Despite Slate's generous week-long tribute to pulp fiction, from Terry Castle's discovery of an erotic lesbian thriller to Christopher Benfey's discussion of Edgar Allan Poe's lasting influence, many fraysters were left seeking some basic clarity on "pulp" as a literary genre, with Jaque and PulpsGuy making their own enterprising efforts to fill in the lacunae with links to a Wikipedia entry and this reference site.
Typical was sfdoddsy's complaint:
I couldn't help noticing that in the many articles so far under the aegis of 'pulp fiction', there has been very little discussion of any actual books that most people would place under the moniker.
A James M Cain mention today, Parker yesterday, but the rest seem to be attempting to shoehorn regular lit into the pulping machine, as exemplified by the pulp covers for The Iliad and the attempt to classify Tobacco Road as pulp simply because it came out in paperback.
BronxBoy answers the call for a canon with this list, followed by some professorly commentary on pulp fiction as
…the logical conclusion to the post WW1 pessimism in novels by Farrell, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos that were a direct result of the 1st wars shattering of any illusions that society was moving toward a more "utopian" platform.
With [Raymond] Chandler and [Dashiell] Hammett social mores and moral clarity in society are in great upheaval and distress. Into this vortex moves "Gray Knights" of justice (Marlowe; Spade; The Continental OP)...seeking not truth or enlightenment but control over a world blinded by its own misguided light of right and wrong
anyway...great stories, terrific writing and truly a part of the canon of American Literature.
Ted_Burke makes an even grander claim for "pulp fiction and its film noir offshoot" as "the nearest thing America has produced as truly self contained as Tragedy." Read his mini-treatise here. itchybrother makes his case for classifying Gustave Flaubert's Salombo as a 19th-century antecedent to pulp. lump516 thinksMadame Bovary should be included too.
Attributing the demise of pulp to what she calls the "English major syndrome," oldie asks
why is most of the cheap fiction stuff written today so stilted and boring?
Yes, for the most part, today's stuff is better edited, the sentences are more carefully worked over, but the pure joy of telling the story, of spinning the yarn, just isn't there…
My off the cuff explanation: the cookie cutter approach to good writing taught in most writing classes ruins spontaneity and fun.
Happy Memorial Day Weekend to all! My compatriot Geoff has invited anyone with relevant thoughts on this holiday to contribute them to War Stories. AC … 5:32pm PDT
Friday, May 26, 2006
The Fraywatch feature generally focuses on a single issue of debate from Slate's reader feedback forum, the Fray. But our boards are trod by a teeming community of smart, thoughtful, and articulate readers, with as much to say to one another as to the authors of our front page. In today's digitized world, thousands of people find themselves chained to a computer for a big chunk of the day. It's a matter of some pride to Slate that so many of the best and the brightest choose to invest their surplus screen time with us.
Many of our communities are oriented around a single intellectual passion, such as the learned litterateurs of the Poems Fray or the erudite exegetes of the Faith-Based Fray. Other Frays, like Dear Prudence or Blorple Falls, serve as a gathering place for light-hearted entertainment and banter. I've been here for years, and I still can't accurately describe the appeal of the Best of the Fray—whose only consistent feature through years of reinvention has been a collection of fearsomely intelligent and analytical minds. And, like any Web site open to the public, we have our share of chummers and trolls. If the devil's looking to punish Walter Annenberg for his crimes, he might consider appointing him to monitor Ballot Box, otherwise known to its editors as "Bedlam's Listserv."
Blogs: Many groundbreaking blogs (most notably BTC News and Instapundit) found their start among users of the Fray. They might not have invented the medium—but Rembrandt didn't have to invent paint to change the face of art.
Readers of Fraywatch might be especially interested in one new blog from Ender, an invariably innovative Frayster: Best of the Fray (Self-effacing, with nuggets). It already serves as a digest of noteworthy and idiosyncratic posts Slate can't highlight. (If only space and time allowed!) Its author's statement of purpose suggests how we might better integrate our insightful part-time contributors—quite deserving of wider readership—with the wider "blogosphere." I've got the site bookmarked. You should consider it, too.
