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Agenda Bender
Saturday, September 13, 2003  

The Space That Leaves Your Face

My 11 year old niece is taking it hard:

I'm SO sad! He was my favorite actor. To John R, shall I dedicate this song:
"Come on knock on my door,
"Come on knock on my door.
"We've been waiting for you,
"We've been waiting for you.
"Where the kisses are hers and hers and his,
"Three's Company's new!"
"Come on dance on our floor,
"Come on dance on our floor.
"Take a step that is new,
"Take a step that is new,
"You will love all the space that leaves your face,
"Three's Company two!"
May he rest in peace. I know he is with the Lord, happy that so many people liked him. It was a complete shock for me and a tragic day.
If Chuck Woolery dies also....,I couldn't take it!

I can't vouch for the lyrics, but I know she's sincere in her grief.

11:13 AM


Joe McGrath's Greatest Work

The director's credit as listed in Halliwell's Film Guide for Casino Royale, that legendary catering truck wreck of a movie which I half-watched the second half of, in half-awe and distracted amazement, last night. (Keep in mind Casino Royale was not an anthology flick):

d John Huston, Ken Hughes, Val Guest, Robert Parrish, Joe McGrath, Richard Talmadge

hahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahaha, Halliwell is such a subtle bitch.

In the TCM bumper after the movie, the reassuring, white-haired, portly dude informed us that the absurd cavalcade of celebrity cameos was the result of the producer cashing in on favors owed from his days as Hollywood super-agent. The George Raft walk-on and die scene must be among the lowest moments (well, I was going to say ever captured on film but lets broaden that to) in the history of earthbound humanity.

We also learned that Orson Welles so hated Peter Sellers that their Casino Royale gambling showdown was shot with only one of them on the set at time.


And you just know Orson was directing his own scenes too, so really his name should be added to the directors' wagon train above.


Such an enjoyable movie.

11:08 AM

Friday, September 12, 2003

Social Hygiene Friday

Sublime archive of Social Hygiene Posters. Like this one.

(Via the always socially hygienic blogdex)

11:23 AM



Good Golly Miss Molly Ivins (you sure do love to drawl)-- someone asks a half-way interesting question at a political debate and I have to search out the WaPo transcript of the evening to learn everyone's answer. Howard Kurtz "could have done without the question", btw. You'd think Howard would be wiser than to open the can of worms labeled Things We Could Do Without.

(Blind memo to Andrew S.: It's a bit of a stretch to admit in one post that you don't have a clue what the Wyclef Jean song means since the lyrics are in Haitian Creole and then in a second post wonder whether Howard Dean is really comfortable with the sentiments expressed in the song, once the lyrics have been translated for you into standard English. Here's guessing that Howard D. is not a spare time Port au Prince polyglot. Not exactly fair to first slag him as a poseur and then change the charge to provocateur, either.)

CHIDEYA: Lady and gentlemen, I have one question to ask all of you, and I don't want to mess up the format of this debate, so please answer very quickly. This is for the Gen X crowd, and it's very personal. What's your favorite song?


MOSELEY BRAUN: What's my favorite song? "You Gotta Be."

CHIDEYA: Excellent.

SHARPTON: My favorite song is James Brown's song on the Republican Party, "Talking Loud, Saying Nothing."



CHIDEYA: Senator, we're waiting for you. Senator, pass?

EDWARDS: I've got to follow that?


CHIDEYA: Yes you do, or pass.

EDWARDS: John Cougar Mellencamp, "Small Town."

CHIDEYA: All right.

KERRY: Bruce Springsteen, "No Surrender."


DEAN: One you've never heard of, Wycliff Jean (ph), "Jaspera (ph)."


LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, like a good politician, I'm going to take two. "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow," remember that one?


And the old -- the classic Frank Sinatra, "My Way." We're going to do it our way in 2004.


KUCINICH: John Lennon, "Imagine," as in imagine a new America.


CHIDEYA: Congressman?

GEPHARDT: Bruce Springsteen, "Born In The USA."


CHIDEYA: Senator?

GRAHAM: Jimmy Buffet, "Changes In Attitude, Changes In Latitudes."


We're going to change some attitudes and latitudes.


CHIDEYA: Thank you all very much.

Hmmm. So we have Buffet, Springsteen (twice), Fleetwood Mac, J.C. Mellencamp, Sinatra, James Brown, John Lennon, Wyclef Jean and Des'ree. Seems to be a pretty Clear Channel bunch. Probably the nicest thing your could say.

That audience needs to be punished, too.

