank got, and that's what every film noir piece has. And people love that." Of course, not every film noir piece shows the heads of five prostitutes mounted on a wall, or a dog eating the legs of a still-live boy, or a man ripping out the genitals of another man, or--but never mind.' More here. Really looking forward to boy's legs being eaten by dog, especially if the boy is totally innocent, and the dog is his own puppy. Oh boy, am I a boy, and a bad boy at that.

Kelefa Sanneh munches Moby's gonads

'The focus here is on Moby as a singer and songwriter, which is strange, because he is not very good at either job. In his effort to leave generic constraints behind, he has drifted toward some rather neutral variant of alternative-rock. In the lyrics, as in the liner notes, he seems to mistake obviousness for truth: the lead single is a mind-numbing song called, "Beautiful," where the romantic dialogue consists largely of couplets like, "I love you baby/I love you now/I love you baby/I love you now." This music isn't just dull, though. Like much of what Moby has produced since "Play," it's condescending, too. Much of it sounds like the work of a producer who thinks pop music is supposed to be kind of idiotic, and who thinks pop audiences should be glad that he deigns to give us what we want. Do we like sex? O.K., here's "I Like It," four singularly unpleasant minutes of heavy breathing. Do we like songs about how the world is happy and sad and good and bad? O.K., here's "Slipping Away," with a wispy beat and Moby crooning, "Open to everything, happy and sad/Seeing the good when it's all going . . ." - you can finish the couplets yourself. Maybe this isn't really Moby's fault so much as it is ours. Like so many other things in the late 1990's, his new paradigm seemed like a great idea: car commercials were going to be the new pop songs and laptop composers were going to be the new pop stars. But it turns out that we really do like those oversized personalities who clog the radio stations - some of whom even double as superior engineers. Mr. Fukuyama, in his famous obituary of history, might have written that "boredom at the end of music will serve to get music started once again." That's an appealing idea, but it's also appealing to know, listening to "Hotel," that it won't be necessary. The end of music seems to have ended itself.' Complete castration here.

Terri's body joins her soul

She died more than a decade ago, and now she's done it again. We're waiting with bated breath for the next struggle over a dead soul in a living body.

HBO, please buy this, I gotta see it

Flooded with 55,000 complaints before and 8,000 after its January broadcast of the irreverent but award-winning West End musical "Jerry Springer: The Opera," the Governors Program Complaints Committee of the BBC has voted 4 to 1 to reject the objections. The committee, which is charged with deciding if transmitted programs meet BBC editorial standards, codes and guidelines, said of the program that "although the offense to religious beliefs caused to sizable numbers of people should not be underestimated or taken lightly, its broadcast was justified because the outstanding artistic significance of the program outweighed the offense that it caused to some viewers." Featuring Jesus, Mary and God as Jerry Springer's guests, the televised musical, a satire on Mr. Springer's confessional program, also received 2,200 supportive messages. Meanwhile, a Christian group, the Christian Institute, is pursuing a judicial review against the BBC for the broadcast. The BBC said, "This is a separate legal matter and is so far the only legal action ongoing, and because it is ongoing we can't comment further at the moment."

Bookplanet: Harry Potter chews up trees

Scholastic plans a first printing of 10.8m copies of the latest of the J. K. Rowling books, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." That figure represents 4m copies more than were initially printed when the last Potter adventure was released, in 2003. The total might also be a record for first printings of a hardcover general-interest book, although there are few authoritative sources to confirm that. Publishers routinely overstate the number of copies in a first printing, and the rule of thumb is to divide an announced first printing by two to get the real number. But Scholastic's estimate is probably closer to reality. In 2003, it printed 6.8m copies of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" in the first run, and 5m of those sold on the first day. That was because of the large volume of pre-orders, a phenomenon that is recurring this time. "We are hearing from our accounts that the pre-orders are phenomenal," Barbara Marcus, the president of Scholastic, said. I get a total kick out of a writer making this much jingle. Pen-pushers can get on that Forbes list, too. You go, J.K. girl.

Butt-fucking to desecrate Holy City in August

Religious leaders met on Wednesday in Jerusalem in a united protest against a gay pride festival planned there in August. They included the deputy mufti of Jerusalem, the Latin patriarch, the Armenian patriarch, the Sephardic chief rabbi, and the Ashkenazi chief rabbi. They say the event would desecrate the city and convey the erroneous impression that homosexuality is acceptable. "They are creating a deep and terrible sorrow that is unbearable," Shlomo Amar, Israel's Sephardic chief rabbi, said. "It hurts all of the religions. We are all against it." Abdel Aziz Bukhari, a Sufi sheik, added: "We can't permit anybody to come and make the Holy City dirty. This is very ugly and very nasty to have these people come to Jerusalem." Interfaith agreement is unusual in Israel. The leaders' joint opposition was initially generated by the Rev. Leo Giovinetti, an evangelical pastor from San Diego who is both a veteran of the American culture war over homosexuality and a frequent visitor to Israel, where he has formed relationships with rabbis and politicians. Organizers of the gay pride event, Jerusalem WorldPride 2005, said that 75 non-Orthodox rabbis had signed a statement of support for the event, and that Christian and Muslim leaders as well as Israeli politicians were expected to announce their support soon. They said they were dismayed to see that what united their opponents was their objection to homosexuality. Well, well, religion gets itself all worked up about butt-fucking again. Tend to the poor, you nasties. I've always found it amazing that priests would fulminate against butt-fucking, when a majority of them appear to be of that orientation themselves. The last stand of the self-hating homosexuals.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Making blog easier to zip through

To make it easier for readers to read this blog, I'm giving the posts different headings from now on. When a post says "Bookplanet," the post will be about books. When it says "Americaca," the post will be about politics. If you're only interested in books, and couldn't give a damn about politics, read the "Bookplanet" posts and skip "Americaca," and vice versa. There's also "Weekly sex topic," and then there's the weird stuf I blog about. Any suggestions what to call the weird stuff? Do comment.

Americaca: Huffington on Dems

I've revealed before that IMBO, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel is one of the most bonkable Major Media Chicks. Well, so is Major Chick Arianna Huffington, who bonked her way to riches, which makes her even more bonkable IMHO. Here she huffs about the pusillanimous Dems.

Mom wants son to be gay

A mother writes about her son: 'It is worse when I explain that I hope Zeke is gay. Think about it, I say. How many straight men maintain inappropriately intimate relationships with their mothers? How many shop with them? I want a gay son. People laugh, but they assume I'm kidding. I'm not.' Full revelation here. It's Salon, so you have to click on to sitting through an ad before you get to read the article. This ad is pretty interesting--about baby seals being beaten to death.

Bookplanet: Mary Cheney memoir

Mary Cheney, openly gay daughter of VP Dick Cheney, plans to publish a memoir under a new subdivision of Simon & Schuster devoted to conservative books, the company announced Tuesday. Probably full of conservative stuff, but if she knows what she's doing, she'll devote some pages to her 'lifestyle,' which should piss off the conservative audience no end.

Bookplanet: After boy wizards, boy spies

'Ian Fleming, Graham Greene and John le Carré have long captivated adult readers with tales of spying and intrigue. And at the cinema, The Bourne Identity and its sequel, The Bourne Supremacy, have brought the genre into the 21st Century. Now publishers and bookstores have decided the spy thriller is the ideal way to capture elusive teenaged boy readers, with a new generation of secret agents for children. This month, Young Bond: SilverFin - Book 1 by Charlie Higson entered the children's paperback charts, the first of five planned adventures with a junior James Bond sanctioned by the estate of Ian Fleming. Next month sees the publication of Jimmy Coates: Killer, the hotly tipped first novel by a young Cambridge philosophy student, Joseph Craig, who admits to being a fan of movies like The Bourne Identity. Booksellers are also preparing for the launch of Ark Angel by British author Anthony Horowitz, the sixth in a series that has re-invented the spy genre. With adults-to-children appeal, it has sold more than 2m copies so far. Scorpia, the 5th in the sequence, flew off the shelves last April, selling more than 1,000 copies a day in WH Smith. Rachel Airey, Smith's children's fiction buyer, welcomed the arrival of books that appeal to boys. "There's a huge amount of pink girly stuff in the market so this is quite refreshing," she said. Full article here. Via Moby Lives.

Bookplanet: Leonard Cohen deserves Nobel Prize

'Paul Kennedy has a message for the Nobel Committee in Stockholm: Leonard Cohen's your man. This Saturday, radio documentarian Kennedy will launch a campaign to nominate the revered Canadian songwriter and poet for the Nobel Prize in Literature. During a panel discussion at Blue Metropolis, Montreal's international literary festival, the host of CBC Radio's Ideas will make the case that Cohen is worthy of the $1.7-million prize, backed up by writer George Elliott Clarke, playwright and poet Michel Garneau, college professor Edward Palumbo and jazz singer Karen Young. "There are a lot of people in Montreal who are very passionate about Leonard Cohen ... He's different from a celebrity; he's almost God." Though he is not a member of the Swedish Academy or any of the other bodies that can put forward names for the Nobel, Kennedy hopes he can build some Nobel momentum for the Montreal-born songwriter, poet and novelist. "He deserves to be recognized for the influence he's had on poets and novelists and musicians and songwriters and playwrights and, God knows, anyone who works in language," argues Kennedy, who first got hooked on Cohen's sensibility when his Grade 9 English teacher played Suzanne in class.' More here. Via Maud Newton.

