Tuesday, January 31, 2006

if only the criminal justice system were so creative

The Beast weighs in with its 2005 edition of the 50 Most Loathsome People in America.

26. Spammers
Charges: Wasting billions of minutes of time and millions of dollars in bandwidth on the thin hope that a few poor saps will be stupid enough to believe that a Nigerian banker actually wants to give them millions of dollars, or that responding to an unsolicited e-mail is the smart way to refinance their mortgage or enlarge their penis. Every day, we must perform the tedious task of combing through our e-mail and deleting the nine tenths of it which consist of the most retarded marketing in history, along with mean-spirited swindles and ads for the vilest pornography imaginable. All because these jack-offs can think of no better way to support themselves than by pestering the entire fucking planet.
Exhibit A: Your inbox.
Sentence: Faces repeatedly smashed into keyboards until dead; bodies made into actual Spam; greedily devoured by Nigerian bankers.

11. Samuel Alito
Charges: The US Supreme Court's fait accompli. President Bush's closet case follow-up to the "most qualified" Harriet Miers' disastrous nomination, Alito was defended vociferously as a victim of racism by conservatives for being labeled "Scalito," a nickname clearly signifying his kinship of judicial philosophy with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and nothing else. Writes autistic opinions, in which language itself is rendered meaningless. For example, he wrote in a decision that the government should not protect plaintiffs from "employers who, although they have not acted with the intent to discriminate, may have treated their employees unfairly." When Alito puts on his Supreme Court robe, America can say "Arrivederci" to a woman's right to choose.
Exhibit A: In a landmark case, Alito distinguished himself by advocating the most extreme interpretation of law on the conservative Third Circuit; the decision prompted one observer to note, "[F]or the first time since 1973, a Federal court of appeals has directly said that Roe v. Wade is no longer the law of the land."
Sentence: Paper cut while handling the Constitution, left untreated, becomes infected, eventually killing him. Wife cries.

does schadenfreude make you more of a man?

Over at Slate, William Saletan reports on a new study that finds that men enjoy punishing evildoers more than women do. I wonder if comic books have anything to do with it.

Scientists planted actors among volunteers playing a game. Some actors played fairly; others played unfairly. Then the researchers delivered electric shocks to the actors while monitoring the brains of volunteers who looked on.

Men, like women, showed "empathy-related activation in pain-related brain areas" when shocks were administered to actors who had played fairly. But when shocks were delivered instead to actors who had played unfairly, empathetic responses in men, unlike women, "were significantly reduced." In fact, men showed "increased activation in reward-related areas, correlated with an expressed desire for revenge." Apparently, judgment controls men's feelings more than women's. It determines who gets our empathy and who gets our schadenfreude—the joy of watching the suffering of someone you dislike.

Monday, January 30, 2006

I'd like a mustang made from edamame

Stay Free! has posted a former print interview with Jeffrey Meikle, author of American Plastic - "How we learned to stop worrying and love plastics" - that has a creepy photo warning against dry cleaning bag suffocation.

Henry Ford believed that ultimately cars would be made not out of steel but out of plastic, and that the plastic would come from soybeans grown by American farmers. Throughout his career Ford had a special interest in the American farmer. He didn't really see the Model T as the cornerstone of an urban transportation system, he saw it primarily as a boon for farmers, to modernize their life. Ford was thinking about and experimenting with making plastic from soybeans. He had a vision that all of the elements used in making the car could come from agriculture. And, in fact, he made an all-plastic experimental car right before World War II. He had plans to put it into production, but the war intervened. So in an odd sort of way, his idea connected new materials to very traditional ways of living, and therefore made them seem more natural or acceptable.

borrow some emotional resonance

Jessa Crispin on why she hates the Emo Boy Writers:

I want the emo-boy novel to stop. It's making an entire generation of men's writing look bad. I suppose it may be fair, as we women have to fight through the jungle of chick lit every day to publish our novels. But I'm begging for publishers to at least ghettoize emo-boy lit, maybe with color coordination and a design trick like our own high-heels-and-feet covers, before I have to start disregarding every book written by a man between the ages of 20 and 35. I just can't handle the pain anymore.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

glad to be born

My birthday passed a few weeks ago with minor fanfare, but today is the birthday of this blog. Escapegrace is a whopping one year old. In honor of the occasion, I thought I'd revisit some of my favorite posts from the first half of the year for those who have come lately:

1/28/05: tales from the crypt
2/9/05: get me out of here
3/21/05: taking new york with me (scroll down to the date)
3/25/05: can't explain
3/29/05: rats! (or things I won't miss about new york)
4/1-7/05: road trip! (scroll down to 4/1 and head up)
4/17/05: initial impressions and observations
5/8/05: double dog dare

