Wednesday, June 28, 2006



We live on a mountain, so we're OK, by and large, though we're without power and will be through at least tomorrow afternoon (I'm posting from my office). What a mess. The photo is from our local paper; that bridge is usually about, oh, 20 feet over the waterline...

Obviously, light posting for a while.


Nuts, power was supposed to be back today, now they're telling us late tomorrow night. Oh well.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Censorship and Books

Righteous Bubba asked for some Flann O'Brien. That sort of ties into the thing I was talking about below, about the "voice." Aaaarhg. I'm faced with a knot. Bear with me. The specific knot I'm trying to unravel is partially to do with F O'B's second novel, The Third Policeman -- widely regarded as his second masterpiece, along with the earlier At Swim-two-Birds. F O'B is one strand in the knot.

The entanglement here is the place and function of creative literature in the Irish Republic, 1941-1942. Below I link to the great debate in the Irish Senate of that year over censorship.

Now, pay attention. While this public furor was furor-ing, just the previous year had seen probably the second most famous act of literary self censorship in Irish literary history. That is, F O'B's decision to stuff The Third Policeman into his desk drawer and not try to publish it. See, his first book, At Swim had been published, to dismal sales (the war had a lot to do with that, also, the book was just plain weird), but his publisher turned down T3P on the grounds that it was even more bizarre. F O'B could not handle the rejection, went into a tailspin, assumed his book was rubbish, hid it, lived about 30 more years, died, and than had the book found and hailed as utterly brilliant. Which it is. Poor bastard.

Now, why did he hide it? That was hardly Joyce's response, or Sean O'Casey's, to rejection. Why the failure of artistic nerve? A lot of people consider themselves artistic failures, and you know, most of them are right. But this was a guy who really DID sit on a masterpiece. Why?

Well, biography helps... The thing about F O'B that a lot of people don't get is that he was really a depressed, cynical bastard with a major drink problem. This is not especially uncommon among comic geniuses, as he undoubtedly was. But his depression I think was clearly tied to his ambivalent social position. On the one hand, he relished the freedom and the prestige of being a writer in a place and time where that had a lot of value -- in the right circles. On the other hand, he had a profound bourgeois suspicion of "artists," a suspicion that derived from a lot of sources... This left him in rebellion against everything but with a profound unwillingness to actually risk anything significant in his struggle. He was a career civil servant. A cruel but perhaps accurate assessment would be to say that he is very much like Little Chandler in Joyce's "A Little Cloud," but much smarter and far more gifted so he knew it and hated himself for it. Anthony Cronin's biography, No Laughing Matter of F O'B is worth reading on this if you have any illusions about the man's life. (Cronin was a friend of F O'B's, and of Patrick Kavanagh's, and is a fascinating poet in his own right. And if you have not read his book about Ireland's literary scene in the mid-20th century, Dead as Doornails, do it when you can, as it's a great fucking book.)

All right. So here we have a masterpiece buried. But on the other hand... we have another one censored in plain sight at the same time. That would be Kate O'Brien's The Land of Spices. (no relation, of course).

What you have here are two of the greatest novels in mid-century Irish literature, both of them subjected to different forms of censorship. One is public, the other private. And both of these novels have to do with sex, in very bizarre ways...

Anyway, I think it's interesting that these two books are quite literally never spoken about as being at all related.

Also, every censored work of literature contains within it the story of its own censorship. That much is clear.

The 6-Year-Old Mind

Me: Buddy, could you run upstairs and tell me if your baby brother is still asleep?

The 6-Year-Old: OK.

(Runs upstairs)


The 6-Year-Old: (from upstairs, screams) DAD! THE BABY IS STILL ASLEEP!


Me: (whacks forehead)

Bad News

We're worried about our duck. For two days it's been raining like hell, and the part of the strawberry patch she's nesting in is unfortunately at the downward end of a slope. She could be flooded out.

UPDATE: She looks to be OK. The strawberry bed is draining better than I thought it would.

Monday, June 26, 2006


There's a story about censorship and literature and politics that I'm dying to tell, but I'm finding it very hard to tell it. I need to find a different voice. Neither my blog voice nor my usual academic voice are right for this. My academic voice does not work in this medium, and my blog voice is not really right for what I want to say. This is frustrating because I think I've made some good and intelligent friends who are not academics who would like to hear this story, and I'd love to hear what they think about my ideas. I have something to say and I want to say it here, but it's tricky.

Let me tinker a bit. Stand by.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

And Now for the Comic Relief...

We have Althouse:
So I assume there is a conspiracy and a strategy to investigate Kos. And it's so easy to do because it can succeed even if it fails to turn anything up, because it will provoke him, and when he reacts, they'll all say he's paranoid, belligerent. Escort that man back outside the gate.

But why is Althouse saying all this? Is she trying to stoke his paranoia and lead him into the very pitfall she's identified? Is she nonpartisan and just calling them as she sees them? Or is she just saying that because she knows that's the kind of assertion that Kos folk are least likely to believe? And is that one more reason to suspect there's a big plot? Look at that line she boldfaced up there. There's a Republican plot and a Democratic plot all converging on poor Mr. Moulitsas.
The good Friar Occam would, I believe, conclude that the reason Ann Althouse is saying all this is that she is a complete dingbat.

