27 November 2007

Describing: Orlando Tobón

Tobón, who is sixty, is of medium height and corpulent. He has wavy, wiry black-and-gray hair and a mustache. His features are slightly askew: his mouth slants down to the left and the line of his front teeth is uneven. His eyes are dark and heavy-lidded, and his gaze is direct and comforting. Sometimes, he closes his eyes before he speaks, as if making an effort of memory or will. When he is seated, the desk appears to bisect him. He looks like a bust of himself.

Alec Wilkinson, in "The Patron" (Nov. 26), a profile of Orlando Tobón, the 'mayor' of New York's Little Colombia.

02 October 2007

Hottest seat sales in Asia

I used to fly this airline regularly when I lived in Taiwan. It's the national carrier, and it's had four fatal crashes in the past 13 years. I know one of their pilots, and I'll pass on his advice: "Never fly China Airlines unless you absolutely must."

The cause of the fire was a loose landing-assembly bolt that punctured the fuel tank. It was a brand-new Boeing 737 and had just arrived in Okinawa after a 90-minute flight from Taipei. All 157 passengers and eight crew escaped alive.

17 September 2007

Libel, American style

From a New York Daily News article about O. J. Simpson's recent robbery arrest in Las Vegas. Italics mine:

"They might actually nail him this time," said Marcia Clark, the Los Angeles prosecutor who bungled the Simpson murder case in 1995, when a jury let the Heisman Trophy winner walk in the slaying of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her pal Ron Goldman.

In this new drama, Vegas cops say The Juice led a group of pals - including a buddy who was in Sin City to renew his marriage vows - who burst into a hotel room Thursday night. Guns drawn, two of the men confronted two sports memorabilia dealers who were trying to sell some Simpson-related items as Simpson barked orders, Lt. Clint Nichols said.

"It was kind of scary," said Tom Riccio, another memorabilia dealer who tipped off Simpson about the sale and said he was there when the alleged theft went down.

Seems oddly sensitive, that second articulation, no? I suppose the reason that you can call him a murderer but only an alleged thief owes to the fact that the theft is still being prosecuted. To my Canadian ears, though, that first paragraph sounds presumptive and more than a little defamatory.

Of course, libel law here is much harsher than in the States. Canadian journalists are like that abused child from your primary school class—the one who, when the teacher raises her hand to fix her hair, recoils in fright.

14 September 2007

On fruitful procrastination

This latest video project leapt out of an afternoon that should produced something else—namely, a job. But, well, you take your distraction where you can can get it. The outdoors have begun beckoning me less; summer is fading from my window, and I've turned the baseboard heater on, although just in the mornings, the last two days running. Take a look.

Moon Ascent

This one I assembled from a bunch of still photographs and an audio track I stitched together on Audacity, an excellent open-souce editing program. The song is Air's "Modular Mix," which has some celestial elements, although it's far from their best song.

All in all, it's the technically superior of the two "flight" videos, but to me it falls flat in the switchover from moon to earth, which is accompanied by a 16-beat song loop that feels like waiting. I may go back and edit it some more when I have my next burst of industry, but I probably won't.

(To potential employers reading this blog: After that first burst of industry, do the smart thing and hand my projects off to a closer.)

And Then So Clear

This second one is more crudely rendered, but it seems to hit a chord. I made it six or seven months ago, while in the blush of my first contact with YouTube, and then, after watching its meagre return of hits (200 or so after two months), forgot about it.

To my surprise, the video began to pick up momentum (and generous comments from viewers), and it now has nearly 16,000 hits. Of course, teenage girls' mugging for their digital camera generates seventy times that traffic in the same amount of time, and that can only mean that the world is spinning at the correct velocity. I think the market for tenderly-wrought electronica may be just about at its saturation point.

07 August 2007

Dept.of Morning Light

It's six forty-two a.m. Just finished a bowl of granola and non-dairy "soygurt"—the latter a leftover from my aborted attempt to make a cilantro curry for someone who doesn't eat dairy. A half-cup of coffee left. The crows are squalling on Nelson.

My words are very easy to understand and very easy to put into practice. Yet no one in the world can understand them or put them into practice.

Words have an ancestor and affairs have a sovereign.
It is because people are ignorant that they fail to understand me.

Those who understand me are few; those who harm me are honoured.

Therefore the sage, while clad in homespun, conceals on his person a priceless piece of jade.

Italics mine. Eastern opacity aside, I'm back, and I'm considering my comment John McPhee's excursion (why does it always have to be a synonym of voyage?) onto Oakmont, the site of the just-past U.S. Open, won by this man.

12 July 2007

Dept. of Richochets and Gooseflesh

Jon Lee Anderson establishes some field cred, and Ian Frazier horripilates at the "uncanny scent of our beginnings."

I never read thrillers growing up, unless you count the Hardy Boys. And no spy novels, apart from "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," by John LeCarré, which I had to read for a fourth-year class on espionage at SFU—the class I was in, incidentally, when the attacks of September 11th took place. I didn't play with G.I. Joes, and, frankly, never understood the ecstasies my Egyptian friend Kareem found in them, flinging himself, and the figurines, around the pool deck at his Toronto home, spittle flying from his mouth—Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat, Snake Eyes, noooo!!!