Many of the mix posts and TWNs are also my favorites, but they're all listed at the right for your eternal convenience. Thank you so much for reading! It means a lot to an uprooted girl whose only permanent home for the past year has been this URL.
(Thanks to RMM for the cake!)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

learning to love you more

Miranda July was in my yoga class last night - now that's my kind of celebrity sighting! - and I was inspired to call attention once again to the Learning to Love You More project:

Learning to Love You More is both a web site and series of non-web presentations comprised of work made by the general public in response to assignments given by artists Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher. Yuri Ono designs and manages the web site. Participants accept an assignment, complete it by following the simple but specific instructions, send in the required report (photograph, text, video, etc), and see their work posted on-line. Like a recipe, meditation practice, or familiar song, the prescriptive nature of these assignments is intended to guide people towards their own experience. Since Learning To Love You More is also an ever-changing series of exhibitions, screenings and radio broadcasts presented all over the world, participant's documentation is also their submission for possible inclusion in one of these presentations. Past presentations have taken place at venues that include The Whitney Museum in NYC, Rhodes College in Memphis, TN, Aurora Picture Show in Houston, TX, The Seattle Art Museum in Seattle, WA, the Wattis Institute in San Francisco CA, among others. Since LTLYM inception in 2002 over 2000 people have participated in the project.

music to my ears

In a recent article in the Chronicle for Higher Education, Stanley Fish - well-known literary theorist - reflects on the future of academia:

When Jacques Derrida died I was called by a reporter who wanted know what would succeed high theory and the triumvirate of race, gender, and class as the center of intellectual energy in the academy. I answered like a shot: religion.

FYI: The dissertation I'm about to defend is titled Urban Fervor: Los Angeles Literature & Alternative Religion.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

lumbering toward free expression

Turkey has dropped charges against novelist Orhan Pamuk for "insulting Turkishness":

Orhan Pamuk, who gained international acclaim for books including "Snow," "Istanbul," and "My Name is Red," was on trial for "insulting Turkishness" after he said Turks have killed more than a million Armenians and more than 30,000 Kurds. He could have faced up to three years in prison.

Pamuk's remarks to a Swiss newspaper highlighted two of the most painful episodes in Turkish history: the massacre of Armenians during World War I — which Turkey insists was not a planned genocide — and recent guerrilla fighting in Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast.

On Monday, an Istanbul court said it was forced to drop the case because it had not received permission to proceed from the Turkish government, criticized for failing to commit itself to free expression even as Turkey lumbers toward membership in the European Union.

you can fool all of the people some of the time

In the wake of the James Frey & JT Leroy scandals, Rachel Giese rounds up ten of the best literary hoaxes.

Ern Malley’s The Darkening Ecliptic
In 1944, an Australian poetry editor published a collection of poems by a raw young talent named Ern Malley, a Melbourne mechanic who had died the previous year. The editor lauded Malley as one of the most “important poetic figures of this century.” Alas, the verses had been written as a joke by a pair of poetry purists: James McAuley and Harold Stewart penned Malley’s entire body of work in one afternoon, pulling phrases randomly from books and making it purposely obscure. Their mission was to reveal what they felt was the “gradual decay” and absurdity of avant-garde poetry. The hoax became national news and was the inspiration for Peter Carey’s 2003 novel My Life As a Fake.

Forrest Carter’s The Education of Little Tree
One of the stranger hoaxes. Published in 1977, Forrest Carter’s celebrated memoir about a Cherokee orphan who fights racism and struggles to connect with his heritage was later revealed to have been written by a white Ku Klux Klan member named Asa Carter. (In more recent reprints, The Education of Little Tree was labeled “fiction.”) Carter had previously worked for Alabama Governor George Wallace, penning his infamous inauguration speech, in which Wallace vowed: “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw a line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say: segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.”

Monday, January 23, 2006

desperate characters indeed

I had no idea that novelist and children's author Paula Fox (Desperate Characters) was Courtney Love's grandmother until I read this review of the new memoir from Courtney's mom, Linda Carroll. Carroll details the search for her birth mother as an adult, and the discovery that Paula Fox was the missing link she'd been seeking. However, the memoir mostly focuses on Carroll's relationship with Courtney and her efforts to prove she's not as bad a mother as her daughter claims (and make a little money while she's at it).

Early buzz about the book has chewed on a few salacious moments: Courtney, at age 4, her parents now divorced, returning from a visit with her father and complaining about the "magic pills" he'd made her swallow. Or preteen Courtney, drunk on homemade apple wine at a family Christmas celebration, or in trouble for stealing pornographic magazines from a bookstore.