Fiction: To complement Slate's serialized novel, The Unbinding, Fraysters have begun their own work of collaborative fiction, thanks to the initiative of rundeep:
"What do you mean; you don't have a hit counter?" I asked, adjusting my wireless headset. "If I am not much mistaken, you called me and asked if my company would advertise with you." I paused to allow the point to sink in. There was no sound other than a soft click I imagined being produced by cleaning one's fingernails. This irritated me, and I was already irritated. I was bored and the market had not been very productive so far, at least according to the feed playing in the corner of my monitor. "We are not the local drug store or a retail bank, ma'am. I don't sell lollipops or mortgages to the depressed or children's shoes. I represent a financial powerhouse which deals only with accredited investors. You know what I mean by accredited: the cream of the crop, the wealthy, the sophisticated, the discriminating. The kind who don't troll the web looking for investment opportunities. "
An amateur author would be hard-pressed to find a better workshop for constructive criticism than our Fray. This advice to an author, from DawnCoyote, stands out as a masterpiece in its genre—a testament to what supportive writing can be.
Reporting: It's a simple fact—with thousands of writing readers scattered throughout the world, Fraysters are an excellent source of firsthand information. For a supplement to June Thomas' theater review of Stuff Happens, check out this entry from august:
Although Stuff Happens is an ensemble piece, it is not (as June Thomas's review implied) mere reportage. It's true that many of the famous folk on display are mere caricatures of themselves, but even caricatures can ask pointed questions. The setting of the play is indeed the build-up to war, but the drama comes in the figure of Powell.
In Dear Prudence, eutie authors a critical takedown of the latest hype on American obesity:
There are a dozens medical studies pretty much proving that most of the conventional wisdom about obesity is myth and that much of one's tendency to gain weight is hereditary.
If you can't afford a subscription to the New York Review of Books, you could do far worse than Fritz_Gerlich's sterling reportage of Puttin' on the Frick.
Anyone looking to kill time over this long weekend—without killing brain cells—should pick your poison and spend some time getting to know the Fray. GA … 2:00am PDT
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Jody Rosen's Larry Hurtado's "Ungodly Errors" discusses scholarly gripes with The Da Vinci Code. Many were quick to point out that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, not a statement of historical fact. This distinction notwithstanding, Brian13 argues for an ethics of historical fiction writing:
The point is that fiction books are always laced throughout with facts that the author relies upon. They ask the reader to grasp onto these facts in order for the story to work. The problem with Brown's book is that he argues for a "fact" understanding in places where "fiction" is really a better description and then does not endeavor to make it clear to the reader that he is in the fictional realm at this point. The reader may not know where one leaves off and the other begins and Brown doesn't seem the need to be intellectually honest about it…
Writing fiction does not absolve the writer of historical responsibility. I don't know about you, reader, but when I pick up a work of historical fiction, such as Roots or Hawaii or The Agony and the Ecstasy, I first check out the reviews of historians to see if the fictional account in the work interferes with the historical content. If that is the test, Brown failed miserably, and it is not exculpating here to say, "Well, it is fiction."
Whether or not the Bible can be deemed "historical content" is, of course, itself open to debate, as MK points out that "those most opposed to The Code's FICTIONAL interpretation of history are not (for the most part) defending empirically-derived facts but are (for the most part) defending their own beliefs in a mystical story that has been continually re-told over many centuries."
For BoredWithCritics, what is truly subversive about the movie is not so much its historical claims as its ability to "stimulate conversation and free thinking and questioning of truths that have been taught to generations. If this generation begins to question and discuss and try to find their own answers, then how can the Catholic Church remain in control?"
Many pieces of fiction go mostly unnoticed in religious of philosophical circles. Why is this any different? Does it matter if Jesus is seen as a divine prophet or a mortal man of faith? His impact on society is no less for it. Speculation of this nature has been abundant for centuries. It has not lessened the beliefs of the faithful.
Remember the quote from Matt 17:20 "And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." You had all better study the bible if you feel your faith in the divinity of Christ is under attack.