Bookplanet: they buy the book, but when do they make the movie?

'"In some ways, producers and studios are more exacting than book editors often are. In the book world, you can get by with a lot of fairly slack stuff, especially if you have written best sellers. If you are a brand name, you can write some fairly shoddy stuff, and no editors will raise a voice -- whereas by the time (the book) gets to the screen, you have had these squadrons of people checking every aspect of the plot and characters." Those squadrons have favored books as a key source of feature filmmaking since the beginning of cinema, and they frequently hire New York-based scouts to stay on top of the publishing world--from producer David O. Selznick, who optioned Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" manuscript, to Columbia Pictures, which recently purchased rights to "The Da Vinci Code" and other Dan Brown novels for a reported $6 million. Warners' belief in books as source material was justified by the Harry Potter films, the studio's most significant recent franchise. Although J.K. Rowling's Potter books came to the screen relatively quickly, literary works often take years to develop. Michael Douglas devoted much of his early career to getting Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" off the ground after his father failed to do so, and producer Wendy Finerman spent the better part of a decade struggling to mount Winston Groom's "Forrest Gump."' As for "Confederacy of Dunces, it hasn't been made after decades and millions spent on trying. Full article here. Via Maud Newton.

Bookplanet: Adrienne Rich interview

And how has the culture changed since 9/11? "Horribly for the worse," Rich said. "'Market' values have become the sole measure of anything and everything. Oppositional voices have less and less space. Poverty--which I think of as an index to the culture, an indefensible phenomenon in any developed nation, certainly the wealthiest in the world--is much worse, and will go on worsening."
What advice--and what warnings--does she offer younger poets? "If you are troubled by the cruelty and violence and lovelessness you see around you," Rich said, "if you want to live in your time and not in some Hollywood or videogame fantasy, if you've seen people around you pushed around or crushed ... If you love language and see it being betrayed, if you feel a huge gap between what you're told is going on and what you actually see and feel on your nerves--then this is the material of your art, there's no escaping it. The question then is, how do you make enduring beauty and form out of such materials? And that will be the question of a lifetime." Full interview here.

Another take on Skinner

Interesting take on Skinner, the guy who said we are our external behavior, and our interior doesn't exist. 'It was Skinner who identified, more clearly than anyone the key stumbling block for those of us trying to see ourselves accurately; namely, a reluctance to countenance that human actions are caused, because the more causation, the less credit. "We recognize a person's dignity or worth," writes Skinner, "when we give him credit for what he has done ... Any evidence that a person's behavior may be attributed to external circumstances seems to threaten his dignity or worth."' Full article here. The writer notes: 'Most of my students are alternately amused and troubled, for example, when I speculate that "love" is, on one level, an evolutionary mechanism that insures an inclination to invest in individuals suitable to help maximize one's fitness, and on another, a consequence of appropriate amounts of oxytocin (in women) or vasopressin (in men), released in conjunction with sexual satisfaction. "That's just not acceptable," one young lady moaned, "I want my boyfriend to love me on his own, and not because of his genes or chemicals, but because of him and me!"'

Bookplanet: Megaselling writer on houseplants

I don't know why, but I just loved reading this.
'Most authors who had written a book selling millions of copies would not drag their feet in writing a sequel. But not Dr DG Hessayon, who may be the most successful author you've never heard of. In 1960 Dr Hessayon first published The House Plant Expert, a guide to, well, house plants and their discontents. Since then his book has sold 14m copies, been translated into 22 languages, and become the most popular book on gardening ever written. What is almost more extraordinary is that it has taken Dr Hessayon 45 years to compile a follow-up. Next month finally sees the long-awaited The House Plant Expert Book Two go on sale, joining Dr Hessayon's clutch of other titles, including The Rose Expert, The Lawn Expert and The Flowering Shrub Expert, which are said to have sold a total of 48m copies worldwide. Eat your heart out Dan Brown--with sales of a mere 29m copies of The Da Vinci Code. The secret of Dr Hessayon's success is simple--very, very simple. Since almost every household has plants of some sort, and so many things can go wrong with them, the demand for a basic, common-sense guide is huge. The books include, for example, a description of how to water a plant. Written in a stern, no-nonsense style, Dr Hessayon's books are almost unrecognisable when compared with many modern gardening books, which, with their glossy display photographs, look more like works of art than how-to guides. The design of Dr Hessayon's books could be best characterised as "1980 East German tourist brochure", but without the exuberance. Yet his series has made the 77-year-old Dr Hessayon perhaps the most successful living author in the English language, and a multi-millionaire to boot. The books themselves are reliable, utilitarian and without graces, much like the publicity-shy Dr Hessayon--who says he prefers to be known as Dave.'

Bookplanet: Winner of Kiriyama Pacific Rim prize

'A novel hailed as finding "shimmering love" among the bigotries and injustices of the Asian area of an English town yesterday won a share of a £16,000 international literary prize. Maps for Lost Lovers, which took Nadeem Aslam 11 years to write, was declared in San Francisco as joint winner of the annual Kiriyama award, which aims to raise understanding of the peoples of the Pacific rim and south Asian diaspora. The novel is a combined love story and murder mystery set in a poor south Asian enclave where a local curse is "May your son marry a white woman". It centres on Kaukab, a pious Muslim woman who relies on her faith to ease her feelings of estrangement from her homeland of Pakistan and from her husband and westernised children. It dramatises both white and Asian racism and deals with arranged marriages and Muslim divorce. Aslam, 39, who won literary awards for his first novel Season of the Rainbirds, is the son of Pakistani parents who settled in Huddersfield in the 1980s. He has said that he lived on prize money and grants while writing Maps for Lost Lovers in borrowed flats in Hudders field, Edinburgh, Leicester and Reading. It got him longlisted for last year's Booker prize - and for the Literary Review's bad sex award. He said in a recent interview: "The book can be seen as an overview of race in Britain over the past 50 years. During the writing of it, I lived in various cities and towns but always within the Asian neighbourhoods. The air there seemed rich with relevant stories, so much so that at times I felt that all I had to do as a writer was to provide surfaces for those stories to coalesce onto like dew on the petals of a flower." Full stories here and here.

Bookplanet: Reading the world

"Jolly Englishman I am not, but I have also confessed to being partial to the English translation of Don Quixote over the barbaric original." -- Jorge Luis Borges
'April will be dominated by Poetry Month, so I'd like to give you a heads-up on a new and extremely exciting promotional effort that will be coming in May. Called Reading the World, the project will focus upon increasing public awareness of the pleasures and possibilities inherent in reading literature in translation. While Reading the World will initially focus upon five publishers (Archipelago Books, Dalkey Archive Press, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux; Knopf, and New Directions) of varying size, but all with established commitments to the art of translation, there really is no limit to the ways in which the industry at all levels (booksellers, publishers, media) might contribute to the expansion of this project so that it truly encompasses the world of literature. It was Chad Post of Dalkey Archive Press who ultimately accepted a leadership role for the project during the past year. As Post recalls it: "Last year at BEA, I produced a small booklet listing all of our upcoming translations, from Dutch, from Estonian, from Bulgarian, etc. Paul Yamazaki [City Lights bookstore] picked this up at our stand and said that it was the "most beautiful thing" he had found at BEA. So in talking with him, I mentioned that it would be great if we could figure out a way for publishers and booksellers who love these type of books to work together to help raise the awareness of the translations being published. Then, he had his discussion with you and Karl and Jeff at the FSG party, and by the time BEA was over, the seeds for Reading the World had been planted. That "discussion" occurred at a Farrar, Straus, & Giroux BookExpo dinner, where a casual conversation developed among Paul Yamazaki, Karl Pohrt (owner of Shaman Drum Bookshop in Ann Arbor, MI), Jeff Seroy (FSG's Marketing & Publicity Director), and me. We tossed around many ideas about finding ways to convince our readers, our customers, to try more novels in translation, but the one aspect of the conversation that I recall most vividly was the concept of promoting the reading of translated works as a pleasure and not just a duty. How could we make translated work more tempting to our readers? How could we make them want to read this stuff? The answer, of course, is that we could use the same techniques, combined with a creative marketing plan, that we employ to make any book a "must-read." We could make translated works irresistible through passionate handselling and imaginative promotion. We hit upon FSG, Knopf, Archipelago, and New Directions because we felt the five presses taken together represented a nice mix of aesthetics and size (from a large commercial houses to a newly formed nonprofit). My primary role in the project has been to help organize and keep everything moving on the publisher side of things, and I have to say that working with Jeff Seroy from FSG, Paul Kozlowski from Knopf, Declan Spring from New Directions, and Jill Schoolman from Archipelago has been great.' Click for full post here.