Christ, when Howard Dean is the hippest guy on the stage. I did like that Des'ree song, though. For a minute. The Sharpton answer is the best joke (since it's the only joke), but it's probably not a good joke for Sharpton to be making.

The award for funniest answer to a pop culture sneak attack question still goes George W Bush:

In an interview with GQ, the 53-year-old Governor said that when he was at Yale in the 60's, he did not share the musical tastes of the counterculture. He said he liked the Beatles before their "weird, psychedelic period."

I asked who was his favorite Beatle. "The first drummer," he joked

"Stu Sutcliffe" would have been the genius answer. Or maybe, "The guy who replaced Paul."

6:03 AM

Thursday, September 11, 2003

The One Called "Swan Dive"

The Esquire story about the search for the identity of the falling man in the most famous of the 9/11 pictures is a masterpiece of magazine journalism. So surprising in its details. You won't forget the last sentence.

This paragraph will stay with you in a different way:

A PHONE RINGS in Connecticut. A woman answers. A man on the other end is looking to identify a photo that ran in The New York Times on September 12, 2001. "Tell me what the photo looks like," she says. It's a famous picture, the man says—the famous picture of a man falling. "Is it the one called 'Swan Dive' on" the woman asks. It may be, the man says. "Yes, that might have been my son," the woman says.

(link via the blogdex hive mind)

3:53 PM


The Boss As His Own Coolie

I've been waiting for a good reason to use two quotes taken from the most excellent Clive James compendium I read over the summer (now I must read the individual books that fed this volume--world without end, amen). Since I haven't found one, here they are just for themselves.

In a review of a season's worth of photography books Clive wonders what difference would there have been if Paul Strand had gone to Yosemite to photograph mountain ranges, rock formations and gnarled vegetation, and Ansel Adams had specialized in pristine prints of white clapboard houses. Not much, he decides (and me along with him), since

Good photographs look better than bad photographs but don't often look all that different from one another.

In an appreciation of Evelyn Waugh he observes that Waugh's immunity to everybody's-doing-it ideology is central to his art and timeless comic effect:

In the 1930s, far from not having been a Communist, he wasn't even a democrat.

Far from not having been a Communist, is a logic straining, almost to snapping, formulation. But it makes the point.

It's a funny line, but one I would have found funnier once upon a time. I used to have more sympathy for all forms of democracy deriding contrarianism. I lost it much of it along the way. I lost the major part of it starting two years ago today.

Which reminds me of a blog post that has reverberated with me more than any other of the thousands of posts, written by many dozens of individuals, that I've read over the same two years. I believe it's the only post I ever read at the now defunct Unremitting Verse site, but it's unforgettable to me ( I guess that means I should spend some time investigating the Unremitting Verse archives). It's not the verse so much, though it's good enough, that stays with me. It's the recollection that inspired the verse that I keep thinking back to.

As ridiculous as democracy often is (and don't get me wrong, it's still, and will always be, good for a laugh) it is infinitely to be preferred over all mandarinates, vanguards, oligarchies, chosen peoples, upper castes, ruling classes, permanent governments, self perpetuating elites, and self-appointed world saviors. The democratic spirit that arises from a liberal democracy (or is it the liberal democracy that arises from a democratic spirit) is the source and the protector of the civilization I want to live in. And more or less do.

(The stylish and substantial--in a good way-- Virginia Postrel makes the necessary point that it's democracy with the liberal modifier that needs emphasizing.)

The original Unremmitting Verse post is here, but I'll copy it all below:

The Dean’s Box

“By the time I moved to Calcutta [in the late Seventies], a communist government had come to power in Bengal. One of its first acts was to name the street on which the US Consulate stood after Ho Chi Minh. Otherwise too the intellectual climate was suffused with hostility to America. Our heroes were Marx and Mao, and, moving on, writers who had taken our side in the Cold War, such as Jean Paul Sartre and Gabriel Garc?a M?rquez.

I became a member of the local British Council, but would not enter the library of the United States Information Service. Then my wife got a scholarship to Yale, and I reluctantly followed. I reached New Haven on a Friday, and was introduced to the Dean of the School where I was to teach. On Sunday I was taking a walk through the campus when I saw the Dean park his car, take a large carton out of the boot, and carry it across the road to the School and up three flights to his office.