For Dan Brown's take on how much of this novel is true, visit his official Web site here. AC … 3:33pm PDT
Sunday, May 21, 2006
"Is Tyra Banks racist?" So asks the headline of J.E. Dahl's recent article on America's Next Top Model. The author suggests that Banks' hypercritical approach to the show's black American contestants—including this season's winner, Danielle—tries "to eradicate ethnic idiosyncrasies in their personality and appearance."
Many Fraysters write in to defend Banks by asserting the inherent inferiority of Southern black dialects. Tia76 illustrates such crypto-racism, declaring:
I do not believe that Tyra is being racist at all. [...] Tyra [is] being called out and called racist for doing what many more prominent and affluent black people should all do; acknowledge the fact that there is a huge dialect and appearance issue in the black community and second, do something about it. [...]
The dictionary exists for a reason. We all have common language uses for a reason--to help us understand each other a little bit better. [...] We should have acknowledged and tried to change this problem within the black community a long time ago. Instead of making concessions for those "poor black people" by excusing their dialect as just part of being black, or even worse, by developing a dictionary of ebonics for them, we should be encouraging them to learn to speak correctly and dress responsibly and conduct themselves with respect.
The ugliest display of these sentiments comes from zadi8, who observes "those girls are hood-rats."
Nobody seems particularly surprised by all of this. fozzy points out, "Language variation has long been a means by which people are segregated - be it by class or race." Roue rejects the contention that Banks is motivated by personal racism:
The fashion industry is still about pleasing White America. [...] She has to sell a product and who is going to understand that drawl? No this author has it all wrong. As an African-American many of us know how to play the game of Corporate America. I just don't think White America understand that's what we have to do. The USA is still a very racist Country and if you don't believe that then you are very aloof individual.
Is this "speaking truth to the powerless" its own manifestation of personal racism? dnice suggests it would be perverse to assume so:
When initiating the innocent into a culture and world that can and will chew them up and spit them out, yes sometimes you have to be extra tough. Any person of color who's parents prepared them to enter the world or upper class whites, from a lower socioeconomic status can recognize what Tyra is doing. From the outside, it looks like hurting, but from the inside, we know better...
But vox1 notes that not all responses to structural racism are free from blame:
It's true, as many have pointed out, that Tyra might have been trying to prepare Danielle for life in an industry that is quite racist. The problem, however, lies in how she was doing it; acting as if Danielle's accent was HER personal flaw, rather than making it clear that it was the prejudices of others who would make it a problem for her. [...] I don't ever recall Tyra stating flatly that the source of their judgment would be their racism and classism. Readers of Slate are making that argument for her. Tyra, unless I missed it, did not own up to the racism of the industry outright, because she would hurt her own career if she did. If readers are right about the source of her concern--the racism of the industry--in weighing the cost of being explicit about that, Tyra chose not to truly educate Danielle on this point; or at least not to do that before the American audience.
It would have made all the difference in the world had she said, "Danielle, your accent is a problem. When southern white women speak that way it's often considered charming, and when Russian and white Brazilian models speak, nobody pretends that they don't know what they are saying. But the fact is that we black girls can't get away with things the way white girls do in this industry, in any field."-- in other words to say out loud what people in this discussion have said. That would have been a teaching moment for Danielle and the rest of the country. Instead, it was "Danielle, I'm part of team that legitimately thinks there's really something wrong with you."
For a sophisticated discussion of race, class, and diction, check out the rest of the entries in our Culturebox Fray. GA … 9:05pm PDT
Friday, May 19, 2006
Tyler Cowen's Culturebox treatise on the obsolescence of independent bookstores—that otherwise fond symbol of intellectual (counter)culture in America—met with both commiseration and charges of elitism.
Calling the article of dubious logic, Ramps systematically debunks Cowen's claims with evidence of his own and concludes with this critique: "the 'irreverent' idea that independent bookstores are unnecessary is sloppy thinking. Try telling that to a small press, or the writer with a book chock full of cuss words and family-unfriendly material who is invited to give a reading at the independent bookstore, but to whom the chains give a pass."