All of which is to say I was unprepared for Jon Lee Anderson's ducking, barrel-rolling, ricocheting account of American opium eradication efforts in Afghanistan, "The Taliban's Opium War" (July 9, 2007). About midway through the article the prose turned all And then we heard an explosion over the ridge; there were shell casings and bone fragments all around. We poked our head out of the foxhole, and I had to remind myself that I wasn't reading a paperback I'd found wedged between two bus seats. And just seconds after that admittedly disparaging thought, I had another: Shit, the guy got shot at, for four hours, in Afghanistan. He's got more street cred—field cred, whatever—than Fitty. (Audio here.)

I had two more thoughts, too:
1) Invite more goateed, tatooed DynCorp employees to my next barbecue. How cool would it be to get them all hopped up on Bud and amphetamines and pair them off in human cockfights?

2) Save a little of that opium juice from the knocked-over and broke-open poppy, fieldworker Khalil! I'll swing by around eight. You can show me what to do—we'll make some tea, rub it on our gums, whatever.

Ah, I was going to write more about the insouciant little article that followed Anderson's (hence the post title), but I've run out of time for the moment. It was Ian Frazier's "On Impact," the tale of a meteorite (or perhaps something more sinister) that recently fell into the New Jersey home of Srinivasan Nageswaran. Although I know Frazier's name, I can't call to mind another of his articles. In this piece he's delightfully breezy, and he has a fine ear for slang. Tell me you don't love a guy who could write three opening sentences like these:
"People get excited when strange objects fall from the sky. We seek portents and meaning, we venerate the object, and we horripilate at the uncanny scent of our beginnings, or end. Even wised up by science as we are, we tend to freak."
("Horripilate"—I looked it up—means "to cause one's hair to stand on end and get goosebumps," as in "I horripilate at the sight of blood," or "Hitchcock movies horripilate me.")

07 July 2007

Dept. of As It Is Lived

Woke this morning and rolled over to read the last two columns of a David Denby film review. It's my fifth morning in my tiny new apartment.

My curtains are drawn, but the windows are open, and on Nelson Street I can hear the cars and fire trucks, of course, but also bicycles and four kinds of birdsong—a squall, a hoot, a gurgle, and a pinched whistle—and pedestrians and their low conversations, footfalls, and pockets jangling with change.

The Denby review, of a film called "Evening," had a beautiful line, and I very much like the idea behind it:
"The two women look at the past, compare marriages, and make an accounting of their mistakes—which turn out to be merely life as it is lived, not as is hoped for."
I'm going out for a coffee, as it is drunk and not hoped for. That means a choice between the 7-Eleven and the better, pricier cafe, with something existential hanging in the balance. You want anything?

03 July 2007

Dept. of Our Home and Native

I spent my Canada Day on Mayne Island, in the company of two old friends. I took a ferry to get there; it was slow and the passengers were few. There's something about an empty ferry—the expanse of vacuumed carpet, the odd reassurance of the cafeteria and its fixed-seat tables with raised edges, the whole enterprise heaving and shuddering like a fat lover. The diesel and creosote of the car deck. A cup of coffee and a magazine.

The Sunday run from Victoria hits Pender Island, Saturna, and then Pender again before getting to Mayne's Village Bay. I got a good ways into this week's New Yorker, but I stalled in the middle of John Cassidy's article about the hedge-fund machine. With 45 minutes left in the voyage, I reclined on a moulded plastic bench, flipped the magazine over my face, and began promptly to snore.

Thanks to Finnigan, late of Playa del Carmen, for the illustration, which has Ontario in a bit of saucy contact with Michigan. Does this mean Canada is a Red State? Quick—what's the past tense of "drag"?

Happy Canada Day, all.

26 June 2007

Dept. of the Sultry Look

Cat Stevens and his hair. 
Many thanks to Roland for pointing out that Cat Stevens's conversion to Islam has nothing to do with hair, hair products, or envy, at least not in the formal, obvious sense. But he should bear in mind that everything is connected to everything else—Buddhism reduced to a sentence, or so an old humanities professor told me. I mean, it isn't a huge leap from religion to hair. I myself wore a goatee during my experiment with Seventh Day Adventism. Neither suited me. Photos to come.

Work has been hectic, so my posts have been thin. I may yet have to resort to pilfered photos and free association to get something up on New Yorker Comment each week, but consider it a sorbet between the heavier courses of whatever the hell else I'm thinking about.

This current issue, the one with the Lou Romano cover of newlyweds in a taxi, looks so good I can't believe I haven't got around to reading it. If you're a newsstand buyer and not a subscriber, let me whet your appetite. It contains:

"None of this fits together? How very true!" —Albert Camus

22 June 2007

Lustre, envy, and Cat Stevens's conversion to Islam

Again, Mr. Cat Stevens. 
Isn't her hair lustrous? Doesn't it shine? How much shinier, would you say, are her infinity-symbol-shaped locks than your damp, lank, rapidly thinning ones? Fifty percent? Seventy? Eighty?

The number is hard to judge, but the result isn't—Pantene makes your hair jaw-droppingly shiny.

19 June 2007

How to get free potato chips

It appears that all you have to do to get free potato chips is suffer a moderate injury and write a letter.

Dear Old Dutch,

I'm not one of these cranky shut-ins who, deprived of ordinary human contact, resorts to writing angry letters to corporations. But I have to say something: your new Rave chips burned the crap out of my mouth. For your reference, the offending flavor was Salt & Vinegar.

Here's how it went. I bought a large bag and had an absentminded three or four handfuls. Then I noticed an intense stinging on my tongue. You know when you're washing the dishes and stick your hand under too-hot water, and how all you do is clench up, squint, hiss, and wait till it's over? That's what happened. In my mouth. Because of your chips.