--Lee Siegel, Self-Portrait

A Civilized Rebuttal

Lee Siegel, the Culture writer for The New Republic, has posted a rather sharp critique of blogs and bloggers. He makes several insightful statements, each of which invites a serious response. In this post, I will address his comments and treat of them with all the seriousness they deserve. Siegel's comments are in blockquotes and italics. Mine are in normal text. Let us proceed.
At the end of my post yesterday, I wrote, "The blogosphere's fanaticism is, in many ways, the triumph of a lack of focus." It just so happens that on his blog today, none other than Andrew Sullivan, hardly an ideological soulmate of mine, quotes Santayana: "Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim." Sure enough, fanaticism ruled in the responses to what I wrote yesterday.

"Moron"; "Wanker" (a favorite blogofascist insult, maybe because of the similarity between the most strident blogging and masturbating); and "Asshole" have been the three most common polemical gambits. A reactor even had the gall to refer to me as a "conservative." Another resourceful adversarialist invited me to lick his scrotum. Please send a picture and a short essay describing your favorite hobbies. One madly ambitious blogger, who has been alternately trying to provoke and fawning over TNR writers in an attempt to break down the door--I'm too polite to mention any names--even asked who it was at TNR who gave me "the keys to a blog."
Fuck you.
All these abusive attempts to autocratically or dictatorially control criticism came about because I said that the blogosphere had the quality of fascism, which my dictionary defines as "any tendency toward or actual exercise of severe autocratic or dictatorial control." The proof, you might say, is in the puddingheads.
I am overwhelmed by the intolerance and rage in the blogosphere. Conscientiously criticize, in the form of a real argument, blogospheric favorites like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and the response isn't similar criticism, done conscientiously and in the form of an argument, but insults, personal attacks, and even threats. This truly is the stuff of thuggery and fascism.

Two other traits of fascism are its hatred of the processes of politics, and the knockabout origins of its adherents. Communism was hatched by elites. Fascism was born along the drifting paths of rootless men, often ex-soldiers who had fought in the First World War and been demobilized. They turned European politics into a madhouse of deracinated ambition.
Ahhh, blow me.
But, then, Zuniga--let's cut the puerile nicknames of "DailyKos, "Atrios," "Instapundit" et al., which are one part fantasy of nom de guerres, one part babytalk, and a third thuggish anonymity--believes so deafeningly and inflexibly that it's hard to tell what he believes at all, expecially if you try to make out his conviction over the noisy bleating of his followers.
He told Deborah Solomon in The New York Times that he joined the army out of high school to build up his self-confidence. Elsewhere, he has spoken of his love of 25-mile marches with a heavy knapsack. After the Army, college and then law school. But he never practiced law, it seems. He drifted to San Francisco and into the high-tech industry, where he designed Websites. Finally, he ended up in politics, again drifting into the Democratic party, supporting first John Edwards, and then Wesley Clark, and then, as a paid consultant, Howard Dean.

It wasn't long after that when Zuniga began channeling other people's rage.
Jesus tits. What a wanker.

This concludes my debate with Lee Siegel, Culture Writer for The New Republic. Thank you.

(Note: This post is improved materially if you imagine Vivaldi's The Four Seasons playing the whole time you're reading it. And, please, enjoy a sip of endive. Don't forget to extend your pinky! 'Cause your other digits will undoubtedly be otherwise employed, you ill-bred blogshites, you.)

UPDATE: Would it be rude to start to refer to this person as "Le Siegel"? Heaven knows I would never want to seem rude.

Voting and Democracy

I have a lot of things to snipe at in this MyDD post, but you can't bitch at the central thesis: there are fundamental flaws in how we conduct elections, and the fact that we refuse to fix these obvious problems indicates that we are dominated by an elite class who do not value democracy.

I've been meaning to talk about this for a while, because it touches on a bugbear of mine: conspiracy theories. Look, we do not NEED to prove that all the Diebold machines are rigged to make the case that voting in our vaunted democracy is a fucking mess. No. All we need to do is point to Blackwell and Harris, and make the almost obscenely obvious point that INVESTED PARTISANS SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO RUN THE FUCKING ELECTORAL MACHINERY. HOLY TITS! WHY IS THIS EVEN A FUCKING QUESTION?

I mean, Jesus FUCKING Christ! It is absolutely insane that this should be allowed to happen. We do not need to prove a mysterious conspiracy -- it's right out there in the open. We have what, checks and balances for everything but who controls how we vote? Are we mentally ill? Are we that obscenely hypocritical?


We need to point to Blackwell and Harris.

That should be sufficient. Sheeeeit.

Why do we need to search for buried mysterious truths when the public record is as appalling as it is? I just don't get it.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Inconvenient Truths

We saw An Inconvenient Truth tonight. Wow. It's very well done, and quite powerful. And ultimately hopeful: here you see a politician (and that's what Gore really is) not being actively mendacious. And not simply mouthing vapid slogans. And displaying a serious intelligence. And pointing towards a workable solution to a dangerous problem.

You know, Al Gore is the guy John McCain only pretends to be: an independent-minded, serious thinker who puts the truth first and focuses on solving serious issues out of moral and intellectual convictions.

One of the arguments against Gore running again is that the idiot media Heathers will still have their nasty little pinking shears out for him. Actually, I think that is an argument in favor of his candidacy. The Heathers need to be defeated, not appeased. Gore seems to have learned some sharp lessons about how to fight them. An Inconvenient Truth reaches an audience directly without being first subject to their inane bitchy judgments about what is and is not worthy of the public's attention.

Even in our little burg, the theater was almost full. Gore can win. And I think we need him.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Now, this is great stuff. The Internets rule...


