September 30, 2004

Commentary on the Commentary

Do you feel like watching Another State of Mind again, with the director's commentary turned on? Neither do I, particularly. But if you do, Cathy Seipp has some inside info. on it. The commentary, I mean.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 29, 2004

In Their Own Prison

Sheila O'Malley posts a list of banned or "challenged" books, from the American Library Association's annual banned books week promotion.

Of course, I am against banning books. Absolutely against it. No book should ever be banned or restricted. To any degree. I'm glad the ALA is drawing attention to the issue. I always wonder, though, as Sheila does, about the specific stories behind individual books on such lists.

Even though they retain the catchy name "Banned Books Week," the criteria for inclusion in the list are considerably wider. That is, they include "Challenged" books as well, which makes the whole thing fuzzier. According to the web site, "challenged" books are books which some individual or group may have attempted to ban or have removed from somewhere, regardless of whether the removal actually occurred. In view of this, I'd say the list would be a lot more useful if it included the circumstances under which the books were "challenged." Because failed attempts to ban books would seem to put those particular books in a slightly different category, i.e., "non-banned books."

Is it as ironic as it seems that so many of the books on the list of "banned" books are international best-sellers that can be found in every single bookshop and school library, including one of the most successful, record-breaking ventures in publishing history? Not quite, because getting banned or "challenged" often seems to have been the secret to phenomenal commercial success. (Part of me kind of hopes my own book gets "challenged" when it comes out. Not too "challenged." Just "challenged" enough that the ALA will put it on the list and people will write articles and do TV pieces about it and buy gazillions of copies. Is that so wrong?) Still, it is ironic. Bookshops even use it as a promotional gimmick, laying out the "banned books" on a table for sale at a special price. When I see one of those tables, I react positively, of course. That'll show 'em, I say to myself, glad to be breathing the air of Freedom. But still, there's a small part of me that is saying, "you know, these aren't actually Banned Books. Strictly speaking."

I often detect a similar ironic flavor to the Project Censored list that comes out every year. It's interesting, of course, but "censored" isn't really the right word for these news stories, all of which have appeared in mainstream or "alternative" newspapers and magazines and which can be purchased or googled without expending too much effort to evade the shadowy government censors. These are often stories that the Project Censored folks judge to be important, but which no one else really seems to care too much about. Worth pointing out, of course, but not quite the same thing as censorship.

Here's another irony: 1984 and Animal Farm are not on the list. That's ironic because earlier this year, the ALA pointedly refused to condemn Castro's crackdown on the so-called "independent librarians," whose crimes included distributing those particular books. You distribute a book, you get a twenty-year prison term. Now that's a banned book. It appears that the ALA's criteria for banned or challenged, broad as they are, are not sufficiently broad to include repressive activity which they, as an institution, have tacitly approved. Well, to my eyes, the whole banned book project is just a bit more complicated than it seems, to say the least.

Don't get me wrong: I realize the ALA's position on the "independent librarians" is complex as well, the result of internal politicking and "competing versions of the truth," as some have delicately put it. Yet, the ALA's cowardly stance on the crackdown is shameful and casts the otherwise laudable campaign to publicize all instances of "challenges" to books, other than that particular "challenge," in a distasteful light. I've written a bit about this before, and Nat Hentoff has really made the issue his own with his numerous Village Voice columns. Hentoff is a recipient of the ALA Imroth Award for Intellectual Freedom, "for courageous and articulate advocacy of the First Amendment as an author, speaker, and activist for human rights." He closes one of his columns thus:

I now publicly renounce the Immroth Award and demand that the American Library Association remove me from the list of recipients of that honor. To me, it is no longer an honor. Someone I know in the ALA, who was at the San Diego meeting, explained to me that some members of the council whispered privately that they agreed with the amendment calling for freeing the librarians but had to vote it down because they didn't want to be vilified as being "on the wrong team." They have put themselves in their own prison.
I'll never look at "Banned Books Week" in quite the same way again.

UPDATE: More thoughts on "challenged" books here

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:31 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

September 27, 2004

Spot the Loony

Here's an interesting take on Foucault's notorious enthusiasm for the '79 Iranian revolution and his sub-career as a Khomeini apologist.

via Andrew Sullivan.

