Monday, September 29, 2003

If you have a bohemian neighborhood full of people
drinking bad beer and wearing ugly T-shirts and
trucker hats and dressing the exact same way as
Justin Timberlake, it's real and it's ironic, and it's
cool and it's uncool at the same time

Sorry, no. All irony is partly for-real, all of it. There is no big mystery about this. Irony--in this sense, the hipsters-in-trucker-hats sense, which is something different from some other uses of the word irony--is a tool that we use when we're embarrassed to admit the for-real side of what we're feeling. I am tired of arch, cynical ironists trying to claim that what they're really doing is something complicated, some sophisticated "both"! That's what hipster-irony is, dumbass, and it's almost always ugly, condescending bullshit.
When would you guess that the British began drinking tea? Since forever? Nope. Since the 1650s, when the Dutch East India Company first imported it. And at first it was strictly an amusement for the privileged class. Samuel Pepys, in his diary entry for Tuesday, Sept. 25, 1660, writes: "I did send away for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drank before..."

Pepys' diary, the 17th century's best blog!

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Cubs lose! But still win! To the Braves, we Cubs fans say: Bring 'em on!
Monkeys have better judgement of values. Since the Columbus Dispatch requires subscription, here is the full text of a letter from today's paper:

I find it interesting to connect the dots.

On Sept. 18, The Dispatch carried an article from The Dallas Morning News about how monkeys have a sense of fairness about equal pay for equal work. They refused to work as hard when they saw another monkey paid more (given a grape) for the same work than they were paid (a piece of cucumber). They really got mad when some monkeys were given a grape for no work at all.

The Sept. 19 newspaper announced that the richest in our society got even richer this year (Bill Gates increased his fortune by $3 billion). A brief in the Business section mentioned that American workers, even in an age of fewer jobs, were less satisfied than ever at those jobs.

Maybe the monkeys know more than we do. Maybe our dissatisfaction has something to do with a subconscious feeling of a lack of fairness in America’s workplace. More tax cuts for the rich, anyone?


More condescending coverage of K Street. The astute Frank Rich falls into the old authenticity trap, writing of James Carville and George Stephanopolous that:

Their bright career arcs are the representative
examples that illuminate a decade in which the
already blurry lines between spin and news,
fiction and nonfiction, and newsmakers and
journalists have all but disappeared.

But what if those "already blurry lines" were themselves basically artificial creations? Why is it offensive for a sincere Democrat like James Carville to offer a hilarious, perceptive line to fellow Democrat Howard Dean? Because it was done on camera? Isn't it a good thing in a democracy when the political process--which includes consultations, collaboration, and often calculated judgements--is documented and made public? My impression here is that journalists are defensive of the carefully cultivated authenticity-signals of their own profession. (You know exactly what I mean, and if you don't, simply watch any episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for pitch-perfect skewering of journalistic "seriousness.")

To be fair, Rich makes some of these points, albeit in a half-hearted way. And I second his call for a DVD rerelease of The War Room. What a great movie!, and in no small way a forerunner of K Street.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

NYT has a great profile of William T. Vollman. Vollman belongs in ranks with the best literary journalists ever, but his sprawling, rambling prose can make David Foster Wallace look like a model of narrative economy. Rising Up and Rising Down, Vollmann's massive, seven-volume treatise on violence will be published in October by McSweeney's, in Dave Eggers' most audacious money-blowing scheme yet. But he'll get my hundred bucks! I'd better start saving up.

Friday, September 26, 2003

I'll tell you what show I'm excited about: K Street, the new real-time political drama by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney. It's been getting a lot of familiar criticism: its use of digital video is “hipper-than-thou,” it’s too scattered, it’s annoying that some things on it are real and some are fictional. It’s boring.

Only it isn’t boring. It’s finely textured, with Altmanesque improvised dialogue, background noise, characters who occasionally ramble, people talking all at once. But K Street's first two episodes have been exciting because they have allowed ideas to become plot points. It is in this sense that the show is part-drama-part-politics: not because of the weird intersection of the real and the invented, but because alongside its compelling fictional characters (including the slightly fictionalized, highly charismatic James Carville and Mary Matalin) the show features ideas that are genuinely interesting.

So far a total of one hour’s worth of the series has aired, and already journalists are affecting a distanced, condescending attitude toward it, instead of calling it what it is: a bundle of potential, a fascinating experiment that may or may not work, an exciting show off to an extremely promising start.
Andrew Sullivan has been repeating over and over that Wesley Clark is a Rhodes scholar, as if that were some kind of slur. (Yeah, you know, I heard he also got a purple heart!) From a letter Sullivan printed today (many other examples abound from the past week or two):

As for Clark's debate appearance,
and saying the right things on the
deficit, etc., that's what Rhodes
Scholars, like Bill C., do the best!

Way to stick it to him. But, um, didn't Bill C. actually balance the budget?