Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Self-involved lyrics, the degraded form

You can have your Wordsworth, you can have your Whitman, for lo, while shopping on Sunday, I was suddenly and involuntarily reminded of these most self-involved lyrics. Cruel as I am, I will reproduce a few of them here:
Hey lady, you lady, cursing at your life
You're a discontented mother and a regimented wife
I've no doubt you dream about the things you'll never do
But, I wish someone had talked to me
Like I wanna talk to you.....

Oh, I've been to Georgia and California and anywhere I could run
I took the hand of a preacher man and we made love in the sun
But I ran out of places and friendly faces because I had to be free
I've been to paradise but I've never been to me

Please lady, please lady, don't just walk away
'Cause I have this need to tell you why I'm all alone today
I can see so much of me still living in your eyes
Won't you share a part of a weary heart that has lived a million lies....

Oh, I've been to Niece and the Isle of Greece while I've sipped champagne on a yacht
I've moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo and showed 'em what I've got
I've been undressed by kings and I've seen some things that a woman ain't supposed to see
I've been to paradise, but I've never been to me....

But, no fear, I don't intend to push this topic into Whitney Houston's oeuvre.

Ok, blech, but...

I have a headache and I'm going to go home. Still, I wanted to note that I am so, so happy about the 8 - 1 vote in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. You gotta think that when Scalia and Stevens are co-authoring concurring opinions ("Cats and dogs living together!), the case is pretty clear.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Post-modern financial services

From "Midwest" to "Meta"? This reads like a sad parable of a loss of innocence (note that the ticker symbol, which gives it all away, stays the same).
STORM LAKE, Iowa, June 25 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- First Midwest Financial, Inc. announced its plans to change its name to Meta Financial Group effective during the first half of calendar year 2005, pending shareholder approval. The name change will not affect the ownership of the Company or its operating structure. The Company will keep the ticker symbol "CASH" ....

Friday, June 25, 2004

I want to take this tour

Uzbekistan Airways offers "The cognitive tour over the Central Asia." Sadly, however, it does not offer a visit to Turkmenistan to find out what exactly is going on in the Turkmenbashi's mind.

If you don't like the way I drive...

... stay off the train tracks. Hilarious.
For a quarter-century, the debate over whether Houston should have a light rail system pitted a vision of environmentally friendly mass transit against the fossil-fueled love affair between Houstonians and their cars.

Last year, when Houston finally got a rail line, the culture clash became physical. Since testing began in November, the silvery electric-powered train, which slides north and south along the street on a 7.5-mile route, has collided with more than 40 cars.

The accidents have marred what was to be a moment of rejuvenation for the city. The opening of the rail line was timed to coincide with a major spruce-up of downtown, complete with a fountain that flanks the tracks and sends water leaping high into the air each time a train approaches.

So far, 15 motorists have driven into the fountain.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Dogger, Fisher, German Bight

Somehow, in obscure ways I cannot name, it makes me very happy that the BBC puts the shipping forecast on the Web.

Killer rumors

The new outbreak is a triumph of superstition over science. The polio cases have spread from the state of Kano, in the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria. There, clerics have preached nonsense about the polio vaccination, claiming it was a western plot to depopulate Africa by rendering girls infertile, or even giving its recipients AIDS. Kano’s state government, under pressure from the militant clerics, has suspended vaccinations. In January a committee of doctors and Muslim scholars set up by the state government said tests had revealed that the vaccine contained oestrogen, which plays a role in fertility. The WHO insists that other tests have refuted those claims. In May, Kano’s government announced that vaccination would begin again, but this has not yet happened.

Even if vaccination resumes tomorrow, damage will already have been done. The WHO says that five times as many children in west and central Africa have been infected with polio so far in 2004 as in the same period in 2003. Though the disease mainly strikes children aged under five—and leaves them crippled for life—it can also be carried by people without their showing any symptoms of infection. Thus, the movement of people escaping the region’s conflicts is helping to spread the outbreak.
I tell myself often that I need to be more mindful and charitable at work, i.e., to spend less time muttering "Morons" under my breath. But I think I get a pass to do so on this one - and "Murderous morons" at that.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

On the South Korean beheaded in Iraq

I can think of little to say except to refer to this piece, originally from The Onion (but now only available there through "Onion Premium" ?!).

One of the reasons that "Ample Hills" is not a warblog is that I'm convinced, for once, by Neal Pollack in "Just Shut Up," a firmly bi-partisan (hell, omni-partisan) attack on writing about the war. Note that Pollack does praise the Onion's post-9/11 issue cited above. That's about all he praises; the rest is more like this:
Shut up, antiwar people. Shut up, pro-war people. Shut down your computers and shut your goddamn pieholes. No one gives a shit what you write, so stop writing about the war. Shut up, all of you.

...September 11, 2001, has had all kinds of unintended consequences. One of the least tragic, but most irritating, has been an explosion of absolutely terrible writing. The flow of lousy literature began almost immediately after the attacks, and has continued without pause.

...Every magazine of "ideas," every daily newspaper, and every political website is just a carnival of preachy blathering. I'm here to say to both the right and the left: Shut the hell up. For the purposes of this piece, I'm not even going to cover the extremes. Ann Coulter and Peggy Noonan, Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore. They were all bad writers before this mess started, and they're still bad. But now they've dragged everyone else down into the didactic muck with them.

