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Also, You Would Get Matching Funds

by Scott McLemee on December 20, 2007

Santa came a little early this year. The single most exciting possibility in American politics remains, of course, the idea that Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA might emerge from the underground to campaign for the office of President of the United States. Alas, my appeal to him to do this has so far gone unanswered.


Instead, all we’ve had lately is a very long speech in which Chairman Bob talks about himself in the third person. What’s necessary is “a culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization around the leadership, the body of work and the method and approach of Bob Avakian,” he says. Well, sure. But first you sort of need a reason to call a press conference. This is where the 24 hour news cycle is your friend. From a single spark….

In the meantime, Mike Ely, a former editor of the RCP newspaper, has come out with a cogent and thorough critique (pdf) of Avakian’s recent writings and the entire cult(ure) around him.

All irony to the side, I must say that this is a pretty interesting document, and so is the rest of Ely’s website. It is clearly the work of someone whose Maoism comes by way of Godard and Badiou as well as the RCP’s idiosyncratic Gang of Four-ism. For those who are interested in that kind of thing, it is the kind of thing they will find interesting. Thanks to Santa’s elves for bringing it to my attention.

Archival Zotero-fication, or Possibly Vice Versa

by Scott McLemee on December 12, 2007

I like Zotero a lot. It makes collecting and organizing material from research online much easier than it would be otherwise. Plus they sent me a t-shirt after my column about it appeared, which pretty much amounts for all the non-book-related swag to have arrived in 2007.

Still, I have been somewhat irregular about working with Zotero. Required to give a more or less sensible reason for this, I could say that it is a matter of waiting for the 2.0 version, none too patiently. But the really deciding factor is that I still use Netscape, which is proving less rational or defensible all the time. Shifting over entirely to Firefox (of which Zotero is a plug-in) seems like a good resolution for the new year.

One factor holding up the 2.0 version—which will, it’s said, allow people to share documents—is the range of intellectual-property issues it would create. But at IHE this morning, Andy Guess reports that the Center for History and New Media is going ahead with the development of a Zotero archive into which scholars can deposit material, as long as it is public-domain.
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The Class of ’03

by Scott McLemee on December 10, 2007

Ralph Luker points out today that the history group blog Cliopatria has just celebrated its fourth birthday. Or anniversary perhaps. I guess it depends on how you look at it.

CT passed the same marker in July, though it does not appear from the archives that anyone noticed at the time.

A slogan that used to appear at Technorati said something like: “There are 55 million blogs. Some of them have to be good.” I never understood the logic of that. The idea that enough quantity is bound to produce some quality is not too rigorous, even by the standards of some blowhard quoting Anti-Duhring. Likewise, enduring for four years is no guarantee of anything either. But it’s pretty remarkable, even so, especially given the hyper-ephemeral nature of this medium.

Cliopatria at its best has been an example of why those who denounce the entire blogosphere as a bunch of people wearing pajamas in their basements and whinging about American Idol are, themselves, pretty silly. Congratulations to Ralph and the other Cliopatricians (also to myself for the good luck of being one of them) and also, retroactively, to the Timberistas (and ditto).

The Menace of Urban Youth

by Scott McLemee on November 29, 2007

I can’t argue with most of the selections in “The Nine Most Badass Bible Verses”—except for thinking that at least one violent episode might have been cut in favor of something from the Song of Solomon booty call.

Plus it’s a problem that the list implies a ranking, because no way Elisha and the bears (2 Kings 2:23-24) should come in at a mere number 8:

23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.


And what do we learn from this? Valuable lessons for today:

Christians are constantly asking for prayer in schools to help get today’s kids in line, but we beg to differ. We need bears in schools. If every teacher had the power to summon a pair of child-maiming grizzly avengers, you can bet that schoolchildren nowadays would be the most well-behaved, polite children, ever. It’s a simple choice: listen to the biology lesson, or get first-hand knowledge of the digestive system of Ursus horribilis.

It should be pointed out that even after his death, Elisha continued to kick ass. II Kings 13:20-21 tells us that when a dead body was thrown into his tomb and touched Elisha’s bones, it sprang back to life. It’s unknown whether Elisha had this power in life, as well as death, but we like to think he did and that he had the habit of killing his victims with bears, resurrecting them, and then promptly re-summoning the bears to kill them, again. He’d just repeat the whole thing over and over until he got bored.

via Ralph Luker

It can’t have been easy to pick finalists for the Atlanta Journal- Constitution’s contest for World’s Worst Book Title—not with candidates such as Letting It Go: A History of American Incontinence and Everything You’ll Need to Remember About Alzheimer’s.