For some reason, some of you want more context. This is of course a link to the famous 1942 debate in the Irish senate (Seanad) over Halliday Sutherland's Laws of Life, Kate O'Brien's Land of Spices, and Eric Cross's The Tailor and Ansty. Frank O'Connor called this "debate" a "long, slow swim through a sewage bed." Anyway, if you thought blog and Internets dustups were fierce and nasty, heh, check this shit out. Professor Magennis is one of the Great All-Time Assholes. See if he reminds you of anybody.

This is the prime beef, the sacred fount. Dive in!


I really do dig this. No, it's not on topic, but you should listen to something as you read through Irish parliamentary debates, and this works well. And fuck Archbishop McQuaid, anyhow.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Now that the intrepid cub reporters at TNR's The Plank have ripped the cover off the greatest American political scandal since Teapot Dome and the time Al Gore killed that hooker in the Buddhist Temple, the floodgates have opened and the raw sewage that is the Left Blogosphere is flowing like sewage, rawly.

An entire metric assload of supposedly alleged "private" and "off-the-record" e-mails between prominent liberal "bloggers" have been leaked to this blog's News and Journalism Division, The New National Whiskey Ashes Republic Review Online. We are sure that their appalling contents will appall you on account of their appallingness and appallingossitude.

What these "e-mails" reveal is the extraordinary power of the dark stranglehold one Markos Moulitzanigas, who for some as-yet-unexplained reason goes by the shadowy nom-de-blog "Kos," has over the entire Left Blogosphere. He is the founder of the Liberal site "Daily Kos," which nobody of any sophistication cares about because it is wildly popular and doesn't lose money -- sure signs of its irrelevance. He commands all the money that Liberal bloggers ever need, from the estimated $6000 startup costs of starting up a Kos diary, to the even more exorbitant entry fees needed to break into the hard-knuckled Blogspot rackets. If you haven't at least offed a hobo, he won't even talk to you. Or so goes the word on the street, anyway.

Below are the e-mails. You won't fucking believe this shit, man. But it's all %100 True Real.

The first one comes from one Duncan Blacke, from He's talking about some problems he's been having lately with his career:

Kosfather, a month ago, this director, he bought the rights to this book, a best seller. The main character, it's a guy like me... wouldn't even have to act, just be myself. Ah, Kosfather, I dunno what to do, I dunno what to do...
And here's the response:

And it only gets worse. Here's a message from angry liberal blogger Stephen Gillard:

These big media journalists are dangerous to your blog-fleet, NOT to this bloggle station. Any attack by nosy journalists against our liberal advertising network would be a useless gesture, no matter what private e-mail data they've obtained. Our blogs are now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it. Don't try to frighten us with your sorceror's ways, Lord Kos! Your sad devotion to your ancient fundraising sceheme has not helped you win any elections, or given you clairvoyance enough to help you find the Republicans' hidden Diebold machines -- GAAAK! GAAAK!
And the chilling reply:

I find your lack of faith... disturbing.
My source tells me that it this point Kos did some weird finger-thing and choked Gillard. Freakshow.

Finally, here's one from Christine Harding Smythe, and it's probably the most spooky of all:

May I speak plainly?... If you'll forgive me, Kos is common... He's like an animal. He has an animal's habits. There's even something subhuman about him. Thousands of years have passed him right by, and there he is. Markos Kos-alski, survivor of the Stone Age, bearing the raw meat home from the kill in the jungle.
Kos's reply will shock you:

Take a look at yourself here in a worn-out Mardi Gras outfit, rented for 50 cents from some rag-picker. And with a crazy crown on. Now what kind of a queen do you think you are? Do you know that I've been on to you from the start, and not once did you pull the wool over this boy's eyes? You come in here and you sprinkle the place with powder and you spray perfume and you stick a paper lantern over the light bulb - and, lo and behold, the place has turned to Egypt and you are the Queen of the Nile, sitting on your throne, swilling down my liquor. And do you know what I say? Ha ha! Do you hear me? Ha ha ha!
You don't even want to know what he does next.

How can this monster be stopped? This is an extremely legitimate question.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


It's always fun to just randomly tune in to The Corner; you're pretty much guaranteed a good time. The problem is you never really know if it's a put-on, or if they really do huff glue over there. To wit:
ANDERSON COOPER is sure taking a tough, skeptical look at Angelina Jolie right now. Very inspiring. [Ramesh Ponnuru]
Please tell me they are not for real. Please.

Duck Update, or, "Duckdate"

Well, she's still there. A trio of mallards came by the other day and gave her shit. We're still not sure what that's all about. We've seen the mallards around the neighborhood a lot, though, so it's probably some territorial thing. NYMary chased them off; she is very good at chasing off rogue ducks. It's a skill. Anyway, those mallards are bad news; I saw them smoking behind the pond yesterday. A bad element.

Anyway, no hatching or anything, but there's still 11 eggs.

Note also the ripening strawberries in the lower right of the picture. We are foregoing strawberries for these ducklings. They had best appreciate it!

On a separate note: balloons are evil. I am convinced of this. Balloons are humanity's most wicked invention.

Update: The Evil of Balloons

Since you asked...

Why are balloons evil? Because they can never live up to their promises. Little children love balloons: they go bananas for them. They laugh, and dance, and sing dumbass little songs, and gad about and act all immature -- but when they have the balloon, they don't know what the hell to do about them. Usually, the child is crying her tiny eyes out within three minutes of the sighting of a balloon. The little ones just can't handle it. And that's BEFORE it pops!

And if you have more than one kid, no matter how many balloons you have... you have war.