If I had to compare it to another physical sensation, it would be this: putting salt in your mouth and electrocuting yourself, with the mouth-salt finding most of the current.

Here's the kicker (and bear in mind my first sentence): it's been two days, and my tongue still feels strange. Seriously, was there demand for this kind of flavor experience from the snacking public? The tip feels abused, like I dragged it on pavement, and there are little red spots where there weren't before.

Needless to say, I'm never buying Rave chips again. I've always bought Old Dutch, though, and would love to hear from you guys that your pumping up the acid content of your S&V wasn't just a spiteful joke by an ex-employee or something. If you wanted to send me a coupon for a big bag of Ketchup, too, that'd be cool.

Yours in mild physical distress,

John Bucher

Old Dutch, to its credit, sent me two coupons for free product, along with an apologetic letter thanking me for my "phone call."

(Extra: Another flavor of old Dutch rave.)

11 June 2007

Dept. of The Skill-testing Question

When you’re finished here, Spencer, we’ll need you on the bridge-to-nowhere project.

Congratulations to New York’s Richard Hine for winning this week's New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest with the above line. Head over to Emdashes to see my full interview with Richard; we go deep, discussing death, religion, the pestilence of procrastination, amphibian life, midwifery, and Taoist self-agnegation—and he gets off one of the best one-liners in recent Internet history. The guy's got it going on.

07 June 2007

Dept. of What's She Reading

The pixellation doesn't do this fine Adrian Tomine cover (June 11 & 18) any justice, but I knew immediately—didn't you?—what this tourist-bus cutie was reading.

What is it?

(Is it me, or do Tomine's lines have an Asian look?)

25 May 2007

Dept. of Boredom and Desire

Once again, James Surowiecki is writing things I already knew but hadn't got around to saying. This week, in "Feature Presentation," he argues that we consumers habitually choose electronic devices that have many more features than we want or use, and that, after the blush of first contact, we grow bored with them. Our addling by gizmo he calls "feature creep," and he describes it this way:

"...fifty-button remote controls, digital cameras with hundreds of mysterious features and book-length manuals, and cars with dashboard systems worthy of the space shuttle. This spiral of complexity costs consumers time, but it also costs businesses money."

Side note, James: "Spiral," unless you're talking about footballs, confuses me. If your fortunes are spiralling, which way are they going? "Either way," says the OED:

spiral, v.
a. intr. To wind or move in a spiral manner; to form spiral curves.
b. To fly an aircraft in a spiral path. Also with down, downwards.
c. fig. To move rapidly in one direction (usu. upwards), in a manner considered to resemble a spiral; to increase or decrease in response to the same movement of another quantity or other quantities. Cf. sense 2d of the n. above.

I've got a Sony-Ericsson that cost me something like 400 bucks when I bought it in Taipei, three years ago. The only reason I got it was that the PVC-skirted saleswoman in the FarEasTone was keen to sell me one of their house-brand phones (the telecommunications equivalent of Safeway-brand corn flakes), and I was keen to show her I wasn't gullible. So I bought a 400-dollar phone.

Its features have come back to earth since, but at the time it was flash. I had Bluetooth, for sending anonymous messages to intriguing strangers (never happened); Internet at my thumbtips, for those formerly unproductive cab rides (never happened); and the ability to shoot videos. The latter was cool exactly three times: in Bangkok during Songkran, when I filmed some girls dancing on a loudspeaker; here, when I witnessed a "near plane crash" (YouTube commenters can be so cruel); and here, when comic-relief Taeho came to my ESL class with a fresh perm.

The picture is poor because the camera lens has been damaged in my pocket—three years' of rainwater, chewing-gum residue, key scratches, and coin thrashings. The phone now sits on my bedstand, uncharged and alone. I'm going through a Luddite phase.

Cell-phone designers, if you're listening: I'd like something indestructible, in brushed aluminum, with great reception. I'm tired of designed obsolescence and "#" buttons that stick. I don't need photographic capacity, video games, or DJ-mixing programs. Make it like a Zippo lighter—something that warms against my leg, something I can spin on a table.

17 May 2007

The story of my experiments with coolant

My sister gave me a 1986 Honda Civic. It overheats like a mofo. Today, trying to fix it, I scalded my hand with radiator fluid and dropped a pickle into the cooling fan.

Two days and $93.00 invested—still undriveable.

Dept. of Cloppier Times

In a Talk of the Town piece, you don't see the writer's name until the end, set discreetly behind an em dash. When an author's reputation succeeds him in this way, you can work up all sorts of funny feelings before you figure out who he is.
"Horsepresence took another hit last month, when the ancient Claremont Riding Academy, on West Eighty-ninth Street, closed its doors, reducing our equines to that redolent line of tourist-pullers on Central Park South. A few older city types (this writer among them) can remember cloppier times."
Horsepresence? Tourist-pullers? Cloppier times? Who the hell is this huckst—oh, Roger Angell. I guess that's okay.

Angell, who would be the weirdest and most affected 45-year-old in New York, turns 87 this year, as it turns out. That forgives him some anachronistic phrasings.

Plus, he's the stepson of a great writer. Until I read his intro to the new edition of the semi-sacred "Elements of Style" (and again thought, Who the hell?) I didn't realize that his mom, a New Yorker editor named Katherine Angell, married the "renowned essayist" E. B. White. And that sorts out his pedigree, sort of.