I’m not sure how the contest was run, or if it was fair. A lot of times with these things it’s all about who you know.

Still, the results are in, and AJC has announced that the winner is Cooking with Pooh. This title is for real. But I’m sure readers can come up with worse titles than that, just as real.

(hat tip: Michael Merschel)

La Mal Babe Sans Merci

by Scott McLemee on November 20, 2007

Over at Brainiac, Josh Glenn discusses the theme of “the intellectual, slightly mysterious rock-and-roll woman,” as a recent book calls it, running throughout songs from the Boston scene over the years. All those smart but fragile girls that Jonathan Richman sang about with the Modern Lovers, for example.

Josh suggests that there is a strain of hipster misogyny in this: the revenge of the sophomore spurned, no doubt. And he reads Mission of Burma’s “Academy Fight Song” as a response to that kind of thing—its lyrics “written from the point of view of a cool, educated young woman who was sick and tired of the obsessive attention paid to her by a would-be boyfriend….”

This seems plausible. But it would not be the first song from the Boston scene to approach this archetype (or whatever it is) from the inside. I’m thinking here, of course, of “Ballad of the Hip Death Goddess” by Ultimate Spinach.
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Reification and Pornotopia

by Scott McLemee on November 18, 2007

A few months ago, Nina at Infinite Thought offered an appreciation of the difference between the playfulness of vintage European porn films (from roughly 1905 to 1930) and the more industrialized contemporary product:

The first thing you notice is the sheer level of silliness on show: sex isn’t just a succession of grim orgasms and the parading of physical prowess, but something closer to slapstick and vaudeville. Men pretend to be statues of fauns for curious women to tickle; two seamstresses fall into a fit of giggles as their over-excited boss falls off the bed; a bawdy waitress serves a series of sexually-inspired meals to a man dressed as a musketeer before joining him for ‘dessert’. This kind of theatrical role-play pre-empts many of the clichés of contemporary pornography, of course: nuns, school-mistresses, the ‘peeping tom’ motif, and so on. But the beauty of these early short films lies in the details, the laughter of its participants and the sheer variety of the bodies on parade: the unconventionally attractive mingle with the genuinely pretty; large posteriors squish overjoyed little men. The fact that the rules of pornographic film-making haven’t yet been formally established, as well as the rudimentary nature of the film equipment, means that often the filming cuts off before any sort of climax, which only adds to the amateurish, unstructured, anarchic charm of it all.

At Quick Study, I’ve posted a short response to another recent Infinite Thought item developing this line of reflection.

It has prompted a discussion touching—so far—on Sade, Steven Marcus, and the days when everybody in a pornographic novel would recharge their orgy batteries by stopping to listen to a lecture on Enlightenment philosophy.

If this sounds like it might float your boat, stop by. Quick Study is my personal blog, and I’ve been averse to pushing here at Crooked Timber, but what the hell….Diffidence gets you no traffic. (But the start of the semester sure did; it seems that freshmen Google the words “quick study” in an effort to increase the amount of time they can spend getting wasted.)

In the late 1990s, Doug McLennan created Arts Journal, a comprehensive aggregator of cultural journalism; for the past couple of years has been in charge of whatever is going on with the National Arts Journalism Program, which gave out fellowships at Columbia University for a while. (Until, one day, it didn’t. I’m not really sure what happened there.) He’s had a blog at AJ, Diacritical, that has been pretty episodic, goings weeks and longer without new activity. Totally understandable, of course; the man has enough else to do.

But it looks like he’s resuming it, starting with some considerations on how badly the notion of the newspaper as part of “mass culture” serves us, especially now:
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It seems that the Revolutionary Communist Party has a large notice running in the latest New York Review of Books. I have not actually seen that issue yet, but over the weekend, a friend wrote to protest:

Simply staggered that you have not signed onto the full page ad in the NYRB (Engage!) demanding that the voice of Bob Avakian be projected and protected. You, who have done so much to keep Avakian before the masses. You, who have chosen not to join voices including Mumia Abu Jamal, Rickie Lee Jones, Aladdin, Ward Churchill, Chuck D, Cornel West, and Michael Eric Dyson.

Don’t you know that Martin Niemoller said that “first they came for the communists?”

Okay, my mistake. It is also true that I have neglected to blog about the doings of Chairman Bob for months now. In part, though, that has been because the Chairman went AWOL for quite a spell there. No new articles or interviews with him appeared in the party press, and after a while it became reasonable to wonder what was up. Something cardiac, perhaps? Involving rich pastries?
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Josh Glenn, who I interviewed last week about his book Taking Things Seriously, may have solved the puzzle of what “little nameless object” is produced by the factories that secured the family fortune of a wastrel in Henry James’s novel The Ambassadors.