Bookplanet: why do some writers make it?

'The World Republic of Letters considers literary reputation and success on a global scale, looking at what accounts for some writers finding acceptance internationally, while others don't (or remain only regionally successful), as well as the influence these writers have. Casanova describes an "international literary space", formed in the 16th century, with literature travelling across borders--and competing for success. The resulting world republic of letters isn't one where every book of any origin has an equal chance: dominant languages and cultures strive to maintain their position, while authors from smaller languages and less established literary traditions compete for attention (often infiltrating the dominant tradition in order to piggy-back onto success that way). Influential arbiters of quality emerge--not merely individuals or specific publications, but geographic centres (Paris, in particular, Casanova argues): if you can make it there (i.e. find success and approval), you've made it everywhere.
Casanova's focus is on what can be called 'serious' literature, i.e. she doesn't treat the case of the airport bestseller (of which Dan Brown's international hit, The Da Vinci Code is the current prime example). In part this is because her interest is in demonstrating the effect of critical-intellectual approval: the embrace of an author, style, school, or type by an intellectual establishment (generally: that in Paris) as seal of approval leading to global success (and imitation). This (slight) limitation to the book is understandable--Dan Brown and writers of his ilk look to have little lasting effect on literature, and their books little staying power (over the long term)--but it's a shame that these sorts of titles aren't addressed, as this interesting phenomenon on the periphery of the world republic of letters also has an (arguably growing) effect on it.
Casanova shows the historic development of literature across borders, making a good case for Paris establishing itself quickly--and lastingly ("at least until the 1960s", she suggests)--as the focal point: the place where literatures converge, where success is ordained. Writers from the provinces gravitate to cities, writers from small cultures gravitate to larger ones--and Paris was, especially for much of the 20th century, the ultimate destination. As she notes, many authors actually moved to Paris (from Strindberg, Stein, and Joyce to Kundera and Handke), though equally significant is the role of Paris (and the French publishers and literary establishment) in 'crowning' writers: from Borges to Danilo Kiš, it was acceptance in Paris that led to the international breakthrough.' Click for full review here.

Bookplanet: Amazon's most prolific interviewer

'Harriet Klausner read four books yesterday. Frankly, this was no big whoop for Ms. Klausner. The only days she doesn't read four books are the days she reads five. Her peregrinations through the printed word are charted in the critiques she posts on's been voted its No. 1 reviewer--and other online book sites. Reviewing on Amazon isn't a singular achievement. The site welcomes all those eager to tap into their inner Orville Prescott, often posting multiple reviews of a single book. Still, in terms of productivity (8,649 reviews as of mid-March since 2000) and the ability to turn out what the site calls helpful information, Ms. Klausner is in a league of her own. More than 53,000 Amazon visitors have given a thumbs up to commentary like "the fast-paced story line contains intriguing heroes battling with one another as much as with their common foes." That was Ms. Klausner on the thriller "No Man's Dog" by Jon A. Jackson. "Exhilarating British police procedural" was her word on "Flesh Wounds" by John Lawton. "Daniel's Veil" by R.H. Stavis, meanwhile, was deemed "a fascinating and enthralling paranormal tale." Full article here.

Americaca: Why Republicans beat Democrats

Just read the most sensible analysis of why Republicans do so well in elections and Democrats don't. By Bill Bradley, of all people, the basketball player who was too smart to win a presidential nomination. He imagines the Republicans as a pyramid. 'Big individual donors and large foundations--the Scaife family and Olin foundations, for instance--form the base of the pyramid. They finance conservative research centers like the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, entities that make up the second level of the pyramid. The ideas these organizations develop are then pushed up to the third level of the pyramid--the political level. There, strategists like Karl Rove or Ralph Reed or Ken Mehlman take these new ideas and, through polling, focus groups and careful attention to Democratic attacks, convert them into language that will appeal to the broadest electorate. That language is sometimes in the form of an assault on Democrats and at other times in the form of advocacy for a new policy position. The development process can take years. And then there's the fourth level of the pyramid: the partisan news media. Conservative commentators and networks spread these finely honed ideas. At the very top of the pyramid you'll find the president. Because the pyramid is stable, all you have to do is put a different top on it and it works fine.' The Democrats, he says, don't have a pyramid; every four years its presidential candidate has to build his own pyramid from the ground up, which only works if the candidate is extraordinarily charismatic, like Bill Clinton. Click for full piece here.

Americaca: The people speak

When Americans Torture and Kill (2 Letters)
To the Editor:
In "Is No One Accountable?" (column, March 28), Bob Herbert asks how far we've come since the Middle Ages, given the evidence of torture and abuse by United States military and intelligence personnel. As a species, we have not advanced at all; we are the same dangerous, sometimes violent animals that we were at the time of the Inquisition. But as a society, or a loosely bound collection of societies, we have advanced. One major area of advancement has been in our respect for individual human rights, and the extent to which that respect is reflected in our laws. But there will occasionally be times and places when the protections of the law are ignored or overridden, and in those times, the darker tendencies of our nature will be given expression. This would seem to be one of those times.
Michael H. Holmes, Gaithersburg, Md.
To the Editor:
Bob Herbert asks, "Is No One Accountable?" for the abuse, torture and murder of prisoners in United States custody in Afghanistan, Iraq and at Guantánamo. The short answer is no, nobody is accountable. The reason is that Congress is supposed to be the enforcement mechanism, and this Congress has shown time and again that it has neither the political will nor the ethical fortitude to stand up for the prisoners. Political considerations trump all, especially when those being murdered have no constituency. Compare this with the attention given the Terri Schiavo case; the hypocrisy is astounding. As a people we should be mortified at the quality of our representation.
John Farrish, North Las Vegas, Nev.

Americaca: Republican frets about religious takeover of party

'During the 18 years I served in the Senate, Republicans often disagreed with each other. But there was much that held us together. We believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law, not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were principles shared by virtually all Republicans. But in recent times, we Republicans have allowed this shared agenda to become secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around. The historic principles of the Republican Party offer America its best hope for a prosperous and secure future. Our current fixation on a religious agenda has turned us in the wrong direction. It is time for Republicans to rediscover our roots.' Click for fukll article here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

It wasn't a checkpoint, and the shots came from behind

Naomi Klein talks to Danny Schechter about the checkpoint shooting of Giuliana Serena, the freed Italian hostage. "One of the things that we keep hearing is that she was fired on on the road to the airport, a notoriously dangerous road. I was on that road myself, and it is a really treacherous place with explosions going off all the time and a lot of checkpoints. What Giuliana told me was that they were on a completely different road that I didn't know existed. It's a secured road that you can only enter through the Green Zone and is reserved exclusively for ambassadors and top military officials. The other thing Giuliana told me that she's quite frustrated about is the description of the vehicle that fired on her as being part of a checkpoint. She says it wasn't a checkpoint at all. It was simply a tank that was parked on the side of the road. There was no process of trying to stop the car, she said, or any signals. The other thing she told me was that they were fired on from behind. Because I think part of what we're hearing is that the U.S. soldiers opened fire on their car, because they didn't know who they were, and they were afraid. It was self-defense. And what Giuliana Sgrena really stressed with me was that the bullet that injured her so badly and that killed Calipari came from behind, entered the back seat of the car. The only person who was not severely injured was the driver. This is because the shots weren't coming from the front or even from the side. They were coming from behind, i.e. they were driving away."

The many-splendored, much-plundered novel

'No art form has been more ruthlessly plundered by other genres than the novel. Its appeal to the film industry and the theatre is self-evident: strong plot, clearly drawn characters, well-defined themes and credible dialogue — all of which are drama’s stock in trade. Borrowing has proved irresistible to dramatists for centuries. Shakespeare did not write an original storyline in his life — except, debatably, The Tempest, in which a credible, compelling plot is hardly the unique selling point. But that was the early 17th century. These days, with so many works written for the stage but unperformed, why does the vogue for dramatised fiction persist? Currently, two of Scotland’s leading repertory theatres — the Citizens in Glasgow and the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh — are presenting productions of staged novels: Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust and Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina respectively. This week in Glasgow, the dashing Nigel Havers stars in Rebecca, based on Daphne Du Maurier’s novel, adapted by Frank McGuinness, the Irish playwright.' More here.

Bloggers review book reviews

'Ron Hogan, who writes a literary blog called, recently began a second blog, Beatrix: A Book Review Review. He's not the only one reviewing reviewers. The blogs Bookdwarf, Conversational Reading, The Elegant Variation, Golden Rule Jones, The Reading Experience and Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind - all gloss, grade or review other people's book reviews. On, a writer known as Intern Alexis reviews The NY Times Book Review. The site Return of the Reluctant also bears down on The NY Times Book Review and its editor, Sam Tanenhaus. Each week the site posts "The Sam Tanenhaus Brownie Watch." It is an act of counting. It compares, among other things, the number of pages devoted to fiction versus nonfiction and the number of women assigned to review nonfiction, promising that if there are enough fiction pages or enough women Mr. Tanenhaus will be sent a brownie. Otherwise, "the brownie will be denied." More here.