The only real measure of a writer is his writing, of course—the only reason Paul Theroux is still invited to dinner. Angell's prose is admirable, ambling, thick with detail—particularly his meditations on baseball. I remember warmly his tidy comment about the Red Sox after they'd won the pennant, and a longer piece, further back, about a statistics whiz who'd reformed the team's system of scouting.

Tell me this: How do you pronounce his last name? It's one of those ones I'm always afraid of saying wrong, like 'deluge.'

14 May 2007

Dept. of Things I'll Never Buy Again

Quick post, unrelated to The New Yorker, just to get it out of my system. This man—Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone—is an appalling dork.

I was at the newsstand to pick up a copy of PrintEmdashes's day job—and, instead, something made me take the fortieth-anniversary RS to the counter. It was the shiny silver cover, I think, with the sticker advertising interviews with Bob Dylan, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, Mick Jagger—interesting people I'm slightly too young to comprehend fully.

Wenner's lead interview with Bob Dylan—a Q&A, reprinted line for line—is a master stroke of shoddy, sappy journalism. It serves as a forum for the publishing icon, whom Salon calls "the star-fucker who traded up," to 1) coo over and scold Dylan, 2) speak nearly as much as him, and 3) induce the singer to speak about Wenner's contribution to the culture.

An excerpt:
Do you think it's gloomy on the horizon?
In what sense do you mean?
Bob, come on.
No, you come on. In what sense do you mean that? If you're talking about in a political sense...
In a general political, spiritual, historical sense. You're talking about the end of times on this record, you've got a very gloomy vision of the world, you're saying, "I'm facing the end of my life and looking at all this..."
Aren't we all always doing that?
No, some people are trying to avoid it. But I'm trying to interview you, and you're not being very helpful with this.
Jann, have I ever been helpful?
What can I do to get you to get you to take this seriously?
I'm taking it seriously.
You're not.
Of course I am. You're the one who's here to be celebrated. Forty years...forty years with a magazine that obviously now has intellectual recognition. [Gulp.—Ed.] Did you ever think that would happen when you started?
I was taking it seriously.
Look how far you've come. You're the one to be interviewed. I want to know just as much from you as you want to know from me.
* * *

It goes on for another two pages. He makes Dylan look like a mumbling old man, collecting pop tins on the beach. Seriously—do they not have editors? The Kwantlen College Beacon could have done better.

On the positive side, we now have something to say whenever anyone is giving us a hard time. Try it with me:

"Jann..." [Pause, purse lips, hold the 'n.'] "Have I ever been helpful?"

(Extra: Idolator pans the anniversary issue.)

04 May 2007

The way home

The path to the Student Union Building.

An oil spot in the sun.

An empty Friday 44.

03 May 2007

Hockey morning in Taipei

This is Dave Hartwell. He's on a 50cc scooter called a Sniper. The light is on, and the left-hand mirror is twisted. Behind him is the restaurant across from his Taipei apartment where you can get good peanut-sauce noodles.
“One of my favorite local dishes is huo tway dan,” Hartwell says, breaking into fluent Mandarin. “Mmmm, hao chr!” he laughs.

Then he translates: “Ham and egg sandwiches: good.”
Dave's not worried that the Vancouver Canucks will be eliminated from the NHL Playoffs tonight, in Game 5 against the Anaheim Ducks.

Okay, he's a little worried.

(Hartwell's profile at Canucks.com: "Cheers from Far Away.")

02 May 2007


David Belle, the protagonist of Alec Wilkinson's "No Obstacles," vaulting through London.

Below: the vertiginous, parkour-inspired opening chase of "Casino Royale," starring Belle's childhood friend, Sébastien Foucan.

Go tell it on the mountain

Not sure why I chose that title: the song brings to mind my sister's squinted-up face at a Christmas party somewhere in East Vancouver, singing because the adults asked her to. It just came to me.

Good news: I've shifted the pile of schoolbooks on my floor—the ones I had to triple-jump through to get to bed. Twenty-one of them have to go back to the UBC library by June 15, and I can only find 18. The cleanup has excavated several magazines, most of them New Yorkers, all bent open to random pages.

Apparently, I dropped:
  • a Walrus in the middle of an article about an overcoat made of aluminum window screening;
  • a New Yorker in the middle of Denby's review of "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," a film I'd never heard of;
  • a New Yorker at the outset of one of those high-spirited Patricia Marx pieces ("Emotional Baggage") in which she prices everything;
  • and a New Yorker just at the end of that profile of Gordon Ramsay, the English chef who's sublimated his raised-on-a-council-estate class fury into truffle and morel preparations. (This one I remember; it's taken me three pre-sleep reads to this point.) What the hell is a morel?
I did read Adam Gopnik's gun-control screed this week, and, fan though I am, I did a thick swallow after his last line—something about how oh, the cell phones of the dead Virginia Tech students are ringing still. Brrr.

Also, Malcolm Gladwell on The Colbert Report: I wanted to listen to one man or the other, not both. Malcolm was a touch earnest, and Stephen kept cutting him off with ersatz jokes like "What, you need a degree for that? A piece of paper?" although he did get in a good bit about honorary degrees. I give it a six point seven.

27 April 2007

Describing: Jeff Koons

Koons, who is fifty-two, looks very much the same as he did at thirty—trim and boyish, with neatly barbered brown hair and the sort of unfinished features that seem to be peculiarly American. He was eager to show me around.

—Calvin Tomkins, in "The Turnaround Artist" (Apr. 23)

Jeff Koons (b. January 21, 1955) is an American mixed-media artist noted for his use of kitsch imagery. His works are among the most expensive in the world for a contemporary artist.

