Friday, April 28, 2006

I don't know where to begin in saying why or how much I enjoy this note (photographed in place, about ten feet from the scene of the crime):

Sigh. I love this woman.

Tremulous With Longing

Powell's Books' Review-a-Day is so often so very, very good that it's a scandal that it doesn't have an RSS feed. Instead, I wait for Arts & Letters Daily to graciously reprise the best bits -- and feel momentarily distressed, both that I may have missed out on something even better and like I can't even farm my own goods myself.

Exhibit A: Terry Castle's Atlantic Monthly write-up of Elsie de Wolfe's classic book on interior decoration The House in Good Taste. (Since the Atlantic Monthly has gone offline, Powell's often functions as a surrogate for that source as well.) It may start as a review of the book, but it turns into a witty, literary meditation on the appeal of all guides, new and old, to decoration; the auto-erotic and anti-maternal pleasures of glossy catalogues and "shelter mags"; and the author's own charming Anglophilic lesbianism. This whole thing may not necessarily be your bag -- speaking for myself, I'm an avowed consumer of "furniture porn" -- but you'll find something in here that I think you'll like.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Not Too Easy, I Hope

Here is a link to an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, juxtaposing professor salaries with standards-of-living in various cities. I had a long and, at times, brilliant analysis of this article and its significance for academia, cities, the middle and creative classes, and, indeed, the world.

However, this post was coldly and cruelly eaten.

So, you get this link instead -- and can make your own speculations.

Good day.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hooray!... Oh.... Damn.

A smart post (one of several, but this one I'll quote in full) on Passport, the new Foreign Policy blog:

Mon, 04/24/2006 - 1:09pm.

The most recent Pew poll isn’t likely to put a spring in President Bush’s step. Democrats, though, will delight in trolling through the data: 50 percent of voters now have an unfavorable view of Republicans, Democrats have a 52-28 advantage on the crucial question of which party is “concerned with people like me,” 51 percent of independents are leaning towards voting Blue in ’06, and a on a generic national ballot they have a whopping 51 to 41 advantage.

So, we should get ready for a Democratic president? No. The survey suggests that the Republicans have a distinct advantage in that fight. They have three potential candidates—Rudy, Condi, and McCain—who have 50 percent plus approval rating among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. No Democratic ’08 er achieves this trifecta. Indeed, these three figures are all powerful enough brands in themselves to throw off the negativity that currently surrounds the GOP. If the Republican ticket is comprised of two from these three it would be awesomely strong and probably able to ride out any anti-Bush/anti-Republican backlash.

James Forsyth

Sunday, April 23, 2006

It's Because He's a Concerned and Reasonable Man

I don't know if I'm sure precisely why, but today's Doonesbury strip reminded me exactly -- exactly -- of one Gavin Craig.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Put Some on the Handle, Redux

I'm a facial hair and shaving enthusiast -- most of which stems from the fact that my Irish ancestry has left me little in the way of lip volume, but luckily, the hair on my face grows fast and thick (mostly courtesy of my mother's family). And this bleeds through into Short Schrift. There's my recent post/link about beards. You've seen my beard (a little on the scruffy side, but in a nice way) here. And most of you probably remember my post on the curiously Onion-echoing Gillette Fusion razor.

It's less well known, however, that I also have a professional interest in shaving, in my job as a literary critic. One of my favorite essays I've written so far in graduate school is about Buck Mulligan's mirror in James Joyce's Ulysses, which triangulates some lit-theory discourses on the mirror and representation with a cultural history of shaving. I'm also interested in barbers, valets, and the transition between the barber shop and self-shaving that occured in the late Enlightenment but only really solidified in the early 20th century. (Ben Franklin was a notable early adopter and proponent.)