Normally this would merit a short item in Notes and Queries or The Explicator. But in this case, the proposed solution to “the Woollett Question” appears as an article at Slate.

Next challenge: Figure out what the stolen “little object” was in Norman Mailer’s Barbary Shore.

Loafing with LaRouche

by Scott McLemee on October 29, 2007

As you may recall, the economy was supposed to have collapsed as of two weeks ago today. Right now, you should not be able to afford a loaf of bread with a wheelbarrow full of $1000 bills.

I understand that bread baskets have been sent to headquarters in Virginia by ex-members. The sarcasm is tinged with philanthropy. LaRouche’s true believers are in serious trouble; their economy is collapsing, anyway. The group is being forced to come up with money for the IRS, and facing renewed investigation by the FEC, in the wake of events described by Avi Klein in a major article appearing in the new issue of Washington Monthly.
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Strange Bedfellowship

by Scott McLemee on October 19, 2007

Suppose there were an Iranian cult combining Islamism and Stalinism, with a history of terrorist attacks, that had enjoyed friendly relations with Saddam’s regime, back when.

Why, that’s something that the American right would fund a special TV network just to denounce 24-7, isn’t it?

Not so fast. Daniel Pipes and Max Boot think the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is just sadly misunderstood. Get the backstory at the Campaign for America’s Future.

Blood Without Glamour

by Scott McLemee on October 12, 2007

The secret of GWB’s success—for a while there, anyway—was that he was so comfortable playing the role that Phil Nugent nails as, “Sure, he’s a different kind of cop and he doesn’t play by the book—but he gets results!”

So what’s up with the lame duck’s recent lameness?

By now, it’s clear that “We don’t torture” is going to be George Bush’s equivalent to “I am not a crook” or “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”—an embarrassingly transparent, obviously untrue statement that the speaker never would have even made in the first place if he hadn’t been obligated to deny something that everybody had already figured out was the case. In the earlier examples, you could at least understand the emotions behind the decision to go on TV and indignantly challenge these unfounded accusations that the sun is hot. In Nixon’s case, it must have been deeply nerve-racking for a such a rigid, uptight old Quaker, one who had built his administration on promises of restoring “law and order” to a nation that had lost its moral compass, to start seeing cartoons of himself and his top aides in prison stripes in the paper every damn day. The very idea undermined everything that he wanted to believe about himself and everything his supporters wanted to believe about him. As for Clinton, for a free-wheeling, charismatic dude who had a well-documented taste for the ladies and a serious JFK complex, it must have been…well, anyway, I’m sure he didn’t want to sleep on the couch. But George Bush is supposed to be our self-styled Mr. Grim Reality, President Bauer. Why the hell is he denying that we do what he must know his most hardcore supporters worship him for having the balls to do? Why doesn’t he respond to questions about whether we torture by barking “Damn straight,” and then pulling a former Gitmo resident’s spleen out of his jacket pocket to gnaw?

Excellent question. Check out the rest of Nugent’s post for the answer. H/t Jerome Weeks.

Apocalypse Pretty Soon

by Scott McLemee on October 8, 2007

The dollar will collapse no later than one week from today. As of noon on October 15, you will not be able to buy a loaf of bread for $100,000. That’s the optimistic scenario. The crash may come sooner than that. It might be Thursday. It sounds like Thursday will be bad.

Yeah, things are heating up again in LaRouche-land. The Youth Movement kids haven’t been out in force singing on Capitol Hill much over the past two or three months. But it’s clear that supporters are now being pushed into a frenzied state, more even than usual. At the website where ex-members get together, plans are being made to send one true believer a loaf of bread as soon as the deadline for disaster passes.

No doubt it is an utter and total coincidence that The Washington Monthly will soon publish an in-depth article on recent developments in the organization.
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The Podcast Times

by Scott McLemee on October 4, 2007

Last week, I met Todd Gitlin in the studio at Inside Higher Ed’s world headquarters on K Street to record an interview about his new book, The Bulldozer and the Big Tent. (The “studio” is actually the publisher’s office, since it has the best acoustics. Podcasting has become a routine if not a regular thing for us; here’s the backlist. I’m still getting used to the format itself and trying to think about its potential as a way to supplement my column, since merely duplicating content of a written piece in audio (or vice versa) isn’t very interesting or appealing.

At TPM Cafe, Gitlin expresses what seems like surprised appreciation to his interviewer “for actually having read the book.” Given journalistic norms, that probably means I’ll never get a steady gig again, and certainly not in radio or TV.

But in consequence of this peculiar tendency, I have notes indicating that Henry’s netroots essay is quoted on page 184 and then again on page 185.