Jessica Crispin of Bookslut interviewed

'What advice would you give to a newcomer to book reviewing who will be tackling his or her first review?
Don't read other reviews of that book, at least not until you have your first draft written. It's easy to for your opinion to be swayed by others, especially if you're nervous about having a controversial opinion. If you hated a book that everybody else loved, or vice versa, don't be concerned with it. Just make your case the best you can and don't worry about the general concensus. Also, don't be so nervous that you start cranking out the Publisher's Weekly sterile reviews all written by formula. You should read other reviews that the publication has printed to find out if there's a particular style they only use, but otherwise write in your own voice.' More here. Her webzine Bookslut here. It has an interesting interview with a crabby Richard Hell.

Librarian eBays library books, makes $10,000

When an Illinois college president thumbed through a novel purchased on, he found a Lake Oswego Library receipt. His 688-page copy of "I am Charlotte Simmons," by Tom Wolfe, had a due date of Dec. 26. What looked like a library stamp had been obscured with a black marker. "You could see marks," said Jim Mannoia, head of Greenville College. "It had been a library book." A call to the Lake Oswego Library confirmed his suspicions, and much more. Charles Wayne Gray, 60, of Lake Oswego, was arrested Tuesday on accusations he stole more than 1,000 library books, CDs and videotapes from libraries in Clackamas and Washington counties and sold them on the Internet. Gray, a part-time worker at the Clackamas County library information network and the Tigard Public Library, sold at least $10,000 worth of library materials online in the past six months, according to the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office. More here. Via Moby Lives.

The hunger for Hitler

'The intimate details of Hitler's life--from his fear that his lavatory might be poisoned to his habit of scratching his neck until it bled--are obsessing Germans once again amid a huge revival of interest in the Nazi era. New titles about Hitler are flooding the bookshops to satisfy the hunger for revelations about the period in time for the 60th anniversary of the end of the 1939-45 war. "Sixty years ago the Third Reich perished," wrote Jens Jessen in Die Zeit. "Now one gets the impression it is being resurrected on a daily basis." More here.

Do best-seller book lists help us?

'A reader confined to best sellers would be impoverished, just as marooned as a listener stuck permanently on a Top-40 play list. It can be fun to see where the herd grazes, but the nourishment is bound to be thin. Tanenhaus (NY Times book review editor) noted that when critics dislike the best sellers, we tend to discount their significance. Still, there is no getting away from the existentialism of the list interpreting us--a running commentary on society's tastes. Exactly a century ago, the best seller was Edith Wharton's "The House of Mirth." The stunning 1905 novel about Gilded Age New York made Wharton famous, and Lily Bart entered the canon of American fiction. Those who enjoy shouting that the end is near need point no further than the No. 1 position on today's nonfiction roster. "Author" Anne Bird is the half-sister of Scott Peterson, cashing in on the sordid, over-exposed murder of Laci Peterson. Amber Frey, "the other woman" in this matter, resides a bit farther down the list.' Yes, further proof we're fucked, fucked, totally fucked. More here.

Sickest site this week

I'm not going to tell you anything about this link, except to say it's very sick. Will you laugh or not? I did.

Here's something else apropos. 'The legal battle over the life of Terri Schiavo may have ended, but a thick, fervent crowd remains in the makeshift encampment outside the Woodside Hospice House. "No, we're not going to go home," said Bill Tierney, a young daughter at his side. "Terri is not dead until she's dead." Mr. Tierney, a former military intelligence officer in Iraq who works as a translator and investigator for private companies, cried as he talked about watching the Schiavo spectacle on television and feeling the utter need to be at the hospice. More here.
'Bill Tierney had just returned from eight months working as an interrogator for US forces in Baghdad, and had come to talk, on the record, about torture. ''The Brits came up with an expression – wog,'' Tierney said. ''That stands for Wily Oriental Gentleman. There's a lot of wiliness in that part of the world.'' After explaining his various psychological tactics to the audience, interrogator Bill Tierney (a private contractor working with the Army) said, ''I tried to be nuanced and culturally aware. But the suspects didn't break.'' Suddenly Tierney's temper rose. ''They did not break!'' he shouted. ''I'm here to win. I'm here so our civilization beats theirs! Now what are you willing to do to win?'' he asked, pointing to a woman in the front row. ''You are the interrogators, you are the ones who have to get the information from the Iraqis. What do you do? That word 'torture'. You immediately think, 'That's not me.' But are we litigating this war or fighting it?'' Asked about Abu Ghraib, Tierney said that for an interrogator, ''sadism is always right over the hill. You have to admit it. Don't fool yourself – there is a part of you that will say, 'This is fun.' '' More here.

'The parents of Terri Schiavo have authorized a conservative direct-mailing firm to sell a list of their financial supporters, making it likely that thousands of strangers moved by her plight will receive a steady stream of solicitations from anti-abortion and conservative groups. Response Unlimited is asking $150 a month for 6,000 names and $500 a month for 4,000 e-mail addresses of people who responded last month to an e-mail plea from Ms. Schiavo's father. "These individuals are passionate about the way they value human life, adamantly oppose euthanasia and are pro-life in every sense of the word!"
"I think it's amusing," said Robert Gellman, a privacy policy consultant. "I think it's absolutely classic America. Everything is for sale in America."' More here.

Finally, here Ralph Nader puts in a plea for Terri's life.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Death sentence thrown out because jury consulted Bible

The Colorado Supreme Court threw out the death penalty in a rape-and-murder case because jurors had studied Bible verses such as "eye for eye, tooth for tooth'' during deliberations. On a 3-2 vote, justices ordered Robert Harlan to serve life in prison without parole for kidnapping 25-year-old cocktail waitress Rhonda Maloney in 1994 and raping her at gunpoint for two hours. The jurors in Harlan's 1995 trial sentenced him to die, but defense lawyers discovered five of them had looked up Bible verses, copied them down and talked about them while deliberating a sentence behind closed doors. The Supreme Court said that "at least one juror in this case could have been influenced by these passages to vote for the death penalty when he or she may otherwise have voted for a life sentence.'' During oral arguments before the Supreme Court, defense attorney Kathleen Lord said the jurors had gone outside the law. "They went to the Bible to find out God's position on capital punishment." Prosecutors argued that jurors should be allowed to refer to the Bible or other religious texts during deliberations.

I never knew Brad and Jen split over politics

'When news of the high-profile split hit the airwaves, the Hollywood gossip machine immediately blamed famously liberal actress Angelina Jolie for the split. But sources close to the couple say it was political differences that drove Mr. Pitt and Ms. Aniston apart--differences the famously liberal Ms. Jolie only aggravated.'
Suck me with your liberal lips, Angelina. Sure, Brad, I'll blow your cock way over to the left.
'Tension between the stars first appeared during the 2004 presidential election, say sources, when Mr. Pitt chose to throw his "Troy"-buffed weight behind Kerry, a move that Ms. Aniston thought was disrespectful to President Bush.'
Brad, I cannot lick the nuts of a man who doesn't respect our President.
"That was what started it all," says a source close to the actress. "She started to feel like she didn't know the man she was living with. That they couldn't even have a conversation without real differences coming out."
Brad, I don't think it's right to have a blue-state cock in a red-state pussy.
'The couple reportedly entered into counseling in early February, seeking the high-profile services of Elaine O'Connell, the Washington-based therapist who has assisted such famously independent couples as James Carville and Mary Matalin, and Lynn Cheney and her daughter Mary.'
Brad is a decadent liberal, Elaine, he jerks off to pictures of Hillary in her stupid pantsuits. Jen is a rigid conservative, Elaine, she has sex fantasies about that fat pig Dick Cheney.
'But their effort to heal the festering political divisions failed, say friends, when the couple became embroiled in yet another dispute, this one over President Bush's plan to introduce private Social Security accounts. Ms. Aniston, who earns more than $10 million per film, is said to be a strong supporter of Mr. Bush's privatization initiative, while Mr. Pitt has cast his allegiance with such Democratic stalwarts as Senator Harry Reid and the AARP.
Brad, you can't put your cock in my mouth until you agree Social Security should be privatized.
'Says a source close to the actress: "She just really feels that people should have the freedom to invest their own money, that we don't need a nanny government making those choices for us. That was really the straw that broke the camel's back."
Jen, I don't want to smell your right-wing pussy skank around the house.
'Pitt, 41, and Aniston, 35, began dating in the spring of 1998 and quickly emerged as one of the most watched celebrity couples in Hollywood. They tied the knot in 2000, joined by 200 of their friends as they said "I do" in an extravagant ceremony in Malibu. But the couple's wedded bliss hit a serious speed bump when hijackers flew commercial airliners into the World Trade Center on September 11. Mr. Pitt was reportedly opposed to military action in Afghanistan, while Ms. Pitt believed that the situation demanded a strong military response, not the police action that her new husband seemed to advocate.'
Get your unpatriotic left-wing dick out of here, Brad, and go fuck a liberal. Jen, you go fuck Tom Selleck, OK?

