June 30, 2004
Caveat Blogtor

Well, they say you can't believe everything you read on the Internet. But I did. Although the posts were often somewhat overcooked, I liked the writing here. And yet... it was a hoax.

I can't help but admire the chutzpah it must have taken to put this together. At the same time, ick. Off to change the sidebar links list.

Posted at 06:37 PM
Spam as Poetry, or Mold

The spam these days has gotten out of control. (Oradder from Calanada and sabeve moloney.) I once contemplated dumping my e-mail address, but now I just delete it (don't have fancy filters and such). In a way, it is like poetry, especially the never-ending permutations of subject matter. (Online ordering is the greatest) Is it someone's job to make these things up? (You'll need your tracking # ) It's like watching a fast-growing fungus...gross, but you can't look away. (we are offering a Ridiculously Low Mortgage Rat)

A particularly apt subject line appeared this morning:

Once upon a time, a shill would run down my spine.

Mine too, I can only reply. Mine too.

Posted at 06:33 PM
June 28, 2004
Lit Blogs

Sometimes a post is just a post. Here's a snippet recommending good literary blogs and why we like them:

If you have a taste for literary blogs, you.re looking at a microcosm of a subculture, the flea on the underbelly if you like. But I began reading literary blogs over two years ago because of a growing dissatisfaction with the way mainstream media covered books.

Reviews shrank; serious critics shared space with blurb readers masquerading as reviewers; publishers were increasingly justified in creating a culture where authors were the celebrity du jour, because the hype worked; and some genres close to my heart (science fiction, science writing, graphic novels, fiction from subcultures, crime and detective fiction) never got any kind of meaningful attention.

It seemed I wasn't the only reader who felt this way. Blogs like the Bookslut and The Return of the Reluctant slammed the incestuous preciousness of Dave Eggers and company ferociously, refused to take the pronouncements of the NYT's awe-inspiring Michiko Kakutani as the word of god, pointed us in the direction of wonderful new authors whom we never got to hear enough about and generally shook up the landscape.

Over at the Literary Dick, Jonathan Ames plays sleuth, answering questions about literary mysteries and scandals. Maud Newton and the Literary Saloon red-flagged the New York Times for its new review policies.

Sarah Weinman at Confessions of an Idiosyncractic Mind brought crime fiction and noir fiction to the forefront, and there are at least a hundred others, not forgetting the granddaddies of litblogs, ArtsJournal and Arts & Letters Daily.

Posted at 06:36 PM
June 24, 2004
Give Me Land, Lots of Land

The Block is temporarily down, otherwise I'd expect Chicago kids to be all over this:

Chicago vs. New York
It's a generous-spirited piece, but the assertion that surprised me the most was:

New York, junior four. Chicago, 4BR, 4.5 BA, double-wide lot.

Perhaps the writer misspelled "two-flat, shotgun, street parking."

Or did they? I'll sign off now to hunt for some extra bathrooms and bedrooms right now. There's plenty of room under the el tracks, after all...

Posted at 06:33 PM
June 23, 2004
End of a Century

It's worth noting that two of my friends celebrated milestone wedding anniversaries this month.

In 1989, we celebrated S's wedding. It all seemed a bit surreal, especially given that I wasn't finished with school and getting married was dauntingly grown up. I went back to my job as a copy editor the next day and edited numerous stories about the Tiananman Square Massacre.

In 1994 we celebrated N's wedding. It was a boiling hot weekend. After the rehearsal dinner we took some time out to hang in a goth bar and watch the OJ Simpson chase, close-captioned, on TV.

My own wedding took place in September 1998. It coincided almost exactly with the release of the detail-packed Starr report, which already feels like a document from another century. The irony that E. and I would finally become a "legitimate" couple (much to my mother's relief) at a time when almost everyone in the country was talking at the dinner table, and everywhere else, about oral sex was not lost on me.

Most significantly, we have all stayed married.

Posted at 06:41 PM
June 18, 2004
Stopping by DC on a Boiling Evening

Just back from a few days' trudging through our nation's hot, humid capital.

Visited some coworkers and the conversation turned to "the pandas."

"I wish people would leave those pandas alone," said one, plaintively.

"Yes, I saw footage of someone beating a panda on the news," said another.

I envisioned a horrible zoo scandal. Who's beating on pandas, and why? But it turned out they were talking about the panda sculptures that are gracing the city's streets (and which I, in my single-minded drive to follow casual directions like "Turn left at the Filene's Basement" overlooked). A Chinese newspaper notes that the city hopes the bears will inspire "wonderful, whimsical, analytical, critical conversation about art" but I was too confused for that kind of sophistication.

I didn't see anyone abusing pandas, but I did run into a bear or two. Here's one:

In a city not known for its surreal qualities, this was the most striking thing I saw during my visit:

The giant banners and floating faces came back to me that night as I waited fruitlessly for sleep, thinking of the iconography of Russia and Mao's China. I lay there chewing on phrases like "iconography knows no ideology" and listening to the hooting guys on the street below (maybe disappointed Orioles fans?) whose voices floated all the way up to the eighth floor.

Posted at 03:01 PM
June 14, 2004
...And Yet...

And yet, we should not despair, for there is this.