The selectively leaked excerpts triggered peremptory sniping from Love's manager on the perch of Page Six, the well-read gossip anchor of The New York Post, who termed it, "astonishing, and profoundly depressing, that any mother would write a book containing numerous allegations about her own young daughter. We strongly suggest that the book be viewed for what it is, a work of vicious and greedy fiction."

Carroll is tart in her reply, suggesting that Love's entourage "might want to read the book first." Backlash from her eldest daughter -- who was not given drafts to review, unlike Carroll's other children -- was probably inevitable, she said, adding that she's also girding herself for accusations that she's piggybacking on her daughter's high-profile.

"I acknowledge that will give the book a puff, but it's not enough to keep it up there," she said.


a cylinder in love with itself

Geometric Relationships More Realistic Than the Love Triangle

Friday, January 20, 2006

more signs of the apocalypse

A right-wing group has offered UCLA students $100 to spy on faculty.

The group's website, uclaprofs.com, lists 31 professors whose classes it considers worthy of scrutiny. The professors teach classes in history, African-American studies, politics, and Chicano studies. Their supposed radicalism is indicated on the site by a rating system of black fists. The organisation denies on the website that it is conducting a vendetta against those with differing political views. "We are concerned solely with indoctrination, one-sided presentation of ideological controversies and unprofessional classroom behaviour, no matter where it falls on the ideological spectrum."

The U.S. government is trying to force Google to turn over information about on-line searches.

"The bad news is that Google probably has more information in its data banks than any other search engine. Google may have to give in, but at least they are showing some backbone."

Google stores user information in a single tracking "cookie" that could hold a rich load of data about anything from email, online purchases, addresses, names, searched words, or other terms typed in, Givens said.

Dixon said Google would not be able to filter out personal information from the data demanded by the government.

"That is what is really at stake here, anything you type into that box," Dixon said, referring to the window used by computer users in their searches.

"This will pull down everyone's information, even if they had nothing to do with pornography."

As someone who does frequent searches on cults, this is not a comforting time to be completing a dissertation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

how the mighty have fallen

I'm of a certain age where Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett meant something to my teenage fantasies. Whereas Mr. Cassidy is now producing popular TV dramas, poor Leif is having some serious trouble kicking the junk. While no stranger to run-ins with the law, the most recent fracas involves the former star getting busted for narcotics last night after failing to produce a subway ticket at the Pershing Square station. I have a feeling it's all Nicollette Sheridan's fault.

In other really bizarre celebrity rap sheet news, KCRW DJ and former host of Morning Becomes Eclectic Chris Douridas has been arrested for drugging and attempting to kidnap a 14-year-old girl. I predict there's a lot more to this story.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

yeats is greats

Cover art by Lisa Sanditz

Brian Miller (Jolie Holland's guitarist) and Peter Musselman - working as The Speakers - have released an alt-country collection based on the work of William Butler Yeats. You can watch the video for "To a Man Young and Old" here.

what's the matter with kansas?

First, Kansas approves the Intelligent Design curriculum and then Boog Highberger, mayor of Lawrence, declares a month dedicated to International Dadaism.

As part of the proclamation, Highberger will utter the “zimzim” phrase, from a poem by Dada founder Hugo Ball, the late German author and poet. The words have no meaning, which Highberger said is the point.

“I just think it is good to acknowledge that there is a place for chance and nonsense in every healthy lifestyle,” Highberger said.

Maybe there's some kind of balance there.

read this!

The Lit Blog Co-Op has chosen their first pick of the new year: Kirstin Allio's Garner.

Garner, Allio pulled me into a small farming town in 1925 New Hampshire and didn’t let me go until she had finished telling me everything I needed to know about it. Her writing not only described the time period and area to the point where I could see it in my mind, but also captured the cadence and pace of said period and area. Her writing voice is amazingly consistent, especially when one considers the structure she utilizes to propel the story forward, switching narrators from section to section. This structure, while having a very modern feel to it, blends in seamlessly with the story Allio is telling.

Monday, January 16, 2006

in honor of dr. king

Now would be a good time to read some Martin Luther King.

From the speech delivered the day before his assassination - "I've Been to the Mountaintop":

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — "We want to be free."

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Thursday, January 12, 2006

why you been gone so long?

