March 31, 2004
Me-ow

Does any city have as interesting an alternative press as New York? New York Press just published its list of the 50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers.

The list kicks off with Sofia Coppola at Number 50:

AN ART BIMBO whose daddy happens to be movie royalty rides in on the tired back of Bill Murray and is proclaimed a new film genius. The genius' film, Lost in Translation, is the most pretentious, overrated movie of last year, about an alienated Yale brat who feels so lonely in her five-star hotel that she strips down to her panties and curls up on the windowsill every half-hour (accompanied by My Bloody Valentine and Jesus & Mary Chain, just in case you didn't get how much pain she's experiencing).
On Number 13, Sarah Jessica Parker:
WHEN GIRLS THINK another girl is beautiful, but guys know she isn't, call it the Sarah Jessica Parker syndrome... She dresses like a drag queen, a slave and sometimes a clown... Now that she is at long last gone, we're hoping new icons will spring up to replace her, and we're hoping they'll be wearing no-name jeans, going light on the eyeliner and reading a newspaper every once in a while.
It's not just celebrities that take a beating, either. On Number 29, Strand Bookstore Staffers: "They can ram all eight miles of books up their mopey asses."

There are some serious statements, too. On Number 43, "Barak Pridor, Data Miner":

WHEN THE DEVIL talks, he uses language like this: "Our solutions deliver complete, industry-proven, content extraction and analysis applications enabling research-intensive organizations to create new opportunities, shorten time to market, increase productivity and gain competitive advantage." Don't have the faintest idea what that's all about? That's probably because you don't use technology developed by Pridor's oxymoronic ClearForest company, which enables clients like the FBI, the Dept. of Homeland Security and Dow Chemical to surreptitiously sift through publicly available content to learn More About You. Increasingly, it is pointy-headed, anonymous entrepreneurs like Pridor who are teaching the Man how to tailor his pitch or craft his search warrant to ensnare that meddlesome forest animal irritatingly resistant to the cage: the unwitting, ordinary human being.

Thought for the day

"We agreed—indeed, no sane friend of ours would bother to argue—that Art was the most important thing in life, the constant to which one could be unfailingly devoted and which would never cease to reward; more crucially, it was the stuff whose effect on those exposed to it was ameliorative. It made people not just fitter for friendship and more civilised (we saw the circularity of that), but better—kinder, wiser, nicer, more peaceful, more active, more sensitive. If it didn't, what good was it? Why not just go and suck cornets instead? Ex hypothesi (as we would have said, or indeed ex vero), the moment someone perceives a work of art he is in some way improved. It seemed quite reasonable to expect that the process could be observed."

—Julian Barnes, Metroland

March 27, 2004
The distinctive, devilish Dahl

Jonathan Yardley celebrates Roald Dahl as much more than a beloved children's author in today's Washington Post:

It would be exaggeration to say all was easy after that, for Dahl's career was slow getting off the ground. He was a meticulous craftsman who ran everything he wrote through several drafts, and it took him a few years to perfect his distinctive style, one that gives the sense of an intimate, wry conversation with the reader. What did become plain early on was that his unhappiness in school -- as well no doubt as the early deaths of his father and an older sister -- had given him a particular sensitivity to the macabre, the outre, the unexpected. He developed a skill at surprise endings to rival O. Henry's, though his prose style was much superior, and he slowly mastered a tone -- ironic, sardonic, succinctly but painstakingly descriptive -- that makes almost anything he wrote immediately identifiable as his own. Consider for example this passage from "Taste," the first story in "Someone Like You":

"The man was about fifty years old and he did not have a pleasant face. Somehow it was all mouth -- mouth and lips -- the full, wet lips of the professional gourmet, the lower lip hanging downward in the center, a pendulous, permanently open taster's lip, shaped open to receive the rim of a glass or a morsel of food. Like a keyhole, I thought, watching it; his mouth is like a large wet keyhole..." [More]

March 23, 2004
The author who could not make up her mind

A charming column in The Guardian by a writer who sounds just as indecisive as me:

[B]eing the sort of indecisive person who needs to call in a therapist when faced with a restaurant menu, committing myself to a new book was a near-traumatic experience.

March 22, 2004
Comics crusader

For those who can't get enough of the comics talk on his blog, Jim Henley has a fun piece up on Brainwash, the online magazine for which I serve as arts and culture editor. Really, though, it's a thoughtful piece arguing for comics as "the literature of ethics":

These people are all wrong. The superhero story is as capable of speaking to adult concerns as any other genre of fantasy. There exist, even today, scolds to declare that Tolkien or Harry Potter or any other example of the literature of the fantastic released since, oh, The Tempest is and must be childish tripe, unworthy of properly frowny-faced grownups...[More]

March 16, 2004
Uncartoonish conservatives

I have the cover story today at The American Spectator, in which I actually say something nice about America's "first network for men":

You might not expect the cable network that broadcasts Stripperella, featuring a crime-fighting peeler voiced by Pamela Anderson, and Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, a program for those who "enjoy broken bones, splattering spleens, high impact hematomas, and watching people get them," to be a place where old-school conservatives might feel at home. But This Just In, which debuted Sunday night on Spike TV, is a surprisingly fun cartoon about an unabashedly conservative syndicated columnist from San Diego...[More]

March 12, 2004
The lords of the ring

My latest Brainwash column is now online. The traditional proposal season is finally over. But in fact, modern women (and modern science) are changing the time-honored traditions of the engagement ring.

Women are marrying later and later, sometimes forgoing marriage indefinitely for live-in relationships. But who wants to forgo a diamond ring? Not even the most self-sufficient of women. And the right-hand ring is being marketed to just that type. “Independent women of the world, raise your right hand,” reads one ad. Others list some of the accomplishments that might merit a woman buying herself a diamond ring—good work at the office, for example. They veer awfully close to just saying, “For all you do, this Bud’s for you.” [More]