Balloons look like "fun" in its purest form, but they are lying little lightweight orbs of Satan. FUCK BALLOONS. FUCK THEM TO HELL!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Honorary Ethics

North of the border: Ryerson University, in Toronto, has decided to offer an honorary degree to Maragret Somerville, a well-known medical ethicist at McGill. The presentation will be made at Ryerson's graduation ceremonies today.

The problem though is that Somerville has publicly argued against legalizing gay marriage:
her opposition to gay marriage led several student groups and many faculty members to urge that she be disinvited to receive the honor. Somerville is a medical ethicist, holding appointments at McGill’s medical and law schools, and most of her work has nothing to do with gay marriage, but she did testify against it before a Parliamentary committee. With protests being planned for graduation, a Ryerson panel reviewed the invitation and concluded that it would be wrong to rescind the honor, but said that had Somerville’s views been known before the honor was announced, it would have been appropriate never to have extended the offer in the first place.
For fans of higher-education administrative-official weaseling, that is pretty choice stuff. Why a university would want to honor someone before they know their "views" is a bit of a mystery. (Google, of course, can help one establish this sort of thing pretty rapidly; for instance, I know that she is against circumcising infant boys, so please don't invite her to your next briss. It would be awkward.) And that she testified against gay marriage before a Parliamentary committee might have been a tipoff.

Anyway, the "we didn't know!" defense has very predictably pleased nobody, whether they're fer her or agin her.

A couple of issues here. First, her argument against gay marriage sounds rather silly. I'm only going by the following from the first link, though, so maybe her position is more nuanced, but, well, for now, I'll stick with silly:
In a phone interview from her Montreal office Saturday, Somerville said that her opposition to gay marriage comes out of her work on reproductive technologies. She said she started working on that issue when she was approached by children and adults who were created by artificial means — and that many of them are troubled by the process by which they were brought into the world, and their lack of information about one or more of their biological parents. Somerville said that she worried that gay marriage would lead to challenges to laws she supports that ban cloning and the selling of eggs. She stressed that she backs full civil unions for gay couples and laws that would bar any discrimination against gay people except on the right to marry.
You can't deny full civil rights to adults because their children might perhaps one day become confused. And artificial means are only one way of having children: what of a gay parent who divorces an opposite sex partner, why couldn't she remarry a woman? Dragging cloning and egg-selling into the equation is rather a stretch, and the distinction between marriage and same-sex unions is, I'm convinced, purely semantic.

But should she be disinvited? Well, after the invitation was extended, probably not. Should she be protested? Hell, yes. Vigorously.

But here's what really gets me about this -- a statement from the committee that reviewed the decision to award the degree after the controversy erupted:
“There would have been no academic freedom concerns if we had initially decided not to award an honorary doctorate to Dr. Somerville. However, if we decide to rescind the award in a public manner, we are raising these concerns.... If we withdraw the award, then we demonstrate that as a university we show tolerance for some contestable views but not others. Consequently to rescind the award would raise basic issues of freedom of speech in an academic environment,” the committee said.
Heaven forbid that such issues should be raised in an academic environment! Uh, isn't that exactly where they should be raised?

Indeed yes. And the fact that they clearly are being raised there is what has caused the furor.

At the heart of this issue though is a fundamental question: who gets to decide what positions on a cultural issue are and are not legitimate? And here is the issue at stake with Somerville: can one be considered a legitimate speaker if one opposes gay marriage?

What terrifies the pepole who don't like gays is that it is becoming ever more clear that the answer is heading every day towards "no." The broad consensus against the open expression of homosexuality has shattered. We know this because the issue exists as a matter of public controversy at all. After all, even 20 years ago, would Somerville or anyone else have even needed to argue against gay marriage? In another 20 years, her position will be seen as outlandish.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Make Way for Ducklings

See that? Do you know what that is?

That is a mother duck who has chosen to lay her eggs in our strawberry patch, right by the side of our house. We noticed it this morning. The children are excited -- well, the 4-month-old doesn't really care, frankly; he is very selfish. But the 6-Year-Old can't stop talking about it. The Almost-2-Year-Old needs to be prevented from poking Mama Duck, who hisses if you get too close to her brood.

This is pretty excellent stuff. We will keep you posted on developments.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Write Your Own

In reference to this by now well-told tale:
Dennis Hastert is the kind of guy that would offer a couple of lesbians breakfast at Denny's to team up on him during Pride Week.
Tom Cruise is the kind of guy that would offer a couple of lesbians $5000 to team up on him during Pride Week so he could sell the story and hope it distracts from what he actually did during Pride Week.
Ramesh Ponnuru is the kind of a guy who would offer a couple of lesbians $1000 to stop laughing at him during Pride Week.
Write your own!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sadly, Yes...

Retardo explains it all. And makes a Roger Casement reference in the process. Anyway, this one's for Retardo, via Yeats:
What gave that roar of mockery,
That roar in the sea´s roar?

The ghost of Roger Casement
Is beating on the door.
Nothing wrong with a good rousing roar of mockery now and again.

As for the recent insanity. The definitive account is by Bas-o-Matic in the comments to John Cole's post about what happened to Armando. I'd link it, but Balloon Juice takes forever to load, and Cole can KMRIA anyhow. I copied Bas-o-Matic's post, though, just for posterity. And there the matter rests, for the time being.

I'm still pissed about what the British did to Casement, and to Wilde. Fuckers.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Lists of Cool Conservative Things

Pace this post at the Liberal Avenger taking off on the widely mocked NRO list of the Top 50 Conservative Rock Songs, I got to wondering what else could be more or less randomly classified as "conservative" and therefore "cool" if you are a "movement conservative" and therefore "totally retarded."