For Nicknameless, the demise of the indie bookstore coincides with that of snob culture and the whole loss of noblesse oblige:
Time was, or legend has it, that wealthy sons could run publishing houses based on what was "worthy" of being published, and count on being able to ship these books to independent bookstores, who also could disregard small aspects of business, like say, profit…
There is a change in who determines culture now that is painful to some ("They have no taste!") and of no interest to others ("Is that on sale?"). This is the real fight, and the outcome is foregone.
Dismissing Cowen as a disingenuous devil's advocate who is making a purely polemical argument, richchris goes on to tout the advantages of indies over chains:
You don't get the same serendipity of discovery browsing in a superstore or online as you do when scanning the shelves of a good store stocked to the tastes of a good owner. Forget about the issue of talking to someone selling ideas rather than product, even if the journey is one guided by the browser alone, its more rewarding.
Reacting against the stereotype of the ignoramus chainstore employee invoked by Cowen, ared has this to say:
while not all of the employees will know every classic, they know most of them, and can recommend books that you might not have heard of. They have different tastes in reading material, because they aren't the usual wannabe writers or literary snobs that work at used bookstores. These are people hired by the manager of the store for their sales skills, not their knowledge of the canon (or crappy newspapers).
misgivings about bookstores being turned into playpens for the lonely, the trendy and the socially inept…recreation rooms for the mentally slipshod, home of the enfeebled and the pretentious, the meek and the malignnat personality, where sophistry passes as sophistication and every poser with a bad hair cut and tight jeans exposing the crack of their flat bone-hampered ass gets to hang out.
Whereas from MarySz's perspective, chain bookstores are a godsend to parents:
They have bathrooms, diaper changing tables and great kids' book sections. What literate parent hasn't killed time in a Barnes and Noble or Borders children's section with their kids? Also, I think the great appeal of the chain bookstores is that you can browse around and then leave without buying anything. It's hard to do that at an independent bookstore--you'd just feel too guilty.
JohnK is similarly grateful:
Twenty years ago if you didn't live in Manhattan or a few other places, your choice of books was limited by the local B.Dalton in the mall. They were terrible. Living out in flyover country, I cannot describe what a godsend Barnes and Noble, Borders and Amazon have been. You can now get anything and more importantly brouse a huge collection of books and discover books you wouldn't have known existed before the advent of the big book store.
I think the hatred of the big book store is no small part the result of elitists and snobs' anger over us philistines out in middle America having access to good books and thus making the snobs a little less privileged than they once were.
All that said, Advanced Book Exchange (aka abebooks) is one of the most kick-ass Web sites for bibliophiles worthy of promotion here. AC … 10:15am PDT
Friday, May 12, 2006
As the focus of the political establishment goes beyond the midterm elections to 2008, John Dickerson offers his take on the Republican hype surrounding Hillary Rodham Clinton—is it fear or fantasy?
realblackfin notes that Hillary's negatives are huge, making it questionable whether "her base support can over-ride her negatives." -badkitty- is of the camp believing that Hillary's candidacy is a way to motivate demoralized repubs and neocons. Mark14 bids a wistful "Goodbye to democracy. Hello oligarchy" in his prediction of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton, Bush ... in our electoral future.
In an interesting analysis here, mallardsballad proposes that we treat Hillary as
a brand. A powerful brand that conjures powerful emotions to her faithful base, her base that feels betrayed and to her enemies. Let's say she decides to be as inanimate as a brand logo.
Even without doing anything she'd still be the front runner of her party. I would hardly credit that as her political genius…
For example, she is now percieved as a great moderate, a bridge builder, when all she's doing is garnering votes from people, which any common politician has to do.
It's like McDonald's introducing 'healthy' salads. Go a little against the perceived brand and all of sudden it's an extreme make-over. McDonald's has some of the best and expensive talent create this image, and so does Hillary…
And Hillary doesn't have to do much. The Republican brand looks terrible. Usually a last term President can depend on his VP to run, but good god, why would anyone consider Cheney? The best that the Republican party can come up with is a candidate that has every reason to hate that party establishment. How can you dress up McCain as a person that hasn't been bought off? That's desperation in a nutshell.