There are plenty of great moments in literature and film that focus on shaving -- from the masked ritual violence in Melville's "Benito Cereno" to the psychological drama of the Hernando Téllez short story "Just Lather, That's All," which I think I read in high school but (like Faulkner's "Barn Burning," Elie Wiesel's Night, and every Shakespeare and Sophocles play, but unlike Johnny Tremaine or The Red Badge of Courage) has always stuck with me. Sometimes, there's a comic effect -- all of the male guests at Emma Bovary's wedding have terrible cuts on their faces from shaving in bad light. Or in A Hard Day's Night, when George is teaching Shake how to use a safety razor, Shake has a great punchline: "It's not my fault. I come from a long line of electricians." The best shaving scenes aren't just about isolation (although some very good ones in movies are -- e.g. the parallel montage in Schindler's List or the attempted suicide in The Royal Tenenbaums). They're about moments of intimacy, danger, and the threat of violence -- usually between two men.

So -- while I'm not nearly as much of a shave cook as some -- I read this article, titled "The Best A Man Can Get" [Books & Culture, via Arts & Letters Daily], with relish -- like Leopold Bloom eating a kidney. It's mostly about Corey Greenberg, technology shill for "The Today Show," who's become a passionate advocate for traditional shaving:

In the Today Show studio, Greenberg lathered up his face with English shaving cream and a badger brush, whipped out a vintage double-edge razor, and made a passionate case that the multi-billion-dollar shaving industry has been deceiving its customers ever since 1971, when Gillette (no small advertiser on network television) introduced the twin-blade razor. Everything you need for a fantastically close and comfortable shave, Greenberg said, was perfected by the early 20th century.
Then, however, the author (Andy Crouch, who has serious chops, but about whom I know nothing) takes over, and the essay turns into this nearly lyrical hymn to the art of shaving, and the gap between electric and cartridge shaving and the straight or traditional safety razor:
In the logic of high technology, the fundamental premise is our incapacity. We are tired, fuzzy (in mind and face), and in need of a simple, safe, efficient solution. Gillette's army of engineers go to work, and place in our hand "the best a man can get." But there is another kind of logic—call it the logic of the blade. The double-edged razor blade, of course, is technology too, of quite an advanced kind. But the blade does not exist to underwrite our fuzzy, lazy, half-asleep lives. It requires something of us—discipline, skill, patience. The fundamental premise of the blade is that we can learn to handle fearsome things in delicate ways.
And this remarkable reading of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey:
Homer's heroes bathe because they feast: no scene of feasting in the great halls of an Achaean king is complete without the visit to the bathchamber before the meal. The Iliad, the book of war on the shores of Troy, has almost no such scenes. Its men are at war, and too busy to bathe. But the Odyssey, though not without its adventures and battles, is a book that celebrates the man at home—the pleasure of the bath, the board, and the bed. Just offstage and never forgotten in the poem is the murderous bath Clytemnestra and her lover Aigisthus prepare for Agamemnon, a cautionary tale that reminds the heroes that baths can be dangerous and vulnerable places, and that the home requires, in its own way, as much valor and steadfastness from both husband and wife as the battlefield.
I'm not nearly as far gone as some of these guys, but I really do geek out on all of this stuff -- the poetry as well as the razors. I currently use a combination of electric devices and blades to keep my beard tight. You need at least as much precision to keep up a beard as you do to regularly shave it off, and they haven't made a straight razor yet that can reliably trim a beard. (Hell, even the electric trimmers don't do a very good job -- most of the time, I wind up using scissors.) Still, the enthusiasm driving these guys -- and the sweet, sweet allure of early 20th-century technology -- almost makes me want to convert.

Different Dreams Running Together

The Flaming Lips with Bob Dylan in Kilkenny, Ireland?
Man, my subconscious must be all turned around. [Pitchfork]

P.S.: No, it's true. [Aiken Productions]

I wonder if the Lips are going to act as Dylan's backup band, like they did for Beck. Or if the kids in the animal suits are going to join Mr. Zimmerman on stage. (I can imagine Dylan, now, growling in his best old-man-neighbor voice: "Put that beach ball away!")

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Speak, Memory

Last night, I went to a reading at UPenn by author and New Yorker staff writer Ian Frazier. Frazier has written some of the smartest and funniest pieces in The New Yorker in recent years, including "Invaders," which I plug endlessly.

There's a videorecording of the reading available at the Kelly Writers House's Ian Frazier page. (You have to click "streaming.") There's probably one or two too many introductions (they played better if you were there), but Frazier picks up around the 16 minute mark.