Here are the Top Six Conservative Disease-Causing Microorganisms:

6. Staphylococcal bacteria
This rugged individualist of a foodborne pathogen can be found in rancid or badly prepared meat, fish, or eggs. It can cause diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, and other terrific anti-liberal symptoms. Anything that can piss off big-government, anti-meat whackos like that Schlosser jerk has just got to be totally cool, totally conservative.

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria; Dr. Kari Lounatmaa/Science Photo Library, Photo Researchers, Inc. Look, some of them are dividing! Who says conservatives can't be sexy! Also, this looks like sushi.

5. Streptococcus A bacteria
All the A-strains are totally sweet -- but the one we have in mind is a real killer! That's the Texas Flesh-Eating Bacteria, and it killed 26 people in Texas in 1997-8 by destroying their red blood cells. It's conservative because it's Texan, and it's cool because "flesh-eating" is cool -- recalling as it does the Romero classic Night of the Living Dead, which, as everyone who is educated knows, is actually a searing conservative parable about the evils of the Welfare State and a devastating refutation of Keynesian economics.

Above, a heroic band of Culture Warriors marches against degenerate 1960s sexual libertinism.

4. Bartonella henselae
What more need be said -- except that this is the microorganism that causes "Cat Scratch Fever"! And therefore it is the pathogen that inspired the eponymous all-time great conservative rock anthem by Ted Nugent! The Nuge! When you think of The Nuge, think of pathenogenic disease that can cause blindness, encephalitis, liver damage -- and ... CONSERVATISM!

The name of the musician attached to the infected tissue is Ted Nugent, Conservative Rocker!

3. Treponema pallidum
Syphillis! The superfly spirochete that does God's will by smiting the sexually sinful! General Paralysis of the Insane in the Membrane -- insane in the brain!

Syphilitic mucus patches -- a sign of God's loving justice!

2. Tuberculosis bacteria
Who does not love tuberculosis! As everyone knows, conservatives are all about the Great Works of Literature, so conservatives really dig stories about hookers with lung problems. They don't run away nearly as fast as the healthy ones!

Finally, a woman even Ramesh Ponnuru might be able to take down two out of three!

1. Legionella pneumophila
what is more patriotic than the American Legion? What veteran would not swell up with pride, and their lungs with infection, to know that this watery but valiant little bug was named for the American Fighting Man and the hotel room air conditioning system that killed him?

Look at that picture -- now can you finally get it through your thick moonbat skulls why we must repeal the Death Tax? What the hell is wrong with you!

TOTALLY DIFFERENT NOTE: Lion Kitty is Cool. Happy everything to you, 4Legs & Maxx.

Monday, June 12, 2006


This is trivial, in some ways, but it is in its own way a nice little illustration of some of the principles we've been discussing.

Above see a poster of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who for years were known for ending their shows by performing clad only in sweatsocks affixed over their penises. Very good. Now, this afternoon I was switching channels and happened across some VH1 program documenting this phenomenon. It showed footage of the, uh, sockage, and ended with a brief interview with the singer, Anthony Kiedis. Mr. Kiedis explained how the idea got started, and how much fun it was to be on stage naked except for an "exagerrated phallus." He then said (and this is the punchline) that eventually the band had to stop doing it, because "people were starting to think it was just a gimmick." (It was making people think the band's performances were "not about the music." Yes, he really said that.)

Now, this is an astonishing statement. Of course the socks-wearing was a gimmick. And as these things go, it was a pretty good gimmick. It helped them become better known, said something about the image the band wanted to project, and was, frankly, not very easy to forget. And then, understandably, it got a bit old, and they stopped doing it. So what's the big deal? Why the perceived need to distance yourself from something that, while bizarre, clearly helped your career?

The answer is to do with the logic of the field of "alternative" music from whence the RHCP emerged. The band always quite clearly wanted to become popular, but stating this as a goal would violate the first rule of the field of restricted production: "success" can only be legitimately attained if it is defined in artistic terms, not in the ordinary terms of money and popularity. The disdain of indie-music scenesters for such rewards is of course legendary. And while this sort of sneering of course is easily mocked as ridiculous, one really cannot deny the potentially devastating force of the accusation or potential accusation. So a "tipping point" was reached for the socks on the cocks: they came off and the undies came on when the band began to fear that the stunt would be perceived not as a rebellious act, a natural outgrowth (beg pardon) of their happy-nature-boy screw-conventional-standards ethos, but as a calculated attempt to get attention and notoriety and thus fame and money, etc. That would lose them credibility -- and, paradoxically, sales. Be seen as a "sellout" and you risk not being able to sell anything. So, in a paradoxical and confounding way, to make a finacial profit, everything for the artist who wishes to be seen as "independent" depends on a firm disavowal of the exclusive desire to make a financial profit.

Now, there is of course a further wrinkle to all this. Mr. Kiedis could have said (and hell, probably has at some point) that he is sick of the scenesters who are always accusing his band of being "sellouts." This is a fairly typical move. (Ripley mentions in comments how this happened with Green Day as they began to sell more and more records.) The key point to remember here is that the underlying principle for attaining "legitimacy" in such circles depends on a logic of reversal. The first reversal: that of the field of general production (money and fame). OK, so your band builds up a following, gets a deal, becomes popular, and then -- bam, predictably, comes the accusation of "selling out." So what's the answer? Well, another reversal, this time involving a repudiation of the "scene." Such reversals usually involve the accusation that it is the band's erstwhile followers who cannot understand how the music is evolving according what is most often described as a "natural" progression of the artistic vision: the hipsters are merely pursuing the grubby rewards of small-time prestige while the band has moved on. (Yes, bands will often concede that getting rich is pretty cool, but their ultimate justification is pretty much always the music, man.)