And you thought the Army was there to protect (not pollute) you

'The U.S. Department of Defense is the largest polluter in the world, producing more hazardous waste than the five largest U.S. chemical companies combined. The types of hazardous wastes used by the military include pesticides and defoliants like Agent Orange. It includes solvents, petroleum, perchlorate (a component of rocket fuel) lead and mercury. And most ominously, depleted uranium. The health problems that have been documented as being attributable to these various toxins in military use include miscarriages, low birth weight, birth defects, kidney disease and cancer. Military pollution most directly affects those who are targeted by our weapons, soldiers and anyone living near a military base, both in the U.S. and abroad. In the U.S., one out of every ten Americans lives within ten miles of a military site that has been listed as a Superfund priority cleanup site. Given where chemical and nuclear weapons are used, tested, manufactured, stored and disposed of, the burden of health impacts and environmental destruction falls disproportionately on poorer communities, people of color and indigenous communities. Women face particularly severe problems because of their sensitive reproductive tissues and children because their immune systems are not yet fully developed.' Fucked, fucked, we're totally fucked. More about how our own military fucks us here.

Terri's Crucifixion

I swear to God I read this shit on a blog today:
"Like Jesus, Terri was an innocent--at least for the last 15 years. By definition, she was virtually incapable of committing sin during her disability. Yet, she was treated more harshly than our society would ever treat even the most abominable serial killer.
Like Jesus, Terri was betrayed. She has her Judas. His name is Michael Schiavo. He claims he is starving her to death because that would be what Terri would want. And this specious, unsupported claim is the sole basis for starving to death a young handicapped woman denied rehabilitative efforts by her so-called 'guardian.'
Like Jesus, Terri's mother has been forced to watch this public execution helplessly. Imagine what this must be like for mother Mary Schindler. Can anyone reading my words today imagine watching your child starve to death by court order? Can you imagine what it must be like to be kept from your loving child in these hours by armed guards?
Like Jesus, Terri has her accusers. The high priests today wear black robes. Judge George Greer, an obscure county bureaucrat just a few weeks ago, is having his 15 minutes of fame at Terri's expense. Driven either by some blind ideological desire to pull the plug on handicapped people or in the death grip of fear of admitting a mistake, Greer was not so much a judge as he was the prosecutor and executioner. His supporting cast included the entire U.S. Supreme Court, the Florida Supreme Court and the entire 11th Circuit.
Like Jesus, Terri has her Herod. In this case, his name is U.S. District Judge James Whittemore, a Bill Clinton appointee who could have saved her or decided to hear the case himself. He could have listened to the will of Congress and the president of the United States. Instead, like Herod, he kicked the case back to Greer.
Like Jesus, Terri may, too, have her Pontius Pilate. It's not too late for Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida to avoid playing this role. He doesn't have to wash his hands of the matter. He has found no fault in the woman. He has spoken favorably of her and championed her plight. But he is uniquely positioned at this moment to save her. He, himself has already acknowledged he has the power and the legal authority to do it. He has even threatened to do it. But, like Pilate, he seems to be weighing the political implications of saving her life rather than using the scale of moral imperative.
I pray today Jeb Bush is reflecting on all this. I pray he has considered he has a big decision to make. I pray he listens to that still small voice in his heart that, I suspect, is speaking to him right now about this. I pray he is not distracted by the routine business of the governorship of his state to see this matter clearly. I pray he recognizes that if he washes his hands, pretending he did everything he could possibly do under the law, that he will become complicit in this horrible crime.'

Some people have strong feelings, and it scares the shit out of me. Maybe we are heading for a theocracy. Or the Rapture. I read this today, too:
"After living in the Bible Belt for more than thirty years, I've learned several things about our fundamentalist Christian brethren: First, theirs is an embattled faith, which requires an ever-evolving list of enemies to keep its focus. It includes Satan worshipers one year, 'secular humanists' the next. Panic over backward masking on phonograph records yields to fears that supermarket bar codes harbor the Mark of the Beast. Some years back, Procter & Gamble was forced to deny widespread rumors that a moon-and-stars logo on boxes of soapsuds symbolized corporate diabolism. More recently, purging school libraries of Harry Potter's witchcraft has emerged as a cause. As if the real world weren't scary enough, chimerical threats must be found. No form of occultism is too arcane or preposterous to provoke alarm.
I've also learned that fundamentalist Christianity's spiritual entrepreneurs are never more dogmatic than when they are ignoring, if not contradicting, the essence of Jesus Christ's teachings. The basic con is to insist upon the historical and scientific accuracy of every syllable in the Bible--then to analyze its symbolism, unveil hidden acrostics, and decode secret messages known only to initiates. The Book of Genesis is reduced to a biology text, and Daniel becomes a crystal ball. Thus are delivered the comforts of certitude and the enchantments of sorcery in a single beguiling package.
This is not to suggest insincerity. As Swift noted in A Tale of a Tub, his 1704 satire of religious extremists (by which he meant Catholics and Presbyterians), the successful propagandist is most often his own first victim. But it does begin to explain the huge commercial success of the Left Behind series of thrillers by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, a twelve-novel extravaganza combining a blandly paranoid worldview with crackpot theology to produce a form of biblical infotainment seemingly irresistible to a reported 42m readers. (This is apparently a cumulative sales figure; the number of individuals slogging their way through the series is much smaller.)' More here.

May the wives of CEOs bear deformed children

Major Chick Molly Ivins: 'As you may know, one in six American women of child-bearing age already has enough mercury in her blood to put a developing fetus at risk. That's why pregnant women are urged not to eat many ocean and freshwater fish. If the Clean Air Act were simply implemented as it is supposed to be by the Environmental Protection Agency, we would be rid of over 90% of mercury emissions by 2008. But, of course, that would cost the power industry a lot of money, and the power industry gives lots of money to politicians. So the EPA came up with a "cap and trade" system, under which power plants can avoid meaningful regulation until after 2025. Then, the EPA, whose name is rapidly becoming a morbid joke, had the gall to put out a press release claiming its new rule will cut mercury by 70% in 2018. Using the EPA's own figures, it fails to do even that. We'd be lucky to get a 50% reduction by 2020, according to Natural Resources Defense Council.' WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE? Since we're into saving the lives of the unborn, can we at least make sure they come out in one healthy piece?

Illness as more than metaphor

"One of my hobbies is to read press releases informing us of the existence of a new illness, the 'illness of the week', if you like. Recently I received one that said: 'Psychologists say that love sickness is a genuine disease and needs more awareness and diagnoses. Those little actions that are normally seen as the symptoms of the first flush of love - buying presents, waiting by the phone, or making an effort before a date - may actually be signs of a deep-rooted problem to come. Many people who suffer from love sickness cannot cope with the intensity of love and have been destabilised by falling in love or suffer on account of their love being unrequited.' Of course, an intense passion can and does have an impact upon our bodies. But when even love can be seen as the harbinger of illness, what aspect of our lives can be said to be illness-free? What can we possibly do that will not apparently induce some sickness or syndrome? Medicalisation no longer knows any limits. It is so intrusive that it can impact on virtually any of our experiences, creating a situation where illness is increasingly perceived as normal." More here.
"The more difficult we find it to make statements of moral purpose, the more ambiguous we feel about what is right and wrong, the more comfortable we feel using the language of health to make sense of our lives. This is now so prevalent that we no longer even notice when we are doing it. For example, we no longer tell teenagers that pre-marital sex is good or bad or sinful. Instead we say that pre-marital sex is a health risk. We have become very good at using health to regulate people's lives in an intrusive and systematic fashion. Even medicine and food have acquired moral connotations. Organic food is seen as 'good', not only in nutritional terms, but in moral terms. Junk food, on the other hand, is seen as evil. A fat person is considered to have a serious moral problem, rather than simply a health one. As we become morally illiterate, we turn to health to save us from circumstances where we face a degree of moral or spiritual disorientation."