That sight of the boss as his own coolie was a body blow to my anti-Americanism. My father and grandfather had both been heads of Indian research laboratories; any material they took to work or back—even a slim file with a single piece of paper in it—would be placed in the car by one flunkey and carried inside by another. (Doubtless the Warden of an Oxford College can likewise call upon a willing porter.) Over the years, I have often been struck by the dignity of labour in America, by the ease with which high-ranking Americans carry their own loads, fix their own fences, and mow their own lawns. This, it seems to me, is part of a wider absence of caste or class distinctions. Indian intellectuals have tended to downplay these American achievements: the respect for the individual, the remarkable social mobility, the searching scrutiny to which public officials and state agencies are subjected. They see only the imperial power, the exploiter and the bully, the invader of faraway lands and the manipulator of international organizations to serve the interests of the American economy. The Gulf War, as one friend of mine put it, was undertaken ‘in defence of the American way of driving’.”
— Ramachandra Guha, “What We Think of America,” Granta 77, 3/28/02

A dean totes his box up the stairs,
Confounding an onlooker’s code:
In what land does an eminent chair
Serve as coolie, disgraced by his load?

A people who seek subjugation—
Inveterate bullies, the lot—
Who plunder to fatten their nation
And would rather be cruel than not,

With a lust for power demonic
And a fondness for robbing the poor,
Hellbent on a world hegemonic,
Just itching to start up a war?

Or a country concerned with essentials,
Tired of customs with no useful part,
Where hard work is perceived quintessential
And the practical raised to an art,

Where careers are thrown open to talents,
Where caste has been left behind,
Where mobility generates balance
And competence stands enshrined?

Is it bullies in search of new servants
Or a people too busy for airs?
Let seekers of truth be observant
Of that dean with his box on the stairs.

posted by Will Warren on 5/21/2002

10:45 AM

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

The Gulag--Socialist Friendster!

This hilarious Guardian story about an Allende era "socialist internet" in Chile got a straight faced link from the cool but politically robotic Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing. BB might be my favorite site on the net, and Cory's links are often invaluable, but his politics are as dreary as a sky tuned to a dead channel. And the dead channel is raining. And it's 5:30 in the morning on a Tuesday in February.

Here's how he hyped socialist Chile's heroic deployment of 500 TELEX MACHINES:

Chile's forgotten socialist Internet
In the 1970s, Chile's Allende socialist government contracted with a British garage-inventor to erect an egalatarian nationwide data-network.

And here's how I failed to be knocked out by the radical grandeur of it. (I posted a version of this first in BoingBoing's comments):

Uh, Gee. Dude ships 500 abandoned Telex machines bought by the previous government to nationalized factories, so they could send in production stats:

These were distributed to factories, and linked to two control rooms in Santiago. There a small staff gathered the economic statistics as they arrived, officially at five o'clock every afternoon, and boiled them down using a single precious computer into a briefing that was dropped off daily at La Moneda, the presidential palace.

Oh, it gets better:

In many factories, Espejo says, "Workers started to allocate a space on their own shop floor to have the same kind of graphics that we had in Santiago." Factories used their telexes to send requests and complaints back to the government, as well as vice versa.

Terrific. Those Santiago graphics must have rocked, whatever the hell they were and whyever the hell they were important. Oh wow, the Telex machines worked in both directions!

Then the movie Eisenstein wishes he'd lived long enough to make:

Across Chile, with secret support from the CIA, conservative small businessmen went on strike. Food and fuel supplies threatened to run out. Then the government realised that Cybersyn offered a way of outflanking the strikers. The telexes could be used to obtain intelligence about where scarcities were worst, and where people were still working who could alleviate them.

Yes, of course, national strikes by small businessmen always equal CIA puppetry. But the Telexes are still humming, still working in both directions. Sending those intelligence reports back to the main node, La Moneda.

Or maybe this is the movie Eisenstein would have relished, Ivan the Terrible Singer part II:

By 1973, the sheer size of the project, involving somewhere between a quarter and half of the entire nationalised economy, meant that Beer's original band of disciples had been diluted by other, less idealistic scientists. There was constant friction between the two groups. Meanwhile, Beer himself started to focus on other schemes: using painters and folk singers to publicise the principles of high-tech socialism.

Shit, sheer size always fucking socialism up, and damn, those less idealistic scientists always sabotaging the pure hearts. Thank god for revolutionary folk songs, they never let you down. Sounds like he was on the verge of inventing socialist napster, too.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, the son re-invents the e-meter or something.

Yeah. "Socialist Internet" just about covers it.

12:45 PM


Hoodoo Gurus

The paragraphs below are excerpted from a profile of Theodore Sturgeon that Paul Williams wrote in 1976, but which for some reason wasn't published at the time. It is well worth reading if you have any interest in Sturgeon or the mid-American century pulp fantasists in general. It is probably worth reading even if you don't. If is indispensable reading if you have never heard of Sturgeon, and didn't know that there was a golden age of literary pop culture with Sturgeon as one its gods.