High oil prices, the disaster of Iraq, percieved corruption via lobbyists, Halliburton, wire tapping, these Republican P.R. disasters can't possibly be attributed to the genius of Hillary. But I think she'll take it.
That's the beauty of brands. Nike, a cheap piece of fabric and plastic made itself the pinnacle of athleticism. Hillary can surely be the brand of the ant-incompetent. It's also helpful that she is an intelligent woman. She can be the anti-Bush, when opinion of Mr. Bush is at an all time low. She doesn't have to lift a finger for all of this to be matched to her advantage.
ElephantGun reproaches Dickerson for being way late to the Hillary game:
Republicans have been talking about a Hillary nomination since 2004. Sean Hannity advised Democrats not to nominate Hillary Clinton in 2008 on election night 2004. Rush and Bill O'Reilly routinely obsess about a Hillary candidacy as well. By now, right-wingers have evolved a complex emotional life around Hillary. They hate the name and get fired up over the 1994 health package and Tammy Wynette, but they respect Hillary as a formidable and successful adversary. I don't think it would be too far off the mark to say that the right has a "love-hate" relationship for Hillary. Hillary also represents a particularly right-wing sense of their own doom. People on the right genuinely fear a Hillary presidency, but are also developing a tragic sense that a Hillary victory in 2008 will be their particular price to pay for the disasters of the Bush years.
Discussion of a Hillary candidacy has been non-stop among Democrats and the left as well. I started posting (favorably) about a Hillary candidacy fourteen months ago and have been participating in any number of heated discussions about Hillary since then. Republican Slate blogger Mickey Kaus has kept up a hostile commentary on Hillary as well.
But the right-wing hasn't created the Hillary candidacy. The thing that gave Hillary Clinton the gravitas to be a credible presidential candidate was her conduct during the Monica Lewinsky affair. Hillary managed to appear steadfast, dignified, and mature throughout the crisis, and avoid the perils of public petulance and whiny martyrdom. Hillary's approval numbers zoomed during the last two years of Bill's administration. It was after Hillary started to look like presidential timber that the combination of right-wing obsessiveness and her own conduct as Senator have magnified her credibility.
Dickerson hasn't been following Hillary's numbers at all. She's a shoe-in for re-election and will probably do well in conservative Upstate New York as well as the City. The last national numbers I saw were that her support among Democrats was at 45% and that 40-50% of the voting public thought they might vote for her. Combine those numbers with her experience on the presidential campaign trail, mountains of money, and a crack staff and you have a formidable presidential candidate. The Democratic elite in Washington doesn't accept this and I imagine that Dickerson is speaking from the Establishment point of view. The anti-war left doesn't accept it and feminists don't accept it. However, Hillary will be a strong favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2008.
It is the likeliness of a Hillary nominantion that sparked the speculation of a Condi Rice candidacy and has led the Bush administration to bury the hatchet with John McCain. However, McCain looks progressively smaller (literally, he seems shorter to me) the more he temporizes with the right-wing. His chances of winning the Republican nomination are far less than Hillary's chances of being the Democratic nominee. Given that Hillary is more self-controlled on the campaign trail, she'd have to be rated a slight early favorite over McCain.
Finally, in this excellent post, GavaGuy enumerates the strategic reasons for GOP hopes of a Hillary '08 campaign:
First and foremost Republicans believe she can be beaten.
a) She's a she. She's the most credible female candidate to ever run for the position of President. Still - there will be some slice of the population that will hold her sex against her - and a slice of that slice may have otherwise been willing to consider voting for a male Democrat.
b) Regardless of the details of her record as a Senator, there is a "pre-history" which can be used against her. She served in her husband's administration and can be painted as left of centre. This can be used to sway voters as well.
c) But not only do Republicans think they can win some swing voters, perhaps more importantly, they see the selection of Hillary as galvanizing their own support. Opposition to Hillary will bring out more Republican voters - or so the theory goes.
Second, there are other reasons for Republican wishes for Hillary. Defeating Hillary Clinton would be a defeat of Bill Clinton by proxy. Politicians are, if anything, competitive. The chance of striking a proxy blow to the former President remains enticing.