If you ever come upon me, hairbrush in hand, singing at the top of my lungs in the privacy of my apartment, chances are pretty good that I'm in the midst of a rendition of Jessi Colter's version of "Tell Me Baby Why You Been Gone So Long?" When a friend first turned me on to this song, I couldn't believe I hadn't heard more from the woman who's been called "the queen of '70s outlaw country." Following the death of her husband Waylon Jennings in 2002, she began the album that will be released next month: Out of the Ashes. Tony Joe White, her son Shooter Jennings, and even Waylon himself through old masters will all make an appearance.

strangeness and charm

I've mentioned 3 Quarks Daily here before, but they've recently posted their Best Original Essays of 2005. It's as fine a time as any to check out this smart, smart site.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

christmas truce

Before I started writing on LA literature & alternative religion, I was obsessed with literature written about war (and obstacles to bearing witness in narratives of atrocity, to be specific - it's all here). One of the more fascinating anecdotes I heard about World War I was the 1914 Christmas truce. The image of the soldiers putting down their arms and picking up footballs is so perfect it doesn't matter if it's true. Now I can see how someone else pictured it in the Christian Carion film Joyeux Noel! (Merry Christmas).


The current issue of LA Weekly is devoted to lists. The Feuilletons section includes 10 Reasons to Switch to Scientology, John Hodgman's 9 Presidents Who Had Hooks for Hands, and The Year in Useless Products. The Politics and Culture sections include such varied collections as 8 New Alternative Energy Ideas, A Dozen Weird Weather Moments, Fatwas of 2005, 10 Albums That Stank Up the Room, 10 Signs of the Yindie Apocalypse, and the 10 Best Dishes of 2005. And there's more...Just look around.

Friday, January 06, 2006

randy newman does something, wins something

I've gotten really into the Oscars for the past couple of years - Adrien Brody's stolen kiss and Chris Rock's opening monologue featuring the Gap vs. Banana Republic War being some of the highlights - so I was pretty excited to hear Jon Stewart will be hosting this year. Defamer writes:

Stewart’s selection was reportedly arrived at following a marathon sit-down between high-level Gay and Jewish Mafias officials in a secure basement conference room at David Geffen’s Malibu compound; the fabulous faction stubbornly threw its support behind movie star/respected song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman for the gig, but after a personal audition by Jackman featuring a musical Brokeback Mountain parody fell flat, the Velvets finally acquiesced and gave their approval to the safer choice of the universally loved Stewart.

Kittenpants provides a preview of what we can expect from Stewart's stewardship.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

curiously bared of every conceivable thing

Despite his questionable thoughts on Hitler, one of the most underrated writers, in my opinion, is Norwegian realist Knut Hamsun. He won the Nobel Prize in 1920, but after I read his bleak, fascinating 1890 novel Hunger years ago, I would usually bring him up in conversation and be met with blank stares. So it's interesting to see the Hamsun bandwagon seems to be hitting the road. The New Yorker has a look at the author's "return":

When “Hunger” came out, in 1890, Hamsun informed reviewers that he was trying something different; he was not, he insisted, interested in marriages and balls—the book was not really a novel at all. Rather, as he told a friend, “What interests me are my little soul’s endless emotions, the special, strange life of the mind, the mysteries of the nerves in a hungry body.”

Hamsun’s narrator, a writer, is a careful cataloguer of his own psychological states—no victim but, like Hamsun himself, a subversive, generational voice. Not a great deal happens, and yet from the first line—“It was in that time when I walked around hungry in Kristiania, that strange city no one can leave without being marked by it”—the novel’s oddly joyful desperation never flags.

The latest issue of Boldtype (The Obsession Issue) also features a review of Hunger. You can read the whole novel on-line here.

(Thanks to S. for the NYer link.)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

mix post: shiny & new edition

Robert Frost once wrote, "The best way out is always through." Having a birthday that directly follows on the new year means this a ripe time for renewal for your lowly correspondent. It's been quite some time since there was a mix post entry (September, in fact), so I thought the coming of the new year was a perfect occasion to give tribute to the power of music that spurs us on.

Feelin' Good - Nina Simone
@ Rock 'n' Roll Star

A New Arrangement - Bright Eyes
@ moistworks

This Year - Mountain Goats
@ Two and 1/2 Pounds of Bacon

Dancing Shoes - Arctic Monkeys
@ I Guess I'm Floating

New Year's Resolution -
Otis Redding & Carla Thomas
@ The Pop View

Open Up Your Heart & Let the Sun Shine In - Frente!
Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy - Wax
@ A Best Truth

A Bright-Ass Light - Jana Hunter
@ gorilla vs. bear

Everything Will Be Alright - The Killers
@ Veritas Lux Mea

California Sun - The Ramones
@ one louder

Time to Dance - Panic! at the Disco
@ music for kids who can't read good

Look Up - Stars
@ PopText