20 April 2007

Describing: Gunter Sachs

Only liquids were consumed. I celebrated with him. The last thing he said to me, at five o'clock the next morning, was that I was a girl, a coward, because I insisted I had had enough.

Hundreds of eager young men tried to emulate Rubi's manner, accent, and way with women. No one observed him more closely than Gunter Sachs, a hollow-eyed German with a protruding lip and a cowboy gait."

—From "Princes, Playboys, and High-class Tarts," by Taki Theodoracoupolous.

Fritz Gunter Sachs (b. November 14, 1932) is a German mathematician, photographer, and multi-millionaire industrialist.

Morning breaks on the newsroom

Backlog of three New Yorkers to read, plus the one retrieved from Waterhouse's car. Huge paper on 'representations of masculinity in the media' due Monday. I'm drawing a line from a colonial pamphlet, The Boys' Own Paper, to modern-day lad-mags like Maxim. While I'm spouting sociologica all weekend, I want you to do something that makes your cheeks ruddy.

13 April 2007

I went to my first ballet

Yesterday, on the very day I was carping about men's clothing with Stephen Connolly, an invitation to the ballet flung me into the great generational sartorial divide—What belt goes with what?
Me, showered, in a navy suit and white shirt: "Help, everyone, I'm a little confused about belt selection."

Girlfriend, on the phone: "Don't listen to your father—black never goes with blue. Wear the oxblood belt and shoes."

Father, truculently: "If I took you to any men's shop in the city in a blue suit and that belt, they would think you'd walked off a farm."
The ballet? A thrill ride for the ages.

The clothes? I split the difference—black belt and oxblood shoes—and tried to keep my jacket buttoned. Wrong, I know: you shouldn't compound error with indecision.

I'm leaning toward dressing the way that young women prefer it, but I think it may set a bad precedent.

Glad for any guidance here.

(JJB Photo: "Bag.")

12 April 2007

On Tarantino

I think the issue I lost contained a review of "Grindhouse"—that new double feature by Quentin Tarantino and the other guy.

I'm working hard on an article about funeral music (by the way, you can still vote for your song), but I'm going to go and seek the review out later, and treat it like a sorbet for my brain. In my heart, I hope it's by Denby, and that he does Tarantino a little ultraviolence, but I'm willing to accept another result.

Having seen the TV commercials for "Grindhouse," though, I'm bracing for another queasily masturbatory homage to a 1970s schlock-action genre. I've never resented a director so much as I did Tarantino, after watching "Kill Bill I."

Anyone disagree with Denby that "Kill Bill" was "what’s formally known as decadence and commonly known as crap"? Taipei Davey?

(JJB Photo: "9 Alma.")

10 April 2007

What would Remnick do?

As you can tell by the previous post, New Yorker-philes, I'm reading Gigi Mahon's "The Last Days of The New Yorker." I need something while I'm jonesing: I left the latest issue of the magazine in Waterhouse's car on the way out to PoCo and I'm three days from a new one in the mail.

The book, as you'd expect, refers to the magazine frequently. There's a quirk of capitalization, however: Mahon capitalizes the "the" only when citing the name of the magazine by itself.
At The New Yorker there was mixed reaction to the news.
They discussed the New Yorker's business prospects.
He presided over a New Yorker annual meeting.
He was leaving The New Yorker to take a job at Hearst.
I have to admit, I'd never thought about the article this way. I'd always assumed it was ponce and chauvinism that compelled The New York Times or The Economist to uppercase the "the." Of course, I'd never seen nine permutations of a journal title on the same page of text before.

Is this the way you wield the article, or is it just a thing between Mahon and her editor?

(JJB Photo: "Sinkmaster.")

Describing: William Shawn

Shawn was a small, dignified man with a balding head, large ears, and rosy cheeks who spoke in a high-pitched, wavering voice. He took great care to select the correct words when he spoke, and his speech was filled with painful pauses, especially when he was in front of a group. He was unfailingly polite, courtly, gracious, and formal in manner. He dressed in dark suits and ties, which he neither shed nor loosened during working hours.

Everything about him was unobtrusive. His shoulders slouched some and his chin seemed to tuck toward his chest. He gave the appearance of a man who would prefer to be invisible.

Gigi Mahon, in "The Last Days of The New Yorker" (1988)

William Shawn, who died in 1992, edited The New Yorker from 1952 to 1987.

07 April 2007

Describing: Paul Wolfowitz

"Wolfowitz, who is sixty-three, has jug ears, hazel eyes, a furrowed brow, and thinning gray hair that he combs to the right. He is a rumpled but unflappable traveller, seemingly oblivious of bad weather, uncomfortable transportation, and lack of sleep, as well as of the antiwar protesters who tend to appear wherever he goes."

—John Cassidy, in The Next Crusade (Apr. 9)

Paul Wolfowitz, now president of the World Bank, was a primary architect of the American war in Iraq.

05 April 2007

My last six Google searches

A modern Rorschach test, yes. Make of it what you will.
  • Haber Bosch
  • "best-connected"
  • "most well-connected"
  • "blood sweat and tears"
  • "blood sweat and tears" nhl
  • "infant hats" "knife play"
And yours? (Waggle your cursor over the 'entry' field.)

03 April 2007

Can an editor dazzle?

You judge. Is this Coldcut mash-up full of sharp cuts or just cheap hacks and misquotes?

You don't need to be an anarchist to find it cool, but it doesn't hurt.

