Saturday, April 15, 2006

Muriel Spark has died at 88. Here is the NYT obit. Here is the archive page of NYRB where you can type in her name to see reviews of many of her books through the years.

Though her most famous work is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, I think first of Memento Mori and A Far Cry from Kensington and The Girls of Slender Means when I remember her novels.

Two friends of mine find her detached and comic vision of the world as a place where evil is not everywhere at once but potent and waiting anywhere incredibly discomforting. Spark's evil is snarky and petty, and that it lurks in prose both deceptively and exquisitely crafted makes the knife-sharp comedy all the more ominous.

Every word counts. She demanded much of the reader, not the endurance required by the encyclopedic postmoderns but the agility of a dodger and the quickness of a survivor. She expected you would get all the ramifications of her sentences and chose her words carefully, excising all that wasn't absolutely essential. I'm not talking minimalism: I'm talking maximalizing the effect of every word.

Take three or four hours and read her last novel, The Finishing School, or 1981's Loitering with Intent or 1960's The Ballad of Peckham Rye: if you're lucky enough to become addicted, you'll work your way through them all.

Friday, April 14, 2006



The Walkmen

The Glands

(Ba'al, great band, great song)

Mary Lou Lord
(if anyone can find an mp3 to "She Had You"
off *Got No Shadow* please send me the link)

Okkervil River

A Secret Life

by Stephen Dunn

Why you need to have one
is not much more mysterious than
why you don't say what you think
at the birth of an ugly baby.
Or, you've just made love
and feel you'd rather have been
in a dark booth where your partner
was nodding, whispering yes, yes,
you're brilliant. The secret life
begins early, is kept alive
by all that's unpopular
in you, all that you know
a Baptist, say, or some other
accountant would object to.
It becomes what you'd most protect
if the government said you can protect
one thing, all else is ours.
When you write late at night
it's like a small fire
in a clearing, it's what
radiates and what can hurt
if you get to close to it.
It's why your silence is a kind of truth.
Even when you speak to your best friend,
the one who will never betray you,
you always leave out one thing:
a secret life is that important.
Jesus Churchill

I've been wondering seemingly forever which it the worse case scenario: Does George Bush know he's lying or does he honestly believe what he's saying when he lies? I used to fear the latter, but it's not what scares me now.

From early childhood through adult years we all employ the white lie, sometimes because we try to spare someone unnecessary discomfort, sometimes because we believe a greater good is served by this minor sinning. All leaders, all presidents, at their discretion, must withhold, distort, ignore, or invent the "truth" in the service of some larger goal. We expect presidents, dealing in global and domestic and economic complexities, to judiciously select when and how to dissemble, and the trust we place in presidents is in no small part our faith that when he deceives us he does so for the greater good. My concern with this administration is not primarily in its means but in its ends. When I criticize the means it's to illuminate the ends. That this president is particularly dishonest in his methods demonstrates how venal are his goals.

But what if this president, hand-picked by Oligarchy Inc because his mediocrity and inflated self-opinion made him, they thought, particularly malleable, has morphed into Jesus Churchill? What if he views his failures of policy and execution as proof of the righteousness of his policies and execution? Views the death of each soldier as testament to his strength? Views all dissenting opinions as proof of his wisdom and views all laudatory opinions as simply his due? Views every apostasy as validation of his steadfastness? Dismisses all evidence against him as dinosaur bones planted by the very devil?

He already thinks that as president he's above the law, that he's permitted anything. What if this president has passed beyond knowingly lying for what he perceives to be a greater good? What if this president now believes, by his mere utterance, he can transubstantiate falsity into truth and truth into falsity? What if the President of the United States now believes that when he says anything it must necessarily be true?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I've been able to repress thoughts of the US crashing out of Germany in 31st place. Italy and the Czech Republic have legitimate expectations, and not getting past group play for either (though Italy especially) would be considered disasterous, and players lives (again, especially in Italy: see this story about Inter's players) will be made miserable should they return home in disgrace. Ghana is not a gimme. I suspect the US braintrust is hoping to draw with the Czech Republic, draw with Italy, beat Ghana, and snag 2nd (giving them Brazil in the knockout). Fat chance.

Last night's 1-1 draw between USMNT and Jamaica was depressing on many levels. Yes, it was an MLS-only based team and Yes, it was a friendly and Yes, Arena was giving players who probably weren't going to make the team a last chance to impress, but weaknesses were exposed that the inclusion of European-based players and weeks of training once the final 23 are set won't fix.

The US is slow. They couldn't get around the flanks of Jamaica's defenders while Jamaica's wingers constantly got around the US defenders' and delivered crosses to the box. If the team Arena put out last night was playing a mid-table Premiership team they'd have given up at least three.