Third, Hillary has been clearly the front runner. Republicans know this and aren't about to come out and hope for anyone else. It would look like fear of Hillary - and good fighters no not to show fear.
Hillary's run will undoubtedly be history making. The U.S. is perhaps the only major Western nation to not have had a female leader. But Republicans aren't necessarily being stupid in pinning their hopes on having her as the Democratic candidate.
The debate is alive and kicking over in Politics Fray. AC … 3:10pm PDT
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Twin Music Box articles—Jody Rosen's dissection of the "rockism" phenomenon and John Cook's defense of Stephin Merritt against Sasha Frere-Jones's ongoing accusations of racism—dominated discussion today on the Fray.
Reading prejudice into other people's musical tastes is a facile trap, claimsthelyamhound:"if you take the tendency to identify music by its racial characteristics, and the impulse to judge not only the music, but the people who like or dislike said music, in terms [of] race, it's all too easy to continue digging and find further matters of cultural impropriety."
In response to Cook's query "if you don't like rap, are you a racist?" XXXXX asks if a double standard isn't at play:
It must be asked why black artists who romanticize criminal culture, like 50cent, are considered artless, socially destructive thugs, but white artists who do the same, like Johnny Cash or The Hold Steady are celebrated for it?
There HAS to be room for this kind of artistic expression, but with people like Young Jeezy rapping openly about his life as a drug pusher, where is the line where we are rewarding and encouraging actual criminal behavior???
That being said, I tend to believe that at the bottom of the pop music barrel are those that cluelessly parody this "thug culture" and shoot at easy targets. People like Eminem.
For Supersonic, however, like/dislike of rap is a fundamentally an aesthetic question that goes beyond race:
Do I discount 90% of mainstream rap music? Yeah, but so does Kanye West. 90% of mainstream rock is crap as well. To me, music is music, and the "rockist" point of view of actually having a large hand in creating the work you perform long predates rock and roll. It's inherent in musical tradition itself. The anti-rockists take the position that refusing to value lazy lyrics and prepackaged performing artists makes us "rockists" snobs, and even goes to the point of calling us "racists."
I take the same approach to whatever genre of music I'm listening. Be it classical, jazz, rock, dance, or hip-hop. I like creativity and originality. I value good hip-hop production just as I value good rock instrumentation. However, most commercial rap loses me with the awfulness of the lyrics. I think the whole system that promotes the type of music expressed in much of mainstream rap (about blunts, bitches, money and murder) is a lot more racist than any rockist is. It's perpetuated by record executives pandering to the lowest common denominator of listeners, namely white teenage boys and girls who like to shake it at the club. Don't pretend that "My Humps" is art in the same vain as artists as diverse as Kanye West, Morrissey or even Franz Ferdinand. Same deal with the majority of pop music performers. Most of whom wouldn't even be successful if not for their image.
As in any genre, crap is crap. I doubt there any literary critics complaining that Mary Higgins Clark novels get a raw deal because of prejudice. Scary Movie will not be on anyones 10 best list not because of racism, but because it's popcorn fare and not serious art. Is most good music produced out there rock? Nope, but a lot of it is. There are also great hip-hop and dance acts out there as well. But don't toss gernades at people who actually demand a little creativity and feeling in music.
Writing here "from the vantage point of advancing geezer-hood," Ted_Burke says rockism is nothing new under the sun:
It's a bit of good fun to read that "rockism" is the hot fire currently sweeping that otherwise dry prairie known as rock criticism , and that arguments about what constitutes "authentic" music versus that which is corporately constructed rages on among the younger writers. Such was the case when I was an active music reviewer between the 70s through the early 90s, and … I have to say presenting rock and roll as the model of "authenticity", an epicenter of real music made by individuals from unincorporated communities of the soul, is ironic; rock music is turned into an institution, its essence is codified, its purpose for being and what it's supposed to instill and inspire made into canonical law.
yggy diagnoses rockism as a backlash against electronics:
Indie rock in New York City today is really code for music played by individual musicians on traditional instruments-- guitar, bass, drums. Central to this aesthetic is the feeling that music should have that human element. "Garage rock" takes it a step further by saying, "Music should be minimally produced." Close your eyes and you should feel like you're in a garage listening to maybe nothing more than a rehearsal. The distinction that Rosen is trying to lay out here is one of production.