Anyway, rock music, especially in its indie or alternative or whatever areas, one where there is a "scene," is an especially instructive place to look for illustrations of the dynamics I'm talking about. This is because the distance between "freedom" and Art on the one hand and "selling out" and Crap on the other is so very narrow. The pressures exerted by the field on musicians and performers and scenesters, the constant demand for "legitimacy," are incredibly powerful. So much so that the same story seems to be told over and over and over again, often in almost exactly the same language, only with different names. (Ever notice how many times you've heard a band say they resent being "labelled"? It's always very revealing when someone uses what amounts to a cliche to explain that they do not wish to be reduced to a cliche. That is the pressure of the field, man.)

Saturday, June 10, 2006


Back to the Smut

Blogger permitting, let us now return to the subject of dirty art.

On Thursday I had a good idea where I was headed with this, but then the Technical Shit intervened, and now my categories are confused. Thus, indulge me:

What has GONE BEFORE, for the benefit of NEW READERS and the ABSENT-MINDED BLOG-OWNER:

Your host, Thers, was ruminating on Art and Censorship, in the context of 1920s blues lyrics, Joyce's Ulysses, and Flaubert. He noted that for all of these, censorship proved to be a significant obstacle -- and yet also seemed to fuel the artist's creativity. Blues singers, like these writers, faced fairly serious sanctions in the pursuit of their Art. Yet, these challenges in the end only seemed to spur them to greater artistic achievements.

This led me to inquire:
Can art be any good if it is in not in some way transgressive? Or was, once? And why? And can art genuinely be "transgressive" without referencing the Nasty?

Given all this, has not censorship in the long run been GOOD for art and artists?

If so, then on what basis do we oppose the censorship of artistic production?
My wonderful commenters -- beg pardon, my "minions," "bitches," and "cohort of charlatans" (pace recent fulminations elsewhere in blogland) -- quickly threw cold water on all this, pointing out two obvious things, namely that the dynamic I am referencing is relatively new in Western culture, dating from about the middle of the 19th century, and also that it is not necessarily The Nasty that causes folks to become angered at Art: it is its formal transgressions, its refusal to be interpreted in any terms other than its own.

OK, it was at this latter point that I started to get all fuzzy, using terms like "the censorship impulse" or whatever that my friends were kind enough not to point out were pretty much just hooey. So let me backtrack a bit.

I'm convinced by Bourdieu's argument, as laid out in The Field of Cultural Production and more fully and systematically in the Rules of Art, that by and large cultural production -- that is, anything anyone makes as a cultural product, music, paintings, cartoons, books, movies -- can be divided into two separate but related worlds: what he calls the field of general production and the field of restricted production.

Now, the first, elementary, and crucial point here is to do with the concept of the "field." What he means here is that the big giant world we live in is subdivided into separate smaller worlds, and humans define themselves according to where they stand or would like to stand in these worlds. So we all belong in one way or another to a "family field," and a "work field," or a "sports fan field," or a "political field," or whatever. Now, we never get to completely and only rarely partially define the rules of the various fields we exist in, because these fields existed before we did, and because they are always populated by people other than us. Some fields we are born into; some, we choose. Either way, our lives are like a series of games -- we find ourselves on different boards all the time, and have certain options for how we move, and can adopt certain strategies -- but we are always playing, and always to win, however we define it. (Please hold your questions until the end of the tour. Thanks.)

Now, as to art and culture. The difference between the two forms of cultural production, the general and the resticted, is at once simple and profound. Let's use movies as an example.

We all know that there are two kinds of movies, studio pictures and independents. All major studio movies are subjected to test screenings, focus groups, and so on. Studios thus spend a lot of time and money essentially making sure that people will like their movie before most people are able to see it. So what are they doing? They are, in short, trying to ensure that what they produce will conform to already generally accepted rules of what distinguishes a good movie from a bad one. This is what characterizes the field of general production: an attempt at conformity to accepted artistic rules in an attempt to achieve financial profit.

Now, independent movies. The producer of a non-studio movie is trying to do two things that are different from the big studios: she or he is trying to make the audience change their categories of perception. That is, she won't make the two young people fight and then fall in love; he won't make the good ninja beat all the bad ninjas. The story and its means of presentation will not be those that are most conventional. And, of course, this means that the producer has something else in mind beyond financial profit: that is, some sort of artistic profit. And what is artistic profit? Hard to say... but whatever it is, it is not money, that is for sure. Great artists, of course, are supposed to starve.

This is the field of restricted production. Why restricted? Because it is restricted to people who are themselves producers. This is a market distinction. If you want to succeed generally, you try to appeal to everyone. If you want to succeed artistically, your audience is primarily those people who intimately know the field you exist in: that is, other artists, established critics, patrons, the jerk in your film school whose stuff you hate but who has some sort of connections, hip magazinje writers, scenesters... people who are producing "insider" opinions, essentially.

Now, here we make a great leap forward. Why? Because we can see that what is at stake in any censorship controversy is not so much the actual nasty expression, but a much wider and essentially political struggle.

I'll get back to this, and explain the Rouault, tomorrow. Or Monday.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Help Maple Syrup-Boy!

Everyone's favorite maple-syrup drenched blogger, NTodd, is tying to achieve a certain number of hits tonight. For some arbitrary reason. Go, help him out!