Frazier read his award-winning 2005 essay "If Memory Doesn't Serve," from the Atlantic Monthly, and a couple of strong pieces about fishing. As you can tell from the background noise, it was a really cracking, funny read. Well worth it, especially if you've got the time.

From Beau Brummels to The Zombies

My brother Sean recently directed me to a terrific music blog called Past Tense Music. The blog itself is in Brazilian, but it covers a wide range of American and British music -- mostly late '60s garage-rock psychedelia, but today they just posted some 1977 material by The Jam.

There's fantastic stuff on here: The Kinks, The Who, The Zombies, Love, Os Mutantes, and The Sonics, along with more obscure Brazilian and American psych bands. ("Black Monk Time" by The Monks -- an "anti-Beatles" proto-punk group of tonsured American GIs stationed in Germany -- is a special treat.) If you ever fell in love with oldies radio, or the incomparable Nuggets anthology, it's well worth checking out.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Casualization, What?

According to Money Magazine,"college professor" is the 2nd best job in America, right after software engineer.

2. College professor
Why it's great While competition for tenure-track jobs will always be stiff, enrollment is rising in professional programs, community colleges and technical schools -- which means higher demand for faculty.

It's easier to break in at this level, and often you can teach with a master's and professional experience. Demand is especially strong in fields that compete with the private sector (health science and business, for example).

The category includes moonlighting adjuncts, graduate TAs and college administrators.

What's cool Professors have near-total flexibility in their schedules. Creative thinking is the coin of the realm. No dress code!

What's not The tick-tick-tick of the tenure clock; grading papers; salaries at the low end are indeed low.

Top-paying job University presidents' pay can hit $550,000 or more, but most make about half that.

Education Master's or professional degree; Ph.D. for most tenured jobs.
As the detailed view indicates, the problem with the professoriate is that there are readily available jobs and high-paying jobs, but the two don't really meet. Being a professor is more like being an actor than an engineer -- if you're good enough, there's work available, but only a small but visible handful of people are getting the press and accolades and really raking it in.

Still, though, as Dan McQuade notes at Philadelphia Will Do, "blogger" isn't anywhere on the list.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Philadelphia Story, Pt. 2

I swear, part of me knew it -- Philadelphia's CityPaper reports that the 12th St. Gym protests I wrote about yesterday were cooked up by supporters of Bob Casey, Jr. -- a.k.a. the Democratic challenger to Rick Santorum's senate seat in PA.

You can follow the whole unfolding story -- I did -- via Philebrity, a.k.a. Philadelphia's very best indie-rock-reject wannabe-Gawker blog.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Philadelphia Story

Philadelphia's largest gay neighborhood is called -- if you've never heard this, I swear I'm not making it up -- "The Gayborhood." As a Philly vacation and travel service site notes, "Philadelphia's queer enclave overlaps with the officially designated Washington Square West neighborhood. The Gayborhood is most strongly associated with 12th and 13th streets, especially from Pine in the south to Walnut in the north, but spills out to the surrounding areas. It includes such institutions as Woody's (a gay bar), Sisters (a lesbian bar), 12th Air Command and Pure (gay clubs), Giovanni's Room (an LGBT bookstore), and the William Way Community Center. All of these establishments, as well as most straight-owned Gayborhood businesses, are friendly to queer and straight alike regardless of orientation. "

Well, even "friendly" has its limits, especially when that friendliness turns out to be two-faced. The 12th Street Gym -- which, even more than Woody's or Giovanni's Room has been a central institution and meeting place for LGBQ Philadelphians -- recently faced a very public protest and near-total boycott by the gay community. The reason? Bob Guzzardi, one of the co-owners of the gym, turned out to be a major financial and political supporter of PA Senator Rick Santorum. Yes, that Rick Santorum; the man-on-dog guy, among many other less headline-busting but equally reactionary positions.

This was one of those stories that you just knew would drag on for weeks and weeks, not just because of the political entrenchment on both sides, but because absolutely nothing in Philadelphia happens at more than a glacial pace unless the right people are getting paid off. It was stunning, then, to see that on the same day that the boycott was set to begin, Guzzardi agreed to sell his shares in the gym to co-owner/manager Rick Piper. The protest turned into a victory party -- as Tom Fitzgerald wrote in the Inky, "(t)hey won the battle without firing a shot."