Adorno hated more things than jazz and Hollywood

'Lisa Yun Lee’s new study, Dialectics of the Body: Corporeality in the Philosophy of T. W. Adorno, signals a welcome shift in the U.S. reception of this theorist. Grounding her study not in the culture wars, but in the questions raised by identity-based scholarship, Lee gets beyond the usual reduction of Adorno’s work to a face-off between mass-produced entertainment and the high modernist aesthetics he championed. Instead, she opens up a conversation on the much more important central focus of his work—its persistent analysis of the extraordinarily pernicious impact of capitalism, not just on popular culture but on our perception, our bodily experience and, ultimately, our capacity for humanity. No one was better than Adorno at dissecting the psychic and emotional brutality of capitalism’s regimes of commodification and the increasing pressure it exerts on individuals to define themselves through consumption. This, he argued, led to the compulsion to shut off one’s capacity for empathy, whether with working people whose labor produces commodities (how could we shop at Wal-Mart otherwise?) or those whose homes, lives and futures are being sacrificed in the name of a market-friendly abstraction called “Iraqi freedom.” Adorno referred to this “shut off” compulsion in refreshingly severe terms, calling it “the mechanism of psychic mutilation upon which present conditions depend for their survival.” As Lee suggests, he surely would have had much to say about our contemporary equivalent of proto-Nazi “body culture,” in which such perverse phenomena as full-body cosmetic “extreme makeovers” have moved from creepy evidence of psychopathology to prime-time entertainment.' More here. Do you feel mutilated by capitalism? It's been costing me an arm and a leg for years.

Arthur Danto art reviews collected in new book

''I was in a sense the first posthistorical critic of art ... What was special about me was that I was the only one whose writing was inflected by the belief that we were not just in a new era of art, but in a new kind of era.'' Greenberg was set on his critical path by Jackson Pollock. Andy Warhol performed the same function for Danto, who argues that ever since Warhol's Brillo boxes of 1964, an art object could be anything at all (or even nothing), that for the first time in history artists were free to do whatever they wanted--to slice up dead animals, throw elephant dung on canvases, display their soiled underwear and used tampons, mold images of themselves out of their own blood. In this world of total freedom, the actual physical attributes of a work counted for less than its philosophical justifications. All art had become conceptual art, and the job of the critic was to articulate what meaning the particular artist wished to convey and how that meaning was embodied in the work at hand. If Greenberg was the oracle of the drip and stain, Danto is the evangelist of the sanguinary and excremental. His new collection, Unnatural Wonders, includes discerning discussions of provocative postmodern superstars like Damien Hirst, Yoko Ono, Gerhard Richter, Matthew Barney and Jeff Koons. Click for more here.

Writer saves country, now wants to write again

Vaclav Havel, the playwright and former president of the Czech Republic, may resume his literary career soon. An aide said that Mr. Havel, 68, was preparing to spend two months studying at the Library of Congress in Washington. He plans to write an autobiography as well as a play based on Shakespeare's "King Lear." He has also discussed publishing a book of conversations with friends, including the former Polish dissident and journalist Adam Michnik and the British historian Timothy Garton Ash. Mr. Havel led the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and was president from 1989 to 2003. A former chain smoker, he has long suffered from respiratory problems and had twice postponed his trip to Washington because of illness, but an aide said that he was now in good health. Good man. I saw a play of his in a basement once. Jackie Kennedy sat next to me. She was hot, the play a little dreary.

Doesn't want $82,789 a year just to read books

A woman, looking to do more than sit and read books at her $82,789-a-year job with the State Liquor Authority, has settled her federal court lawsuit against the state and will move to a new job with the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Patricia Freund, a 25-year state employee, had said her superiors at the SLA sent her to a back room and gave her nothing to do for the past three years after she questioned the practice of state employees attending Gov. George Pataki's annual prayer breakfast. "While no settlement can ever make Ms. Freund whole in that she had to endure years of being harassed solely for exercising her right under the Constitution to speak freely, we are pleased at the settlement that has been reached," said her lawyer. Freund said she was stripped of her duties after she began making official inquiries about state workers attending Pataki's annual, non-denominational prayer breakfast. Freund, who is Jewish, said she went to the breakfast in 2000 at the urging of her boss and later complained to co-workers about the event. She was relegated to a back office where she spent her time reading books she brought from home. Heck, I'd do it for $25,000 a year.

Literary heavyweights shooting their wads

Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Ha Jin, E. L. Doctorow, Wole Soyinka, Michael Ondaatje and other leading literary figures are in a new festival sponsored by PEN American Center. PEN World Voices: the New York Festival of International Literature, with programs heavily focused on international politics and current events, opens April 16 at NY Public Library with 3 events: a tribute to Cervantes's "Don Quixote" on its 400th anniversary; a conversation between Paul Auster and the Brazilian songwriter Chico Buarque; and a discussion called "Writing and Catastrophe," with François Bizot, Philip Gourevitch and others. The festival will last a week. Other participants are Rick Moody, Gish Jen, José Manuel Prieto, Gary Shteyngart, Nuruddin Farah and Elena Poniatowska. Salman Rushdie, PEN president, said the festival "embodies PEN's belief that writers can help to mediate cultural and political differences and widen this country's field of vision in the world." Widen this country's field of vision? Good luck.

Cinephile looking for chick

'Bill Heidbreder, a cinephile who lives in Manhattan, catches 10 art films a week on average, a quota maintained for the last 20 years, ever since his college days in Berkeley, Calif. For someone who doesn't make a living as a film critic, that is a lot of leisure time spent in front of a screen. To gratify his habit, he stints on food: dinner is often just two slabs of wheat bread mortared together with peanut butter. Some of these details about Mr. Heidbreder are already a matter of public knowledge, at least to that tiny segment of the public acquainted with his role in the film "Cinemania," a study of five compulsive New York cinephiles. The documentary's creators, Angela Christlieb and Stephen Kijak, somehow inveigled this collection of loners to tell their stories directly to the camera. One of the more interesting quirks uncovered was one character's pursuit of a low-fiber diet to minimize unwanted trips to the toilet and thereby maximize his screen-viewing time.' Apparently this Bill dude is looking for a chick, so sidle up to him if you catch him at Moma, Walter Reade or Anthology. He's a summa cum laude English Major. Click to see his nice picture here. "Film is a form of living," Bill says. "You have to accept that that is normal - for you." To go many years without sex, but to spend the time notching up experiences with film, he says, is not just a life but a wonderful life. He'd probably appreciate a blow-job while watching Antonioni's Blow-up.

Taking the streets to the mobiles

'Besides good takeout, it seems there are few things now that cannot be sent to a cellphone - games, pictures, videos, Top 40 music, live television and soon, companies promise, full-length feature films. So why not contemporary art? This month, a New York-based Web site that celebrates graffiti and other street art began testing a system to address this shortcoming by allowing art lovers to download images created by emerging artists onto the video screens of their cellphones. Calling it a "curated online art gallery for your mobile phone," the founders of the Web site,, are hoping it will provide a new way for struggling young artists to make money, in much the same way that a songwriter can earn money from radio play or an actor from reruns.' More here.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Starbucks pushes liberal agenda

Moments after picking up a venti vanilla latte from a St. Petersburg Starbucks, Sam Maston removed his cup's cardboard sleeve to inspect a message printed beneath. "America's national debt is now $7.5-trillion, and it's skyrocketing, even as America's population ages," the cup read. "There will never be a better time to start paying off this crippling debt than today." The quote, from environmentalist Denis Hayes, didn't faze the 29-year-old Maston. "I'm a pretty hardcore Democrat," said Maston. "I think they should put that stuff on there." Not everyone agrees. The Seattle coffee chain has raised some eyebrows over its "The Way I See It" campaign, which prints quotes from thinkers, authors, athletes and entertainers on the side of your morning machiatto. The goal, according to the company, is to foster philosophical debate in its 9,000-plus coffeehouses. The problem, critics say, is the company's list of overwhelmingly liberal contributors, including Al Franken, Melissa Etheridge, Quincy Jones, Chuck D. Of the 31 contributors, only one, National Review editor Jonah Goldberg, offers a conservative viewpoint. Some customers have complained to Starbucks' Web site, labeling the company a proponent of "the destruction of family values and virtues." "I want to enjoy your product without having Earth Day Network propaganda thrust at me," wrote Malachi Salcido. More here.

Wanna read a great constitution?

Bhutan has written a draft Constitution that you can read online. It says, inter alia, that 'gross national happiness is more important than gross national product.' Read it here and compare it with your country's constitution. From the preamble: "We the people of Bhutan: Blessed with the luminous benedictions of the Triple Gem, the protection of our guardian deities, the wisdom of our leaders ... solemnly pledging to strengthen the sovereignty of Bhutan, to secure the blessings of liberty, to ensure Justice and Tranquility..."
They want tranquility. I wish we'd gone for that, too.

She loves her husband more than her children

'I have been in many mothers' groups, and each time, within three minutes, the conversation invariably comes around to the topic of how often mommy feels compelled to put out. Everyone wants to be reassured that no one else is having sex either. These are women who, for the most part, are comfortable with their bodies, consider themselves sexual beings. These are women who love their husbands or partners. Still, almost none of them are having any sex. There are agreed upon reasons for this bed death. They are exhausted. It still hurts. They are so physically available to their babies - nursing, carrying, stroking - how could they bear to be physically available to anyone else? But the real reason for this lack of sex, or at least the most profound, is that the wife's passion has been refocused. Where once her husband was the center of her passionate universe, there is now a new sun in whose orbit she revolves. Libido, as she once knew it, is gone, and in its place is all-consuming maternal desire. There is absolute unanimity on this topic, and instant reassurance. Except, that is, from me. I am the only woman in Mommy and Me who seems to be, well, getting any.' Click here to read on.