I quote here a small section that surprised the hell out of me. It makes one major and one minor historical connection. The bigger of the two seems beyond belief. In fact I didn't believe it, so I did a quick search. It is at least plausible, and very possibly the full truth etymogically, though it is less clear what the implications of this truth are. The second connection seems true on its face, and probably is better known, though I'd never heard it before. The implications of this second connection are obvious as soon as you hear it, but no less fascinating for it:

Theodore Sturgeon was born February 26th, 1918, on Staten Island in New York City. His name at birth was Edward Hamilton Waldo. "I was born a Waldo,"Sturgeon told science fiction scholar David Hartwell in an unpublished 1972 interview, "and had kind of an interesting family. Peter Waldo was a dissident priest in the 12th century who got ahold of the dumb idea that perhaps the Pope at Rome ought to go back to the vows of poverty and obedience, get rid of the Swiss Guards and the jewel-encrusted cross, and put on a monk's habit and go out amongst the people. The Pope took a very dim view of that indeed, and they persecuted the Waldenses all across Europe for 200 years."

"That was the Waldensian Heresy, that you should go back to Apostolic Christianity. Nobody wanted to go and do a thing like that. And they settled in Flanders, and in England, and in 1640 two ships of them decided to go to the New World. They got separated by a storm, and one of them went to Connecticut; there are still Waldos in Connecticut to this day. The other ship went far south, and it wound up in, of all places, Haiti. Well, Haiti in 1640 was already a refuge for runaway slaves; and when they found they had a shipload of dissident priests, they welcomed them with open arms. Waldo became corrupted to Vaudois, which became Voodoo, which is the etymology of the word 'voodoo'... . There's been a whole line of gurus in my family: Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of them."

The Waldensian Heresy was reborn in the tropical new world as Voodoo? I so want this to be true. And there in the middle of Ralph Waldo Emerson's name is the signpost pointing back to 12th century heresies, and pointing out his blood ties to the banished heretics, the revolutionary ascetics.

History's unlit alleys, twisting no-name backstreets, underground rivers and prison break tunnels.


9:16 AM

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

All Hail Google--Birthday Bot and Secret Invert

In honor of Google's 5th birthday here is the best explanation I've read of how Google actually works. Turns out a little technique called inverted indexing is what makes the seemingly impossible eminently doable. Google has built upon this essential idea all sorts of algorithmic refinements that then discern a page's rank based on its democratic appeal as indicated by the its link popularity (other changeable and less scrutable parameters get factored in as well). But behind it all is the inverted index, which reduces the content of the web to a (relatively) easily searchable form. As the article reminds you, only a few years ago there were small groups of people, at Yahoo most famously, trying to index the web by human hand and mortal mind. Oh pitiful humans, the index inverting spiderbots and the algorithm crunching all-day-and-all-night crawlers overtook you soon enough.

The great and spooky thing about the article is that it never mentions Google-- it was written 2 years before Google was born. Its author was the guest bar blogger at BoingBoing recently, where he wrote, among other things, about how he was sequencing his own genome as a hobby. Seems like an interesting guy. I'm going to read all past articles archived on his site, based on how brilliantly he summarized the history, and predicted the future course, of Internet indexing.

This dude so needs to start a regular blog. I crave constant access to his brain.

Steve G. Steinberg is the Agenda Bender Hyper Geek of the Solar Week.

10:55 AM

Monday, September 08, 2003

Posting About Something

I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal's daily email notice of what's on their editorial page. Maybe once a week I'll check out one of the pieces linked in the email (and very often when I do the WSJ will require me to sign in with my email address, since on that very day---even though I've long ago registered as an online reader--they'll just happen to be asking all visitors to sign in again, so I'll usually decide whatever got my attention really didn't look that interesting anyway).

I'd never before checked out Robert Bartley's column, but the mention of it in the WSJ updates, has always brought me pleasure, it was always good for a low chuckle. Is there a more comically banal column title in the bloodless history of opionionism than Bartley's Thinking Things Over? This morning it got its traditional small laugh, but finally all those little laughs added up to curiosity energized enough to click on the link [reg. required--don't bother]. I had to see if Bartley could sustain the tick-tock pro formalism of the column's title all the way through.

As the children say on AOL, OMG!