I don't really have much in the way of comment on this story; it might be a harbinger of change, it might be a blip on the radar. Heck, maybe it'll turn out the whole thing was orchestrated by
the one owner just to get his partner to cash out cheap. But it made me feel good to hear that at least in some cases, people won't stand for you make your living off of them while supporting people who hate their guts. What if that were always true?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

While You Are Not Safe I Am Not Safe

From the NYT Book Review: rock-star music and cultural critic Greil Marcus reviewing stories about Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" at 50.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Emotional Physics

On the lighter, more life-affirming side of things, there's an excellent interview in today's Pitchfork with Neko Case, my favorite uber-sexy alt-country vocal star and superlative indie New Pornographer, whose new album "Fox Confessor Brings The Flood" might be my favorite of the year so far.

She's not afraid to get snarky, taking stars to task for their use of autotune and crappy, crappy songwriting -- neither inventive nor classic. Who does she love? Her bandmates, Jackie Wilson, Roy Orbison, Feist, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Kanye West, and Brian Eno and Roxy Music. The only problem with the interview (as well as the album) is that it ends way too soon.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

“The Most Worrisome Thing"

I don't exactly know how Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing figured out how to get her hands on it a day before it was even officially posted on the web, but in this week's New Yorker, Seymour Hersh has an article on the Bush administration's not-entirely-secret-but-nevertheless-shocking plans for nuclear war -- with Iran. (It's also worth re-reading Hersh's earlier article on "The Coming Wars.")

Okay. My first thought is that something is going to go down inside or because of Iran in the near future, and that something will probably not be very good. Americans -- and I mean all Americans, from voters and non-voters to Congress -- need to get serious about finding out more about Iran, its people, its history, its domestic and regional politics, its military capabilities, everything. We should know more about Iran than we did about Russia or China during the cold war, and know way more about Iran than we know about Iraq in either of the gulf wars. Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason so many of the American people were so convinced that Saddam Hussein had helped plan the attacks on Sept. 11 and posed an immediate threat to the U.S. was that everyone had stopped paying attention after the first Gulf war. If the only cultural memory of Iran in America is of the 1979 revolution, the taking of American hostages, the WWF wrestler "The Iron Sheik," and fatwas against Salman Rushdie, we're all in very serious trouble. Again.

Have you noticed that -- with the exception of Laura Secor's article last November, also from The New Yorker -- you never see news or magazines stories that talk about Iran's domestic politics any more? There's a line in Hersh's essay that's almost a throwaway: “The Iranian economy is in bad shape, and Ahmadinejad is in bad shape politically,” a European intelligence official tells Hersh. Why don't we hear about that more often on "Hardball" or "Meet the Press"? Why do we always assume that a bad political leader of a country either has full support of his people or has totally suppressed and dominated them? Is it hard to imagine a world where the average Iranian citizen might say something like "I don't like this Ahmadinejad guy. But at least he's tough, and he didn't raise my taxes." That seems to be the way a lot of American voters feel about our own resident nutcases hell-bent on bringing disaster on everyone's heads.

Speaking of which -- there is something almost ennobling about Bush's belief in the transformative power of democracy, and the stance of near-tragic resolve he takes up in wanting to address unpopular problems during his Administration that no future President, Republican or Democrat, will likely be able to face. After all, Lincoln probably could have negotiated with the Confederacy, saved a lot of bloodshed and held off on any immediate military threat to the Union, despite the attack on Fort Sumter. Instead, we had the Civil War.

But every reasonable observer (not to mention common sense) seems to say that just like with Iraq, the Bush administration is totally fucking deluding themselves about what will happen if we hit Iran with a bunker-busting nuke. The actual use (as opposed to the threat) of conventional bombs and nuclear weapons have never worked as a deterrent to the breakout of open war. The bombing of military and civilians in Germany and firebombing and exploding nuclear weapons on the population in Japan only worked at the end of a costly conventional war, when neither country had any allies left. The models we have for what we're proposing: initial bombing, followed possibly by conventional war with well-allied nations with the goal of regime change -- are really limited to the Blitz and Vietnam. Neither of which had the expected outcome. If we bomb Iran, no one -- neither Iran, the insurgency in Iraq, Hezbollah, or Al-Qaeda -- will back down. Which is a problem for us, since the immediate threat to the United States isn't from Iran-launched nuclear weapons, but from international terrorism.