Extreme ironing

From Wikipedia: Extreme Ironing (or EI) is a sport in which people take an ironing board to a remote location and iron a few items of clothing. Locations include a mountainside of a difficult climb; a forest; in a canoe; while skiing or snowboarding; on top of large bronze statues; in the middle of a street; even when free-diving, though this possibility defeats the purpose of ironing. The ironing itself is either solo or in a group; and in existing formations or freestyle. EI supposedly combines the excitement of an extreme sport with the satisfaction of freshly ironed clothes.
The sport was started in England by Phil Shaw. In 1999, Shaw, nicknamed "Steam", embarked on an international tour to promote EI. In 2002, the first World Championship took place near Munich, including 80 teams from 10 countries. In 2003 the Rowenta Trophy was won by a group from South Africa by ironing across a gorge at the Wolfberg Cracks. Later that year, Phil Shaw brought out a book entitled Extreme Ironing.
Following the 2004 Summer Olympics, 5-time Olympic gold medalist Sir Steve Redgrave backed extreme ironing to become an Olympic sport. "It's a little bizarre, but in a few years' time, rowing could be chopped from the Olympics and extreme ironing could be in!" Steam adds: "Although Sir Steve obviously wasn't really proposing the demise of rowing as an Olympic sport, it's still fantastic to get the backing of Britain's finest athlete. It might see the start of a new style of extreme ironing with competitors balanced on rowing boats."
World Records: The record for ironing at altitude is held by Iron Man Carrick, who ironed at the summit of Mount Aconcagua, Argentina (6959m). The underwater depth record is held by Dive Girl, ironing 100 metres underwater off the coast of Egypt. In January 2005, a group of Australian scuba divers snatched the underwater group record from a team of Kiwis when 43 ironists ironed underwater. In April 2004, Crease Lightnin' set the extreme ironing London Marathon record for taking full extreme ironing equipment around the course and ironing a couple of items on the way in 4 hours 8 minutes.
"Extreme sports" spawned off Extreme Ironing: 1. Urban housework; people vacuum the outdoors. Many say this causes damage to the environment. 2. Extreme accounting, considered a parody, is actually sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. 3. Xtreme Sandwiching, a contest sponsored by Marmite spread.

Serial novel JESUSLAND Chapters 5 and 6

(Our serial novel set in a U.S. that's become a theocracy, continues. If you want to catch up, click here and look under 'Previous Posts.' Chapters are short, you'll catch up quick.)


From the second row of the VIP section, Adam turned and looked behind him. He saw a sea of expectant faces under a bewildering explosion of fancy hats.

If the Reformation had a fashion statement, it was the hat. A woman was her hat: the crown of her existence, the apogee of her creativity, the sun of her being, her celebration of being chosen by the Lord above.

No woman was allowed in public without a hat. It was as strict a Dress Law as the Scarlet A for single mothers and lipstick for V-dolls.

The Hat Awards Season was upon them, and new creations sprouted like flowers in spring. Last season hats had gone small and intricate. This season they promised to be big and spectacular. Fronds, tendrils and sticking-out tentacles signaled a major new trend.

Adam got invited to special public events such as this one since he had founded the first chair of Creationism at Columbia University. As an academic pioneer of the Reformation, his days of brightest celebrity were over – oh, those heady days of the first inroads of the Reformation -- but his name was still well known.
Click here to read on.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Fuck me if Bush ain't nominating Michael Jackson as Chief Justice

If you thought Bolton as our rep at the UN, and Wolfie as our man at the World Bank, were bad enough, now here comes another Bush appointment to curdle your progressive blood. 'Just as Wolfowitz used his position as deputy secretary of defense to spin whacked-out neoconservative theories into the justification for an illegal and unnecessary war, so Ann Veneman used her position as secretary of agriculture to spin equally whacked-out theories about the genetic modification of food and free trade into disastrous policies for farmers and consumers. And, just as Wolfowitz is being rewarded for his missteps and misdeeds with a prominent new position as president of the World Bank, so Veneman is also moving onto the world stage, as the likely nominee to be the next executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).' Next: Dick Cheney gets Kofi Annan's job.

Halliburton destroys Babylon

Katrina vanden Heuvel gets on her high horse about our destruction of archaeological sites in Iraq. By the way, is Katrina the foxiest lefty shortie or what? Am I the only man in America with a boner for this Major Chick and the balls to say so out loud? Back to Katrina's words, which are as fine as her features: 'The sterile term "collateral damage" justifiably brings to mind the human tragedy of war. But the devastating and wanton damage inflicted on the ancient city of Babylon by US-led military forces gives another meaning to the term. In this case, we are witnessing violence against one of the world's greatest cultural treasures. Babylon's destruction, according to The Guardian, "must rank as one of the most reckless acts of cultural vandalism in recent memory." When Camp Babylon was established by US-led international forces in April 2003, leading archeologists and international experts on ancient civilizations warned of potential peril and damage. It was "tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain," according to a damning report issued by the British Museum. The report documents that the military base, built and overseen by Kellog, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, jeopardized what is often referred to as the "mother of all archeological sites." Helicopter landing places and parking lots for heavy vehicles caused substantial damage to the Ishtar Gate, one of the most famous monuments from antiquity. US military vehicles crushed 2,600-year-old brick pavement, archeological fragments were scattered across the site, trenches were driven into ancient deposits and military earth-moving projects contaminated the site for future generations of scientists. As several eminent archeologists have pointed out, while the looting of the Iraqi Museum in the first days of the war was horrifying, the destruction of ancient sites has even more dire consequences for those trying to piece together the history of civilization.'

A final message from Hunter Thompson

'It is genuinely incredible. The U.S. Treasury is empty, we are losing that stupid, fraudulent chickencrap War in Iraq, and every country in the world except a handful of corrupt Brits despises us. We are losers, and that is the one unforgivable sin in America. Beyond that, we have lost the respect of the world and lost two disastrous wars in three years. Afghanistan is lost, Iraq is a permanent war zone, our national economy is crashing all around us, the Pentagon's "war strategy" has failed miserably, nobody has any money to spend, and our once-mighty U.S. America is paralyzed by mutinies in Iraq and even Fort Bragg. The American nation is in the worst condition I can remember in my lifetime, and our prospects for the immediate future are even worse. I am surprised and embarrassed to be a part of the first American generation to leave the country in far worse shape than it was when we first came into it. Our highway system is crumbling, our police are dishonest, our children are poor, our vaunted Social Security, once the envy of the world, has been looted and neglected and destroyed by the same gang of ignorant greed-crazed bastards who brought us Vietnam, Afghanistan, the disastrous Gaza Strip and ignominious defeat all over the world. The stock market will never come back, our armies will never again be No. 1, and our children will drink filthy water for the rest of our lives.' I miss the guy already.

We are fucked, fucked by commercialism

'In December, many people in Washington, D.C. paused to absorb the meaning in the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, at the White House Ellipse. At that event, President George W. Bush reflected that the "love and gifts" of Christmas were "signs and symbols of even a greater love and gift that came on a holy night." But these signs weren't the only ones on display. Perhaps it was not surprising that the illumination was sponsored by MCI, which, as MCI WorldCom, committed one of the largest corporate frauds in history. Such public displays of commercialism have become commonplace in the United States.
The rise of commercialism is an artifact of the growth of corporate power. It began as part of a political and ideological response by corporations to wage pressures, rising social expenditures, and the successes of the environmental and consumer movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Corporations fostered the anti-tax movement and support for corporate welfare, which helped create funding crises in state and local governments and schools, and made them more willing to carry commercial advertising. They promoted "free market" ideology, privatization and consumerism, while denigrating the public sphere. In the late 1970s, Mobil Oil began its decades-long advertising on the New York Times op-ed page, one example of a larger corporate effort to reverse a precipitous decline in public approval of corporations. They also became adept at manipulating the campaign finance system, and weaknesses in the federal bribery statute, to procure influence in governments at all levels.
Perhaps most importantly, the commercialization of government and culture and the growing importance of material acquisition and consumer lifestyles was hastened by the co-optation of potentially countervailing institutions, such as churches (papal visits have been sponsored by Pepsi, Federal Express and Mercedes-Benz), governments, schools, universities and nongovernmental organizations.' I'd like to teach the world to sing, we're fucked, fucked, totally fucked. This message brought to you by Coca-Cola. More on the dangerous spread of commercialization here.