What on earth is it, and what does it mean? We see it every time we drive north from Indiana along Route 41, through the south shore. Where do the smiling, spattered faces come from? "We're all in this together" is a smug sentiment that would make anyone pick up a paint can. And what is "Waste Marketing"? Is it an advertising agency gone horribly wrong? Or is it not a name at all, but an imperative? Waste that marketing!

B&W is on the road tomorrow through the weekend. Back next week!

Posted at 09:21 PM

After a week of mostly substance-free analysis of the Reagan era, plus some offline discussions with Cocokat about contemporary religion, I was struck by this book review, which articulates something I've always suspected about our national so-called "cultural divide:"

Although not terribly successful at explaining the cultural divide, it manages to exemplify it perfectly in its condescension toward people who don't vote as [Thomas] Frank thinks they should. ...

A large number of the Democratic faithful view the Midwest and evangelical Christians as socially backward, politically amusing and religiously nutty -- and the objects of this disdain are sick of it. The more than 65 million Midwesterners are sick of being considered ''flyover country'' -- that vast, flat, brown area glimpsed by people looking out of their airplane windows as they head from one coast to the other (perhaps with a stop in Frank's adopted hometown of Chicago). The estimated 70 million evangelical Americans are sick of being called wing nuts or Jesus freaks. And the socially conservative are sick of being derided as Neanderthals.

The Republicans saw this and catered to it. Whatever the effects of their economic policy, they treated the concerns of Midwesterners and evangelicals with respect. Of course, Frank is right that the Republicans have not won the culture wars, but they have championed values that many Midwesterners and evangelicals see as their own. It would be odd indeed if they were to turn instead to a party that is often contemptuous of them.

But Frank is unable to take this obvious cultural phenomenon seriously.

This is important, and we miss it. In our urban enclaves, among our liberal friends, in the perennial echo chamber that is the blog world, we miss it, or forget it. And how is it going to be fixed? I don't know the answer.

As my grandmother used to put it, I daresn't say.

Posted at 09:09 PM
June 10, 2004
From Mars, with Love

This week, I found that reading the counterspin on our late former president rapidly nearly as wearying as reading the misty-eyed reminiscences. But oh, to be a fly on the wall in this meeting:

At his first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, Reagan had perplexed him by talking about how they might work together if there were an invasion of aliens from outer space. Reagan had got his idea from a 1951 science fiction movie in which an alien warns of earth's destruction if nuclear weapons are not abolished.

Posted at 06:46 PM

The usually enjoyable About Last Night blog links to this piece, which is surprising mostly for its cynicism about music and the moviegoing audience:

It's revealing, I'm sure, that The Ladykillers, like O Brother, Where Art Thou? before it, makes extensive use of gospel music for parodistic purposes. Once again, the music itself is terrific, but the uses to which it is put are both ironic and quintessentially postmodern: We are clearly supposed to be amused by all those benighted believers rocking joyously in their pews, even though Dey Got Rhythm and we sorry white folk don't. That's how postmodernism works--it plays both sides of the street, winking in either direction.

I have fond memories of listening to the 'O Brother' soundtrack in Mike's car as we drove to a hiking trip in Seattle two years ago, and I'm pretty sure we weren't enjoying to the music because of its "parodistic" value. (Ironically, I just read the opposite view from The Big Takeover: "When you look at the success of the O Brother soundtrack, it just goes to show that people will respond to good music.")

Similarly, I didn't feel that the gospel music used in 'The Ladykillers' was prescribed to make me laugh at the churchgoers. My lapsed-Catholic reaction was more like "Wow, if they sang like this at my church, I'd start going again!"

E. points out that this attitude may be the extension of the argument that the Bros. Coen rely too much on stereotype and cultural appropriation. But it's so sloppy. I have to wonder: Is this really "how postmodernism works--playing both sides of the street" or is this really how the author works--prescribing audience reactions that aren't really there to bolster a straw man?

I am particularly sorry to see such a cynical and reductive view because, feeling a little artcrit-deprived, I just bought the author's book and was hoping for some more progressive thinking.

Posted at 06:38 PM
June 02, 2004
Seen and Heard

On the sidewalk on the upper East side, a woman pulls at her recalcitrant dog's leash. In a near-fury, she bends over and addresses it: "Now, you listen to me," she says, pointing at its muzzle. "We are going to the store, and you are going along! So get going!"

When I looked back, the dog was still sitting on the sidewalk, and she was still pulling.

And "now, you listen to me" became our catch phrase for the rest of the trip.

Posted at 06:51 PM
June 01, 2004

There's a rash these days of people photographing and writing about their food. Not once in a while, but on a daily basis. I find this amazing, because the food tends to look pretty unappetizing after a while. You ate what?

On the professional side, the Guardian has a compendium of this kind of thing.

This site is fun, too.

I know I still haven't explained my loathing of spoons yet, and I promise I will eventually, but unfortunately, pudding is one of those foods, which I cautiously throw in the category as soup, that requires a spoon to make for easy consuming.

But first: True pudding should never be able to support a spoon like this. Where's Bill Cosby and a snack cups when I fucking need him. Dr. Huxstable! Where are yoooooooou!!!!!!


Posted at 07:14 PM