And this most crucially: they have no world-class strikers. Twellman, Ching, Wolfe, Johnson, McBride are all poachers: none can create a shot out of nothing. The only USMNT players who can create their own shot are Donovan and Dempsey and Beasley (midfielders all), and you don't think Italy and the Czech Republic and Ghana don't scout? The USMNT offense is going to hinge its hope on set pieces, balls into the box for headers - where else will the goals come from?

In a game of crucial importance to the World Cup hopes of many players, the US looked uninspired, uncreative, and so very slow as to make me believe the obituaries that will be written about the summer's USMNT catastrophe in Germany will miss the point of how far soccer has advanced in this country. The US is a better soccer country now than it was after the success in WC02, it's just not going to be reflected in WC06.
Gifting the Enemy

Kaboom is a frighteningly possible result of the irony that Iran could be ruled by an overcompensating mediocrity psychotically convinced he’s God’s medium and prophet who’s been designated by God to spark Armegeddon, but because America has one too, and he’s already spent his credibility, our overcompensating mediocrity psychotically convinced he’s God’s medium and prophet actively encourages and strengthens theirs, making Armegeddon all that more likely. Ahmadinejad might be the next Hitler, with daydreams of obliterating Israel and the will to pursue those dreams, and the American public might need the proper preparation for confronting this real threat, but how can our overcompensating mediocrity psychotically convinced he’s God’s medium and prophet convince us to face a possible Armegeddon after his sustained and calculated and dishonest demonizing of the truly evil but puny Saddam as the devil incarnate?

By weakening and mismanaging America’s military, revealing to allies and adversaries alike the eroded capacity of military options to solve geopolitical problems in a unipolar and rapidly globalizing world; by sacrificing on the altar of his own legacy the vast accumulation of soft power the United States had banked after the fall of the Soviet Union; by increasing the prestige of terrorists both within their organizations and increasingly in the general populations of their home countries through ineptitude in fighting them; and by waging a war in which no American of privilege has been asked to make the sacrifices necessary in times of war, George Bush has not only diminished that American superiority so cherished by jingoists, he has crippled his, and possibly future presidents’ capability to both confront militarily genuine crises and to rally the American public.

How are we safer? I’m asking. Iran and its overcompensating mediocrity may look at an emasculated America and think, You want to play chicken? Let’s play chicken, and rush to build nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them. Attacking Iranian nuclear installations now just might be an appropriate response by a president who’s not an overcompensating mediocrity psychotically convinced he’s God’s medium and prophet who’s already spent his credibility, but that’s not who’s president. He’s the enemies’ best weapon. They’re bolder and stronger because George Bush is president. Tell me, how are we safer?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

All You Need to Know About Me
(or, Now for something completely different)

On lots of levels. Enjoy. (Thanks to mdp for finding it - it'd been a couple of years.)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

DCU 2, Chivas 0

It was cold, rainy: Planet and spouse and brother wussied out. And missed a most contentious match.

Nowak's problem is twofold: not only are Gomez' and Adu's best position the same, even if he gives Gomez the 10 and shifts Adu to wing, NEITHER can (or can and won't) play defense. Gomez is clearly the better 10, so Gomez starts.

DCU starts in 3-3-4, with Erpen and Boswell centering the back line with the useful Josh Gros on left, the useless John Wilson on right, and until Chivas threw everything starting around 70 minute, the organization was good. Then it wasn't. At half, Nowak subbed Simms for Filomeno, switched to 2-4-4 (and the Filomeno Era may be over until inevitable injuries give him another chance), a move that should have bolstered the defense, but didn't.

I turned to the person standing next to me at half and said - Yes, with this sole purpose in mind - Boy, Moreno sure looks old, uninspired, weak, and then Bang! Well, not Bang! but the ball was in the net. I do think there's something that's leached out of Moreno: his finishing passes have no umph. Yet he nets two.

I do not know if Chivas' freekick crossed the goal line. From where I stood, it looked like it knicked the back part of the line, and replays I've seen are inconclusive. I do know that if I was Chivas (or a Chivas fan) I'd have been livid, which proves nothing. The game got seriously chippy after that: Grand Sultan of Diving Pussies Ante Razov got into a shouting match with the useless John Wilson (who to his credit invited Razov to go ahead and swing), and another Chivas player walked up to the Eagle's Nest and invited all of us to both fuck off and jerk off. It's a shame we don't get another home game against them until next year.

An encouraging game on more levels than it was discouraging. Boswell and Erpen next to each other on the backline has tremendous potential if DCU can find a right defender (Namoff?).