Hip-hop was conceived on turntables and drum machines-- not traditional instruments-- and therefore hip-hop is an electronic music. Although its recordings were originally made by real musicians, disco was turned into electronic music when DJs invented extended dance mixes.
Pop music since the early '80s has gone back and forth over which dominates-- music essentially played by bands, or music produced on a computer. Naturally, there's some overlap in practice, but one of the two styles will always come to the forefront. Brittney Spears and Beyonce have a greater affinity with hip-hop and disco; Jack Johnson and U2 have a greater affinity with rock.
Who's right-- rockism or poptimism? Luckily in the American pop music cannon, listeners never have to choose.
Anse offers another theory, citing an eternal distrust of intellectualism as
the reason for this "rockism" bull. Rock and roll has forever been a bit suspicious of anything that appears academic or intellectual; there's that whole fear of being labeled a fraud or a geek, and for a genre that romanticizes rebellion, that just doesn't jive. I think this is also why politically-charged music gets a pass; folks can sound smart by spouting their political views, and since it's always framed within the context of rebellion, it's okay.
I am of the opinion that if you're going to risk failure, better to so so while attempting to be intelligent. Too many rock fans front this "I don't know what's good, I just love music" crap. I've been guilty of it many times, in fact.
Part of the blame ought to rest with music critics themselves. They aren't really critics, not in the sense that art critics or literary critics are. Rock music writers tend to be glorified fans with really huge record collections. Notice the penchant for comparison in almost all reviews; artists are forever compared to this band or that one, with little attempt to articulate what makes a particular sound significant(not "good" or "bad," necessarily, but significant).
Some attempts have been made to bring some intellectualism to rock criticism, but the perpetual ironic cynicism that underlies most all discussions of music these days tends to play them down it seems. When I once noted my enthusiasm on this board for Greil Marcus' book Lipstick Traces, I could almost see the eyes roll in the responses I got. Hey, if you have a legitimate beef with the book, fine, but why accuse him of pretentiousness? That tossed-off I-don't-give-a-damn attitude is a bigger pose than anything these days.
Does your iPod need some updating? Be sure to consult jmsr525's top 100 "best songs from 1955 to 2001" before putting together that poptimist playlist. AC … 6:28pm PDT
Monday, May 8, 2006
Dahlia Lithwick's analysis of the competing arguments used by defenders and opponents of death by legal injection—a predictably hot-button issue—brought forth some less-than-predictable responses in the Jurisprudence fray.
Polpro provides this startling account of four executions he has witnessed "from various vantage points" while working for his state's attorney general:
…the first time I witnessed an execution, I stood next to the executioner as he fulfilled his legal duty and killed an inmate who richly deserved his fate.
Unlike television and movies, and unlike the lurid descriptions of popular media, there was a business-like approach to the proceedings. A specialized team of correctional officers led the condemned man in, who was shackled and handcuffeed with belly chains.
They placed him on the table, unlocked his handcuffs, removed the belly chains and shackles, and then the team strapped him to the table with modified automobile safety belts--each member attaching one belt.
Their elapsed time in the chamber--less than a minute. Two medical technicians then enter the chamber and apply the IV-line. The line itself leads into the wall below a one-way mirror. Behind the mirror, in a room smaller than most linen closets, perhaps six feet long and 3 feet wide, is the executioner.
In front of the executioner on a table are three syringes--each holding one of the drugs in the capital punishment cocktail.
After the director has done his duty: read the warrant, listened to the last words, and signaled the executioner, the executioner then injects, in relatively quick succession, each of the three drugs.