Actual picture of your man NTodd biking through the Vermont mountains:


Well, Blogger seems to be back... I'm really not very much longer for Blogger, and the recent technical problems are only part of it. Anyway.

Don't have time right now to get back to the Topic of Art and Smut, but I will (I *did* have time yesterday, grrr).

For now, here is a wonderful example of military press conference-speak. Apparently, Zarqawi survived the air strike and in fact died in the custody of Iraqi police. Asked if there was evidence that Zarqawi had been shot, Maj. Gen. Caldwell
said he could not give a definitive answer based on what he had read in the latest official U.S. military report on the event. "I'll go back and specifically ask that," he said. "But no, there was nothing in the report that said he had received any wounds from some kind of weapons system like that."
"Receiving a wound from a weapons system" is a pretty great euphemism for "shot."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006



Phila will perhaps forgive me, as I can't remember exactly where he said this. But he was talking somewhere recently about how jazz singers in the 1920s would use euphemisms to get around censorship. "Sugar in my bowl" would stand in for a reference to sex, for instance.

The whole question of the complex interrelationship between censorship and art fascinates me. There is an interesting paradox: censorship of course endangers art. But at the same time, without censorship, would art really be? As Phila's observation suggests, censorship can have oddly productive effects. The slang and euphemisms in 1920s jazz, for example. The deliberate, sly sexuality inevitably inflects the music, the verbal marker of what makes it, well, different and therefore transgressive and so, well, appealing. And lasting.

You can't really separate out what jazz is and how it came to be what it is without remembering its disreputable roots. It's long since become a "legitimate" form, with univerity departments devoted to it, books written on it, events where people put on evening dress to see it performed, and so on. But the "heroic era" of its beginnings (term appropriated from Bourdieu) are an inextricable part of what it is -- and of its appeal. Just as in literature: Flaubert's trial is an itegral part of Flaubert's reputation. Or the Woolsey decision effectively legalizing Ulysses in the US is (for a while quite literally) an integral part of Ulysses itelf, as we receive it. Nobody picks up Ulysses randomly and just gets into it. Well, a few people do, maybe. But when they find out it's dirty -- well, that's what gets them past Chapter Three. "Ineluctable modality of the visible," oy. Where's the beating off and the S&M? And the poop jokes. Don't forget the poop jokes.

So let me open this up.

Can art be any good if it is in not in some way transgressive? Or was, once? And why? And can art genuinely be "transgressive" without referencing the Nasty?

Given all this, has not censorship in the long run been GOOD for art and artists?

If so, then on what basis do we oppose the censorship of artistic production?

I'll be back with more on this later. Answer the questions correctly or be killed by circus freaks.


Hope you all don't mind me addressing the the excellent points raised in comments up here. I just want to sort out some of my thoughts, because the topic is being teased out in some interesting ways.

First -- we can make a distinction between "ancient" and "modern" art. As Flory, Speechless, and anonymous (please name yourself, BTW; it makes things easier) point out, referencing Michaelangelo, Phidias, and Bach, the relationship between censorship and art that I talked about, citing 1920s jazz, Flaubert, and Joyce, seems to be a relatively modern phenomenon.

So is it fair to say that something fundamental about the way we think about art and artists at some point changed? One thing that strikes me about the examples we've discussed is that the older ones are all religious, involving the patronage of the church. Since I asked a question about the Nasty, I suppose it is not surprising that these were the examples referenced. Shakespeare would be a more challenging example, given his sly earthiness. However, while we'd surely all agree that his plays are "art," it's not entirely clear that he did, or at least he saw them in a way that was not ours (otherwise he would have taken a lot more care of the texts). And it is also not clear just how "transgressive" these plays were in his time. To be sure, he talked about sex constantly. However, they were also a form of popular entertainment. What he saw as his more lasting stuff was the poetry, and when he published this, he made to secure an aristocratic patron. In that sense, what Shakespeare and Bach had in common was a sense that for art to be Art it needed a patron.

Obviously, patronage is not a part of artistic production nowadays -- not at least in the older sense of the word.

So, speaking broadly and allowing for many exceptions that prove the rule, whether we're speaking of religious or secular art, can we say that to really hone in on the phenomenon I began with (the relationship between art and censorship), we have to keep in mind how the economics of art have changed? Because this gets to something else. Art with a religious or noble patron is sanctioned by some outside agency. For Flaubert and Joyce, and for jazz singers, art was sanctioned by Art itself.

Is that a fair conclusion?

Second: the matter of form. As Shrimplate says:
But art is constantly seeking to transgress boundries of technique: perspective, abstraction, 12-tone-rows, free jazz, cow poop Virgin Marys, and the like.
This is of course true. Even sticking with my examples, Flaubert, Joyce, and 1920s jazz, that would be true. In each case, the writer or musician's real "transgression" is formal. That is what really arouses anger about "new" or "high" art, by the way, or is at least integral to this anger. When people are outraged at art today it is not only because it breaks sexual (Mapplethorpe) or religious ("Piss Christ") taboos, but because it does so in the name of Art. It can't be dismissed as mere pornography or as just an offensive juvenile prank.

So if it is not merely sexual or even religious transgression in the modern period that makes art suceptible to "outrage," what is it about the formal transgressions that provokes what we might call the "censorship impulse"?

If you see what I mean...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Just So You Know...

You're free to leave threatening comments about my children on this blog, but I will report all such comments.

All right.

