January 23, 2004
A family affair

Exciting news in the "blogosphere"—another Torrance has a site. Okay, so she's married and her last name has changed. But her sense of humor confirms Melissa Armstrong is still a Torrance at heart.

Melissa and I have a lot in common. We were born within a couple months of each other and our middle names are the same but for one letter. Our fathers both died while we were in our 20s (to our minds far too early), we both moved to the United States from Canada (she was smarter and started out in sunny California), and we both like Monk (can you dig it?). But, of course, we're also very different. She's married and trying to start a family, we look nothing alike, and I would never admit to buying a Corey Hart CD in 2004. Oh, and Melissa has much, much more of that admirable Christian virtue, charity.

If I can't use this site to plug a family member, then what is the point?

January 19, 2004
Libertarian or libertine?

Kevin Michael Grace has a provocative piece up at Brainwash on Reason's "35 heroes of freedom," published on the fine magazine's 35th anniversary. "Freedom" has always seemed to mean different things to different people, and Reason's list certainly proves that. Dennis Rodman and William Burroughs alongside Thomas Szasz and Vaclav Havel? Even Havel is noted for "defend[ing] the right of rock stars to be filthy." There is certainly a theme there. But read Kevin:

What sort of person says “groovy,” anyway? The last time I heard it used non-ironically was by a crooked lawyer in the movie To Live and Die in L.A. He was shot to death directly afterward and quite deservedly so. With its connotations of kaftans, flower power and “The Pope Smokes Dope,” its use today suggests superannuated hippies nostalgic for the Golden Dawn of the 1960s. But Nick Gillespie, Reason’s editor and presumed builder of the Pantheon of Groovy, is in his 40s and was thus barely toilet-trained during the Summer of Love. So the only nostalgia here is for a place that has never existed and never shall: Utopia. [More...]

January 16, 2004
Dust on DVD

Perhaps I should turn this site into a clearinghouse for Evelyn Waugh news. In any case, the 1988 movie of what is probably my favorite of his books, A Handful of Dust will be released on DVD in April. It is, like much of Waugh's work, a funny book, with laugh-out-loud moments. But unlike his earlier satires, it is also achingly sad. The film version is excellent, and features an early performance by the incomparable Kristin Scott Thomas.

As Roger Ebert concluded his review of the movie, "'A Handful of Dust' has more cruelty in it than a dozen violent Hollywood thrillers, and it is all expressed so quietly, almost politely."

January 11, 2004
Thought for the day

"To advocate a moderation in wisdom, as in Presbyterianism, or wine, or love affairs, is to take the antique philosophy of the golden mean to a ludicrous conclusion."

James Buchan

January 09, 2004
Miscellaneous media

My laptop did finally return from the shop a few weeks ago. But it is out of service again. The power cord mysteriously bent and even straightened out it won't fit into its slot in the computer. It and even a new battery are on their way, but won't be here until the middle of next week. I'm starting to think that owning a laptop is like owning a car—requiring constant care. At least owning a few-years-old laptop, that is.

I keep seeing a Time Life television ad for the "Queens of Country" CD set. And I'm struck by the fact that most of these women would not make it in music today. They're simply not good looking enough. Emmylou Harris was attractive, but left her hair undone and didn't wear any makeup. Dolly Parton did, but is rather zaftig. Donna Fargo? Forget about it. It took a bit longer in country music, but now it's the same as popular—it's almost impossible to be a success without being a looker. (Take a look at Emmylou now.) Of course, this is now happening in classical, too. Movie stars have always been attractive. But it was more important for them. They were people you looked at for two hours. Of course you'd like to look at something pretty. But music used to be the important thing in the music industry. Not so anymore. This is one reason why there is so much bad music out there these days. You don't have to write your own songs or even have a decent voice. Just a great body. Now I'm wondering if the best music is actually produced by ugly people. Thom Yorke has a slight deformation. That one guy from the Strokes has rather an afro. And Jack White isn't exactly a looker. But I suppose Morrissey dashes that theory.

This tyranny of the beautiful is even spreading to fields in which you barely see the artist. The Telegraph reports, "Publishers are reducing the number of books they release to concentrate on 'big name' authors or 'good-looking' first-time novelists who are more marketable." It seems bizarre to me to purchase a book based on what nature gave its author in the looks department.

People are reading less, however. This is a commonplace. Yet how sad I felt to discover that one reason may be the increased popularity of something of which I have been a tireless promoter for years. USA Today reports that people love DVDs. Americans never bought more than six video cassettes a year, on average. But they are already buying 17 DVDs. They spent 18% more time watching home video from 1997 to 2002.

For the average person that means an increase to 58 hours each year, while time spent listening to music, watching network TV and reading books, magazines and newspapers dropped. This year, movie fans spent an estimated 67 hours watching discs; that is expected to jump another 46% over the next four years to about 98 hours per person per year—nearly a DVD a week.
(link via Zarina Docken)

January 05, 2004
KJT on the air

I will be on the radio Tuesday night discussing my recent Reason piece on the fat police. You can hear me on The Roger Fredinburg Show starting at 11:00 pm EST, for about half an hour or so. Click here to listen live.

Looking for literary love

Some chances are once in a lifetime. Not this one, I've been in the last 12 issues. Either I strike gold this time or I become a lesbian. Man, 43.

Tap-dancing Classics lecturer. Chilling isn't it? (M, 38).

Before I turn 67 - next March - I would like to have lots of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.

Those are a few of the personal ads that have appeared in the London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books.

The ads are rather different, however, depending on from which side of the Atlantic they were sent:

In true British fashion, it is generally regarded as bad form to mention one's qualifications or looks, except to talk them down. Terms such as troll-like, crab-faced and pock-marked are acceptable; gorgeous, sexy, and alluring are not. "Public school failure. Insipid, directionless, probably poor in bed. Looking for M or F reason to take life seriously" is an example. Some are so self-deprecating and odd they defy anyone to respond. "I'm fat, thick, 48, still have uncooked semolina between my toes after an Aga-related accident in 1995, and look like the dwarf in Fantasy Island who yells 'Da plane! Da plane!' And I live in Ipswich. Any takers?"

(link via Bookslut)

Thought for the day

"No one involved in a 'relationship' ever had a good time. One may be courting, seducing, experimenting sexually, dating, married, keeping company, and so on. But anything called 'a relationship' must eventually result in sorrow, as the participants are unwilling to examine and name its nature."

David Mamet

January 01, 2004
Happy New Year

Year's End

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.

I've known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

Richard Wilbur