This end of term is like a long car accident. I'll be back soon.

30 March 2007

Vows and covenants II

I now understand my grammarian streak as something I abhor in my father, namely, his desire always to know where his hammer and screwdriver are, and to have his electrical cord, the one that attaches to the Weed Wacker, rewound perfectly after each use and returned to its home behind the extension ladder.

His lust is for the placement of objects; mine is for punctuation. Until recently, I didn't realize they are essentially the same thing. It was an unhappy discovery.

But, hey, if the giddy nihilism of your twenties isn't followed by sad realizations, then you're not really dying, which means that you weren't really alive.

Caring about grammar and keeping a tidy workbench are both moral, of course—something goes here, not there, for no reason other than that it should, and the pursuit is driven by a fear that the world would unhinge if people didn't care about these things.

All of this, gentle reader, is preamble to my point. I went to a lecture last night with Trois Heures. We heard a woman speak about Iran. Interesting talk, blah blah blah, then thoughtful questions and one denunciation from an intense bearded man.

All night the speaker—Deborah Campbell, a writer and UBC prof of literary nonfiction—used "media" as a singular noun. The media is growing in influence. The media is censored.

To my ear, it's ugly in the same way as "There's three chairs over there"—forgivably, avoidably, uglily. Then there's the question What does 'media' actually mean?

Here's what the experts say:
American Heritage: Maybe "media" refers just to the press and broadcasters...
Dictionary.com: The singular use is now common in mass communications and advertising.
OED: "Media" is the plural of "medium."
In this fractured and fizzing information landscape, can we really get away with thinking of the media as a monolith?

Next, we tackle he, she, they, ze, and, gulp, hir—unassigned singulars. Let's wait till we're drinking wine.

By the way, have you seen the Phillips-head? It should be in the cupboard in the garage.

(Illustration: The shield of St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. Is that a pen?)

What is language? (II)

Nothing to do with the New Yorker, but this deserves noting. In Canada you can now be sued for using the words "friend," "top," and "winter," among many others, in an advertisement. Unless, that is, you are a sponsor of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Bill Cooper, the commercial-rights director of the 2010 Organizing Committee, says that the organizers aren't trying trying to stifle debate.

"We owe it to Canadian athletes and the Canadian public to police the brand, and we take that very seriously," he says.

I'm glad my 'you'd better police the brand' letters to VANOC aren't falling on deaf ears. Oddly, though, my application to a communications position did.

Other words that will fetch you a phone call from a lawyer:
  • See You in Vancouver
  • See You in Whistler
  • See You in Beijing
  • Let the Dreams Begin
  • Sea To Sky
  • 2010
  • '10
  • We're Next
  • Road to Beijing
  • Driven by Nature
  • Road to Vancouver
  • Driven by Dreams
  • Celebrate the Impossible
  • Vancouver '10
  • Gold Medal
  • Game Plan
  • 2000
  • 2002
  • '00
  • '02
  • It's Our Time To Shine
  • For The Fire Within
As Michael Geist reasons, even a balanced implementation of this law still represents an extreme example of special interest legislation. Myself, I'm just looking forward to having a Coca-Cola, shutting up, and watching some luge.

Classmate Emily is keeping an eye on the run-up to the Games: check her out.

(Alf, please skip.)

28 March 2007

"He was always surrounded by paper"

Got halfway through "In the Now" on the bus yesterday—John Colapinto's snarky profile of Karl Lagerfeld. The most enjoyable article I've read in a while.

Click the portrait to see the award-winning commercial for Lagerfeld's clothing lines at the British discount chain H & M.

23 March 2007


The lights keep you awake so you can study.

(Photo: "B.C. Place at Midnight.")

16 March 2007

There is chaos under heaven

Priceless cartoon this week of Richard Nixon and Mao Tse-tung dancing cheek to cheek under a hammer-and-sickle moon, to the strains of an accordian waltz squeezed out by a hip-height Henry Kissinger.

The drawing accompanies Louis Menand's review of "Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World," a blow-by-blow of Tricky Dick's 1972 trip to Beijing.

Four highlights of the trip:
Mao takes Kissinger's measure: "Just a funny little man. He is shuddering with nerves all over every time he comes to see me."

Pat Nixon prevails over her handlers and arrives in Beijing in red, a colour worn only by prostitutes.

Nixon, prodded for his thoughts on the Great Wall, provides them: "This is a great wall."

A collective (not to say Communistic) whoosh of anxiety moves north from Taipei—the official capital of China for just seven years more.
Bloggers are not doing backflips over this article. The two I found are yawning and making meta-points, like you do in a pizzeria when you're coming down.

Pater Familias asks, 'What if Nixon hadn't gone to China?' (Someone else would have, apparently.) And Momentary Language wonders, not wrongly, about Menand's description of Nixon and Kissinger together:
"The couple was odd in many dimensions. Kissinger was a ladies' man (or cultivated the reputation); Nixon had trouble opening a bottle of aspirin."
I just found this question in the GRE practice questions.
27) Being a ladies' man : opening aspirin bottles ::

a) wolf : hound
b) soap : tallow
c) root : shrub
d) blazon : efface
What's your vote?

(Illustration: Edward Sorel.)

09 March 2007

Four poems

I'd like to buy her some toffee
but I don't have a daughter

as I pass a sidewalk store in autumn.

* * *

the mother has fallen asleep
so her baby is listening all alone
to the sound of the night train.