Turns out the title of his column is Bartley at his most metaphoric and innovative. Today we are given Bobby B's thinked over thoughts as we approach the second anniversary of 9/11. The whole thing is a marvel, but the first sentence is miraculous, an intimation of the murdered divinity in each of us. If I didn't have the proof of it before my eyes, I would not have believed it even possible to be so confusing but obvious, so dishonest yet trite. I mean, that's like mutually exclusive, right?

But people drown in saucepans everyday (or so I'd love to believe). Why shouldn't the amazing Roberto high dive into one?

Watch as his feet lift off from the 10 meter platform:

The American collective memory being notoriously short, it's hard to remember that it's only been two years.

Ok, memory (short) makes it hard to remember, not the event in question, but the exact and relatively short lapse in time since the event. Is that it? So it's the memory of the length of our memories that we collective Americans routinely misremember? We know there was a battle at Appomattox, but we keep thinking it was last week? Or we know the two towers fell, but we have a rock solid recollection of George Washington surveying the damage, and that sometime late last Spring?

Oh, and then there's the second sentence, his leading edge fingers separate the saucepan's fatty shallows:

Perhaps this week's ceremonies--and President Bush's speech last night, not yet given as I write--will revive and implant the lessons we learned on that fateful September 11.

Perhaps. Last night speeches not yet given always revive and implant something in me. They revive in me the will to die and implant the relearned half memories of the high hopes I had for lapsed events about to transpire.

Oh, and then there are all the other phrases and sentences. The overall effect is of a Turing machine whirring to a stop, unable to convince even itself than anyone will believe it human:

...The chattering classes ...rough patch...seizing another opportunity... In the bigger picture...but lay that a world of terrorism and instant to react to this new world...spelled out in detail...but lay that aside [yes, again]...keep current concerns in perspective...clearly underestimated...But in the larger picture [larger than bigger? bigger than larger? bugger the reader?] these are mere details...are not rising to this challenge...we're in the middle of a battle...In his famous aircraft carrier speech [ok kind of out of place here, but it's my favorite line]...In mid-battle, reverses can be expected, but do not necessarily presage the outcome...

In mid-column, does the use of presage necessarily presage the outcome? Let me answer that. Yes, it does. And here it is, bitch. Bartley has built up such terrific centrifugal speed at this point that verbal forms are reconfiguring themselves in new shapes on the inner wall of the jar:

The Bush Doctrine and the fall of Saddam have created a new world environment. It surfaces problems previously ignored, as we once ignored the threat of terrorism. But once the problems surface we have an opportunity to resolve them. While there's no guarantee we will always succeed, we've also learned that the United States has great power, not only military but moral. And over these last two years since September 11, the naysayers have been consistently wrong.

And so the readers surface as well, sure in the end that though some say nay, in these 11 years since September 2, the new world environment presents we the yaysayers with both opportunities and dangers. And this fall Saddam will really come into his own. But I can't guarantee it. Not yet. Maybe two years ago I will.

10:21 AM

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Ghost Riders in the Ground

BoingBoing linked this great site of forgotten New York, and some of the remnants of the past that still hide in plain site. The Kubrick movie praised below gets much of its kick from the mid-50's NYC street scenery it so beautifully preserves.

My favorite chronillogcal memory of my time in NYC was the occasional appearance of a ghost train in the subway. Ever so rarely you'd see a 40's or 50's era subway car, or even a whole attached section of them, rolling to a stop and daring you to step inside and grab a strap.

Needless to say, for the length of the ride I'd be disappointed that none of my fellow passengers reminded me of the On the Town dancing sailors or those The Best of Everything career gals. Gray flannel suits, and the men who wore them, were conspicuously absent as well.

Not that their ghost rider stand-ins didn't have talents and charms of their own.

12:25 PM


Ask Our Lawyer

Spam of the year to date:

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...We want to say thanks a lot to our hosting provider. With this hosting we can always sell Child Porno, Guns, Stolen Credit Cards and everything and just say "FUCK YOU" to all, who don't like our messages. So, dear abusers - FUCK YOU ALL!

...Much thanks for our premium hoster - FOONET P.P.P.S. Our last icqs unregistered as always. But its not a problem to change number. So please check this links for confirmation about its really me. or FUCKING MIRABILIS. OYUUDRGBYITSQBYYFLZOQJWKUJYFTBWFIKEUEP

Phrase of the day thus far (9:30 am EDT): FUCKING MIRABILIS

Note: The full address doesn't work but a shortened version,, takes you to a bulletin board of assorted russo/anglo unscrupulousificty, credit card and ID abscondery seem to predominate.

I very much suspect that the spam oversold their product line and their ability to deliver the goods.

9:34 AM