A rule of life: there is no problem so severe that listening to Ann Althouse's dopey version of it doesn't make you laugh your nipples sore...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Abstract Thoughts on "Rules"

When the Enron story was breaking I remember listening to a discussion on some NPR program about what possible regulation could be created to prevent such abuses from occurring in the future. Somebody made the argument that while regulation would be necessary, it didn't address the real problem. He said that in American business nowadays there was a widespread attitude that rules exist only to define an arbitrary limit of acceptable behavior: in other words, you can do whatever you want, you just have to make it somehow sound like you haven't crossed the line. Rules and regulations are thus desireable because they give you something specific to exploit for loopholes; they give you something to trip up the other guy with, if you can, and give you cover for your own actions if you can finagle things just right.

Thus, explicit statements of "Rules" for "acceptable conduct" that are supposed to define, I don't know, the line between what does and does not constitute "Integrity," can be worse than useless. As long as the "argument" can be made that certain behavior follows the letter of the rule, or at worst some ad hoc justification can be manufactured to cover for a violation of this rule, then the attempt at regulation fails -- not merely because it doesn't prevent the behavior, but offers an incentive to those already inclined to act in the manner specified as "corrupt" by laying out for them a kind of a game plan for breaking the rule without seeming to do so. This is especially the case when those predisposed to act in this fashion have a hand in writing the rule. For them, a fine ambiguity can be worth more than a state of "lawlessness."

Anyway, the guy on NPR went on to state that you always know whether or not someone is serious about "ethical reform" if they include a mechanism for enforcement and are willing to speak up when a violation occurs -- without first creating a cloud of irrelevant details, spurious ambiguities, and simple nonsense.

Anyway, I was just pondering all this ethical stuff in a totally abstract way on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I don't really mean anything by it.

Update: Can one really refute an accusation that one has no intention of "threatening" someone by repeatedly posting their names and employment information? That's a novel theory.... (No link. Gah.)

Anyway. Here is a picture of a duck. It means nothing. Well, nothing because it was collected online, but it is still very funny: "Where you aware that SATAN’s behavior has already become the subject of a forum provided under the aegis of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics (ALSC)? Do you understand the significance of that?" I think this duck is Extremely Concerned.

Friday, June 02, 2006

136 Names, and a Secret Revealed

Several people have inquired as to the names of the 136 children. Here they are:

Conor, Conal, Conaill, Conn, Conan, Colum, Colm, Connor, Colmcille, Carrickfergus, Chuck Chuck, Deirdre and Deirdre (the twins), Medbh, Maeve, Maggie, Meg, Mags, Margare (pen ran out while filling out form), Margaret, Meggie, Molly, Moyra, Moira, Maurya, Moolah, Ming, Mary, Marybeth, Bethmary, Liam, William, Will, Willy, Warren, Dmitri (too much vodka!), Bill, Barry, Esperanto, Samsonite, Nynex (corporate sponsored babies were BIG in the 90s), Fergus, Fergal, Frank, Francois, Ferdinand, Finn, Finnbar, Fionn, Niall, Neil, Nelly, Nestor, Australopithecene (the little angel!), Piltdown, Pedar, Peadar, Detroit Dave, Mullingar Murray, Hoboken Hal (trendy little fella already!), Sally, Salmonella, Santino, Fredo, Michael, Frodo, Sam, Meriadoc, Peregrin, Goldilocks, Greta, Gabriel, Sean, Ian, John, Shaun, Shem, Seamus, Jacob, James, Fettucini (it can get hungry in the delivery room), Placenta (inspiration failed; named for first visible noun, pretty little girl, tho), Fallopian (we were bored), Phillip, Roisin, Gollum (our precious!), Duncan, The Dagda, Columbanus (fiery l'il guy), Conchobar, Cuchullain, Cu-Cullan, Coo-bear, Esmerelda, Stan Lee, Leonard, Stuart (if only he could talk!), Jeff, Steve, Robert, Roy, Debbie, Little Debbie, Snackcakes, The Masked Avenger, The Shadow, The Cisco Kid, the Kenosha Kid (a big, hatless disappointment), Hamnet, Hamlet, Hal, Hotspur, Gertrude, Gert, Montgomery, Homer, Bart, Bushmills, Guinness, Draft, Pintglass, Jameson, Absinthe, Amaretto, Amoretta, Eli (died young, hardly miss 'im), Danielle, Brandan, Brenden, Nathaniel Sugarlips, Jennifer, Jenny, Nominative, Dative, Ablative, Genitive, Sasquatch.

And they are ALL ROTTEN.

Now, why is this blog called "Whiskey Ashes"? What is the Exciting Mystery behind the name? Well, none of you caught the reference, so you are all Big Dopes.

This blog is called "Whiskey Ashes" because:

1. I like whiskey.


2. "Ashes" was completely random.

I hope you are all completely satisfied?


Just had a new one! Everyone welcome NORA!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Faso Life

The New York GOP convention has rejected the Pataki candidate for the governor's race, William Weld, and gone with upstate anti-abortion, gay-hating John Faso. Weld lost by about a 3:2 ratio. According to the NYT,
Most worrisome to Republicans is that the convention vote exposed tensions between the party's moderate wing, represented by Mr. Weld, and the more conservative members who support Mr. Faso. That split could undermine a party that has held the governor's office for 12 years and is likely to face a formidable challenge this fall.
No kidding. The grassroots wingnuts in NY may be a majority in the party, but they are most certainly a minority in the state. The state GOP is in a lot of trouble. Unless something fundamental changes (Spitzer caught having liasons with a squirrel, maybe) this will be a very bad year for the NY GOP. With Spitzer and HRC set to win in landslides in the top races, the outlook all down the ticket for Republican candidates is grim.

Gosh, how sad for them.

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