* * *

Frogs croaking in flooded paddies—
if there really is a world beyond,
echo far enough so my dead brother can hear.

* * *

A boat whistles in the night.
For a moment I too long to sail away

but merely pull the blanket up over the kids.

Ko Un

Translated, from the Korean, by Brother Anthony of Taize, Young-moo Kim, and Gary Gach.

(Alf, please skip.)

06 March 2007

Feed us, Seymour

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who, admittedly, looks a little like Jiang Zemin, is the most well-connected reporter in the world. This week he comes down from the mount with a freshly-chiseled tablet: "The Redirection" (March 5th).

Here's the premise: To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. The change brings the two countries closer to an open confrontation and propels the U.S. into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Interestingly, the new strategy has American money flowing to radical Sunni groups, most of whom are avowed enemies of the United States. (Al Qaeda is one.) It also brings Saudi Arabia and Israel, who both see a nuclear Iran as an existential threat, into a clammy diplomatic embrace.

Here's Hersh, unfettered by his New Yorker editors, speaking with Bill Maher on "Real Time":
"This is, without question, the most dangerous Administration we've ever had. They don't understand the Middle East, they have a disaster on their hands in Iraq, and they are trying to 'fail forward' by pushing into Iran, saying, "Maybe we'll bomb Iran, maybe we won't."

We're running clandestine, covert operations with the help of the Saudis—in effect, we're outsourcing clandestine operations to the Saudi government, which is pretty amazing for an American government. We're outsourcing the most sensitive operations there are. We're not telling the Congress. We're disobeying the law. We're using money that isn't appropriated. The system is completely broken, and these guys are marching to their own tune."
'Fail forward': nice. I've been struggling for a catchphrase to describe my romantic life.

As you can imagine, Hersh excites a good deal of honking and spraying among conservative bloggers; many of them see him as a benighted wacko lefty with an Bush grudge.
Across the Bay: "Hersh's reporting is shrill, hilariously conspiratorial, thin, ideologically skewed, and based on dubious sources."

From Beirut to the Beltway: "Hersh, who rose to fame with his reporting on Vietnam, is only satisfied if the U.S. army is seen massacring innocent people."
That second quote deserves a couple of readings. Wow. There's some edifying discussion at Newsbusters, too—patriotic riffs on journalism, war, and liberal media bias. Two for your sampling:
"Well, goll-eeee! If the Bush administration would just listetn to Seymour Hersh, who DOES understand the Middle East, all would be hunky-dorey! Problem is, in his next spiel, he says NOTHING that shows he understands anything at all about the Middle East. He just describes what he sees happening...we're failing forward (according to him), we're outsourcing, Cheney thinks Iran is going to have a bomb....and then proceeds to hold up the head of Hezbollah as a reputable source of information on what's going on. What a joke. And he gets taken seriously."

"Ya know what I want asked to these dumb monkeys? I want a serious reporter to ask them if they have an anti-virus program installed on thier computers. If they really believe that if we just open are hearts, we wouldn't have any problems. Let's see if they would open up thier hard drives and test their theory right here at home. Go ahead, I dare you lefties to turn off your firewalls and disable your anti-virus software and show how open and honest you trust those people."
I hope you know, faithful blog reader, that I trust you open and honest. I allow anonymous comments, which opens me to attacks from strangers and my sisters. I'm not running antivirus on my friendship drive—that's the point. We are friends.

(Extra reading: A Salon profile of Seymour Hersh from 2000.)

27 February 2007

Lexico II

This word has been blipping on my word radar recently: problematic.

From CBC's 'Ideas' last night: "This formulation of a 'spirit-based' tolerance is problematic."

Overheard at a UBC bar: "He has a problematic relationship with alcohol."

It's a usable word, I suppose—as good as worrisome, uncertain, or dangerous. And if my ear is right, it's now in critical vogue. But there's something I don't like about it.

I think it's that it steers the sentence toward thick nouns and adjectives; the verb is almost certain to be mute.


(Alf, please skip.)

24 February 2007

On talking and torture

Sorry for the spotty posting: I'm close to the end of reading week, and waist-deep in assignments due in the coming days.

It's no great leap from schoolwork to torture, so let's take another nibble at the ball Jane Mayer started rolling (ahhh, a week away from metaphors...) in her Feb. 18 article "Whatever It Takes," an examination of the televison show '24.'

Here, on a YouTube talk that repays watching, Mayer (above left, with Jill Abramson) discusses torture and television, with clips from '24.'
"It used to be, before 9/11, that it was just the evil people who'd use torture, but at this point, many of them are heroes who are representing America or working for the American government, which is the case of Jack Bauer."
Mayer is doing some important work these days. (She helped bring to light the Americans' use of waterboarding [demonstrated here] at Guantanamo Bay.) Writers like Mayer relieve, if momentarily, my worry that my journalistic future will be one of penury, alcoholism, and fractured relationships. I might do something useful. Then again, I might end up like Heather Mallick.

Heather Mallick is a Canadian journalist well known for her barbed, astringent style. She wrote for the Globe and Mail until late 2005, and now does a twice-weekly column for cbc.ca. She has, according to her bio, "a nice old-fashioned M.A. in English literature from the University of Toronto." Isn't that charming?

Some of Mallick's jaunty thoughts on torture in '24':
"If it weren't for bathroom breaks and my concerned, appalled husband luring me away from the television with Valpolicella and osso bucco ("You can have all the marrows, here's your fork, I'll put it in your trembling hand shall I?"), I would still be sitting there [watching the show] bleeding from the eyeballs."