Fear and loathing (RNC edition)

And, finally, the Republicans have decided to plaster NYC pre-convention with truly frightening pictures of Ed Koch's head being eaten by an elephant.

Fear and loathing (Soviet leader edition)

Meanwhile, the Health section managed to print articles on a report that Lenin died from syphilis and "Fear in the workplace: The bullying boss" without making any of the obvious lame jokes about, well, Lenin as bullying boss. So, well, here's your chance.

Fear and loathing (cell phone edition)

From yesterday's NYT business travel column. I've been there (on both sides of the argument, I'm afraid).
"She's sort of a mousy housewife who doesn't want to fight," the lawyer said loudly into his cellphone. He was talking to a colleague about a client he was representing in a divorce.

I was involuntarily listening to this while sitting across the aisle from the lawyer in a business-class car of a southbound Acela Express train. For about 10 minutes, this cell-yeller persisted in broadcasting intimate details about the woman and her cad of a husband who, as those of us sitting nearby learned, was keeping a girlfriend at an apartment that he paid for. Before this performance was finished, a businesswoman in the seat in front of me whipped out her cellphone and loudly announced that a colleague named George was in big trouble and didn't know it. "George is being cut out,'' she said. "It's going to get ugly."

I was feeling awfully sorry for the wronged wife and the clueless executive as the train slid into 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. But when it pulled out a few minutes later, I was feeling sorry mostly for myself. A gangly young man entered the car and marched down the aisle bellowing into his phone to some presumably cowering underling: "Logistics! Logistics! Logistics, damn it!"

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Rotten tomatoes

Christopher Hitchens doesn't much care for Michael Moore's latest opus. Only a short snippet here, but the whole thing is worth reading, as a sustained exercise in vitriol, if nothing else.
[H]is real pitch is not to any audience member with a serious interest in foreign policy. It is to the provincial isolationist.

I have already said that Moore's film has the staunch courage to mock Bush for his verbal infelicity. Yet it's much, much braver than that. From Fahrenheit 9/11 you can glean even more astounding and hidden disclosures, such as the capitalist nature of American society, the existence of Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex," and the use of "spin" in the presentation of our politicians. It's high time someone had the nerve to point this out.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Oops, I fear this is my life

... as much as I dislike to agree with The Guardian on why we (I) work too much.
Our sense of self is bound up with our sense of control and impact. That's why a new mother will say she's "got her old self back" when she returns to a job, where the routines give a greater degree of control than the unpredictable demands of a small baby. Agency is regarded as the most significant component of well-being; it is so important that we will take on, and often claim to find enjoyable and satisfying, more stressful responsibilities if they give us a greater sense of agency. The concept of "self-realisation", as developed in the therapy and New Age movements of the 60s and 70s, can be trimmed down to mesh neatly with the neo-liberal labour market, comments writer and social critic Thomas Frank in One Market Under God. Paid work has so successfully absorbed the "project of the self" that it marginalises all other routes to fulfilment, such as caring or the passion of the amateur.

Saturday, June 12, 2004


One of the two words in Russian for "truth"; whereas "pravda" is normal, basic, everyday truth [insert jokes about newspaper titles here], "istina" is something deeper and more profound. I may have learned that difference from reading the Nabokov - Edmund Wilson correspondence. In any case, I think that Jonathan Yardley is very much on the trail of "istina" when he praises one of my all-time favorite books, Nabokov's Speak, Memory. Some snatches:
Nabokov was haunted and obsessed by the past. "The act of vividly recalling a patch of the past is something that I seem to have been performing with the utmost zest all my life," he writes, and, later: "I witness with pleasure the supreme achievement of memory, which is the masterly use it makes of innate harmonies when gathering to its fold the suspended and wandering tonalities of the past." Even those of us cursed with defective and/or selective memories can find, in his searches, parallels to our own attempts to figure out where we came from and who we are. Writing with passion about "the legendary Russia of my boyhood," Nabokov places each reader in his or her own childhood, no matter how different it may have been from his, spent as it was in a handsome St. Petersburg townhouse and on the three family estates 50 miles south of that city.

What matters is not that Nabokov was rich and privileged in ways few if any of his readers can comprehend -- "our city household and country place," for example, had "a permanent staff of about 50 servants" -- but that he brings such abiding humanity to this examination of his past. Contemplating his family's lost fortune -- when the Nabokovs fled to Yalta and then to Western Europe, "except for a few jewels astutely buried in the normal filling of a talcum powder container, we were absolutely ruined" -- he gets it exactly right: "The nostalgia I have been cherishing all these years is a hypertrophied sense of lost childhood, not sorrow for lost banknotes." The impulse to rediscover and reclaim childhood is deep in human nature, and thus the chord "Speak, Memory" touches is truly universal.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Dept. of long-awaited but ultimately disappointing purloined intellectual property

Hapworth 16, 1924 sucks. Seriously.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Burn, baby, burn (theory inferno)

Okay, I'm almost about to cough up the money for a subscription to The New Republic, just so I can read more of James Wood on a hot streak. The lure: the throwaway line at the end of this excerpt:
"When I attended Cambridge in the mid-1980s, "theory" was sickly ripe. What looked like its fiercest flush of life, the red of its triumph, was in fact the unnatural coloring of fever. Paul de Man had just died, Harold Bloom was preparing his second career as a weak misreader of Clifton Fadiman..."