December 29, 2003
A twentysomething on nostalgia

I take a look at the much-discussed re-release of the Beatles' final album in today's American Spectator:

November was not a good month for Phil Spector. First the legendary producer was charged with the murder of a B-movie actress. Then his legacy took a hit -- his work was stripped from perhaps the most famous album he produced, The Beatles' Let It Be...[More]

Thought for the day

"The Communications Act of 1934, which established the FCC, stipulated such a line. This law, penned by people born in Victorian America, decreed to be publicly inappropriate language that 'describes or depicts sexual or excretory activities or organs.' But this only leads to a question: If we are now so comfortable acknowledging, discussing and even displaying our most private 'parts' in public, then precisely what is the logical justification for refraining from using words that connote what we do with them?

"After all, this is an America where the actress Téa Leoni purrs in TV Guide about having 'mated often' with an ex-lover, academics celebrate the profanity in rap music as visionary, sensitive adults are warmly fascinated by Eminem, R-rated movies are common coin among teenagers, unmarried celebrity couples casually announce the expectation of babies, young men show their underwear above their belts, and young women in 'low-rider' jeans display a netherly fissure celebrated in some places as 'the new cleavage.'"

John McWhorter

December 25, 2003
Merry Christmas!


December 23, 2003
Nannycrats vs. KJT

Reason Online has published a piece I wrote on what may be this country's fastest growing group of busybodies. Read the story of how I was ejected from a national conference:

"Public Health Is Everybody's Business," read the button a chirping woman pushed into my hand at November's annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in San Francisco. A day later I discovered firsthand that public health is everybody's business but mine. I was "escorted" out of the meeting for the crime of documenting what America's food fascists have planned for our plates...[More]

Thought for the day

"Buying a toothbrush now requires the kind of careful deliberation that used to go into selecting a spouse.

"Surely you need the brush with the color-coded bristles that let you know when you need a new one. Or perhaps you want the Oral-B CrossAction Vitalizer, which sends gum disease screaming into the night. Or do you want that big widebody brush with the '6,000 soft, thin bristles'?

"Options are particularly grating when your only goal is to find a parking space, rush inside, seize the first even moderately plausible item you see, get out and put a big fat check mark on your shopping list. The check mark is all that matters. The thing itself is secondary, and the special optional features of the thing are tertiary. In many cases, however, the salesclerk will feel compelled to explain all the hydrodynamic or aeronautic or quantum-mechanical blessings of the various optional models, because this may incite you to buy the most expensive version and will moreover inject the illusion of meaningfulness into a transaction that otherwise represents nothing more than the commodification of happiness."

Joel Achenbach in The Washington Post

December 19, 2003
Competition for Reason?

Norman Mailer's youngest son, 25-year-old John Buffalo Mailer, is the new editor of High Times. The magazine has become boring, but Mailer promises to make it relevant:

The new High Times, he adds, is going to be pro-active and libertarian, not liberal... In today's High Times, marijuana's role is that of metaphor, its editor opines. But for what? "For our civil liberties," he says. Hence the magazine's new motto, "Celebrating Freedom."
Obligatory sizzling photo available at the link.

(link via Bookslut)

God save the Stones

Kevin Michael Grace recently had an informed article at The American Spectator on the knighting of Mick Jagger. Very amusing, and Kevin presents some good evidence for not trusting any rocker over 30:

Mick and Keith turned 30 in 1973, the year, not coincidentally, of Goat's Head Soup, the Stones last good album. Paul McCartney turned 30 in 1972, one year before his last decent album, Band on the Run. John Lennon turned 30 in 1970; last decent album, Plastic Ono Band, 1970. Bob Dylan, born 1941, last decent, New Morning, 1970. Lou Reed: born 1942, last good, Transformer, 1972. Rod Stewart, born 1945, last decent, A Night on the Town, 1976. Pete Townshend, born 1945, last good, Quadrophenia, 1973. Iggy Pop, born 1947, last good, Lust For Life, 1977. Elvis Costello, born 1955, last good, Blood & Chocolate, 1986. Prince, born 1958, last good, Sign 'O' The Times, 1987. Bono (U2), born 1960, last decent, Achtung Baby, 1991. Michael Stipe (REM), born 1960, last good, Automatic For the People, 1992.
But I'm not sure I'm convinced. I suppose it's because of my hankering for certain oldsters. I think Paul McCartney has made many great albums after Band on the Run—I may be one of a handful of people who loved Press to Play (what an admission!), but Flowers in the Dirt was pretty critically acclaimed. The latter was partly a collaboration with Elvis Costello, as was Costello's 1989 Spike, which I think was one of his best albums. Speaking of Beatles, some of George Harrison's '70s stuff seemed a bit embarassing, but 1990's Cloud Nine was a revelation. I'm not a huge fan of U2's post-Achtung Baby works, but "Discothèque" is one of the most clever and catchy songs the band has done. Perhaps I'm more of a fuddy-duddy and less of a punk fan than Kevin, who is actually rather older than me. I will agree that none of these post-30 works is the masterpiece they did when younger. Anyway, read Kevin and find out why rock and roll doesn't exist anymore.

December 18, 2003
Thought for the day

"[T]here's nothing more embarrassing in this cultural landscape than sounding like you think you're an intellectual. This crime is so shameful that there aren't even words to describe it, apart from 'pretentious' and 'ponce' - the second functioning as so many different and unconnected insults that it's basically unusable.

"The appreciation of highbrow literature is seen as synonymous with self-regard, so that a love of the lowbrow is less embarrassing; walking through Trafalgar Square naked singing Chris de Burgh would be less embarrassing."

Zoe Williams in The Guardian

December 16, 2003
December 04, 2003
Catholic Canadian content

Jeet Heer has a piece on The American Spectator on the recently deceased literary critic Hugh Kenner. He talks about the friendship and collaboration between two great Canadian thinkers, Kenner and Marshall McLuhan. It's a very nice piece, but I must disagree with Mr. Heer when he says, "Unlike McLuhan, Kenner was a phrasemaker." McLuhan not a phrasemaker? I don't think I'm mistaken in believing that most people are familiar with many more of McLuhan's "phrases" than Kenner's:

The medium is the message.

Global village

Hot and cool media

All advertising advertises advertising.

We march backwards into the future.

Invention is the mother of necessities.

People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.

December 03, 2003
DVD News

The Criterion DVD editions of Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, Rebecca, and Spellbound and Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs will be out of print as of January 1, 2004. This also includes the Hitchcock box set that includes those titles. Apparently Criterion only had the rights to these films for a limited time. The Hitchcock Criterions contain excellent transfers and loads of extras. I'm personally fond of the radio adaptations they all include, with Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli. Pick these up before they go for hundreds on eBay.

December 02, 2003
More babes and Beethoven

The Scotsman notes that the relentless PR machine is in effect in the classical world, too, not just in pop music. But, the paper notes, classical musicians without talent rarely last:

It started, of course, with the precociously talented but irritatingly laddish violinist Nigel Kennedy - or Kennedy as his PR machine insist we call him - and moved apace with the likes of pelvic-thrusting Vanessa Mae. (Is she still out there?) And, of course, the warbling Welsh rose Charlotte Church. (Is she still out there?)

Kevin Michael Grace has posted one of his earlier pieces on the classical babes phenomenon, with an update (and pictures!). I'm still sitting here jaw-dropped at the all-too-real fulfillment of Kevin's "classical booty" prediction.

My laptop, in the shop for the last few weeks, hopefully won't be gone more than another week. I have gained a new appreciation for the letter "I" after daily using a computer on which that letter is almost inoperable.

December 01, 2003
The exciting world of journalism

My friend Damon Chetson has a nice review up on Brainwash of the movie Shattered Glass. He worked with Stephen Glass at their college newspaper and has fond memories of someone who seemed then a promising journalist.

Shattered Glass exceeded my expectations. I found it surprisingly entertaining. It actually managed to make journalism—and at a policy rag—seem exciting. The performances were very good, too. And with the exception of the oddly mesmerizing Peter Sarsgaard, these people aren't impossibly attractive. They look like policy journalists might look. (I'm a big fan of Chloë Sevigny, but she doesn't look too strikingly beautiful here.)

A note: My web e-mail account has, for the past while, become increasingly infected with spam. To those awaiting replies, I hope to clean it out soon.