Some fine scorn about where Bush is taking us

'This country is becoming more unrecognizable with each passing day. The government, we've learned recently, now packages the news. It provides television stations with hundreds of video news releases made up to resemble actual news reports that give us predigested, Orwellian information designed to convince the public that everything in the nation is being well-managed. Alongside this propaganda circus comes the added revelation that the presidential hops George W. Bush is taking around the country to peddle his case for dismantling Social Security are not conversations with local citizens--as they are billed--but carefully arranged events before prescreened audiences who hear presentations from panelists who've been, by the recent admission of one of them, repeatedly rehearsed on what to say. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security issues a doomsday scenario that details the consequences of a dozen possible terrorist attacks--complete with body counts and economic damage estimates. The department insists it is not trying to scare the public, although how a report that one would hope would receive the most limited circulation gets "leaked" to the public is anybody's guess. It just happens, also, to fit well--and not surprisingly--with the antics of an administration that has turned promoting and exploiting public fear into an art form that Joseph Goebbels would envy.' It's time someone added up all the references to Nazi Germany in Bush-bashing. Click for more of this particular projectile vom of rancid bile here.

The best damn review of U2 you'll ever read

Proof it's the best review: check the list of works cited in this wide-roaming essay on what U2 has meant to one fan: Arenas: Before Night Falls. Bachelard: The Poetics of Reverie. Baldwin: "Sonny's Blues," in James Baldwin Early Stories and Novels, edited by Toni Morrison. Beatty: Tuff. Camus: Lyrical and Critical Essays; The Stranger; The Myth of Sisyphus and Other essays. Cendrars: Complete Poems. Dylan: "Desolation Row," Highway 61 Revisited. Dunstan: Protestantism. Foster, R.F.: Modern Ireland 1600-1972. Garon: Blues and The Poetic Spirit. "Incarcerated America," Human Rights Watch Background Report. Jourdain: Music, the Brain and Ecstasy. Kerouac: On the Road. KRS-ONE, from "The Temple of Hip-Hop," Oct 14, 2004. Lennon: "A Love Letter From John and Yoko to People Who Ask Us What, When and Why," NY Times May 27, 1979 republished in "Book" for John Lennon (boxed set). Lorca: In Search of Duende. Mackey: Bedouin Hornbook. Nolan: The Dam-Burst of Dreams. Public Enemy: "Don't Believe the Hype" from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back. "Pro Bono," Guardian, March 18, 2002. Rilke: Stories of God; Duino Elegies. Sex Pistols: "Anarchy in the UK," from Never Mind the Bullocks. Yeats: Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth.

Illustrator convicted over Jesus comic

'An Austrian illustrator of a comic that depicts Jesus as a laid-back, binge-drinking surfer, is in the midst of an uproar. A group of artists gathered in Vienna Tuesday to draw attention to Greece's ban of Gerhard Haderer's The Life of Jesus, a religious satire and playful re-imagining of the life of Christ. It is reportedly the first book the country has banned in more than 20 years. In January, an Athens court convicted Haderer of blasphemy and gave him a 6-month suspended sentence – in absentia – for creating the tongue-in-cheek comic, which features an often inebriated Jesus whose miracles happen because of luck rather than by divine intervention. The book, which has sold more than 100,000 copies across Europe, also includes appearances by such contemporary characters as rock icon Jimi Hendrix and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.' More here.

A review by 'Ethan Hawke'

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close reviewed on Amazon by someone who calls himself Ethan Hawke. 'This wonderfully insightful book presented me with quite a conundrum: laughter, or tears? As an actor, I can tell you: there’s no tougher emotion in the catalogue raisonne of the well-trained performer than mirth…or grief. And as the author of two hard-hitting novels I can back that up by saying it’s tough to express sadness and hilarity verbally. But this wonderfully insightful book had me rolling from side to side with belly-laughs, then scrunched into a tiny ball, wracked with sobbery. I don’t know how Foer does it. I am laughing now, as I write these words, but I can feel the tears backed up a couple of jobs in the old emotional queue. I’m buying extra copies of this book for all my friends, especially those who need help urging forth difficult emotions.' Who said satire is what closes Saturday night?

Do you get depressed?

'Did you know that in the dark days before the abolition of slavery, a black slave who wished for freedom was considered to have a mental illness? It's true. The social order of the day considered black people to require submission in order to be "happy". (It's amazing the lengths that people will go to to justify an abhorrent social practice.) A black slave who desired freedom, and especially one who ran away, was considered to be insane. I can't remember the name of the illness given to such individuals, but I can look it up when I get home if anyone is interested. And it is unfortunately true that the psychiatric insitution has a long and storied history of turning abhorrent social practices and conditions (and resistance to them) into mental illnesses, thus neatly changing a social problem to an individual one.' Very interesting essay on depression here.

In defense of nuclear power

'Your typical city dweller doesn’t know just how much coal and uranium he burns each year. On Lake Shore Drive in Chicago—where the numbers are fairly representative of urban America as a whole—the answer is (roughly): four tons and a few ounces. In round numbers, tons of coal generate about half of the typical city’s electric power; ounces of uranium, about 17 percent; natural gas and hydro take care of the rest. New York is a bit different: an apartment dweller on the Upper West Side substitutes two tons of oil (or the equivalent in natural gas) for Chicago’s four tons of coal. The oil-tons get burned at plants like the huge oil/gas unit in Astoria, Queens. The uranium ounces get split at Indian Point in Westchester, 35 miles north of the city, as well as at the Ginna, Fitzpatrick, and Nine Mile Point units upstate, and at additional plants in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. That’s the stunning thing about nuclear power: tiny quantities of raw material can do so much. A bundle of enriched-uranium fuel-rods that could fit into a two-bedroom apartment in Hell’s Kitchen would power the city for a year: furnaces, espresso machines, subways, streetlights, stock tickers, Times Square, everything—even our cars and taxis, if we could conveniently plug them into the grid.' Click for more here.

Clive James on Camille Paglia on poetry

'Applying her particularized admiration to rescue Plath's Daddy from those who cite it as a mantra, Paglia points out an awkward truth about Plath as a feminist Winged Victory: her poetry was in ''erudite engagement with canonical male writers.'' A still more awkward truth is that the manner of Plath's suicide helped to set up her husband, Ted Hughes, as an abuser of women. Paglia defends Hughes against Plath, a defense that few feminists have dared to undertake. She also defends Plath's father against Plath, which might seem a quixotic move in view of the poem's subject matter, but does help to make the point that Plath, by calling her father a Nazi and identifying herself with millions of helpless victims, was personalizing the Holocaust in a way that only her psychic disturbance could excuse. Leaving out the possibility that Plath might have been saying she was nuts, Paglia does Plath the honor of taking her at her word. But you can't do her that honor without bringing her down off her pedestal. The poet used her unquestionable talent to say some very questionable things, and there's no way out of it. Paglia is tough enough to accept that conclusion: tough enough, that is, not to complain when she winds up all alone.' Click here for full review of Paglia's Break Blow Burn, an analysis of 43 poems from Shakespeare to Plath.
One more quote: 'This book on poetry is aimed at a generation of young people who, knowing nothing except images, are cut off from the ''mother ship'' of culture. The mother ship was first mentioned in her 2002 lecture called ''The Magic of Images.'' In the same lecture, she put down the marker that led to this book: ''The only antidote to the magic of images is the magic of words.'' She can say that again, and let's hope she does, in a longer edition of a book that shows her at her true worth. When you have proved that you can cut the mustard, it's time to cut the malarkey.'

Europe vs America

The European way as an alternative to the U.S. Empire: '"The 'problem' of America is not that it is uniquely evil or violent or corrupt, but that it is dominant. The only real question is whether anyone in the world can yet be saved from its influence." In 1968, when Andrew Kopkind wrote those words, the American empire was going through a troubled adolescence. Much has changed since then, not least the necessary acknowledgement by progressives that many of the empire's opponents do not share our values or our goals. Given the global reach of American influence, perhaps the fundamental question also needs to be re-phrased: Can America be contained? Less a call to the barricades than a recognition that in the world we're in, the struggle to contain America is tranquil power's greatest challenge. In this fight, we are all Europeans now." Six new books reviewed.

Iris Chang, holocaust historian

An appreciation of Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. 'Those who knew Iris Chang used to worry about how she could cope with the gloom of her chosen work. But when they visited the house in California that she shared with her husband and saw him playing with their two-year-old son by the swimming pool in the backyard, they were reassured. The 36-year-old historian would sip lemonade with her friends at a Chinese café called the Tea House and, for a while, the torrent of terror that she frequently invited into her life would seem far away. Were it not for the crinkled maps of China, the pictures of mass graves and the two desperately overstuffed Rolodexes on her desk, Chang might have been just another former high school homecoming queen from the aptly named Sunnyvale. But she had become one of the foremost young historians of her generation after publishing, seven years ago, a bestselling account of the Rape of Nanking, one of the worst episodes of human cruelty in recent history. Her book brought international acclaim and controversy, and many spoke of a stellar future. It was not to be. In November she killed herself, no longer able to bear the weight of horrors from seven decades ago. She was widely praised for the emotion and commitment she brought to her work. On book tours the slim, ponytailed author spoke with an intensity that few listeners expected. Many broke down by her side, feeling compelled to recount their own tales of horror even if these were unrelated to her subject.' Click for more here.