On both occasions where I actually witnessed the condemned man die, I watched for signs of pain or discomfort--and saw none. On both occasions, the only sign that I could see from six feet away was that breathing lessened and then stopped…
There is no sense of jubilation. There is no sadistic exultation about the fate of man who was living a half hour before who is now dead. There is some satisfaction that everyone did their jobs in a professional manner. The tone is somber. There is reverant silence for the awful but necessary thing that has just happened…
The current system is not perfect--but it does the job in a fair and just manner. You can't ask for more than that.
aroyfaderman believes that Lithwick has seriously misdiagnosed the opposition to lethal injection from death-penalty opponents:
If, indeed, it was a purely cynical and strategic move, it would be a stupid one as well...trying to find a less cruel method of execution will not speed along the drive to abolish it entirely…
Total elimination of the death penalty in the U.S. might be a noble goal, but it is not acheivable in the near future. Pointing out serious problems with executions that make them more excruciating than they need to be, in hopes of at least sparing some suffering, is an attainable goal, near-term. Reducing the harm of the executions that are going to take place in the relatively near future (and it's an unchangable fact that they will) is worthwhile in and of itself.
In this lengthy post, FritzGerlich examines execution from a constitutional standpoint:
The state does not have to guarantee a condemned man a painless death. Nor does a constitutional issue arise simply because there is a difference of opinion about how much pain a given method may involve. There is never going to be a single method of execution that is beyond question that way (for the simple reason that none of us knows who has not experienced it). I would prefer being shot or decapitated to being gassed or injected with chemicals, but many might have other preferences. The Eighth Amendment doesn't come into play until the state's choice of a method is so bizarre that serious questions arise about its motive.
For yerevan, the real question here "ought to be the level of transparency, or lack thereof in the administration of the death penalty":
Since the execution of a human being is a critical part of our juidicial process, it most certainly should be reviewed by the public on a routine basis. We can watch the trial, but not the carrying out of the sentence, and we allow a handful of "witnesses" to stand in our shoes to view our legal system's handiwork. There should be a time slot once a month on all public television stations as well as public access cable, for a roundup of executions. It should be carried at the later end of prime time. Death is never dignified - it is just death, and we do not owe the condemned any special consideration in this regard. If it is a public event paid for by the taxpayers, then the public should have the right to see how it is administered. Then we can determine for ourselves as voters if we want to carry on with this process. The only way to make an informed decision is to put the process in the sunlight for everyone to see - how else will we be able to make a judgment as to whether or not the process is humane or barbaric? By international transparency standards, Iran is more transparent then the United States when it comes to the administration of the death penalty. They execute people in the public square on a fairly routine basis.
Similarly, kolmogorov feels that the emphasis on the means of execution is misplaced:
The real cruelty of execution in America today is, I imagine, the excrutiating wait, especially in those cases where the prisoner repeatedly thinks he is going to die today only to be pulled out at the last moment by another appeal or legal manouver.
Regarding physical pain, lots of people live with pain, the pain of surgery and chemo, for example, rather than face death. Facing one's death is, I imagine, almost always more painful than the actual death itself. So from my view, the whole discussion of the pain of the actual death moment is totally misguided. The condemned themselves would no doubt choose a fair amount of pain over death if they could.
I concur that the practice has been shaped mostly by the desire not to upset the witnesses. I think the more sinister part of this fact is that the witnesses include all of us voters who might find capital punishment a little less appealing if there were a lot of blood involved, if the brutality were made plain to see.
For a photographic illustration of "Torture and Death Penalty Instruments From the Middle Ages to the Industrial Era" (a traveling exhibit in Europe during the 1980s), look here. AC … 7:10pm PDT
people just called to say that she seems happy although sad that she is not with us at night. I think over time all of us will heal and my husband and I learned a lesson the size of the yard will determine what bread of dog!
doglovah calls Bazelon's attackers a judgmental group:
I've worked closely with rescue groups, and all three of my dogs are rescues, and I believe that every one has been overwhelmed by something in their life, and Emily's happened to be the dog. She did the most responsible thing that she could other than keep him, which was to give him to good home. And why is keeping him the best thing for the dog? He obviously feels like he has a place now, as Ed has given him training, and established his role in the pack. If she had not taken the dog 7 years ago, who knows where Shadow would have ended up? She saved him when he was two, and gave him a better home when he was nine. Most dogs don't get chances like that.
For a closer look at the prolific outpouring of opinions, visit the Family Fray. AC … 4:35pm