"U.S. TV audiences have trouble distinguishing between fact and fiction. They are gullible and easily led. They are literal. They are insular and do not try to view their country through the eyes of others."

"Americans tend to be literal. 'I saw it on 24 so it works.' (This is why I never watched The West Wing. It pained me to think Americans actually believed it plausible that a highly intelligent president had been elected.)"
Mallick goes on in this vein. The gist: Americans are stupid, Brits are cynical, and Canadians are a nice blend of the two, with superior access to doctors.
Stephen Connolly: "It’s difficult to know where to begin refuting this insulting drivel."
Sandwalk: "The column is wonderful."
Where you come down on Heather Mallick has to do, I suppose, with your feelings about writing. E. B. White, a patron saint of the Plain Style (and of the New Yorker) had sure feelings about it. In 1935 he commanded us: Do not affect a breezy manner.
The volume of writing is enormous, these days, and much of it has a sort of windiness about it, almost as though the author were in a state of euphoria. "Spontaneous me," sang Whitman, and, in his innocence, let loose the hordes of uninspired scribblers who would one day confuse spontaneity with genius.

The breezy style is often the work of an egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that comes to mind is of general interest and that uninhibited prose creates high spirits and carries the day.

Heather Mallick makes a decent case against the redundant ticking-bomb plot of '24,' but, mired in nationalistic cliché and busy showing off, she is a poor advertisement for smart criticism.

Thank God that for smart criticism we have the comedian and Fox News analyst Dennis Miller, who once described his swerve to political conservatism this way: "You see, they give me these little pieces of paper with presidents' faces on them." Here are his thoughts on waterboarding, and, later, if you're still feeling him, his broader ideas about the war on terror.

23 February 2007

Happy Chinese New Year

Republic of China (Taiwan) flag: 255 x 175 pixels.

People's Republic of China flag: 256 x 174 pixels.

To my friends on both sides of the Taiwan Strait: Gong Xi Fa Cai.

20 February 2007

Another Day On Earth

Unlike my mother, I'm not in the habit of reading obituaries. The pursuit overtakes you at a certain age, I suppose, when you're reading the paper and munching Cheerios and wondering how many times you've done that, and how many times you might still.

The man who illustrated this cover, Joseph Low, died at his Massachusetts home on Feb. 12, at the age of 95. That's a pretty good age.

Low had a successful career; he won the 1981 Caldecott Medal, which is for children's-book illustrators. He was known, according to the New York Times, for using "wild pen gestures" to create "glyphlike characters meant for both adult and child that were both sophisticated and accessible."

Ever wonder about what song you want played at your funeral? I have three, but they've been changing lately.

This one's been on the list for a while now: Brian Eno's "And Then So Clear." In another foray into iMovie, I've put together a video for it. Tell me what you think.

What's your song?

(Alf, please skip.)

17 February 2007

Suckling, cigars, and state-sponsored torture

I feel bad to again mention Larissa MacFarquhar's recent philosophical excursion—filled as it was with endless paragraphs about the mind-body question and other quandaries you mulled in first-year arts, and, rightly, never again—but the piece did make me laugh, with this sentence on brain chemistry and sensation.
"Oxytocin is a peptide produced in the body during orgasm and breast-feeding; when it is sprayed into the nose of experimental subjects, they become more cooperative."
While on the subject of chemicals and cooperative subjects, let's make something clear: oxytocin is not OxyContin—aka 'hillbilly heroin'—the opioid painkiller that happens to be conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh's drug of choice.

Limbaugh (above) may or may not have been high while ranting about New Yorker writer Jane Mayer the other night on his show. (Listen to the audio and judge for yourself.) His bluster does have a druggy, dreamy savor, though; it's like jazz trumpet, with improvised phrases picked up, twisted, drawn out, and dropped. And, yes, it's also reliant on wind.

This, I gather, is Limbaugh's point: Mayer's Feb. 18 examination of the politics of '24' was an obvious attempt by the New Yorker to "discredit the military and shame the country." He goes on:
"There is an all-out assault on the US military. Inherent in this is some of the most righteous indignation among some of the most ignorant people about what happens in war. The idea that war is as highbrow and as clean-cut as a bridge game at the Harvard Club? Spare me!

And these people who are writing all this outraged, righteous indignation over torture haven't the slightest idea what is at stake on the battlefield with this particular enemy, and we never, we never hear about the torture they inflict."
Rush Limbaugh's close friend Joel Surnow (right) is the co-creator of '24.' "The military loves our show," says Surnow, whose office wall is draped with an American flag. "It's a patriotic show."

Mayer's central premise is that the show's frequent representations of torture (generally of 'bad guys' by government agents) may have injurious and genuine real-world effects.

Some important voices agree with her.

The dean of West Point Military Academy, Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, met with the '24' creative team to express his worry that "the show's central premise—that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country's security—was having a toxic effect."

And Tony Lagouranis, a former Army interrogator in the war in Iraq, says DVDs of shows such as '24' circulate widely among soldiers stationed in Iraq:
“People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.”
Just to orient this in the current American cultural moment: Before Sept. 11, fewer than four acts of torture appeared on prime-time TV annually. Now there are more than a hundred. '24' averages one every other show.

Okay, this is a scattershot entry, I know. But let's try to draw it all together; I can't help but feel there's a beautiful summation to be made—Limbaugh, torture, early weaning, Freud, cigars, oxytocin...

I can't find the killing phrase. Ah, forget it. I'm going to bed.