And really, while we all need to worry about an Iranian nuclear power, the countries that really need to worry about it are Iran's neighbors -- above all, Israel. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that the United States is at least partially trying to intimidate Iran into negotiations from a position of strength, especially to protect Israel. It's a crazy act of brinksmanship, but it's not unreasonable. It really just remains to be seen whether or not the Iranian civil government and religious oligarchy are deterrable. I also wouldn't be surprised to see us play a back up role (either covertly, with intelligence and tactical help, or with some public and/or material asssistance) in a unilateral attack by Israel on Iran's nuclear facilities, à la their 1981 attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor in Osirak. In many ways, Israel is a more natural agent against Iran than the United States, because they have more to lose in the event Iran goes nuclear and less to lose than we do in terms of exposure to terrorism, if only because it sometimes seems like everyone who really wants to commit acts of terrorism in Israel is already taking steps to make that happen.

But this brings us back to Bush, and his messianic hopes -- "the most worrisome thing," according to the U.S. rep who spoke with Sy Hersh. When Israel attacked Osirak, it had every reason to support regime change in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was totally awful, and the only thing he had in common with the neighboring Muslim regimes was a hatred of Israel, coupled with a unique willingness to use WMDs in warfare. Israel is willing to target foreign and terrorist leaders, and it wouldn't have been surprising for them to mount an attempt against Hussein and the Ba'ath hierarchy. But Israel was a lot smarter in 1981 then we were in 2003 -- it knew that any attempt it made to try to shake up Iraq, espcially through force of arms, would have totally rallied the Iraqi people against them. Instead, they destroyed the reactor. The message was clear, but limited: we will not tolerate a hostile nuclear power. The only problem with the Israelis attacking Iran's facilities in a similar fashion is that there's a chance that conventional bombing won't do the trick, and a nuclear attack by Israel on Iran would break loose very nearly the same amount of hell as a nuclear attack by the United States. More, possibly -- since Israel isn't a recognized nuclear power.

I believe that Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons. (I don't really think North Korea, India, Pakistan, China, Russia, or Israel should have nuclear weapons either, but whatever.) If our options are exhausted, and it requires a military strike to make that happen, fine. Our best hope is that Iran is years away from the bomb, that negotiations can hold off the immediate threat, and that the long-term political transformation of Iran is shifting in our favor. (Isn't it the Bush administration that's always stressing taking the long view of history?)

But we -- all of us -- need to be prepared for the shitstorm that follows if anyone takes military action against Iran. This is the real thing, and it is as worrisome as hell itself. Pay attention.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The National Interest


Here's what I'm thinking -- and forgive me if someone else has already gotten there yet. President Bush has the authority to declassify documents like the National Security Estimate. This is what probably keeps what he and V.P. Cheney did from being criminal, at least if they fell short of knowingly blowing Valerie Plame's cover.

But is there a particular procedure in place -- say, a document that needs to be filed and signed -- in order for the President to make something declassified? He can't just wake up one morning, wave his hand over the NSE, and make it public information? Or can he?

If not, then this document is going to come out, if not during the course of Libby's criminal trial, then through political pressure. And it will be a political disaster -- the president's signature authorizing the declassification of national security information for no reason other than to silence and punish a critic. And there will be subpoenas for other documents and testimony as well -- especially regarding whether Bush, Cheney, or both did, in fact, knowingly disclose Valerie Plame's identity.

This is where the Bush administration may finally have to choose between denying what it may have done or making a full disclosure in the assertion of the legality of its actions, and those of its former aides. To date, they've almost always maintained a middle position, asserting their fundamental (bordering on definitional) innocence and refusing to give any evidence supporting that assertion. It's a way of claiming the bare minimum of adhering to the law while simulataneously presenting oneself as above it. Well, the clock is ticking: that time might finally be over.

Monday, April 03, 2006