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September 26, 2004


J. D. Lasica examines the notion that the Google News robots accidentally tend to aggregate right-ward. One theory on why a search for "John Kerry" yields more negative polemical articles than you might expect is this:

mainstream news publications refer to the senator on second reference as Kerry, while alternative news sites often use the phrase "John Kerry" multiple times, for effect or derision. To Google News' eye, that's a more exact search result.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:21 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

September 25, 2004

Pants Optional

Admittedly, I'm new to this whole book-writing thing. But that didn't prevent me from affecting a kind of knowing, self-important, on-the-inside attitude toward this essay on writers whose books never quite get all the way finished.

At any rate, ingenue that I am, I can vouch for this:

Working on a book can provide authors with a sense of security. It confers on them the sense -- illusory though it may be -- of being employed, a comforting thing to someone who wakes up every morning without a compelling reason to put on a pair of pants.

(via Gary Farber.)

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Don't miss Paul Berman's review-essay on the new Che Guevara movie.

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September 24, 2004

Worth a Look

Johann Hari interviews Chrisopher Hitchens.

Norm Geras takes a hi-lighter to the words of Guardian columnist Jonathon Steele.

A stimulating review/overview of Norman Sherry's Graham Greene biography.

Cathy Seipp on the adaptability of contrarian impulses learned in early childhood.

Ken Layne's reality check on Ayad Allawi.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:10 PM | TrackBack

September 23, 2004

Everything Not Forbidden is Compulsory

via Instapundit today.

A special new crime in which a certain class of defendants shall be given an "opportunity" to prove their innocence to the state rather than the other way around? To an unschooled, naive legal eye like mine, that looks a bit unconstitutional. No? Well, I expect the folks at Yale Law understand these things better than me and know what they're doing.

Plus, the threat of jail time is generally recognized as a pretty good way to address most public health issues.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:39 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 17, 2004

Trivia can be fun

Like a lot of people, I really couldn't care less about the substance of the typewritergate allegations. You mean George W. Bush avoided serving in Vietnam and got help through family connections and was kind of a fuck up? No way...

But I like the Agatha Christie-ish trail of clues, as well as a lot of the sententious commentary. Maybe I'm missing what he was driving at, but I particularly liked the expert who maintained that it's extraordinarily difficult to type a lower case L using MS Word. (And if there is something I'm missing about it and I'm wrong to be amused by it - well, call me frivolous and self-absorbed, but I don't want to know. I prefer to be amused, I mean. That's mostly because MS Word seems to have been deliberately designed to make writing as difficult as possible, yet typing a lower-case L is in fact the one thing I seem to be able to manage without some wizard or other stepping in to commit a bizarre act of sabotage. If, unlike me, you want facts instead of laughs, this guy goes into it in depth, and God bless him for it.)

Anyhow, and moving right along, I love the neologism "pyjamahedeen."

And I thoroughly enjoy all the Dan Rather-bashing, which is enjoyable and satisfying as only the ridicule of the wealthy, the pompous, and the self-important can be.

To wit: this is the best, and most substantive, thing on the subject you're likely to read.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:30 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

We Will Never Forget

Perhaps it's in poor taste even to post this, but it's been cracking me up ever since I happened upon it (via Fleshbot.) So I can't resist. Go here. Be sure to click through all the "mores" for the full effect.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:52 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Thing-making for Dummies

If you haven't happened on it already, you might want to check out Ben Weasel's lengthy interview with me. (There are supposed to be 23 installments, of which 11 have been posted so far. The first is here, and the others are all contained in the archive page for September.)

It was originally intended to be published in book form, but for one reason or another (explained here, sort of) it ended up in blog form. It's not a typical interview. Rather it's a conversation about songwriting, with MTX records serving as the focus and organizing structure. I've been reading through it, and even I am finding it interesting, though you'd think it would have lost the vital element of surprise. Not so, it turns out. Check it out if you're interested in that sort of thing.

Also, don't miss Ben's fine Johnny Ramone encomium.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:46 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack


Well, folks, I let the blog evaporate, and I apologize. A stretch of hard and fast living in Rotterdam, a final final tax extension deadline, and a young adult novel all got in the way. It happens. Thanks to all who sent kind letters asking if I had committed suicide or something. You'll be glad to know, I didn't.

Anyhow, thanks to everyone who came out to the Rotterdam Rumble, and to the other Dr. Frank Euro-shows. I've never been rumbled so continually nor so consistently nor even so lengthily, so even now I'm still recovering a bit.

And I'm sure those crazy Shiny Robot Monkeys would want me to thank you on their behalf as well.

More later, with any luck.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:24 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack